Tuesday, March 31, 2015

He's Only Sorry Because He Got Caught

He's only sorry because he got caught.

I hate that phrase.

Now, let me tell you why.

We don't get to decide the means God may use to open someone's eyes to their own sin.  Even the most introspective person has to admit they are blind to many of their struggles and sinful habits. Therefore, having a ray of sun cause the filth in our own hearts to be revealed is a good thing. 

Sometimes it comes in the form of a soft and gentle morning light and we're able to begin dusting it away as we confess it to God before others see it.  But, other times, we "get caught" and walk into a spotlight in front of a crowd of people and it hurts.  They see the filth we never wanted them to see.   Our heads lower and shoulders slouch as we see the hurt, disgust, and astonishment in the eyes of the onlookers.  And, Lord willing, that causes us to begin to see our sin for what it really is,

As a result, we confess our sin to God (1 John 1:9) and to those we hurt (Matthew 5:24, James 5:16). But, maybe we hesitate because we're afraid they won't accept our remorse because it came through getting caught.  

So, that puts the question back in the lap of the offended.  Are you willing to forgive someone who hurt you if their sorry happens as a result of getting caught?

Read 2 Samuel 11-12 and see when David's repentance occurs.  He repents because Nathan shines the spotlight into his soul.  He gets caught.  But, God accepts his repentance.

Remember, Colossians 3:13 calls us to forgive as we have been forgiven (bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive).  God never withholds forgiveness because someone got caught.  He doesn't wait for them to prove they are contrite by going through a ritual.  He forgives because Jesus has already paid the price on the cross.

So, let's banish the phrase from Christian vocabulary.  No more "He's only sorry because he got caught."  Instead, let's make it, "Praise God this situation helped him see his sinful heart and brought him to repentance."

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Can You Have Dinner with a Sinner?

Let's begin by giving the short and simple answer to that question: Yes.  You're a sinner and you eat.  But, with questions like this our minds normally go to different categories.  Sinners are "those people."  The people we categorize as extreme sinners and socially immoral.  Those are the ones Christians often shun, fearing that socializing will either be seen as approval or maybe even corrupting to their own morality.

Is this what 2 John 10-11 teaches us?

 "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works."

At first glance, someone could easily come to the conclusion that John is embracing "guilt by association."  If we greet them, we take part in their wicked works. Therefore, these sinners deserve nothing more than a cold shoulder and a door in their face lest we be condemned for taking part in their wicked works.  But, is that really what he's getting at?

If this is what John means, then when have a problem because this is exactly what Jesus did in Luke 15.  The tax collectors and sinners drew near to him, he received them, and ate with them.  Which, of course, didn't sit well with the Pharisees.  They couldn't believe Jesus would share a meal with such wicked people, the worst of the worst in their eyes.  So, is 2 John 10-11 backing up the Pharisees' indignation about the actions of Jesus?  Or, is it referring to something else?

First, we know the Bible would not condemn that which Jesus did, therefore it can't mean that it's wrong to have dinner with the worst of sinners.  Jesus did.  (I preached on this here)

So, what does this passage mean and who are we to refuse to greet and receive into our house according to 2 John 10-11?

John Stott, in his commentary on 2 John, offers three facts to keep in mind when considering this passage:

1.  John is referring to the teachers of false doctrine, not merely to believers in it.
2.  John's instructions may refer to an official visit of false teachers that were being received with an official (ceremonial) welcome.  In other words, private hospitality would be a different matter.  To have dinner with them in your home would not be the same as sitting at the table of honor at a public banquet that was meant to welcome these false teachers.
3.  John is referring specifically to teachers who get the incarnation wrong, not false teachers of all kinds.

In other words, John's concern is gospel-centered.  Be careful not to be seen approving the doctrine of those who get the gospel wrong because eternity is ate stake.  And, in the same way Jesus shows us in Luke 15 to spend time with sinners because eternity is at stake.  And, if one sinner comes to saving knowledge of the gospel through the time you invest with them, including dinners, then the angels throw a party in heaven, just like the father of the prodigal son.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What My 5 Year Old Accidentally Taught Me About Prayer

I love my 5 year old daughter. She is full of energy, loves to be silly, and loves to speak her mind. In fact, she loves to speak her mind so much, she rarely waits until the right time. My wife often enjoys having conversations with other adults after church. For a homeschool mom, that’s a precious time of adult conversation! But, without fail, our daughter will walk up, oblivious to the conversation at hand, and say “Mommy” at least 342 times until she gets her attention. Those calls of “Mommy” continue in the face of: “Just a second sweetie,” “I’m talking right now,” “Don’t interrupt,” “Wait your turn,” and on and on. But, she’s relentless until she says what she needs to say. I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences! That brings me to this past Sunday.
Each Sunday our church gathers at 9:45 am to pray together. We’re a church plant renting a school, so we meet in a classroom - the art room to be exact - for prayer. There are four large tables that we set up in a square and gather around to pray. We invite children (5 and up) to join us because we believe there’s value in them gathering with us, listening, learning how to pray, seeing God’s people pray together, and even praying out loud with us. So, my 5 year old, 8 year old, and 10 year old girls join me at the table each Sunday. (My wife graciously watches the younger children most Sundays.)  

I strategically place my 5 year old next to me so I can try to keep her from distracting others. She, and the other children, do a great job most Sundays. But, this past Sunday she needed my attention. As the pastor, I spend two minutes or so reading a passage from the Bible about prayer, and then I make a few brief comments before we pray. Well, that’s when she needed me. I’m was trying to talk to our people about prayer and she kept tapping me on the shoulder saying, “Daddy.” The first time I stopped, leaned over, and said, “I can’t talk right now.” The next time I didn’t want to interrupt what I was saying so I just kept talking and held my index finger up - you know, the international sign for “wait just a minute.” I think my oldest daughter sitting on the other side of her eventually got her to stop calling my name while I finished up.
But, after that, while we were praying, I was struck with the reality of my limited human capacity as a pastor and father compared to how God listens to his children. I couldn’t listen to her, respond to her, and share God’s Word with God’s people all at the same time. I’m limited. I can only have my attention and my words going in one direction at any given time. But, that’s not the case with our loving Father. He never holds up an index finger saying, “You’re going to have to wait just a minute.”
He listens to the prayers of a billion, while working in the hearts of millions, and upholding the universe. All at the same time. And the attention he gives isn’t scattered but fully present. He listens to me, and all who come to him in prayer, just as intently as an adult squatting down to give a child his or her full attention. God’s busy, he has a universe to rule and care for, but he’s never too busy for you or me.
That’s what the gospel teaches us. When Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” The “all things” includes attention to our prayers. God didn’t give the life of Jesus, adopt us as his children, and then move on to other things. We belong to him, he is infinitely capable of listening, and he’ll never tell us he doesn’t have time or attention to give us. So, go to him - always. Or as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Biggest vs. Best: Truth for the Modern Church?

Seth Godin wrote this about businesses, but I wonder if there's a nugget of truth for the modern church:

Biggest vs. best

There's not much overlap.

Regardless of how you measure 'best' (elegance, deluxeness, impact, profitability, ROI, meaningfulness, memorability), it's almost never present in the thing that is the most popular.

The best restaurant, Seinfeld episode, political candidate, brand of beer, ski slope, NASDAQ stock, you name it. Compare them to the most popular.

Big is a choice. So is best.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Edwards on Regeneration

Dane Ortlund summarizes Jonathan Edwards on regeneration in his new book Edwards on the Christian Life

"We need Edwards today on regeneration.  Salvation is not, in essence, what many seem to think.  It is not essentially a gradual process of moral improvement, or rational assent, or ecclesial association, or doctrinal rightness - important as all these are.  Salvation is new birth." 

Friday, August 08, 2014

How the Gospel Changes Relationships: Church Relationships Become a Priority

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.  Hebrews 10:24-25
Christians have a responsibility for the love and good works of other Christians.  According to Hebrews 10:24-25 we need to be thinking about how we can get our brothers and sisters in Christ loving more and doing more good deeds.  Not Christians in general, but the ones you choose to gather with each week.  Verse 25 makes that clear.  This is a command we are to pursue in the context of our local church; a command requiring our presence if we're going to carry it out.

We've all heard about the 80/20 principle in church volunteerism.  Normally, the people who think they're carrying more of the burden than other people say, "20% of us are doing 80% of the work."  The 20% says it with frustration and even exasperation that the 80% isn't pulling their weight.

I think Hebrews has something radical to say about the 80/20 principle.  Hebrews says that it may be the 20%'s fault for not considering how to spur the 80% along to love and good works.  Hebrews says quit pointing fingers and start spurring.  The word consider means what it says.  It means think about it and figure it out.  Try one thing and if that doesn't work try something else.  It may be different methods for different people; that's what we're called to consider and figure out.  Hebrews 10:24-25 asks us to find ways to get others involved in more love and more good works.

You carry a responsibility for the love and good works of others in your local church.  You, not just your leaders.  Hebrews says, "Let us  . . ."  This is one reason, of many, why committing to a local body is so important.  Other Christians need you.  They need you to look at them and consider how you can help them along.  Oh, and by they way, you need them to look at you too!

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

How the Gospel Changes Relationships: Everyone Else Becomes More Important

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3-4 ESV)

When a Christian walks into a room they should view themselves as the least important person there.  That's easy if you were to walk into the Oval Office, but can be more difficult when you set foot in a homeless shelter.

Here is a list of 7 things that this command does and does not mean:

It does mean:

1.  You should be really good at asking questions.

This is one of the most practical ways to live this out.  Ask people questions about their life - their family, job, interests, hobbies, and their favorite sports team.  It communicates your desire to learn about them.

2.  You should be a good listener

This is kind of obvious in light of number 1.  If you're asking questions, but not listening to the answers, then you're not really interested in what the person has to say.

3.  Your weekly schedule should reflect intentional investment in other people (neighbors, friends, wife, children, grandchildren)

If you get to the end of the week and realize the vast majority of your time was spent pursuing your own interests to the neglect of others, then you need to adjust your schedule.

4.  You should pursue people, not demand to be pursued.

Often it's easy to fall into the trap of being the friend that wants to be pursued; waiting on the phone call or the invitation.  But, if we treat others as more significant than we are, then we should pursue them so that we can be a part of looking out for their interests.

5.  You should be teachable.

A teachable spirit demonstrates that you believe other people have valuable feedback to offer.  It's rare for someone who views themselves as the most important person in the room to listen to advice from other people.

It doesn't mean:

1.  You never take time for yourself.

Jesus retreated to the places of solitude, even fleeing from the crowds, to spend time in prayer.  Sometimes the most loving thing we can do for others is prepare our hearts to serve them.

2.  You never talk about your needs.

If obedience to this command meant never sharing struggles with others, then no one would ever know how to pray for each other.  But, it does mean you shouldn't get into those all too familiar "one up" struggle competitions where you try to show how much worse your situation is than theirs.

What are some other practical ways we can live this out?