Friday, June 22, 2007

Silence is Deafening

When my daughter was three, and when we were new to our neighborhood, she would play out front and yell across the street to the then eleven year old neighbor boy, "Do you know Jesus in your heart?" My wife and I would encourage her in this questionning, and it would continue until the boy made his way across the street to our front porch. Then, finally, she would ask in a more quiet tone, "Do you know Jesus in your heart?"

Though not a Gospel presentation, my daughter's question was an attempt to determine if this boy was a Christian. His response, day after day, was always the same, "I think so."

On one or two occasions, I would deepen the waters by explaining that "no one is perfect," and the boy would wholeheartedly agree. Then I would say that the only way to receive eternal life and gain entrance into the kingdom of heaven is to believe in Jesus as Savior. The boy was not a churchgoer, and he acknowledged that he didn't "know too much about the Bible." Strange. I hadn't even mentioned the Bible.

The bottomline is that, on these one or two occasions (out of the 20-30 days on which my daughter would ask the question), the boy would leave our front porch having heard the Gospel that Jesus died to save sinners and was raised from the dead for our justification (Romans 4:25), yet he responded with mere apathetic intellectual assent.

On the days since then, his answer to my daughter's question has not changed from, "I think so," despite my mention of 1 John 5:10-13 (...that you may know you have eternal life).

Here lies the problem. My daughter, now four, no longer asks the question. Has she forgotten? Has she been subconsciously disuaded by the boy's apathy? You know, I wish it were one of these, but I fear most that her cessation has resulted from my silence on the matter. You see, I've never asked the question to the boy, his parents, or any of our neighbors for that matter. Like father, like daughter. At age three, she would do as I said. She would be encouraged and yell across the street. But at age four, she would do as I do. And the silence is deafening.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You Are Slow To Learn

What do pastors do when their flock is apathetic, or caught up in the things of this world?

Perhaps the author of Hebrews addressed that question with the following:

"We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death [or useless rituals], and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so" (Hebrews 5:11-14; 6:1-3).

That about which the author has much to say involves the High Priesthood of Jesus, who "offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the One who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (Hebrews 5:7-9). It is this information on which the author would like to expound, but he cannot. His audience is slow to learn.

The author then shows some righteous anger: "By this time you ought to be teachers." I wonder how long the author had been working with this audience. 6 months? A year? 5 years? More? Many pastors, I'm sure, feel this frustration at times in their ministries. How should they respond? Continue looking at the passage with me.

The author notes that milk, representing the spiritual basics, is not a bad thing - for infants. But the mature need solid food to become "acquainted with the teaching about righteousness." It's a bit of a rebuke. He's saying, "Grow up!" Paul says the same thing to the Corinthians: "Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready." (1 Corinthians 3:1-2). It's a sad thing for a pastor who has worked dilgently to see such worldliness in his flock.

But the story doesn't end with rebuke. Notice that the author of Hebrews explains what is beyond milk. "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil." "Constant use" is the key to this sentence. Today's lay people are as happy as infants to lap up milk every Sunday. The occasional mid-week Bible study might introduce a little solid food, but there's no sign of "constant use." "Constant use" is an encouraging call to "leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity." And so the pastor must always be encouraging his flock, never leaving them downtrodden after rebuke.

How is the pastor to be faithful in this endeavor? Hebrews 6:3 yields the answer: "God permitting, we will do so." There is a reliance on God's sovereignty in election and justification and sanctification that comes only from the grace of the Holy Spirit. This author had that - and Jesus had that. Read John 6:27,35-40,44-48 to see if you can find it. There are a great many pastors who need this gift of grace in their challenging ministries. Would you pray for them today?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Shifting Sand

I don't know about you, but I think it's a lot more fun to play in the sand than on a rock. The sand has a great texture, especially when it's cool on a hot day. You can do a lot of fun things with sand - My children like to construct towers and build walls with shovels and buckets; they also enjoy playing with animals in the sand, burying and finding them, pretending they are lost and found. But when it comes to the end of the day and playtime is over, we don't stay in the sand. We go inside our house, and there's a comfort there. We are "safe" when we are out of the sand and in our home, often subconsciously knowing that it built on a solid foundation.

After teaching a hard truth about unsaved people who, thinking they are saved, will cry out to Him on the last day, "Lord, Lord," Jesus tells the parable in Matthew 7:24-27 of the man who builds his house on the rock compared to the man who builds his house on the sand. The message is this: Trust ad obey; there's no other way. Here are the lyrics to a couple of songs that speak to the reality of building our homes on the solid foundation of God's Word.

Shifting Sand by Caedmon's Call

Sometimes I believe all the lies
So I can do the things I should despise
And every day I am swayed
By whatever is on my mind
I hear it all depends on my faith
So I'm feeling precarious
The only problem I have with these mysteries
Is they're so mysterious
And like a consumer I've been thinking
If I could just get a bit more
More than my 15 minutes of faith,
Then I'd be secure

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

I've begged you for some proof
For my Thomas eyes to see
A slithering staff, a leperous hand
And lions resting lazily
A glimpse of your back-side glory
And this soaked altar going ablaze
But you know I've seen so much
I explained it away

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace

Waters rose as my doubts reigned
My sand-castle faith, it slipped away
Found myself standing on your grace
It'd been there all the time

My faith is like shifting sand
Changed by every wave
My faith is like shifting sand
So I stand on grace
Stand on grace

My Hope is Built on Jesus (The Solid Rock) by Edward Mote (1834) and John Dykes (1860)

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly trust in Jesus’ name.
On Christ the solid rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ the solid rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ the solid rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh may I then in Him be found.
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.
On Christ the solid rock I stand.
All other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Exaltation of the Word

In John 6:37, Jesus says, "All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me, I will certainly not cast out." Other versions translate the second part, "and he who comes to Me I will never drive away." In John 6:44, Jesus says, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him, and I will raise him (the drawn one) up on the last day."

So very clearly, Jesus teaches that the Father must give, the Father must draw, in order for anyone to believe in Jesus. Beyond that, whoever the Father gives Jesus and draws to Him will certainly come and receive eternal life. These are comforting and humbling truths for the believer. But a question arises: How does God draw a man to Jesus?

We need look no further than the Word of God. When the serpent tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, He attacked God's Word. Adam and Eve called into question the validity of God's Word and sinned by denying its truth. That's what sin is - denying the truth of God's Word, and we do it every day. But notice when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness, Satan also attacked God's Word. But Jesus did not call into question the validity of it; rather, He upheld its truth in the three temptations He faced at that time. Jesus was all about following God's will, and that meant obeying completely the Word of God.

And it is this word which God uses to draw His people to Himself. Jesus said in Luke 11:28, "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and obey it." Luke tells us in Acts 13:48, "When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed." Romans 10:14,17 says, "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? ...Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ." Ephesians 1:13 says, "And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit." Finally, in 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul says, "We also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe."

So it is the timeless and timely Word of God that God uses to draw men to His Son. And amazingly, Jesus is that word. John 1:1,14 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. ...The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." Hebrews 4:12 says, "For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates, even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Psalm 138:2 says, "I will bow down toward Your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and Your faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word." Has the Word of God drawn you to Jesus?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spiritual Growth

How do professing Christians explain the lack of difference between themselves and unbelievers? Both types of people can show themselves to be moral; both can display characteristics associated with the fruit of the Spirit: gentleness, kindness, patience, self-control, love, etc. Both types of people can also reveal their sinfulness, seen in subtle and obvious ways. Lack of contentment (coveting / greed) and perhaps even tolerance are examples of subtle sins. More obvious sins include lying - something of which all of us are guilty - and hatred (if not blatant, then at least behind one's back in our hearts).

The answer to this delicate question lies, I believe, in spiritual growth. We ought to hunger and thirst for righteousness. And though we may not always exhibit righteousness, we ought to be known by outsiders as people who are striving for growth. We're not perfect, but we want to be made perfect. We're not merely professing, we are progressing - and this, all by the grace of God for His glory.

Colossians 4:5-6 says, "Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone." This verse may be taken to imply, "Be ready to defend your faith." But I think it's more aggresive: "Be looking for ways to talk about things with unbelievers that will open doors for substantial growth, and do it with grace and salt." Stagnance, over and beyond hypocrisy, may be the silent killer among relationships between Christians and non-Christians. Thus believers must strive not to exhibit satisfaction with lack of knowledge on spiritual things. There is a time for milk, and let us drink! But for the sake of God's glory, let us be seeking meat as well.

2 Peter 3:17-18 says, "Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen."

The first part of the passage tells us to be discerning - on the defensive so that our understanding of God's truth is not compromised. I find it interesting that Peter tells us that the reason for this tactic is so that we may not "fall from our secure position." If we are in a secure position - which we are - then it is impossible to fall - and it is. Yet the warning, I believe, is a challenge to do more than dig in your heals where you stand. I think it's a challenge to go on the offensive, and that's what the second part of the passage encourages - spiritual growth. "But grow..."

Grow in grace and grow in knowledge of Christ. It's what separates the wheat from the tares - they look similar at first glance, but they grow a whole lot differently. And that's how we tell the difference between believers and unbelievers.