Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Perseverance of the saints: We're in it together

Christian perseverance is a community project, not a solo effort.

Perseverance is on the minds of many evangelical Christians in the wake of the recently announced departures from the faith by a couple of high-profile, professing Christians. Their apparent rejection of Christ and the faith offers an opportunity for us to make sure we are taking advantage of the means God has given to help us endure to the end. We face fierce opposition to our endurance, but we are not unarmed.

One of those means is the Bible. We must continue to trust the inerrancy, authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We should rehearse the promises of God in His Word. We also have the gospel. We should remind ourselves of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus -- and the standing we now have as a result. We have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. We need to rely upon and obey Him. We have the example of Christ, who endured the cross "for the joy that was set before him" (Hebrews 12:2).

So the church is not the only God-given means for our perseverance, but it is an indispensable one.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ -- especially those whom we are in covenant with in a local church -- are gifts to help us endure. And you and I are gifts to help them endure.

The writer of Hebrews tells us, "[E]xhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Hebrews 3:13). The purpose of our exhortations of each other is to avoid being "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." Sin would deceive us and produce hardened hearts toward God. Exhortations to and from brothers and sisters can help keep us from abandoning the family.

Worshiping together also is a way we help others and receive help from others to endure. In the same letter, the writer says, "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:24-25). Encouragement happens in community. Corporate worship helps us persevere.

Also in Hebrews, the writer tells the Christians, "See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God" or, as the New American Standard Bible says, "See to it that no one comes short of the grace of God" (Hebrews 12:15). We have a God-given responsibility to help one another endure until the race is finished.

So let's encourage one another. Let's show up for one another. Let's leave no one behind.

-- Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Monday, August 12, 2019

Restating the obvious on human dignity

Sometimes the church must restate the obvious.

Right now, one of those necessary restatements is the truth about humanity: Every human being is an image bearer of God. No exceptions.

The foundational declaration about the creation of man and woman in the Word of God says so: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them" (Genesis 1:27).

Our church's Confession of Faith affirms so: "Each human being, as an image bearer of God, is worthy of respect and protection at every stage and condition from conception until natural death."

The church of Jesus Christ should lead the way in proclaiming this vital truth about all human beings. It is not just a declaration to be offered by political conservatives who oppose abortion. It is not just a declaration to be offered by political progressives who oppose discrimination against minorities.

We -- as the true church -- should boldly assert this reality no matter the context. Within the church, our policy positions on a variety of issues may differ, but our defense of the dignity of every human being should not waver.

Lately in the news, the victims of unbiblical views of humanity -- considered by their victimizers lives not worth respecting or protecting -- have included Hispanics, sex-trafficked girls, and babies unborn and newly born. And there are many more in our world.

Against these wicked, ungodly ideologies and acts the church must proclaim again: Every human being is an image bearer of God. No exceptions.

-- Photo by Nathan Anderson on Unsplash

Friday, July 26, 2019

Health care in the New Testament church

Spending time in a hospital this week has provided some lessons regarding life as the church of Jesus.

We received word Sunday evening Linda's mother had suffered a heart attack, and we headed out Monday morning by car for Arkansas. Since arriving Tuesday afternoon, much of our time has been spent in the hospital with this woman whom we love.

This time has offered not only the opportunity to visit with her, as well as family and friends who have come to see her, but to interact with a litany of health-care workers. Multiple doctors, nurses and aides have entered her room -- and our lives -- as they seek to serve her and to help her recover. God has blessed us with the opportunity to engage with them and to visit at length with some.

Their care for our loved one has reminded me of what life is like in the body of Christ.

Just as these professionals seek to help those who are ailing physically, those who belong to the true church endeavor to help those who are sick spiritually. We seek to provide the remedy everyone needs -- the gospel of Jesus. We seek to come alongside others in the church and help them by direct or indirect means to diagnose why they are unhealthy. We seek to provide others with doses of truth and grace to gain healing and to recover from the infirmities of sin.

At least one difference exists in the analogy. Those of us who are doing spiritual health-care work in the church are patients at the same time.

All of us need our fellow saints in the church to help us become or remain spiritually healthy. We need others to provide spiritual health care to us, and they need us to offer the same kind of spiritual health care to them.

Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

He is indeed the Great Physician, but we -- the sick who have been healed eternally -- are spiritual health-care providers on His behalf and in His power. We need to extend and receive this care in our lives together.

-- Photo by Alex wong on Unsplash

Thursday, July 18, 2019

A season for lament

Lament is good. Sometimes, lament is necessary.

I am thankful lament to God is a biblical virtue, because I am living with it right now. In some ways, it is a season for ongoing lament.

Many reasons for lament exist regarding realities outside the church -- the proliferation of evil in multiple forms, the desecration of the image of God in human beings at various stages of life, the distortion of God's design for marriage and sexuality, the corrosiveness of public discourse, as well as the suffering and lostness of loved ones.

But there are reasons also for lament based on what is happening within the church. And those are especially my basis for lament at this time. Last night, a sadness enveloped me after I read news reports and social media posts from those outside our fellowship that reflected the attitudes of some conservative Christians.

For me, here are some reasons for lament regarding the wider evangelical and Reformed church:

-- The racial insensitivity, maybe racism, of some who appear unwilling to listen to the viewpoints and experiences of brothers and sisters of different ethnicities and skin colors.

-- The mind-set of some who seem to believe a woman's value is based solely on her roles as a wife and mother. (This has nothing to do with female preachers or elders, notions I believe to be unbiblical.)

-- The caustic, prideful rhetoric of some who apparently would rather conquer fellow Christians than communicate with them lovingly as evidence of the power of the gospel.

And that is not to mention such causes for lament as the departure from Christian doctrine and the failure to keep marriage vows that mark some in the church.

I invite you to lament with me. It is biblical, as numerous psalms testify. And it speaks to important truths about the One we worship. Former professor and now pastor David Gundersen put it this way: "[L]amenting to God implies belief in his listening ear, his fatherly care, and his sovereign power."

Let's lament our sins and the sins of others, and let's place our hope in the God who transforms hearts and minds.

-- Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

Friday, June 14, 2019

Are you growing from the gift of listening?

The New Testament doesn't name listening as a spiritual gift, but it's a gift we can, and should, give one another. And truly listening to one another could remedy much of the divisive rhetoric prevalent among evangelical Christians.

The Bible affirms the value of listening. James writes, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19). The Old Testament also warns against a person's desire only to speak his or her mind and not to listen to understand another: "A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion" (Proverbs 18:2).

Even the commonly held wisdom of humanity speaks to the importance of listening. You may have heard a version of a saying that apparently goes back more than 2,000 years: "We have two ears and one tongue so that we would listen more and talk less."

Despite this truth, my pride longs to make sure another person hears and understands my views -- even to the extent of focusing on what I will say next while he or she is speaking -- instead of making sure I understand that person's views. Regrettably, we have far too many social-media examples of Christians who are committed to expressing the opinions they hold with their tribes but not to listening closely to brothers and sisters who have different views on secondary matters they also believe are biblically based.

When we truly listen to another person, we are saying something important:

-- Listening tells another person, "I value you and your views."

-- Listening tells another person, "I can learn from you."

-- Listening tells another person, "I want to understand you and your views."

-- Listening tells another person, "I care about you."

-- Listening tells another person, "I want to be invited into your world."

Brothers and sisters, may we cultivate and prize listening that we might grow in our understanding, that we might demonstrate love, that we might foster unity and peace, that we might display the centrality of the gospel, and that we might glorify God together.

-- Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Friday, June 7, 2019

Does our rhetoric pass the grace and love tests?

The fruit of the Spirit is not uncharitableness, unkindness, unwillingness to listen to others' viewpoints. It just appears some evangelical Christians think they are entitled to act as if they are -- especially on social media.

Maybe you have made the same observation this week and in recent weeks even if you are an infrequent visitor to Twitter. The unhelpful rhetoric -- sometimes from both sides -- has accompanied such issues as women in ministry, social or racial justice, and a pastor praying for the president while seeking to protect his church's unity in Christ. Some pastors, ministry and institutional leaders, and other Christians act as if they have a corner on truth, even in secondary matters, that qualifies them to take no prisoners and even speak crassly when they voice the positions they confidently hold.

And this kind of dialogue -- or monologue, really -- can happen in a church as well. We should all guard against the temptation to communicate this way in person or on social media for at least these reasons:

-- It doesn't reflect the grace of God or of His gospel (Ephesians 2:4-9).

-- It grieves the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).

-- It shows a lack of love for other Christians, thereby failing to obey Christ's command, to provide evidence of our salvation and to demonstrate what God's love is like (John 15:12, I John 4:7-12).

-- It unnecessarily divides the church over secondary matters (Ephesians 4:1-6).

-- It undermines the witness of the church (John 13:35).

When we communicate -- even the truth -- with a lack of grace, love and humility, we should be grieved. It matters not only what we say but how we say it.

May we address our differences over secondary issues with brothers and sisters by repenting of our pride, humbling ourselves, prizing Jesus and His church over our perspectives and communicating with a desire to understand another's point of view.

-- Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Friday, May 31, 2019

Sinful choices and collateral damage

A Christian may ponder the cost to himself of choosing sin and foolishly decide it's worth the price. But how often does a Christian ponder the cost to others of choosing sin? How often does a Christian consider the collateral damage from his proud, rebellious, self-serving decision to sin?

The ones who become collateral damage may be a spouse, children, friends and even an entire church.

When the subject of King David's sin is raised, our minds likely go immediately to his use of Bathsheba to satisfy his selfish desires and his murderous disposal of her husband, Uriah. Certainly, there was collateral damage from those sinful choices. But David's decision to sin later in life resulted in far more collateral damage among God's people. As described in II Samuel 24, he decided to number the people. Joab, Israel's military commander, urged the king not to take a census, but David would not listen. The result of his sin against God? The deaths of 70,000 Israelites.

When professing Christians decide premeditatively after lengthy consideration to sin against a holy God and to reject the warnings of Scripture and those who love them, they often have already formulated rationales for why they would be justified in taking such action. You may have heard many such justifications. Here are some, each followed by what I believe to be a biblically based response that I would hope a person who hears it would heed:

"I deserve to be happy."

Actually, the only thing you -- and I -- deserve is eternal condemnation. Anything short of that is God's lavish mercy. If you don't receive what you deserve, it will be purely because of the free grace of God.

"I have to live out my truth."

Actually, if your truth doesn't match God's truth, then it's an untruth.

"I have to be authentic, because this is just who I am."

Actually, if you have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, it is not just who you are. You are deceiving yourself.

"My family and my church will be okay."

Actually, they might be okay ultimately, but it will be in spite of your sin, not because of it. It is only because God's grace to the downtrodden is so abundant that anyone devastated by your sin will be okay.

"God will forgive me."

Actually, you are presuming upon God and His grace. Even God the Son did not do that. He warned against such presumption when He rejected one of Satan's temptations by saying, "You shall not put the Lord your God to the test" (Matthew 4:7). And if you don't want to obey God now, what assurance do you have you will want to repent and seek forgiveness some day in the future?

Oh, may God grant us grace to obey Him, reject the Tempter's snare, flee fleshly desires, trust Jesus and think of others before ourselves that they might not become collateral damage.

-- Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash