Here’s a reading of Romans 8:16-39 that should bless your soul. Listen and be edified.
(HT: Erik Kowalker)
Here’s a reading of Romans 8:16-39 that should bless your soul. Listen and be edified.
(HT: Erik Kowalker)
Tim Challies has posted the giveaway for the month of December. Each of the top three prizes receive a copy of the Modern Parables DVD set. It is a set of short films that take the parables of Jesus and place them in a modern context. I’ve not seen any of them myself but I’ve heard good things so far. Click on the link above and register for your chance to win this DVD set. When you do, type 40933 in the referral section. When you register you’ll receive a referral code of your own that you can use to refer others to the giveaway. Each referral counts as another entry for yourself. So go sign up and spread the word.
How do we engage the culture while remaining salty in a world that needs seasoning? How do we weave our lives into the world we know and yet remain distinct from it? These are the types of questions that are being asked today within the church as a whole. It seems that much of the emergent movement has been a reaction against hermit or isolationist Christianity. The challenge they are posing to the traditional church is to wake up and get involved with the changing world. I wholeheartedly agree. It is important to know what is going on in our world today including cultural norms. What are specific things that people are dealing with on a daily basis? What are the influences within culture? Who are the influencers within culture? What makes our particular culture tick? What challenges are people facing within culture? What role does our culture play globally? I believe these are important questions that we should be investigating. I believe the answers to these questions will help us know how to better minister to the people we are trying to love, serve, and reach. I believe it will lead us to a place where we will need to roll up our sleeves and get our hands dirty in the lives of others. It will be messy. We are messy. And Jesus came to love and save the messy. If we are to be like Jesus, we will love the messy. If we are to look like Jesus, we will learn to reach out to those who don’t have it all together. And the reality is that we all fall into this category so we can all relate. This fact has not changed over the course of human history. Since the core of human nature is unchanging and indifferent to cultures and periods of history, we can be confident that the gospel is always relevant. The good news is good news to everyone because we all have the same need. We all need redemption, forgiveness of sins, justification, and transformation. We all need Jesus.
But how far is too far? How deep do we immerse ourselves in the culture before we begin to compromise the very thing that makes us distinct? Where is the balance between immersion in culture and distinctiveness as a Christian? As I was preparing a survey sermon on the book of Daniel a few weeks ago, I realized that Daniel is a great example of what it means to be completely immersed and yet uncompromisingly distinct. Daniel 1 talks about the training that Daniel and others were given to prepare them to serve in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. It would be easy to dismiss this example based on the fact that Daniel was essentially a slave. There is no doubt that Daniel had limited options. However, Daniel did have options. He could have refused to be educated in the pagan ways. He could have formed a picket line outside of the King’s court to show his disapproval for the King’s unholy kingdom and actions. Of course, there would have been consequences for such an action or choice. It is highly possible that he would have been put to death. What impact would Daniel have then if he was dead? Instead, Daniel learned “the language and literature of the Babylonians.” He studied the culture and learned how things work in the Babylonian society. In fact, he excelled in his Babylonian studies and distinguished himself as a man of great wisdom and understanding. In Daniel and his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, King Nebuchadnezzar found men who were “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” There were no equals to these men and the king recognized it.
Since Daniel and his friends distinguished themselves by being diligent to learn the culture of the Babylonians, they were given positions of prominence within the kingdom. The king often looked to these men for guidance and answers. What greater opportunity for influence can there be than having the respect and ear of the king? I’ve heard Mark Driscoll say several times that the greatest opportunity for influence is found within the cities. Why? It seems that change begins in cities and later spreads to the rest of society. It seems that cities are the heartbeat of culture. In this case, the king’s royal court is the heartbeat of his kingdom. Many important decisions, decisions that alter a culture or society, are made with the counsel of the king’s court. And here are Daniel and his friends being highly praised and regarded by the king himself. The king seeks the counsel of Daniel on multiple occassions and Daniel reveals a word from God in each case. You only have to read further to understand the type of influence and impact Daniel had on the king and his kingdom. Daniel was immersed in the Babylonian culture.
At the same time, Daniel would not contradict God’s law by eating meat sacrificed to idols. Nor would he stop praying to Yahweh when a royal edict was made outlawing all prayers except to the king himself. He could not deny his convictions. He could not deny his faith. He could not deny his God who gives him life. God used Daniel in multiple ways. One of the most obvious ways is as an instrument of revelation. God revealed himself to Nebuchadnezzar and others through Daniel. He made it known that there is no other god outside of Yahweh. Daniel was immersed and distinct.
This is where we need to be. We need to follow Daniel’s example by immersing ourselves in the culture. We need to know what makes our society tick. We need to engage the culture in love and service. At the same time, we need to be distinct in humility, godly character, and work ethic. We must honor the Lord first in the midst of engaging the culture and world around us. We must remain salty, otherwise we are useless and no different than those without Christ. Our task is to be immersed and yet distinct. As we do so, we shall see the Lord open doors to influence those around us.
A couple of weeks ago I began a personal study through the pastoral epistles. I set out with the intention of finding out what it means to be a pastor, a shepherd of souls. With that focus in mind, I started reading slowly through the first chapter of 1 Timothy. Paul opens his letter to Timothy in typical fashion. “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” That’s enough to get me fired up already. Paul was chosen as an apostle by God our Savior and Christ Jesus our hope. That’s beautiful! Paul finds his identity in Christ who for the love of mankind died on the cross to be our hope.
Alright, that was a good start to my study. There is no better way to think about pastoral leadership than to begin with Christ. So I moved into verse 3 looking for that first bit of insight specifically concerning pastors. Paul tells Timothy, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus.” For what purpose? If I were Timothy I would want to follow my mentor. But Paul’s reason is “so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” Yes! That’s what I’m talking about. We need to stand up and protect the flock from false teachings and superstitions. We need to tell those false teachers to knock it off! This is part of the responsibility of being a pastor or leader in the church.
Then my thinking was steered in a totally unexpected direction. Just when I was feeling all Braveheart, Paul goes on to explain the goal of such an action. He says in verse 5, “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Can you hear that? Ah yes, that’s the sound of a humbling. That’s the sound of my war armor hitting the ground. That’s the sound of Jeff falling to his knees. Why? The goal in confronting false teaching is not to belittle such men or to promote our own goodness. It’s not even to be looked upon as a hero for the faith. The goal in confronting false teaching is love. Love is the root of who we are as Christians. We are to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves (Mark 12:29-31). We are to be a people of faith, hope, and love with the greatest of these things being love (1 Corinthians 13:1-13). By the words of Jesus we are to love our enemies (Luke 6:27).
Then I began to think, “Who are my enemies?” My first thought…TV evangelists. I began thinking of all the men I had seen on TV who prey on the innocent and feed on the hopelessness of the afflicted. I began to think of all the false gospels that I have heard preached. Some of these false gospels teach a comfortable Christianity and emphasize methods of self-help. I get so angry about it all because many people are being deceived and taken advantage of by these men. In fact, my wife has banned me from watching such programs because I nearly break everything in the house in the process.
As pastors and teachers we are called to confront such men, commanding them to stop teaching false doctrine. As Christians, we should be able to recognize the scent of a spoiled gospel. However, all of this must be done with a heart of love and not spite. And we cannot confront such men and false teachings with merely an external love or a facade of love. Verse 5 says that love “comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” The foundation of true love in deed is true love in the heart and conscience. It must begin with a sincere faith in Christ and the gospel. Sincere faith will then lead to a purification of the heart which in turn leads to a good conscience.
So this confrontation must take place in the context of true love for God, for people both lost and saved, and for those men who are teaching false gospels. Do you love your enemies? I am learning.
A recent article in the Seattle Times yielded an interesting and unique proclamation by the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, an Episcopal priest in the Seattle area. The title of the story, “I am both Muslim and Christian,” speaks for itself. In the article, Rev. Redding confesses to be both an Episcopal priest and a practicing Muslim. She states that her conversion as a Muslim has given her insights into Christianity. In essence her claim is that becoming a Muslim has made her a stronger Christian. Redding says, “At the most basic level, I understand the two religions to be compatible. That’s all I need.”
There are many issues concerning Rev. Redding’s confession of faith. Contrary to her belief, Christianity and Islam are not compatible. It is true that they share a few historical figures in Abraham and Jesus. According to Islam, Jesus is merely a prophet, not the Son of God who was sacrificed for the sins of humanity. To a Muslim, Jesus is not the only way to God the Father. For Christians, Jesus is God in the flesh. He came down and sacrificed himself to bear our punishment for sin and reconcile humanity to God. He is the only way to God the Father. This fundamental difference cannot be reconciled between the two belief systems. The very core of their identity puts them at odds with one another. Leaders in both religions have spoken out in the same manner.
“There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different,” said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. “The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus?”
“The theological beliefs are irreconcilable,” said Mahmoud Ayoub, professor of Islamic studies and comparative religion at Temple University in Philadelphia. Islam holds that God is one, unique, indivisible. “For Muslims to say Jesus is God would be blasphemy.”
This profession by Rev. Redding is not a great work of logic, reason, or reconciliation between two opposing belief systems and worldviews. Redding admits this herself. “It wasn’t about intellect,” she said. “All I know is the calling of my heart to Islam was very much something about my identity and who I am supposed to be.” How can you be two things that cannot coexist? Naturally there is always something behind a statement of this sort. Something has to give. That something is often the person of Jesus, the character of God, or the view of God’s Word. As the article reports:
She believes the Trinity is an idea about God and cannot be taken literally.
She does not believe Jesus and God are the same, but rather that God is more than Jesus.
She believes Jesus is the son of God insofar as all humans are the children of God, and that Jesus is divine, just as all humans are divine — because God dwells in all humans.
To make matters worse, Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner (Redding’s bishop) says he accepts Redding as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the interfaith possibilities exciting. There is nothing exciting about her profession. It does reveal many things. It makes clear the state of the Episcopal church in America. It is a sign of the culture and world we live in today. It also reveals the anti-intellectual attitude that some people take in regards to Christian faith (as if you can separate the head from the heart). It also shows disregard for the Word of God.
Today I attended the wedding of my friend Callie Pritchett (now Nolen) and her groom Ben Nolen. It was a splendid occassion characterized by moments of humor, excitement, and worship. Callie and Ben’s pastor gave one of the best wedding sermons that I have ever heard. He challenged Callie to humbly submit to her husband and trust his leadership. He charged Ben to be a humble and gentle leader who is sensitive to the needs of his wife. The pastor then turned the message and challenge toward those in the congregation who were already married. He challenged us to consider our marriage in light of God’s Word and to evaluate our consistency in living out the gospel in our marriages. This charge comes from Ephesians 5:22-33. Naturally one question came to mind following this challenge and Scripture. How am I leading my wife toward God as a husband?
As I thought about my wife and our nearly 9 month old marriage, I was reminded once again about the sacrifice I must make on a daily basis in order that my wife may be drawn toward God through my example and love. I must continually crucify the selfish desires that lie within me and seek to serve my wife in every instance. I once heard someone say that as husbands and wives we should seek to out-serve each other. We should not take up this perspective in order to use it as a trump card or to hold it against our spouses, thus elevating ourselves. We should take this perspective in order to live out the gospel by loving our spouses as ourselves, more than ourselves.
In the short time that I have been married, I have found that the greatest battle in serving and leading my wife has come from within my own heart and mind. As a husband or wife, your acts of service toward one another can be twisted within your hearts and minds by your selfish will or by Satan’s subtle persuasiveness. The result is an attitude of frustration and possibly resentment. Since marriage is a picture of Christ and the church, these same struggles and principles apply to our relationship with God and the community of believers. There are many times that we engage in acts of service with a resentful attitude. And how often are we fixated on our own wants and desires while neglecting to consider and love our brethren and neighbors? In an age of designer religion and consumerism, we are taught early on in life to pursue what is best for our own needs even at the expense of others. We can pick and choose what we desire to adhere to and live by depending on our own wants and needs. Yet all the while those wants and needs are constantly changing, being moved and swayed by the changing culture.
What I am reminded is that I need to die to self each day in order that I may serve God, my wife, and others. I have a choice each morning when I awake. I can fix my eyes on fulfilling my desires with the temporal offerings of this world or I can fix my eyes on Jesus, being filled by the Holy Spirit, in order that I may “set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12) As I set an example for my fellow believers, I am also living out the gospel in testimony to those who do not believe. And living out the gospel in service and love must begin in my own home.