Monthly Archives: March 2013

The Greatest Story

I find it helpful to regularly summarize the gospel in different formats. It stirs and nourishes my soul and helps me to know and love the good news of Jesus our Lord. I want to constantly grow in my understanding and application of it. Don’t you?

Below is a gospel summary that I have been using for about a year now. I like it because it captures the transcendence of the gospel by way of biblical, historical narrative. The format below captures God’s redemptive plan from beginning to end as the greatest story ever told.

GOD – In the beginning God created everything and it was very good (Gen. 1:1 and 1:31). Creation means God has authority, and when combined with his goodness as creator, we understand God to be holy. God is holy, holy, holy!

MAN – As a part of this perfect creation, God created male and female and gave them everything they needed (Genesis 2:15-18). But they decided not to trust God, believed a lie and tried to be like God (Gen. 3:1-6). We all have gone astray in this way (Isa. 53:6 and Rom. 3:23). The Lord God, however, has lovingly pursued humans (Gen. 3:9-11) and promised to redeem (Gen. 3:15) and bless those who would trust Him (Gen. 12:1-3).

JESUS – In the Old Testament God promises a Forever King (1 Chronicles 17:11-14) who will be a Suffering Servant (Isa. 53:4-6) to take away the sins of man (Isa. 53:10-12).  In the New Testament this Servant King comes and lives perfectly, dies in our place and rises again, overcoming sin and death (1 Cor. 15:3-8; Gal. 3:13-14).

What Jesus did for us is good news about bad news. What Jesus finished for God’s glory and our good is the gospel proper. I want to be clear, the gospel is not what I have, can or will do. It is what Jesus has done!

RESPONSE – The gospel of Jesus demands a response. Jesus Christ lived and died so that whoever would believe in Him would not perish but have eternal life. Jesus did the righteous work of God for us and we must repent toward God and believe in our Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21). We can either receive what Christ has done or reject Him. We can trust God or trust ourselves. In the end, there are only two options.

RESULT – When we trust in the finished work of Christ: 1) We are justified; set free from past sin and shame. 2) We are sanctified; given the Holy Spirit and God begins freeing us from present sin. 3) We will be glorified; God will forever restore us and the creation to His original design (Rev. 21 and 22). This is good news.

What is the gospel? The gospel is the story of good news for sinful and guilty people.

Do you believe it? Then receive it by grace through faith. 

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Everyone Has One

Not everyone will admit it, but everyone has one.

No, not opinions. A savior or even saviors.

Any person who is paying attention will tell you there is something wrong with the world and the people who inhabit it, and if they are honest they will even admit there is something wrong with them.

So what’s the solution to the ills that plague us and confound us? How do we deal and cope?

It depends on who you ask, but the answer reveals who or what the person is trusting in and ultimately it reveals who or what is functioning as their savior. Everyone has a functional savior they trust and look to for help and deliverance.

Here are some broad categories in which you might find a functional savior:

  • Escapes. These could be a number of things including: Video games, vacations, weekends, drugs and alcohol, movies, books, sleep, hobbies, sports, etc. Barry Trammel, Sports Columnist for the Daily Oklahoman, affirmed this when he said, “The very best thing about sports is escapism.” Anything or person that helps a person escape reality and responsibility has become a functional savior. An escape might even be something like a divorce which allows the person to leave behind an unhappy relationship commitment. Again, not all of these things are bad and we might even say they can be good, but when we lean on them more than we trust God and live according to His covenant instruction, we know we have an idol problem. 
  • Experts. These are people who are going to fix things for us. These are people we trust to make life better. They include politicians, doctors, role models, parents, clergy, counselors, lawyers, financial advisers, the opposite sex, etc. Once again, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with any of these people and their roles, but when we place them above God; when we seek them and consult with them more than we do the Great Architect and Physician, then we know we have a functional savior.
  • Dreams. This category is characterized by thoughts that start with an “If only…” If only this happened, or I had this thing, or some person did this one act for me.  These functional savior dreams might include: a dream job, a dream house, a dream relationship, a dream family, a dream salary, a dream invention, a dream society, etc. These kinds of unrealized ideals serve as saviors because they sustain us for at least a while, but even when the “if only” becomes a reality, it’s not enough and a new dream is coveted. People who struggle in this category have a hard time with Godly contentment toward the treasures of this earth.

And this is the beauty of the real and ultimate Savior, Jesus Christ; He can presently and will forever save us. And when He does save us by trusting Him, He puts all of these others things in their proper place so that we can enjoy them (Matt. 6:33) and not be disappointed when we are forced to leave them behind as a part of this broken world. If we try to use them to seek ultimate enjoyment, they will let us down and rob us of what we are truly seeking.

“Almighty God, You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find rest in You.” Augustine of Hippo

Childcare and the Ministry of Assurance

Mary Berry

When Lacey and I became new parents, we were ultra-protective of Luke – probably to a fault in many instances. It was obvious to us that no one could take better care of the little guy than we could.

It’s hard not to make idols out of ourselves as parents, and it’s hard not to idolize our children. One of the solutions to parenting idolatry is to trust God by trusting our brothers and sisters who are also indwelt by the Holy Spirit and desire to serve us as a part of the local church. After all, if you can’t trust your church family, who can you trust?

But this is the major sticking point, isn’t it? Can other people be trusted with our most important possession(s)?

A personal story might connect.

I remember dropping Luke off at the nursery of the local church we called our faith family. The very young man who greeted us at the door (if you would call it a greeting), did not inspire much confidence. Of course, there were other and more seasoned folks in the room, but if a foot is to be put forward, shouldn’t it be the best foot? The young man meant well, but meaning well isn’t a whole lot of consolation to young and nervous parents. We needed someone to be a minister of assurance. We needed to see that we could trust others with our pride and joy.

If you are parent with a pulse, you have probably experienced the same thing and the thing that you most desired was to be assured that your child was in good hands.

One of the most important ministries that any local church has is the ministry of assurance to parents as a part of the children’s ministry. What then should be the attitudes and actions that would give assurance to parents that their children are safe and secure from all alarm?

  • Parent Perspective. The children’s ministry is also a parent ministry. We are not just taking care of someone’s kid, but we are ministering to the parent by partnering with them to love and disciple their child.
  • Courtesy. The parent should be acknowledged with eye contact and a verbal greeting that is warm and reassuring. It would probably be best if the worker/teacher walked to the door to receive the child and address the parent. 
  • Jesus’ Attitude. The parent should observe the worker/teacher greet the child in a warm and loving way. Did not Jesus model for us the way we ought to treat the little children (Matt. 19:13-15)? It is worth noting that one of our Eagle Heights Expectations is that we will treat our youngest and oldest with special honor (1 Cor. 12:22-26).
  • Communicate. Upon pick-up, the worker/teacher should communicate what the child did and how the child did. Parents want to know how and what their child is doing.
  • Respect. Especially in the nursery, the worker/teacher should honor the scheduling and feeding requests of the parent.
  • Punctuality and Dependability. It’s important to be early because when parent and child arrive before the worker/teacher it communicates something. People keep commitments that they value and time is a reference point for commitments. Additionally, when someone doesn’t show up, it causes scrambling and scrambling doesn’t produce assurance.
  • Think About Yourself. Jesus shows His genius when He tells us in Matthew 7:12, “In everything (including children’s ministry), therefore, treat people (parents and children) the same way you want them to treat you.” We all want to be treated well and if we took Jesus’ words to heart, we would surely do all the above, because that’s the way we would want to be treated.
  • Consider God’s Glory. We must always be asking if our actions and attitudes glorify God through Jesus.
  • Memorize Galatians 6:9. Ministry is hardly ever convenient and easy, but it can presently be worth it and will certainly one day be worth it (Galatians 6:9).

If we would examine our hearts in light of these attitudes and actions, our children’s ministry would good for worker, parent and child. May God give us the strength not to settle for less than God’s best in all that we do – including ministering to parent and child.

Worship and Idolatry; Thoughts and Diagnostic

We were created worship (Genesis 1:26-28) and so we will worship. This truth is self-evident.

apple idolatryWe inevitably assign ultimate value to something and this is worship.

Therefore, we will worship God or will worship the creature/creation. The worship of God is true worship and the worship of anything else that God has created is idolatry.

We can see this in Bible narrative from the very beginning and therefore make several propositional (truth) statments about worship and idolatry.

  1. In the beginning the Holy and Triune God Created (Genesis 1:1) the heavens and the earth and everything in them.
  2. He created the creation to display and reveal His glory and the creation was good (Genesis Ch. 1).
  3. He also created man as a distinct part of that creation to worship God by faith (Genesis Ch. 1 and 2) and enjoy the creation by honoring God and giving thanks (Romans 1:21).
  4. Therefore, when God is worshiped, mankind enjoys creation righteously.
  5. But when the creation and creature are worshiped, the created design is suppressed (Romans 1:18), and man worships the creation because mankind was created to worship. 
  6. Idolatry is self-worship (Isaiah 44:9-20). Bottom line: We trust God or ourselves. Though we may assign value to another object or idea, we are ultimately valuing and trusting ourselves because we have decided what is worthy of worship. This is a paradox of sorts because it looks as if the idol is the object of our worship. But who decided it was of ultimate value when God has told us that He is the most valuable being in the creation?
  7. The Fall-Out: Moral Chaos (Romans 1:24-30). With each person deciding their own moral standard by which they make decisions about what is ultimately valuable, moral chaos ensues. We should not be surprised when we see the chaos. With more than 6 billion people on planet earth acting as their own god, we get a lot of moral standards instead of one.

A Idolatry Diagnostic: FAD 

If we don’t carefully define worship and idolatry then we might conclude that we are not idolaters since most of us are probably not housing any little wooden or stone idols. Idolatry is making a good thing a god-thing. Idolatry is assigning ultimate value to anything that is not God. How then do we identify idols? FAD.

  • Fear. What do you fear? What controls or paralyzes you because you are afraid of losing it or not having it? “One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life because we are dependent on that object.” Tim Keller
  • Anger. Anger can be a Godly response when exercised in a Godly way for Godly reasons. But if there is something that easily offends you, or sets you off regularly, then that thing or person is probably controlling you in an idolatrous way. People tend to get angry about things that they value, but don’t get angry about what they don’t value. Is that thing you get angry about more valuable than God says it is? 
  • Dear. What do we spend the most time and money on? What is it that we can’t live without? Football, clothes, a big home, a new car, hunting, reputation, food,  control, or a pet? Any object or idea/dream? If we hold anything more dear than God and His glory, then it is probably an idol. For instance, Americans spent billions of dollars last year on Christmas presents for their cats. We spent over $40 billion on our pets – more than movies, video games and music combined. 

Solution 

  • Acknowledge that you, like the rest of us, are an idolater and then turn to Christ by grace through faith. Repent and believe in Christ alone. Trust God and not yourself.
  • If you are a Christian who has an idol, start by praising God (Romans 1:25c). Don’t just admit the problem, do the right thing immediately. Value God with your thoughts and actions.
  • Guard yourself from going back to an idol with regular self-examination. Use the FAD diagnostic and ask others to speak into your life. We are always in danger of going back to the very thing Jesus saved us from. Trust in Jesus and He will put everything in its proper place.

Raccoons and Wrath

We humans come up with some fantastical theories and ideas regarding existence and where it might be headed.

In Romans 1:18-23 Paul asserts that everyone is under the wrath of God and will experience the wrath of God (a part from faith in Christ)  because they suppress the truth and speculate that there is no God. Paul says God’s existence is irrefutably evident because the creation makes visible the invisible God. So instead of worshiping God, people concoct futile speculations to explain God away (Rom 1:21). Some people are headed for God’s wrath because they ignored God and worshiped people, animals and stuff, committing idolatry.

Some would say Paul and Christians like him are delusional to think this.

What about this possibility?

racoonsThe History Channel aired a show called, How the Earth Made Man, in which a New York University Professor of Biology describes what might happen if the earth was struck by a cataclysmic event like a Texas-sized asteroid or a “super volcano.” Once humans have become extinct he offers this possible scenario.

“Evolution will start working on the survivors and I might vote for raccoons. They have very nice hands and they are pretty smart, and if they manage to survive the next mass extinction, maybe they would go on to invent or reinvent technology and all the things human beings have done.”

I realize that given enough time a lot of strange things can happen, but that seems like a huge leap of faith (speculation). Of course, this also clarifies how this particular professor thinks humans came to be in the first place –  A lot can supposedly happen in 4.5 billion years.

I was sharing this little anecdote with a close friend of mine over lunch and he responded: “Buddy, raccoons are not that smart. I have trapped about 30 of them this year and sold their skins.”

Hmm. If they can’t escape the primitive trap of my friend, how will they escape a mass extinction event? Oh, yes, I almost forgot, evolution will shape the raccoons or whatever is left to the design of the theory.

So we have two different men with two different worldviews. Paul was an intelligent and well-educated man (Acts 26:24). The aforementioned professor is undoubtedly an intelligent man. One of them is right about where we came from and where we are going. One of them is wrong. Which one is more fantastical?

I wish for no one to experience the wrath of God, but it is apparent that some people are asking for it when they have more faith in raccoons than they do in the God who created them.

The same Paul that wrote of the wrath of God on the unrighteous also used creation as evidence in 14:15-17. May we follow his example in boldly pleading with people to escape the wrath to come by pointing to the God of creation.

“Men, why are you doing these things things? ….Turn from these vain things to the living God, Who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet God did not leave Himself without witness, in that he did good and gave rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”