Thursday, September 17, 2015

Who is the most valuable guy in the church?

I recently read a helpful article on how to spot the most dangerous guy in the church. After giving some marks to identify this person, the main point is that the most dangerous guy in the church is unteachable

I want to take the opposite approach and look at how to identify the most valuable guy in the church, and then boil it down to his most essential quality. I’ve found at least five marks of the most valuable man in the church in the book of James. 

1. He is familiar with suffering and understands it is God’s instrument of growth. 
(Jas 1:2-4) Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

2. He understands that the biggest sin problem is not in others, but his own heart. 
(Jas 1:14-15; 3:13-14) “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.”

3. He knows the destructive power of the tongue and anger, yet has gained control over them.
(Jas 1:26,19-20) If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless.”
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”

4. He treats others equally and is not filled with jealously or self-centered ambition.
(Jas 2:1; 3:14-15) “My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.”
But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”

5. He is humbled by the high calling to teach and does not seek it for his own ego, and may not seek it at all.
(Jas 3:1)Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”

Take away
If the most dangerous guy in the church is marked by an unteachable spirit, the most valuable guy in the church is marked by his humble spirit. He has been humbled by suffering and sanctification. He shows humility in relationships and humility before the Word. 

He is humble and accepts that his greatest calling is simply to serve God and Christ (Jas 1:1). He is content if his life reflects that priority, even if he has very few fans and followers. He is not seeking to be valuable, since he is confident that his greatest value is found in the gospel. 

*All Scripture references are from the ESV

Friday, July 3, 2015

The Proud Irony in the LGBTQ Rainbow

Last week on Friday the Supreme Court issued their ruling legalizing same-sex marriage in the U.S.  Based on the authority of Scripture, I can not celebrate this since it approves homosexual behavior, which God revealed as morally wrong in his Word (Lev 18:22, Rom 1:26-28, 1 Cor 6:9). I stand with other evangelicals who believe that marriage is designed to be the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong covenant. 

But many people were celebrating this over the past week. I noticed how social media lit up with rainbows.  Even the White House website was decorated this way. Some people changed their Facebook profiles to a rainbow enhanced picture of themselves. 

What I’ve found interesting for awhile is the symbol that the gay pride movement has chosen for its brand is a rainbow.  It’s supposed to show the diversity of the LGBTQ community. It has been around since 1978. 

The rainbow that we occasionally see in the sky has been around since the Flood of Genesis (Gen 6-9). The Flood was an act of God’s judgment on the world because of the increasing sinful depravity of humanity (Gen 6:5-7).  The only part of creation spared was Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark.  After the floodwaters abated, the Lord gave the rainbow as a covenant sign to humanity that he would never destroy the earth again (Gen 9:21).  Even though humanity will continue in wickedness, the Lord God will never send out a catastrophic judgment of this magnitude.  The fact that farmers continue to plant and harvest shows that he has kept the promise to this day. 

The Hebrew word used in Genesis is literally a bow (see Gen 9:13 in ESV, KJV or NASB); this reminds us of the bow a warrior uses in battle.  The imagery is striking. God the Creator hangs his bow of judgment up that he just used against all his creation. 

The gay pride movement did not “create” the rainbow as a stamp of diversity.  God, who also created marriage, created the rainbow as a symbol of his covenant with humanity.  Biblically informed people, when they see a rainbow, remember that sinful depravity brings about God’s swift judgment.  They also remember that God provides salvation through his grace, just like he did for Noah and his family.  There is also a reminder of how central marriage is to the narrative of human history.  When God commands Noah to come out of the ark, he also commands his wife, his sons and their wives.  When God begins a new creation with Noah and his family, the foundation again has the institution of male-female marriages and childbearing (Gen 9:1), just like the original creation of Adam and Eve (Gen 1:27-28). 

So the irony of the rainbow is that symbolically it is really packed with meaning in God’s perspective.  It speaks of the human depravity of sin and God’s judgment.  It also says something about how God began a new creation through marriage, male-female relationships, and childbearing.  And most importantly, it speaks the truth that God often does not treat us as our sins deserve (Ps 103:8-10). 

I write this as one who understands my own sinful depravity and need of God’s grace in Christ.  I can only hope that many of those who proudly wave their rainbow flags are able to see the same thing. 

Thursday, April 9, 2015


Some poetic reflection on my priorities right now in life. 

I find these days no time for blogs, 
Yet I’ve not sunk into a miry bog. 

It seems that time just passes by, 
Like words on a screen slip past the eye.

Most things written are easy to forget, 
Even if they seem somewhat legit.  

There are five people to care for at home, 
Created for relationship, longing to be known. 

And the church I pastor here in town, 
Made up of those who will inherit a crown. 

These deserve my best each day, 
As time on this earth is fading away. 

See, blogging has never been an identity for me, 
A child of God I’m content to be.

I’m confident I’ll have little regret, 
Knowing how my life was spent. 

When the time comes for me to retire, 
I hope I was able to inspire. 

Not because of words published on the web, 
But real souls I’ve led and fed. 

Prayer and Word sums up my main task, 
Which means for now, blogging comes in last. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

My Favorite Prayer Resource

So far this year has started off with a focus on prayer in my life and church. The message I preached Sunday was on prayer from Philippians 1:3-11. Our church began a women’s prayer group that went very well from what I heard. The first book on my reading list is Tim Keller’s book on prayer. And in my personal Bible reading, I have been encouraged by Ezra and Nehemiah’s prayers. It is remarkable how God hears and responds to human words in his sovereign power. 

I wanted to suggest one of my favorite resources for personal prayer. Other than the Bible, the most helpful resource has been The Valley of Vision

This is a collection of Puritan prayers from previous generations. Those who appreciate antiquity and depth in the Christian faith will treasure it; others who are prone to novelty and naiveté may not. The language may take some getting used to, but I believe anyone who sticks with it will have a deeper prayer life. 

Several ingredients make for good prayer: contrition, joy, humility, courage, and faith. The Valley of Vision combines all of these in doctrinally rich prayer that makes us think greater thoughts about God. 

Here is one example of the spiritually rich prayers found in this devotional. It is best read slowly, meditatively, and obviously prayerfully.  

The Deeps
Lord Jesus, give me a deeper repentance, a horror of sin, a dread of its approach. Help me chastely to flee it and jealously to resolve that my heart shall be Thine alone.
Give me a deeper trust, that I may lose myself to find myself in Thee, the ground of my rest, the spring of my being. Give me a deeper knowledge of Thyself as saviour, master, lord, and king. Give me deeper power in private prayer, more sweetness in Thy Word, more steadfast grip on its truth. Give me deeper holiness in speech, thought, action, and let me not seek moral virtue apart from Thee.
Plough deep in me, great Lord, heavenly husbandman, that my being may be a tilled field, the roots of grace spreading far and wide, until Thou alone art seen in me, Thy beauty golden like summer harvest, Thy fruitfulness as autumn plenty.
I have no master but Thee, no law but Thy will, no delight but Thyself, no wealth but that Thou givest, no good but that Thou blessest, no peace but that Thou bestowest. I am nothing but that Thou makest me. I have nothing but that I receive from Thee. I can be nothing but that grace adorns me. Quarry me deep, dear Lord, and then fill me to overflowing with living water.

I came to faith in a culture that taught me pretty shallow prayer, so the Valley of Vision has been a great help to move beyond. I’m not sure how long I’ve been using it. I did find a receipt dating back to April 2011 in it as a bookmark, so I know that I was using it before then. 

My practice is to use the prayers in the book as a framework. I don’t just repeat the words, but think through them and pray accordingly in my own words. If you are looking for a new devotional resource to help in your prayer life, then check this classic out. 

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Pornography Use and the Christian

The following statistics are taken from Covenant Eyes website 
  • 50% of Christian men and 20% of Christian women say they are addicted to pornography. 
  • 75% of pastors do not make themselves accountable to anyone for their Internet use. 
  • Regular church attendees are 26% less likely to look at porn, however self-identified “fundamentalists” are 91% more likely to look at porn.
  • 9 out of 10 boys were exposed to pornography before the age of 18.
  • 6 out of 10 girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18. 
  • The first exposure to pornography among men is 12 years old. 
  • 71% of teens hide their online behavior from their parents. 

The problem of pornography use then in regular church attenders is real. Looking at porn regularly makes it extremely difficult to feel close the Lord. Addiction to porn makes is near impossible to worship and serve in the church in a healthy and pure way. 

Regular use of porn will shape how men and women view others: as objects to be used instead of people to love and serve. And yet the Bible teaches us it is essential to have a pure thought life, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8).

Although the problem of regular pornography use cannot be broken easily, the Bible does give us instruction on how to approach sexual sin of any kind, and this is especially true of pornography. The few words from the Apostle Paul are fitting for a highly sexualized culture, “Flee sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18).

There are two Old Testament illustrations of this. One is positive (Joseph), the other negative (David). One was able to flee sexual sin, the other did not. Both of their lives can be instructive to us.

King David: The Failure to Flee 

2 Samuel 11 is the low point in King David’s life. This is the account when David sees a woman bathing, seeks her out, and then sleeps with her. There is a discernible pattern of sight, seeking, and sin that applies here also to porn use. Often there is a porn trigger. Maybe it is some ad on a website that is sexually arousing, or a word pops up after a Google search. Either way if it leads to seeking more out, then sin is at the doorstep. 

David’s failure to flee teaches us several things about what went wrong that can offer help to those who truly want to flee porn use. 

Prayerlessness At his high moments, David is found praying. We get many psalms from him that show his closeness to God. But here prayer is absent. I’m not sure if that is intentional in 2 Samuel or not, but it does stand out. D.A. Carson said, “A prayerless Christian is a disaster waiting to happen.” David was not always prayerless, but here he is and disaster falls in his life. 

Curiosity The bathing woman catches David’s eyes and like any man he is tempted by what he sees. But he takes it further. Again, instead of inquiring of the Lord, he inquires about her. This curiosity leads to David seeking sin out instead of keeping a safe distance. Porn use begins with curiosity. The turning point in fleeing sin seems to begin at the place of curiosity. That is where the proverbial fork in the road appears. We will look at this next time with the example of Joseph.  

Greed The striking thing about David’s adultery with Bathsheeba is the greed it is wrapped in. To understand this better we listen to what Nathan the prophet tells David in 2 Sam 12. He confronts David with a parable about a rich man who steals a poor man’s lamb. David is outraged until he understands the parable is about him! Then he is broken by his sin. Porn is also wrapped in greed. It is not satisfied in the spouse God has given (or will give to those single). Porn always says, “I need more.” 

Next time we will look at Joseph in Gen 39 as a positive model of fleeing sexual sin. For now, we can strive to become those who are more prayerful, less curious and less greedy. Cultivating those traits will certainly aid anyone who truly desires a pure heart that gazes on God and not porn images (Matt 5:8). 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Are You Amazed?

When it comes to church music, I can be kind of old school. I prefer older hymns to newer contemporary praise songs most of the time. An older hymn usually has more depth and is overall more thoughtful on biblical content. Some of the more contemporary praise music in my opinion can sound like something teens write when they are in a superficial dating relationship that does not last long. Again, this is my opinion. 

But whether it is an older hymn or newer praise song, there is a way which all of our songs ought to be sung: with amazement. 

Two older hymns steer us in this direction. Amazing Grace by John Newton, which is familiar to most, and also Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed by Isaac Watts, which may be a little less familiar, but rich with Christ-centered content. Here are the words of amazement that have been sung by throngs throughout generations in the church,  

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, 
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now I’m found, 
was blind but now I see!
(Amazing Grace)

Was it for crimes that I had done, 
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! grace unknown! 
And love beyond degree!
(Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed)

Both of these hymns connect human amazement to God’s grace and mercy poured out on the unworthy sinners who sing. This is how we are to sing about our Savior. The problem with the default setting of our heart is that we can begin to sing without amazement. 

But the gospel should always amaze us! The fact that Jesus Christ came to this world to save unworthy sinners like you and me should never cease to amaze us (1 Tim 1:15). So a good question for us to ask ourselves when we are getting ready to sing: are we still amazed? My generation values transparency in worship. A greater value should be amazement though, for that is when worship is truly directed toward Christ and the gospel.   

And that is the legacy that a couple of dead hymn writers wanted to leave to us. They are now singing in genuine, transparent, perfect, and undistracted amazement. And we are preparing to sing with them in eternal amazement as we sojourn on this earth. 

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Recovering the Sufficiency of Scripture

One thing that is vital for Christians to recover in order to be faithful to God is a firm belief in the sufficiency of Scripture. There are many passing fads. Sometimes Christians get hyped up about them. But only one thing remains necessary for truly knowing God: a commitment to his revealed truth in his Word. 

In other words, the Bible is enough. We don’t have to spend time going to see the latest movie about heaven to learn about it; we already have truth revealed in the Word of God. It is critical that we recover a firm belief in the sufficiency of Scripture to avoid chasing down every passing fad. I believe that a firm adherence to the sufficiency of Scripture is most pleasing to God. 

The following exhortations from Book 1 of John Calvin’s Institutes are helpful reminders of the sufficiency of Scripture, 

“...let us use great caution that neither our thoughts nor our speech go beyond the limits to which the Word of God itself extends....And let us not take into our heads either to seek out God anywhere else than his Sacred Word, or to think anything about him that is not prompted by his Word, or to speak anything that is not taken from the Word...let us remember here, as in all religious doctrine, that we ought to hold to one rule of modesty and sobriety: not to speak, or guess, or even seek to know, concerning obscure matters anything except what has been imparted to us by God’s Word. Furthermore, in the reading of Scripture we ought ceaselessly to endeavor to seek out and meditate upon those things which make for edification. Let us not indulge in curiosity or in the investigation of unprofitable things.”

and a final word for pastors,

“The theologian’s task is not to divert the ears with chatter, but to strengthen consciences by teaching things true, sure, and profitable.”

Sounds like the same advice an older, godly mentor once gave to his successor,

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV).

Obviously, recovering the sufficiency of Scripture means that we spend a lot of our time actually reading, studying, meditating, delighting--and most importantly--obeying the Word of God.