Church

The Next Right Thing

Jesus did amazing miracles and ministry throughout the gospels, as he reached out to hurting people on the fringes of society, yet he did this in the course of his ordinary responsibilities. There’s something profoundly encouraging about this. In Mark 5, Jesus experienced terrible rejection from those whom he loved dearly and had known his entire life. How did he respond? He went about among the villages teaching. He got up and did the next right thing.

Sometimes the evidence of gospel growth in our lives is simply doing the next right thing. It’s getting up in the morning and getting kids out the door to school. It’s spending a few quiet moments with the Lord when no one’s looking. There’s no fanfare, and there are no bells or whistles. It’s showing up to work on time and working faithfully, when there’s no one passing out ribbons for doing a good job. When we trust Jesus, not only does God credit Jesus’ amazing sinlessness to us, he credits his ordinary sinlessness to us as well. So let Jesus’ perfect faithfulness empower and motivate you for ordinary faithfulness this week—faithfulness to do the next right thing, whether you feel like it or not.

Politics & Relationships: A Plea for Reasonable Civility

We live in a day of increasing polarization that is affecting relationships within the church. The affect of social media on the unity of the Spirit within the body of Christ seems to have been detrimental (to say the least). So how should we think through political conversations online?

1. Trust that the world will not end if you fail to comment immediately on the urgent events of the day.
Patience is a virtue, and abstaining rather than commenting may be the wisest course of action.

2. Understand that politically conservative Christians and politically progressive Christians often believe opposite things but also believe that the issues of righteousness are so important that they must speak out.
It should move us to humility that Christians can disagree with one another so strongly and still be so convinced that they’re right. Christians can agree on big goals while disagreeing on the path toward those goals.

3. Adopt a tone of reasonable civility, rather than a provocative tone.
Posts are often intended to get a strong positive “rah-rah-rah” reaction from those who agree with us and a visceral negative response from those who disagree. Try to interact in a calmly, reasoned way. Think, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

4. Believe that the path to true change is the gospel.
Only as we’re changed from the inside out will the world change too. People who don’t know Christ may believe the only path to a better life is through political and cultural change. Those who know Christ believe that the path to social change is through the gospel first, and it must be our brightest light, even if we also believe in political and social change. It’s gospel first, gospel last, gospel always. 2 Corinthians 4:3 If our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Let’s not hide the gospel light (or make it distasteful) but make sure it shines brighter than anything else.

5. Be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, especially in your local church.
Believe that the most important relationships that you have in life and the ones that you should value the most are the relationships in your spiritual family (a.k.a., local church). Do whatever it takes to protect those relationships and demonstrate love. If you struggle going to church because of what you read others saying, unplug. If you think you might be provoking others in a way that makes it difficult to maintain true unity in Christ, unplug.

6. Remember that it’s our visible love for each other that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.
Sometimes the only interaction that other people see is our interaction on social media. John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. Let’s lead with our love and our unity in Christ.

Ephesians 4:1-3: 1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Some Thoughts on MLK Day

1. Remember that racial reconciliation matters because the multifaceted (“manifold”) wisdom of God is the way God makes his glory known (Ephesians 3:7-10).

2. Remember that racial reconciliation is a fruit of the gospel and is therefore an important part of reflecting gospel culture to the world (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3. Pray for peace and unity as a fruit of the gospel (Ephesians 3:14-20).
Don’t just speak for and fight for justice. Pray for it!

4. Speak truth in the face of sinful prejudice, and act when you see it.
Prayer is the right starting point, but prayer should move us to speak and act. We must not be silent in the face of cultural evil, no matter what the evil is.

5. Strive to make your home and your church a place that welcomes all people of all cultures.

6. Fight sinful prejudice in your own heart.
Our tendency is to believe that generations in the past struggled with this but that we’ve mastered it. We’re sinners like they are; sometimes our sinful prejudice manifests itself in different ways.

7. Repent of sinful prejudice when you find it in your heart.
Especially, repent of prejudice spoken and acted upon.

8. Proclaim the gospel.
True peace and unity can only be experienced in Christ. Since the gospel is our only true hope for true racial unity, we must speak and live it everywhere we go. We must speak up about racial injustice, but we must do so speaking the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christmas & Christian Empathy

If there’s any time of year that should move Christians to empathy with their fellow man, it’s Christmas. Yet when you hear Christians talk about Christmas, you hear words like celebration, worship, family, together, etc. (which are all great!). The incarnation of Jesus, though, is the greatest model for empathy the world has ever seen.

Empathy in the Incarnation
When God became man, he left the eternal glory and joy of being God and of enjoying all that God deserves. Jesus, in entering the created world, humbled himself and entered into our discomfort and pain. He knows what it is to be hungry, to have no place to lay his head, to feel left out and mocked. God tells us Jesus did this because of his great love for us. The shame he experienced was far greater than anything any other human being has ever experienced. And one result of Jesus’ experience of humility and shame is that he can empathize like no other person the world has ever known: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

A Problem
In spite of the fact that the Christmas season models the compassion of God so clearly, Christians often view human suffering as a problem to be solved—or worse—avoided and ignored. Simply read what many majority Christians and Christian leaders say about those on the margins of society in our own country or about refugees from war and abuse huddled in camps in other countries.

We view the refugee and the outcast as a political problem to be solved or an inconvenience to be avoided. This ought not to be! There’s truth in the concept of personal responsibility, but the idea that anyone can overcome life’s obstacles through hard work and determination doesn’t work equitably across the board. Jesus’ birth teaches us this. Yes, our world (and the United States, in particular) is filled with unparalleled opportunity, but Mary and Joseph finding refuge in a stable, then fleeing to Egypt, is a model for Christian compassion and empathy, not for the doctrine of self-help.

What I’m Not Trying to Do
I’m not attempting to address the responsibilities of people to own their problems and work to overcome them (that’s the other side of the coin). Rather, I pray that God will give Christians eyes to see that our responsibility is to listen with compassion and empathy. Christian leaders should take the lead in calls for compassion and help for those in need—even if those needs are complicated and difficult to address.

Call to Action: Humility
First, as Christians, we should see the humility and shame of Christ and recognize that a little humility goes a long way for us in these conversations. As first-world, majority-culture Christians, the truth is that we just don’t “get” a lot of problems that those living on the margins deal with. This should move us to humility, as we have a lot to learn. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black or hispanic person in America, and I certainly don’t know what it’s like to be a refugee whose home has been destroyed by war.

Call to Action: Empathy
True humility moves us to compassionate empathy. While we may not literally feel the pain of a Syrian refugee, we should try to empathize with the hurting. Jesus actually did feel our pain and carry it in his body, so that we wouldn’t have to endure the worst consequences of our sin. So take off your “political hat” for a few minutes, and hurt with those who hurt. Weep with those who weep.

Call to Action: Love One Person
One difficulty of calls to listen and empathize is that the problems are so great there is no way any human being or human institution, including the US government, can address all of the issues. But we can love one person who’s not like us. We can love one person who’s hurting, and we can listen with humble empathy to the broader problems, asking God to give us wisdom on when and how to engage.

Worship Style & the Sufficiency of Scripture

John Frame’s excellent The Doctrine of the Word of God on the relationship between different styles and traditions in worship and the sufficiency of the Bible:

“Many traditions have also developed concerning worship and other aspects of church life. These concern the style and instrumentation of worship songs, the order of events in worship, degree of formality or informality, and so on. Many of these are not commanded by Scripture, but many are in accord with broad biblical principles. The problem is that church people will sometimes defend their particular practice as mandatory on all Christians, and they will criticize as spiritually inferior churches that use different styles and patterns. Often the criteria used are not scriptural, but aesthetic. People argue that this style of music is more dignified, that that liturgy is more ancient, and so forth. These aesthetic and historical criteria are often used in place of Scripture, leading to the condemnations of practices that Scripture permits and commanding of practices that Scripture does not command. That … in my judgment, violates the principles of sola Scriptura, the sufficiency of Scripture.” (p. 238)

Thinking about Cultural Engagement

The darker it is, the brighter the light shines. Christians have an opportunity to shine the light of the gospel most brightly, when it’s darkest around us. That being said, the church tends to have two different responses to culture.

Response 1: To withdraw completely
This frame of mind says that the church is a fort to protect us from outsiders. We live in the world in such a way that if we’re shining any light at all, it’s a spotlight from a long way away saying, “There are problems out there in the big, bad dirty world.” We spread the gospel by launching verbal grenades from our bunker.

Response 2: To live in the world as the world
In this view, the gospel is minimized as unhelpful, even offensive. Ministry is focused almost exclusively on felt needs, and the culture is embraced and never challenged.

Gospel Response: Engage & Confront
Both of these responses are insufficient. Clearly, we must be in the culture for our light to shine. If we’re totally withdrawn from social and cultural engagement, we aren’t exposing the secrets hidden in the darkness (Ephesians 5:7-14). At the same time, we’re to be in the world in a way that sheds the light of the gospel’s offense on the sins of humanity against a holy God (John 17:1-18).

The gospel builds bridges by saying that we’re ALL sinners, and it offends by saying that we’re all SINNERS. The only way to God is through repentance and faith. It’s an offensive message that says the sin we love isn’t ok, that we’re not all going to be ok, that the only way to be ok is to repent of our sin and trust Christ. The offense of repentance in the gospel disappears in light of God’s love in the gospel.

The Christian light must be a light that shines both the light of God’s holiness on our sin and the light of God’s love for us in spite of our sin. We shine God’s judgment on sin as a warning and motivation, and we shine the grace of the gospel as a winsome catalyst to run to Christ.

Response to the SCOTUS Same Sex Marriage Ruling

I shared the following statement with our congregation at Morning Star Church this past Sunday morning:

I want to take a moment this morning to comment on an important event in the life of our nation this past week. Friday, June 26, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that same sex marriage must be legalized in every state. To quote FDR, Friday is “a day will live in infamy.” Homosexual sin is nothing new, just like heterosexual sin isn’t new. These sins and worse have been with us since the days after the Fall in Genesis 3. The law of God in the Old Testament and the righteousness of God in the New Testament call out these sins. However, our government’s calling something that can never truly be marriage a marriage is a new step in our culture.

My point is not to comment on the legal or cultural ramifications of the Supreme Court ruling. There are others better suited and certainly more qualified to do that. However, I do want to take a moment to help form our response as a congregation to this ruling. How can a congregation committed to the inerrancy of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ in all things respond at such a time?

1. Rejoice, the Lord is King!
Rest in the good, sovereign hand of God. He reigns yesterday, today, forever. As Abraham Kuyper famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” That was true June 25, and it will always be true.

2. Grieve the ways that our fallen world is marked by sin.
It’s good for us to remember that we’re pilgrims here, just passing through. This world isn’t our home; we look for a better country, that is, a heavenly one.

3. Remember, there’s nothing new under the sun.
It’s tempting to believe the lie that no culture has ever been as bad as ours or that we’ve got it worse than anyone else. There have been atrocities ever since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden. Each era of history experiences brokenness in a different way, but sinful tragedy has always been with us. The arrival of Christ in the world was marked by the slaughter of all the babies in Bethlehem. The victory of Christ over sin was marked by the death of the only perfect man who has ever lived at the hands of profane criminals who deserved to die.

4. Pray for our nation, for our world, and for the return of Jesus.
The only way that true, lasting righteousness will fully and finally reign in the world is for Jesus to come back and make it all right again, to make creation new.

5. Thank God that light shines brightest when it’s the darkest.
It’s not a bad thing for the cost of discipleship to actually cost something. The term “cultural Christianity” is fast fading into oblivion, and it’s a good thing for us to take up our cross daily and follow Christ.

6. Trust God.
Don’t despair. Don’t capitulate to the world’s culture and believe a lie. Trust in God’s Word, which has always been true and will stand the ultimate test of time. And pray that we may persevere and be found in Christ at the end.

Isaiah 26:1-4
1 In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: “We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. 2 Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. 3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. 4 Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Some Thoughts on Mercy Ministry

Mercy

Mercy ministry is the body of Christ taking active steps to minister mercy to those with physical or material needs. One thing that makes this particularly difficult in our culture is that we have access to help that can actually exacerbate some root problems of poverty, like laziness or greed. Some people avoid working, because the benefits of not working are too lucrative.

On one hand we have Proverbs 14:21: Whoever despises his neighbor is a sinner, but blessed is he who is generous to the poor.

And on the other hand, we have Proverbs 20:4: The sluggard does not plow in the autumn; he will seek at harvest and have nothing. Paul says it more strongly in 2 Thessalonians 3:10: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.

We sometimes think that simply giving food or money away is the answer to the problem, but that can actually be a barrier against getting to the root of the problem. Our mercy ministry must ultimately get at root bondage, not merely alleviate temporary issues.

How then, should we minister to the physical needs of those in need? Here are some guiding principles:

Sometimes by giving money or food. 

But we must stop assuming that giving money or food will solve the problem. The messy work of offering real help requires more time and effort than we often want to give.

Sometimes by not giving money or food, when the person needs to get up and work. 

Read this book: When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor and Yourself.

By not assuming that economic issues are because of laziness.

The unemployment rate in our church’s neighborhood is 17.7%, and the percentage of people at or below the poverty level is 36.5%. It’s easy to assume that those problems exist because of laziness. But …

While laziness is a real temptation for all of us, there are significant contributing factors that make it difficult for industrious people to break out of poverty. Here are just a few in our neighborhood:

  • Limited transportation
  • Limited access to childcare for those who can work
  • Lack of employment opportunities in poor neighborhoods
  • Language barriers (32 spoken languages in our neighborhood)

By not assuming that economic issues are not because of laziness.

… because they might be.

By developing relationships to begin digging to root causes and meet true needs.

And this takes a lot of time and effort. Get your hands dirty; labor hard in the church; don’t wait for others to do the work.

By remembering that God is the only one who can fix humanity’s greatest problems.

Poverty and hunger aren’t our worst enemies. The wrath of an infinitely holy, just God against sin is our greatest foe. The only hope that any of us have against that enemy is an infinitely loving and gracious Savior. God’s justice and mercy meet at the cross. Our only hope is turning from sin to Christ for mercy and rescue.

Embracing Trials with Joy

James 1:2-4 2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, 3 for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. 4 And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

We should embrace every trial with joy, because trials make us like more Jesus. How do we know we’re embracing trials with joy? The diagnostic below might help to understand how you respond to trials:

Signs that you might not be enduring with joy:

  • If your first response is to complain, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is despair, to go into a shell, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is anger and resentment at the people causing the problem, you might not be enduring with joy.
  • If your first response is denial, to ignore the problem, you might not be enduring with joy.

Signs that you are growing in joyful endurance:

  • If you recognize your sinful response, repent of it, and thank God for the trials … even the inconvenient ones.
  • If you can zoom out from the immediate circumstances and recognize God’s sovereign hand governing your life.
  • If you can take a long look at your life and see that you are growing in joy over time, even as you are aware of the fallenness in you and around you.

 

 

 

If You’re Bad at Sharing the Gospel, This Is for You.

How are you doing with mission #1?

God’s plan for spreading the message of the gospel is for His people to speak the message to others. In other words, it’s our responsibility and privilege to share the gospel with other people. Let’s have a moment of honesty here. We’re often not very good at sharing the gospel. But when we consider our responsibilities as God’s children, our number one mission is calling people to follow Jesus.
2 Corinthians 4:7 But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.

Paul says that we carry the gospel treasure in jars of clay. What’s implied by this kind of jar? It’s breakable; it’s ordinary; it’s replaceable; it’s useful; it’s normal; it’s everyday. By nature, it’s fragile and relatively unimportant. If you carried a treasure around in a clay pot, would you ever be tempted to wonder whether the treasure or the pot was more important? God uses ordinary people to spread the gospel.

Why does God use ordinary people to spread the gospel?

The gospel is built around grassroots movements—ordinary people captured by the light of the gospel, carrying the treasure of the gospel around with them and spreading it like seed on a field. Some falls on good ground; some doesn’t. God uses ordinary people to remind us that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.
You see, if we were awesome, people might get mixed up. They might start to think that we are the point … when we exist to point to someone greater—to point to the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer of sinful men. The eternal worship of the triune God is the point of the gospel! We exist to point to Him, to call people to worship Him! If the light is about us, if we’re the treasure, then people won’t clearly see the One whom life is truly about.

What are the implications for you as you share the gospel?

  1. If you’re bad at sharing the gospel, that’s ok. It’s not about you! (Do it anyway.)
  2. If you don’t share the gospel, you’re acting as though you’re the point.
  3. If you share the gospel well, that’s because God delights in using ordinary, humble people. You see, it’s still not about you; it’s about God.
  4. We should share the gospel everywhere we go. Because we carry the gospel in us, we should speak it to those around us.

How can you get better at sharing the gospel?

  1. Pray for God’s help.
  2. Get comfortable with the idea that it will be awkward. And that’s ok.
  3. Talk with someone else about your fear and awkwardness, and ask them to pray with you and encourage you.
  4. Talk about God as though He’s real. Talk about Jesus as you talk about the Super Bowl, your job, your favorite movie, your family. But talk about Jesus more. It’s not a special category that requires a switch into “spiritual” mode. It’s something that you can do everywhere you go.
  5. Get to the gospel. At some point, commit to sharing the gospel with your friend. What if they reject you? They probably will. Don’t be rude, but be persistent. This is a treasure worth sharing!
  6. Rejoice that you get to carry the gospel with you everywhere you go! If we don’t share the gospel because we’re scared or embarrassed, we’re acting as though we, the clay pots, are the point. Don’t forget about the treasure!