Monday, March 20, 2017

The Fear of Death:

Jesus has a deep, intense desire to give you a gift so great you do not yet have the capacities to conceive of it (1 Corinthians 2:9). But you do catch glimpses of it in biblical metaphors and imagery, and in sublime moments when an experience of glory briefly transcends anything else here on earth.

Jesus longs so intensely for you to have this gift that he pleads with the Father to give it to you:

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” (John 17:24)

This supreme request is the great culmination of Jesus’s prayer in John 17. That you may receive this gift is the reason why he manifested the Father’s name to you (John 17:6), gave you the Father’s words (John 17:8, 14), and guards you so you will not be lost (John 17:12). It is why he prays that you will be kept from the evil one (John 17:15), know the joy of helping others believe in him (John 17:20), and experience the sanctifying wonder of knowing and living the truth (John 17:17, 19).

More than any other good thing Jesus asks from the Father for you, he wants you to be with him forever. More than anything else, he wants you to see and savor the glory that the Father bestowed on him from eternity past (John 17:5, 24). For he knows that nothing else you ever experience will provide you such profound and lasting joy and pleasure (Psalm 16:11).

What Do You Fear Most?

But Jesus’s fervent prayers for you come with a sober implication, one that makes you recoil, even fear. In fact, one day you might find yourself pleading with God to give you the very opposite of what Jesus wants for you. The answer to Jesus’s prayer eventually requires your physical death. Unless Jesus returns first, you must die before you experience the forever fullness of joy in his glorious presence.

We must endure what we hate and fear most in life in order to enjoy what we love and long for most.

Yes, we hate death and resist it — and we are right to do so. God originally created us to live, not die. Death is a curse we bear, the tragic wages of rejecting God and his kingdom (Romans 6:23).

Nowhere does the Bible encourage us to view death itself as a good thing. Death is not a good thing; it’s a horrible, evil thing. Anyone who has watched loved ones die can attest to its hideousness. Death is our mortal enemy (1 Corinthians 15:26).

How Is Death Gain?

If that’s true, why does God count precious the death of his saints (Psalm 116:15)? And why do his saints even call death gain (Philippians 1:21)? Because in that most horrible, most evil moment of the death of the Son of God himself, death as we fear it — the extinguishing of our life and the seeming loss of our soul and joy — was killed! Jesus conquered our great enemy when he rose from the dead (Romans 4:25; Revelation 1:18), and will ultimately destroy death forever (1 Corinthians 15:26).

In fact, so powerful, so complete is Jesus’s defeat of death that he speaks of it as if Christians no longer even experience it:

“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.” (John 11:25–26)

It isn’t death itself that is precious or gain to us. It is the Resurrection and the Life, who has removed death’s sting and swallowed it up in victory (1 Corinthians 15:54–55), in whom we are receiving an eternal inheritance beyond our wildest dreams (Ephesians 1:11), and in whose glorious presence we will experience unsurpassed joy forevermore (Psalm 16:11). He is precious to us. He is our great gain in death.

Prepare Through Prayer

When our earthly assignment from Jesus is done (Acts 20:24), he will call us to be with him to enjoy most what we are made to most enjoy: him. This will make death gain for us on that day (Philippians 1:21).

Jesus is eager to give us this great gain, and he wants us to grow in our eagerness to receive it. How do we do that? Like he does. We ask the Father for it! We join Jesus in praying for the time we will finally see him in all his glory. We ask him to decrease the hold that the fear of death has on us due to unbelief in our hearts. And we ask him to give us such faith and longing to be with Christ that we no longer wish to live as long as possible here, but only long enough to faithfully finish our course (Acts 20:24). Because to finally be with our Savior will be so much better (Philippians 1:23).

Whatever It Takes, Lord

Someday Jesus’s prayer for us to be with him will overrule our prayer to be spared physical death. And when it does, we will know such joy and pleasures that we will wonder why we ever felt any reluctance to pass through the valley of its shadow (Psalm 23:4).

Whatever it takes, Lord, increase my faith and joy in the truth that death is gain for me, so that I can “let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.” Do not let the fear of death cause me to resist your will for me, and let me die in a way that declares that Christ is gain.

Wednesday Worship:

The Danger of Religious Ritualism:

The Babylonian army descended upon Judah in the sixth century BC, destroying the city of Jerusalem and the temple of God in 586. The people had been consistently warned this would happen, but they were confident it would not be so, even though the Northern Kingdom Israel had suffered a similar fate some 150 years earlier. The prophets warned Judah repeatedly that their idolatry—looking to things other than God for their safety, satisfaction, and fulfillment—would end badly. And because the vertical relationship between God and the people was broken by idolatry, the horizontal relationship between people also suffered greatly.

The prophets also warned the people about this. Their social injustice—exploitation of the poor, the orphan, the widow, the stranger—would also bring about God’s judgment. But why were God’s people so confident that judgment would not befall them? In a word (or two): religious ritualism. They were convinced that simply going through the motions of worship was sufficient to keep God happy and secure his blessing. Idolatry, social injustice, and religious ritualism.

Malachi, whose name means “My Messenger,” confronted God’s people about these same three sins. Even though he preached to Judah many, many years after Jeremiah, the people of God continued to sin against him in the exact same way. Despite having experienced the horrors of exile and having seen God’s faithfulness in returning them to their land some years later, the people go back to sinning in the same way as their forefathers.

In Malachi 2:11 we read, “Judah has acted treacherously, and a detestable thing has been done in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the Lord’s sanctuary, which He loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god.” God’s people were warned against marrying those who worship foreign gods because the result would be their own idolatry. This happened to Solomon (1 Kings 11), to Israel in the wilderness (Numbers 25), and now we see it again. Marriage to those who worshiped other gods is particularly pernicious because it inevitably leads to the people themselves worshiping other gods.    

In addition to idolatry, Malachi castigated the people for social injustice. In 2:17 we read, "You have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet you ask, ‘How have we wearied Him?’ When you say, ‘Everyone who does what is evil is good in the Lord’s sight, and He is pleased with them,’ or ‘Where is the God of justice?"

In response to this attitude that God is unconcerned with justice, he states that he will judge their own injustice: "I will come to you in judgment, and I will be ready to witness against sorcerers and adulterers; against those who swear falsely; against those who oppress the widow and the fatherless, and cheat the wage earner; and against those who deny justice to the foreigner. They do not fear Me,’ says the Lord of Hosts.”

As before, the broken vertical relationship (idolatry) has led to a broken horizontal relationship (social injustice). And God is imminently concerned that his people treat others well because his people are to be a light to other nations. Of course this includes proper worship (the vertical relationship), but it’s also highlighted in how His people treat the least of these around Him.

And, just as before, the people believed they had nothing to fear because of their religious ritualism. They thought all that was needed to earn God’s favor and avoid his wrath was to go through the motions of a relationship with Him. The Lord says through Malachi, “When you present a blind animal for sacrifice, is it not wrong? And when you present a lame or sick animal, is it not wrong? . . . You bring stolen, lame, or sick animals. You bring this as an offering! Am I to accept that from your hands?” (Malachi 1:8,13). See, the priests thought that simply going through the motions of religious sacrifice would be sufficient to please Yahweh and avert his wrath, but such was not the case. They displayed a fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be in relationship with God and love him fully.

God’s people have been committing this trifecta of sins for quite a long time. It’s these sins that the prophets of the Old Testament preached against before the exile and again after it. And it is these sins for which Jesus in the New Testament castigated the Pharisees. They misunderstood what it meant to have a right relationship with God. As a result, they trusted in their adherence to religious acts to secure a relationship with God, all the while despising him by ignoring the “the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

And here’s the thing: we continue to commit these same sins today. The thinking so often goes that we can place our hope in our job, bank account, or any number of other things, just as long as we go to church on Sunday, give our tithe, and maybe read the Bible here and there if we need an emotional boost. And don’t worry about the poor, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant, or the refugee because, after all, we went to church this Sunday and we even gave a tithe. Yet this type of thinking is startlingly dangerous—it led to exile in the Old Testament and the rejection of Christ in the New Testament. Let us learn from God’s words through Malachi and seek out a true relationship with God characterized by Jesus’s words in Matthew 22:37–38: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”

Thursday, February 23, 2017

TBH: To Be Honest

Can I be honest with you? Can I share my heart with you for a minute?

I am struggling with feelings of discouragement in ministry. I am struggling with wanting to throw in the towel and asking myself if it even matters anymore.

Before I go on I need to back up and give you a little back story.

I went to college at Liberty University where I was a Religion: Youth Ministry major. Yes, that is an actual degree and yes I did spend "some" time in the library during my undergrad; though, truth be told in one of my classes I had a mid-term in which we drew turkeys with our hands.  No I am not making that up and I think the professor got fired the following semester.

Anyways... while in college I volunteered at Thomas Road Baptist Church (you may know it as Falwell's church and the Moral Majority). TRBC is a mega-church in every sense of the word. On a typical Sunday, the church would have about 8,000 people worshiping. I volunteered in several capacities while a member of TRBC and one of the ways I volunteered was in their youth department. On a typical Sunday morning we would have over 300 teenagers in Sunday School. To help put that into perspective that is typically more people than I have attend the entire church I work at now during a typical Sunday morning. 300 in Middle/High School Sunday School! I knew that I would not graduate and get a job in a mega-church but my time at TRBC shaped my view of ministry.

During my junior year I had to do an internship with a Student Ministry Department. I choose to work with a local church in NJ. This local church typically had 25-30 students on a Wednesday night and 15-20 students on a Sunday morning. I had an incredible experience during my internship and learned a lot about working in a local church. I left the internship with the impression that a typical church which I would be hired at would have a youth group of 20-30 students.

After college, I attended seminary at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. My wife and I attended a church which had three services on a Sunday and if I remember correctly had about 800 in attendance on a Sunday morning. My wife and I volunteered in the K4 SS class and Kindergarten SS class. Each grade in the Elementary wing of the church building had multiple classes being taught per grade level. Every Seminary student should have to teach Kindergarten SS to help keep them grounded in theology. Try and explain the Bible to a 5 year old in a way he or she can understand and than you will know if you are learning anything in school.

I have always been around and served in typically larger churches and that experience has shaped (right or wrong) my view of ministry.

If I may be honest and bare my heart.

I am discouraged by the size of my Student Ministry. At times, I am embarrassed by the number in my Student Ministry department. On a typical Wednesday night we have 8 students and on a typical Sunday morning we have 12 students.

I follow individuals I went to school with on social media and I see there youth bands, incredible activities and high numbers and I get envious. I meet with youth pastors in my city and I hear them complain about a low attendance event which only had 20 students attend and I want to grab them and say 20 STUDENTS... I WOULD BE JUMPING UP AND DOWN IF 20 STUDENTS SHOWED UP!

I am discouraged. I realize it is wrong to compare myself to other Student Ministry but it is so hard at times. I realize I am making a difference in the lives of my students but I just wish I was doing more.

To be honest with you, I wish I had the largest Student Ministry department in my city. I wish I was the guy other youth pastors looked up to and said, "have you seen the size of his student ministry department." (I know this thought is prideful and sinful).

So... how do I fight discouragement in ministry?

I give it to Jesus in prayer. I cry out to God. I write blogs to process my frustration and to give words to someone else's struggle. I have spent many hours in the youth room crying out to God and as I have spent time with God and His Word four pieces of advice have been implanted on my heart.

1) Work Harder: I need to pray more and pray harder for my students and for God to grow my department. I need to hit the streets and local middle/high schools more. I need to get out of my office and spend time interacting with students. I need to never become content with the size of my department but I need to do all I can to grow my Student Ministry. I need to have a clean/modern space for my students to interact with each other and learn about God. I need to learn from others who are succeeding in the area of Student Ministry. I need to read books, attend conferences, ask hard questions of youth pastors who are reaching students. I need to be a learner. I need to put in the time, effort and hard work to grow my department. May I never become so discouraged or so content in my numbers that I stop working hard to reach the next student or school.

Please, do not misunderstand me, I know God is sovereign... I know God will grow my department if He pleases BUT I also know that He will only move if I am working. God has called me to work and it is in and through my working that He will reach more students with the Gospel. We are to work hard for the Lord, spreading the message and inviting people to church but knowing in the end it is God who causes the growth and if/when the Student Ministry Department begins to grow all glory and honor and praise goes to God.

2) Be Faithful: One day I will stand before God and give an account for my students and my ministry. I want to be found faithful. I want to have given every last ounce of strength and breath in my body for my students. Even if five students show up to an event, I want to put on the best event possible for those five students. Even if eight students show up to a Wednesday night Bible Study I want to be able to faithfully preach the Bible as if 800 students were there. The students in CREW do not deserve second best because we are small they deserve the best I can offer. I will never slack in my job to minister faithfully to my students. Regardless if our numbers are 8 or 800 they will get my full attention, love, and the best events/lessons I know how to put on.

3) Count My Blessings: I need to log off social media and stop comparing myself, my ministry with others. I need to focus on what I have. Let me tick off my blessings: I have an incredible Student Ministry team, I have a large budget (a huge budget for the size of my group), I have an amazing space to meet in and interact with students, I have the backing of the Senior Pastor, deacons and church body, I am not micro-managed and have free reign to run my department how I see fit, I have a great group of students, I have incredible parents who support me and my family and desire to help in any way, I am able to be a full time Student Minister, and the list could go on and on. I am blessed to be Associate Pastor/Minister of Students at FBC Stanleyville. I love my church and the freedom I have to do ministry. I need to spend more time counting my blessings.

4) Crucify My Pride: The root reason at least in my heart for wanting a large Student Ministry is pride. Sinful pride. I need to nail my pride to the cross. I need to crucify my selfish pride on the cross. I need to daily die to myself and follow Jesus. I am repenting of wanting my name more famous than the name of Jesus. I am repenting of wanting my name talked about more than the name of Jesus. I want, desire and need my pride to die. I am a sinful man who serves a sinless Savior. I am thankful for the power of repentance and the ability by the power of the Holy Spirit to crucify my pride each and every time it raises it's ugly head.

In conclusion, I struggle with discouragement and at times I want to throw in the towel but in the end I need to work harder, be faithful, count my blessings and crucify my pride.

If God causes CREW Student Ministry to grow to 30 students Praise The Lord but if He decides to keep our numbers where they are than I need to continue to praise the Lord. He is worthy!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Shack: The Truth We Are Missing:

On Friday, March 3rd the movie adaptation of The Shack will be released in theaters. The movie is based on the book written by William Paul Young which has sold over 18 million copies worldwide.

The Shack tells the story of Mackenzie Allen Philips whose youngest daughter, Missy, has been abducted during a family vacation and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness. Four years later in the midst of his Great Sadness, Mack receives a suspicious note, apparently from God, inviting him back to that shack for a weekend. Against his better judgment he arrives at the shack on a wintry afternoon and walks back into his darkest nightmare. What he finds there will change Mack's world forever.

I wont tell you anymore about the movie but I would encourage you to watch the trailer.

Due to the massive success of the book and the level of cinematography which is shown in the preview I can imagine the movie will do quite well.

There has been a lot written within the blogosphere pointing out the heresies which are contained in the book and will probably be brought up in the movie. A few of the heresies include:

  1. Universalism: Everyone goes to Heaven regardless of their religion. Jesus Christ is not the only way to God.
  2. Humans representing God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
  3. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit speaking words that are not found in Scripture. (It takes a braver man than me to put words in God's mouth).
  4. Depicting God as a female.
  5. And the list could go on
I could go on but for the sake of time and space let me refer you to these three articles if you would like to know more: The Shack: CARM ResponseThe Shack: Dr Al Mohler's ResponseThe Shack: Randy Alcorn's Response

A lot has been written about and against The Shack. I believe Christians should practice Biblical and Theological discernment when it comes to whether or not to see the movie or read the book. If you have been following my blog you know that I would never tell someone what to see or not to see, read or not read, etc.

I do, however; want to weigh in with my opinion on The Shack.

I believe that the conservative Christian world is missing something important when it comes to The Shack. There is a reason The Shack has sold 18 million copies. There is a reason the book took Evangelical Christianity by storm and there is a reason why the movie will do really well.

The reason why The Shack has done and is doing so well is because it meets a very real need in our world today. People are hurting. People are suffering. People are crying out for answers and I fear the Christian community by and large has fallen back on "pat" and "trite" answers rather than really wrestling with God and the Problem of Evil.

When an individual is suffering, Christians (myself included) are quick to say something and attempt to fix the problem. We are quick to say things such as... God is sovereign... God's got a plan for this... God's going to work it all out for your good and His glory... Humans have free will, etc.

Maybe we should take a minute and here Papa's words in The Shack when Papa is talking with Mackenzie about his suffering, "There's no easy answer that will take your pain away."

We are quick to talk and quick to attempt to fix things.

Instead we need to be quick to listen and emphasize with those who are hurting.

We need to be the ones sitting with those who are hurting and listening.
We need to be the ones to offer a shoulder to cry on.
We need to be the ones offering hugs.
We need to be the ones sitting in silence with those who are grieving.
We need to be the ones praying for and with those who are going through hard times.
We need to be the ones bringing food and serving those who are suffering.
We need to be the ones weeping with those who weep.
We need to be the ones who understand that blessed our those who mourn for they will be comforted.

We need to be the ones who are quick to listen and slow to speak when it comes to hard times.

People are hurting. They should be coming to church and encountering the love of Christ through Christians but instead 18 million plus of them have bought a book and will go see a movie which does not accurately, Biblically or theologically depict God the Father, God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. That is to our shame! Church we need to do a better job sitting with those who are hurting instead of speaking. We need to do a better job weeping with those who weep rather than spilling more ink attempting to fix things.

The truth we are missing from The Shack is that people are hurting, people are searching, people are looking for answers. 

May the church step up and minister to the hurting; rather, than being quick to speak may we be slow to speak and quick to listen. May we be a people who rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

The world is hurting. They don't need "pat" or "trite" answers. They need people... a family... a community of believers who will genuinely listen, love on and be there for them in the midst of their suffering.

In conclusion, in the midst of our theological blogs and rantings about the heresy in The Shack let us not forget the truth we are missing. There are hurting people in the world today who are not looking for answers but are looking for someone to grieve with them and be there for them in the midst of their suffering. May we be a people who are slow to speak and quick to listen. May we be a people who weep with those who weep and understand that blessed our those who mourn for they will be comforted.

Oh... and if you do go see The Shack please tell me how it is. ;)