1 Corinthians 13:1-3

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Thank You, David Mathis!

You know the feeling. The sour taste in your mouth. The heavy feeling in your heart. That unpleasant aura of conflict that everything in you wants to avoid.
It’s so much easier to talk about nice things, and comment on the weather and the playoffs, than to embrace the awkward moment and actually address the elephant in the room.
We’re quick to believe the lie that if we just avoid the conflict, or at least minimize it, then it will diminish over time and eventually go away. But wisdom speaks a different word. Sure, there are offenses we can forebear and personal frustrations we can get over, but interpersonal conflict doesn’t go away with inattention. It festers. It deepens. It curdles.

Conflict Is Inevitable

Relational conflict is not something that should surprise us as Christians. We need not be ashamed that it exists, and that we’re involved. We should expect it. The world is complicated and fallen, and we are complicated creatures, and fallen. Conflicts will come. They are unavoidable.
And yes, conflict is inevitable in the church as well. Christians often have conflict with each other — true, genuine, faithful Christians. The question is not whether conflicts will come, but how we will handle them.
In the healthiest churches, the leadership doesn’t announce, “There will be no conflicts here; that’s not how we do things.” Rather, the message will be that when conflicts do arise, we won’t run from them. We won’t neglect to address them head-on. We can’t afford not to.

Occasion for Grace

One reason that avoiding conflict is such a problem is precisely because it worsens with negligence. It doesn’t just go away.
But another reason is that it cuts us off from the most significant opportunities for grace. This is the way God does his deepest work in a world like ours. Not when things are peachy keen, not when all seems right with the world, not when times are easy. It’s the toughest times, the hardest conversations, the most painful relational tensions, when the light of his grace shines brightest, and transforms us most into his Son’s likeness.
The highpoints of the history of God’s people are accounts not of fleeing conflict, but moving toward it in hope, believing God will be at work in the tension, pain, and mess. Such is the story of the prophets —Moses with the stubborn people he refused to give up on; Elijah at Carmel squaring off against Baal; the embattled Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel brought into increasing conflict, seemingly at every oracle, with a hard-hearted people they were commissioned to serve.
“It’s the toughest times, and the hardest conversations, when the light of God’s grace shines its brightest.”
And so it was with the apostles. When tensions emerged in the fledgling church between Hebrews and Greeks, they dealt with disunity quickly and did not let it fester. God had a gift to give these young believers in Acts 6 — seven newly appointed leaders to serve the people’s needs — and it came not through shying away from conflict, but through straightforwardly tackling their troubles. And when conflict arose again along the same fault lines, this time over circumcision, the apostle Paul didn’t avoid or neglect it, but traveled to Jerusalem to address it in person (Acts 15:2).

For Gospel Advance

Then, when Peter’s lapse in judgment at Antioch separated him from Gentile believers, “fearing the circumcision party” (Galatians 2:12), again Paul moved toward the conflict, not away. “I opposed him to his face,” he said (Galatians 2:11), and with it, Peter and the gospel witness in Antioch were restored.
The life of Paul, we might say, became a series of one conflict after another — and each one a catalyst for the ongoing progress of grace. He wrote to the Philippians about “the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have” (Philippians 1:30) — a conflict, which he says, “really served to advance the gospel” (Philippians 1:12).
“The highpoints of the history of God’s people are stories not of fleeing conflict, but moving toward it.”
And he recounted to the Thessalonians how not cowering from conflict was essential to the gospel coming to them. “Though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” (1 Thessalonians 2:2). His thirteen letters are a tribute to the fact that he wasn’t afraid to address emerging conflict and see what good God had in store for his people in it.

The Pattern of Christ

And of course, our most compelling emblem of not shying away from conflict, but turning to take it head-on, is the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).
The trajectory of Jesus’s life was toward need, and inevitably toward conflict, not away. He set his face like flint to go to Jerusalem, to the great conflict at Calvary, to rescue us from our greatest conflict, eternal separation from God because of the rebellion of our sin against him.
And so being saved by him, we Christians, “little christs,” learn increasingly to follow in his steps, empowered by his Spirit, to move toward conflict, toward need, toward pain, toward tension, looking past the imposing awkwardness and difficulty that lies before us to the promise of joy on the other side.

The Lord’s Servant in Conflict

Which doesn’t mean we become bull-headed and pugnacious and develop a penchant for a good fight. Rather, our gospel-thickened skin frees us to lean in — with kindness, patience, and gentleness — to the caldrons of conflict that would otherwise send us running. We take on the heart and posture of “the Lord’s servant” who “must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:24–25).
And as we consider that hard and scary conversation that needs to happen — to gently remove the speck from our brother’s eye, to address the elephant in the room — we acknowledge our weakness. In ourselves, we are unable to address this conflict with intentionality and kindness. But this we couple with a prayer for his strength. And we move forward in faith, knowing that if tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and sword cannot separate us from the love of Christ (Romans 8:35), then neither can conflict. No matter how tense. No matter how intimidating.
For the Christian, conflict is not something to avoid or ignore. It is an opportunity for the triumph of grace.
Full author david mathis
David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org, pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/Saint Paul, and adjunct professor for Bethlehem College & Seminary. He has edited several books, including Finish the MissionActing the Miracle, and most recently Cross, and is co-author of How to Stay Christian in Seminary.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

"The Christian Message"

Is taking a stand against same-sex marriage "the Christian message".  I know plenty of people, who are not Christians who would stand right along side you on this issue.  The Christian message is the gospel.  The Christian message is that both moralists and the immoral are condemned and guilty before God.  The Christian message is that we have no hope out side of Christ regardless of where we stand on a moral or civil issue.

You want to talk about morality? You want to talk about sin? Let's not pick out five that we can easily assault because  we don't do those five. Let's talk about the fact that we have all broken the greatest commandment; committed the greatest sin that any human being can commit.  We have all failed to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. And, as R.C. Sproul one time said, "And you know you haven't kept that commandment at any time in your life for five seconds." You can't keep that commandment. It's impossible. Well let's talk about that.

If you want to go after America's immorality, then let's indict the whole nation for not loving God. That is not only the first and great commandment, that is the sum of the commandments. And the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself, and you can't keep that one for five seconds. So if we're going to get moral, then let's go where we need to go because that, wrote the apostle Paul, is  the sum of all the law. Why do we have to pick these selective ones?

If we're going to call America to morality, then let's indict them where they need to be indicted and let's indict our own hearts where we need to be indicted and say we've broken the first and great commandment, and we've broken the second one, and we do it all the time and therefore we are all condemned to hell in desperate need of grace and forgiveness and salvation.

That's the Christian message.

(Several excerpts by other writers were used in the composition of this post)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Why we gather....

Frankly, there are very few things I "like" about going to church.  In this consumer, man-centered, materialistic, narcissistic, christian culture that we find ourselves in, "church" on Sunday can be extremely depressing if you are actually paying attention to the people, what is being said, and the lack of Christ-likeness among those who wear his name (and of course I include myself in that statement.)

I could list all of the biblical reasons, in spite of the above reality, that one should attend a weekly worship service.  I only need one motivating factor, and that is my loyalty to Christ.  I am not loyal to a local church.  I am not loyal to anyone at the church.  My loyalty is to Christ alone.  All else, and everyone else, will fail me, as I will fail them.  I love when people ask me on Sunday, "What are you doing today?" and I can answer, "I have a special date with the love of my life."

We gather to worship Christ!  In fact, Christians in other lands gather at risk of death.  Just maybe it's important to sincere, genuine believers to gather for worship.  They certainly would have more seemingly legitimate reasons to not gather than we do.  Don't you think?

They Gather to Worship the Christ
By Frederick J. Stevens  1883-86

They gather, they gather from Island and main,
From seacoast and valley, from mountain and plain.
From Africa's fountains, from India's strands.
They gather-to learn what Jehovah commands.
They gather, they gather, a swift-swelling tide.
Resistless, on-flowing, a flood spreading wide.
They gather, they gather, and countless the throng,
To worship the Christ with the Incense of song.

They gather, they gather from China, Japan.
From city and hamlet, from tribe and from clan.
From tropical forests, from deserts of sand.
Commingling their praises a symphony grand.
They gather, they gather, a swift-swelling tide.
Resistless, on-flowing, a flood spreading wide.
They gather, they gather, and countless the throng.
To worship the Christ with the Incense of song.

They gather, they gather, the young and the old.
The king and the peasant all seeking one fold,
The soldier and statesman, the noble and slave.
All trust in his promise to guide them and save.
They gather, they gather, a swift-swelling tide.
Resistless, on-flowing. a flood spreading wide.
They gather, they gather, and countless the throng
To worship the Christ with the Incense of song.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

This is Counseling!

These short-lived troubles!
(Charles Spurgeon, "Flowers from a Puritan's Garden" 1883)

"All the difficulties of the present life are but like one rainy day--compared to an everlasting sunshine!"

How readily, then, should we bear these short-lived troubles! They are but for a moment, just a passing shower--and then the sun will shine out forever!

Time is nothing, when compared with eternity.

To a believer, this sorrowful life is like one drop of grief, lost in a sea of glory--or one speck of rain, in a year of fair weather. These light and momentary afflictions are not worthy to be compared with the eternal bliss which awaits us!

"Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory!" 2 Corinthians 4:16-17

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Recognizing pride and arrogance in our own speech patterns!

Pastors-this is primarily, but not exclusively, for you:

When you share your position on non-essentials, how to do state your position?  Do you preface your statements with:

"I believe..."
"I am convinced..."
"My conviction in this area is..."

or do you state your opinion as if it was biblical truth.

"...There are some weeds that will grow anywhere; and one of them is Pride. Pride will grow on a rock as well as in a garden. Pride will grow in the heart of a shoe-black as well as in the heart of an alderman. Pride will grow in the heart of a servant girl and equally as well in the heart of her mistress. And pride will grow in the pulpit. It is a weed that is dreadfully rampant. It needs cutting down every week, or else we should stand up to our knees in it. This pulpit is a shocking bad soil for pride!"      Spurgeon

Listen to the speech patterns of well respected men in the current Christian community and listen carefully.  When they are interviewed and asked their opinion on a non-essential position, do they answer with the above prefaces?    Better yet--listen to yourself.  Do you express your personal convictions on non-essentials, authoritatively or with humility?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Red Sea of God's Wrath

"We shall see Him as He is!" 1 John 3:2

Then we shall behold Him who died for us, that we might live forevermore; whose matchless love made Him swim through the Red Sea of God's wrath, to make a path in the midst of it for us, by which we might pass safely to our heavenly Canaan. Then we shall see what a glorious one He is, who suffered all this for us! Then shall we be more able to understand, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep His love really is.

When we shall fully realize that the waters of wrath which He was plunged into, are the wells of salvation from whence we draw all our joy; that we have received the cup of salvation, in exchange for the cup of wrath which He drank--how will our hearts leap within us, burn with seraphic love, as Heaven resounds with our songs of salvation!

We shall eternally, without interruption, feast our eyes upon Him--and be ever viewing His glorious perfections! In Him shall we see everything desirable--and nothing but what is desirable. We shall look into the heart of God, and there see the love He bore to us from all eternity, and the love and goodness He will bear to us forevermore.

We who are heirs of God, the great heritage--shall then enter into a full possession of our inheritance; and the Lord will open His treasures of goodness unto us, that our enjoyment may be full. We shall not be stinted to any measure--but the enjoyment shall go as far as our enlarged capacities can reach. We shall be fully satisfied, and perfectly blessed in the full enjoyment of divine goodness.

Our love to the Lord, being purified from the dross of self-love, shall be most pure. We will be all love, when we come to the full enjoyment of God in Heaven, by intuitive and experimental knowledge of Him, by full participation in the divine goodness.

The enjoyment of God and the Lamb will be ever fresh and new to us, through the ages of eternity; for we shall drink of living fountains of waters, where new waters are continually springing up in abundance. Our joy shall be pure and unmixed, without any dregs of sorrow; solid and everlasting, without interruption. We shall swim forever in an ocean of joy--where we shall see nothing but joy wherever we turn our eyes. The presence and enjoyment of God and the Lamb will satisfy us with pleasures for evermore; and will afford us everlasting delight!

"You will fill me with joy in Your presence, with eternal pleasures at Your right hand!" Psalm 16:11

Thomas Boston (17 March 1676 – 20 May 1732)  Excerpt from:  Human Nature in its Fourfold State

And this is why I read the Puritans!

   ~ ~ ~ ~

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Ritual Observances, External Morality, Emotional Experiences...

So many people (both inside the visible church and outside) are confused about what Christianity is.  This is so helpful in clarifying things for so many:

What does the Lord require of you?
 To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." Micah 6:8

Simplicity and comprehensiveness mark the requirements of my God. He can abbreviate His demands into the fewest words; but they are words which embrace . . .
  the inward and outward,
  the present and future,
  the earthly and the heavenly.

I may fall into serious error regarding His will for me:

It is not a religion of ritual observances which He requires. How easily I attach an undue importance to ceremonies and forms, rites and penances and fasts!

Nor does He solicit primarily a religion of external moralities. God looks on my heart.

Nor is it a religion of emotions of which He is in quest. I must not put excitement and tears, in the place of saving grace and childlike obedience.

But see, my soul, God asks us to act justly. I cannot be His, unless I do justly. Everything that takes an improper advantage of another, and all that departs from the straightest line of absolute rectitude--I must hate and abjure. It is a demand which pierces deeper than it seems. For the integrity of conduct He desires--is the outcome only of a conscience He has quickened, and a will He has bent into submission to His law. The ethics of the Gospel are preceded and rendered possible, by the redemption and regeneration of the Gospel.

And God asks tenderness. He counsels me to love mercy. The world is full of sorrow, and I am to move through it as a good physician, befriending and uplifting those in need.

It is what He does Himself. Every glorious quality has its fountain in Him--but pre-eminently the quality of mercy. He is the great Forgiver and the great Helper--no earthly father loves like Him, and no mother is half so mild. So my feeble torch is but kindled at His altar. My charities and philanthropies must be learned in His school, who pardons my ten thousand transgressions!

And God asks humility. He commands me to lay my hand in His, and to walk humbly in His company. 

Nothing is so essential as poverty of spirit. It is the source and spring from which alone runs the fertilizing river of a holy life. The humble heart is where the flowers of Heaven find their congenial soil, and grow into beauty and fragrance.

 I only begin to be a disciple, when my proud heart is brought low--and my Savior is lifted high.

Now, my Father, if these are to be the features of my soul--then it is manifest that none but You can create them, and can nurture them, and can lead them to their perfection. Do the work Lord, and have the glory!
   ~  ~  ~  ~ 

(Alexander Smellie, "On the Secret Place" 1907)