Thursday, April 24, 2008

Are You in the Way of Your Own Kindness?

Last night, I fellowshipped around Titus 2:5 with the Women's Minisry leaders at my church. Their study tonight with the ladies at large will be on the Christian virtue of "kindness." The working definition we used was "a sincere desire for the happiness of others."

In doing a little studying on kindness, a couple of things became quickly apparent. Most commentators say almost nothing about kindness. It must not be sexy enough of a concept to spend much time describing, illustrating, etc. The conclusion that I reached is that kindness is so integral to what it means to be a Christian, that it is simply assumed to be common knowledge; in other words, "Christians are kind" is a truism. After all, isn't desiring someone else's happiness perfectly exemplified in Christ sacrificing Himself for the salvation (i.e., ultimate happiness) of sinners.

One commentator, however, noted that with the laundry list of virtues that women are supposed to inculcate (often with little to no earthly rewards), there is quite a temptation for wives and mothers to succomb to the temptation of holding a negative attitude towards those she serves.
It is no doubt why Paul instructs the Galatian believers that kindness is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22...which is why this isn't just a quality for women!). In other words, sinners have to admit they cannot muster up kindness and look to the Lord for Spirit-empowered kindness. Certainly there are things we can do to cultivate kindness, but we need God's power to bring it about.

Paul goes even further in the Galatian text warning those believers that when they gratify the desires of the flesh (which includes "strife, jealousy, fits of anger" v.20), they actually stand opposed to the Holy Spirit. When we wallow in our selfishness, we do more than act selfishly at that moment, we actually get in the way of God blessing us with an attitude of kindness going forward.

What fruitful time: to meditate on the attitude of kindness (what it looks like, how we can hinder it, and how God empowers us to have it) attitude that prevents the gospel from being maligned by those who watch.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Martyrdom of Fools

David Sitton talked quite a bit tonight about being willing to die for the name of Christ. He quoted one of my favorite passages: Acts 5:40-42. In that passage, we read of the apostles being seized by the high priest and the Sadducees. After some deliberation, we are told: "[W]hen they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." This text has always given me such a great example of "counting it all joy" when suffering in a trial. I'm coming to appreciate it all the more as I hear from David this week, recounting his and others' tales of suffering while trying to reach the lost around the world.

One example was his retelling of the story of John G. Patton, missionary to the Hebrides Islands beginning in 1858. Prior to Patton's departure, a man warned him not to go as the cannibals would kill him and eat his body. Patton's legendary response goes something like this: "You're an old man and will die soon. Thereafter, the worms shall eat your body. If I get to serve Jesus to the end, I don't much care if my body is eaten by cannibals or by worms."

Though David didn't mention it, when I think of martyrs, I always think of the startling vision of Revelation 6:9-11: "When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the Word of God and for the witness they had borne; they cried out with loud voice, 'O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before Thou wilt judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?' And they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been."
  • Would I react to suffering dishonor for the name of Jesus with rejoicing because I was counted worthy?
  • Does how my life will end frighten me from serving Christ?
  • Could I be one of the Revelation 6 martyrs' fellow servants and brothers who is to be killed as they have been?
Paul tells me in Romans 12 that if I want to die, I need my mind to be renewed. May God help me to live Romans 12:1-3:

"I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned."

The thought that is haunting me is that I simply value myself too much to truly die for Jesus. I see my talents as too important to the local church for me to go and die somewhere across the sea. The gospel teaches me to see myself as nothing (not more highly than I ought) and God as everything. My real value is in dying for Him (presenting my body as a living sacrifice). Only then am I usable. And if I am willing to, it may be that He will use me to soften the harvest field with my humiliation among those that know me or with my blood in a dangerous unreached place. The problem is that I can't seem to make my mind take me to that spiritual place. This is hard thinking, supernatural stuff. God must do it. Oh, how I pray that God will re-orient my thinking and incline my heart to die.

Redeeming Diversity

My church is in the middle of its Annual Missions Conference. What a blessing from my Father! David Sitton is the featured speaker and my Heavenly Father has already reminded me of several things, taught me several things, and of course convicted me about several things. One small gemstone that I spotted along the way came tonight during David's message. He asked the question, "What language will be spoken in Heaven?" I have heard this question asked jokingly in the past. But he was quite serious. David then quickly followed up with, "What culture will be seen in Heaven?" I was starting to see his point. All languages and all cultures would be represented. My mind has been exploding with gospel implications since. Immediately upon hearing these questions, I impatiently asked my wife for something to write with and on. I had arrived late from teaching and didn't have anything with me. Three implications occurred to me from meditating on the multitudes of tribes and tongues that will be represented.

First, our sinful ethnocentricity is wiped out by this view of Heaven. The idea of our country being the ultimate society is revealed as bankrupt. In our prideful patriotism we await a Redeemer. The gospel redeems all societies, all cultures, all tribes. This means that peoples without military supremacy, mass production, technological advancement, higher education, elaborate art, and complex languages are just as valuable in displaying the worth of Jesus through worship as our "great" nation. A corollary to this is that the chorus of all people praising the Lamb will include those who speak prior versions of the languages we hear today. For example, there will be songs of English speakers from hundreds of years ago being lifted up in Heaven along with those with voices from this generation of Americans.

Second, man's quest for a great nation in their own power is seen as folly in light of this view of Heaven. At the Tower of Babel, men tried to make themselves into a people based upon their own fame. In Genesis 11:4 we learn of their intentions, "Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth." Ironically, God judges them by giving them what they feared: being scattered across the whole earth. He also "confused their language." In their confusion, they await a Redeemer. It is only in the transforming gospel that these countless people groups are brought back together and the cacophony of their confusing voices are perfectly reunited into a symphony of praise to the Savior as they surround His throne in Heaven.

Third, our desire to have everyone think as we do, dress as we do, serve as we do, pray as we do, sing as we do, worship as we do is revealed as self-centered in the light of this view of Heaven. Picture the different clothing, emotional outbursts, demonstrations of worship, instruments played, and songs lifted to Jesus! In light of this vision, we should be celebrating and uniting in our diversity within the church. Statements such as, "I don't like those slow hymns" or "I can't stand the beat of the drums" shouldn't be uttered. We should be rejoicing at the diverse songs as if we were offering a bouquet of various flowers up to God as worship. Even in "disputable matters," the church should be merciful to each other as saints working out their salvation in fear of their Lord. Diverse styles will be redeemed in Heaven by the supernatural gospel. We should seek unity in our churches to reflect the diversity of the choir of the redeemed in Heaven.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Ranking Noble Tasks

My friend, Ray, asked me to evaluate the following quote: "Man has no nobler function than to defend the truth." What do I think of it? Do I agree or disagree with it? And why? Here goes...

“No nobler function”…hmmm. Sounds like a “What’s the chief end of man” kind of question. I’ll follow the Westminster Confession of Faith and say that that noblest function of a man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Now defending the truth is certainly a sub-category of that. We can indeed glorify God and enjoy Him through apologetics. And we certainly have Scriptural admonitions for us to defend the truth--e.g., Titus 1:9 “be able to…rebuke those who contradict [sound doctrine]”; 1 Peter 3:15 "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” However, you could defend your faith in an arrogant, mean-spirited way. A way that was not "with gentleness and respect." You be puffed up in your spiritual discernment, condescending to unbelievers, acting as if your spiritual life and knowledge was not given to you. That would not be glorifying God. But if the quote means: "Man has no nobler function than to defend the truth in the right spirit," it's still a difficult question.

Of course, there is no question that defending the truth is a noble endeavor. We stand today with the truth that we have because of legions of persecuted saints, and even martyrs, who defended the truth. But is defending the truth nobler than other Christian duties? Is it nobler than prayer? Is it nobler than worship? Is it nobler than sacrificial giving? Is it nobler than extending mercy to the helpless? I don’t think that it is. In fact, it may be a 500-way tie for first. What I mean is that we are to be glorifying God in all we do: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:17, compare also v. 23-24). So, I guess my answer is that I don't think it is the noblest function of man, but rather one of many, many functions of man that are of the highest nobility.

What do you think?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Gospel Fruit

In Paul's letter to the Colossian believers (who he has never met), he thanks God for the report of their faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that they have for the saints (1:3-4). Was he buttering up these believers he had never met, so that they'd hear what he was going to write thereafter? I don't believe that to be true, though my friend, Teren, makes a good point in this regard: that the Apostle giving thanks for this little-known church's faith and love would have been a great encouragement to them. Notwithstanding that wonderful benefit, his focus is on God in this prayer of thanksgiving. Even Paul's greeting--"Grace to you and peace" (v.2b)--is originates in "God our Father." "Grace and peace from God" is actually a short-hand way of referring to the gospel. It seems to be said with a two-fold purpose. It's as if he is both commending them to live in light of God's gospel of grace and peace, and at the same time asking God to shower them with those gospel realities: "Brothers, live in grace and peace that comes from God....God, grant these brothers grace and peace." What follows is a thanksgiving to God for their faith and love, which are the proper responses to and fruits growing out of the gospel.

How I pray for gospel fruits in my life! Rotten sin fruit seems to lay at my feet more often than not. How many times I fail to place my faith in Christ. How many times I trust in my own abilities or in approval from others. And, oh, how often I fail to live in sacrifice for others. If only I could have this question ready on my lips: "How can I best serve my brother?". . . and then be willing to put the anwer into action.

I need to daily repent of my lack of faith and lack of love, and then ask Jesus to change my heart and give me the right inclinations. Only He can cause me to be satisfied in my relationship with Him when other relationships are crumbling. Only He can shatter the self-serving shield around my heart so I can consider serving others. Trusting my Savior and loving my brother are gospel fruits that I must pray for. I need to preach the gospel to myself: Grace to me and peace to me from God my Father . . . so I can bear gospel fruit.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Relationship Restorer

How often we have disagreements with our brothers in Christ. We feel they didn't handle something properly. Or that they must have had an evil motive. Isn't it easy? It's as if we feel supernaturally gifted to spot the spiritual deficiencies in others. My wife would call it being the Self-Appointed, Assistant Holy Spirit.

It's so often quoted in the context of wedding ceremonies that it perhaps doesn't get the universal treatment it should, but consider the Great Love Chapter with regard to our recreational motive judging that we like to engage in: “[Love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things.” 1 Corinthians 13:6-7: We have to get to the point where we begin with an assumption that our brothers in Christ do not have a bad motive underlying their actions (or inactions). We have to believe and hope that our brother is trying to work out his salvation in light of his fear of the Lord. We have to bear with him when he falls or says a sharp word.

When that desire wells up within us to judge our brother's motives or when get to the place where we don't want to be around that brother, we need to start by suspecting that something is, in fact, wrong...but that the wrong is in us. Are we really in the place where we can judge other's motives? We need to be suspicious of our own sinful hearts and give the benefit of the doubt to our brother. Paul doesn't say that he and his companions are the chief of sinners, but that he is. We need to assume the problem is with our hear, and love our brother in spite of his failures. Whether those failures be motives or deeds. Isn't that how Jesus treats us?

If we learn nothing from the cross, we learn that His blood has made us--who used to have nothing to do with one another--into a community, a family. Family loves one another, hopes and believes the best of one another, and tries to fix what's wrong with ourselves for the benefit of another. The sacrifice of Jesus not only restores our relationship with God, but gives us the basis for restoring our relationships with our brothers. How I pray that He will change my attitude to be, as C. J. Mahaney put it, more that I am "depraved than deprived."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

She's Dating Me Again

My wife. The love of my life. My best friend. Yet another gift from God that is full of wonder and beauty and one that I did not deserve. We've been married 9 years and a few weeks. When I married her she was 21 and I was 30 (That's a whole other miracle of God that I won't take the time to describe here--i.e., the supernatural blinding of her judgment). We dated from September of 1997 until we married in August of 1998...and we started dating again a little more than a week ago. I don't mean we've been separated or uninterested in each other, because we have always enjoyed each other immensely. But, I'm so giddy these past days that I almost want to ask her Dad if I can marry her again. It's like our interest in talking late into the night and discovering more about each other has been set on fire again. We are talking about profound spiritual things.

Here's the really mind-blowing thing. We are going to begin pre-marital counseling of this terrific young couple tomorrow night. We love them and are very excited and honored to be part of their marriage preparation. We started looking over the counseling material and reading a great book by Dave Harvey entitled When Sinners Say, "I Do." It caused us to talk the other night at perhaps the greatest level of transparency about our sin that we have done to date. We talked about sinful desires and failures...and do you know what happened? The heightened understanding of our sin (after talking about it) and the resultant disgust of it caused us to revel in our Savior! Harvey quotes some old pastor (whose name I can't recall at the moment) as saying something like, "Only when you're sin becomes bitter, does the Savior become sweet." He really had something there! Oh, how I pray that we continue to learn that we are (in our respective eyes) the chief of sinners, so that we look to Christ more and more, and in so doing see that our marriage is sweeter still because of our merciful Savior.

So she's dating me again...and we're both falling in love with Jesus.