Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Do Not Pray for Easy LIves!

Somewhere along the way I picked up this quote from Phillip Brooks: “Do not pray for easy lives! Pray to be stronger men. Do not pray for tasks equal to your powers. Pray for powers equal to your tasks. Then the doing of your work shall be no miracle, but you shall be a miracle.”

Several years ago I was going through some difficult things, and though I don’t remember the exact words I used, I prayed and asked God to get me out of the situation. My sense of the Lord’s response was this: “I don’t want to get you out of this, I want to develop you in this.”

And that is precisely what he did. He developed my faith, my ability to persevere, my hope, my character, my ministry skills, my trust in the Word of God, my commitment to prayer, my willingness to seek and heed the wise counsel of others, my ability to foresee and head off similar problems in the future, and many other such things. What I saw as a problem from which to flee, God saw as an opportunity in which to develop me and bless the people around me and glorify his name through me.

When we pray for the strength of the Lord instead of escape, when we pray for powers equal to our tasks rather than tasks equal to our powers, we give God the opportunity to show himself strong and gracious in our lives. And we do indeed become a means by which he displays his miracle working power, not to make much of us, but to make much of himself. “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the Lord, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off” (Isaiah 55:13).

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Stand in Christ & Fight!

At Glory of Christ Baptist Church we are working our way through the book of Ephesians, and at our last gathering we looked at Ephesians 1:15: “For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and your love toward all the saints…” I used this phrase as a spring-board to talk about spiritual warfare and conflict management with a view to preparing the church to deal with the inevitable attacks we will face from the devil, the world, and the flesh. I had so much more to say than I had time to say, part of which is this:

On the one hand, it is crucial that we not overestimate the devil because Jesus is immeasurably greater, more powerful, and more capable than he is. And, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). But on the other hand, Jesus has allowed him to reign to some extent for a season and, therefore, it is likewise crucial that we not underestimate him. It would be a grave error to do so, and to think that he will not come against any church that is seeking to take ground for the Kingdom of God, by the grace and calling and power of God.

Consider these quotes from the Bible: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10). “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). “During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him…” (John 13:2). “Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

The devil wants to steal from you, kill you, and destroy you. He is prowling around even now looking for prey to devour, and he would love to devour you. He has the ability to enter hearts and persuade people to betray, not only the church, but also the master of the church. He has the power to throw in prison, test, and even kill believers. Make no mistake in your estimation of him: he is powerful and he hates you with a vengeance.

So, brothers and sisters, what shall we say to these things? Rise up and put your armor on! Prepare for battle! Keep your guard up! Pay attention! Stay awake! Hone your skills! And when he attacks, fight, fight, fight with all your might! In the power of the Spirit of Almighty God, in utter dependence upon him, and for the sake of his glory, fight! Do not turn on your brothers and sisters, but with the humility and grace of Jesus Christ forgive as you have been forgiven! Do not aid the devil by indulging your flesh, but by the grace and power of Jesus crucify your flesh and live by the Spirit! Be found often in the Word and on your knees, and when the moment of battle comes you will succeed!

And when you fail, these promises will hold you up: “…but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20), and, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Having Nothing Else But God in Everything

In a little book entitled Daily Readings with Saint John of the Cross (Templegate: Springfield, IL, 1985), Saint John writes, “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing in everything, for how can a heart belong in any way to two people at once?” (59). This, of course, is reminiscent of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:24, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

I think Saint John is really onto something here, but the question arises, How does one have nothing in everything? Answer: have nothing but God in everything. For instance, I’m sitting at my computer right now and I have two choices as to how to think about it: (1) I can rejoice in the wonder of the computer itself and the genius of those who invented such a thing, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have resources to own it, or I can rejoice in the fact that I have requisite skills to use it, or I can take it for granted and assume that I deserve it. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of my flesh and rejoice in it as an end in itself, or as a means to rejoicing in the genius of others, or as a means to rejoicing in my self.

(2) I can rejoice in the fact that I am alive and in Christ by the immeasurable grace of God, and that God, in his surpassing genius, created people who could create such things as the computer, and that God granted me the resources to obtain one, and that God provided me a way to use it so that it blesses others and not just me, and that God may take it from me some day with a view to augmenting my joy in and dependence upon him. In other words, I can look at this computer from the perspective of the Spirit and see it as a means to rejoice in God.

And I believe that this basic choice lies before us in all things: nature, food, relationships, money, houses, cars, careers, achievements, fame, and the like. Will we rejoice in these things as an end in themselves, or will we see them as means to the end of rejoicing in God? Will we see these things and nothing more, or will we strive for eyes to see the glory of God in all things and worship him for what we see? Will we live for the joy we get from things and people, or will we live for the joy we get in God himself who freely gives us all things and people?

So, perhaps we can restate what Saint John said as follows: “To have God in everything a soul must have nothing ELSE BUT GOD in everything…” Oh Father, may you give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of you so that we, indeed, would have nothing else but you in everything.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Baptism & Communion

Most of the men involved in our church plant, Glory of Christ Baptist Church, meet on first and third Saturdays for a theological discussion. A couple of meetings ago the issue of the order of baptism and communion came up and I stated that I believe baptism should precede communion whenever possible. Later, one of the men wrote asking for further clarification and proof of my position and here is what I wrote to him. I welcome your input on this matter as well.

...About baptism and communion, here is the heart of my position:

1. There are zero instances in the Bible of a person taking communion before baptism, but there are several that display the pattern of repentance then baptism then entrance into body life, which includes communion (Acts 2:38-41, 8:12-13, 8:36-38, 9:18, 10:47-48, 16:15, 16:33, 18:8, 22:16). Given the number of texts that display this pattern, and the utter lack of texts that display the other pattern, I think the burden of proof is on those who would argue for communion before baptism.

2. First Corinthians 11:27-34 greatly elevates the nature of communion and the consequences of taking it unworthily:

[27] Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. [28] Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. [29] For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. [30] That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. [31] But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged. [32] But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned along with the world. [33] So then, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another— [34] if anyone is hungry, let him eat at home—so that when you come together it will not be for judgment. About the other things I will give directions when I come.

If a person is ready for this level of examination, reflection, self-assessment, and decision-making, and if a person passes the test, so to speak, so that he is reasonably confident that he will not incur the guilt of verses 27-28, then he is ready for baptism. And I believe, given the first point, that baptism should precede communion whenever possible.

3. I do not think that this pattern is absolute--that is, if a person receives communion before baptism he will not automatically incur judgment on himself. God is most concerned with the heart, and physical baptism is simply an outward sign of an inward reality. But I do think that this pattern is normative and I would question any person who claims to believe and is quick to take communion, but slow to be baptized. In other words, I would ask myself, "If they are willing to risk the judgment of 1 Cor. 11:27-28 but are unwilling to obey the command of Jesus to be baptized, are they truly saved? Are they uninformed? are they being disobedient?"

4. As all of this relates to children, I think the decision of when to allow children to take communion is ultimately in the hands of the parents. But allowing a child to receive communion is no small matter. Again I refer to 1 Cor. 11. And if a child is ready for this, then he is ready for baptism. If a child is not ready for baptism, surely he is not ready for the seriousness of 1 Cor. 11, that is, for communion.

I do think that there is room for differences of opinion here, but as Romans 14 states, the solution to our differences is not to take weak positions but for each of us "to be fully convinced in his own mind." And though I would not die on this hill, I am fully convinced in my own mind.

I welcome your feedback.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Rev. Dr. Pratap John Navitt

I had the privilege of meeting today with the Reverend Dr. Pratap John Navitt, director of the School of Theology at Allahabad University in Allahabad, India. Two of the things he shared really grabbed my heart.

First, the President of his University, who is an evangelical Christian, holds evangelistic outreaches every Sunday afternoon. These outreaches attract as many as 95,000 people per week, the vast majority of which are Hindus. Many of these people experience something of the power and grace of Jesus Christ, but do not leave their Hindu or Muslim ways because there is no one to disciple them in the ways of Christ. This is why they started the School of Theology five years ago. But even with the addition of the School, Dr. Navitt shared that he and his colleagues are simply overwhelmed with the need. These people, he said, are like sheep without a shepherd, and there is therefore an urgent need for laborers—many laborers—to labor in these fields.

Second, Dr. Navitt’s University is owned and operated by the state, and therefore his salary is set and paid out by the state. Because India is predominantly Hindu, and because the government frowns upon Christian evangelism, those engaged in evangelical activity are often forced to go many months without their salary. The government, he said, always finds some reason why they will not pay out that particular month—“you did not complete such and such a form” or “you did not fulfill such and such a goal,” all of which are contrived and without merit. When asked how he puts food on the table and meets his monthly obligations in such times, he simply said, “By the power of God.” His sincere faith really moved me.

Oh brothers and sisters, will you join me in praying for Dr. Navitt and the School of Theology at Allahabad University, and the tens of thousands of people that are hungry for Jesus, and are even responding to him, but have no shepherds?

You may learn more about the school here.

Monday, January 22, 2007

God & Self: Saint John of the Cross

Saint John of the Cross (born Juan de Yepes) was a sixteenth-century contemplative who resided in Spain during the height of the Reformation. In a little book entitled Daily Readings with Saint John of the Cross (Templegate: Springfield, IL, 1985) he writes the following:

“God enlightens the soul, making it see not only its misery and meanness, but also his grandeur and majesty. Thus out of this night springs first the knowledge of oneself, and on that, as a foundation, is built up the knowledge of God” (26).

While it is true that the knowledge of God cannot be apprehended apart from a great humility of soul, and while it is true that great humility of soul cannot be had apart from a comprehension of its “misery and meanness,” it is not true that knowledge of self is a foundation for knowledge of God. The case is quite the opposite.

Consider, for example, the experience of Isaiah as told in Isaiah 6:1-8. He first saw an incomprehensible vision of the glory of God, and in that instant he knew his own true nature: “Woe is me, for I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” His vision of the King, the Lord of hosts, was the foundation of his self-assessment, not the other way around.

God is always our foundation; we are never his. The knowledge of God is always the foundation of knowledge of the self; never vice versa. If we are to grow in the knowledge of God, we must indeed possess a deep and abiding humility, but that humility is only possible as God reveals himself to us, reveals the true nature of our souls to us, and then by grace gives us the humility to acknowledge our “misery and meanness” and throw ourselves on the mercy of Christ.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Tozer on Christ's Call

“Christ calls men to carry a cross; we call them to have fun in His name. He calls them to forsake the world; we assure them that if they but accept Jesus the world is their oyster. He calls them to suffer; we call them to enjoy all the bourgeois comforts modern civilization affords. He calls them to self-abnegation and death; we call them to spread themselves like green bay trees or perchance even to become stars in a pitiful fifth-rate religious zodiac. He calls them to holiness; we call them to a cheap and tawdry happiness that would have been rejected with scorn by the least of the Stoic philosophers” (Gems from Tozer, 47).

And with Christ's call comes Christ's reward: “Then Peter said in reply, ‘See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’” (Matthew 19:27-30)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Tozer on the "New Cross"

“If I see aright, the cross of popular evangelicalism is not the cross of the New Testament. It is, rather, a new bright ornament upon the bosom of a self-assured and carnal Christianity. The old cross slew men; the new cross entertains them. The old cross condemned; the new cross amuses. The old cross destroyed confidence in the flesh; the new cross encourages it…The new cross does not slay the sinner, it redirects him. It gears him into a cleaner and jollier way of living and saves his self-respect. The old cross is a symbol of death. God salvages the individual by liquidating him and then raising him again to newness of life. God offers life, but not an improved old life. The life He offers is life out of death. It stands always on the far side of the cross” (Gems from Tozer, 41, 44).

Friday, January 19, 2007

Tozer on Doctrine & Life

“For a long time I have believed that truth, to be understood, must be lived; that Bible doctrine is wholly ineffective until it has been digested and assimilated by the total life. The essence of my belief is that there is a difference, a vast difference, between fact and truth. Truth in the Scriptures is more than a fact. A fact may be detached, impersonal, cold and totally dissociated from life. Truth on the other hand, is warm, living and spiritual. A theological fact may be held in the mind for a lifetime without it having any positive effect upon the moral character; but truth is creative, saving, transforming, and it always changes the one who receives it into a humbler and holier man. At what point, then, does a theological fact become for the one that holds it a life-giving truth? At that point where obedience begins.

“Theological facts are like the altar of Elijah on Carmel before the fire came, correct, properly laid out, but altogether cold. When the heart makes the ultimate surrender, the fire falls and true facts are transmuted into spiritual truth that transforms, enlightens, sanctifies. The church or the individual that is Bible taught without being Spirit taught has simply failed to see that truth lies deeper than the theological statement of it. We only possess what we experience” (Gems from Tozer, 35-36).

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Tozer on Encountering God

The other day I read a little book called Gems from Tozer (Christian Publications, Camp Hill: PA, 1979). It is a book of quotes taken from twenty-two books, booklets, and pamphlets Tozer wrote. What follows in the next few posts are some of my favorites from the book.

“The God of the modern evangelical rarely astonishes anyone. He manages to stay pretty much within the constitution. Never breaks over our bylaws. He’s a very well-behaved God and very denominational and very much one of us, and we ask Him to help us when we’re in trouble and look to Him to watch over us when we’re asleep. The God of the modern evangelical isn’t a God I could have much respect for. But when the Holy Spirit shows us God as He is we admire Him to the point of wonder and delight” (14).

Oh Father, please help us die to our conception of you that we may see you as you are, be astonished to the depths of our souls, and then worship you with delight.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Prayer

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Jesus, the truths contained in Hebrews 1:3 are truly awe-inspiring and breath-taking. To think that you, in fact, created the sky and trees and lakes and animals and people we see everyday and all around us. That you are, in fact, the radiance of the Father’s glory, and that your glory is on display in the creation around us, the Word before us, and the Spirit within us. That you are, in fact, the exact imprint of the Father’s being and that to behold you is therefore to behold him. That because of this truth, your glory is not deceiving but in fact leads us in the way of life and light and mercy and glory. That you literally, uphold everything we see in life, both around and in us, by the word of your power. Our hearts beat, our blood flows, our eyes see, our ears hear, our mouths taste, our fingers feel, our legs walk, our minds think, our hearts worship you by grace. Indeed, in you the peoples of the earth live and move and have their being—all because you have decreed these things and you have the power to effect what you decree.

Skies inspire, stars shine, clouds move, thunder rolls, lightening strikes, snow falls, oceans roar, rivers flow, mountains tower, trees grow, lakes glisten, color abounds and inspires, dolphins swim and even fly, all manner of fish team in the sea, cheetahs run with break-neck speed, giraffes roam the plains with heads held high, elephants stomp and shake the earth, zebras confuse and confound with stripes, lions rule as king of the jungle, nations rise and nations fall, leaders come and leaders go, athletes run and jump and inspire, artists reflect and admire and paint, philosophers muse on meaning and purpose, teachers mold the lives of the young, architects dream, builders build, painters paint, diggers dig, lovers love, children play—all because you have decreed these things and you have the power to effect what you decree.

Who can possibly offer worship fitting for such a one as this? It is no wonder that the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders and the myriads upon myriads of angels and all living things will worship you forever and ever saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”

Oh Jesus, all that’s been mentioned is but a drop in the bucket of what you decree and uphold every moment of every day. I’ve not even mentioned angels and demons and principalities and powers; or the cross and your suffering and humility and obedience; or the miraculous beauty of salvation and sanctification and healing and empowerment for effective service in the Kingdom of God; or the beauty and glory of your Bride and her mission in the world; or one-billion other things that you uphold by the word of your power every moment of every day!

This is Jesus! Worship him, you his angels and creatures and sinners made saints! Worship him all tribes and tongues and nations! Roar and shout and clap in praise, bow and be still and gasp in awe, behold and wonder and be transformed—worship him! Let everything that has breath, worship the Lord!


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Jesus and the Word of His Power

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Who can fathom the fact that Jesus “upholds the universe by the word of his power”? Who can grasp all of the manifold implications of these words? Surely it is no exaggeration to say that neither man nor angel nor being of any kind can possibly take in or comprehend these things. Indeed, the power of Jesus Christ is infinitely above comprehension.

And the means by which he displays his power is his word. But why does the text say that “he upholds the universe by the word of his power,” rather than “the power of his word”? Is there a difference between these two?

To say “the word of his power” means that Jesus’ word derives its force from his power. It means that his power is antecedent to, and greater than his word. I may issue a decree that the universe be upheld or that a tree die or that a person be healed or raised from death, but the problem with my decrees is that I have no power to give force or effect to my word. This is not the case with Jesus: he has unimaginable power that gives eternal force and effect to all of his words.

Therefore, while it may sound better in English to say “the power of his word,” this is, in the end, a nonsensical statement because power can only belongs to his word if he first had the power to make his word effective. This is why text reads, “…he upholds all things by the word of his power.”

What’s left, then, is to stand in utter awe of Jesus Christ who can issue a decree like, “The universe shall be upheld,” and who has the power to effect that decree in all of its tangential implications.

No wonder the angels worship him!

Monday, January 15, 2007

Jesus as the Exact Imprint of God

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

Behind our two words “exact imprint” there is one Greek word: character. The word literally means “an imprint or carving,” and is used, for instance, to refer to the stamp of a ruler on coins. Thus, Jesus is the exact imprint of the nature and being of God. When one looks at Jesus, one sees a perfect representation of who God really is, how God really thinks, and how God really acts. Jesus is a portrait in being of the Father’s being. Whereas coins offer an impersonal representation of a ruler, Jesus offers an ultimately personal representation of the Father. “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

Why are these two facts juxtaposed in this verse, namely, that Jesus “is the radiance of the glory of God AND the exact imprint of his nature”? Simply this: many things shine brightly but do not represent God rightly.

The devil appears as an angel of light, but his light is all darkness (2 Corinthians 11:14). The world shines bright in all is glitz and glamour, but in the end its light is all darkness. There are many ways that seem right and light and bright to a man, but in the end they lead to death and they are all darkness (Proverbs 14:12).

But Jesus shines brightly precisely because he represents the Father rightly, and he represents the Father rightly because he shares in his very being and nature. He is the "exact imprint" of the nature of God, he is a portrait in being of the Father’s being, and therefore he is the radiance of the glory of God.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Jesus as the Radiance of the Glory of God

Thank you for praying for me while I was on retreat! In the next several posts, I will share some of what I was thinking and praying about.

“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power” (Hebrews 1:3).

The word used for “radiance” in the Greek text of the Bible has both an active and a passive sense. In the active sense it means “effulgence, radiance, or brilliance,” and in the passive sense it means “reflection.” For example, this word would be used of the sun in the active sense because its radiance is self-produced, but it would be used of the moon in the passive sense because its radiance is borrowed and reflected. Thus, the question becomes, Is this word being used of Jesus in the active or passive sense in Hebrews 1:3? Is Jesus the radiance of God’s glory, or is Jesus the perfect reflection of God’s glory?

It seems to me that it must be the former for at least these three reasons:

1. The angels of heaven worship Jesus: “And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, ‘Let all God's angels worship him’” (Hebrews 1:6).

2. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is God: “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.’ And, ‘You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end’” (Hebrews 1:8-12).

3. Jesus prayed the following in John 17:5: “And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.” Certainly, the glory of the Son proceeds from the Father because Jesus prayed in the passive, “Glorify me.” But he prayed that the Father glorify him with the glory he had “with” the Father, not from the Father. That is to say, Jesus shares in the Father’s glory, he does not simply reflect it.

The Bible teaches that the children of God will be glorified (e.g., Romans 8:30), but any glory we have from the Father will be an unspeakable act of grace. Jesus’ glory is proper to his nature. Our glory is that of the moon—it is completely borrowed and reflected glory. Jesus’ glory is that of the sun—it is self-generated, rightfully his, and radiates from his being with the Father.

The case for translating the Greek word in the active sense is very strong, and all that is left, then, is to behold the truth of these words in utter awe and wonder and breathlessness. What is left is to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, and to be changed by that glory evermore into his very image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Oh Lord, that you would grant us such grace.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

I'm on Retreat

Please pray for me this week as I'm on a retreat in northern Minnesota with the pastors from Bethlehem Baptist Church. I have taken retreats like this for eleven years now, and they are always among the sweetest times I have with the Lord. Thanks for praying!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

We've Chosen a Name!

Over the last few weeks, our church planting team has been working and praying hard to come up with a name for the new church. What follows is the first of two notes that announce the name, and explain why we chose it.

Brothers & Sisters,

Thank you for your input on the name of our new church, and especially for the humility with which you have given that input. This is not a small decision, and thus it calls for maturity and humility and, in the end, submission. I see these things in you as a people, and it truly makes me glad that God has called me to be your pastor.

Originally, I had planned to send out a list of names about which to receive feedback, but to my surprise—though it is something I had hoped and prayed for—one name was suggested a number of times: Glory of Christ Christian Church. This name comes from 2 Corinthians 4:4, which is within the larger context of 2 Corinthians 3:7 – 4:6. Let me give you several reasons, stated briefly, why I think this ought to be the name of our church:

1. As we’ve been learning in more depth together, the glory of God is the ultimate end of God in all things, and thus it is appropriate and biblical for our name to reflect this fact (Ephesians 1:6,12,14, and many other places).

2. The law had a measure of glory, as did Moses, but the “ministry of the Spirit” has a surpassing glory. And, of course, the mediator of this surpassing glory is Christ, or put another way, what we see of the glory of God we see only in the face of Christ (3:7-11, 14, 16-18, 4:4, 6). Thus, it is appropriate and biblical, and not at all contradictory to the first point, to specifically highlight the glory of Christ in the name of our church.

3. As believers behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, we are transformed by it from one degree of glory to another. And in that final day, we will all be like him for we will see him as he is (3:18, 4:6, 1 John 3:2-3). Thus, it is appropriate and biblical to refer to the church itself as the “glory of Christ” because, by grace, we do share in and reflect his glory (this is, I think, what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the light of the world” [John 8:12] and “You are the light of the world” [Matthew 5:14]).

4. The only label given to believers in the Bible is “Christian” (Acts 11:26, 26:28, 1 Peter 4:16). It literally means “little Christs,” and was at first a pejorative term. But isn’t it interesting how the enemies of the Lord, when they mean to curse his people, end up blessing them? For while we will never be Jesus Christ, we will, by grace, be like Jesus Christ, and this from prolonged and direct contact with his glory. Thus, it is appropriate and biblical to include the label “Christian” in the name of the church.

5. The word “church” is used over 100 times in the New Testament, most often referring to a local assembly of believers and sometimes referring to the church universal, that is, the assembly of believers from all times and places. Thus, it is appropriate and biblical to refer to ourselves as a church.

6. In this day and age we need to be as explicit as we can about the fact that we believe in and promote Jesus Christ—Glory of Christ Christian Church is very explicit. “For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Cor 4:5).

7. Finally, the name is poetic and rhythmic, and it will fit well on our logo, cards, letterhead, signs, and the like.

Beloved, thank you again for your input on this matter—I weighed it all carefully, and do not take it for granted. Please, now, think over what I’ve written, pray about it, and send me your feedback before we meet on January 7. My hope is that we can agree on this name via e-mail, but if there are enough legitimate issues that cannot be solved via e-mail, we will discuss the matter at our meeting.

It feels more meaningful to me now to sign this note as I often do:

For the glory of Christ,
Pastor Charlie

Why Include "Baptist" in the Name?

Here is the note I sent to the church explaining why we decided to utilize the word "Baptist" in the name:

Brothers & Sisters,

A few days ago I received an e-mail from the Hufts which argued for putting “Baptist” rather than “Christian” in the name. Both Kevin and I were persuaded by their e-mail because we saw that, although we will create some confusion by using the word “Baptist,” we will probably create more confusion by using the word “Christian.” The Hufts have given me permission to share their e-mail with you, so I have included it at the end of this note.

Here are the problems with the word Baptist, as I see them:
1. It does not define which of the 30+ types of Baptists we are.

2. It will keep some people from visiting our church because they will assume false things about what it means to be Baptist.

3. Believers are never called “Baptists” in the Bible, and we want to be as biblical as we can in all we say and do.

But here are the benefits of the word Baptist, as I see them:
1. It helps define who we are more adequately than the word “Christian.” The word “Christian” is so loose and undefined that people may think we are non-denominational, seeker-oriented, Pentecostal, affiliated with the Disciples of Christ, or who knows what else. This is the main thing the Hufts helped us to see.

2. It will attract people, like the Hufts, who understand what it means to be Baptist and are specifically looking for a Baptist church. To my knowledge, there are only six churches in the entire SMORE area that use the word Baptist in their name, four of which are in Elk River: Becker Baptist, First Baptist Monticello, Cornerstone Baptist Church (Elk River), Elk River Baptist Church, Tri-County Baptist (Elk River), and Bible Baptist Church (Elk River).

3. It will promote the integrity of the church by declaring our affiliation, even if some people misunderstand what that affiliation implies. It will keep people from having to guess or waste their time trying to figure out what kind of church we are.

4. Although believers are never called Baptists in the Bible, Baptist distinctives have been carefully derived from the Bible over the last four-hundred years. To bear the name “Baptist” is no contradiction to the Bible, and as I’ve already said, it helps define us to the public.

5. Many God-centered churches, not the least of which is Bethlehem Baptist Church, are prospering with the word “Baptist” in their name. The word “Baptist” is not what will attract people to, or repel people from, our church--the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will do that and the Hufts are right to say that we should trust him in this.

Therefore, since the name “Glory of Christ Church” does not adequately address any of these issues, the name of the church, at last, shall be “Glory of Christ Baptist Church.” Thank you Roger and Juli for the care, concern, and time you took in writing your note. And thanks again, Bert, for being the one to raise the question in the first place.

Now, here is the note from the Hufts:

…We also love the "Glory of Christ" part of the name, but were a bit distracted for lack of better words, by the "Christian" part of it. In agreement with you Charlie on your thoughts behind the "Christian" terminology, we also feel that using the word "Christian" in a church name is very biblically appropriate. However, we felt too, like Bert, that the term, "Christian," unfortunately, isn't what it used to be. Today, it has become a loose and rather vague word that many people, unfortunately, throw around with little significance in their speech. The Somalis at SALT struggled with the term 'Christian,' because they see people such as Madonna wearing a cross around her neck, but understand also that her lifestyle and actions appear to be far from the cross. This isn't to say that everyone feels as they do, but we found this example appropriate here. A "Christian" Church sounds 'non-denominational' to us, and maybe to some, not what it truly is meant to that is completely and whole-heartedly dedicated to serving and carrying out all visions to glorify our Father through Christ Jesus with a biblically sound doctrine.
When we moved here to MN, one of the things that was crucial in our church hunting was a good, solid Bible based Baptist church. We wanted a Baptist Church because we wanted a solid doctrine (II Tim 4:3). But when we opened up the phone book, we were saddened by the lack of churches that carried the "Baptist" name. We ended up at Quarry Community Church, and were pleased to find out (when we asked...) that they were 'Baptist.' Unfortunately, they were also affiliated with Willow Creek.
The point to ponder might be this: Is leaving out a name such as "Baptist," and replacing it with "Christian," going to compromise who others might perceive us to be and what our vision of this church is to be? Might it sound as if we are the usual church that has fallen into the non-offensive rut before they even give us a chance and see who we really are? Or, could we benefit by coming right out and proclaiming who we are, Baptist, trusting in God to see this church vision through, as we continue to strive to focus on glorifying Christ in all that we do?

In Him,Roger and Juli

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Baxter on Family Discipleship

In his 1656 book, The Reformed Pastor (Banner of Truth, Carlisle, PA: 2005), Richard Baxter writes the following to pastors about the family:

"We must have a special eye upon families, to see that they are well ordered, and the duties of each relation performed. The life of religion, and the welfare and glory of both the Church and the State, depend much on family government and duty. If we suffer the neglect of this, we shall undo all. What are we like to do ourselves to the reforming of a congregation, if all the work be cast on us alone; and masters of families neglect that necessary duty of their own, by which they are bound to help us? If any good be begun by the ministry in any soul, a careless, prayerless, worldly family is like to stifle it, or very much hinder it; whereas, if you could but get the rulers of families to do their duty, to take up the work where you left it, and help it on, what abundance of good might be done! I beseech you, therefore, if you desire the reformation and welfare of your people, do all you can to promote family religion...(100)

"Get masters of families to do their duty, and they will not only spare you a great deal of labor, but will much further the success of your labors. If a captain can get the officers under him to do their duty, he may rule the soldiers with much less trouble, than if all lay upon his own shoulders. You are not like to see any general reformation, till you procure family reformation. Some little religion there may be, here and there; but while it is confined to single persons, and is not promoted in families, it will not prosper, nor promise much future increase" (102).

Monday, January 01, 2007

When All Things Will Be New!

As soon as my eyes opened this morning, and I thought about the fact that it is New Year's Day, I remembered Revelation 21:1-8 and I worshipped the Lord for that final day when all things will be new. Please prayerfully ponder it with me:

“[1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’

“[5] And he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ [6] And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. [7] The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. [8] But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.’”