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It is said that there are creatures in the depths of the oceans that remain undiscovered to this day. Astronomers keep finding new stars and new planets each and every year that, for millennia, have been seen only by God.  Every undiscovered animal, plant, and planet brings glory to God by the mere fact that He sees them, and He gets glory from their beauty even if He is the only one who knows that they exist.

In much the same way, despite the fact that there is much to be discouraged about when we look around at the situation in churches today, I do believe that there is, also, much to be encouraged about. I believe that God has men whom He has specifically placed around the world that bring Him glory every single Sunday, and no one other than their congregations know anything about them.

Last week I went on vacation with my family. And since we were on vacation on a Sunday, I looked for a church for us to attend. It wasn’t the easiest choice to make as zero churches came up on the TMS and 9 Marks church finder websites, but eventually, I settled on a church based on a Google search. We showed up right as it was starting. The first song began. As I walked into the room, there were about 40-50 people present. My expectations were not very high based on previous vacation experiments we had tried.

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great expectationsCharles Dickens’ classic novel, Great Expectations, chronicles a tale of a young, poor boy, named Pip. The little guy is an apprentice blacksmith and has no hope of ever being rich on his own merit. He is fascinated by the genteel society and opulence of the upper crust. His fantasy is to one day be a gentleman himself. Then one fine day he is visited by an attorney who informs him that he has come into some serendipitous fortune of property and unimagined wealth.

Pip’s dream of being a gentleman is suddenly within reach. But he soon discovers that his great expectations of fitting into the haut monde of 19th century London will require more than just the position his money affords him.

His practice belies his origins. So, with the help of a friend, he is discipled in the arcane ways of etiquette and sophistication. He painstakingly observes and mimics the nuances of the behavior, fashion, and mannerisms of those he now considers his peers. He masters the accentuation of their speech and employs skilled tailors to create fashionable clothing that completes the metamorphosis from urchin to elite.

In the same way any of us may be suddenly declared holy and righteous by God in our position, but our speech, conduct, and attitudes will undergo incremental improvement before our practice matches our position. We call that metamorphosis sanctification.

Last week we saw the Apostle Peter laying a foundation of hope, building his argument on… four foundation stones of salvation.

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One disturbing memory of my early childhood involved a TV show I saw when I was six years old. My parents were away for the weekend, and had left me with my grandmother. She plopped me in front of the hit TV series, The A-Team. Little did she know that it was the night Murdock would be shot.

I had learned to know and love BA, Hannibal, Face, and of course Murdock. What my parents liked about the show was that while many bullets flew around in each episode, no one ever got shot.

Until that fateful night.

In the melee of some fisticuffs with random bad guys, one of them pulled out a gun and shot Murdock in the stomach. I was horrified. My grandmother tried to explain to me that he wasn’t really hurt, that it was part of the story. She first tried the tactic of convincing me it was not real blood. But it looked real to me, and Murdock seemed to think it was real. His teammates looked concerned too. He appeared to be seriously hurt.

Then she changed tactics. The comfort she then proffered was that the writers of the show knew all along that he was going to get shot, and they knew how they are going to save him. I just had to give it time and I’d see the pre-written plot unfold and work out for the good of Murdock and the A-Team in the end.Hannibal-Smith

Sure enough Murdock lived to see another season of the A-Team. I learned to take comfort in the truth that as long as the writers knew what was going to happen, they were in control, and all would work out in the end. Or as Hannibal would quip with smug satisfaction: “I love it when a plan comes together!”

That is the same tactic the Apostle Peter employs when comforting Christians of the dispersion, whose homes had been raided by Nero’s gestapo. Perhaps they had lost jobs, or even loved ones to martyrdom. His purpose was to encourage them so that they would stand firm in their faith. So, Peter lays a foundation of hope because this is the best antidote for suffering.

Over the next three Mondays we shall see four foundation stones, or building blocks, of salvation…

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“Oh wow! A lady from my church just called my wife to tell her she found out her husband has committed adultery! I think he’s leaving her.”

That’s the sentence a pastor friend of mine said last week during our conversation. While we were catching up, he had received a phone call but he ignored it since we were talking; then he got the text. Here we were at a pastors’ conference enjoying fantastic preaching and great fellowship, when, suddenly, this text served as a striking reminder that ministry never stops. It doesn’t matter how far we travel, across the country or across the world, we can’t escape the realities of ministry.

I don’t have much experience in ministry, but I can confidently say that the most difficult part of it is when people walk away from the Lord. Of course, the death of fellow saints is painful, but our theology allows us to be joyful at the same time; unbelievers rejecting the Gospel is sad, but it is expected apart from God opening their eyes. It must be said that there is nothing like having someone with whom you’ve spent hours with, discussing Scripture, theology, doing evangelism with them, and spending Sunday after Sunday singing incredible truths with, only to watch them walk away from it all in order to satisfy some worldly temporary pleasure while forsaking the church that Christ died for.  Thomas Watson’s words ring true when he said, “What a fool who, for a drop of pleasure, would drink in a sea of wrath.”

What are we to do?  How are we to think about it?  It doesn’t matter if you’ve been a pastor for decades and have watched dozens of people walk away, or if you’re new in the ministry and it has happened only a handful of times, I imagine that it is something you never get used to and, perhaps, as we get older and our joy to see Jesus increases, our disappointment over those who walk away only tends to get stronger. So, how do we think through this? You don’t have to be a pastor to experience this tragedy. Here are four reminders we need when someone close to us in the church walks away.

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Ministry is hard.

easyYou’re probably thinking, “No duh, Jordan.” But there was a time that I actually thought that it was going to be easy. I’m prone to make the same mistake over and over again. When I sat in my pre-marital counseling, I thought that marriage was going to be relatively easy. Then, before we had our first child and we took our parenting class, I thought, “Man, this is going to be a piece of cake.” And then there were times sitting in seminary classes that I thought, “Sounds pretty simple to me!”

But then I got married, and even though my wife is the most gorgeous and godly woman I know, I still can’t stop from being selfish towards her at times, and despite the fact that I’ve listened to hours of Tedd Tripp’s thoughts on parenting, I still struggle when my children sin against me, and even though I went to the best seminary in the world (yes, I know I’m biased), ministry is still incredibly difficult. Sitting in a classroom is one thing, but actually experiencing the ministry is another.

Recently, as I had the opportunity to teach on Luke 9:1-9, I was overwhelmed with the concept of giving glory to God in our ministries. How does God get glory from us doing ministry? For over a year Jesus had done everything, and it was going pretty well. Yes, He was almost killed a couple times, even in His own town, but thousands were being healed, thousands were having demons cast out, and, as you read the verses right after this section, you see that thousands upon thousands were following Christ so far that they didn’t have food to eat and He had to feed the hungry crowd. Jesus was doing ministry perfectly.

And in these verses, He decides to step back for a time and sends out the twelve disciples to go do ministry for the first time.

Jesus didn’t have to do this. He could have done it all. The Trinity could have decided before the foundation of time to never create humans or to not allow human beings to share in ministry, and yet God decided to not only create humans but for human beings to be the instruments He would use to bring glory to Himself.

And so, Jesus sends out the twelve, but it is quite obvious here that the disciples are completely dependent on Christ. We throw around the words “give glory to God” very often in the church, but I believe this passage actually gives us the opportunity to define this term a little better.  In fact, Jesus gives us three gifts that drive us to admit or dependence on Him and that ultimately allows Him to receive all the glory and praise.

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ant farmAs a kid I didn’t have an X-Box or Apple Wii. I had an ant-farm. It was perched on the desk in my bedroom. I derived a simple, if voyeuristic, fascination from hours of observing these industrious creatures in their diminutive universe, bustling about their business, oblivious to my all-seeing gaze. I would ensure they always had ample nutritious sustenance to stockpile, and even the occasional sugary delight. And I vigilantly protected them from the clumsy curiosity of our dogs.

But one day they discovered a tiny crack in the plastic, and they staged an adventurous emigration into my room. I began to find ants on my desk, in my closets, under my bed.

At first I was compassionate and patient. Scooping up each escapee and whisking it back to the comfort of the well-stocked farm. Until one day I got tired of having a nation of ungrateful tenants that were constantly rebelling. So I picked up the whole contraption and tossed it into the garbage on the street, cast from my presence.

I suppose it’s this type of petulance in my character that makes me appreciate God’s patience with me. But the scene of that ant-farm rebellion is also a picture of another species of recalcitrant rebels who are puny in comparison to the one who provides their sustenance and safety.

Let’s see, in four scenes of Psalm 2, what God thinks of humans who rage against being subject to his rule…

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R.C. Chapman was a well-heeled young gentleman living in 19th Century England, and he had a lot going for him. He was born with the proverbial silver spoon dangling from his mouth, he excelled at his elite school, and he established a law practice at a prodigious age. The cherry on top of that generous dollop of smiling providence was a small fortune he inherited at age twenty-three. Naturally, it could be assumed that the young man was set for life and would settle into a comfortable life of ease and merriment. But that prognosis would overlook the dramatic effect sanctification has on true Christians.

At age twenty Chapman was born again. Before his thirtieth birthday he calmly and deliberately veered off the promising professional path onto the sparse road less travelled, to become the pastor of a small church in Barnstaple, Devon. He also invested his considerable wealth directly into the work of that ministry, leaving himself with nothing beyond a modest home and bare necessities.RC_Chapman

Chapman had a remarkable trust in God’s provision and a gushing generosity. A story is told how that once he travelled to preach at a conference and gave away all his travel money at the conference, leaving him no ticket to get back. He was paid an honorarium but by the time he got to the train station he had given that away to a needy soul he encountered. His companion asked how he intended to pay for the train. Chapman replied confidently, “To whom does the money belong, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.”

At the station a man disembarking the arriving train recognized Chapman and hurried over to him and handed him a five-pound note, saying, “I have had this in my pocket for some time, and am glad I met you.” The man left and after a moment Chapman playfully asked his companion, “To whom does the money belong?

Some would call R.C. Chapman presumptuous.

But let me ask you this: Do think it is more Christlike to presume that God will provide… or to fret and worry that he won’t?

It’s easier to preach on some texts than to live them! One such passage is Philippians 4:6-7.

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Now may the God of peace, who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus—the great Shepherd of the sheep– with the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you with all that is good to do His will, working in us what is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever (Hebrews 13:21).

Image result for true worship

Worship is a heart-felt attitude of thankfulness, love, holy fear, and submission to Scripture that magnifies the glory of God by rejoicing in who God is and what he has done for us through Jesus Christ. Worship takes God’s attributes (which can seem distant and are marked by the otherness of God—his holiness) and not only makes them personal, but magnifies them by the attitude of the worshiper towards them.

For an example, consider God’s sovereignty—which can certainly seem his most otherly attribute: when one who loves God understands how God’s sovereignty affects his own personal life, and he responds with thankfulness, fear, and submission (as well as joy, gratitude, etc.) then God is worshiped in the heart. Worship then is the result of a heart that has right information about who God is and what God has done, and then has the right response to that information. True worshipers respond in a way in keeping with God’s character and actions, as a response to his character and actions, and this has the effect of glorifying his character and actions.

True worship intersects with local church for a few reasons:    Continue Reading…

 

keep-calmIn 1988 Bobby McFerrin dropped his enormously popular hit that would become the first a capella song to summit the Billboard Top 100 chart to reach the #1 spot.

“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” resonated with a generation of those who identify as overstressed, overworked, underpaid, and underappreciated.

The lyrics, sung in an affected accent amid the bobbing and weaving of McFerrin’s own vocal gymnastics, became an anthem for the economically oppressed urbanites and a mantra for the angst-ridden collegiate coeds. Many know more stanzas of this song than of the national anthem.

In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry, you make it double

Ain’t got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don’t worry, be happy
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don’t worry, (ha-ha ha-ha ha-ha) be happy (look at me, I’m happy)

Ooo-oo-hoo-hoo-oo hoo-hoo-oo-oo-oo-oo-ooo Don’t worry
Woo-oo-woo-oo-woo-oo-ooo Be happy […etc. …]

The problem with this cheerful chant is that it is misleading; it posits that the opposite of worry is happiness. Let’s delve into a verse of Scripture that brings rich theological protein to this otherwise unsubstantial cotton-candy advice.

Philippians 4:5-6 Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything,

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Here are some practical tips I found on the net on how to be happy:

  1. Get regular exercise, be healthy. Go for a brisk walk, get health issues you are in control of sorted out and stay hydrated by drinking copious amounts of filtered water.
  2. Socialize with happy people. Studies have shown that spending time with good friends who have a positive outlook on life dramatically increases subjective reports of wellbeing and happiness.
  3. Learn a new skill. When people focus on learning a new language, craft, or sport they exhibit higher levels of happiness.
  4. Engage frequently in simple activities that bring you pleasure. The concept of “flow” is that sense of satisfaction and fulfillment and happiness one experiences when doing something enjoyable and doing it well. One simple example is eating a favorite food as a treat— in moderation of course.

And here are some tips I found for caring for my dog’s wellbeing:dog-out-a-window

  1. Regularly take your dog for a brisk walk for exercise, give him lots of fresh water, and get health issues sorted out quickly.
  2. Socialize your dog by making an effort to get him out to parks where there are other dogs.
  3. Train your dog and teach him skills.
  4. Let your dog engage in activities that bring him pleasure like hanging his head out the window, and give your dog an enjoyable treat to eat—in moderation.

Of mutts and men

I’m not sure what insight is to be found in how similar and environmentally sensitive canine and human happiness is. But there is another aspect in which dogs and humans correlate. One site on K-9 police dogs said that the animal’s wellbeing is inextricable from his relationship with his handler.

If he has a kind master who provides for physical needs, expresses love and affection through touch and tone of voice, and spends time with the dog, he will be almost oblivious to any other circumstance besides what the master requires of the dog. And this total obedience is born out of the canine’s trust in his handler.

I wish the psychology websites included this in their advice on how humans can be happy.

Thankfully, Christians already know that joy stems from being in a right relationship with a loving, generous, and trustworthy Master through obedience.

One compact and clear verse that teaches this is Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.

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