Between Two Worlds

Roughly ten years ago a prominent “fundie” pastor said to me in a conversation:  “We need to stop asking where guys went to school, and who they read.  We need to get back to asking what they believe.”  While I wouldn’t espouse everything in this man’s belief system, he truly bore it out in his ministry-having guys on his staff from five different schools, all reading a breadth of books, and his own children went to a variety of schools. 

Sadly, if I told you this man’s name, I would dare say the point he was making would be muted by some, and magnified by others because of their backgrounds and preferences in ministry.  Here’s the point:  last week I was preaching on James 2:1-13 and IBible_chouraqui became overwhelmed with the reality that Christianity is full of favoritism and being a respecter of persons.  What this has done is create a very divided and terribly confusing world in which “who relates to who” and “who fellowships with who” that has caused a younger generation to say “forget it”.  Depending who you are the names: John Piper, PCC, Paul Chappell, Mark Dever, Bob Jones, Kevin Bauder, FBFI, or Maranatha are all going to elicit a variety of responses, pre-judging, and sadly, the notion that someone outside of my “favoritism” circle can’t be of help or service in helping me think through my orthodoxy or orthopraxy.  

If you find yourself unable to learn from guys and gals more conservative than you, or dismissing what they say because of the school they taught at or conference they preached at, may I warn you of falling to the sin of partiality?  The converse is true also.  I am thankful for guys to the “left” of where I am at and have benefitted from them deeply.  They are writing and thinking in areas that most definitely need to be addressed-and aren’t being addressed by guys to the right.  But sadly, some of the areas we could benefit most from are dismissed because they aren’t in our “stream”.

Sadly, this is just the tip of the ice-berg for our type of Cornith in many of our church fellowships-consumed with who is of Paul, or of Peter, or of Apollos, when ultimately what matters is what you do believe, preach, teach, and practice.  Perhaps, we are so consumed over not being like the other guy, that we have no belief (orthodoxy) or practice (orthopraxy) ourselves, which then leads us to be stuck in a world of mindless carnality.       

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A Few Short Thoughts on Lent

Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, the Lenten season, and Mardi Gras….these are all terms that have quickly entered into the public foray of discussion both amongst unbelievers and believers.  I was first introduced to the idea of Lent some 15 years ago when my dad took my brother and I to a little sandwich shop near his office in Illinois and we had their “Lenten Special” of an egg and pepper sandwich.  (which by the way is still a staple in my regular diet)  Then last year, I engaged a good pastoral friend in a rather lengthy discussion on the subject, and we, at North Country, did a historical and doctrinal study on the subject as well. 

Do I (we, as a family) celebrate Lent?  The short answer-no.  There’s a number of reasons for this, which I would suppose come more from personal convictions and applications of doctrines and principles, rather than an explicit “Thou shalt not”.  Currently, time is short for me to offer an extensive overview as to my “arguments” as to why we don’t, but I will give a couple of short thoughts to think through:

1.  Galatians 2 and 3 make it pretty clear that it is not by “giving anything up” that we achieve right or greater standing before God.  Salvation and sanctification are works of God’s grace, not man’s. 

2.  I have a real issue with the structure at the outset of the Lenten season.  It is foolish to me to think that on a Tuesday, I can gorge myself of things that on Wednesday I forsake for a better standing with God.  So then am I by pursuing all that “Fat Tuesday” offers, am I saying that for that one day I am ok or willingly pursuing a lesser relationship with God, and enjoy my sin for a season, so I can pursue “righteousness” for another season? (And at this point I won’t even go into how Lent ties into Mardi Gras, and the despicable evil that has followed there)

This leads to a third reason,

3.  I find it odd that those that believe in grace-based sanctification, would purposefully set aside times to “buffet” their lifestyles for the purpose of sanctification.  To an outsider, they ask the very fair question:  Why are you pursuing this now and not in, say, August?  To attempt to culturally (because Lenten is a cultural celebration) manufacture sanctification is a bit of  an oxymoron.  Working out your salvation is not something that you can say: I’m going to pursue this for 40 days and then look at the spiritual discipline I’ve created. 

4.  Lastly, in America, our notion of “suffering”, and “trying to relate” to the sufferings of Christ is a joke when we equate Christ’s temptations and suffering to our suffering and temptations to giving up red meat, not going to Starbucks as often, or turning off the TV more.  For 325 days out of the year, the world sees that our Christian subculture is more consumed with the latest computer toy, Iphones, Ipads, and who won the game last night, when over 3 billion people are completely unreached.  Do we really think that giving up a creature comforts for 40 days is going to impact what needs to be a greater form of life sacrifice year round? 

I don’t spite those that celebrate Lenten, and I love my Christian brothers and sisters that do participate.   I just don’t see any purpose or Biblical argument for it.  In fact, I see the Bible calling us to run from opportunities to be tempted, not create them through a structured holiday.  Furthermore, Paul in Colossians 2 makes a pretty strong argument against those that would create dietary restrictions for the sake of being “completer” in Christ. 

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Life-How Short It Is

Dr. Les Ollila said often at Northland:  “Your life is a dash.  Every tombstone has a birth date, and a death date, but the sum of your life is foun2002-0811-graves-sunset-shawnee-pad in the dash in between.”  The brevity of life, in our ever communicative world, is always before us; just flip on the news and you will hear of someone dying-most likely of which was pretty young.  Life, is incredibly short, with an expiration date in which is most likely a whole lot sooner than we realize.  At 32, I sit here and consider that I am not guaranteed 35, 40, or even tomorrow.  I was just thinking the other day, one of the guys I went to High School with is dead, a couple of people from college are dead, and all of which lived lives of great hope and most likely had no idea that their lives would be removed from this earth so quickly. 

What do we make of it?

Gatorade gatorade_finalwhen I was a kid had a slogan:  “Life is short-Drink it up”  Sadly, we have bought into the idea that if we are “drinking up” all that life has to offer-seeing the kids games; offering them all the toys, vacations, and good times; obtaining the perfect home; making sure that we are “well relaxed” and have enough “me” time-is what “life” is made of.  We cannot take the brevity of life and conclude that to make the most of it, we must turn into hedonistic narcissists!  (Hedonist-sum of life is pleasure, Narcissist-sum of life is self, thus a hedonistic narcissist is one who’s whole life is the sum of pleasing self through pleasure/happiness) 

Sadly, there are thousands of guys in their teens and twenties that have no God-centered purpose in their lives, accomplishing nothing that will last, and living in their parents house with every electronic toy imaginable still unable to keep a job!  What is the trajectory of this type of living?

Lazy, godlessness

To the older generations, in their 30’s and beyond, we run the danger of becoming “sacrificial lambs” on the altars of time and pleasure, thus we “make”our lives into investing pleasure into our kids or grandkids, or the hope of a pleasure fill retirement in which freedom is enabled through money!  Thus, the sum of our lives then becomes keeping our kids and grandkids happy through keeping them full of pleasurable moments and memories, or the hope of a future that is free to experience pleasure and fun.  What’s the trajectory of this type of living? 

Busy, godlessness.  3dclocks

Twice in the NT, God calls us to consider our lives in relation to the short time we have here.  In Ephesians 5, He calls us to redeem the time because of evil, and in James 4, He calls us to pursue the will of God because our lives are like a vapor.  Both of which though call us to quit investing in the temporal, quit pursuing pleasure, and make something of the short dash that is our lives. 

We are called to redeem the time.

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.  Churches, pastors, parents and so on all get criticized and rejected because there is this opinion or feeling out there that it is your responsibility to make “them” want to come.  So we invest thousands of hours, thousands of dollars into tricking the emotions and the eye to make Christianity look pleasurable enough to fill a seat, and to say they were there.  Yet, at what point does the point of responsibility weigh on the individual to think/believe: “I am going to be there, I am going to do that because I am going to make something of my life that is going to last beyond the dash.”  Teach your kids and grandkids that we do things at times, not because we want to or find pleasure in them, but we must do them because we bear a greater responsibility in this life than pleasure. 

Solomon’s words hang so heavily in Ecclesiastes 11

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that  for all these things God will bring thee judgment.  Therefore remove sorrow from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh: for childhood and youth are vanity.

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The Need For Reflection

The human mind is fascinating.  The mental power that it possesses to wrestle through logical constructs and to accomplish critical thinking is astounding.  While it possesses the power to work through in a progressive way-thinking of new treeways, analyzing for future improvements, and so on, there is one aspect of the human mind we cannot overlook. 

The ability to remember

One of the disciplines we must develop is to have a Christ-centered approach to our memories.  Memories can haunt us or they can bring us pleasure.  Nevertheless, I see in Scripture a very clear call to hit the pause button on advancement thinking, and pause to reflect on what has been.  Consider the following verse-Psalm 111:4:

He hath made his wonderful works to be remembered: the Lord is gracious and full of compassion

Often times our thinking and writing revolves around solving problems and advancing a ministry or clarifying theological positions and doctrines.  Doing so creates great progress, but doing so also can create a ripple effect in shallow waters.  Taking time to pause and reflect and allowing our meditative reflection on the doctrines, work, and wisdom of God will create an affectionate depth to our lives and ministry.  Christ even calls us to a ministry of remembrance in I Corinthians 11 in relation to the work of Christ on the cross. 

Often times, our memories and thoughts of the past have been far to ascribed to the work of men.  Perhaps, to say it another way, we have glPrayer-and-Meditation-on-the-Word-300x199oried in the tool or the method how the tool was used, far more than the Craftsman who uses the tool.  Much of our reflection and memories are wrapped up in people, rather than the Person who uses the people.  This also goes outside of the “church” realm to our personal lives.  God allows each of us to come across one another’s paths with purpose-those encounters and relationships are works of Him, not random chances.  Every moment with our children, spouses, brothers, or sisters are times we can look back upon in reflection to see the working of God.

O, that we would praise Him for His works, and be thankful to Him for His works.  Reflection will only be profitable, sustainable, and substantive if God is the object of our thinking. 

It is amazing to me, if I will pause to put some mental effort into reflecting on the work of God in our church and in my life there will be lessons that the Holy Spirit begins to teach through those reflective moments.  It is then I realize that God did those things, not just for my advancement or our church’s ministerial betterment, but rather He did those with historical purpose-that in the history of our  minds we are given the opportunity to continue to learn and praise Him for what He did.  He does things on our behalf for us to purposefully look back and say:

And God did this.

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Returning to an Old Friend

james1

This upcoming Sunday is a first for me.  Ten years ago, as an assistant pastor in Minnesota, I preached a short series through the book of James. (Short as in, seven or eight messages I believe) I am not real big on “re-preaching” messages, so in general I have purposefully stayed out of the book of James for quite a while.  However, beginning this Sunday at North Country, we are going to embark on a journey through the book of James over the next couple of months.  One of the many reasons this excites me is that I get to use one of my favorite all time commentaries in Doug Moo’s PNTC on the book of James. 

I think a study through the book of James is substantive for many of us in our culture, in spite of Luther’s comments on it in the 1500’s.  (That it was a “straw epistle”)  Our culture bucks against the general theme and teaching of the book due to our individualistic, user-friendly, personally driven society.  It is substantive because the book beckons us to seriously consider a question: 

How can you lay claim to have faith in God, when you don’t show it in how you live? 

A claimed belief in the person and work of Christ always impacts behavior.  Christianity, while personal, was never meant to be private, cloaked, or unseen.  I believe James took to heart the call in Matthew 5 to “so let your light shine before men that they may glorify the Father”. 

For our church, I believe this is going to be a profitable and growing time.  We are studying Proverbs in Sunday School and preaching through James in our morning worship hour.  These two books are intrinsically tied together in how they are written and the call for us to consider in each of them. 

I invite you to join us each Sunday as we walk through this book over the next couple of months.  I think you will find it extremely practical, thought provoking, and deeply convicting on many levels. 

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