Judson… again

16 Apr

Over the past week this post, and the video below, came across my radar regarding Adoniram Judson. The video is short, but it gives detail about how the work of Judson began in Burma, (the plea for financial and prayer support is for a continuation of that ministry). God worked mightily in the life of this man. The blog post is from Mission Frontiers. This post remembers Judson’s work of endurance, taking an opportunity to celebrate a life lived for the name sake of Jesus Christ. Through the remembrance of Judson hopefully many will be inspired to serve the Lord with their very lives.

Advertisements

Can You Be a Christian and Not Love Christians?

10 Apr

Can You Be a Christian and Not Love Christians? To some the answer might be blazingly obvious. ‘No! A mark of a true believer is love for the brother, case closed.’ I mean, the epistles of the New Testament seem to continuously elevate the necessary importance of loving your brothers and sisters in Christ, don’t they?

love

Can You Be a Christian and Not Love Christians? This question is more pertinent and worth a moment of your consideration than you might first assume.

In the pastoral ministry, I witness people struggle to love their brothers and sisters in Christ. Honestly, I struggle at times with loving my brothers and sisters in the Lord, as I am sure they struggle to love me. I am thankful that they struggle to love and don’t simply resign themselves to bitter distain. Nevertheless, I’m not referring to the struggle of loving our fellow Christian.

This question is for those who have no problem hating, or at least scorning, fellow followers of Christ, and yet still claim to follow Christ. Some justify their visceral reactions against the people of Christ, rather than repenting, as though their professed love for Christ is supposed to exist separately from the necessary love for his bride, the church, and her members. Please, don’t misunderstand—I’m aware that the church may hurt people or an individual Christian hurts them; heinous and awful things have been done by professing Christians, or in the name of Christ. However, not everyone crying wolf actually sees a wolf. And irrespective of crimes committed, one cannot hate his brother and love Christ at the same time. (1 John 3:10)

The gospel frees us from hate. It frees the true adherent of the gospel from harboring unforgiving-bitterness when hurt. By faith in Christ, we are free to love our brothers in Christ. The beauty of the gospel is not only that we are forgiven by faith in Jesus Christ, but also we are freed to forgive by faith in Jesus Christ. Now, mystical-magical forgiveness doesn’t pour forth from the Christian as a result of being in Christ, but the good fight of faith and striving to forgive and give, as we have been forgiven, is a badge of a true Christian.

If you love Jesus, you will love other Christians. If you love other Christians, you gather together with them. And if you gather with the church, a few things are guaranteed. First, the church is filled with sinners, which guarantees you will be sinned against. Second, you will have an opportunity to extend grace, mercy, and forgiveness to these sinners by faith in Christ. Third, if you are willing to receive grace, mercy, and forgiveness in some measure you will experience it in the body of Christ. Don’t be fooled to think you won’t sin against your brothers, as you do they will exercise grace toward you, by God’s grace if they are genuine. Fourth, you will see God in action in the midst of his bride bringing glory to his name. Fifth, none of this will be easy, but it will be worth it.

So, if you want to see God’s grace in action find a church where sinners are present, the gospel is preached, and they are imperfectly striving to attain the to the unity of faith. Entering a community like this will be hard, but it will bring you nearer to the Jesus you love.

Prayer

4 Apr

PrayerOver the years, prayer has become increasingly important to me. I once prayed simple-to-the-point-prayers, and now I pray simple-to-the-point-prayers. Even so, the discipline of prayer is not so ‘simple’. Usually, when one does something, or anything for that matter—let’s say running or knitting or something—that person usually grows in proficiency and skill. As time passes, I pray with greater frequency, devotion, and fervency, and yet I do not feel particularly proficiency or skilled in prayer; to consider one ‘good at prayer’ is dubious at best. Then again, maybe it isn’t. What I have learned is that prayer is not just a matter of doing it, and I don’t really pray like I should.

Once upon a time, I assumed the disciples to be rather dim for asking Jesus how to pray; I mean, they had the Messiah with them, modeling prayer constantly, just do what he does, right? How hard can it really be? Now I feel stricken with the same dimness I once thought the disciples to possess—Lord, how do I pray?

Sometimes, Christians inquiring about prayer only receive exhortations more akin to a Nike commercial than Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. I understand prayer can be made into an impossible labyrinth of genuflection, ritual, and technique, which is damaging. And while prayer might be as simple as the ABC’s, it must be realized that the ABC’s were not so easy at one point in everyone’s life.

The words of J.I. Packer & Carolyn Nystrom in their book Praying were rather comforting as I recently struggled through a difficult season of prayer. “Let’s be realistic where we are and where we are not in this matter of praying. Deep down all of us have found that prayer isn’t as easy as some people make it sound, or as easy as we ourselves had hoped it would be once our technique was straightened out.

While prayer is not merely a heartless technique, it is also more than simply talking to God. Prayer is a unique path to relate to God where one can seek him in all things. In the end, this is an inadequate description of prayer; thus the importance of taking the time to reflect upon what prayer is, what prayer is not, and the importance of growing in the discipline of prayer.

Why So Many Songs?

23 Mar

imagesIn general, I’m a very critical person. Thankfully, this quality is being refined in me as I grow in experience and wisdom (hopefully) so as not to reflect so much the more negative aspect of criticism as the constructive. Here I would like to write a bit about my history and thoughts regarding worship. I don’t mean to offer a theology of worship, but just some of the ways in which I have interacted with the subject, and with worship through song in particular.

The friend who first shared the gospel with me in high school, and who faithfully kept sharing with me for years thereafter (thanks, Joey!), shocked me on a visit a few years after my conversion. He said that he didn’t really like Christian music. Ok, there I agree with him. I don’t really like mainstream “Christian” music either, and for the same reasons he gave me. The quality of the songwriting is poor, as well as the production. But that wasn’t what shocked me. He proceeded to tell me that he didn’t even like singing in church, and that he arrived late, on purpose, in order to miss the “worship time.” I’m pretty sure we argued a bit after that.

Fast forward almost ten years to my time in France. I was watching a conversation on the subject of worship between Mike Cosper, Chip Stam, and Harold Best. At one point in the conversation, Harold Best said something along the lines of, “a mature Christian should be easily edified by worship songs.” I strongly disagreed. For many of the same reasons that my friend didn’t like “Christian” music, I didn’t like much contemporary worship music. The lyrics were shallow, formulaic, and I felt that they often aimed to bring the singer to an emotional experience rather than to a confrontation with a Holy God. They focused on the worshipper’s perspective and what the worshipper could offer to God, instead of focusing on what the all-merciful, gracious, holy, and just Lord of the universe did for us on the cross.

Soon after, I was watching a live-stream of the Passion conference and heard John Piper talk about what I felt was one of the more shallow worship songs that preceded his preaching. But, he didn’t tear it apart, he incorporated its lyrics into his message and made me worship God through it. That’s when I started to understand Harold Best’s statement.

God is so great, magnificent, holy, pure, perfect, etc…that no amount of songs, or no depth of lyric could ever contain or evoke all the worship that he deserves, or adequately reflect His worth.

That is why short songs, long songs, simple songs, deep songs–they all serve a purpose. And that is why we have so many songs and shouldn’t be discouraged or in despair about it. As John Frame points out in one of his books, contemporary songs tend to take one theme and cause the worshipper to meditate on that theme through repetition, whereas hymns are more multi-dimensional. But still, both forms are useful and necessary for proper worship. Why? Because God is far more worthy of worship than our songs describe. They are but attempts to describe the indescribable. We don’t sing because of tradition, or mandate, but because we feel compelled to sing. When I think about what God has done for me in Christ, I must sing. And all the worship songs in the world couldn’t describe all the dimensions of His being and goodness. That’s why we will never grow tired of His presence for all eternity…or of singing to Him about Him.

As one hymn puts it, “A thousand men could not compose a worthy song to bring, yet your love is a melody our hearts can’t help but sing!” 

Judson Part III

18 Mar

Judson

If you haven’t read the previous posts about Judson, here and here are the earlier posts. Apologies are necessary for the long hiatus between post two and three. My excuses are abundant and valid—all five children were sick, some of them more than once, along with my wife and me. There is nothing like passing around an enduring little bug that makes everyone miserable. Anyway, now that we’ve recovered, I’m back to scribbling and scratching in blog-land.

As mentioned in my earlier posts regarding this aberrant missionary extraordinaire, I want to consider a few questions. What led Adoniram Judson to give up everything for the sake of the gospel? Why didn’t he faint in adversity? What upheld him? Did they–whoever they are–make better people back then? What fortifies a person enough to endure such hardship and pain?

I ask because I need to guard against the admiration of another transforming into comparative analysis, which leads paralysis. Not trying for cutesy humor here, comparisons are dubious, leading to all manner of depressive-malcontent. Second Corinthians 10:12 warns that comparisons with one another demonstrate a lack of understanding.

Here is where I err. When reading about great men, like Judson, I often ask myself why am I not like him? I believe that question was posed in an early blog. However, through stark wake up calls intermittently in life it became obvious; I’m just mediocre-me. This was a shot to the ego. A humble accepting of who I am is still hard. Even so, the acquiescence of my identity was not what set me free from the bondage of comparisons.

Men like Judson don’t set out to do great things by striving to be like all the great men before them; they simply set out to serve their Lord. Judson went out not to conquer the world, gain recognition, or achieve ministerial glory, but to be an obedient servant of Christ, fixing his desire upon the Lord of glory. Judson was not promoting himself, comparing himself to others, or agonizing over how history would tell his tale—what he did was endeavor to be faithful.

Back to my questions, lest I unduly heap up comparisons… What would lead a man to give up everything for the sake of the gospel? The answer is plain, yet profound. The goodness of the gospel, whereby man finds life satisfying joy in Jesus Christ, is what leads one to give up everything for the sake of Jesus Christ. What fortifies a person to endure such hardship and pain? It isn’t toughness, or that some are cut from different cloth. Rather, it is those who, like the apostle Paul, build upon the foundation of Jesus Christ, according to the grace of God given; these will have work that will withstand the fires of of final judgment (cf. 1 Cor 3:10-15).

Maybe a better question to ask–what propels/supports a person in his/her ministry/missionary endeavors? I answer this question in three ways. Maybe there are more, surely there are; nevertheless, here are three straightforward truths:

  1. Hope in the world to come and not this world. (Hebrews 11:24-28; John 12:25)
  2. Have confidence that God is sovereign and good in all things. (Daniel 4:34, 35; Psalm 84:11, 12; Romans 8:28, 11:33-36)
  3. Grasp the magnitude of Christ’s love. (Ephesians 3:14-21)

These truths firmly support and propel the minister of the gospel in any setting. Ultimately, it is not about what we do or even who we are, but who God is and what he has done. It’s not about what Judson did that made him great, but it’s what God did in and through him that makes his ministry memorable. God’s glory and grace were manifest in his life. He merely set out to serve God, and the produce of his life is only explicable by divine grace

We mustn’t seek validity as people by doing great deeds, worth is not found in how successfully we do what we do. Contrarily, worth is found as children of God beloved of Jesus Christ. Love the Lord God with fullness of heart, soul, mind and strength; do not shoot for greatness, just faithfulness.

In the end, I still want to meet Judson. I long to sit at the feet of the saints recounting the mighty deeds of the inscrutable God over all.

Anonymity

14 Mar

A friend and I were having a conversation the other day about anonymity. We discussed the idea that total anonymity is impossible. While we can maintain an anonymous status for a while, he who perverts his way will be found out; and he who does good will also be discovered, but it will not bring as much recognition. Relieving anonymity is about selling goods, products, and a story; people browse, search, purchase, and comment on the Internet thinking they are anonymous, but we are not. Money is to be made in the discovery of secrets, people’s history, and what they want. In the name of commerce or social intercourse, it is increasingly difficult to remain anonymous.

Here is a link to an article about being watched, studied, and monitored for any and every reason with the expansive-increase in surveillance. Surveillance is not just a camera watching us anymore. Now, I know it smacks of conspiracy theory, however, George Orwell’s 1984 is not what’s in mind. After reading the first part of the article the point is clear—we’re being watched; and there is good money in the information gleaned by the watchers. Identifying consumers or criminals is highly useful, so as to best categorize them according to their record, so that the right product will be presented to them or the proper authorities will be called.

After reading the article I immediately began to think about being watched, I experienced a strange, yet all to common desire to behave better—I think I even sat up strait and looked over my shoulder. This impulse is normal, but is it good? Another article presents the idea that we will be better and perform better if we act as if the world were watching. A familiar Thomas Jefferson quote presents the idea of the article, “Whenever you do a thing, act as if all the world were watching.” Through scientific study they determined that people are more ethical in behavior when they think they are being watched. How true, but we don’t need an article like this to prove that people behave differently when others are watching. Ill deeds are done in the dark for a reason—no one can see them, or so we think.

As I wrestled with my flesh the Scriptures bore witness to my soul that it is more important to reckon that Gods is watching. Psalm 139:8 states that, “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! ” The ‘I’ in this verse is the indomitable God over all. God is watching and always has been. In other words, there is no place that we can get away from God. He is everywhere, and His eyes see all things. 2 Chronicles 16:9 teaches us that God looks over the whole earth to discover the faithful, “For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to give strong support to those whose heart is blameless toward him.” So, who should we be more concerned about watching us? Big Brother? God? The world? Are we to fear man or the One who can destroy both body and soul and cast both into hell?

After all, a knee jerk reaction of self-reform, when we think someone is watching, can be damaging to our soul, as we place the hypocrite’s mask on our face; the motive to behave rightly stems not from love of God and faith in Christ, but out of self-exaltation and self-preservation. In life aren’t the eyes of God–The Judge–greater cause for fear and repentance than the dim eyes of man?

Hope in the Promise-Keeper

9 Mar

Psalm_89_1-2--Faithfulness_4-3Sojourn’s adaptation of the hymn, Approach My Soul the Mercy Seat, begins with these four lines:

Approach my soul the mercy seat

Where Holy One and helpless meet

There fall before my judge’s feet

Thy promise is my only plea, O God

These words are amazing when you think about it. It is pure Gospel. God is the righteous Judge over all creation, and yet He bids us come into his presence, though we don’t approach Him based on our own merit. When the Holy One and the helpless cross paths, there is only person who is capable of intervening–or interposing (His precious blood, that is)–our Savior and Judge, Jesus Christ. Our salvation and the boldness by which we can approach our maker is based on His promise of reconciliation. If He has said that we may draw near to Him through the blood of Christ, then we can do just that. He is trustworthy. And when we do, His promise is our only plea.

Too many times I have found myself before God trying to convince Him that He got a good deal when He saved me. I like to think of myself as an intelligent and committed member of His following, which should be a welcome addition, right? Unfortunately, my self-appraisal equations don’t seem adequate to bridge the gap between the “Holy One and the helpless.” Something much greater than my inflated sense of goodness needs to be at work. He calls us to abandon all and trust that He has already provided everything we would ever need in order to be in an intimate, soul-laid-bare, kind of relationship with Him.

His promises really are our only plea.

There is much written on this subject in these days of Gospel-Centered everything. These are Christian buzzwords that are thrown around by many who have little to no understanding of what they really mean. Or, at least, that is my fear. But, what I want to do in this post is take a brief look at Psalm 89 and see that trusting in God’s promises is not a New Covenant strategy for fighting doubts of our eternal security. It is, in fact, our only hope of anything in this life, and this strategy has always been essential for God’s people as they dealt with the struggles of life. There are basically three steps in understanding the importance of God’s promises for us today.

  1. We must be reminded of God’s character.
  2. We must be reminded of His promises.
  3. And, we must take care to synthesize the first two truths in our own lives/circumstances/problems.

 

Reminding Ourselves of God’s Character

In Psalm 89, we see that the author, and God’s people, are not in the best of circumstances (v. 38-48). They are “cast off and rejected” by God (v. 38), and feel abandoned in every way. But that is not how the Psalm starts. The first part (v. 5-18) consists of an account of God’s character, and His faithfulness in particular. The author appeals to God’s character as can be seen through the simple fact that He is God. That is, not because of what He does, but because of who He is. And he appeals to God’s character as seen through His acts, as well. We can see this well in the Psalm’s theme of God’s faithfulness.

He is demonstrated to be faithful because He is God:

For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord, God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones, and awesome above all who are around him?…Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you. (v. 6-7, 14)

And He is demonstrated to be faithful because of His acts:

O Lord God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O Lord, with your faithfulness all around you? You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them. You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm. The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them. The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name. You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand. (v. 8-13)

For now, we are only taking note of the fact that the psalmist takes care to make an appeal to God’s character. We will find out why in a moment.

 

Reminding Ourselves of God’s Promise

In the first few verses of Psalm 89, the writer introduces the main theme of God’s promise to King David. God is quoted as saying, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations'”. (v. 3-4) In so doing, the author is creating a direct link between God’s faithfulness (v. 1-2) and the Davidic Covenant. (v. 19-37) God is a promise keeper, and He made a promise to David. Again, there is nothing profound here, just the fact that the psalmist does indeed mention that God made a promise.

Synthesizing God’s Character and Promise in Our Lives

Here is where the rubber meets the road. It is good to remember that God is righteous and holy and faithful and a host of other important character attributes. It is good to remember that He has made us promises. But it is better to remember that by combining these two ideas, we can have hope in our present difficulties. Reminding ourselves of God’s character is only helpful for us if He has actually chosen to communicate to us in promises. If He has promised us nothing, then it gives us no hope to meditate on His power. In fact, it would probably fill us with terror. Similarly, remembering that He has indeed made promises to us is only meaningful if He is capable of fulfilling those promises. I could promise to give a million dollars to every person who reads this post, but for any of you who know me, that promise is empty since I will never be able to deliver on it.

What is amazing is that this process of remembering and synthesizing knowledge of God’s character and promises is what the Psalmist does in Psalm 89. As seen above, he repeatedly speaks of God’s faithfulness and His promise to David. In the first 37 verses that is all he talks about. But, the reason why comes up in v. 38-45. There was a great inconsistency between God’s character, God’s promise, and the psalmist’s present reality. The people were not experiencing the blessing and fruitfulness that God had promised to David. Actually, what they were living was about as far away from that as could be imagined. And this is attributed to God (notice all of the “you”s in v. 38-45).

But the psalmist needs hope. And, though he acknowledges that it is God’s hand that afflicts them, he reminds himself that God has made them a promise, and that God is faithful to His promises. So, in prayer, he rekindles his hope in God by reminding himself of these truths and applying them to his present suffering. And, once he has done all of this, he ends with “Blessed be the LORD forever! Amen and Amen.” (v. 52)

In our own lives, we need to cultivate this practice every day. Reminding ourselves of these truths will give us the hope we need to press on in service to the Lord in this life, and that in spite of all our hardships. I hope to meditate and write a bit more on how this actually works out in my own life in future posts.

%d bloggers like this: