October 24, 2009

The Mask of Christianity

I awoke this morning and immediately pondered the words of our Lord, "For MY sake have I done these things" and then a rather negative poem started formulating in my head. I realize that it is not very "humble" sounding. It is more of a prophet's cry to the people then a self-abasing realization of my own sinfulness. But, it was in my head and here it is. Nothing eloquent - just a heart cry:

The Mask of Christianity

Empty smile painted faces
Extended hands and social graces
Little boys who know their verses
Women with designer purses

Suits and ties – a bible clutched
Whose hearts the Savior has not touched
Sit in pews as worship starts
With vacant eyes and empty hearts

Actors trained and singers taught
They sit and rise without a thought
Of who He is, and yet they come
Their gaze is blank—their hearts are numb

They walk around from day-to-day
With empty words you hear them say
“Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord”
Their sheath is bare—they have no sword.

A mask of Christianity
Has become their sad reality
No saving grace - no love is known
The fruit is fake – no seeds are sown

O’ Lord remove their fake veneer
Let them see the Savior’s tear
Pierce their souls-with fiery darts
Give them life – change their hearts

October 23, 2009

Something to consider....

I have followed a young man's blog for a couple of years now and have seen him grow in the Lord in leaps and bounds. It has filled me with great joy, as I have prayed for years that the Lord would raise up young men to pastor His church--young men filled with the Spirit and with Truth. His recent series on "Repentance" is well worth reading as are many of his posts. The following is a recent post from this young man's blog that I wanted to have here to refer back to from time-to-time as I see a great deal of wisdom in it. As you read it, think about the filters and methods being used by your local church and consider if changes need to be made. Or share why you might disagree with the concerns expressed in this post.

One of the undercurrent movements of evangelical renewal in local churches has been the rise of missional communities. These small communities are distinct from your typical home groups or small-groups because what unites them and defines them is a common mission. I resonate with this kind of missiologically-informed structuring of the ekklesia scattered as those who have been sent.

Here at Grace, we have been transitioning to similar communities to have a broader and deeper impact in Southwest Florida. Part of the developmental process has been to listen and learn from other churches who have embraced some form of small groups to foster community, whether it was life-on-life discipleship or a more incarnational lifestyle in engaging the community at large.

One of the things that has confused me about some of the philosophy behind leading models is how they are formed or constituted. There are various filters that one can use to encourage members to participate in these groups. What seems to be the leading filter has been for members to choose the groups according to what they have most in common (e.g, affinity-based). So there would be the young married groups, elderly groups, ladies groups, mens groups, college groups, and so on. These groups are shaped to bring the most homogeneity and thereby promise to be more effective and fruitful.

What I find troubling about this filter/model is twofold:

First, there is an assumption that what believers will have most in common is something rather superficial (age, stage in life, etc.). The classifications of homogeneity are basically no different than how the world seeks to divide us. Second, this filter is has an orientation that is inherently consumer-driven. I want to be in community with people who are most like me. I want my community to be clean, cool, efficient, not messy, stretching, and challenging.

But what is it that believers that most in common? It is the gospel! And what does the gospel do in the church? Breaks down the barriers and forms a counter-cultural community, a new humanity, where genuine unity is displayed in the midst of radical diversity. A gospel-centered church is one that does not substitute the gospel as the greatest common denominator among believers. And when the gospel shapes the church, it will define the communities and operate as the filter for their constitution. True fellowship among believers comes when shared life is sharing the gospel to one another, and the necessary fuel for the mission comes from the gospel who takes consumers of God’s Word become doers of God’s Word.

Gospel communities, then are constituted with deep unity and radical diversity in the following ways:

Diversity in spiritual maturity (fathers, young men, and children as seen in 1 John 2:12-14 all together)

Diversity in stages of life (elderly with families with young professional with single mom etc.)

Diversity in race and ethnicity (black, Hispanic, white, Asian, etc.)

Diversity in socio-economic status (wealthy, poor, blue-collar)

Diversity in political views (Republican, Democrat, Independent)

Why is this so crucial? By being around people who are not like us, we are reminded that Jesus came to a people completely not like Himself. He came to dwell among us, to serve us by giving His life, and accomplished His mission and then entrusted it to His followers to do as He had done. When we prefer a low-maintenance, spiritual “clean” and mature group of believers to fellowship with, we are acting contrary to the gospel. It does not put it on display. We put the world’s categories on display. The clean and supposedly low-maintenance and knowledgeable people (the religious folk) Jesus avoided, but instead He got messy with the tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and demon-possessed and formed a community that had been transformed by the gospel of the kingdom.

So when an elderly white woman is praying over a black young professional who is baby-sitting for a Hispanic family with six kids, what does this say to a non-Christian when they first encounter it? When the poor have equal standing with the rich, when the new believer struggling with his new identity in Christ and the sins of the past and is encouraged and established rather than looked down upon and judged, when the home-schooling family shares a meal together with the public-schooling family, when things like this are being done in community, what is on display? The gospel which has transformed their lives, informed their new identity, and formed a new humanity where walls of division have been broken down.
This is so much harder than homogeneous groups. It is so much messier and challenging. But is so much more glorious and gospel-honoring. It is not efficient, so pragmatism will not be it’s best advocate. It does not have as its reference point your personal needs, so the spiritual consumer will not like it. But those driven by the gospel and genuinely want to see it lived out in their lives will love it. Jesus loved, served, and gave. His focus the Father first, others second, and Himself last. And the attitude and actions of Jesus are manifested in a community where His reign and rule brings a new order in a new community when the kingdom has been established in their hearts.

We will commend Christ to sinners and put the gospel on display when we, as repenters and believers, show the change He has brought in our lives in a corporate witness of renewed communities conformed to the kingdom ethic rather than the schemes of this world. God’s designs put us in a position where God’s power to transform and God’s love to give up our lives must be operative for us to be God’s people in this world. Gospel iron that sharpens, stretches, and shapes one another is what we need, not more people just like ourselves to make us feel comfortable and resistant to change. When deep unity is formed by the gospel, the radical diversity therein will be like facets of a diamond that display the brilliance of God’s glory in the redemptive work of His Son and the restoration work He’s begun.

Timmy Brister - Provocations and Pantings - October 21, 2008

October 20, 2009

Take it how you will, you must be told of it...

Too many who have undertaken the work of the ministry do so obstinately proceed in self-seeking, negligence, pride, and other sins, that it is become our necessary duty to admonish them. If we saw that such would reform without reproof, we would gladly forbear the publishing of their faults. But when reproofs themselves prove so ineffectual, that they are more offended at the reproof than at the sin, and had rather that we should cease reproving than that themselves should cease sinning, I think it is time to sharpen the remedy. For what else should we do? To give up our brethren as incurable were cruelty, as long as there are further means to he used.

We must not hate them, but plainly rebuke them, and not suffer sin upon them. To bear with the vices of the ministry is to promote the ruin of the Church; for what speedier way is there for the depraving and undoing of the people, than the depravity of their guides?

And how can we more effectually further a reformation, than by endeavoring to reform the leaders of the Church? For my part, I have done as I would be done by; and it is for the safety of the Church, and in tender love to the brethren, whom I venture to reprehend — not to make them contemptible and odious, but to heal the evils that would make them so — that so no enemy may find this matter of reproach among us. But, especially, because our faithful endeavors are of so great necessity to the welfare of the Church, and the saving of men’s souls, that it will not consist with a love to either, to be negligent ourselves, or silently to connive at negligence in others.

If thousands of you were in a leaking ship, and those that should pump out the water, and stop the leaks, should. be sporting or asleep, or even but favoring themselves in their labors, to the hazarding of you all, would you not awaken them to their work and call on them to labor as for your lives? And if you used some sharpness and importunity with the slothful, would you think that man was in his wits who would take it ill of you, and accuse you of pride, selfconceitedness, or unmannerliness, to presume to talk so saucily to your fellow-workmen, or that should tell you that you wrong them by diminishing their reputation? Would you not say, ‘The work must be done, or we are all dead men. Is the ship ready to sink, and do you talk of reputation? or had you rather hazard yourself and us, than hear of your slothfullness?

This is our case, brethren, The work of God must needs be done! Souls must not perish, while you mind your worldly business or worldly pleasure, and take your ease, or quarrel with your brethren! Nor must we be silent while men are hastened by you to perdition, and the Church brought into greater danger and confusion, for fear of seeming too uncivil and unmannerly with you, or displeasing your impatient souls! Would you be but as impatient with your sins as with our reproofs, you should hear no more from us, but we should be all agreed!

But, neither God nor good men will let you alone in such sins. Yet if you had betaken yourselves to another calling, and would sin to yourselves only, and would perish alone, we should not have so much necessity of molesting you, as now we have: but if you will enter into the office of the ministry, which is for the necessary preservation of us all, so that by letting you alone in your sin, we must give up the Church to loss and hazard, blame us not if we talk to you more freely than you would have us to do.

If your own body were sick, and you will despise the remedy, or if your own house were on fire, and you will be singing or quarrelling in the streets, I could possibly bear it, and let you alone, (which yet, in charity, I should not easily do,) but, if you will undertake to be the physician of an hospital, or to a whole town that is infected with the plague, or will undertake to quench all the fires that shall be kindled in the town, there is no bearing with your remissness, how much soever it may displease you.

Take it how you will, you must be told of it; and if that will not serve, you must be told of it yet more plainly; and, if that will not serve, if you be rejected as well as reprehended, you may thank yourselves. I speak all this to none but the guilty.

And, thus, I have given you those reasons which forced me to publish, in plain English, so much of the sins of the ministry as in the following Treatise I have done. And I suppose the more penitent and humble any are, and the more desirous of the true reformation of the Church, the more easily and fully will they approve such free confessions and reprehensions. But I find it will be impossible to avoid offending those who are at once guilty and impenitent; for there is no way of avoiding this, but by our silence, or their patience: and silent we cannot be, because of God’s commands; and patient they will not be, because of their guilt and impenitence.

But plain dealers will always be approved in the end; and the time is at hand when you will confess that they were your best friends. But my principal business is yet behind. I must now take the boldness, brethren, to become your monitor, concerning some of the necessary duties, of which I have spoken in the ensuing discourse. If any of you should charge me with arrogance or immodesty for this attempt, as if hereby I accused you of negligence, or judged myself sufficient to admonish you, I crave your candid interpretation of my boldness, assuring you that I obey not the counsel of my flesh herein, but displease myself as much as some of you; and would rather have the ease and peace of silence, if it would stand with my duty, and the churches’ good.

But it is the mere necessity of the souls of men, and my desire of their salvation, and of the prosperity of the Church, which forceth me to this arrogance and immodesty, if so it must be called. For who, that hath a tongue, can be silent, when it is for the honor of God, the welfare of his Church, and the everlasting happiness of so many souls?

Richard Baxter

October 11, 2009

What Manner of People Ought We Be and Why?

"Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." Matthew 5:16

LET your life be a clear reflection of the glory of the Redeemer. The saints of God are the only witnesses to this glory—the only reflectors the Lord has in this dark and Christ-denying world. Holiness, springing from the fount of the Spirit's indwelling grace, cherished and matured by close views of the cross, and imparting a character of sanctity of beauty to every act of your life, will be the highest testimony you can bear to the Redeemer's glory. That glory is entrusted to your hands. It is committed to your guardianship.

Seeing, then, that it is so, "what manner of people ought you to be, in all holy conversation and godliness!" How exact in principles, and upright in conduct—how watchful over temper, and how vigilant where most assailed—how broad awake to the wiles of the devil, and how sleepless against the encroachments of sin—how strict in all transactions with the world, and how tender, charitable, meek, and forgiving, in all our conduct with the saints! Alas! we are at best but dim reflectors of this great glory of our Lord.

We are unworthy and unfaithful depositories of so rich a treasure! How much of clinging infirmity, on unmortified sin, of carelessness of spirit, of unsanctified temper, of tampering with temptation, of a lack of strict integrity of uprightness, dims our light, neutralizes our testimony for God, and weakens, if not entirely destroys, our moral influence! We are not more eminently useful, because we are not more eminently holy. We bring so little glory to Christ, because we seek so much our own.

We reflect so faint and flickering a beam, because our posture is so seldom that of the apocalyptic angel. "standing in the sun." We realize so imperfectly our oneness with, and standing in, Christ; and this will ever foster a feeble, fruitless, and drooping profession of Christianity. "As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me." Oh, to know more of this abiding in Christ! See how Jesus invites His saints to it. Are they fallen? He bids them take hold of His strength. Are they burdened? He bids them cast that burden on His arm. Are they wearied? He bids them recline on Him for rest. Does the world persecute them—do the "daughters of Jerusalem" smite them—does the watchman treat them unkindly? He bids them take refuge within the hallowed sanctuary of His own pierced and loving heart. Do they need grace? He bids them sink their empty vessel beneath the depths of His ocean fullness, and draw freely "more grace."

Whatever corruptions distress them, whatever temptations assail them, whatever adversity grieves them, whatever cloud darkens them, whatever necessity presses upon them, as a watchful Shepherd, as a tender Brother, as a faithful Friend, as a great High Priest, He bids His saints draw near, and repose in His love. Oh, He has a capacious bosom; there is room, there is a chamber in that heart for you, my Christian reader. Do not think your lot is desolate, lonely, and friendless. Do not think that all have forsaken you, and that in sadness and in solitude you are treading your way through an intricate desert. There is One that loves you, that thinks of you, that has His eye upon you, and is at this moment guiding, upholding, and caring for you; that one is—Jesus!

Oh that you could but look into His heart, and see how He loves you; oh that you could but hear Him say so gently, so earnestly, "Abide in my love." Cheer up! you are in Christ's heart, and Christ is in your heart. You are not alone; your God and your Father is with you. Your Shepherd guides you; the Comforter spreads around you His wings, and heaven is bright before you. Soon you will be there. The pilgrim will repose his weary limbs; the voyager will be moored in his harbor of rest; the warrior will put off his armor, and shout his song of triumph. Then look up! Christ is your, God is your, heaven is your. If God is for you, who can be against you? And if you find disappointment in created good, it will but endear Jesus; if you know more of the inward plague, it will but drive you to the atoning blood; if you have storms and tempests, they will but shorten the voyage, and waft you the quicker to glory.

Octavios Winslow

October 1, 2009

True Moral Beauty - "A Sanctified Eye"

"Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind..." "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus."

A man does not need to forever walk through life with blinders on in order to gain victory over his unholy lusts. In fact, as his mind and heart are gradually transformed by the Spirit of God through the Word of God, he finds that he can walk through this world with his eyes wide open and the things that were once stumbling blocks will have little to no power over him.

In fact, immoral things that once enticed him to sin, he will find as, not only unattractive to him, but actually nauseating. No "accountability group" can accomplish this; no amount of self discipline or behavior modification can accomplish this. Unless there is an inward transforming going on--a renewing of the mind; these "techniques" used to conquer lust will fail miserably every time. Until a man actually hates what used to entice him to sin, he will be a prisoner of it as long as he walks on this earth. Until he sees these things through a "sanctified eye" he will love them in all their ugliness.

Apply this to the so called "addiction to pornography" by professing Christians. A man whose mind is being transformed and renewed by God, will eventually feel nothing but sorrow and compassion for the women who are giving themselves to this industry. He would think of them as daughters to be rescued, not "things" to be used for his own sexual gratification. He would feel a righteous anger towards this entire industry. He would see it for the emptiness, ugliness, and animal like depravity that it truly is. He would see it as Christ sees it. Yes, this is possible and it is the only way that a man ever gains victory. As he is transformed by the Spirit through the Word, he will want to cover a woman's nakedness out of love for her, not "undress her with his eyes" and desire to defile her. Let us listen to Jonathan Edwards:

"When a holy and amiable action is suggested to the thoughts of a holy soul, that soul, if in the lively exercise of its spiritual taste, at once sees a beauty in it, and so inclines to it, and closes with it. On the contrary, if an unworthy, unholy action be suggested to it, its sanctified eye sees no beauty in it, and is not pleased with it; its sanctified taste relishes no sweetness in it, but on the contrary, it is nauseous to it."

"And as to a gracious leading of the Spirit, it consists in two things: partly in instructing a person in his duty by the Spirit, and partly in powerfully inducing him to comply with that instruction.

But so far as the gracious leading of the Spirit lies in instruction, it consists in a person's being guided by a spiritual and distinguishing taste of that which has in it true moral beauty. I have shown that spiritual knowledge primarily consists in a taste or relish of the amiableness and beauty of that which is truly good and holy: this holy relish is a thing that discerns and distinguishes between good and evil, between holy and unholy, without being at the trouble of a train of reasoning.

As he who has a true relish of external beauty, knows what is beautiful by looking upon it; he stands in no need of a train of reasoning about the proportion of the features, in order to determine whether that which he sees be a beautiful countenance or no; he needs nothing, but only the glance of his eye. He who has a rectified musical ear, knows whether the sound he hears be true harmony; he does not need first to be at the trouble of the reasonings of a mathematician about the proportion of the notes. He that has a rectified palate knows what is good food, as soon as he tastes it, without the reasoning of a physician about it.

There is a holy beauty and sweetness in words and actions, as well as a natural beauty in countenances and sounds, and sweetness in food: Job 12:11 , "Doth not the ear try words, and the mouth taste his meat?"

When a holy and amiable action is suggested to the thoughts of a holy soul, that soul, if in the lively exercise of its spiritual taste, at once sees a beauty in it, and so inclines to it, and closes with it. On the contrary, if an unworthy, unholy action be suggested to it, its sanctified eye sees no beauty in it, and is not pleased with it; its sanctified taste relishes no sweetness in it, but on the contrary, it is nauseous to it. Yea, its holy taste and appetite leads it to think of that which is truly lovely, and naturally suggests it; as a healthy taste and appetite naturally suggests the idea of its proper object.

Thus a holy person is led by the Spirit, as he is instructed and led by his holy taste and disposition of heart; whereby, in the lively exercise of grace, he easily distinguishes good and evil, and knows at once what is a suitable amiable behaviour towards God, and towards man, in this case and the other, and Judges what is right, as it were spontaneously, and of himself, without a particular deduction, by any other arguments than the beauty that is seen, and goodness that is tasted.

Thus Christ blames the Pharisees, that they "did not, even of their own selves, judge what was right," without needing miracles to prove it, Luke 12:57 . The apostle seems plainly to have respect to this way of judging of spiritual beauty, in Rom. 12:2: "Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and perfect, and acceptable will of God."

Jonathan Edwards