Friday, July 27, 2012

When Do We Set Aside Our Rights?

We live in a culture that tells us that we had better seize our rights or we will get trampled. We are bombarded with messages that tell us stand up and seize what is yours. Meek is weak. 

Several weeks ago, when track and field runner stopped to help a fallen competitor finish the race (video) people's views were divided. Many people felt like she did the decent human thing. But there were some that felt like she had done the wrong thing because she didn't seize the obvious advantage. Some felt it should have been survival of the fittest.

There are times in life when the advantage and triumph is ours to seize. There are times when we have the right to something. But do you ever consider giving up our rights for the sake of others? Do you ever consider setting aside a position or advantage that is rightfully yours so that others might be served?

It is interesting that when it came to paying his own temple tax Jesus had this approach.

In Matthew, Jesus tells us that because he is the Son, he is exempt from paying the temple tax.
Matthew 17:25 He said, “Yes.” And when he came into the house, Jesus spoke to him first, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth collect customs or poll-tax, from their sons or from strangers?” 
The obvious answer is that taxes are not collect from sons of the king but from strangers.

So Jesus, who is greater than the temple and who is the Son of the King (i.e. God) is completely exempt from the temple tax. It is his right not to submit to the temple tax. It does not bind him in any way.

Yet Jesus sets aside his right and pays the tax.
Matthew 17:27 “However, so that we do not offend them, go to the sea and throw in a hook, and take the first fish that comes up; and when you open its mouth, you will find a shekel. Take that and give it to them for you and Me.” 

What?! How many times does Jesus show a willingness to offend the religious Pharisees of the day? He often confronts them. He rebukes them. He even provokes them because he speaks plain and simply truths. Jesus is more than a mere revolutionary or shock-jock looking to offend just because he can. For those who like Jesus as a contrarian and revel in the power of the his confrontations as he 'sticks-it-to-the-man' we should ponder his humility here. Ponder how and why he avoids offense.

Jesus shows us that he does not go about provoking people for provocations sake. He did not revel in offending just to 'put people in their place.' His focus is the coming cross. So he avoids provocation and offense here. This is not his time and this is not his battle. We could all learn from this.

Consider: the Son was fully in his right to refuse to pay the tax to the temple. Yet whose interests is he thinking of here? What kind of meekness is he showing? There is a divine wisdom here in not provoking, even though if they got upset with him for their lack of knowing him as the Son it would have been their fault.

JESUS FORGOES HIS RIGHT! How unlike human nature. We assume that if we have a right we must exercise it--and if we do not we are weak. But that is precisely the humility and meekness Jesus shows.

This passage is not really about our duty to pay taxes. Paying taxes really is our duty. We submit to the state because God put the state in authority (Rom. 13)--we don’t get an exemption. This passage is about someone (Jesus) who has an exemption--but sets it aside.

1. Next time you are fully within your rights to gain something, take advantage of something or be exempt from something--will you consider foregoing your rights for others?

2. How can we follow Jesus example by living at peace with people and avoiding unnecessarily offending?

3. Is there some area of your life God is calling you to forego a right you have in order to serve others for the sake of the gospel.

The best way to diagnose the area you need to deal with is ask yourself what is the area or situation in life that you are saying, “I don’t need this stress.” “I am tired of putting up with _____.” “It’s not worth it.” “I don’t know why I bother.”  --you feel like you’ve put yourself out there, sacrificed for the cause, made the effort, but you’ve been disrespected, rebuffed or treated unfairly.

Maybe its at a job, in a relationship or friendship, maybe it is with your church, or maybe you are at a stage of life where you figured you are "owed" a little bit of rest--like retirement. Maybe you really have been wronged or put under undo pressure. You have a right for relief or a right not to 'pay the dues' in a particular area. But is God calling you to this precisely because it will involve self-sacrifice on your part. Did you ever consider: does God want to make me more Christlike in character by my staying in the situation? 

The only reason Jesus pays the temple tax is so people would not get offended. Sometimes the only reason we have in forgoing our rights is to avoid offending someone. Sometimes we sacrifice because we are seeking peace at all costs. Sometimes we are seeking to adorn God and the gospel rather than exercise our own rights.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Envy & Success in Ministry

What happens when you see other ministries and you think "I wish I could have that/be like that..." Can the dream distract you from what you have and where you are being called by God to serve?

Great thoughts on ministry, envy, coveting and the ministry.
How to fight ministry pornography from Ed Stetzer on Vimeo.

Book Review: Liberating Ministry from Success Syndrome

This is an excellent book to read. It has been around since 1987 and reprinted many times. For me it just came yesterday, I started glancing through it, then reading it. I soon found that I could not put it down. I finished it in one day. This book is golden. It is one of those rare books that I dare say it is one that every pastor should read.

If you are in ministry you know well the discouragement it can bring. This book challenges you to take God's view of what success is. It both will lift your soul and challenge you in all the right ways.

Success can be an idol in our culture, most especially in ministry. It is a cruel enslaving master. After Kent and Barbara Hughes spend a few chapters describing their 'dark night of the soul,' in ministry were they felt like failures we are lead on a journey of what caused them to recover and how they learned God's measures of true success. Kent Hughes describes seven measures: (1) Faithfulness; (2) Serving; (3) Loving; (4) Believing; (5) Prayer; (6) Holiness; and (7) Attitude. Each of these is dealt with in a chapter. Then there are five chapters of encouragement (1) from God; (2) from 'the Call] [to ministry]; (3) from the Ordinary; (4) from Fellow Workers; and (5) from the future heavenly reward.

Every pastor can identify with the experiences described in this book but every pastor needs to read the wisdom and instruction from the Hughes.

If you are a lay leader or elder at your church, you should read this book as well. It will give you insight into pastors stresses but it will also give you the tools to ask: "is my measure of success for my pastor the same as God's measures?" 

There is also a helpful chapter for pastor's wives and another chapter for church members. 

This book should not only be read by current pastors, future pastors, pastor's wives but also church members so that they understand a bit of the stress of ministry. They will learn how to evaluate the success of ministry from God's eyes rather than human standards.

I can't recommend this book enough. Five out of five stars.

Excerpt 1:
"Think of it [prayer] this way: our lives are like photographic plates, and prayer is like a time exposure to God. As we expose ourselves to God for a half hour, an hour, perhaps two hours a day, his image is imprinted more and more upon us. More and more we absorb the image of his character, his love, his wisdom, his way of dealing with life and people. As servants of Christ, that is what we need and that is what we receive from him." (pp.72-73)

Excerpt 2:

"Paul summarized the secret of his ministry by referring to the ancient custom of hiding priceless treasure in common earthen, clay pots beneath the earth. The "treasure" was the gospel, and the "jars of clay," a penetrating metaphor for frail humanity. Thus the glorious gospel is committed to common, frail human beings--so that the immensity of the power may be seen as God's and not man's! Clearly then, an awareness of one's weakness, one's ordinariness, can be an asset in the gospel ministry, for such an awareness may more easily depend upon the power of God. Conversely, it can be a disadvantage to be extraordinarily gifted, because one can be tempted to rely upon natural gifts to achieve supernatural ends.
There have been many preachers who, because they were so naturally gifted, never came to be the preachers they could have been. Their reliance upon their natural eloquence fostered a regrettable independence from God in respect to prayer and preparation...Being an ordinary Andrew [the apostle] is not a disadvantage in serving God. It can even serve as the basis for profound dependence upon him and yield extraordinary usefulness in ministry." (pp.137-137)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Martin Luther on God's Sovereignty

This is one of may favorite quote from Martin Luther:

I would also point out, not only how true these things are…but also how godly, reverent and necessary it is to know them.   For where they are not known, there can be no faith, nor any worship of God. To lack this knowledge is really to be ignorant of God―and salvation is notoriously incompatible with such ignorance. For if you hesitate to believe, or are too proud to acknowledge, that God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust and rely on His promises? When he makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise, you will be accounting Him neither as true nor faithful, which is unbelief, and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God! And how can you be thus sure and certain, unless you know that certainly, infallibly, immutably and necessarily, He knows, wills and will perform what He promises? Not only, should we be sure that God wills, and will execute His will, necessarily and immutably; we should glory in the fact as Paul does in Rom. 3- “Let God be true, but every man a liar’ (v.4), and again, ‘Not that the word of God has failed (Rom. 9.6), and in another place, ‘The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his’ (2 Tim. 2.19). In Tit. 1 He says: ‘Which God that cannot lie, promised before the world began’ (v.2). And Heb. 11 says: “He that cometh, must believe that God is, and that he is a rewarder of them that hope in him’ (v.6). 
 If, then, we are taught and believe that we ought to be ignorant of the necessary foreknowledge of God and the necessity of events, Christian faith is utterly destroyed, and the promises of God, and the whole gospel fall to the ground completely; for the Christian’s chief and only comfort in every adversity lies in knowing that God does not lie, but brings all things to pass immutably, and that His will cannot be resisted, altered or impeded. (The Bondage of the Will; pp. 83-84.)

Friday, July 6, 2012

Is the Church Today Dying?

Do you believe that Jesus' plan for the world today is the church? Far too many evangelicals today think far too little of the church. It is quite common today for people to interpret Jesus more like an anti-establishment 1960s radical who just liked to 'stick it to the man' than actually paying attention to the Jesus of the gospels. So people with a chip on their shoulder will tell people "love Jesus and leave the church."

WWJD? "We'll he'd call you to leave the church" is the answer we hear. After all Jesus is toughest on the religious Pharisees.

Here's the problem: Jesus promised to build the church. Those loyal to Jesus should not be trying to tear it down. I would even suggest if you run into someone tearing down the church, seriously consider: "how loyal are they to Jesus?" If someone was verbally bashing my wife, I wouldn't consider them my friend.

Of course, the church isn't perfect--that's the point of Scripture: Jesus has to clean His bride. We can be a poor representative of Jesus. But Jesus did promise to leave an organization in place of His absence. This is not to discount his promise to send the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit would come upon the people of God. He would form a body of Christ by uniting people to Christ. The Holy Spirit is the divine cleaner working on God's people to apply the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Jesus' message on earth was to preach the kingdom of God. Upon His death and resurrection, the Kingdom is ushered in and inaugurated. He now has all authority in heaven and on earth--it is authority He bears and exercises in His humanity. What does Jesus do in His absence? Well he is the mediator at the right hand of the Father. He stands for his people. 

But with the inauguration of the Kingdom, he builds the church. The Kingdom produces citizens and the citizens gather together. In their gathering, God sets up an order and means by which to administer the church with elders and deacons (see the pastoral epistles). Hence, despite the negative connotations some draw from this: the church is an organization.

In the New Testament as a whole Jesus' plan is to build the church. The church is equipped with gifts for the service of the body and its ministry. But it is ultimately Jesus who builds the church. The church is not a temporary plan until Jesus can return. It is thee plan. He will build the church with such power that death itself will not defeat the church.

Let's take a look at what Jesus says in Matthew 16:18: “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.

‘Gates of Hades’ is a way of translating an rare OT phrase: ‘the gates of Sheol’. Death is personified as a power. The realm of the dead or the grave is describe as sheol. So metaphorically it has gates that close around people, locking them in death. Just like Jonah describes cords of death/sheol entangling him.
Isaiah 38:10 I said, “In the middle of my life; I am to enter the gates of Sheol; I am to be deprived of the rest of my years.”  
Psalm 9:13 Be gracious to me, O Lord; See my affliction from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, 

I'm a Star Trek fan. In the movie Star Trek Generations, the villain Dr. Soran (played by Malcom MacDowell) says the following about time: “It's like a predator; it's stalking you. Oh, you can try and outrun it with doctors, medicines, new technologies but in the end, time is going to hunt you down... and make the kill. ” 

We would say this is a good picture of death. Death is an enemy. It advances, it destroys. It is a predatory. Yet we are told... death cannot stalk and overpower the church.

Our incredible hope is realized as the church is resurrected over death.
1 Corinthians 15:54 But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. 55 “O death, where is your victory? O  death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; 57 but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Jesus gives the victory to His church. In every age God is growing the church.

Are you worried? Do you lack confidence in what God can do in and through the church? Are you worried about your local church? Do you say to yourself--can God do that here?

Today we are bombarded with arguments that the church must change or die. Secularists tell us the church's doctrines are old and stodgy. Prophets arising within the church proclaim we must embark on new forms, methods and actions or the church will be left behind. Change or die is the message. Yet all this is nothing new. Every generation has had prophets of doom telling us the church will not survive this generation. We call them heretics. 

The church has always and will alway have its critics. People has always been saying “leave the Church, love Jesus.” It is the problem in 1 John all the way to today. What age has the church as a whole not been under assault or struggles? Look at Revelation 2-3. But here the church is called to repent and go back to Jesus. He promises restoration.

The church, as a whole, will not be destroyed. Even if your local church closes up shop, the church universal will live from now until eternity. If the church is stomped out or crushed in one area or town, God will not fail to raise it up somewhere. Jesus will always be building His church. It's His plan but it's also His promise to us. 

In every age God keeps converting people, raising up churches. Why? Because that resurrection power is active now in our midst as God raises sinners from the dead. Our hope is the resurrection. Gates of hades --death itself cannot advance against us. Just as death could not hold back Jesus, so also death cannot hold down the body of Christ which is united to Jesus.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Christians & Poverty

There is no doubt in my mind that Christians should be concerned with poverty. We should be concerned about eliminating it.

But often times such statement too quickly assumes that the best way to eliminate poverty is through government intervention, programs and redistribution. Equally it is often assumed that the cause of poverty is free markets.

I do not believe that we should slander the poor and assume that all poverty is caused by laziness. That's not to say that there aren't some poor people who remain poor because of genuine laziness (as opposed to other causes like lack of opportunity)--rather it is to argue that life is not always black and white. Causes and solutions are not always monotone.

Christians should be concerned with poverty, aiding the poor, and helping to eliminate poverty. I however think that free markets in distinction from government intervention is the best way to aid the poor and increase income mobility. This is hardly the notion of "pull yourself up by your own boot straps" --nor should it be. Rather it is more like teaching someone to fish and aiding them personally rather than fishing for them.

Here is a good video that outlines this "alternative" perspective on poverty and how best to help the poor.

I am personally not an economist, more of someone with a passing interest when it comes to this area. Perhaps this is the most dangerous kind--a little knowledge in any field can sometimes be more dangerous than someone with no knowledge.

That said my plea would be this: Christians should be concerned about poverty but that should not necessary mandate we take one position on how best to deal with it. In fact, because we care about poverty we should investigate and make arguments into the best and most effective way to deal with the issues.

Thus, I have often read the arguments that make the leap from "care for the poor" to the assumption that this will/must entail government solutions. But in these cases one assumes the latter in order to justify it as the necessary consequence of the former. But you have to make the argument rather than assuming it. Even more, you cannot slander other Christians as not caring for the former because they reject the later as the most viable and effective means. This is indeed a bridge to far.

If time permits, this post will serve as a set up for dealing with the arguments here by Michael Bird and here by my good friend Jim McGahey as economics relates to healthcare and Christian theology.
"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...