Thursday, March 25, 2010

Going Horizontal: Self-Denial & Others

Here's an article I wrote this week for our church's weekly newsletter: 

Ever since the team from Glory of Christ returned from India, I’ve been contemplating what John Calvin calls self-denial. He means by this term the willing loss of our fleshly self that we might gain a richer, more Christ-like self. He, along with Christ, wants us to die that we might live. I want this too but I need help so I’ve been looking to Calvin as a Pastor, if you will, and also pleading with Christ to transform this still-so-worldly soul.

In the first section of Calvin’s treatise he focused on the fact that, in Christ, we now belong to God which means that we must gladly live our lives for the glory of God. As Paul said in 1 Cor 10:31, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Building on this truth, Calvin moves on in the second part of his treatise to deal with the relationship between self-denial and others. That is, he moves from the vertical to the horizontal.

Calvin rightly begins by identifying our problem as having an inflated view of ourselves. “For so blindly do we all rush in the direction of self-love that everyone thinks he has a good reason for exalting himself and despising all others in comparison.” This works itself out in different ways. At one extreme is the braggart who openly exalts himself over others. Everyone sees his arrogance and he himself will not deny it. At the other extreme is the person who seems to be lowly about herself but in fact she has made a god of her problems or shortcomings. She is all she thinks about day and night. This too is self-exaltation. Of course, the majority of us live somewhere in between these two extremes, sometimes tending toward one and then another, but always hopelessly occupied with ourselves.

This is a massive problem for it is impossible to love others when we are so trapped within ourselves. So what are we to do? Calvin does not provide us with a list of suggestions, per se, but he does hint at several solutions to this problem. I have added to his list and thus arrived at the following seven things. For this week I will simply present them, and then next week I will add some insight.

In order to develop a proper assessment of ourselves, we must, with God’s help…

1.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of the being God.
2.      Contemplate ourselves in the light of creation.
3.      Contemplate our sins and short-comings.
4.      Contemplate the brevity of life and our utter powerlessness over death.
5.      Contemplate the fact that everything we have is by grace.
6.      Contemplate the fact that “love does not seek the things of itself.”
7.      Contemplate the image of God in others.
8.      Contemplate the clear command of God to love our neighbor as ourselves.

As I said, I will fill in some details next week but for now let us pray for the grace to see ourselves aright. “For by the grace given to me [Paul] I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Rom 12:3).

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I'm SO Proud of our Daughter

Our daughter Rachel has been dancing with an outfit called "Just for Kicks" for several years now. I think she was in fourth or fifth grade when she started. At the last competition her team took first place and, well, I think I'll let her take over from here:

"So since we scored so high at the Eastview United We Dance competition, we got invited to dance at the Outback Bowl in Florida in DisneyWorld and at some football stadium that will be aired on ESPN (I'm not sure if the dance will be on TV but the game will be). It will take place after Christmas during break where we will learn a dance in a couple of days and then perform it. We'll be staying together at some hotel with 4 friends! Oh and don't forget to put [in your blog] that I'm turning 16 : )"

So, needless to say, I'm very proud of our baby!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Renounce, Live, & Wait on the Lord

Here's a devotional I wrote for our church's newsletter this week.

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve seen from Titus 2:11-15 (1) that the only reason we can obey the commands of God is by the grace of God, and (2) that the primary reason we should do so is to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior.” In other words, one of the purposes of obedience is make the truth of God to be as gorgeous as possible, especially to those who oppose us at home, school, work or play.

This sets us up well to contemplate the three commands of Titus 2:11-15: (1) “renounce ungodliness and worldly passions,” (2) “live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age,” and (3) wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Renounce, live, and wait. This is the essence of what John Calvin calls “self-denial.”

The word “renounce” more literally means “to deny or repudiate.” This implies that grace trains us to hate this world and the things of this world. God is so patient and kind with us, and he does allow us to dip our toe in pools we know we should avoid, but then his grace overwhelms our sin and trains us to hate those pools. But why? Because he has a greater joy in store for us. God is no legalist. He doesn’t command us to “do this and not do that” for no apparent reason. He’s prepared high and deep joys for us, and he knows that if we’re to taste them we must learn to hate the false joys of this world. Thus, his grace trains us, it patiently trains us.

On the other hand, the grace of God also patiently trains us to “live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in this present age.” It trains us to have a passion for the right things and it gives us the power to pursue those things. As Peter said in 2 Pet 1:3, “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” In other words, our Father has granted us all that we need to submit to his commands. He has always commanded his people for their good (see Deut 30:19-20) but now in Christ he’s given us the necessary power to do so, and the necessary grace to cover us when we fail to do so.

And the great hope for which we willingly enter into this boot-camp of dying to self and living to him is “the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Beloved, now we must behold Jesus by faith but one day, by his grace, we will behold him by sight. We will see him as he is and be transformed into his image and we will be happy, very happy, in him. This hope of eternal communion with our God and Savior is precisely what motivates us to deny the false joys of this world and strain toward the true joys of submission to our Father. To be with him is our highest treasure and we will sell all else to acquire it.

This is the essence of self-sacrifice: to renounce, live, and wait for the Lord. May our gracious God patiently train us to walk in this way.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Loving the Lord our God

In my quiet time today I came across Deuteronomy 30:19-20 and it so moved my heart. Moses wrote, "I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them."

Choosing life is simply this: love the Lord by obeying his voice and clinging to him. That's it. The law, as complicated as it can seem, boils down to this simple truth. And why should we love, obey, and cling to God? Because God is our life, he is our length of days, he longs for us to "dwell in the land" he has provided for us and promised to our forefathers. He wants nothing but our good, and yet we're so quick to forsake him.

As I read these verses this morning I could see our Father stretching his hands out toward his people and repeating these ancient words: "Choose life, love me, obey my voice and hold fast to me, for I am on your side and I want your very best."

Oh that we would heed the plea of our Father this day.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Love Does not Seek the Things of Itself

Last week at Glory of Christ I preached from 1 Cor 13:1-13 and I suggested that the main point of verses 1-3 is that all spiritual gifts derive their value from love. As love increases the value of our gifts increase; as love decreases the value of our gifts decrease.

Since love has such a prominent role in the life of the church, then, it's crucial that we understand something about the nature of love which is why I think Paul wrote verses 4-7. It impresses me that Paul didn't so much give us a formal definition of love here, which he most certainly could have done, but rather he painted us a picture of what love looks like. And here's what he wrote:

"Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."

The seventh trait is, in my opinion, the key to understanding the rest. The ESV translates the verse, "It [love] does not insist on its own way," but the Greek more literally reads "it [love] does not seek the things of itself." (Thus, the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and NIV translate this verse more accurately.)

Hmm, that phrase has really left on impression on my heart: love does not seek the things of itself. It's centered on the other, first of all God and then its neighbor. So love is patient because it's not seeking its own agenda and thus it can put up with others and it can wait. Love doesn't boast because it's not seeking its own superiority and thus it can live to lift up the other. Love endures all things because its not seeking its own comfort and thus it's willing to suffer if it must to achieve the good of the other.

Love does not seek the things of itself.

I pray that the Lord would use this phrase in your life as powerfully as he's used it in mine in recent days.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Worshiping in my Sleep!

I woke up this morning with such a "sweet aroma" in my heart and strong affections for our Father because all night long, every time I turned over, this entire stanza was ringing in my mind:

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

We sang this song in church yesterday but it didn't particularly stick out to me more than the rest. I guess it ministered to my soul more deeply than I thought.

Oh it's hard to describe how sweet it is to worship the Lord in your sleep. There's such a sincerity and intensity about it and it just made me want to wake up and give our Father a big hug this morning! And praise be to his Name, the words of this hymn are true: he has been our help in the past, he will be our help for evermore, he will shield our souls from the stormy blast even though we suffer for a time, and he is our eternal home. Oh praise be to his Name!

Friday, March 12, 2010

On the Name of my Blog

Every once in a while I re-post my initial post to this blog to explain why I've named it "Born of the Word." Since I've just started blogging again after several months, I thought now would be a good time.

I took the name "Born of the Word" from the 1528 document, The Ten Conclusions of Berne, written by the Swiss reformers Berthold Haller, Francis Kold, and Ulrich Zwingli. Here is the full text of the first of their conclusions:

"The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God, and abides in the same, and listens not to the voice of a stranger" (Creeds of the Church, John H. Leith, ed., John Knox Press, 1982, pg. 129).

This sentence sets my heart to worship for at least three reasons. First, I was saved as I read 1 John, particularly 1:5-6 and 3:4-10:

"[1:5] This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. [6] If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth...[3:4] Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. [5] You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. [6] No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. [7] Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righ teousness is righteous, as he is righ teous. [8] Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. [9] No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. [10] By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother."

Thus, the theological formulation, “The holy Christian Church, whose only Head is Christ, is born of the Word of God…” is not merely a formulation to me, it is descriptive of the story of my life. And it does indeed set my heart to worship!

Second, my life in Christ has ever been sustained and nourished by the Word of God, in fact, the more prominent the Word the more pronounced the growth. I cannot tell you how these words from Deuteronomy 31:6 and Hebrews 13:5 held me when my mother died and it seemed that my whole world was falling apart: "I will never leave you or forsake you." Or how these words from Hebrews 13:8 sustained my faith in the midst of deep intellectual crises: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." Or how these words from Matthew 28:20 humbly emboldened me in the fires of church planting: "And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age."

Indeed, my journals testify abundantly to the fact that, by the mercies of God, I have been sustained and nourished by the Word of God in triumph and trial, in health and sickness, in strength and weakness. And this does indeed set my heart to worship!

Finally, I love living in that truth that “The holy Christian Church…listens not to the voice of a stranger.” Consider the wisdom expressed in 1 Corinthians 1:18-25:

“[18] For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. [19] For it is written,

‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’

[20] Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? [21] For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. [22] For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, [23] but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, [24] but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. [25] For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”

A few weeks ago I was with a group of church planters in Dallas, Texas. During a "paradigm stretching exercise," a few of the planters expressed that they would love to expose their church planting protégés to the greatest leaders in the world, one of whom was Donald Trump.

I must admit that I did not handle myself as well as I could have, but rather blurted out, "Who in the world is Donald Trump when we have access to God Almighty, through the Lord Jesus Christ?" I cannot imagine Jesus or the apostles or the early church consulting the likes of Donald Trump concerning corporate growth or leadership development.

And just this week, I had the privilege of having lunch with Tony Jones, Doug Padgitt, and John Piper. While I appreciated and learned from some of what the former two shared in the conversation, I wondered what will be the implications of the fact that from the earliest days of their movement (the Emergent Church), they spent a lot of time, energy, and resources consulting the likes of Jacques Derrida.

Now, I spent several years of my life grappling with the work of Derrida and others, and I do have a certain kind of respect for them and their work. But in the end, “…the wisdom of this world is folly with God” (1 Corinthians 3:19), and thus it is not wise to build our house on that wisdom. (Additionally, I fear that these men are repeating the mistakes of others like Paul Tillich, John Cobb, and liberation theologians who took as their points of departure existentialism, process philosophy, and Marxism, respectively. The Word of God is able to stand on its own, both in terms of its analysis of and solutions for the human condition, and it does not need the buttress of the wisdom of the world.)

There is great joy and freedom and power in forsaking the wisdom and ways of the world in favor of the wisdom and ways of God, and therefore I delight to embrace the language and spirit of the early reformers: “The holy Christian Church…listens not to the voice of a stranger.” And this does indeed set my heart to worship.

My hope for this lengthy explanation is not primarily that you'll understand why I named my blog, "Born of the Word," but that your heart will, like mine, be set to worship as you ponder the mercies and wisdom and power of God, displayed in the Word of God. I look forward to reading your comments.

For the glory of Christ, and the upbuilding of His church,
Pastor Charlie

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Thankful to God for a Great Week

Today was the last day of my current doctoral course, although I still have a couple of projects that must completed within the next sixty days, and I'm just so grateful to God. I praise him for Dr. Sunukjian and all the wisdom for preaching he so graciously shared with us, and I also praise him for the fellow students with whom I shared the week.

John is the Pastor of a small church near Dallas, Texas that has a vision very similar to ours at Glory of Christ. Since they're several years ahead of us and I asked him to lunch and probed him about several aspects of their ministries. I gained some important insights that I think will help us as we begin to build the structures of koinonia in the life of our church.

Roger, Ken, and Ted serve as missionaries in Albania, Czechoslovakia, and Mexico, respectively. I had several conversations with each of them about the nature of missions and the state of the church around the world that fired me up to train and send as many as we can, as often as we can.

Willy is an Indian national who's in the States earning his doctorate and serving as a chaplain at a hospital in downtown Chicago. We met almost by accident but I was so blessed to be able to process some things I've been learning about India with a native whose father struck out and started a church planting movement 47 years ago which is still producing much fruit to this day. He invited me to travel to northwest India and see the ministry first-hand, and it may be that the Lord will open that door some day.

All of these conversations, and more, happened between sessions and were as crucial a part of my education as the class itself. Or better put, they were custom designed by God to bless the ministries of Glory of Christ.

As I began the journey home late this afternoon, I remembered the day in 2007 when the Lord stirred in me to pursue this doctorate. I had been thinking and praying about this possibility for seven years but I knew it just wasn't time. But in 2007 it was time and I eventually chose Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. And though part of the Lord's design was to equip me for ministry through the course work and dissertation, another part was to equip me through the interpersonal interactions with fellow students. He already knew their names--John, Roger, Ken, Ted, Willy, and others--and he already knew how he'd use them in the life of Glory of Christ.

And that is why I just feel so thankful to God in Christ for his gracious, sovereign hand upon our church. He has good plans for us and he is determined to complete those plans all the way to the day of Christ Jesus.

Thank you so much for holding me up in prayer this week, it has meant a lot to me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Power of the Word

Over the last couple of days, Dr. Sunukjian has been laying out his process of developing sermons in some detail. Along the way he's been demonstrating his principles by walking us through a number of biblical passages, and today was the day we put it all together and saw the process work from beginning to end--five times!

We had already done the foundational work on three additional passages (Eph 6, Joshua 7, and Psalm 67) so we simply read through those sermon manuscripts and discussed various issues along the way. Then we started from scratch and went through the whole process with Psalm 121, Judges 3, Philippians 1, Luke 18, and 1 Peter 3.

I did learn many things about crafting sermons that are faithful to the Word and meaningful for God's people, but the main thing I came away with today is the impact these texts made upon my life!

Wow, the Word of God is so powerful that even when we try to step back and talk about how we talk about it, it speaks to us! It is "is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (Heb 4:12). It is not like any old book that can be dissected and analyzed, it simply won't allow us that option. Rather, it cuts, exposes, disciplines, guides, teaches, heals, calls and transforms us into the image of Christ.

I mean it when I say that I learned many things that will make me a better preacher if I put them into practice, but what I learned today in a new and fresh way is that the Word of God alone is worth preaching.

Thank you, Father, for your kind grace upon our lives!

Thoughts on Titus 2:1-15

Over the last several weeks I've been writing about self-denial for Glory of Christ's weekly newsletter. I chose this topic because one of the brothers in the church gave me a copy of a little booklet called "John Calvin on Self-Denial." I have found it to be very profitable and thus the series of articles. Here's the devotional I just wrote for this week's newsletter.

MN 9550-01 Revitalizing 21st Century Ministry (PM)

Last week, meditating on Titus 2:11-15, I wrote of the relationship between the grace of God and self-denial, and I said that I’d return this week to deal with the words “renounce, live, and wait” (2:12-13). However, as I prayerfully re-read the context again, I noticed another key idea in the preceding verses that really impacts what Paul says in 2:11-15.

In chapter one Paul lays out the requirements for elders (1:5-9) and then highlights the reasons why these particular qualifications matter. On the one hand, there are insubordinate false teachers in the church who are leading people astray and thus the church desperately needs elders who can “give instruction in sound doctrine and also rebuke those who contradict it” (1:9). On the other hand, these teachers “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (1:16). I take the word “detestable” to mean that they were indulging in some kind of fleshly practices so that their false teaching, as it always does, eventuated in disobedience to God. This ruined them for any good work, that is, any work that is pleasing and acceptable to the Father.

Therefore, Paul exhorts Titus in 2:1 to “teach what accords with sound doctrine,” that is, to promote a lifestyle that fits with truth. Paul then gives him specific instructions as to how to guide various groups of people “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (2:10). This is a crucial idea.

Whatever the particulars of a Christian lifestyle ought to be—denying ourselves certain things that we may live to other things as we wait for the Lord—the point of our lifestyle is to make the true teaching of God our Savior look gorgeous! Our right behavior in Christ is neither to be a cause for pride in the secret places of our hearts nor a weapon to be used against others as though we’re better than them. After all, it’s only by the grace of God that we can do anything good. Rather, our behavior in Christ is to be an adornment on the true teaching of God our Savior, making it as attractive as possible to a lost and dying world. This is why we ought to “renounce, live, and wait,” which I do think I’ll say more about next week!

For now, let’s allow these two truths to sink all the more deeply into our hearts and habits: we can only obey by the grace of God and the reason we should obey is to make the teaching of this gracious God to be as beautiful as it can possibly be. May the beautification of God become our sole desire!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Preaching Course: Day Two

I am in Chicago this week at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where I'm a student in the Doctor of Ministry program. My concentration is in preaching and thus my current course is called "Increasing Clarity and Relevance in Preaching." It's taught by Dr. Don Sunukjian of Talbot Theological Seminary who wrote the book Invitation to Biblical Preaching: Proclaiming Truth with Clarity and Relevance (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2007). Here's a pic of the two of us between sessions.

Dr. Sunukjian is a seasoned pastor, preacher, and professor, and his book is essentially the overflow of his life in ministry. His passion is to equip pastors to preach in such a way that their preaching is always faithful to the text of Scripture and relevant to those who hear it. I hesitate to use the word "relevant" in describing his point of view, although he himself uses it, because he doesn't mean by this word what most leaders in our day mean. Others use the word to mean "entertaining" or something like that but he uses it to mean "God and his Word have a direct relation to my life right now." He uses it to mean that God not only "spoke to those people back in the Bible times" but he's "speaking to us, right here and right now."

In order to give people a God-honoring, palpable sense that God is speaking, the preacher must study hard and pray long and tether every part of the message to the Word. Otherwise, the sermon is no longer a sermon but something else.

It's been a good class thus far. I feel as though I'm sitting at the feet of a wise, older brother in Christ, learning how to serve God and his people with greater effectiveness and joy. More tomorrow, thanks for praying!