Month: January 2013

Does God Care Who Wins the Superbowl?

steelersAs I was driving into the office this morning I was listening to the Dan Patrick show on Fox Sports Radio and he brought up an interesting questions, “Will God be a factor in the Superbowl on Sunday night?”  The reason he asked this question, of course, is the much publicized and open expressions of faith that the Baltimore Raven’s linebacker Ray Lewis has been making.  But it does bring up an interesting theological question, so I thought that I would address this issue here this morning.

First of all let me say that as a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers I rarely, actually, have never ever cheered for Ray Lewis, however, for this one Sunday I will be cheering for him and the rest of the dreaded Baltimore Ravens.  I actually hurt a little to actually write that sentence.  Second, let me say that I am not convinced that God has a favorite in this Superbowl or that He is necessarily pulling for one side or the other.  But with that said, I do think that God will be a factor in the Superbowl.  The reason is simple, Scripture teaches us that God is involved in every aspect of our lives and is always working to accomplish His will an purpose. Let me defend that statement from the Scripture:

In Ephesians 1:11 the Apostle Paul writes, “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.”  Pay close attention to that last phrase.  God works all things according to the counsel of His will.  This verse teaches us that God is guiding every event and aspect of our lives to accomplish His will and purpose.  In other words, there is no such thing as accident or coincidence in the universe.  Every event that happens is part of God’s ultimate plan for the universe.  The life of Joseph serves as a great example of how God uses circumstances in our lives to accomplish His purpose.  You can read the story for yourself in Genesis 37 —50, but the basics of the story is that Joseph’s brothers became jealous of him and sold him into slavery.  Joseph was taken to Egypt where he became the chief servant in a man named Potiphar’s house, but once again tragedy struck and Joseph was sent to jail after being falsely accused of attempted rape.  But eventually through a series of amazing events, Joseph rose to become second in command over all of Egypt and his brothers ended up having to come to buy food from him.  Once they realized who Joseph was they feared for their lives, but Joseph recognized the hand of God in his life and was reconciled to his brothers.  Later after his father died, Joseph’s brothers once again feared retaliation but Joseph said, “…you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive…”  There it is!  One of the greatest statements concerning God’s Sovereignty and providence in all of the Bible.

The simple truth of the matter is as work in every aspect of our lives to accomplish His will and purpose.  I was at conference several years ago where R.C. Sproul was asked about God’s will and he said, “God’s will is what ever happened yesterday.”  Nothing escapes the attention of God and He is working all things according to the purpose of His will.  So yes, God does care about who wins the Superbowl and He will be involved in the final outcome.  But more importantly, God cares about YOU and ME.  He cares about every aspect and area of our lives and is working to accomplish His plans and purposes.  If you are going through a hard time right now, go back and read the story of Joseph and see how God worked in his life.  I assure that you God is at work in your life, even if you are going through a hard time.

The Lord is Our Refuge

BibleMy last blog post was on January 9th and was entitled “Hope in the Midst of the Dark Night of the Soul.”  As it turns out, that post had a bit of a prophetic tone to it because later that afternoon I ended up in the Intensive care unit of Western Baptist Hospital, where I spent the next several days.  That morning I was writing about the “dark night of the soul” but had no idea that later that afternoon I would be going through a  “dark night” myself.  Physically, I am getting better and starting to recover some of my energy and this morning decided it was time to get back to blogging.

In Psalm 31:1 the Bible says, “In you, O Lord, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me!”  If you will take time to read the rest of the Psalm you will notice that three times in the opening five verses, the Psalmist refers to God as being a “refuge.”  In other words, God is our place of shelter or protection from danger or distress.  There can be little doubt in any of our minds that this is a dangerous world for believers.  All around us we are surrounded by trouble of all kinds and an enemy who wants to destroy us.  At times the world can seem to be overwhelming and apparently David was going through such a period himself when he wrote this Psalm.  In verses 9-10 David describes the internal effects of sin that he has been experiencing and in v.11-13 turns his attention to the external consequences.  It is clear that he is having a hard time, but look at how he handles the situation.  Instead of falling into despair, David turns to God and confesses his faith and trust in God’s steadfast love and faithful character.  David prays for deliverance and expresses his faith in God’s deliverance in v.21-22 when he says, “Blessed by the Lord, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.  I said in my alarm, ‘I am cut off from your sight.’ But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy when I cried to you for help.”  David closes this Psalm with a helpful piece of advice for all of us, “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.”

 

Hope in the Midst of the Dark Night of the Soul

 “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his saints, and give thanks to his holy name.  For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”   Psalm 30:4-5

In this Psalm, David describes what may be called “a dark night of the soul.” He does not give the specifics of the circumstance but this Psalm recounts a period in David’s life when he harbored some sin in his heart and had experienced the chastening hand of God upon his life.  These two verses form the heart of this Psalm and offer us great hope in the midst of our trials in this life.  David reminds us here of God’s anger.  There are some who would like to do away with the notion of God’s anger all together, but the Bible teaches us that God’s anger is the expression of His Holy and Righteous character.  God would not be God if He were not angered and outraged over sin.  But notice carefully what the Psalmist says here about God’s anger— His anger is but for a moment.  In the gospel we discover that God’s anger has been appeased by the death of Christ on the cross.  That is why in Romans 3:25 Paul speaks of Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”     On the cross Jesus fully met the demands of God’s righteousness on our part so that we can now experience God’s favor.  This does not mean that life will always be easy.  As believers we will experience the full range of human suffering and ills that come from living in a fallen world.  There will even be times when as the result of our sin we experience the temporary withdrawal of God’s manifest presence.  But we never have to be afraid or dismayed because this experience is never permanent.  “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”  It may feel as if the dark night of the soul will never end.  Satan wants you to believe that what you are going through right now is permanent.  But the Gospel reminds us that we have hope.  JOY IS COMING!

The Fiscal Cliff, Materialism and Idolatry

FYI- This post is not about politics, so read it all the way through.

fiscal cliffOver the last several weeks we have all heard a great deal about the so-called “Fiscal Cliff.”  It is no secret that our government has a serious spending problem and that decisive steps will need to be taken in order to avert an even more serious financial disaster in the future.  But it occurred to me the other day that the Federal government is really just a reflection of what is happening in the general population. In a government “of the people, for the people, by people” we should not be surprised that the Federal government reflects the same irresponsible spending habits as its citizens.

According to a report released by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, non-real estate household debt jumped 2.3 percent to $2.7 trillion dollars in the last quarter of 2012.  A spokesmen for the New York Fed stated, “The increase in mortgage originations, auto loans and credit card balances suggests that consumers are slowly gaining confidence in their financial position.”  I would like to suggest these statistics indicate something more disturbing— rather than regaining confidence, we are simply returning to the same patterns got us into this mess.  If we want the Federal Government to take fiscal responsibility, it must begin with getting our own households in order.  But this issue goes deeper than just learning better money management techniques.  I want to suggest that at its core, America’s financial woes are primarily the result of a deep-rooted spiritual problem

In the church we hear about the way materialism has caused much of our current financial problems.  While I agree that materialism is a problem, I think the issue goes deeper.  Materialism is a symptom of a much deeper problem— idolatry.  When we look for ultimate fulfillment in anything besides Christ, it can become an idol.  Therefore, family can be an idol, sex can be an idol, and even church when it is divorced from the gospel can be an idol.  But I would submit that in America our favorite idol is material and monetary wealth.  The Scripture gives us stern warnings about making wealth and money the main object of our life.  In Matthew 6:24, for instance, Jesus says “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and money.”

 

As followers of Christ we need to ask ourselves a tough question, “Whom are we really serving?” In Matthew 6:19-21 Jesus says, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where you treasure is, there your heart will be also.” The last phrase is the key to keeping material goods and money in their proper place.  If the thing you treasure the most are here on earth, that is where your heart is going to be.  You are going to be dragged down by the weight and cares of this world.  But if what you treasure the most is in heaven, your heart will be lifted above the temporal cares of this world and be captured by things of eternal weight and glory.

Review of “Creature of the Word”

ImageI have been reading “Creature of the Word” by Matt Chandler, Josh Patterson and Eric Geiger and have found it be one of the most thought-provoking books on the church that I read in a long time.  The premise of this book is that gospel must be the centerpiece for everything that the church is and does.  They write, “without the life-giving gospel driving and defining both us and our churches — there really isn’t much of anything that makes us alive, nothing that other people, groups or organizations aren’t doing.” (p.5)  This is an essential point and one that every member of the church needs to taker seriously.  If the gospel is not at the center and driving force behind what we are and do as a church, we have lost our distinctive nature and purpose.  The authors go on to say, “…just as an individual must continually return to the grace of Jesus for satisfaction and sanctification, a local church must continually return to the gospel as well.  Our churches must be fully centered on Jesus and His work, or else death and emptiness is certain, regardless of the worship style or sermon series.  Without the gospel, everything in a church is meaningless.  And dead.”   A key point in their discussion is the confusion that exists concerning the nature of the gospel.  They point the fact that in many churches the gospel is thought of primarily in terms of as an “individual message that causes individual transformation” rather than efficient cause, which forms the church. This is a key theological premise of the book— the gospel forms the church.  Furthermore, they build on the idea that the gospel is the center from which we understand all of Scripture and it is the Word of God that forms the church.  This is a key point and one that was fiercely debated during the reformation.  The Roman Catholic church taught, and still teaches, that the church formed the Word of God.  The reformers argued that the Word of God forms the church.

Having laid out this basic premise the authors then go on to show how the church is formed by the Word of God through a specific pattern— indicative then imperative.  For those, who are not familiar with these terms the indicative is used to describe what God has done on our behalf and form the basis (or reason) for the commands (imperatives).  So for instance, in 2 Peter 2:9 the Bible says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession [indicative], that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous life.[imperative]”  This pattern is repeated throughout the Scripture and in the remaining chapters of the book the authors show how the church is shaped by the Word of God.

Every Pastor needs to read this book and carefully consider how to get it into the hands of his people.  This will not be an easy book for many in the church to read and it will challenge many of the preconceived notions that people have about the church and the gospel.  In my own ministry, I am considering using this book in our Sunday night small groups during the summer months to help ground the church more deeply in its understanding of the gospel.  I would highly recommend that every Pastor and church member read this book and deeply think about how it can apply to their local situation.

Fresh Bread

ImageThe new year is right around the corner, have you planned your preaching schedule for 2013 yet?  Here are some tips to help you plan for your preaching for all of next year:

 

1. Spend time fasting, praying and preparing yourself spiritually to hear from God– the amount of time and the way you do this will depend on the individual.  There is no substitute, however, for getting yourself spiritually prepared to hear from God.  As I prepare to start work on my preaching plan, I like to spend 3-4 days fasting, dedicating several periods of time during each day for spiritual examination and prayer.  No amount of planning can substitute for prayer and hearing from God.  Every step in this process must be bathed and saturated in prayer.  The more time you spend in spiritual preparation the better.

Here is a helpful resource from Elmer Towns

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How to Minister from the Overflow of Your Life

images As Pastors and church leaders we must always minister from the overflow of our lives.  What I mean is that there must be a constant inflow of the Word of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the blessings of God to empower and equip us for the work of ministry.  Simply put, if we rely on our own strength and abilities our lives will quickly run dry and our ministry will die.  In John 15:5 Jesus says, ‘I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  We should pay close attention to that last phrase, “for apart from me you can do nothing.”  The moment we cease drawing our sustenance and power from Jesus, we fail in the ministry.  We have nothing to offer apart from Christ, therefore, it is imperative that we draw constantly from our source of strength.  Let me give you a few tips on how to maintain this connection in the midst of ministry:

1.) Carve out time to pray throughout the day– the truth is that most ministers I know, my self included, spend far too little time in prayer. Prayer is an essential for every believer but even more so for those who are in full-time ministry.  Instead of planning on marathon prayer time during the day, try to carve out 3 or 4 times throughout the day when you pray.  Maybe consider a half and hour in the morning, another right after lunch and then another period before you go to bed.

2.) Spend time in Bible study that is not in preparation for preaching– right now I am using a Bible study plan through the book of Jude that I found in Bible Study Magazine which is published by Logos Bible Study Software.  The key here is to spend about an hour or so a day, simply studying the BIble for your own personal growth and development.  This is not the same as studying for a sermon or Bible study that you will teach, but simply for the nourishment of your own soul.

3.) Spend time with your family– this is one of the most refreshing things you can do in the ministry and is a key for maintaining your own spiritual health as well as that of your family members. Here is an interesting article about the Pastor’s emotional health.

4.)  Join a Small Group– as pastors we all know the importance of small groups in the spiritual growth of our members, but frankly most of us are not part of a group ourselves. Consider attending one of the Sunday School classes or small group meetings in your church, not as a teacher but as a student.  It will be good for you and for your people.

5.) Listen to Other Preachers– not to steal their sermons but to hear a word from God and to grow in your own spiritual life.  Download sermons on your Ipod and listen to them throughout the week.  I like to do this while I am exercising.

Ministering from the overflow of your life is the key to surviving in the ministry.  For those of you who are in the Bi-vocational ministry I would recommend reading Surviving and Thriving in Bi-vocational ministry.  I also recommend my three part post on the Anatomy of a Ministry Meltdown, Recovering from a Ministry Meltdown, and Preventing a Ministry Meltdown.