Sunday, March 30, 2008

sunday is a day for baptisms

Last Friday (maybe?) I told you that there were going to be baptisms today. And there were. Five of them. Sweet meat. I love baptisms. It is the Gospel in the simplest visual form: death, burial and resurrection all in one movement.

And, as I said, my little sister got baptized. Double bonus. As she would say, she "loves Jesus a whole lot," or more simply she'd scream "I LOVE JESUS" in a crazy tone. That was first catch phrase with the youth group. I'd ask, "Do you love Jesus?" whenever they'd do something crazy. Fun times.

Baptisms are a sign that the church is doing one of the greatest things, preaching the Gospel. So, hallelujah, we are at least getting it down. Now, if only we'd become reformed in theology....

Enjoy the day and rejoice because, truly, God is the Gospel.


Friday, March 28, 2008

getting baptized

My sister, not Amy the missionary, the other getting baptized on Sunday. So are four other folks that I'm aware of.

Anna's been a believer for awhile, but is just now getting baptized. A couple of the others have been as well, but I know that at least one of the guys is a new believer.

Why does the western church wait so long to baptize?

Anyway. Be excited. I am. We're singing "It Is Well with My Soul," cause I'm pretty sure Anna likes it a lot. Shh...don't tell.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

how long should we give?

I've been plagued recently by some folks who seem to want to live off of what the church gives them. They are content to call me multiple (I got 4 phone calls today from one person) times at work or my cell phone or at the church and basically demand help. Now, as you know from a recent post, I like giving. I think we, as the church, need to be more giving despite what the gifts are used for, but...there just may be a reason why I can't find much 'relief' efforts going on in the early church.

The folks, as it would happen, are not members of the church, do not attend a church elsewhere, and show no signs of being a believer other than saying "I used to go to church." They are, for all intensive purposes, nonbelievers and non-attenders.

What then, is my responsibility to help them? Should I continue to give support to them despite the fact that they are not (by any means that I can see) trying to help themselves (2 Thes. 3:10) or responding to the Gospel? Does the common grace of God extend through us to them?

I must admit, the problem makes my head hurt. The other things weighing on me is the lack of Scriptural evidence that either Israel OR the church ever paid much mind to those who were not part of their community. I wonder if the lack of textual evidence points to the actual exclusiveness that I lean towards in these posts on missional giving and on giving in emergencies (such as natural disasters).

So, with a weary heart, I gave to the man who called 4 times today.
Did he deserve it? Probably not.
Did he need it? Not really.
Were there those in the church that would have benefited more? If I knew them, I'd be banging down their doors.



Tuesday, March 25, 2008

what the flu taught me about the Gospel

I had the flu. It sucked.

But today was great. I was able to eat and work and play and laugh and think and pray and read without getting sick or feeling weak. It was awesome. I felt alive again.

And then it hit me. What kept me going through the flu? It was the hope that in a little while I would be better and able to do all things again.

How much greater a hope is put before us in the Gospel?! We spend this life toiling in the weak, crappy, self-righteous flesh. We are never able to be free of it, it is like we are continually sick. And then, the great day of our death or the Lord's return when finally the sickness will end and we'll be free from this wretched awful body.

What a glorious, freeing, rejuvenating thought. May it keep me (and you) going from now until the day we meet Christ face to face.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

the big day

So, I've missed a few days of life. If you have the flu, get the flu, or know someone who has then you know why. Man, what a couple of sucky days.

But, I did manage to make it to church (although nowhere near full health) to celebrate the great day of Easter. (Pagan references aside, it does have a good ring to it.)

Today is the greatest holiday that the church celebrates. The "first day of the week" he was NOT found in the tomb but was alive. In a new body. What a crazy day that must have been for the early disciples. To really, really get it. To go "ok, I'm not crazy. This dude was dead, now he's alive. Which means: Jesus is God. Jesus is the Messiah. Salvation belongs to all who believe."

And with that in mind they went on a wild torrent all around the known world talking and telling of this grand miracle for the ages. They couldn't stop talking about it. They talked so much that people got angry and tried to kill them. But they kept talking and telling of the good news of the resurrection and what it meant for all who would believe it.

Today, it seems that we have lost some of that fervor. Oh Lord, grant that we would be as passionate about spreading the Gospel as those early disciples were when they first realized the greatness of the news of your resurrection.


Thursday, March 20, 2008

the crucifixion

Tomorrow, Friday, we celebrate and remember the crucifixion of Jesus Christ nearly 2000 years ago. It is at once a joyous and grievous occasion. No greater atrocity has ever occurred than the murder of God on the cross. But, at the same time, no great love has ever been shown than by God on the cross. This is the great mystery of the Christian faith. It is foolishness to those who don't believe and life to those who do.

We will be showing the Passion of the Christ at 7pm tomorrow. I have mixed feelings. I will try to espouse them as best I can.

When the movie first came out I was a bit leery. The thought of watching someone, even in a movie, playing Jesus on the cross has always kind of weirded me out. That includes all of those Sunday morning plays. I have never really liked the thought of someone playing the part of God. Call me crazy, but I still won't like it.

I took some counsel from several folks. Most of them said "Joe, this movie helps us understand the horror of the crucifixion and can be used as a great evangelistic tool. Tons of people will see it and you won't be able to talk about it or interact with it because you won't have seen it."

There were a few, though, that sat on my side of the fence and did not watch it. To me, more and more, I have begun to have problems with pictures and representations of Christ that aren't...Christ. And since He isn't on the earth anymore, then that basically means I have a problem with every single picture of Jesus and every play that Jesus is in. All of them. Including the much beloved portrait of the long-haired Jesus.

Why do I have a problem? To me, it violates the idea of the second commandment which includes the phrase "you shall not make an idol, whether in the form of anything in heaven above..." and it goes on. This idea of not making an idol of anything that resembles heaven above is where I get stuck. To me, these pictorial representations of Jesus begin the violation of this commandment.

Also, when Jesus says to Thomas, "blessed are those who have not seen," I think he really means "have not seen" and implies "or tried to make visual representations of".

To those who would say that I need to see the movie in order to know the horror of the crucifixion...I only say, why? Did Martin Luther have such a movie to convict his heart of this horror? or Calvin? or Spurgeon? or Pink? or Lewis? or Lloyd-Jones? Of course, the answer is "no." I believe the Scriptures do a pretty good job of getting across the gruesomeness of the cross.

I also ask (perhaps this is incorrect) Is it really about the physical suffering of Christ? Does it matter so much that I need to see a movie to understand it about the suffering of Christ? Or, is it more about the finality of death and his defeat of it? Now, I don't believe that we can lightly think of the suffering Christ, but more so we should focus on the actual spiritually crucified Christ. The one who cried out "My God, my God why have you forsaken me?" and not the one who didn't utter a word as he was beaten, mocked and spit upon.

And so, tomorrow, I will face the question "Should I continue to keep my eyes from the Passion or am I being a bit to much of a legalist and stifling what could be a raw moment of emotion?"

I have a feeling that I will probably sit it out once again.

What are your thoughts?


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

an extra post this week

I just started reading The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan. I've read Young Christian's Pilgrimage that is an easier read and a slight adaptation of Bunyan's work. I found a gem tonight reading.

Then I saw in my dream, that the Interpreter took Christian by the
hand, and led him into a place where was a fire burning against a wall,
and one standing by it, always casting much water upon it, to quench
it; yet did the fire burn higher and hotter.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The Interpreter answered, This fire is the work of grace that is
wrought in the heart; he that casts water upon it, to extinguish and
put it out, is the devil: but in that thou seest the fire,
notwithstanding, burn higher and hotter, thou shalt also see the reason
of that. So he had him about to the back side of the wall, where he saw
a man with a vessel of oil in his hand, of the which he did also
continually cast (but secretly) into the fire.

Then said Christian, What means this?

The Interpreter answered, This is Christ, who continually, with the oil
of his grace, maintains the work already begun in the heart; by the
means of which, notwithstanding what the devil can do, the souls of his
people prove gracious still. 2 Cor. 12:9. And in that thou sawest that
the man stood behind the wall to maintain the fire; this is to teach
thee, that it is hard for the tempted to see how this work of grace is
maintained in the soul.

You can read the entire book online in several formats at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Enjoy.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

on to the mission trip

Tonight we had a business-like meeting at youth group to pick a place to go (I had narrowed it down to 7 choices). We are still on the fence, but tomorrow a decision will have to be made to make sure we have the space reserved. Pray that I make the right choice.

I must admit, I'm a bit worried about this trip. Not of the idea of taking 10 kids somewhere far away, not of sharing the Gospel, not of doing work, not of the dangers that may accompany such work. I'm scared that I'll miss the mark on organizing things. It is definitely one of the things that I am worst at doing. Pray that I would be confident, faithful and organized in planning this event. Also, pray for my spirit to be humbled because, in the end, it doesn't matter how good I am at planning the is God who will be accomplishing His work of spreading the Gospel...with or without good organization. But still, I strive to be better at this.

Thankfully I have some great kids who help me out (one who now works for me an hour a week to organize my life at church). Pray for them...they have to work with a bumbling idiot on a fairly regular basis.

Mostly, pray that God would be magnified in the kids of my church and in the lives of those we serve and share the Gospel with. A heart for missions is an amazing thing and the earlier kids catch wind of the Spirit of power in evangelism, the more time God has to do great things through them.


Thursday, March 13, 2008

be killing sin...

I'm reading through John Owen's book, The Mortification of Sin. It is quite convicting and I recommend the abridged version published by Banner of Truth in their Puritan Paperbacks line.

The famous quote "Be killing sin or it will be killing you" is found within the first 20 pages (the book is at home where I don't have the internet, so I don't have the exact page.) I have been struck by how unbelievably true this statement is. Indeed, over these past few days I have been appalled at how little I have aggressively sought to kill sin and how quickly it has spread its poison. It is truly a horrific thing.

Owen makes the statement that you can't be truly living the Christian life (that is, doing good deeds) unless you are at the same time seeking to put to death all the things of the flesh. They must be at the same time, because unless you have mortified those disastrous sins of yours, no amount of community service will make up for the destroyed witness for Christ displayed by your pervasive sinning.

Help us, Father, to sin no more.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

the importance of the gospel in death

Today was the funeral for the good Beth Karn. She was 87. She loved Jesus. She died a death that pointed people to the greatest news that has ever been told.

There is never an inopportune time for the sharing of the Gospel, but there are few that are as appropriate as a funeral. Death is part of the curse that came when Adam and Eve disobeyed the command not to eat. Death is a fearful thing for many people. Death keeps us from experiencing eternal life.

Ah, but death met its maker when Jesus came and died. And, to the praise of the glorious God in heaven, it was not victorious. Death could not hold Jesus in the grave, it had no power over God. And now, because of Jesus glorious resurrection we have the same hope.

We no longer have anything to fear by death. We have no longer any reason to wonder at what happens after we die. We don't need to mourn the inevitable. But, if we don't believe in Christ, we have much to fear.

There is life after death. It can either be one of great joy, surpassing joy, overwhelming, unending, soul-quenching joy. Or, it can be one of pain, torment, anguish, guilt, fear and unceasing loneliness. It is death that leads to these things.

And so, the appropriateness of the Gospel at a funeral is seen. There is no hope without the Gospel. There is no good that comes aside from the Gospel. And as we mourn the death of a person, we see in them our own selves awaiting the day of our own lifelessness. But, with the Gospel we have hope. We can live our last days filled with joy because, truly, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

The first few verses of Hebrews 12 give us a picture of life with an end. We are called to throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangle and run the race set before us looking, only, to Jesus for he looked to the joy set before him and was able to endure the cross. His life had an end. Our lives will end. But how great is the knowledge and truth that if we look to Him and believe we will also have a great joy awaiting us that we can fix our eyes on and endure all things.

If death is sure, then Christ is the guarantee of a better life to come. Even so, come quickly, Lord Jesus.


Sunday, March 9, 2008 of the surest things

There are only two (to my knowledge) who have never tasted death. Elijah and Enoch are both recorded in Scripture as having been caught up to heaven before they died. And there are those who will be alive at the Lord's coming (even so, Lord come quickly). For the rest, there will be a day when death will come.

Today a great lady of our church passed away to be with the Lord forever. I knew at 7:30 this morning. It didn't hit home until midway through this song (which I was leading). I had to hand the mic off to the pastor. The tears flowed freely as I celebrated and mourned Beth Karn.

Here are the lyrics:

Jesus, keep me near the cross;
there a precious fountain,
free to all, a healing stream,
flows from Calvary's mountain.

In the cross, in the cross,
be my glory ever,
till my raptured soul shall find
rest beyond the river.

Near the cross, a trembling soul,
love and mercy found me;
there the bright and morning star
sheds its beams around me.

Near the cross! O Lamb of God,
bring its scenes before me;
help me walk from day to day
with its shadow o'er me.

Near the cross I'll watch and wait,
hoping, trusting ever,
till I reach the golden strand
just beyond the river.

Hallelujah and amen!


Friday, March 7, 2008

the end

As I have been studying 1 Thessalonians this week in preparation for Sunday School, I have been struck by how much Paul references the coming of Christ. Four out of the five chapters mention the idea. Chapters 4 and 5 are almost explicitly dealing with the idea.

Now, to be clear, it can negatively affect your life to live completely in the future; waiting for Christ to return and not living for him here and now. However, I think I fail in the other aspect.

I think to little of the great coming of Jesus. We are to encourage one another with the thought. And so, I encourage you to look to the great coming of Christ that will be the end of the age and the beginning of life in the presence of God for many. It is a great thing. It will happen. He is coming and his coming will be magnificent.

Brothers, God has destined us for salvation. Be reassured and invigorated to live righteous and holy lives because one day we will obtain an inheritance so great that we can scarcely conceive it.



Wednesday, March 5, 2008

when to cut and run...or stay and fight?

I've never had much of a problem fighting for things or standing up despite the opposition. For instance, I distinctly remember refusing to do any homework related to evolution in the 7th grade. I took F's on every assignment. At the time, it was more important than my teacher, my grades or my parents misgivings. I stood and fought.

Another time, I spoke out against what I saw as a wrong choice for youth minister. In the end, after fighting, I cut my losses and moved on.

In both cases, looking back, I was basically just an arrogant stuck up punk. I wasn't a believer and the convictions I had were based in large part on what I felt they should be...not what they actually were. I acted in my own best interest and not God's.

There are two situations at present that I am dealing with that need action. One, is immediate. I must stand and fight for a teacher (a music teacher) to keep his job. Despite all the minor things going on, despite some discrepancies, this guy deserves his job. And so, I will fight for as long as the option is available. Right now, it looks like the chances of the job remaining are about 0%. But, still, I fight on principle. I believe that this man was stripped of dignity afforded to him by being a human being and made in the image of God therefore I will stand.

The other issue is much more difficult. It has to do with my current church association. (Not the physical church where I pastor, but the larger body that governs my church.)

You see, there is a person who teaches (not as a pastor, but as a layperson) at a sister church within the association what I deem as heretical things. Now, before you get all out of place about things (because I know some of you will) this has nothing to do with any famous persons that rhyme with shell, mcfaron, or legit.

I'm fairly familiar with his teachings and I know that they don't fly with the Bible, orthodox Christianity, or what I think is the association. But, here's the issue, I'm not sure.

So, in order for the good name of God not to be made a mockery of by this man, I have resolved to write a letter to the powers that be in the organization to inquire whether or not they are upset by this guy. My hope is that they say "He teaches what?!" and then they talk with the individual church and the guy is removed from teaching.

If, however, they say something more akin to "What's wrong with this stuff?", I will be forced to again decide whether to work to reform the organization for the glorious name of God or to abandon ship and leave them to their demise.

These type of things are not peculiar to me, we each face them often. Like Paul throughout the book of Acts, we must seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit and determine whether to stay or go.

A great assurance in these things comes from Philippians 2:12-13. In it, we are encourage to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." So, we are to be constantly working to be more Christ-minded and Christ-acting. And then the great promise comes in v.13 "for it is God who is at work in you both to will and to act according to his good purpose."

It is here that I rest assured. God is at work in me and I am confident that as I strive to be more like Christ that his good will is accomplished through my decisions to fight or flee.

Rarely, if ever, are we to flee when it is the great name of God that we are defending...for we should never fear anything when we are defending him. It is only when we think of protecting our own good name that it may be appropriate to flee. I think if you read through Acts and the OT history that you will see that that is the case.

As I consider what my decision will be (of course, hopefully, it will not come to this) I must make sure that I am doing this for God's glory and not mine.


Sunday, March 2, 2008

the flavor of God

Tonight at senior high youth group I tasted the goodness of God...and it was sweet.

The lesson was Romans 10. I walked the group through much of the early exodus, the 40 years, a few kings and finally to the time of Christ. Israel, because of their ridiculous human nature, missed Jesus because they forgot God. Now, to the praise of His great grace, those outside of the Jews are opened up to the good news of Christ.

That is sweet. That is grace. That is the sovereign God loving a people not His own for the sake of His glory.

It amazes me as I read about Israel how they could forget God in the desert. They had (and I have to yell this) A PILLAR OF CLOUD BY DAY AND A BLAZING PILLAR OF FIRE BY NIGHT. AND THEY FORGOT THAT GOD COULD DO ALL THINGS.

If I didn't see the same idiocy and hypocrisy in my own life, I wouldn't believe that it would be possible to forget God when He blatantly shows himself. But, just like those stubborn Israelites I forget God even though (to quote Piper) the blazing center of the glory of God sits daily before us. Jesus death on the cross is always there...and I miss it. All the time I miss it.

Oh, Father...grant that we might not forget the grace bestowed to us through your sovereign love. If it were up to us, we'd forget you in a heartbeat. Thankfully, you love us and you won't let us run away.


p.s. something new. you can (if i'm available) talk to me live via google talk on the post. so, if you want you can click below (if there's a little green dot) and you can chat with me. pretty sweet, eh?

Saturday, March 1, 2008

trying out

you can ignore this post, i'm trying out a google talk application.