Religion

Let Us Consider: Neglecting to Meet Together

CW2

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

I’m sure these are verses that we all have heard quoted many times, especially by preachers who are trying to guilt us into coming to church. Let me say right now before we go any further, I don’t want to guilt you into going to church. I tell folks all the time, even the folks that I pastor, that it is not my job to beg people to come to church. Sure, I want you to know that I want you there. Yes, I want you to know that the doors are always open. Please, know that everyone is welcome. But, I will never beg you to come to church nor will I make you feel guilty for not being there.

Does this mean that I don’t think church is important? Absolutely not. There are few things in this world and in our Christian lives that are more important than worshiping corporately with fellow believers. In fact, as this passage from Hebrews shows us very clearly, corporate worship is a command from God. We are to “not neglect to meet together…” Why? So that we can stir one another up to good works, and encourage each other.

Likewise, in Ephesians 4 the Apostle Paul gives another powerful illustration of what is accomplished through the local church. Paul says that the saints are equipped…”for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

The picture we have throughout the Bible, ALL of the Bible, is that believers WILL gather with other believers in order to worship God and to be built up in their faith. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn who God really is. It is through the ministry of the local church that we learn what God has done and is doing through Christ. It is through the local church that believers are built up in their faith, grow in their walk with Christ, and are shaped more into his image. It is through the local church that believers draw close to other believers and build relationships that help them to love God and love others as Christ has called them to love. It is through the local church that believers encourage each other, love each other, and build each other up.

This isn’t just a preacher talking, this is the Word of God talking.

So, no, I don’t want to beg anyone to come to church. But what I do want you to know is that if you aren’t a member of a local church, or if you don’t attend a local church and serve in a local church then your faith WILL suffer. Your Christian life WILL suffer. Your relationship with God WILL suffer. Your knowledge of and affection for the Lord Jesus will not be what it should be. Perhaps most frightening of all…If you are neglecting to meet together with other believers, you are neglecting and disobeying the clear command of the word of God, and this is called sin.

As a pastor, I don’t want to see people coming to church because it strokes my ego, or makes me feel more successful. As a pastor, I want to see people coming to church because I want to see people drawing near to Jesus and growing in their relationship with him.

I was reading this week about the persecution of Christians in many parts of the world, and I was reminded yet again what an amazing privilege we have here in the United States to worship and speak the name of Jesus freely. In other parts of the world there are believers who have to meet in secret, and literally risk their lives to speak, sing, and praise the name of Jesus. Believers in other parts of the world would literally die to do the things that so many of us take for granted, and even neglect.

I said previously that I don’t want to guilt anyone into going to church, and I don’t see it as my job to beg you to do so. Those things may be true, but I do want to leave you with this encouragement: PLEASE, for the sake of your own soul and your relationship with the Lord, find a local church. Attend that local church, join that local church, be faithful and serve that local church. This is the will of God for your life – Scripture commands it, a thriving and vibrant Christian life demands it.

I’d Rather Have Jesus

rather-have-jesus

Jesus asks the question in Mark 8:36, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” The answer, of course, is nothing. There is no profit, no matter how much you gain in this world and in this life if you lose your soul. If you lose your soul…then you lose everything. If you lose your soul, then you lose eternity.

As I contemplate this question from Jesus and the powerful implications, I’m reminded of King Solomon. King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes talks at length about his pursuit of meaning, purpose, joy, and ultimate satisfaction. Solomon in the first two chapters of Ecclesiastes talks about how he pursued meaning in laughter, having a good time, alcohol, his work, possessions, wealth, wisdom, and even sexual pleasure. Yet, in spite of all his pursuits, Solomon arrived at the conclusion that ultimately all of these things he pursued were empty and meaningless. Listen to his own words in Ecclesiastes 2:9-11, “So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all ALL WAS VANITY AND A STRIVING AFTER WIND, and there was NOTHING TO BE GAINED UNDER THE SUN.”

Solomon is basically telling us in these few verses, and really the entire book of Ecclesiastes, “I’ve done it all, I’ve tried it all, and I had it all…yet in spite of all I did and all I had, I found it completely meaningless.” All of Solomon’s pursuits left him empty. He found no lasting and ultimate satisfaction in any of it.

I think the question we all have to ask ourselves in light of these revelations from Solomon is, why.  Why can Solomon not find meaning or satisfaction in any of his earthly pursuits? Well, it’s for the same reason that you or I can’t.

You nor I won’t ever have the wealth of a King Solomon. (Just guessing) You nor I won’t ever possess the earthly wisdom of a King Solomon. You nor I won’t ever have the means to pursue the many things that King Solomon does as we read about his life in Scripture. But the same conclusions that Solomon arrives at in the book of Ecclesiastes are just as true for us as they were for him. You and I won’t ever find ultimate satisfaction, meaning, or purpose in the things of this world.

Why is this? Very simply because we weren’t created to be satisfied by the things of this world.

This doesn’t mean that everything in this world is bad. Laughter and fun is a wonderful thing. Most of us could use more of it in our lives. But it’s not an ultimate thing. It’s not why we were created. A nice house, more money, a lot of possessions can be good things. Wisdom is certainly something that we should all strive for. Even sexual pleasure is a gift from God. But all good gifts must be enjoyed in their proper context and with a proper perspective. The good gifts God gives us must not overshadow the God who has given us the gifts.

Is this because God is some cosmic killjoy who doesn’t want us to have fun? Absolutely not. God wants us to enjoy our earthly existence. It’s why he gives us good gifts. But ultimately those gifts are meant to point us to the ultimate good, which is God himself. God doesn’t want us to settle for the inferior pleasures of this world when he himself offers us the greatest of all pleasures.

Psalm 16:11 says, “…in your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We know from Scripture that at the right hand of God is Jesus. So it is in and through Christ that we find the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

The overwhelming teaching of Scripture is that God is the greatest good, the greatest pleasure, and the greatest joy. Only in a life focused and centered on God will we find true and ultimate meaning, and all of this is found in Christ. These things being true, I find the words of the well-known hymn “I’d Rather Have Jesus” especially pertinent, and my prayer for all of us is that these words would truly be the cry of our hearts:

I’d rather have Jesus than silver or gold;

I’d rather have Jesus than have riches untold;

I’d rather have Jesus than houses or lands;

I’d rather be led by his nail pierced hands

Than to be king of a vast domain and be held in sin’s dread sway.

I’d rather have Jesus than anything, this world affords today.

 

May these words be true for all of us, and may we all live our lives as if it were so.

Getting Religion & Rotten Sinners

 

It has become quite the fashionable thing these days to bash religion. Sadly, this is almost as common amongst Christians as it is non-Christians. I’m sure many of us have heard the phrase, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.”

Don’t get me wrong. I get it. I know what people mean when they utter this phrase. The problem is it’s simply not true, nor is it biblical. The Bible speaks of religion, and not in negative terms. Certainly, there is a wrong way to be religious, and a right way…But isn’t this true of everything? James, the brother of Jesus, in his letter to Jewish Christians says this:

“If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” James 1:26-27

So James here isn’t speaking ill of religion. What James is speaking against is false religion. People who fail to bridle their tongue. People who are outwardly religious, but don’t have the heart to match. People who claim to be religious, yet are not doing the things that Scripture commands of them. As James says in 1:22, we are to be “doers of the word, not hearers only.” Basically, James is referring to people we like to refer to as hypocrites. John the Baptist and Jesus spoke against these same people.

So, you see, religion isn’t the problem. The problem is false religion. The problem is religion that doesn’t come from the heart of one who has been changed by the Gospel of Christ. R. C. Sproul in one of his books defines religion as what springs forth from theology. Another way to say it would be religion is what we do in response to what we believe about God. So, our religion (and ALL of us are religious because we all believe something about God) is our response to God.

Jesus was not anti religion. In fact, Jesus was probably the most religious man in the history of the world. Why? Because he knew God the Father perfectly. In the same way, Jesus being sinless, his response to God was always perfect. Obviously, this isn’t the case with us. Our religion is often very defiled…Our religion is often quite stained by the world and it’s ways. Very rarely do we practice pure religion…because our hearts aren’t pure. Yet, the problem isn’t with religion…the problem is with us.

We are sinful. Sinful to our core. We never graduate from this point. The Apostle Paul referred to himself as the “chief of sinners”, and he did it in the present tense (1 Timothy 1:15). If Paul, one of the Godliest men ever refers to himself as the chief of sinners…what does that make me? In Romans 7 Paul refers to his own struggles with sin and doing what he ought to do. Paul never ceased to be a sinner in his earthly life…Neither will we. This being true, our religion won’t always look like it should. Our churches won’t always look like they should.

So yes, sometimes religion looks pretty ugly. It would be very easy to write it off and say that religion is the problem. The problem is though, like I said, it simply isn’t true nor biblical. The Bible doesn’t tell us to stop being religious, the Bible tells us what religion is supposed to look like. This picture of pure and undefiled religion is what we are to be striving for on this side of eternity. As is always true though, we don’t do it perfectly. This is why we rest in our relationship with Christ.

It is through our relationship with the one who was perfectly religious that our hearts are changed and we are able in some measure to get closer to the biblical picture of right religion.

Becoming a Bad Calvinist

bad calvinist

I suppose the first thing I should clear up is that the title of this post really isn’t very fair. The things I’m going to talk about aren’t isolated to the world of Calvinism. You see it throughout the religious landscape. In fact, many times Calvinists themselves are actually the victims. Yet, Calvinists are my people. Their blogs are the blogs I frequent. Their books are the books I most often find myself reading. Most of my friends are from this tribe. Even doctrinally, I certainly still consider myself within the Calvinistic fold. All of these things being true, this is the world I know, so these are the things I can speak to.

Sadly however, I have recently discovered that I am a bad Calvinist. I guess it’s been happening for a while. I had my own suspicions. The other day a non-Calvinist friend of mine actually told me I was a bad Calvinist. I think it was because he and I agreed on too much stuff…That and I like to quote The Message translation of the Bible. Of course, it was translated by a man(Eugene Peterson) who also considers himself a Calvinist.(He’s a bad Calvinist too though, from what I’ve been told.) Even though my friend accused me of bad Calvinism, I still sort of shrugged it off . It wasn’t until this past week however, that it really hit home. I really am a bad Calvinist.

Why you say? What brought me to that realization? Well, sadly, it seems that many of my Calvinist brethren aren’t happy unless they are critiquing someone’s theology or pointing out the error in it. Certainly there are occasions that warrant this, but it has become increasingly obvious that we can’t even leave the minor points, or maybe it better to say the secondary points, alone. We leave no stone unturned. In fact, we are quite quick to even turn on our fellow Calvinists! The big debate this week has been over law vs. grace. Even though each party agrees on much more than they disagree, if only they would take a minute to listen to each other, but apparently it  has become a major issue of debate. It’s simply the latest issue to be put front and center. In a few weeks there will be another.

We are even quick to point out who are the real Calvinists and who aren’t. I’ve been told on more than one occasion that since I lean Baptist, I’m not really a Calvinist. Baptists can’t really be reformed. Sure, you can have a Calvinistic soteriology, but you aren’t really and truly an honest to goodness Calvinist. Even some Presbyterian denominations are more Presbyterian than others. The old school Calvinists don’t like the “Neo” New Calvinists. Oh, and you have to use the correct translation of the Bible. It’s all gotten quite ridiculous.

A strange thing has been happening with me though. I’ve just kinda stopped caring. I used to be ready to go toe to toe on any theological debate. Like I said, there are still times for it…but when it comes to secondary issues…You know what guys? I’ll let you fight it out. I’m done. With so many people desperate for a breadcrumb from the table of grace, it seems silly for us to be fighting over who gets the biggest portion at the table.

So, there you have it. I confess it…I have become a very bad Calvinist. I pray Jesus might still have mercy on my poor wretched soul.

 

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A Gospel Meditation

I’m not feeling well at all today, so I’m re-posting a slightly edited version of a former blog post. Perhaps someone needs to hear it, and will be blessed today.

 

At a recent bible study the pastor quoted the following definitions for what the Gospel is:

“The Gospel is the good news about the great salvation purchased by Jesus Christ, by which He reconciled sinful men to a holy God.”

–  Lorraine Boettner

“The Gospel is the good news of God’s saving activity in the person and work of Christ. This includes his incarnation in which he took to himself full (yet sinless) human nature; his sinless life which fulfilled the perfect law of God;his substitutionary death which paid the penalty for man’s sin and satisfied the righteous wrath of God; his resurrection demonstrating God’s satisfaction with his sacrifice; and his glorification and ascension to the right hand of the Father where he now reigns and intercedes for the church.”

– Jeff Purswell

After hearing these two quotes I jotted down my own definition of ‘The Gospel’ in my notes…I think it is a sort of meshing of the two together:

“The Gospel is what God has done, and is doing through Christ to redeem and reconcile a sinful people and His creation to Himself”

I’m still meditating on my definition and phraseology, so that may get tweaked…but nevertheless I think it communicates what I believe to be the central message of what the Gospel is, and what it does. My Pastor summed up the Gospel by saying that, “Christ is the Gospel”. John Piper has similarly said, and has even written a book entitled, God Is the Gospel

I rejoice that there seems to be a new awareness of “The Gospel” and what it really is. For so long we simply thought of it as something we needed hear in order to be saved(get to heaven) or a presentation we had to make for someone else to be saved. We thought of “The Gospel” as the entry point into the Christian life, and then we graduated from there and got into the real “meat” of the Christian experience. I rejoice that there is a new attempt at defining what “The Gospel” means, and it’s implications in every area of our life. Books are still being written on the subject of defining “The Gospel”. Just look at the two quotes I posted above…You have one rather short and simple quote, and you have another more detailed and complex quote. This sort of begs the question: “So, is the Gospel simple or complex? How exactly can you define what “The Gospel” is and what it isn’t?”

To the first question I say yes, and yes. The Gospel is both simple and complex. For me that is the beauty of it. It is a well so deep that we can never reach its depths, or exhaust the life giving qualities…yet the simplest among us can come with our dixie cups, and skim from the top enough of it’s living water that we can be eternally secure in Christ. The Gospel is an ocean so deep that we can never plunge it’s depths, yet shallow enough for the smallest, and most timid among us to frolic along the shore with our water wings on. I’m sure those last couple of lines are similar to someone else, and if I knew who, or wanted to take the time I would give them credit…I wanna say C.S. Lewis has said something similar, but honestly right now I have no idea where I’ve read it, or even if it was an original thought.(though I confess I’m not very original…just stay with me for now though) God is so amazing and so vast that He has chosen to reveal Himself in ways that we can understand, yet we will never fully know Him on this side of heaven. I’m thankful I will have an eternity to get to know Him, and to learn His ways…

To the second question I would say you can read all of the definitions I’ve given thus far and have an accurate picture of “The Gospel”. That being said, I don’t know that they completely and fully define it, at least in ways that we completely understand. (Stay with me) The fullest and most accurate definition I would say would be that “God is the Gospel”. Everything that “The Gospel” is, God is. Everything that “The Gospel” does, God does. “The Gospel” was personified in the person of Christ, so in effect(or actuality) Christ is indeed “The Gospel”. That being said though, I think all of our attempts at defining “The Gospel” in human words fall short. Words tend to be exclusionary by nature. If we say something is this, then this can’t be that. But “The Gospel” is so vast, that it includes so much(everything?). So I think any attempt at defining what “The Gospel” is falls short because it is a part of every fabric of our lives…every fabric of our world even. I say this because there is nowhere that God is not active, and nowhere that God is not at work. “The Gospel” I believe is the truth that God is working all things together for His glory, to the completion, and fruition of His plan for all of creation.(Perhaps this is a better definition than the one I gave earlier?)

So many times in our definitions we say that the Gospel is this, but not that. The Gospel is that, but not this. My pastor even said the other night that, and I think this is a John Piper quote, missions is not the Gospel, but a result of the Gospel. I’ve heard others say that social justice is not the Gospel, but an outworking of the Gospel. I say yes, but these things are “The Gospel” because they are the Gospel at work. I believe this to be true of many other things that people say “aren’t the Gospel”. I think it better to say that these things alone are not the Gospel, because the Gospel is so much more. Perhaps this is splitting hairs…perhaps I’m missing something…but hopefully my point is being made.

God is awesome, God is amazing. We can’t fit Him, or His Gospel into a box. Ultimately all of our words fall short in defining Him, and what He is doing. Yet we can know Him, and cling to Him and His Gospel. We can embrace His Gospel, and live it, (at least to the degree in which He enables us to), and let it flow out of us onto and into others. The Gospel truly is good news for a world that so desperately needs it. Let us continue to explore the depths of what His Gospel is…yet know in our hearts, that ultimately His truths are simply too much for our finite minds. But isn’t that what makes Him God? Isn’t that what makes “The Gospel” good news? He brought His vastness down to us…He has given us a glimpse into who He is. He has given us enough to want Him, and desire Him more…He has given us a thirst that only He can quench. Oh how I thirst for you God…

“As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.”

Psalm 42:1-2

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!…
“For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?”
For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11:33-34,36