Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Was the Revolutionary War Biblically Justified?

I am teaching this 4th of July weekend from Titus 3:1-2 where Paul tells Titus to remind the believers on Crete "to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient." In light of the clear teaching of the text, I'm wondering, "Were the Patriots Biblically justified in fighting the Revolutionary War against Great Britan?"

I really would like to do some more reading about the nature of preaching during the Revolutionary War era. To read some of these sermons, check out The Online Library of Liberty. Just how did the preachers of the day use the Bible to justify their pro-Revolutionary War position?
The preachers of the day were basing their willingness to rebel against what they considered the tyranical British King on their reading of the Old Testament. The stories that influenced them most were Genesis, which taught all men were created equal; Exodus, which taught that the Pharaoh must be defied; and Judges, which taught that seeking the rule of a king was sinful. (In fact, Thomas Paine's very influential booklet,"Common Sense," prominently used the argument for revolution from Judges.)
John Witherspoon was President of Princeton and he was very influential through his published sermons. His most famous sermon, about the Israelites rebelling against Pharaoh, was distributed to 500 Presbyterian churches seven weeks before the Declaration of Independence.
One pastor from that era, Abraham Keteltas, celebrated the American effort as "the cause of truth, against error and falsehood . . .the cause of pure and undefiled religion, against bigotry, superstition, and human invention . . .in short, it is the cause of heaven against hell--of the kind Parent of the Universe against the prince of darkness, and the destroyer of the human race."

But in an Article in Christianity Today, Mark A. Noll, author of Christians in the American Revolution (Eerdmans), answers the question, "Was the Revolutionary War Justified?" Noll's answer is that while there were clear abuses by Britain, it was really only African American slaves who were justified in making war on Britain.

Noll then writes, "Many sermons in America (and some in Britain) supported revolt, while a few in America and England argued against it. Serious exegesis, however, of what would seem to us like the relevant passages (such as Romans 13) was very rare. Rather, it was much more common for patriots to liken George III to Pharaoh and George Washington to Moses, or to depict the conflict as a struggle between the Woman and the Beast of Revelation 12. Patriots and Loyalists were both much more likely to add scriptural authority to political reasoning rooted in some other ideology than they were to attempt reasoning from the ground up on the basis of Scripture."

In other words, it appears to Noll that many pastors were reading into the text what they wanted it to say instead of getting out of the text what it actually said.

One common theme that the Patriots used for rebellion against England was the problem of "taxation without representation." But when we look at scripture, this argument doesn't seem to hold up. Jesus told the Jewish people of His day to pay taxes to the Romans. And the Jews had no real political representation in the Roman Empire. In Matthew 22:21 Jesus says, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." We can conclude then that a lack of popular representation in a government does not mean that the government is therefore illegitimate. So, it appears that the colonists' "taxation without representation" argument for rebelling against England lacks Biblical support.

My friend Sam Jackson, a pastor from Detroit who was once a West Point Cadet, wrote, "When I was in [Columbia Biblical] Seminary, we had a good number of British classmates. To a person, they felt the answer [to the question "Was the Revolutionary War Biblical?"] was "No." They especially felt it was hypocritical of many of our founding fathers to consider taxation as slavery when they themselves were slaves owners in an outright fashion. They also pointed out that had the colonies remained attached to Britain [then] slavery would have been begun to be officially abolished without a war in 1833. The sentiments were rather strong on the issue. It was definitely interesting to hear their point of view and the view of other incredibly committed and dynamic Bible-believing Christians who were not US citizens."

So, what do you think? Let's have some conversation. The conversation might inform us about future decisions we might have to make as a nation. Was the Revolutionary War Biblically justified or not?

Monday, June 29, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (15)

This is the last letter in Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence.

FIFTEENTH LETTER: From his death-bed. * Repeats the same exhortation to knowledge, that we may love.

GOD knoweth best what is needful for us, and all that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we should be always ready to receive equally and with indifference from His hand the sweet and the bitter; all would please that came from Him.

The sorest afflictions never appear intolerable, but when we see them in the wrong light. When we see them in the hand of GOD, who dispenses them: when we know that it is our loving FATHER, who abases and distresses us: our sufferings will lose their bitterness, and become even matter of consolation.

Let all our employment be to know GOD: the more one knows Him, the more one desires to know Him. And as knowledge is commonly the measure of love, the deeper and more extensive our knowledge shall be, the greater will be our love: and if our love of GOD were great we should love Him equally in pains and pleasures.

Let us not amuse ourselves to seek or to love GOD for any sensible favours (how elevated soever) which He has or may do us. Such favours, though never so great, cannot bring us so near to GOD as faith does in one simple act. Let us seek Him often by faith: He is within us; seek Him not elsewhere. Are we not rude and deserve blame, if we leave Him alone, to busy ourselves about trifles, which do not please Him and perhaps offend Him? ‘Tis to be feared these trifles will one day cost us dear.

Let us begin to be devoted to Him in good earnest. Let us cast everything besides out of our hearts; He would possess them alone. Beg this favour of Him. If we do what we can on our parts, we shall soon see that change wrought in us which we aspire after.

I cannot thank Him sufficiently for the relaxation He has vouchsafed you. I hope from His mercy the favour to see Him within a few days.

Let us pray for one another.

[He took to his bed two days after and died within the week.]

Saturday, June 27, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (14)

The 14th of 15 letters from Brother Lawrence. His thoughts than most encourage me are in bold italics.

FOURTEENTH LETTER: Gratitude, for mercies to his correspondent, and measure of relief while he has himself been near death, but with consolation in his suffering.

I render thanks to our LORD, for having relieved you a little, according to your desire.

I have been often near expiring, though I was never so much satisfied as then. Accordingly I did not pray for any relief, but I prayed for strength to suffer with courage, humility, and love. Ah, how sweet is it to suffer with GOD! however great the sufferings may be, receive them with love.

'Tis paradise to suffer and be with Him; so that if in this life we would enjoy the peace of paradise, we must accustom ourselves to a familiar, humble, affectionate conversation with Him: we must hinder our spirits wandering from Him upon any occasion: we must make our heart a spiritual temple, wherein to adore Him incessantly: we must watch continually over ourselves, that we may not do, nor say, nor think anything that may displease Him. When our minds are thus employed about GOD, suffering will become full of unction and consolation.

I know that to arrive at this state, the beginning is very difficult; for we must act purely in faith. But though it is difficult, we know also that we can do all things with the grace of GOD, which He never refuses to them who ask it earnestly.

Knock, persevere in knocking, and I answer for it that He will open to you in His due time, and grant you all at once what He has deferred during many years.

Adieu.

Pray to Him for me, as I pray to Him for you.

I hope to see Him quickly.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Toward a Great Commission Resurgence

The SBC rallied around the following document. Could you sign it? I did.

***

Then Jesus came near and said to them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20, HCSB).

Preamble

Southern Baptists have always been a Great Commission people. Christ’s command to go, disciple, baptize, and teach is woven into the very DNA of our churches. By God’s grace, over the last thirty years, the SBC has undergone a Conservative Resurgence that has brought substantive changes to many of our churches and all of our Convention’s seminaries and boards.

We are thankful for the Conservative Resurgence and believe that God has also called Southern Baptists to a Great Commission Resurgence as the next step in the fulfillment of our mandate in missions and evangelism which will result in the renewal of our Convention. It is our conviction that a Great Commission Resurgence must embrace the following ten commitments:

I. A Commitment to Christ’s Lordship.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in all things at the personal, local church, and denominational levels. (Col. 1:18; 3:16-17, 23-24)

Scripture is clear that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Therefore, Jesus Christ must be our passion and priority and we should aspire to both know Him and love Him more fully. We must long to see Him have preeminence in all things. We desire to see a Convention of Christ-centered, “Jesus-intoxicated” people who pursue all that we do by God’s grace and for His glory. We believe we need the ministry of the Holy Spirit to lead us into a new and fresh intimacy and communion with the Lord Jesus that results in greater obedience to all that He commands. Christ’s Lordship must be first and foremost in a Great Commission Resurgence or we will miss our most important priority and fail in all of our other pursuits.

II. A Commitment to Gospel-Centeredness.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to make the gospel of Jesus Christ central in our lives, our churches, and our convention ministries. (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; 2 Cor. 5:17-21)

The gospel is the good news of all that God has done on behalf of sinners through the perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus. As individual Southern Baptists, we must be gospel-centered from first to last. Gospel-centered living will promote a grace-filled salvation from beginning to end by putting on display the beauty of the gospel in every aspect of our lives. It will remind us that we do not obey in order to be accepted, but rather we obey because we are accepted by God in Christ. Gospel-centered living will help ensure that the bloody cross of a crucified King is the offense to non-believers rather than our styles, traditions, legalisms, moralisms, personal preferences, or unhelpful attitudes.

The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and convention ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our convention programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. If we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence, we must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness.

III. A Commitment to the Great Commandments.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to recommit to the priority of the Great Commandments in every aspect of our lives and every priority we embrace as a network of local Baptist churches. (Matt. 22:37-40)

Every Christian is called first and foremost to love God and secondly to love others. Greater love for God will always lead to greater love for people created in His image. The Great Commission flows from the Great Commandments.

We believe too many of us have lost some of our love for God and others somewhere along the way. This has devastated our witness. If we love Jesus as we should, we will love sinners as we ought and pursue them as He did. Though we believe that God calls believers to speak out against moral ills, this must not be done in a way that is hateful toward unbelievers or trades gospel priorities for political influence. We must not condemn those who are already under the just wrath of God, but must seek to serve them and proclaim Christ to them with the hope that God will save them.

Loving God and loving others means our churches must become more diverse. Southern Baptists were born, in part, out of a racist context and for over a century embraced systemic racism. For far too much of our history we failed to love our neighbors as ourselves, and that will forever be to our shame. By God’s grace and the Spirit’s conviction, we publically repented of this in 1995 on our 150th anniversary, but there is still much work to be done. Until our churches better reflect the diversity we look forward to in heaven, we must labor at gospel-centered racial reconciliation.

Furthermore, loving God and loving others means each of us must be watchful in our relationships with others in our churches and our Convention. We must accept our constant need to humble ourselves and repent of pride, arrogance, jealousy, hatred, contentions, lying, selfish ambitions, laziness, complacency, idolatries and every other sin of the flesh that leads to broken relationships and harms our witness before the watching world.

IV. A Commitment to Biblical Inerrancy and Sufficiency.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to unite around a firm conviction in the full truthfulness and complete sufficiency of Christian Scripture in all matters of faith and practice. (Matt 5:17-18; John 10:35; 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21)

Through the Conservative Resurgence Southern Baptists reaffirmed their historic belief that the Bible is God’s written revelation to humanity and is “truth without any mixture of error.” By God’s grace, what some have called the “Battle for the Bible” that began in the SBC 1979 has been won. However, we believe the “War for the Bible” began in the Garden of Eden when the serpent first questioned the truthfulness of God’s words and will continue until all things are made new in Christ. Southern Baptists must not retreat one inch from the non-negotiable doctrine that the Bible is without error, lest we squander the gains of recent years. Furthermore, we must recommit ourselves to the full sufficiency of Scripture. It is not enough to believe that the Bible is inerrant; we must also be willing to submit to all of its teachings, even if that means we must relinquish our own preferences or human traditions.

V. A Commitment to a Healthy Confessional Center.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a sufficient guide for building a theological consensus for partnership in the gospel, refusing to be sidetracked by theological agendas that distract us from our Lord’s Commission. (1 Tim. 6:3-4)

In 2000 the Southern Baptist Convention overwhelmingly adopted a revised edition of the Baptist Faith and Message as an instrument of doctrinal accountability to be used by our seminaries and boards. Many state conventions followed suit. While the BF&M 2000 is neither exhaustive nor infallible, we believe that it is a sound confession for building theological consensus for Great Commission cooperation. Like the best of confessions, the BF&M 2000 speaks most clearly to those doctrines wherein we enjoy greatest agreement and speaks more generally concerning areas where some differing opinions exist.

The promise of the Conservative Resurgence was that eventually we would find enough common biblical and theological ground that we could focus on the Great Commission. We believe the BF&M 2000 is a key tool in this endeavor because it articulates a theological consensus that is simultaneously orthodox, evangelical, and Baptist. As we attempt to discern the difference between primary, secondary, and tertiary issues, we believe that by God’s grace the BF&M 2000 will guide us in our cooperation. This is what lies at the heart of many of our present tensions.

VI. A Commitment to Biblically Healthy Churches.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to focus on building local churches that are thoroughly orthodox, distinctively Baptist, and passionately committed to the Great Commission. (Matt. 16:13-20, 18:15-20; Acts 2:41-47; Rom. 6:3-5; 1 Cor. 5)

Baptists have always been a people committed to building local churches that reflect as closely as possible the faith and practice of New Testament churches. We sense numerous threats to contemporary Baptist churches including worldliness, laziness, faddishness, heterodoxy, arrogant sectarianism, and naïve ecumenism. Our churches must be committed to a biblical orthodoxy that informs every aspect of church life. Sound doctrine must guide every priority our churches embrace and every task they undertake.

We must be especially mindful to resist contemporary threats to our historic, biblical Baptist identity. Our churches must remain committed to the Baptist distinctives of a regenerate church membership, believer’s baptism by immersion, the priesthood of all believers, congregational church polity, local church autonomy, and liberty of conscience for all people. Each of these distinctives must be embraced under the Lordship of Christ as revealed in Christian Scripture and interpreted by gospel-centered congregations. We must be willing to alter our practices to better accord with a robust Baptist identity, including in many churches a more responsible baptismal policy, the recovery of a redemptive church discipline, a healthier relationship between pastors and their people, and a commitment to an every-member ministry.

Mission is not a ministry of the church, it is at the heart of the church’s identity and essence. We must encourage our churches to see themselves as the missionary bodies that they are. Pastors and other leaders must be willing to teach and model for their people how to be missionaries in their community, regardless of their vocation or location. Churches must have a global perspective and recognize those members who are called to serve overseas long-term and engage in short-term global missions. Churches must labor to both plant new churches in unevangelized areas of North America, especially the great urban centers, and revitalize existing congregations. We long to see a Convention where every church is a church planting church in its unique Jerusalem, its Judea and Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth.

VII. A Commitment to Sound Biblical Preaching.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to affirm and expect a pastoral ministry that is characterized by faithful biblical preaching that teaches both the content of the Scriptures and the theology embedded in the Scriptures. (2 Tim. 4:1-5)

Biblical preaching is central to building healthy churches that pursue healthy agendas within the context of a healthy Convention. We need a new battalion of well trained pastors who preach the whole Bible with clarity and conviction. Authentic preaching must develop systematically the Bible’s theological content. It should understand both the Old Testament and New Testament to be Christian Scripture that together communicates one grand narrative about the world’s creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, with the person and work of Jesus Christ as the climax of the Bible’s storyline.

We also believe that genuine preaching is more than mere Bible teaching, no matter how orthodox and articulate. Healthy preaching should apply biblical truths in a way that makes unchanging truths relevant to contemporary believers. It must also be gospel preaching that pleads with men to be reconciled with God and expects the living and powerful Word of God to produce results and usher in conversions. It must be preaching that convicts sinners, encourages saints, changes lives, and glorifies God.

VIII. A Commitment to a Methodological Diversity that is Biblically Informed.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to consider themselves and their churches to be missionaries in non-Christian cultures, each of which requires unique strategies and emphases if the gospel is to penetrate and saturate every community in North America. (Phil. 2:1-5; 4:2-9)

There are essential and non-negotiable components of biblical ministry like proclamation, evangelism, service to others, prayer, and corporate worship. At the same time, we are convinced there is no specific style or method ordained by our God through which we must engage in these biblical ministries. In the past, Southern Baptists were characterized by a remarkable uniformity in both style and substance, but those days have long passed. Though we must remain united in substance, we must embrace a healthy, biblically informed diversity in our methodology if we are to effectively evangelize North America.

Different contexts demand diverse strategies and methods. We must think like missionaries and ask, “What is the best way to reach the people I live amongst with the gospel?” Various ethnic believers and social/cultural tribes will worship the same God, adore the same Jesus, believe the same Bible, and preach the same gospel. However, they may meet in different kinds of structures, wear different kinds of clothes, sing different kinds of songs, and engage in different kinds of ministries. We must treat the United States missiologically and do so with the same seriousness that our international missionaries treat their foreign people groups. As long as our varied methods communicate gospel truth, with theological integrity, unto God’s glory, we should not allow our different approaches to divide us.

IX. A Commitment to a More Effective Convention Structure.

We call upon all Southern Baptists, through our valued partnerships of SBC agencies, state conventions/institutions, and Baptist associations to evaluate our Convention structures and priorities so that we can maximize our energy and resources for the health of our local churches and the fulfillment of the Great Commission. This commitment recognizes the great strength of our partnership, which has been enabled by the Cooperative Program and enhanced by a belief that we can do more together than we can separately.

At the midpoint of the 20th century the Southern Baptist Convention was a convention characterized by impressive institutions, innovative programs, and strong loyalty from the churches. But the convention has too often failed to adapt its structure and programs to the changing culture. We are frequently aiming at a culture that went out of existence years ago, failing to understand how mid-20th century methods and strategies are not working in the 21st century.

Some of our convention structures at all levels need to be streamlined for more faithful stewardship of the funds entrusted to them. We must address with courage and action where there is overlap and duplication of ministries, and where poor stewardship is present. We are grateful for God’s gift of Cooperative Program dollars to both state and national entities. Both state and national entities must be wise stewards of these funds, and closely examine whether the allocation of Cooperative Program dollars genuinely contributes to Kingdom work or simply maintains the status quo. We are grateful for those churches and state conventions that are seeking to move more Cooperative Program dollars beyond their respective selves, and encourage this movement to continue and increase in the days ahead.

We must take steps toward simplifying our convention structures in an effort to streamline our structure, clarify our institutional identity, and maximize our resources for Great Commission priorities. We should ask hard questions about every aspect of our Convention structure and priorities and pray for God’s wisdom and blessing as we pursue wise answers to those questions. We must be willing to make needed changes for the good of our churches and the spread of the gospel. We believe that North American church planting, pioneer missions around the globe, and theological education are three priorities around which Southern Baptists will unite. Our Convention must be examined at every level to facilitate a more effective pursuit of these priorities.

The Great Commission, missions and theological education is the responsibility of the local church. As a convention of churches, we cooperate together to support theological education so that we can continually train competent shepherds who will lead churches through teaching, love and example, and who will see to it that the churches they lead are Great Commission churches that are promoting missions and advancing theological education. We are blessed as Southern Baptists to have such an avenue to serve the local church. Furthermore, we are grateful for the impact of the Conservative Resurgence that has given us seminaries committed to the inerrancy, infallibility, and the sufficiency of the Bible.

We believe the local church must be “ground zero” in a Great Commission Resurgence, and that our associations, state conventions and national agencies exist to serve and assist the churches in their divine assignment. We are convinced that as our people see our entities in this light, they will respond in even greater support of the Cooperative Program.

X. A Commitment to Distinctively Christian Families.

We call upon all Southern Baptists to build gospel-saturated homes that see children as a gift from God and as our first and primary mission field. (Deut. 6:1-9; Psalm 127, 128; Eph. 6:4)

The family is the first institution ordained by God and the foundational institution in all human cultures. Unfortunately, in our own time we see the family attacked on a number of fronts. Too many Southern Baptists have embraced unbiblical notions about marriage and family. Too often we believe that children are a burden rather than a blessing and smaller families are more “responsible” than large families. Too many believe that motherhood is not valuable as a woman’s unique and primary calling and is not as “fulfilling” as other occupations. Too many believe that husbands and fathers are not uniquely called and gifted for leadership in the home and that biblical gender roles destroy authentic equality.

We believe that distinctively Christian families are characterized by a deep love of Jesus Christ above all things and a desire to honor God as a family. We believe that Biblical truth is loved, taught, and lived out in healthy Christian homes. We believe that godly families cast a vision for spiritual greatness and equip every member, including children, to live for God’s glory and pursue great things for His name’s sake. We believe that strong Christian families are characterized by an atmosphere of love, fun, service, humor, faith, and fellowship. Southern Baptists must continue to reject the cultural status quo and seek to be a counter-culture for the common good when it comes to building God-centered, gospel-driven, Great Commission-loving homes.

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (13)

Letter 13 out ofr 15 from Brother Lawrence. Once again, my favorite parts are in bold italics.

THIRTEENTH LETTER: To the same he exhorts for fuller and entire confidence in God, for body and soul.

I am in pain to see you suffer so long; what gives me some ease, and sweetens the feeling I have of your griefs, is that they are proofs of GOD’s love towards you: see them in that view, and you will bear them more easily.

As your case is, ’tis my opinion that you should leave off human remedies, and resign yourself entirely to the providence of GOD; perhaps He stays only for that resignation and a perfect trust in Him to cure you. Since notwithstanding all your cares, physic has hitherto proved unsuccessful, and your malady still increases, it will not be tempting GOD to abandon yourself in His hands, and expect all from Him.

I told you, in my last, that He sometimes permits bodily diseases to cure the distempers of the soul. Have courage then: make a virtue of necessity: ask of GOD, not deliverance from your pains, but strength to bear resolutely, for the love of Him, all that He should please, and as long as He shall please.

Such prayers, indeed, are a little hard to nature, but most acceptable to GOD, and sweet to those that love Him. Love sweetens pains; and when one loves GOD, one suffers for His sake with joy and courage. Do you so, I beseech you; comfort yourself with Him, who is the only Physician of all our maladies. He is the FATHER of the afflicted, always ready to help us.

He loves us infinitely more than we imagine: love Him then, and seek not consolation elsewhere: I hope you will soon receive it. Adieu.

I will help you with my prayers, poor as they are, and shall be, always, yours in our LORD.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-Is-Now-Here (12)

TWELFTH LETTER: To the same correspondent probably, and expresses his own abiding comfort through faith.

If we were well accustomed to the exercise of the presence of GOD, all bodily diseases would be much alleviated thereby. GOD often permits that we should suffer a little, to purify our souls, and oblige us to continue with Him.

Take courage, offer Him your pains incessantly, pray to Him for strength to endure them. Above all, get a habit of entertaining yourself often with GOD, and forget Him the least you can. Adore Him in your infirmities, offer yourself to Him from time to time; and, in the height of your sufferings, beseech Him humbly and affectionately (as a child his father) to make you conformable to His holy will. I shall endeavour to assist you with my poor prayers.

GOD has many ways of drawing us to Himself. He sometimes hides Himself from us: but faith alone, which will not fail us in time of need, ought to be our support, and the foundation of our confidence, which must be all in GOD.

I know not how GOD will dispose of me: I am always happy: all the world suffer; and I, who deserve the severest discipline, feel joys so continual, and so great, that I can scarce contain them.

I would willingly ask of GOD a part of your sufferings, but that I know my weakness, which is so great, that if He left me one moment to myself, I should be the most wretched man alive. And yet I know not how He can leave me alone, because faith gives me as strong a conviction as sense can do, that He never forsakes us, till we have first forsaken Him. Let us fear to leave Him. Let us be always with Him. Let us live and die in His presence. Do you pray for me, as I for you.

Friday, June 19, 2009

When your spouse wants to attend another church

A few months ago, I posted the following on my blog:

How do you think a pastor should handle it when people want to leave the church? Here’s how one pastor, Steven Furtick, says we should handle it. He says, “Let’em walk.” Sometimes, I wish I could be more the way he describes. But when people leave CVC, it rips out my heart.

Today, a person had a coment/question:

My comment is on leaving the church. How do you know what Church you should attend when the spouse wants to attend another church? It is dividing my family. What can I do other than praying and asking God for guidance?

Here's my reply:

First, I am very sorry that this problem is creating division in your family. I have prayed that you begin to more and more know God's peace and harmony in your heart and home.

Second, couples should work on making mutual decisions whenever possible. So, ask God for the grace to come to a mutual decision.

Third, if you can't come to a mutual decision, apply the principles in marriage that are found in Ephesians 5.

Ephesians 5:21 says, "[Submit] to one another out of reverence for Christ." Don't miss this. Submission is not just a woman's thing. And it's not just a man's thing. It's a Christian thing. It's for every follower of Christ.

Now, there's a way that submission plays itself out in the life of the wife. And there's a different way that it plays itself out in the life of the husband. But the over-arching attitude in the home of Christ-followers is a kind of mutual submission. The husband is looking at his wife and is asking, "How can I serve her?" The wife is looking at her husband and is asking, "How can I serve him?"

Now, with that general attitude, how do husbands and wives complement each other? Is there supposed to be any difference between the role of the wife and the role of the husband in marriage? Is there supposed to be a leadership structure? Is there some uniquely feminine way for a wife to receive and respond to her husband not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually? Is there some uniquely masculine way for a husband to move toward his wife not just physically, but emotionally and spiritually? Is there a difference between men and women that extends beyond the body into the soul?

Ephesians 5:22 says, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord." Submission does not mean that the wife never opens her mouth, never has an opinion, or never gives advice. Submission does not mean that the wife is inferior to the husband. Jesus Christ was not inferior to Mary and Joseph, and yet Luke 2:51 says that as a child, "[Jesus] continued in subjection to them." Submission does not mean that the wife allows her abilities to lie dormant. Proverbs 31 talks about the ideal woman, a very capable woman. She's into real estate and investments as well as into sewing and raising kids.

The submission of the wife is a spiritual thing. Look at the verse. It is to be done ''as to the Lord." A wife looks at her submission to her husband as an act of obedience primarily to Christ and not primarily to her husband.

Why do this? Ephesians 5:23 says, "For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior." Why does the Bible present different roles? Men and women are good at different things. We're not talking about who should take care of the check book or who should wash the dishes or who should vacuum the carpet or who should cut the grass. Ephesians 5 isn't talking about stereotypical roles.

Notice in this verse, the husband is called the "head." If you know a little about the Bible, this ought to remind you of the order of creation. Genesis is the first book of the Bible. The word "head" takes us back there. One meaning of this word "head" is the idea of "source." God created Adam. Then He created Eve from Adam.

Let me explain it this way. The Greek word "head" is like our word authority. The word "authority" comes from the word "author." For example, I have this blog. I post some of my thoughts on the web. If you read something I wrote and you don't understand it, you can come to author, to the source, to me. I can speak with authority about my blog because I wrote it.

So, "head" means "source." And with that comes a responsibility. As an author has authority,
so the head has authority. Every team must have a captain, and every home a leader, and God has established things in such a way that this responsibility falls to the man.

Ephesians 5:24 says, "Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands." In everything? Yes. Everything that doesn't conflict with God's will. "Submit" here cannot mean unconditional obedience when it comes to violating God's will. In Acts 5, some followers of Jesus are told by the civil authorities to stop talking about Jesus. And Romans 13 says that believers should always obey civil authority. But in Acts 5 the disciples say, "We must obey God rather than man."

No human authority must ever be obeyed unconditionally. If you are asking me to do what God says not to do or if you are asking me not to do what God says to do, then I have to obey God rather than man. So, if a husband says, "Hey, help me rob this bank," a wife has to say, "No." If a husband says, "Hey, don't tell the cops after I beat you," a wife has to say, "No." A wife is to be subject like the church is subject to Christ. And Christ never leads the church to do something contrary to God's will.

And submission does not mean that a wife does not take part in consensus decision-making. It doesn't mean that a wife just runs errands and smiles. If a couple never argues about anything, then they aren't really completing each other. To complement each other means that wives and husbands sometimes have to go after each other, challenge each other, warn each other, persuade each other. Sometimes, couples have to duke it out.

And if you can't come to an agreement, then God wants the husband to assume the responsibility to cast the deciding vote.

Now, what gives him the moral authority to do that? Ephesians 5:25 says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her..." A husband cannot demand headship, he earns it. And this is the way he earns it. He sacrifices himself for his wife like Jesus did for the church. What kind of head is the husband supposed to be? The husband's role is to lead as Christ leads the Church. He is to seek his wife's best, even at his own expense. He is to be a Servant-Leader.

A husband is not at all entitled to headship if he is not loving his wife sacrificially. He can't take it; he just receives it. He can't demand it; he earns it. He must live a sacrificial life. He doesn't deserve leadership unless he does. If you are a husband and you want headship, then love your wife sacrificially until she gives it.

The man's role isn't about rank, but responsibility. It's about sacrificing all for the family, not selfishness. His concern is not for himself; his concern is not to give orders, to boss other people around, to have his own way. His concern is to meet the needs of others.

The husband has the responsibility to initiate, nurture, and maintain love in the marriage. In too many marriages the wife has assumed the initiating role, not because she wants the position, but because she is afraid that the car is about to careen off the road, since her husband has vacated the seat or has fallen asleep at the wheel.

Ephesians 5:26 tells us the goal, the result in loving his wife like Christ loved the church, "That he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word..." There's not oppression here. It's not possible. The husband, like Jesus does for the church, is helping his wife be more and more holy.

Ephesians 5:27 says, "So that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." The man's role isn't about rank, but responsibility. It's about empowering the wife, empowering the family.

Now, with all that as a background, I would recommend that you defer the decision until you are growing in your capacity to fulfill these roles within your marriage. You'll never arrive. But be growing. And once you get the sense that Jesus is pleased with how you are fulfilling your responsibilities as husband and wife, then discuss once again the decision about whether or not to leave your church. If you can't come to a mutual agreement, then let the husband cast the deciding vote.

If you decide to leave your current church, then check out a previous post for a little advice on how to leave a church.

May you know the shalom of the Lord.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (11)

Another letter from Brother Lawrence. Again, the parts that most encourage me are in bold italics.

ELEVENTH LETTER: To one who is in great pain. God is the Physician of body and of soul. * Feels that he would gladly suffer at His wish.

I do not pray that you may be delivered from your pains; but I pray GOD earnestly that He would give you strength and patience to bear them as long as He pleases.

Comfort yourself with Him who holds you fastened to the cross: He will loose you when He thinks fit. Happy those who suffer with Him: accustom yourself to suffer in that manner, and seek from Him the strength to endure as much, and as long, as He shall judge to be necessary for you.

The men of the world do not comprehend these truths, nor is it to be wondered at, since they suffer like what they are, and not like Christians: they consider sickness as a pain to nature, and not as a favour from GOD; and seeing it only in that light, they find nothing in it but grief and distress.

But those who consider sickness as coming from the hand of GOD, as the effects of His mercy, and the means which He employs for their salvation, commonly find in it great sweetness and sensible consolation.

I wish you could convince yourself that GOD is often (in some sense) nearer to us and more effectually present with us, in sickness than in health. Rely upon no other Physician, for, according to my apprehension, He reserves your cure to Himself. Put then all your trust in Him, and you will soon find the effects of it in your recovery, which we often retard, by putting greater confidence in physic than in GOD.

Whatever remedies you make use of, they will succeed only so far as He permits. When pains come from GOD, He only can cure them. He often sends diseases of the body, to cure those of the soul. Comfort yourself with the sovereign Physician both of soul and body.

I foresee that you will tell me that I am very much at my ease, that I eat and drink at the table of the LORD. You have reason: but think you that it would be a small pain to the greatest criminal in the world, to eat at the king’s table, and be served by him, and notwithstanding such favours to be without assurance of pardon? I believe he would feel exceeding great uneasiness, and such as nothing could moderate, but only his trust in the goodness of his sovereign. So I assure you, that whatever pleasures I taste at the table of my King, yet my sins, ever present before my eyes, as well as the uncertainty of my pardon, torment me, though in truth that torment itself is pleasing.

Be satisfied with the condition in which GOD places you: however happy you may think me, I envy you. Pains and suffering would be a paradise to me, while I should suffer with my GOD; and the greatest pleasure would be hell to me, if I could relish them without Him; all my consolation would be to suffer something for His sake.

I must, in a little time, go to GOD. What comforts me in this life is, that I now see Him by faith; and I see Him in such a manner as might make me say sometimes, I believe no more, but I see. I feel what faith teaches us, and, in that assurance and that practice of faith, I will live and die with Him.

Continue then always with GOD: ’tis the only support and comfort for your affliction. I shall beseech Him to be with you. I present my service.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (10)

Brother Lawrence's 10th letter about living all of life in the presence of God. His most helpful insights for me are in bold italics. This is especially meaningful as our family is grieving the loss of Maryanne's mother. To paraphrase Brother Lawrence, "The loss of a parent may lead to a deeper relationship with the Parent."

TENTH LETTER: Has difficulty, but sacrifices his will, to write as requested. * The loss of a friend may lead to acquaintance with the Friend.

I have had a good deal of difficulty to bring myself to write to M. -, and I do it now purely because you and Madam desire me. Pray write the directions and send it to him.

I am very well pleased with the trust which you have in GOD: I wish that He may increase it in you more and more: we cannot have too much in so good and faithful a Friend, who will never fail us in this world nor in the next.

If M. - makes his advantage of the loss he has had, and puts all his confidence in GOD, He will soon give him another friend, more powerful and more inclined to serve him. He disposes of hearts as He pleases. Perhaps M. - was too much attached to him he has lost. We ought to love our friends, but without encroaching upon the love of GOD, which must be the principal.

Pray remember what I have recommended to you, which is, to think often on GOD, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you: why then must GOD be neglected?

Do not then forget Him, but think on Him often, adore Him continually live and die with Him; this is the glorious employment of a Christian; in a word, this is our profession, if we do not know it we must learn it.

I will endeavour to help you with my prayers, and am yours in our LORD.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (9)

My favorite thoughts from yet another letter from Brother Lawrence are in bold italics.

NINTH LETTER: Enclosing a letter to a corresponding sister, whom he regards with respect tinged with fear. * His old theme concisely put.

The enclosed is an answer to that which I received from - ; pray deliver it to her. She seems to me full of good will, but she would go faster than grace. One does not become holy all at once. I recommend her to you: we ought to help one another by our advice, and yet more by our good examples. You will oblige me to let me hear of her from time to time, and whether she be very fervent and very obedient.

Let us thus think often that our only business in this life is to please GOD, that perhaps all besides is but folly and vanity. You and I have lived above forty years in religion [i.e., a monastic life]. Have we employed them in loving and serving GOD, who by His mercy has called us to this state and for that very end? I am filled with shame and confusion, when I reflect on the one hand upon the great favours which GOD has done, and incessantly continues to do, me; and on the other, upon the ill use I have made of them, and my small advancement in the way of perfection.

Since by His mercy He gives us still a little time, let us begin in earnest, let us repair the lost time, let us return with a full assurance to that FATHER of mercies, who is always ready to receive us affectionately. Let us renounce, let us generously renounce, for the love of Him, all that is not Himself; He deserves infinitely more. Let us think of Him perpetually. Let us put all our trust in Him: I doubt not but we shall soon find the effects of it, in receiving the abundance of His grace, with which we can do all things, and without which we can do nothing but sin.

We cannot escape the dangers which abound in life, without the actual and continual help of GOD; let us then pray to Him for it continually. How can we pray to Him without being with Him? How can we be with Him but in thinking of Him often? And how can we often think of Him, but by a holy habit which we should form of it?

You will tell me that I am always saying the same thing: it is true, for this is the best and easiest method I know; and as I use no other, I advise all the world to it. We must know before we can love.

In order to know GOD, we must often think of Him; and when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure. This is an argument which well deserves your consideration.

Friday, June 12, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (8)

More from Brother Lawrence and Practicing the Presence of God. What do you do when your thoughts wander in prayer?

EIGHTH LETTER: Concerning wandering thoughts in prayer.

You tell me nothing new: you are not the only one that is troubled with wandering thoughts. Our mind is extremely roving; but as the will is mistress of all our faculties, she must recall them, and carry them to GOD, as their last end.

When the mind, for want of being sufficiently reduced by recollection, at our first engaging in devotion, has contracted certain bad habits of wandering and dissipation, they are difficult to overcome, and commonly draw us, even against our wills, to the things of the earth.

I believe one remedy for this is, to confess our faults, and to humble ourselves before GOD. I do not advise you to use multiplicity of words in prayer; many words and long discourses being often the occasions of wandering: hold yourself in prayer before GOD, like a dumb or paralytic beggar at a rich man’s gate: let it be your business to keep your mind in the presence of the LORD. If it sometimes wander, and withdraw itself from Him, do not much disquiet yourself for that; trouble and disquiet serve rather to distract the mind, than to re-collect it; the will must bring it back in tranquillity; if you persevere in this manner, GOD will have pity on you.

One way to re-collect the mind easily in the time of prayer, and preserve it more in tranquillity, is not to let it wander too far at other times: you should keep it strictly in the presence of GOD; and being accustomed to think of Him often, you will find it easy to keep your mind calm in the time of prayer, or at least to recall it from its wanderings.

I have told you already at large, in my former letters, of the advantages we may draw from this practice of the presence of GOD: let us set about it seriously and pray for one another.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (7)

More from Brother Lawrence to a 64 year old. The parts that encourage me or instruct me the most are in bold italics.

SEVENTH LETTER: At the age of nearly fourscore exhorts his correspondent, who is sixty-four, to live and die with God and promises and asks for prayer.

I pity you much. It will be of great importance if you can leave the care of your affairs to, and spend the remainder of your life only in worshiping GOD. He requires no great matters of us; a little remembrance of Him from time to time, a little adoration: sometimes to pray for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, and sometimes to return Him thanks for the favours He has given you, and still gives you, in the midst of your troubles, and to console yourself with Him the oftenest you can.

Lift up your heart to Him, sometimes even at your meals, and when you are in company: the least little remembrance will always be acceptable to Him. You need not cry very loud; He is nearer to us than we are aware of.

It is not necessary for being with GOD to be always at church; we may make an oratory [a chapel] of our heart, wherein to retire from time to time, to converse with Him in meekness, humility, and love. Every one is capable of such familiar conversation with GOD, some more, some less: He knows what we can do.

Let us begin then; perhaps He expects but one generous resolution on our part. Have courage. We have but little time to live; you are near sixty-four, and I am almost eighty. Let us live and die with GOD: sufferings will be sweet and pleasant to us, while we are with Him: and the greatest pleasures will be, without Him, a cruel punishment to us. May He be blessed for all. Amen.

Use yourself then by degrees thus to worship Him, to beg His grace, to offer Him your heart from time to time, in the midst of your business, even every moment if you can. Do not always scrupulously confine yourself to certain rules, or particular forms of devotion; but act with a general confidence in GOD, with love and humility.

You may assure - of my poor prayers, and that I am their servant, and yours particularly.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (6)

More from Brother Lawrence. Here is his sixth letter in Practicing the Presence of God. I have placed in bold italics the thoughts that seem most personally helpful to me.

SIXTH LETTER: To a member of the order who had received from him a book, and to whom he again enlarges on his favourite topic. * Encouragement to persevere.

I have received from Mrs. - the things which you gave her for me. I wonder that you have not given me your thoughts of the little book I sent to you, and which you must have received. Pray set heartily about the practice of it in your old age; it is better late than never.

I cannot imagine how religious persons can live satisfied without the practice of the presence of GOD. For my part I keep myself retired with Him in the depth of centre of my soul as much as I can; and while I am so with Him I fear nothing; but the least turning from Him is insupportable.

This exercise does not much fatigue the body: it is, however, proper to deprive it sometimes, nay often, of many little pleasures which are innocent and lawful: for GOD will not permit that a soul which desires to be devoted entirely to Him should take other pleasures than with Him; that is more than reasonable.

I do not say that therefore we must put any violent constraint upon ourselves. No, we must serve GOD in a holy freedom, we must do our business faithfully, without trouble or disquiet; recalling our mind to GOD mildly and with tranquillity, as often as we find it wandering from Him.

It is, however, necessary to put our whole trust in GOD, laying aside all other cares, and even some particular forms of devotion, though very good in themselves, yet such as one often engages in unreasonably: because those devotions are only means to attain to the end; so when by this exercise of the presence of GOD we are with Him who is our end, it is then useless to return to the means; but we may continue with Him our commerce of love, persevering in His holy presence: one while by an act of praise, of adoration, or of desire; one while by an act of resignation, or thanksgiving; and in all the manner which our spirit can invent.

Be not discouraged by the repugnance which you may find in it from nature; you must do yourself violence. At the first, one often thinks it lost time; but you must go on, and resolve to persevere in it to death, notwithstanding all the difficulties that may occur.

I recommend myself to the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular.

I am yours in our LORD.

Monday, June 08, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (5)

Brother Lawrence's fifth letter in Practicing the Presence of God.

FIFTH LETTER: Prayer for a sister who is about to make a vow and profession. * A fresh insisting upon the necessity and virtue of practising the Presence of God.

I received this day two books and a letter from Sister, who is preparing to make her profession, and upon that account desires the prayers of your holy society, and yours in particular. I perceive that she reckons much upon them; pray do not disappoint her. Beg of GOD that she may make her sacrifice in the view of His love alone, and with a firm resolution to be wholly devoted to Him.

I will send you one of those books which treat of the presence of GOD; a subject which, in my opinion, contains the whole spiritual life; and it seems to me that whoever duly practises it will soon become spiritual.

I know that for the right practice of it, the heart must be empty of all other things; because GOD will possess the heart alone; and as He cannot possess it alone, without emptying it of all besides, so neither can He act there, and do in it what He pleases, unless it be left vacant to Him.

There is not in the world a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with GOD: those only can comprehend it who practise and experience it; yet I do not advise you to do it from that motive; it is not pleasure which we ought to seek in this exercise; but let us do it from a principle of love, and because GOD would have us.

Were I a preacher, I should above all other things preach the practice of the presence of GOD; and were I a director, I should advise all the world to do it: so necessary do I think it, and so easy too.

Ah! knew we but the want we have of the grace and assistance of GOD, we should never lose sight of Him, no, not for a moment. Believe me; make immediately a holy and firm resolution never more wilfully to forget Him, and to spend the rest of your days in His sacred presence, deprived for the love of Him, if He thinks fit, of all consolations.

Set heartily about this work, and if you do it as you ought, be assured that you will soon find the effects of it. I will assist you with my prayers, poor as they are: I recommend myself earnestly to yours, and those of your holy society.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

The nearness to God is my good

This year’s Super Bowl had the Pepsi Max commercials. A golfer hits a guy in the head on his backswing and on his follow-through and the guy says, “I’m good.” A bowling ball falls through a bag and hits a guy on the head and he says, “I’m good.” A guy gets hit with a jolt of electricity and is thrown across a yard and says, “I’m good.” It’s funny. The selling point is simple: Real men can take a hit as long as there’s a Pepsi Max nearby.

No matter what happens to you in life, you can say, “I’m good.” Not because a favorite soft drink is close by. Or not even because you have job security or a good marriage or great kids. But because God is nearby.

This is the way the Psalmist says it: "But for me it is good to be near God" (Psalm 73:28a, ESV). The NASB says it this way: "But as for me, the nearness of God is my good" (Psalm 73:28a, NASB).

Live long enough and your dreams will shatter. God will let you hurt and He won’t make it better. You will suffer. And He will stand by and seem like He is doing nothing to help – at least nothing that you are wanting Him to do.

But our shattered dreams are not shattered by random chance. God is working out His will for our lives. He uses the pain of those shattered dreams to make us want Him and Him alone.

God has an agenda. And it’s not ours. He is stripping away every idol from our lives so that weu will see that all we really need is Him – so that we can say with the Psalmist, “I'm good because I have God.”

The followers of Jesus who have the greatest joy and who give God the greatest glory can honestly say, "God (not the job, not the nice car, not the nice house, not popularity, not even good health) is my greatest good."

He wants us to be able to say when asked "You need anything?” after our dreams are shattered, “No, I’m good. I’m good because I have God. God is my highest good. And He's enough.”

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (4)

FOURTH LETTER: Writes of himself as of a third person, and encourages his correspondent to press on to fuller practising of the Presence of God.

I have taken this opportunity to communicate to you the sentiments of one of our society concerning the admirable effects and continual assistances which he receives from the presence of GOD. Let you and me both profit by them.

You must know, his continual care has been, for above forty years past that he has spent in religion, to be always with GOD; and to do nothing, say nothing, and think nothing which may displease Him; and this without any other view than purely for the love of Him, and because He deserves infinitely more.

He is now so accustomed to that Divine presence, that he receives from it continual succours upon all occasions. For about thirty years, his soul has been filled with joys so continual, and sometimes so great, that he is forced to use means to moderate them, and to hinder their appearing outwardly.

If sometimes he is a little too much absent from that Divine presence, GOD presently makes Himself to be felt in his soul to recall him; which often happens when he is most engaged in his outward business: he answers with exact fidelity to these inward drawings, either by an elevation of his heart towards GOD, or by a meek and fond regard to Him, or by such words as love forms upon these occasions; as for instance, My GOD, here I am all devoted to Thee: LORD, make me according to Thy heart. And then it seems to him (as in effect he feels it) that this GOD of love, satisfied with such few words, reposes again, and rests in the depth and centre of his soul. The experience of these things gives him such an assurance that GOD is always in the depth or bottom of his soul, and renders him incapable of doubting it, upon any account whatever.

Judge by this what content and satisfaction he enjoys, while he continually finds in himself so great a treasure: he is no longer in an anxious search after it, but has it open before him, and may take what he pleases of it.

He complains much of our blindness; and cries often that we are to be pitied who content ourselves with so little. GOD, saith he, has infinite treasure to bestow, and we take up with a little sensible devotion which passes in a moment. Blind as we are, we hinder GOD, and stop the current of His graces. But when He finds a soul penetrated with a lively faith, He pours into it His graces and favours plentifully; there they flow like a torrent, which, after being forcibly stopped against its ordinary course, when it has found a passage, spreads itself with impetuosity and abundance.

Yes, we often stop this torrent, by the little value we set upon it. But let us stop it no more: let us enter into ourselves and break down the bank which hinders it. Let us make way for grace; let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left; death follows us close, let us be well prepared for it; for we die but once, and a miscarriage there is irretrievable.

I say again, let us enter into ourselves. The time presses: there is no room for delay; our souls are at stake. I believe you have taken such effectual measures, that you will not be surprised. I commend you for it, it is the one thing necessary: we must, nevertheless, always work at it, because not to advance, in the spiritual life, is to go back. But those who have the gale of the HOLY SPIRIT go forward even in sleep. If the vessel of our soul is still tossed with winds and storms, let us awake the LORD, who reposes in it, and He will quickly calm the sea.

I have taken the liberty to impart to you these good sentiments, that you may compare them with your own: they will serve again to kindle and inflame them, if by misfortune (which GOD forbid, for it would be indeed a great misfortune) they should be, though never so little, cooled. Let us then both recall our first fervours. Let us profit by the example and the sentiments of this brother, who is little known of the world, but known of GOD, and extremely caressed by Him. I will pray for you; do you pray instantly for me, who am yours in our LORD.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

knowing God

Larry Crabb in his book Shattered Dreams writes, “Only a few in every generation believe that the weight of knowing God is a blessing heavier (and by that I mean more wonderful) than every other. And those who believe it appear to have developed that conviction only through suffering. Happiness must be stripped away, forcibly, before joy can surface."

I posted that quote on facebook. A friend read it and wrote, "I'm reading that book right now and i can't decide if i love it or want to take it in the backyard and burn it."

My response? "I understand. But now at age 55 and after suffering some very painful losses as a church leader who thought God would bless me because I was apparently doing good for Him, I want more than just a surface, stoic, outwardly supposedly godly resignation to the realities of life. This on page 67 of Crabb's book hit me hard: 'The Western church has become a community of either the victorious or the acceptably broken. Either we speak glowingly of our love for Jesus - usually because the blessings are abundant - or we struggle nobly through hard times, convincing others and sometimes ourselves that we're doing better than we are. With each other we're more proper than real, more appropriate than alive.'"

Another friend weighed in, "When I was in seminary, as a group of us discussed the lives of the faculty and staff who were the most committed to the Lord and His work and displayed the type of joy of which you speak, we noticed EVERY ONE OF THEM had experienced at least one crushing life event that stripped everything away except Jesus. EVERY ONE OF THEM."

Next came a question, "Could you say suffering is a privilege, a way that God uses to call us to deeper intimacy with Him, because, unfortunately, without it we usually don't seek that kind of intimacy with God? What He desires to give us through suffering is worth more than what we lose."

My answer, "I would agree as long as we do not ever think that a person who is not suffering must have the intimacy with God that you describe and as long as we do not ever think that a person who is suffering does not have the intimacy with God that you describe. Some who suffer are intimate with God already (think: Jesus!). Some who don't suffer as much do not have intimacy with God. We simply don't know what God is doing in the lives of those around us. We must fight pride if we aren't suffering and despair if we are. Only God knows what He's about."

Last weekend, Gary Nave offered this insight, "'God is near to the brokenhearted' (Psalm 34:18). Some of us get angry when life doesn't work. We're in pain and we think we're broken. But there is a difference in being in pain and being broken. A person in pain demands things from God. A broken person says, 'I don't need things. I need You, God.' God will strip away things from our lives. Broken people don't turn to Him because He's the only thing left. Broken people turn to Him because He's the best thing left."

At CVC this weekend, we'll study Psalm 73:23-28 and learn more.

When good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people

Which bothers you the most?

Bad things happening to good people? Or good things happening to bad people?

I struggled with this issue my second year in pro baseball. I was hitting very poorly. I tried everything to fix it. Extra batting practice. Different techniques. Nothing worked. For a long time, I hit ground ball after ground ball or pop up after pop up. And if I did hit ever a ball hard, it was right at someone. So, I thought, "Maybe this is a spiritual problem." I then read some good books about God, prayed differently, changed churches. But I still couldn’t buy a hit. I was left thinking, "What’s wrong with this picture? I’m one of the good guys, God!" (Now, thinking I'm a "good guy" is another whole issue. Let's not go there... for now.)

What about a teammate named Jeff? He cheated on his wife. He was known for his drinking and for his cussing and for his carousing and for his mocking the things of God. But he had the best year I ever saw a relief pitcher have. 6-0 with a 0.77 ERA. Everything worked. By the end of the season, he was in the show – in the bigs.

I was left wondering, "Why do bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people?"

I’m sure you have your own stories like that. The guy that cheated a client still has a job and you got let go. The spouse that cheated on you is driving a nicer car and living in a nicer house than you. The friend who lied about you and betrayed your friendship is more popular than you ever have been or will be.

So, which bothers you the most?

Bad thing happening to good people? Or good things happening to bad people?

We have to think about this. Some of us go to church on certain weekends because things aren’t going so well in our lives and we are thinking, "If I go to church, maybe God will make life work better for me. So, here I am."

Watch a lot of preaching on TV and you’ll hear, "If you obey these Bible principles – do A plus B plus C – then God will make sure your life works for you." But the reality is this: Good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people. And we're left with a question, "What’s going on, God?"

God has an agenda. And it’s not yours. He is stripping away every idol from your life so that you will see that all you really need is Him – so that you can say like the Psalmist in 73, "None but You."

The followers of Jesus who have the greatest joy and who give God the greatest glory live like this: God – not the job, not the nice car, not the nice house, not popularity, not the big leagues – is my greatest good.

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (3)

Again, more from Brother Lawrence on Practicing the Presence of God. If you know any soldiers, this is special advice for them.

THIRD LETTER: For a soldier friend whom he encourages to trust in God.

We have a GOD who is infinitely gracious, and knows all our wants. I always thought that He would reduce you to extremity. He will come in His own time, and when you least expect it.

Hope in Him more than ever: thank Him with me for the favours He does you, particularly for the fortitude and patience which He gives you in your afflictions: it is a plain mark of the care He takes of you; comfort yourself then with Him, and give thanks for all.

I admire also the fortitude and bravery of M. GOD has given him a good disposition, and a good will; but there is in him still a little of the world, and a great deal of youth. I hope the affliction which GOD has sent him will prove a wholesome remedy to him, and make him enter into himself; it is an accident very proper to engage him to put all his trust in Him, who accompanies him everywhere: let him think of Him the oftenest he can, especially in the greatest dangers.

A little lifting up the heart suffices; a little remembrance of GOD, one act of inward worship, though upon a march, and sword in hand, are prayers which, however short, are nevertheless very acceptable to GOD; and far from lessening a soldier’s courage in occasions of danger, they best serve to fortify it.

Let him then think of GOD the most he can; let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise; nobody perceives it, and nothing is easier than to repeat often in the day these little internal adorations.

Recommend to him, if you please, that he think of GOD the most he can, in the manner here directed; it is very fit and most necessary for a soldier, who is daily exposed to dangers of life, and often of his salvation. I hope that GOD will assist him and all the family, to whom I present my service, being theirs and yours.

Friday, June 05, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (2)

More from Brother Lawrence's Practice of the Presence of God...

SECOND LETTER: Difference between himself and others. * Faith alone consistently and persistently. * Deprecates this state being considered a delusion.

For the first years, I commonly employed myself during the time set apart for devotion, with the thoughts of death, judgement, hell, heaven, and my sins. Thus I continued some years applying my mind carefully the rest of the day, and even in the midst of my business, to the presence of GOD, whom I considered always as with me, often as in me.

At length I came insensibly to do the same thing during my set time of prayer, which caused in me great delight and consolation. This practice produced in me so high an esteem for GOD, that faith alone was capable to satisfy me in that point.

Such was my beginning; and yet I must tell you, that for the first ten years I suffered much: the apprehension that I was not devoted to GOD, as I wished to be, my past sins always present to my mind, and the great unmerited favours which GOD did me, were the matter and source of my sufferings.

During this time I fell often, and rose again presently. It seemed to me that the creatures, reason, and GOD Himself were against me; And faith alone for me. I was troubled sometimes with thoughts, that to believe I had received such favours was an effect of my presumption, which pretended to be at once where others arrive with difficulty; at other times that it was a wilful delusion, and that there was no salvation for me.

When I thought of nothing but to end my days in these troubles (which did not at all diminish the trust I had in GOD, and which served only to increase my faith), I found myself changed all at once; and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her centre and place of rest.

Ever since that time I walk before GOD simply, in faith, with humility and with love; and I apply myself diligently to do nothing and think nothing which may displease Him. I hope that when I have done what I can, He will do with me what He pleases.

As for what passes in me at present, I cannot express it. I have no pain or difficulty about my state, because I have no will but that of GOD, which I endeavour to accomplish in all things, and to which I am so resigned, that I would not take up a straw from the ground against His order, or from any other motive but purely that of love to Him.

I have quitted all forms of devotion and set prayers but those to which my state obliges me. And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.

In short, I am assured beyond all doubt, that my soul has been with GOD above these thirty years. I pass over many things, that I may not be tedious to you, yet I think it proper to inform you after what manner I consider myself before GOD, whom I behold as my King.

I consider myself as the most wretched of men, full of sores and corruption, and who has committed all sorts of crimes against his King; touched with a sensible regret I confess to Him all my wickedness, I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favourite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence.

My most usual method is this simple attention, and such a general passionate regard to GOD; to whom I find myself often attached with greater sweetness and delight than that of an infant at the mother’s breast: so that if I dare use the expression, I should choose to call this state the bosom of GOD, for the inexpressible sweetness which I taste and experience there. If sometimes my thoughts wander from it by necessity or infirmity, I am presently recalled by inward motions, so charming and delicious that I am ashamed to mention them.

I desire your reverence to reflect rather upon my great wretchedness, of which you are fully informed, than upon the great favours which GOD does me, all unworthy and ungrateful as I am.
As for my set hours of prayer, they are only a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I consider myself there, as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.

At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all my spirit and all my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine; and it continues as it were suspended and firmly fixed in GOD, as in its centre and place of rest.

I know that some charge this state with inactivity, delusion, and self-love: I confess that it is a holy inactivity, and would be a happy self-love, if the soul in that state were capable of it; because in effect, while she is in this repose, she cannot be disturbed by such acts as she was formerly accustomed to, and which were then her support, but would now rather hinder than assist her.

Yet I cannot bear that this should be called delusion; because the soul which thus enjoys GOD desires herein nothing but Him. If this be delusion in me, it belongs to GOD to remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me: I desire only Him, and to be wholly devoted to Him.

Is counting wrong?

One thing that has puzzled people is why David's census of the people recorded in II Samuel 24 was judged so harshly by God.

This story is one reason why some Christian leaders refuse to count the number of people in attendance at a church or a service. Other leaders say, "We count people because people count." Who's right?

Perhaps a look at a previous passage in the OT might help. "When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them" (Exodus 30:12, ESV).

The ESV Study Bible says, "The fact that the ransom is explained as averting a plague warns Israel against allowing a census to replace their dependence upon the Lord."

In II Samuel, one of David's officers, Joab, must have known the Exodus text. He knew that if David took a census it would be wrong. "Joab said to the king, 'May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?'" (II Samuel 24:3).

Again, the ESV Study Bible says, "By numbering the people for military purposes, David apparently showed lack of trust in the Lord to supply the necessary men when needed, and wrongful pride in the hundreds of thousands of forces at his command."

The Bible has many instances of numbering the people. A whole book in the Bible is even called "Numbers." So, counting people isn't necessarily wrong.

But when counting displays a misplaced trust in numbers rather than God, when adding up how many people are attending becomes a source of pride, and when adding up the number of people becomes a source of one's identity, then it's sin. And according to this text, it' will be judged.

So, any time a Christian leader counts and looks at numbers, he or she better do so with great caution.

God, save us from misplaced trust, from pride, and from finding our identity in anything other than Christ!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

How Brother Lawrence lived like God-is-now-here (1)

Brother Lawrence (c. 1614 - 12 February 1691) was a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery, who is today most commonly remembered for the closeness of his relationship to God as recorded in the classic Christian text, The Practice of the Presence of God. The book contains a series of letters in which Brother Lawrence expresses the disciplines he practiced to live like God-is-now-here.

I have read through this little book several times during my life in Christ. I will post a series of exerpts from this classic to help us live like God-is-now-here.

***

First Letter: How the habitual sense of God’s Presence was found.

Since you desire so earnestly that I should communicate to you the method by which I arrived at that habitual sense of GOD’s Presence, which our LORD, of His mercy, has been pleased to vouchsafe to me; I must tell you, that it is with great difficulty that I am prevailed on by your importunities; and now I do it only upon the terms, that you show my letter to nobody. If I knew that you would let it be seen, all the desire that I have for your advancement would not be able to determine me to it. The account I can give you is:

Having found in many books different methods of going to GOD, and divers practices of the spiritual life, I thought this would serve rather to puzzle me, than facilitate what I sought after, which was nothing but how to become wholly GOD’s.

This made me resolve to give the all for the All: so after having given myself wholly to GOD, to make all the satisfaction I could for my sins, I renounced, for the love of Him, everything that was not He; and I began to live as if there was none but He and I in the world.

Sometimes I considered myself before Him as a poor criminal at the feet of his judge; at other times I beheld Him in my heart as my FATHER, as my GOD: I worshipped Him the oftenest that I could, keeping my mind in His holy Presence, and recalling it as often as I found it wandered from Him.

I found no small pain in this exercise, and yet I continued it, notwithstanding all the difficulties that occurred, without troubling or disquieting myself when my mind had wandered involuntarily.

I made this my business, as much all the day long as at the appointed times of prayer; for at all times, every hour, every minute, even in the height of my business, I drove away from my mind everything that was capable of interrupting my thought of GOD.

Such has been my common practice ever since I entered into religion; and though I have done it very imperfectly, yet I have found great advantages by it. These, I well know, are to be imputed to the mere mercy and goodness of GOD, because we can do nothing without Him; and I still less than any.

But when we are faithful to keep ourselves in His holy Presence, and set Him always before us, this not only hinders our offending Him, and doing anything that may displease Him, at least wilfully, but it also begets in us a holy freedom, and if I may so speak, a familiarity with GOD, wherewith we ask, and that successfully, the graces we stand in need of.

In fine, by often repeating these acts, they become habitual, and the presence of GOD is rendered as it were natural to us.

Give Him thanks, if you please, with me, for His great goodness towards me, which I can never sufficiently admire, for the many favours He has done to so miserable a sinner as I am. May all things praise Him.

Amen.

Earth has nothing I desire besides You, Lord

I will be teaching from Psalm 73 this coming weekend. An interesting verse is verse 25: "Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you."

In a world with so many distractions and so many things to enjoy, is it really possible to live that way?

In preparation for the message, I read from Randy Alcorn’s book, Heaven. His thoughts might help you see how this is possible and it might instruct you on how to connect the dots from God's gifts to God Himself so that all of your life is worship and preparation for the life to come.

***

[The Psalmist] says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you” (Psalm 73:25). This may seem an overstatement—there’s nothing on Earth this man desires but God? But he’s affirming that the central desires of our heart are for God. Yes, we desire many other things—but in desiring them, it is really God we desire. Augustine called God “the end of our desires.” He prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

Suppose you’re sick. Your friend brings a meal. What meets your needs—the meal or the friend? Both. Of course, without your friend, there would be no meal; but even without a meal, you would still treasure your friendship. Hence, your friend is both your higher pleasure and the source of your secondary pleasure (the meal). Likewise, God is the source of all lesser goods, so that when they satisfy us, it’s God himself who satisfies us. (In fact, it’s God who satisfies you by giving you the friend who gives you the meal.)

God isn’t displeased when we enjoy a good meal, marital sex, a football game, a cozy fire, or a good book. He’s not up in Heaven frowning at us and saying, “Stop it – you should only find joy in me.” This would be as foreign to God’s nature as our heavenly Father as it would be to mine as an earthly father if I gave my daughters a Christmas gift and started pouting because they enjoyed it too much. No, I gave the gift to bring joy to them and to me—if they didn’t take pleasure in it, I’d be disappointed. Their pleasure in my gift to them draws them closer to me. I am delighted that they enjoy the gift.

All secondary joys are derivative in nature. They cannot be separated from God. Flowers are beautiful for one reason—God is beautiful. Rainbows are stunning because God is stunning. Puppies are delightful because God is delightful. Sports are fun because God is fun. Study is rewarding because God is rewarding. Work is fulfilling because God is fulfilling.

We shouldn’t ignore or minimize God’s lavish, creative gifts, but we should enjoy them and express heartfelt gratitude to God for all of life’s joys. When we do this, instead of these things drawing us from God, they draw us to God.

Every day we should see God in his creation: in the food we eat, the air we breathe, the friendships we enjoy, and the pleasures of family, work, and hobbies. Yes, we must sometimes forgo secondary pleasures, and we should never let them eclipse God. And we should avoid opulence and waste when others are needy. But we should thank God for all of life’s joys, large and small, and allow them to draw us to him.


That’s exactly what we’ll do in Heaven... So, why not start now?

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

on the presence of God in hell

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked at the UpClose Saturday evening service about the omnipresence of God and hell. "How can God be in hell? Isn't hell the absence of God?"

In corresponding with someone who had questions and concerns about my answer, I was introduced to R.C. Sproul's thoughts on this topic. This emphasizes what I wrote about this topic a few days ago.

"It is common to say that hell is the absence of God. Such statements are motivated in large part by the dread of even contemplating what hell is like. We try often to soften that blow and find a euphimism to skirt around it.

"We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.

"When we use the imagery of the Old Testament in an attempt to understand the forsakenness of the lost, we are not speaking of the idea of the departure of God or the absence of God in the sense that He ceases to be omnipresent. Rather, it’s a way of describing the withdrawal of God in terms of His redemptive blessing.

"It is the absence of the light of His countenance. It is the presence of the frown of His countenance. It is the absence of the blessedness of His unveiled glory that is a delight to the souls of those who love Him, but it is the presence of the darkness of judgment. Hell reflects the presence of God in His mode of judgment, in His exercise of wrath, and that’s what everyone would like to escape.

"I think that’s why we get confused. There is withdrawal in terms of the blessing of the radical nearness of God. His benefits can be removed far from us, and that’s what this language is calling attention to."

R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2007), pp. 157-158.

Again, let's let this terrifying truth about hell motivate us to share the gospel more boldly. May we all say, like my old friend, NFL star Reggie White, from my FCA days used to say, "I'm just a nobody telling everybody about Somebody who can save anybody..." from hell.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Jim Ungrady's story

Coming to Christ

My whole life revolved around accumulating “stuff”. I thought that stuff would make me happy. A better job, a nicer car, a bigger house, new golf clubs, a new flat panel TV. I found that I was “happy” for a very short period of time each time I got new “stuff”, then I would start thinking about the next thing I would get, believing that next new thing would be the “stuff” that would finally make and keep me happy.

I also believed that God kept a score card and if you did enough good things, then you would go to heaven. I gave to charities (but never gave of my time or talent in God’s name).

I worked with a person who seemed much happier and peaceful than me and said they were “a Christian.” We would talk about our beliefs and about what it meant to be broken and to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. My work colleague encouraged me to read the bible (which I never did) and consider getting involved with a church where the teachings were bible based (which I also ignored).

After more off and on discussions about our beliefs over a several month period, my work colleague sent me an email with the link to the CVC website and came into my office, gave me information about a bible study class and encouraged me attend at least 1 bible study. Wanting to be polite, I said I would check out the bible study. I thought, "OK I’ll go one time, see a bunch of 'born again Christians' that I would have nothing in common with and that would be the end of that."

My journey to accepting Jesus began at that first bible study. I was warmly welcomed by the leader and the other men in attendance. The guys I assumed would be nerds, or Jesus freaks, were anything but that. I was stunned by the passion and love some of the men had for our Lord. For the first time in my life I was actually reading the bible. I began to learn from the bible and learn from the other men about how they came to know and accept Jesus; some of the stories were amazing, how God worked in their lives.

I continued to attend the bible study for several months. Over that time period I could feel the Holy Spirit working in me and I felt I was getting to know Jesus better and to understand the awesome sacrifice Jesus made, dying for my sins, so I could be saved. I still can’t believe God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to suffer and die for me. I still attend bible study, now 6 years after that first time, and have accepted Jesus as my Lord and Savior.

Now, collecting a bunch of material things isn’t important anymore. People who know me see a change in me and how I lead my life. I now can call myself a Christian. I’ve started to give of my time and talent to help others (not nearly enough) and, guess what, that gives me more happiness than any golf club, TV, GPS, iPod or any other gadget I’ve ever purchased.

I’m tested every day, and sometimes fail, but with the help of the Holy Spirit I get back on track. I’m so thankful that the Holy Spirit worked through the people that witnessed to me and helped me accept Jesus as my savior.

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