Archive for October, 2013


Applying 1 John:: 2

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Keeping in Stride

Yesterday I began this week’s series of pulpit posts by sharing the first application from the epistle of 1 John: Believing Prayer (1 John 5:14-15). Today I want to share the second application from John’s conclusion, Loving Carefrontation.

If you see a Christian brother or sister sinning in a way that does not lead to death, you should pray, and God will give that person life. But there is a sin that leads to death, and I am not saying you should pray for those who commit it. All wicked actions are sin, but not every sin leads to death (1 John 5:16-17, NLT).

Verse 16 is important and verse 17 is difficult. I’ll deal with the important part first because that was John’s emphasis.

Loving carefrontation begins with personal observation. Notice he wrote if anyone SEES a brother or sister sinning. John didn’t write, “If anyone HEARS about a brother or sister sinning.” It should be assumed that our observation must be conducted with deep humility. Remember Jesus words from the Sermon on the Mount about pulling the log (doken) out of our own eye before we try to deal with the speck (karphos) from our brother’s eye? (Matthew 7:1-5)

If we observe a brother or sister sinning, our first response is to pray for that person. Prayer keeps our hearts tender and free from judgment of those who sin. It’s virtually impossible to sincerely pray for someone and judge them at the same time.

Our prayer results in God granting life to that person. The goal of all carefrontation is reconciliation and restoration. If that’s not your goal, you’re approaching the situation with the wrong spirit.

Now the difficult part. What is the sin that leads to death that John mentions in verse 17? Needless to say, scholars are divided and unwilling to come down on a firm position. Here are the three most common opinions.

1. John has in mind some specific sin. In Old Testament passages such as Leviticus 4 and Numbers 15, the Bible speaks of sins “of the high hand”, committed with deliberation, that would result in the offender being “cut off” from the community. An illustration of this would be Achan’s disobedience at Jericho. The Roman Catholic Church has something like this in mind by dividing sins into mortal and venial. Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinis described mortal sins as “a disorder of the divine,” and venial sins as “a disorder of the soul.” One of the reasons that this position is compelling is that the first century church carried Judaism through the first century of existence. The didn’t have the New Testament available, so it is possible John is recalling these Old Testament texts.

2. John is describing the apostasy that has taken place among the readers of his letter. Apostasy is understood as the denial and renunciation of Christ and an abandonment of the “faith.”

3. John is referring to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, such as was committed by the Pharisees. This is the deliberate, open eyed rejection of truth.

Whatever John is referencing in verse 17, two things are clear. First, whatever John intended was understood by his original readers and needed no further explanation. Second, we cannot say with any certainty what this “sin that leads to death” is really all about. It would seem unlikely that he is referring to a sin that leads to physical death since the context is spiritual life. Whatever it was, his main point is for us to remember that the Christian community shares mutual ownership of problems, including our sin problems. Tomorrow I’ll make the final post in this series from 1 John and deal with the final application from the book, joyful obedience.

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I saw this today on Jesus Creed and thought it was pretty clever.

12 Reasons Why a Pastor Quit Attending Sports Events

1. The coach never came to visit me.
2. Every time I went, they asked me for money.
3. The people sitting in my row didn’t seem very friendly.
4. The seats were very hard.
5. The referees made a decision I didn’t agree with.
6. I was sitting with hypocrites—they only came to see what others were wearing!
7. Some games went into overtime and I was late getting home.
8. The band played some songs I had never heard before.
9. The games are scheduled on my only day to sleep in and run errands.
10. My parents took me to too many games when I was growing up.
11. Since I read a book on sports, I feel that I know more than the coaches, anyway.
12. I don’t want to take my children because I want them to choose for themselves what sport they like best.

Categories : Humor
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Applying 1 John:: 1

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Keeping in Stride

The first half of the fifth chapter of 1 John summarizes the theological arguments of the book. Here, John explains that genuine faith is composed of three elements: belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; love for one’s Christian brothers and sisters; and obedience to God’s commands. If one or two of those elements are missing, one’s faith is incomplete.

The result of genuine faith is “life in the son” (1 John 5:11-12). As children of God we can be confident that we have life in the son (1 John 5:13). The theological argument is complete. Now what do we do with what we’ve learned? How is it applied and fleshed out in everyday life?

John provides three final points of application as he concludes chapter 5. Each corresponds with a key element of faith, the first of which is believing prayer.

“And we are confident that he hears us whenever we ask for anything that pleases him. And since we know he hears us when we make our requests, we also know that he will give us what we ask for” (1 John 5:14-15, NLT).

John’s emphasis in these verses is that those who possess genuine faith can have confidence in approaching God in prayer. Our confidence is not based on our goodness, but on the goodness of God. The temptation we face is to take verses like these and turn them into a formula that guarantees we will get what we want from God. But notice how God’s response is conditioned. We must ask in accordance to his will. If we ask according to his will, he hears us. The word “hear” means that God will listen favorably. If God hears a request that is in accordance to his will, he will grant it.

John R.W. Stott wrote these words about this text: “Prayer is not so much getting God to agree with us as it is subordinating our will to his. It is the process of prayer where we seek God will, embrace it and align ourselves to it.”

Sometimes I hear people say that prayer changes things. I think a better way to think of prayer is that prayer changes the pray-er.

So how does God answer prayer? I’m thankful for Bill Hybels’ answer. According to Hybels, If the request is wrong, God says, “no.” If the timing is wrong, God says, “slow.” If my spiritual condition is wrong, God says, “grow.” But when the request is right, the timing is right, and my spiritual condition is right, God says, “go!” The request is granted.

Tomorrow I’ll take up the second application, loving carefrontation. (That’s not a typo!)

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Faith Full

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Keeping in Stride

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christa has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too. We know we love God’s children if we love God and obey his commandments. Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome. For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God (1 John 5:1-5, NLT).

I have a birthmark on my right cheek. The people who have noticed it have suspected that it was a birth mark or from some other external force. As time has passed, fewer people notice it because it has faded with age. It has never really bothered me, and I’ve not really bothered to understand why it is there. I’ve simply understood it as something that happened on the day of my birth that has left a permanent mark.

That is the point John tried to convey to his readers as he concluded his epistle. Throughout the first four chapters of 1 John, he has redundantly stated that a life of genuine faith is characterized by three things: the firm belief that Jesus Christ has come from God; the importance of loving our Christian brothers and sisters; and the necessity of obeying God’s commands. These three “birthmarks” are like three legs of a stool. Each has to be in place to support biblical faith. It is insufficient to have any one or even two of the three and claim to have “faith” in God.

And Jesus Christ was revealed as God’s Son by his baptism in water and by shedding his blood on the cross—not by water only, but by water and blood. And the Spirit, who is truth, confirms it with his testimony. So we have these three witnesses— the Spirit, the water, and the blood—and all three agree. Since we believe human testimony, surely we can believe the greater testimony that comes from God. And God has testified about his Son. All who believe in the Son of God know in their hearts that this testimony is true. Those who don’t believe this are actually calling God a liar because they don’t believe what God has testified about his Son (1 John 5:6-10, NLT).

John does not support his claim with facts. Rather, he chose to do so through the testimony of the Spirit, the water, and the blood. We understand the witness of the Spirit. Paul wrote in Romans that “the Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” So what’s this business of water and blood? Augustine and the patristics viewed this as the witness of the death of Christ, citing the closing moments of the crucifixion when the Roman soldier thrust the spear in the side of Christ, producing an outflow of water and blood. Centuries later, reformation fathers Luther and Calvin interpreted these verses sacramentally and believed that the water and blood represented baptism and the eucharist. Modern theologians, however, have provided a more balanced approach, claiming that the water represents the baptism of Christ and the blood represents the death of Christ. In first century thought, the first and the last of anything is inclusive of all that comes between. So we have the testimony of the Spirit alongside the testimony of the ministry of Christ. Since every testimony was to be established by two or three witnesses, John argued that genuine faith is established based on these three elements.

And this is what God has testified: He has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have God’s Son does not have life (1 John 5:10-11, NLT).

Based therefore on these three witnesses, we can be assured that we have genuine faith that results in eternal life. John concludes the section by affirming that “life is in the Son.” I illustrated it on Sunday this way. Suppose I take my pen and place it in my Bible. My pen is in the Bible. If I give you my Bible, what have I also given you? That’s right, my pen. In similar fashion, life is in the Son. If we have the Son, we have eternal life. If we have hope of eternal life, its only because we have found it in the Son of God. And like my birthmark, that life will be evident to all.

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Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway, has an excellent post describing the life cycle of a pastor’s ministry. While he doesn’t cite specific data harvested from research, those of us who have been around the local church for any period of time can attest that Rainer is pretty accurate in his evaluation. You can find the article by CLICKING HERE.

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Staying Put

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Now Elijah, who was from Tishbe in Gilead, told King Ahab, “As surely as the LORD, the God of Israel, lives—the God I serve—there will be no dew or rain during the next few years until I give the word!” Then the LORD said to Elijah, “Go to the east and hide by Kerith Brook, near where it enters the Jordan River. Drink from the brook and eat what the ravens bring you, for I have commanded them to bring you food.” So Elijah did as the LORD told him and camped beside Kerith Brook, east of the Jordan. The ravens brought him bread and meat each morning and evening, and he drank from the brook. But after a while the brook dried up, for there was no rainfall anywhere in the land (1 Kings 17:1-7, NLT).

God sent Elijah to Ahab’s palace to deliver a prophetic word: God’s not happy and its not going to rain. Perhaps Elijah anticipated that his next step would be to take the message to the people in the streets. But God sent him to the Kerith Brook to hide. There, Elijah would be fed by scavenger birds and drink from the brook. His assignment? Wait for further instructions. The Bible doesn’t tell us how long he waited there at the brook. Scholars estimate that he remained there between six months and a year. The remarkable thing is not that Elijah went to the Kerith Brook. Its that he stayed there until God gave him his next move.

Brooks don’t dry up all at once. They dry up little by little. With each passing day, Elijah watched his water supply gradually diminish. The Jordan River was just over the hill, and while it certainly experienced the devastation of the drought as well, it would have certainly have provided a more ample and fresher water source than the brook. But Elijah didn’t pull up the anchor and go to the Jordan. He stayed put and waited for God’s next word. I wonder if I would have done the same thing.

Each of us face circumstances in life when we’re tempted to pull up the anchor and strike out on our own. Heaven is silent to our prayers and we see no visible evidence that God is doing anything about our challenges. When we find ourselves waiting for further instructions we often wrestle with the Jordan River that is just over the hill side. If Elijah modeled anything for us in the early stages of his biography, it was his willingness to stay put and continue to trust God. When God plants us somewhere and tells us to wait, he hasn’t forgotten us. He’s preparing us for the next stage of our lives.

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The 7 Last Words of the Church

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Years ago I heard a speaker remark that the seven last words of the church were, “We’ve never done it this way before.” I thought it was catchy, and to be confessional I even used it a time or three. After nearly three decades in ministry I think I would modify the seven last words of the church to, “We have always done it this way.” Let me explain. In my experience I’ve not found churches to be unwilling to try new things or undertake new ventures. Many churches are willing to experiment, even with a measure of risk provided the resources are available. The real problem is the refusal to let go of the things that have been done year after year after year. I suspect that the resistance to dismount the dead horses is based on a congregational felt need to have consensus. New things are permissible as long as the historical elements of the of ministry are maintained. This keeps the peace and approximates unilateral happiness.

Unfortunately, our need for short term peace comes with a long term price. Over the long haul resources are depleted and exhausted. Churches become slower and less responsive to immediate opportunities. Governance is heightened to ensure that everyone is treated equally. And, increased governance usually means fewer people are available to do the actual work of ministry. It’s hard to recognize this because many families live the same dilemma day in and day out–overcommitted and underbudgeted because we cannot stop ourselves from adding more activity without eliminating present activity. So what can be done?

1. Revisit the mission of the church. Sometimes we get lost on maintaining the clink and clank of church machinery to the exclusion of our real purpose: making disciples. Why do we exist? The answer to that question is the single most important guideline for our practice of ministry.

2. Understand the difference between history and tradition. History speaks of recurrent events in time. Tradition is more about culture, environment and style. It is critical to know the difference! Churches that refuse to stop certain programs and practices usually do so in the name of “tradition.” But its not tradition they advocate…its history. History is predictable, safe, and inflexible. Tradition, on the other hand, is like a fence that outlines the boundaries of a field wherein lies freedom and flexibility.

3. Take a programming fast to evaluate. I recently read of a church that intentionally closed its doors for an extended period of time to become reaquainted with God and one another. When they came back together they learned that there were things they were holding on to that they could live without after all. It also gave them the chance to explore new possibilities unencumbered by the weight of their habitual practices.

4. Commit to simplicity. Bigger is not better, its just more.

5. Find your niche. The church growth movement advocated becoming all things to all people to reach as many people as possible. Just as people have spiritual gifts, I believe churches have spiritual gifts. Find your niche and invest your resources. Its better to specialize in one thing and do it better than anyone else than do six things with mediocrity. If some other church has an outstanding program be kingdom minded enough to affirm it and support it. Don’t try to compete.

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