Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Star Culture & the Condemnation of the Devil

I’ve been preaching through Ephesians 6:10-20 at our church, and thus I spent a couple of weeks talking about the devil and demons specifically addressing who they are and how they came to be the way they are.

If I understand the Bible well, the way Satan fell is that he became impressed with himself and came to exalt his own glory over that of the God who endowed him with glory. He became committed to his own splendor and this caused him to sin in a variety of ways and eventually to be thrown out of heaven (see Ez 28:12-19). Then, probably, the way the demons fell is that Satan deceived or otherwise persuaded them to join in his self-exaltation, and in so doing they fell under great condemnation and were also expelled from heaven (see Rev 12:1-12).

This got to me thinking the other day about our propensity to “worship” other human beings. We spend millions of dollars buying books and magazines, going to movies and watching television, searching the internet and doing whatever else we must to follow our favorites and know their every move. Even many followers of Christ are caught up in this cultural trap, but this way of life is more dangerous and even Satanic than we might imagine.

The whole “star-culture” is built on the fact that self-exalting beings have a passion to persuade others to join in their own self-exaltation. It’s not enough for us to be great; we also have to persuade others to notice how great we are, and somehow our joy or sense of fulfillment is not complete until they do. But this is precisely what caused Satan and the demons—angelic beings God created for his own glory—to be cast out of his presence forever.

Now, think about how amazingly traitorous and even demonic it is when we do this within the church of God—when Christian leaders exalt themselves under the guise of exalting Christ, and when everyday Christians follow those leaders like a pack of groupies. This is utterly Satanic and demonic, and I hope that upon thinking it over you’ll see it for what it is. It is a trick of the enemy to lure our eyes off of Christ and onto people who have been gifted by Christ.

I’ll admit that this can be difficult because God does give leaders to his people, and he does mean for them to respect and even venerate those leaders to some extent (see 1 Tim 5:17 & Heb 13:7-17). But at some point, proper veneration turns into inappropriate admiration and both the leader and follower run the risk of falling into the temptation of the devil.

This train of thought causes me to want to preach to my own soul: pay attention! Be warned! Don’t fall into the condemnation of the devil by exalting yourself, or of the demons by inappropriately exalting others beside God! I say this because the temptation to self-exaltation is at least a minor one for every person who has a public ministry. Every such person has at least a handful of people who tell them how helpful and impactful their ministry is, and with each such complement the soul can begin to be impressed with itself rather than with God. This is why Paul warned against appointing an elder who is young in the faith (1 Tim 3:7).

So be warned, my soul, and do not fall into the condemnation of the devil or the demons. And be warned, every soul who reads this, that you do not fall into that same condemnation.

It seems to me that, as serious as this problem is, the simple solution is to heed the great commandment and love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It’s to put him first and desire him most and pursue him always. It’s to be satisfied with and in him so that our soul doesn’t find itself craving for lesser glories. This is easier said than done, I know, but it is true nonetheless.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

On Finishing Strong

Yesterday I read the story of Caleb, now an old man, asking Joshua to let him take the land of Hebron. Here are a few of his words: "And now, behold, the LORD has kept me alive, just as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the LORD spoke this word to Moses, while Israel walked in the wilderness. And now, behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming. So now give me this hill country of which the LORD spoke on that day, for you heard on that day how the Anakim were there, with great fortified cities. It may be that the LORD will be with me, and I shall drive them out just as the LORD said" (Josh 14:10-12).

Oh, how I want to be like Caleb both now and when I grow old! First, I want to imitate his faith. Notice how his confidence derived not from belief in himself but rather from faith in the promise of the Lord. I see this in the words "as the Lord said." This conquest was not about Caleb in Caleb's mind, it was about God and his promises, and Caleb simply wanted to know the joy of seeing the promises of God fulfilled with his own eyes. He was unafraid because he trusted in the Lord.

Second, I want to imitate his humility. Notice how he didn't boast in a victory he had not yet won, but rather said "It may be that the LORD will be with me..." Faith does not presume upon God, it submits to the will of God whatever that may be. Faith does strive to take hold of the promises of God but it stops short of dictating to the Lord what that has to look like. Thus, rather than proudly boasting in his abilities or arrogantly assuming he knew God's will for the situation, Caleb simply said, "I want to walk in obedience and perhaps the Lord will give me victory." I love that about him.

Furthermore, Caleb displayed his humble spirit by submitting not only to God but to God's man, Joshua. Think about it. Joshua was much younger than Caleb and Caleb obviously had the wisdom and abilities to do whatever he wanted. But he knew that God himself had appointed Joshua and that the key to being a man of God is submission to the will and ways of the Lord, including his chain of command. So here we see this old, skilled, courageous, wise warrior submitting himself to a man that was probably decades younger than him. Oh how I love his humility and how I want to imitate it.

Finally, I want to imitate his courage. Caleb was simply unafraid of the enemies on every side because he trusted in the greatness of God. He really believed. It's one thing to say we trust in God, it's another thing to strap on a sword and fight against a people that are taller and stronger than you because the Lord has promised you success. And for our part, it's one thing to say we trust in God, it's another thing to leave our comfort zones and share the gospel with our family and friends and neighbors and co-workers in the hope that they might be saved. But if we had the spirit of Caleb about us we would simply go for it with the attitude that "perhaps the Lord will be with us."

Oh Father, help us to love and trust you more. Help us to believe in you--really beleive. Help us to be humble and submissive, and help us to be courageous and unafraid to walk in the things you have for us this day and week and month and year.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Sickness, Diet & Exercise

Well, it's been a week or so since I've blogged because I took a couple of days off to recover from three very intense, but good, weeks, and then I came down with a pretty bad cold or flu that laid me out for a few days. As the Lord has done in the past, he used this cold or flu to "make me lie down," and I'm thankful to him for it. I feel really weak still, but I feel so rested inside and at peace. Praise the Lord!

One thing the Lord has been doing in my life is leading me to think more carefully and get more disciplined about my diet and exercise. If you think about it, diet, exercise, and rest are absolutely foundational to everything else we do in life, and furthermore, these things are an important part of the stewardship of this temple the Lord has given us. And as the Lord said, the one who is faithful will little things--like the body--will be faithful with big things--like the glory of God.

I'm not one who gets excited about being on a diet, mainly because even when they work they never last. So rather than looking for the latest fad I've created a couple of tools based on Liz Applegate's book Eat Smart, Play Hard. These tools help me do two things: ensure that I have a proper balance of foods each day and that my calorie count stays within an acceptable range. I've been using these tools for about a week now and I already feel so much better. I had been feeling pretty lathargic, and it's amazing to me how quickly my sense of energy and mental alertness has flip-flopped even though I'm weak from being sick. Praise be to God!

To help me stay on track with this I've enlisted the help of my wife and another good friend, and I joined a website called "Spark People." You can check the site out here. It's a free service and has tons of great ideas, motivations, recipees, etc. And best of all it doesn't focus on a particular diet, it focuses on healthy living. I have already found it very helpful.

One part of their system, of course, is exercise which is an easy one for me. I love being on my bike, in fact, if I could just ride and ride every day I would! I don't know how to explain it but it's like a sanctuary for me and I always meet God when I'm on my bike. My main issue hasn't been failing to exercise it's been failing to exercise discipline with food!

The point of this post is just to say that stewardship of the body is about discipleship. It is about our life in Christ. So please pray for me as I embark on some life-change here, and if you'd like to see the tools I use just e-mail me (charlie@gcbcmn.org) and I'll send them to you.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Home Again!

It was sure good to see Kim and Rachel last night, and to rejoice with Kim in the glory of Christ--Rachel was sleeping in the backseat! We hardly finished saying hello before we launched into an hour-long conversation about the awe-inspiring beauty of Christ who is "better" than all, to use one of Hebrews' most important words.

He's better than the angels and Moses and the high priests of Israel and the first covenant and the law and the tabernacle and King David--meaning, not that any or all of these are bad or evil, but that Christ, in his infinite greatness, is the fulfillment of them all and that his coming means their obsolescence.

Thinking on this main theme of Hebrews the other day it occurred to me that perhaps, in the wisdom of God, the reason he has hidden the identity of the author of Hebrews from us is because Jesus is better than him as well and there's no need to know who he is. He was an instrument in the hands of God who has now decreased that Christ might increase.

Looking back over the week, I feel even more strongly about what I wrote on the first day. It was a privilege to be in the room with so many servants of God, some of whom are laying everything on the line for the glory of Jesus. And it was a privilege to sit at the feet of a master teacher like Don Carson. But in the end it was not my colleagues or Don Carson, or even the author of Hebrews, who captured my attention--it was Jesus Christ himself. He simply takes my breath away and strikes awe into my soul.

Oh how right the Psalmist was to say, "Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable" (Ps 145:3). May we never settle for less in this life than as much of him as he'll give to us!

Thanks for praying.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What to Say?

For the last couple of days I've been thinking about how I'm going to answer when people ask me the question, "How was your class?" The truth is I have so much to say that I don't know what I'll say!

I feel a bit like the scientists who launched the Hubble Telescope must have felt when they saw the first batches of images coming back. Of course, they already knew that the universe was massive, but the Hubble Telescope helped them to see that it's much more massive than they thought--and glorious, too.

And of course, I knew the fact that Jesus Christ is great and glorious beyond imagination before I came here, but having spent more than 30 hours of class time, and others beside, meditating on the vision of him in Hebrews, I now see that he's much greater and more glorious than I ever thought he was. I see that it would take me more than several lifetimes to explore the expanses he's allowed me to glimpse this week.

I know that must sound completely unbelievable but it's true. Why else do you think we will need ETERNITY to be with him. He is that vast and that beautiful and that awe-inspiring and that deep.

I have only one lifetime here on the earth, and it will be very short. Even if I live to be 100 it will be very short. But as the Psalmist said, "Deep calls to deep," and my heart is longing to spend the little life I have plumbing as deeply as I can into the depths of him who saved us, and this not only for my own sake but for the sake of others.

Thanks for praying, Lord willing, I'll be home late tomorrow night.

Letter from a Suffering Missionary

Yesterday I received the following e-mail regarding a missionary in Bologna, Italy who recently had a stroke. I have no time to explain why I'm posting it here, so I will simply trust that the Lord will use it as he sees fit.


Dear Friends,

It’s been a while since I have updated you on Andy’s condition. He was home again this past weekend. After I picked him up at the hospital on Sat. morning we went for a drive in the country. It was a beautiful day. We stopped at one of our favorite spots- a stocked fishing lake with a beautiful view and a nice restaurant that serves great sandwiches.
As we sat in the car eating sandwiches and soaking in the beauty, I began reflecting on the first question of the Westminster Confession; “What is the chief end of man?”
“To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Andy and I talked about how his ability to fulfill his “chief end” had not changed one bit since his stroke. Whether he can walk or talk or use his arm, he can still glorify God and enjoy Him fully! Isn’t that a joy? Our true purpose in life cannot be hindered by any disability or illness!
He is making progress daily. He can now walk a few steps with a cane and assistance on his left side. His legs are getting stronger all the time. He still loses his balance occasionally and needs someone to assist him in his movements. He has had some very minimal movement in the muscles of his upper arm, but he still can’t make any significant movement of the arm or hand. His speech is improving slowly and his mind is definitely clearer.
He had another CAT scan and it showed improvement and he is now being reevaluated for surgery. He saw the anesthesiologist this morning and has clearance for surgery. He should see the surgeon this week who will set a date. Depending on the date it is possible they will consider discharging him and continue his physical therapy on an out-patient basis.
So, things are progressing steadily here. We are grateful for all your prayers and help during this long period of recovery. We are seeking to “glorify God and enjoy Him” even in this illness. May He find pleasure in His children!

Love,

Linda, for both of us

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Watching over our Souls--Together: A Reflection on Hebrews 3:12-13

I woke up this morning around 5:30 and began reading Hebrews, partly to prepare for the discussions of the day and partly to exult in the treasure that is hidden there. Within a few minutes I arrived at 3:12-14 and it really grabbed my attention, especially the relationship between the words “in any of you...none of you” (that is, not a single one of you) and the words “one another.” Here’s the full text:

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”

The Greek word for “take care” literally means “see,” which is why some translations render it “watch out” or “beware” or something like that. I take it to mean, “Be awake, be alert, keep an eye out.” I get the picture of a watchman on the wall of a city who’s assigned to keep an eye out for approaching enemies. If the watchman falls asleep, or otherwise fails to do his job, the whole city will be vulnerable and perhaps pay a terrible price.

In this instance, the city is our soul and the reason we must be vigilant in watching over it is because there are real enemies on every side that have the capacity to destroy us. Thus, if we do not watch out our hearts will turn toward evil, they’ll stop believing in the living God and we will fall away from him. This is the natural inclination of every human soul, and so it is that we must be on the look out!

Of course, it’s true to say that only Jesus Christ can rescue us from this inclination. Of course, it’s true to say that no amount of striving is going to rescue us from “this body of death,” as Paul put it. But I don’t see how anyone can read the Bible honestly without coming to the conclusion that God has given us a part to play in this. Certainly, the reason we’re able to play that part is because of the grace of God that enables us to do so (see, for example, Phil. 2:12-13 & Titus 2:11-14), but this doesn’t mean, in turn, that we have no part to play. God has said, in so many ways and in various places, Christian, play this part, I will give you the power to do so, but if you do not play your part your heart will grow cold and unbelieving and you will fall away from the living God!

It’s so crucial that we feel the force of this threat because in so doing we come to feel force of the command to “watch out” or “take care.”

Now we come to what really grabbed my attention this morning: “taking care” is not an individualistic matter, it is a communal matter. That is to say, even though Paul uses individualistic words like “any one of you” and “none of you” when he’s pointing out the problem, he uses these communal words when he’s pointing to the solution: “But exhort ONE ANOTHER every day, as long as it is called ‘today.’”

In other words, we were not designed to watch over our souls in isolation but rather together with those who are also watching over their souls by the grace and power of Jesus Christ. We were designed to pursue Christ and kill sin together, and not alone!

Oh Beloved, this point is so easy to grasp with the mind that I fear the punch of it will be lost on us, and so I ask: Are you deliberately enlisting the help of fellow believers to exhort you every day in your pursuit of Jesus Christ? Are there people in your life—people you can name—who have permission to poke and prod and ask questions and give suggestions and encouragements and otherwise spur you on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24)? And do they do it? And do they do it “every day”?

This is so not about legalism, so please do not let your mind go there. Just read Hebrews carefully, see that on the basis of it my questions are fair, and then answer them. If you are not deliberately enlisting the help of others in your life please hear me say that you are on dangerous ground because in that case you cannot obey the command in verse 12 to watch out for your heart. Exhorting one another is not, in the author’s mind, one suggestion in a list of many for keeping your soul in good condition. It is an integral part of obeying the command. So I ask you again, Are you partnering with others for the glory of God and the good of your soul?

I’m aware that I’ve turned toward preaching here but the reason is that I’ve been preaching this sermon to myself all day long. I do have people in my life who are exhorting me every day, but I think I could make even more use of their ministry in my life and I plan to do so. In fact, before I sat to write this blog-entry I e-mailed a few people along these lines. All to say, I’m not asking you questions I’ve not asked myself and I’m not calling you to do something I’ve not taken more substantial action on myself.

So please, don’t let yourself off the hook here: answer the questions.

If you will do this, there will be much joy awaiting you and, in part, here’s why: Jesus has helped me to see all the more today what the opposite of an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away is—it’s a heart that has the capacity to take him in, and he alone is glorious and all-satisfying. It’s a heart that is able, in measure, to see him for who he is and delight in him with sincerity and serve him with gladness. It’s a heart that will, in time, understand the meaning of words like Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

To put it simply, obedience to Christ is the path to joy, and obedience is a group project. So, let us watch over our souls—together—for God’s glory and our joy.

Monday, March 09, 2009

A Brief Word of Praise to Christ

It's late, I'm tired, but it's been a great day!

Class commenced with introductions. There are about 22 of us in this particular course, and 60 or so in the entire program. To my left was a man who's been serving a church in inner-city Cleveland for 12 years. He succeeded his father who was there for 28 years before that! To my right was the CEO of a major Christian publishing company, and farther to the right was a man who is laying down his life--literally risking his life--to put the Bible in the language of a people group in northern Mexico who, for the most part, don't speak Spanish. Across the room is a pastor of a Chinese church in Birmingham, Alabama, and two seats away from his was a young man from South Korea who's been serving as a pastor in the USA for four years. And around the rest of the table there's a mix of pastors and missionaries, all of whom are eager to dive into Hebrews.

It's a little difficult to explain what I was feeling as each person introduced him or herself. I thought, "What a privilege it is for me to be in the presence of such as these." I remember who I was before I was in Christ, and I can't believe that I have a place at the table with such humble and bold servants of God. Thank you, Father, for your mercy in Christ.

Dr. Don Carson began his lecture for the day with some prelimary comments about the recepients of Hebrews, the author, the date, the style of language, the use of the OT, etc. Then he turned our attention to Hebrews 1:1 and we simply worked our way, verse by verse and sometimes word by word, to the end of chapter two. It took about five hours.

As we pondered the first few verses, especially the lines about Jesus creating and sustaining all things, I could not help but gaze out the window at the woodsy landscape and worship this Jesus of whom we were speaking. "The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands" (Psalm 19). It was as if Jesus was distracting me from study in order to fill my soul with the wonder of him! It was as if he was saying, "Ponder me, and ponder deeply, but know me and worship me in the midst of your pondering." He would not let me think of him in the same way one thinks of any other subject because he is not merely a subject to be studied--he is the Living God! Thus, unlike any other subject, when we come to consider him we ponder in order to praise, we study in order to sing, we work in order to worship, we labor in order to love. I was so grateful to Jesus for capturing my heart like this!

As we continued on in chapter one and spoke at length about how the author uses the Old Testament, I became more and more captured by the beauty and utter supremacy of Jesus over all things. I know that must sound sappy and superlative, but I don't know how else to say it. The argument of Hebrews is that Jesus is "better" than all things--better than angels and Moses and the high priests of Israel and the old covenant, etc. And the author makes this argument by carefully interpreting themes that are deeply imbedded in the entirety of salvation history, like the Davidic Lineage, so that as one begins to comprehend just who this Jesus is he will tremble and fall at his feet in whole-hearted worship. This is the design of Hebrews: to open our eyes to who Christ really is, to strike awe in our hearts, and to cause us to worship him with our lips and with our lives.

And I guess what I'm saying is that the intended affects of Hebrews worked in my life today. At points I felt so lost in the contemplation of Christ that I was, for all intents and purposes, unaware of my surroundings. Jesus captured my heart today, plain and simple. It made me think of the old hymn,

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of his glory and grace.

It really is a privilege to sit at the table with pastors and missionaries and other servants of God. It really is a privilege to sit under the teaching of Dr. Carson and benefit from a man who has walked with Christ for so many years. But as with the angels and Moses and high priests and the old covenant, Jesus is better than these. He alone is worthy of adoration and praise, and I'm so grateful to him for capturing my heart as well as my mind today.

I look forward to more of the same tomorrow as we dive into chapters 3-5, probably. But for now it's time to take my rest.

Thanks for praying.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Partnering for Holiness--A Cautionary Tale & a Request

This evening I'm traveling to the Chicago area for school, and thus I wrote the following e-mail to several of the men in our church who are close to me.


Dear Brothers,

Last night Kim and I had dinner with a young couple who told us a tragic story. As part of their preparation for marriage they went through pre-marital counseling with the pastor of their church. He helped them think through the fact that marriage is a sacred covenant before God, and all that implies. At the same time this deceiver was sleeping with a woman who was not his wife, and who in fact had come to him for counseling. And to make matters worse, when his sin became public—which, by the way, happened before this couple’s counseling was done—the so-called pastor persuaded a portion of the church to side with him over his wife and in this way he split the church in half.

I wanted to cry. I wanted to apologize to these precious young souls. I want to break that “pastor’s” nose. I have a friend who was hired by a church about a year after the former “pastor” had done much the same thing, and several years into his ministry there he told me that he was still spending 50% of his time helping people through the pain of what happened. When men who are supposed to shepherd the flock of God violate the trust He has given them by indulging their own flesh, especially sexually, they cause so much pain and break so much trust that it’s hard to find words to describe—and that’s not to mention the damage they do to the Name of Jesus. Of course, the grace of Jesus is greater than any sin, but his grace doesn’t undo all of the damage.

Brothers, you already know this about me but I want you to hear me say it again with as much passion as you’ve ever heard me say anything—I WILL NOT let the devil destroy my integrity and marriage and ministry like that. I WILL strive to put myself in a place, every day of my life, where I’m made strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. I WILL put on the armor of God that I may be able to withstand the schemes of the devil, and having done all, to stand. I WILL ask godly brothers like you to lock arms with me and fight against the enemies of our souls. I WILL gladly and willingly answer to godly brothers like you about how I spend my time when I’m in a distant city all alone.

I have never been tempted to break my covenant with Kimmy because she’s as close to me as my very soul and I love her with all of my heart. As I’ve told her many times, I can’t even think “Charlie” without thinking “Kimmy.” We are one in Christ and I’m deeply and happily committed to her. But the devil is strong and he is out to destroy men like me and ministries like ours, so I WILL NOT put my guard down!

So, Brothers, I’m writing to you for two reasons: (1) I want to ask you to pray with me, that the Lord will be my delight and my strength and my shield, that I will love him with everything in me and thus thwart the plans of our enemies, and (2) to give you permission to call or poke or prod or question or do anything you feel led to do in order to spur me on or hold me accountable.

I’ll be spending the next four nights at the Extended Stay America in Vernon Hills, Ill. I don’t have the room number yet, but the number to the hotel is 847-821-7101. And of course, you all have my cell number. I’ll be attending classes from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and then I’ll have the evenings free. My plan for the evenings is to study for the next day of class, pray, share Christ with someone each day if I can, and rest.

I am so grateful for you, my band of brothers! How I long to shout the praises of God with you in heaven when God does in fact crush Satan under our feet (Rom 16:20)!

For the glory of Jesus & the good of his people,
Pastor Charlie

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Letter to a Friend who's Suffering

Recently I wrote a letter to a friend who's going through some hard things. I decided to post the letter here because I thought it might be helpful to others as well. It's quite long, so I apologize for that. Also, please keep in mind that I've removed all personal references from the letter so it may come across a little more cold or distant than the letter I actually sent.


Dear Freind,

First of all, I want you to know that my heart goes out to you because I know what it is to feel the sting of suffering and death. And more than that my sense as I’ve prayed is that the Lord's heart goes out to you, as well, and that he’s with you. When Lazarus died Jesus wept. Why did he weep?--he knew the end from the beginning. He knew he was going call him back to life. He knew that, even though Lazarus would die again someday, he would have eternal life and joy at the right hand of God. So why did he weep? I think it was because he was sympathizing with the pain of people who were experiencing death and suffering but did not have the eternal perspective he had.

Jesus wept because he loved, and as I’ve prayed for you I’ve sensed his great love for you. The Lord is with you and he’s for you and for reasons only known to him he’s thought it best to let you share in suffering. So above all, my heart is to say this: trust him. As my spiritual “father,” Doug Goodno, used to tell me, “Trust his heart when you cannot trace his hand.” Believe his promises when you don’t get what he’s up to. Remember all he’s done, for all of his people throughout time and for you personally over the years, and trust him for what he will do.

Psalm 77 is the record of a man preaching to himself in the midst of a difficult time, and one question he asks is this: “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” It’s as if he’s saying, “Soul, do you really think that after all these centuries of faithfulness to his people the ability or willingness of the Lord to remain steadfast in love has run out in your lifetime and with your case?” The obvious answer is “no,” and so he goes on to plead with himself to remember the works of the Lord.

And above all, this is what’s on my heart to say to you: remember what he’s done and trust him for what he will do! The steadfast love of the Lord has not ceased, and in time he’ll work all things together for your good and you’ll see with your own eyes why it was wise to allow you to suffer. You’ll see why it was wise to allow you to feel the force of heaven and hell. I will be praying for you, that our Father will be merciful and help you to have faith and hope in him because, “If God is for you who can be against you?” (Rom 8:32-39)

Though the ways of the Lord are mysterious, and sometimes difficult to understand, I’ve have striven over the years to keep several truths in mind, especially when dealing with suffering and death. First, God is the Creator of all things and therefore he has absolute rights over life and death. This is why Job said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). He acknowledged, in the midst of terrible tragedy, that the Lord is not unjust to take life when he so chooses.

Second, God is holy, absolutely holy. There is no darkness in him at all. There is no scheming or deceit in him, and he takes no joy in suffering itself. Therefore, all he does, and allows, must have some greater purpose that will work together for his glory and the joy of those who love him because he is literally not able to do anything from an evil motive. He is holy. Therefore, it is so important that we learn, in the midst of suffering, to tremble before him and acknowledge the purity of his being. It’s important, crucially important, that we not allow ourselves to slip into the temptation of the devil and accuse God of wrong-doing or injustice. Read the latter chapters of Job and you’ll see what I mean. He is so far beyond our ability to comprehend, and therefore we must learn to trust him when we cannot trace his hand.

Third, God is good, absolutely good. One thing this implies is that all he does is good. As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:68, “You are good and you do good.” The order here is important: all that God does flows out of who he is, and therefore since he is absolutely good everything he does, and allows, must of necessity be good. We must preach to our souls and learn to believe this because it’s true--the Lord is good and he does good! When we discipline ourselves to believe in and look for the goodness of the Lord in all things, he sometimes gives us insight into why he’s doing what he’s doing. Or at least he begins to give us the peace that passes understanding so that we’re not overly burdened or perplexed. At least he begins to give us the confidence that, even though we don’t understand, he has done the right thing.

Fourth, God is wise, absolutely wise. He has knowledge and perspective that we can’t even imagine. He knows our coming and our going, our getting up and our lying down, our past and present and future. He knows the beginning of our days and the end of our days (Psalm 139). He knows where we fit in the grand scheme of life and he means to use our lives, every one of our lives, for the glory of his Name. This means, in part, that our Father had reasons for connecting you with your relative when he did and in the way he did—reasons you may never know or understand this side of heaven because his will is not always to give us understanding but sometimes his will is to give us faith when we don’t understand.

Fifth, God is just, absolutely just. This means that if your relative did not repent before he died, God will pour his wrath out upon him, in perfect measure, because justice demands that God punish sin. I say this, not with a cold theological mind, but with a feeling, compassionate heart. Some of my own relatives are probably experiencing this same wrath even now, but I trust that my Father is dispensing his justice in accordance with his holiness, wisdom, and goodness. And for those parts of my soul that are not at peace with the wrath of God, that might even accuse God of injustice for punishing sin forever, I go to Romans 9:20-24 and then pray for forgiveness:

“20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23 in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—24 even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?”

Sixth, God is merciful, immensely merciful. The Scripture says repeatedly that our God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Think of that wicked King of Israel, Manasseh. For the majority of his life he followed after other gods, and what is more, he led an entire people astray. And not just any people but the one God had chosen to receive the King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus Christ. Oh, no one will ever know how great the sin of Manasseh was! And yet at the end of his life, in the face of impending doom, he humbled himself greatly before the Lord and the Lord heard his prayer:

“12 And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. 13 He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” (2 Chron 33:12-13).

And our Father poured this same mercy upon the likes of these as well: King David after he conspired to kill Uriah and take his wife, Bathsheba; the prophet Jonah after he spit in the face of God and ran like a coward; the entire nation of Israel who was ever whoring after other gods despite God’s repeated attempts to be merciful to them and call them to repentance; the thief on the cross who believed only when his life was at an end and he had no hope of escape; Peter who walked hand in hand with Jesus Christ, the Lord of the universe, and then denied him not once or twice but three times, and the last time with a curse; Paul who sought to kill those for whom Jesus Christ gave his life; Philemon who was a thief but found the mercy of God in a prison cell where, lo and behold, the great apostle Paul was his cellmate. And as the author of Hebrews said, what more shall I say? Time prevents me from raising the names of so many thousands who came to know the mercy of God in most unexpected ways. History is awash with portraits of the graciousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

And the point is this: it’s possible that the Lord used you in your relative's life to bring him to faith at the last moment—you never know. Even though his death was sudden, it doesn’t take hours for the mercy of God to be poured out, it can happen in a moment. I’m not trying to give you false hope here, I would never do that, but I am trying to help you trust and hope in the mercy and purposes of God. He really knows what he’s doing and so, as I said earlier, we must learn to trust his heart when we cannot trace his hand.

In the end, life and death are about God and his purposes, not about us and our purposes. He is the blazing sun at the center of the solar system, and we’re not. Therefore, sometimes the things he does seem strange and mysterious and even perplexing to us, but this is not because he’s less than holy or wise or good, it’s because he see things we don’t see and he knows things we don’t know and he has purposes we don’t comprehend. So we’re left with a choice: will we trust him or not? I know you will choose to trust him, and I’ll be praying that the Lord will help you to do just that. It may be that Satan has requested to sift you like wheat, but may the Lord instead strengthen you and crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16:20).

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (Prov 3:5-8).

With compassion and hope in Christ,
Pastor Charlie

Good to be Biking Again

The last couple of days have been warm here in the NW suburbs of Minneapolis, about 40 degrees each day. That's my starting point for riding my bicycle outside and thus, having worked hard on my Cyclops bike trainer over the last couple of months, I was eager to hit the road!

I've got all the necessaries: full-face "sock" so my ears don't freeze, a long-sleeve undershirt and long cycling pants designed for the cold, full-finger gloves--the works. The only thing I'm missing is something to keep my feet warm. My biking shoes are mesh on the top so that in normal conditions they ventilate my feet and keep them cool, but in colder conditions they allow my toes to freeze! In fact, a couple of weeks ago, when I went out for the first time, I literally could not feel my big toes at the end of the ride. Thinking that's not a good thing, the next time I went out (yesterday) I decided to wrap my feet with "clingwrap" which actually worked very well.

I must be quite a sight to see, all decked out in black from head to toe--oh except for my bright red biking helmet! But when something gives you such joy, you do what you have to do and you don't worry about what others think.

It's like walking with Jesus--others may not get it, and they may think we Christians are crazy and that we're "odd," but so be it. The joy of knowing Christ so far outweighs the joy of fitting in that it's worth every moment of alienation from those who don't understand. And perhaps someday Christ will allow them to see him in us and they'll get it, and they too will get all decked out in the garb of Christ because the joy set before them will make it worth enduring their cross.

Eric Lidell, the man about whom Chariots of Fire was made, once said, "God has made me fast and when I run I feel his pleasure." Well, God has not made me fast but when I bike I too feel his pleasure. I learn so much about life when I'm out there, it's like a sanctuary where God and I meet in a special way. And thus the title of this blog, it's really good to be biking again.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

A Word on Biblical Scholarship & the Life of the Church

For the last several days I have been immersed in the deep end of some very rigorous commentaries on Hebrews. One of them in particular, which I'll site below, is written by a liberal whose knowledge of culture and grammar is vast but whose knowldge of the living Jesus Christ seems non-existent. I am obviously not in a place to judge his soul, but believe me, I could site tens of passages to make my case--I don't think he knows the Jesus of whom he writes.

This led me to reflect for a while last night about the nature of biblical scholarship as it relates to the Body of Christ. What follows, then, is a somewhat random and incomplete brain dump! I hope it makes sense.


I'm not sure exactly why rigorous biblical scholarship was divorced from life in the local church, but in the end I think this move was a serious mistake. For in distancing the scholar from the daily ebb and flow of life on the frontlines, as it were, we have also obscured questions of the purpose and function of Christian scholarship. We have hewn paths which lead scholars in directions that are neither necessary nor helpful for the overall life of the body of Christ, and more importantly, that incubate unbelief.

For example, in his commentary on the book of Hebrews, Harold Attridge notes the following: “This rich Jewish heritage—which includes speculation on the divine world and its inhabitants, the world to come, and the eschatological agent or agents of God’s intervention into human affairs—is an important part of the general background of Hebrews, but there is no single strand of Judaism that provides a clear and simple matrix within which to understand the thought of the author of our text” (Hebrews. Hermeneia—A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 29-30).

I doubt that this Jewish heritage is “rich” in the sight of God because what it really represents is a fleshly propensity to stray away from the God who called and formed and guided and covered the Jews through so many centuries. And I fear that when we separate Christian scholarship from the life of the church we create conditions in which this same kind of fruitless, and dangerous, speculation festers and grows. Having spent four years of my life with liberal scholars at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, I know this to be the case.

I am not saying that there is no place for rigorous scholarship in the life of the church, but I am saying the church itself is the best context for such scholarship because part of the function of the Body Christ is to foster and prosper belief, on the one hand, and to root out and kill unbelief, on the other (see Heb 3:12-19 & 10:25-39).

We have no need of scholars who possess vast amounts of knowledge but do not know the Living God. We have no need of professors of theology and the Bible who are not first and foremost professors of Christ. If the world wants to study Christianity "objectively," as it were, from the perspective of religion or philosophy or sociology or psychology, then let them do so. But as for the Body of Christ herself, we have no need for scholars who simply analyze data and phenomena. Rather, we have need of scholars whose hearts are aflame with love for Christ and whose minds are saturated with the wisdom of Christ and whose lives are characterized by obedience to Christ, so that they can in turn equip the body for the glory of Christ!

Thus, I say "amen" and "hallelujah" to the seminaries that are developing within the context of faithful, Bible-believing, Christ-exalting churches. (For example, the soon to open "Bethlehem College and Seminary" at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.) Perhaps someday the Lord will lead our church to found one as well.

Financial Uncertainties and the Faithfulness of Christ

A couple of days ago I received a financial statement from the organization that manages my retirement account. The news is not good, in fact, it’s horrible! My account has shrunk almost in half and is barely worth the principle we originally invested a decade ago!

But I must say that, when I saw those numbers, the Lord was so gracious to me. He helped me see in an instant that my hope was never in that account to begin with, but that my hope was in him alone!

Then, yesterday, as part of my preparation for my first doctoral course at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, I studied several portions of the book of Hebrews in some detail, including 13:5-6 which says, “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’”

The Greek word for “content” here literally means “to be sufficed.” In other words, it means to be satisfied with what you have come to possess, or more literally, with what has arrived to you. And the reason the author gives for why we should be satisfied is a promise God has made. This much we can see in English but what is difficult for us to see is just how emphatic the promise is. In English we are not allowed to use double-negatives like, “I do not know nothing,” but in Greek, as with many languages, one can use double- and even triple-negatives.

So here is a very literal, word for word translation of the Greek: “For he has said [with permanent, everlasting force], ‘No not you might I leave and not no not you might I abandon.’” It doesn’t get much more emphatic than that!

The implication for our lives is that we ought to have faith in this God for he is with us, in Christ, and his steadfast love has not come to an end! Therefore, if we will put our trust in him and not in our wealth, even if everything we have is depleted, we will be satisfied! This doesn’t mean that we’ll get everything we want in the way that we want it. Jesus Christ is not the means to the end of my prosperity, rather he himself is the end and all other things are means to him. So, if it takes losing my whole retirement package to cause me to trust him more, then so be it! I would rather have him with nothing else than everything else without him.

For as David once said in the midst of great difficulty, “But let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them ever sing for joy, and spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may exult in you. For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favor as with a shield.” (Psalm 5:11-12).

Since, through faith in Christ, we are covered with the shield of God’s favor and faithfulness, we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper! I will not fear, what can man do to me?” The force of this is best captured by the beloved apostle Paul in Romans 8:31-39:

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died--more than that, who was raised--who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Amen! So let us look to Christ, forsaking trust in all other things that we might know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings (Phil. 3:10).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

A Word about my Doctoral Program

Here's a letter I just wrote to the church I serve:

As some of you know, I was recently accepted into the Doctor of Ministry program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, located in Deerfield, Illinois (www.tiu.edu/divinity). The program is designed for full-time Christian workers, especially pastors, and strives to enhance, not only their lives and ministries, but the overall health and effectiveness of the churches and organizations they serve. My concentration is in preaching, but given the path I have hewn out for myself it will essentially be in Biblical studies.

The program requires students to participate in two or three seminars per year (at the doctoral level courses are called seminars because they expect each student to contribute to the content of the course and not just be passive learners). Seminars are scheduled in March, July, and November, and last four days each. Three months before each seminar, students receive their required reading list as well as pre-course assignments, all of which must be competed before the first day of class. This usually means that students will read approximately 1,500-2,500 pages of material and write a 5-10 page paper before the seminar convenes.

The seminar sessions normally begin on a Monday and end on a Thursday, lasting about 8 hours each day. Then, once the sessions are completed, students have 90 days to complete a more substantial, final project which must apply one's learnings from the seminar to the particular ministry which he or she serves. In this way, each seminar is designed to equip the minister and bless the ministry!

My first course is scheduled to commence Monday, March 8. I have already read about 1,500 pages of material and prepared a five-page paper, comparing and contrasting two commentaries on the book of Hebrews. As you might imagine, then, the course I'm taking is entitled "The Epistle to the Hebrews" and is taught by leading New Testament scholar, Dr. Don Carson.

I wanted to share all of this with you for three reasons. (1) Glory of Christ is a small church but we have big dreams! Our dreams are not so much about buildings and budgets and numbers and such, our dreams are about spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, through Jesus Christ! One of the ways we hope to do that is by developing a school of ministry based in Elk River that will train lay-persons of various stripes, students of theology, potential pastors and church planters, and potential missionaries. A large part of why I have entered this program is so that I might be equipped to provide visionary leadership for this school in the coming years, that is, if the Lord is willing.

(2) I want to call you to pray for my family and me while I'm gone. I'm not traveling to the Chicago area for four days to suit my own fancies, I'm traveling there for the glory of Jesus and the good of his church. So please pray that the Lord will accomplish his purposes in me that he might later accomplish his purposes thorugh me. And please pray for Kim and Rachel as well. The Lord has purposes in mind for them in my absense and I hope you will join me in praying that God will accomplish every one of them for the glory of his name!

(3) On a more practical level, I want you to know that I will be completely unavailable next week. If you have an emergency and would like to talk or pray with me, just call Pastor Kevin and he will, in turn, get hold of me. Otherwise, Pastor Kevin will be available all week to serve you in any way he can. (By the way, I'm so grateful for him and his family! What a gift they are to the church and to me personally--thank you, Lord!)

Thank you so much, Glory of Christ, for your love and partnership in this ministry. The Lord himself, the victorious King of kings, has seen fit to band us together for the glory of his name and I must say that it is one of the greatest privileges of my life! I am very grateful for you!

If you want to follow my progress through the seminar, just go to my blog as I plan to post at least a little something there every day next week.

For the glory of Jesus,
Pastor Charlie

Please Pray for Rachel Anderson

Please pray for a young lady in our church, Rachel Anderson. I just received word that she was taken to the hospital with abdominal pains and has had to have her appendix removed. I don't know her present condition, she just got out of surgery, but as soon as I know I'll put it up on my blog.

For now, please join me in praying for her, and her parents John and Peg, trusting and hoping in the Christ who has power and mercy even to raise the dead.

Thanks for your partnership,
Charlie