Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Are You Living Like Death is Coming?

Last week Friday was the 8th anniversary of a pretty somber day in my life.  8 years ago I was sitting at home with my parents in Wisconsin preparing to return to Northwestern College for my sophomore year when my phone rang with the news: my friend from camp had just been killed in a car accident.  Just like *that* it had happened.  There was no warning, no impending sickness, no chance to say a final "goodbye"...nothing.  

So every year around Aug. 17th I see a flurry of Facebook posts and I remember back to that summer and then, inevitably, I think about death.

I'm a pastor so I think I tend to deal with death more than the average person.  It's not unusual for me to be at a person's home within minutes of their passing and so I am often able to see past the sterilized and cleaned up view of death we get from the morticians.  And yet, even with this familiarity, I can't say that I'm entirely comfortable with death.  It's unnatural, it just feels wrong to me.  It's as if every time I see a person whose soul has departed the body I think to myself, "it's just not supposed to be this way."  And, of course, it's not.  Death was not an original part of creation, it is a result of our rebellion against God. 

But, natural or not, there is no getting around the fact that apart from the return of Christ during our lifetime (a post for another day!) we're all going to die.  The Scriptures don't mince words about it, that's for sure. James says, "You do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (4:14) The Psalmist says, "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow." (144:4)  The idea in both testaments is clear: life is short and death is certain and nearer than it seems.  It's good for us to realize this.  So often, particularly among younger people (I would include myself in that category), life is lived as if we're immortal.  But the truth is that we're going to die.  One day the brain stops functioning, the heart stops beating, the muscles stop twitching, and the soul departs.  The question is not if this will happen...but whether you are prepared for it to happen and whether you will live in light of this reality.

The time will come when your sports triumphs will not matter.  The time will come when your checking account will not matter.  The time will come when your Facebook friends won't be your Facebook friends anymore and your job won't be your job anymore.  The time comes when all that we have in this life is stripped away and only one thing remains.  That one thing is faith.  Did you know Christ and trust him completely to forgive your sins and deliver you blameless before the Lord on the Day of Judgment?  If so, you are well prepared for death.  If not, you have an opportunity to repent and turn to Christ now but you never know when there will be no further opportunity to do so.

But for those of us who are in Christ through faith how do we live now in light of the certainty of our eventual death?  Well, our chief aim in life ought not to be success in the worldly sense.  Why would we invest in things that don't ultimately matter?  Our chief aim in all of life should be to glorify God and enjoy him.  This, after all, does not end in death but we as glorified saints will glorify and enjoy God forever.  Consider Paul's words as wisdom for those who want to live in light of their own mortality, "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God." (1 Cor. 10:31)  How does a person who knows that this life is not all there is live?  That person lives to the glory of God in all things.

Friday, August 17, 2012


"There's GOLD in 'dem 'der hills!"   I've heard this phrase a few times in reference to a variety of books or resources.  Always the implication is that beneath the rough exterior is immense wealth.  And so it is with the Reformed Confessions.  I grew up in a Reformed Church (RCA), went through catechism class, and even watched a video series on the Belgic Confession in high school.  Yet, somehow, very little of it stuck.  I was a practical Arminian until I came under a number of strong Reformed influences during my seminary career.  (Yes, I just admitted that when I first went to seminary I was largely Arminian.  Let's move on...) 

Early in my time in seminary my wife (who was my girlfriend at the time) encouraged me to think more carefully about Ephesians and what Paul says there, my own study of Scripture left me constantly with the feeling of "God can't really be like that, can he?", and then I began to look at the Reformed Confessions and my mind (and heart!) were changed.  It took time for the change to mature.  I left Western Seminary (which, consequently, did not contribute to the reformation of my mind), and ended up at Reformed Theological Seminary where so much of this teaching truly took root deep within my soul.  I'm not a rich man, but I have the richest theological tradition in the world.  Can you ask for more?

Not Reformed?  I'd like to challenge you to do something, something I wish I had done many years before I did!  Read the confessions (Heidelberg, Belgic, Dort) and read them with an open mind.  Read the Scripture references that are littered all over the page.  Read them for what they say, see how they see Scripture as one story of one God's work of redemption of his one chosen people.  See how it fits together in harmonic unity in a way that no other understanding of the Bible fits together. And as you do ask yourself, "Is this faithful to the word of God?  Is this what Scripture teaches?"  For me the answer is an unconditional, "Absolutely!"   

Here's a link to the book.  http://www.wtsbooks.com/product-exec/product_id/1160/nm/Ecumenical+Creeds+and+Reformed+Confessions+%28Paperback%29
It's not a beautiful book but, besides the Scriptures themselves, it's the richest read you're ever going to find.   There's GOLD in 'dem 'der hills!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Work and Worship '12

As some of you may know I am have recently returned from an 11 day trip to New Mexico with a group from the church here in Baileyville.  While we were away we served a Native American church in Mescalero pastored by Bob Schut.  You can see his mission profile here.

We did a lot of very exciting things.  We climbed a mountain and a canyon, we worked with youth groups, we burned our mouths on spicy Mexican food, we drove around picking kids up in vans for church, we dug holes and filled them with poles, we dug up concrete and laid new concrete, we stuccoed windows, played 4-square, and we replaced a door.  But, my highlight of the week was our nightly devotional times.

During our nightly devotional times we studied the book of Colossians together.  We nearly finished--the only part we didn't cover was the final greetings section.  It was a great encouragement to see some of the older members of the church and the younger people of the church interacting with the Word together each day.  Every morning we had 1 hour that we spent in personal study during which time we read the passage 3 times and went through a study sheet that I had prepared in advance.  Then at night we discussed it together.  It was encouraging to see the fruit of the study and to see the young and the old growing together as the body of Christ.  In our time together we talked about some tough stuff and we had some time to laugh and all-in-all I thought it was a very beneficial Christ-exalting and God-glorifying experience.  

My recommendation to anyone who might consider a mission trip in the future is to make sure that you're carving significant time each day for individual and group study of the Word.  If you build the best building, and pave the biggest parking lot, and have the most fun, but don't grow in Christ you've not really accomplished all that much.  

We termed our trip a "Work and Worship Trip" instead of the typical "Mission Trip" designation.  I think we lived up the billing, praise the Lord!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Evangelism Part 3: Josh Page

Today is the final installment of our short series on Evangelism.  Thanks to Josh for being willing to edify us and encourage us through his writing.  If you're looking for encouragement as you seek to grow in your faith I recommend looking him up on Facebook.

I want to share one story with you from a few years ago that I find to be so encouraging. It testifies to the fact that God orders our steps.

Just after I started sharing my faith regularly, I moved to Philadelphia for a summer. I was involved in a solid local church ministry and was able to learn how ministry is done in an urban setting.
One particular day I was supposed to go to a brother's home for a barbeque in the afternoon but I felt the Lord impress on my heart not to go. I instead went downtown and witnessed for a while and then went into a hotel lobby to read the Word.

As I was reading my Bible, I was suddenly very burdened to go to New York City and share the Gospel. It was already around 5 in the afternoon and I knew that if I were to go to New York I would need to stay the night and I couldn't afford that. I prayed for a while to make sure this was the Lord leading me and not my flesh. God reminded me of what He told Joshua, "Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go." Joshua 1:9

About 45 minutes later I was on a China Town bus filled with Chinese people en-route to New York City! When we arrived 2 and a half hours later, I was dropped off somewhere in lower Manhattan so I walked to the waterside overlooking New Jersey and spent some time in prayer. It was a beautiful evening and the sun was just going down.

After praying for the Lord to give me boldness and direction, I found a couple named Torio and Tamara who were taking a walk and enjoying the sunset. They were both young and very friendly. After some small talk for a few minutes, I asked them where they would go if they died today. They both agreed they would go to Heaven because they are good people. That is a very common lie from the enemy. So I walked them through the 10 Commandments to show them their sin and their need for the Savior and then shared the Good News of what God has done for us. They were very attentive and appreciated our conversation.

I caught a subway to Times Square and began witnessing to all kinds of people from all around the world. It’s amazing how many people you can meet in one evening in one city! After hours of great conversations with people, sometime around 3 in the morning I struck up a conversation with a man in an alleyway. He wanted nothing to do with me and told me to leave him alone, so I began to walk away but as I turned around to leave he called for me to come back over to him. I didn’t know what to expect! He asked me, "Okay, what question were you going to ask me?" Startled, I began to witness to him and we ended up having an amazing conversation. 30 minutes later he said to me, "Josh, you have no idea how much this conversation means to me. Your trip to New York City was not in vain!" I was stunned. As he was saying those words, I heard someone call out from behind us, "Josh?!!" I turned around and it was Torio, the boyfriend from the couple I had spoken with at the beginning of the night! This was 8 hours later and more than 60 blocks up-town in a city of hundreds of thousands of people!

It turned out that Torio happened to be playing in a band at a club nearby. We got to continue our conversation where we had left off back in lower Manhattan. He was shocked that God had crossed our paths again - So was I!

Just a few hours later I walked past the ABC studios where they film Good Morning America. I could see they were setting up for the show which would begin in an hour, so I went over and watched them get ready. A line soon formed to get in the building and be a part of the live audience. All of the people in line had reserved tickets months in advance to be a part of the show and were excited to be on television. After a period of waiting, a woman who worked for ABC came out of the studio and collected tickets and gave instructions to the audience members. She noticed that I didn’t have a ticket as she walked past and asked if I had reserved one. I told her I was just there to watch from the outside if that was okay. She said to me, "You know what? You're the only one here without a ticket and we have space inside so we'll go ahead and let you be a part of the show!" I was amazed! I went inside with the group and we were able to be on television several times throughout the show. Kevin Costner was the guest that morning so the ladies behind me were very excited!

At the end of the show they give you the opportunity to meet and take pictures with the news anchors and guests. I really wanted to share the Gospel with them since God obviously wanted me to be there that morning, so I waited until every member of the audience had gone up and met the anchors and taken pictures. Once everyone had left, I walked up to Diane Sawyer and gave her a tract booklet and got to share the Gospel for a few minutes with her and the Good Morning America weather man! It was such a blessing!

God truly orders our steps. Both mine and yours!  Today He has placed specific people on our path that we have the privilege of sharing the Gospel with. It is simply a matter of obeying the Lord. We must recognize that time is very short and people are perishing, and we must understand that God has called us to share His Gospel with them.

The Lord is with you today, friend. Go find someone and share the message of salvation. This Gospel message is urgent and is backed by the power of God.

“I am not ashamed of the Gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” Romans 1:16  Let us not be ashamed!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Evangelism Part 2: Josh Page

Today continues our 3 post series on evangelism by Josh Page.  You can find Josh on facebook for regular updates and insights on preaching to the lost. 
One day I went out from my campus in absolute fear and I found a woman waiting at a bus stop for her son. With trembling hands I gave her a gospel tract and stuttered my way through the Gospel as best I could. It went well actually and to my surprise, she thanked me for stopping to talk with her. I thought to myself, “Okay, I can do this!” But when I walked away and found other people along the path, it seemed that every conversation turned out to be awful. I was so discouraged and walked back to campus with my head down. I resolved I would never share my faith with a stranger again. I was certainly not called to this ministry.

All week long while I refused to witness to the lost, the Lord convicted me that people are going to Hell and that I have the very message that can save them from His wrath but I will not share it for fear of man. When I could take His conviction no longer, I marched off my campus and went back onto the streets in fear and found some more lost souls. I was rejected some and encouraged some, but this time I did not stop! I had a fresh sense of God’s presence about me. I knew that He was pleased that I was stepping out of my comfort zone and sharing His Son with the lost. This compelled me to continue daily. I knew that He was with me always even to the end of the age and I knew that my labor in the Lord was not in vain.

It is five years later now and by God’s grace I share my faith everywhere I go with as many people as I can every day. I am more sobered by the reality of Hell and I am more broken for the lost and zealous for the Lord than ever in my life.

Paul said in Philemon, “I pray that you would be more active in sharing your faith so that you may have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.” (Philemon 6) Isn’t that interesting? We have a more full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ the more that we share our faith!

The Gospel is a treasure of infinite value - When we share this treasure with those who do not have it, it becomes more precious to us!

I am always encouraged when I read the book of Acts and see how passionate the early Church was to preach the Gospel. It wasn’t just the apostles who were preaching the Gospel daily, but the normal-everyday Christian folk as well. When Saul came on the scene to persecute the Church in Acts 8, Luke tells us that all except the apostles were scattered and they preached the Word wherever they went! These people had something special - the Good News and a really clear command from the Giver of the Good News to go and preach it to all creation - and so they did! Guess what? We have the same thing they did. Hallelujah!

I am amazed at the excuses I made for so many years to not share my faith. Every one of those excuses completely crumbles to pieces underneath the weight of God’s Word.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Evangelism: Josh Page (Part 1)

Today begins a short series by a (Facebook) friend of mine, Josh Page.  Josh lives in Clearwater Florida and is an evangelist.  I asked him to write for me so that he might inspire in us a desire to reach the lost with the message of salvation that we hold so dear.  You'll have to tune in the next couple days to get installments two and three!
God is good and everything He does is good!

I grew up in a difficult home having two 2 handicapped brothers. My mom and dad divorced when I was young and my mom was an alcoholic. When I was nine years old she was taken away from my brothers and I due to her addiction.

During this painful time I hated God and my family. I couldn’t understand why a good God would allow bad things to happen to “good” people. When I looked around the neighborhood and saw selfish and greedy kids whose lives were so easy I couldn’t understand why God would allow them to be so happy. It made me mad.

I had gone to church as a child and knew many of the Bible stories but I had not been born-again.
Thankfully, before my great-grandmother went to be with the Lord, she gave me a bible for my birthday and I began to read it daily. There was something about this Book that I could not put down.
At some point before my freshman year in high school I came to a very startling realization: I understood that I was sinful! For the first time in my life, I saw myself in the mirror of God’s Law and realized that I was completely guilty before a holy God and that I had nothing good to offer Him. I had turned my back on the very One who gave me life. I had violated every one of His laws and I knew without a doubt that no amount of good works would erase my sin against Him. I was in great danger of falling under His wrath.

I was overjoyed to hear and understand the Good News of what God did for sinners – that God Himself became a man, Jesus Christ, and lived a perfect life in our place; that He died a criminal’s death, though He was completely sinless, to pay for our sins in His own blood that was shed on the cross and that He was buried and three days later rose from the dead defeating death and Hell, and that if I would repent of my sin and place my trust in Jesus Christ alone for my salvation, God would forgive me of all my sins and grant me the gift of everlasting life!

I cried out to God for His mercy with a broken heart and He saved me! He cleansed me from my all sin. Immediately I had a deep love for my family and for other people. I had an incredible hunger for God’s Word and prayer. I delighted in escaping to the Nevada deserts and fields, where I lived, to pray.

A few years later I moved to Florida to begin Christian college. It was while I was in college that God birthed within me a deep brokenness for the lost.

One afternoon in college, I realized that outside of the four walls of my campus there are literally thousands of people who do not know Jesus and who are headed straight for Hell and I wasn’t saying anything to any of them. I always thought that evangelism was a gift that God only gave certain people, but the more I read the Word the more I realized that this was merely an excuse to not obey the Lord in the Great Commission. The “gift” is God’s Son and those who have His Son are now called to share Him with the world! We are all commanded to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. We are Christ’s ambassadors. What a privilege!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Theology of Suffering

People suffer.  It's just that simple.  No matter how wealthy you are you can never fully insulate yourself from suffering.  Whether it's the senseless tragedy of a movie theater shooting or the death of a child or the typical decay of an aging body we all suffer.

The question for today is, "why do Christians suffer?"  Think about this.  Christ loves his church, the church was predestined from before the foundations of the earth were laid, the Spirit dwells in the church, and yet even though the Lord loves his church so dearly (even at the expense of his own life) still it suffers.  Why?

I found this answer from John Piper in his essay, Preaching to Suffering People, to be particularly helpful in answering that question.

Suffering will come to believers.  It must come.  It is part of their calling.  In Philippians 1:29, Paul tells the entire church in Philippi, "To you it has been granted for Christ's sake not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake."  This is a gift from God to all believers.  We are appointed to suffer.  "You yourselves know that we have been destined for this" (1 Thess. 3:3).  We are preaching to disciples of Jesus, not disciples of Hugh Hefner.  "Can we wish, if it were possible, to walk in a path strewed with flowers when His was strewed with thorns?"

If we are to glorify God in our lives that means we must be able to see suffering as a God given opportunity to make his name great.  We see our suffering as a chance to find strength in God's strength when ours is gone.  We see suffering as an opportunity to rejoice in the majesty of God and the new creation that awaits us on that Day.  We must see suffering as opportunity and not accident.  There are no accidents in God's universe.  There is no room for open-theism in biblical Christianity.  There is sin, there is suffering, and there is strife.  But these are opportunities to turn to the sinless one, to look the God who is good even in our suffering, and to long for a day when all strife has ceased.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Church-His Body

"And he is the head of the body, the church."  (Colossians 1:18)

I want to ask and answer and explore one very simple question: what happens when a body part is severed from the rest of the body and subsequently from its head?

The obvious answer is that it dies.  If I were to cut off a finger today it would die, it would certainly not be able to move on its own, sustain its own life, or prevent the decaying of the flesh. 

So, what happens when a person chooses to separate from the body of Christ, his church?  If the metaphor holds up then the answer is the same, death.  Apart from a connection to the body a member of the body will cease to live.  So it holds true with members of the church.  A member of the church who is cut off from the church will cease to live. 

What are some ways that a person may be cut off from the church and from Christ?

The first way, and the most common way in my context, is to voluntarily disassociate with the body of Christ in the local context.  Many people claim Christ, claim to be students of the Scriptures, claim to pray, and yet do not worship with the church.  They are "spiritual" and spiritually isolated at the same time.  Hebrews warns us against such behavior, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching."  Separation from the body leads to death.  Separation from Christ's body leads to separation from Christ and spiritual death.  If you have separated from the church it is time to repent and be reunited with Christ through his body.  (Hebrews 10:25)

The second way to be cut off from Christ and his church is through theological heresy.  In Colossians two Paul deals with this very thing.  Paul is contesting the claims of false teachers who are trying to blend superstition with Jewish practices and Christ to form some sort of hybrid super religion.  But, Paul says, in reality they are cut off from Christ the head.  "He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." (v.19)  They jettisoned the gospel in favor of tradition and superstitions.  Today many people jettison the gospel for all kinds of reasons.  Be sure that the biblical Christ is always at the forefront of your faith.

How can you remain connected to the body and connected to Christ?  Become and remain a member of a faithful, bible believing, Christ exalting, gospel loving, theologically rich congregation.  Make sure your pastor hasn't jettisoned core components of the Christian faith (think of the Apostles Creed or justification by faith) and make sure that you remain firmly connected to the body through worship, prayer, and fellowship with the saints.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Christ the Head

Today begins a two-part series on Christ as the head and the church as the body. 

The Scriptures use many many metaphors.  Believers are called sheep, Peter is the rock, the disciples become fishers of men, marriage is a metaphor for Christ and the church, those who hear the gospel are compared to differing kinds of soils, Jesus is the good shepherd, etc.  Today and tomorrow I want to look at a metaphor that Paul employs in his epistle to the Colossians; the metaphor of Christ as head and the church as body.

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. (Colossians 1:15-18NIV)

What does it mean that Christ is the head of his church?  We'll look today at the authority and primacy of the head in the body.  Tomorrow will be more application of the principles we look at today.

The head serves to foster the growth and life of the body.  Christ grows his church (contrary to the theories of many from the 90's) and it is by his initiative and his will that his body grows and increases in life.  Jesus says to Peter, "On this rock I will build my church."  (Matthew 16:18)

The head also controls the actions body and is in authority over it.  When the body acts independent of the commands of the head we consider that to be a disease.  Perhaps Parkinson's is the best example of this.  The body works best when it submits to and is coordinated by its head.  So too with Christ and the church.  The church works best, or perhaps only truly works, when it is submitting to Christ.  Our ever action should be informed and led by Christ through his word and Spirit.  All that we do should be held against the command he has given us to make disciples of all nations. (Matthew 28)

The head also sustains the life that is within the body.  While the beating of a heart, the secretion of essential horomones, and the regeneration of cells is not a voluntary endeavor we know that the head is responsible to regulating all such actions.  So too, once again, with the church.  The church ceases to be the church when Christ no longer supports her.  If Jesus were to remove himself from the church the church would die.  It is he who gives her life, breath, and a beating heart.  Without Christ we are nothing.