Keeping your eyes on Him

My son has a close friend whose father is severely visually impaired. I received his permission to tell this story, but I have this thing where I do not want all my friends to fear that I am just going to up and write about them and use their name. So I’ll just call him J. J is a great man. I love him dearly. He has a wonderful attitude about life, and one of the best senses of humor I have ever known. Technically speaking, he is partially sighted which means that he can tell if the lights are on in the room and can see some movement, but he still requires the use of a white stick to get around. Let me tell you though, his partial sightedness does not hinder him in the least from enjoying the life that he has been given by God.
 
Recently, we had a nerf war for my son’s birthday party at our Family Life Center. A whole gaggle of little boys and girls showed up, weapons in hand and pockets full of ammunition. The war was about to commence when in walks J.
 
I cannot say that I was surprised to see J, however, I was surprised to see what he was packing. In one hand he swiped the floor with his white stick to make his way through the door. In the other hand, he carried one of the fiercest looking nerf weapons I have ever seen. It was fully customized with an over and under double clip fully loaded with enough ammo to blast a nine-year-old into his next birthday.
 
I was wondering if I was actually seeing what I was seeing. Yep, sure enough, it was a partially sighted man with a gun. I decided that if nobody else was going to be “that guy,” I would. In the heat of the battle, I picked up a weapon of a fallen comrade and put about three foam rounds into J’s side. Without looking he swung his gun around and popped me three times in the belly. How was he able to shoot me!?!?! I quickly maneuvered to a different shooting position thinking it was a fluke. It wasn’t. He tracked me with every step and must have shot me close to a dozen more times. Finally, I called uncle.
 
I was genuinely impressed. Later after I recovered from my wounded pride, I asked him how he was able to shoot so accurately. He said something like “well I can’t see well, but I hear just fine.” Amazingly even in that crowd of squealing children, he was able to pinpoint my exact position just by listening for my feet on the gym floor.
 
This provoked me to think about Hebrews 11:1. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Read that last phrase again… “the conviction of things not seen.” A lot of people have a hard time with this verse, but it helps to consider my story of J.
 
As human beings we are limited. We are limited in knowledge. We are limited in strength. We are limited in sight. I think about what J said in this context. As Christians, while we might not always know for sure… while we might not always have the power to change our situation… while we might not be able to see the future… our faith works just fine.
 

Jesus said only those who do “the will of my Father in heaven,” will enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Matthew 7:21). As Christians, we desperately want to hit the target of God’s will, but many times His will proves to be a moving target. In the same way that J relies on his ears to hit the mark, we must rely on our faith. We can confidently sense His will if we will just trust in Him. If we walk in Him, seek Him, and have a growing relationship with Him then we can track His movements and move with Him. This is the example that Abraham and all the patriarchs left with us. Indeed, it is the example that Jesus set for us as well. The bottom line is this: when you cannot trust your own sight, finite as it is, you can trust the author and perfector of our faith. Keep your feeble eyes on Him.


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What happens to children and infants who pass away?

About 1 in 4 recognized pregnancies end in miscarriage. In the U.S.A, another 2,500 infants pass away before their first birthday. Ten thousand or so more die from accidental causes each year.
 

In my 11 years of ministry, thankfully, I have never been called upon to do the funeral of a young person. However, given the statistics, it is important to address a question that must be on the minds of many of you who have experienced the loss of a child, particularly infants and toddlers, whether through miscarriage or by some other cause.

First, I want to say this to those of you who have experienced this sort of loss… I am so sorry. I cannot imagine the grief that you have endured and the sorrow with which you must still wrestle. I pray that the Lord will bring you comfort through what I have to share.

Does an infant or toddler who dies go to heaven? I believe the answer is clear in scripture. I am quite certain that the little ones who are taken from us, are taken home by their Heavenly Father. They are, by the grace of God alone, saved by the finished work of Christ on the cross of Calvary. They are, by the mercy of God, spared not only from the fires of hell but also from a lifetime of suffering in this fallen world.

Why do I say, “by the grace of God alone?” Scripture is very clear that all human beings are born in iniquity and sin. Sin is not just something that human beings do. It is a condition, an inherited disease that can only be cured by the blood of Christ working through the grace and mercy of God (cf. Romans 5:12-20; Psalm 51:5-7). No one is innocent. We are all born under sin (cf. Romans 3:9-10).

 
How am I able then to say that toddlers and infants are saved by grace? Answer: because children are special to the Lord. The ones that He elects to bring home before they have a chance to experience all the woes of this world are the most special ones of all. Jesus own words plainly affirm this, “but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven’” (Matthew 19:14).
 
Mark reports that when the disciples attempted to hinder the children from being brought to Him, He was “indignant.” He adamantly stated that the Kingdom belonged to the little children “such as these.” He took them in his arms and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)
 

There is another account of Jesus’ heart for little children in Matthew 18, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me’” (Matthew 18:2-5).

 
It is important to remember that this child that Jesus put before them was not perfect or innocent. He was born under sin just like every other child. Like any toddler, he had lied, been disobedient to his parents, and broken the commandments of God. Even so, He was chosen by Christ as an example of the humility required to enter the presence of God.
 
I also call your attention to the last phrase in Matthew 18:5. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.’” Jesus’ heart for children is such that He links His identity with theirs. He is their defender. When a child is ministered to, so is Jesus.
 

The question remains if children are so special to the Lord, then why do so many die? Those kinds of why questions will never be answered on this side of eternity. We just know that God is good. He never does wrong. All His ways are perfect, and we must trust Him with childlike faith. I like to think, though, that when Jesus takes a toddler or infant home, He does so to teach us. Perhaps it is His way of setting them before us and saying… “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me.’”


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What 20th Century Germany Teaches Us About 21st Century America

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote “The religion of Christ is not a tidbit after one’s bread; on the contrary, it is the bread or it is nothing. People should at least understand and concede this if they call themselves Christian.” It was a timely observation for what the German church was facing in the 1930’s. It is no less timely for our day as well.
 
Germany, like the U.S.A., had a rich Christian history. Germany was the seat of the Protestant reformation, the motherland of the most influential protestant reformer in history, Martin Luther. The country was also a historically important seat of Catholicism. Germany was very much what one might call a Christian nation.
 
During the 1920’s and 30’s, German Christians were under great pressure to compromise their theology and religion in favor of the hope promised by the Nazi movement. Their country had been crippled by the reparation payments spelled out in the peace treaty that ended World War I. The country defaulted on their payments and the value of the German mark plummeted. The price of a loaf of bread soared to near 200 billion marks.
 
Well-meaning Christians would fall victim to the Nazi’s nationalistic propaganda machine. In very short order, church leaders would concede power to the Nazi party, rewrite the Bible jettisoning the Old Testament and all Jewish references in the New Testament, ban Jewish converts from the ministry, and burn thousands of books deemed anti-Arian.
 
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a key figure in rescuing a remnant of the true church in Germany from Hitler’s synchronistic agenda. Bonhoeffer was deeply affected by the racism he saw in the American south on a visit to the U.S.A. in the late-1930’s. For him, nothing was more antichristian than racist hate. While others remained blind to the racism of the Nazis, Bonhoeffer bravely and defiantly called it out.
 
Most German Christians ignored Bonhoeffer’s warnings and bowed to Hitler and the Nazis not because they were ruthless anti-Semites (Jew haters). The truth is that they were fooled. Bonhoeffer observed that their lackadaisical approach to the faith had eroded their devotion to Christ. Christ was no longer their bread, but a mere dinner-mint after supper.
 
The church he served and loved was consumed by the frenzied mob mentality of the Nazi movement. While they might not have been willing to surrender the whole of their Christian heritage, they were at least willing to contort their theology at the suggestion of anyone who promised them a brighter future. That compromise by individual Christians and the church as a whole is what laid the foundation for the most atrocious event in human history.
 
It is so important for us to learn from the mistakes of others. We live in a time where hope is highly demanded and shortly supplied. There are dozens of different movements out there vying for the attention of well-meaning but weak-minded Christians. They all offer the bread of hope and justice, but we must see them for the cruel traps that they are.
 
For the Christian, Christ must be the bread… the supper… the full meal and not merely the dinner mint. We do not need a particular political party to give us hope. We do not need the promises of another politician. We do not need another movement. We need Jesus. He is our only hope and peace.
 
Any political platform that calls you to compromise your Christian values should be adamantly denounced. Any movement that questions the plain teaching of the Christian Scriptures is to be avoided like the plague. You should resist the urge to get caught up in the frenzied movements that characterize the American culture wars.
 

We are called to be the salt and the light of the world. If we learn anything from Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his weak minded contemporaries in the German church it is this: you cannot be salt and light if you are following the crowds. If you want to truly make a difference, you will follow Jesus. If hope is what you are hungry for, it is found in Him. If joy is what you are thirsty for, it is abundantly available to those who serve him. Stand firm. The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but Jesus comes to give you life and life abundantly (John 10:10 paraphrased).


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Joining the Father in the Workshop of Life

A few weeks ago I received the most special request from my son. He asked if, for his ninth birthday, I would build him a set of bunkbeds for his room. But that was only part of his request. He also asked if he could help me do the building. I was honored, and I happily obliged.
 
The first task, after finding the plans online and buying the wood, was to cut up the boards used to build the head and footboards. I taught him to use a tape measure to make a mark down to the sixteenth of an inch. Then I showed him how to lay the square on the board to mark a straight line for the cut. At last, I would cut the board and he would lay it in the correct stack. We repeated this process until all the boards were cut to the correct lengths.
 
The plans for this bunkbed set called for several hundred pocket holes. This requires the use of a special jig. I showed him how to use the jig. I would clamp the jig down on the board and drill a hole. Then, he would drill the second hole. He drilled about forty or fifty the pocket holes and thought he was really something.
 
Over the next weeks, we screwed everything together according to the plans and sanded, and sanded, and sanded some more. He would ask me several times a day what was left to do on the project. Each time I would run down the list of what still had to be finished.
 
Finally, last Friday after school, we were ready to start staining. I showed him how to handle the brush and apply the stain with the grain of the wood to make a smooth finish. After everything was stained then we set about applying the clear top coat of polyurethane. He glowed with excitement as the beauty of the work we had put in began to be revealed by the clear topcoat.
 
Saturday was the day. He got up early and cleaned his room. With the help of his older sister, we carried all the pieces in and assembled the bed while mom went to purchase the mattress for the bottom bunk. At the end of the day, the boy was on cloud nine and declared more than a few times that this was “the best birthday ever!”
 
I tell you this story because I think a lot of times we overstate that God is all-powerful and does not need our help. While this is true, if we are content to just let God work and never seek to pitch in with Him, we miss out on so much. No, he does not need our help, but there is so much that we have to learn from Him. Do not forget, it is His desire to be a Father to us and have a relationship with us. That is why He saved us in the first place.
 
I did not need my boy’s help. I had all the power and knowhow to complete the project on my own. After all, I am thirty-seven years old and have a wealth of experience building things. Likewise, our heavenly Father does not need our help to accomplish His will and plan. The truth is we probably get in the way more than we “help,” but He is a patient Father who loves for us to learn and work at His side.
 
It is true that “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8). There is no work that you could accomplish that is going to win you favor with God. This, however, does not negate the other side of that truth… “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). There is real work that He has for us to do. Work that He prepared beforehand.
 

Let me encourage you to join your Heavenly Father in the workshop of life. There is so much for you to learn. There is so much for you to do. You can make a real difference and find the joy that comes in living a life that is pleasing to Him.


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Living with Joy

It was the first day of the Seventh month of the year 445 B.C. The captives of Israel had returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. In less than six months’ time, Nehemiah had led and completed the reconstruction of the city walls despite many trials and conflicts from without and within the Israelite community. He has now gathered the whole assembly together into the square facing the Water Gate.
 
A giant wooden platform had been erected in this square. Standing atop the platform was Ezra the priest along with a delegation of Levites. Ezra stood behind a podium upon which sat The Book of the Law. In this book were written the first five books of the Bible which outlined the community’s beginnings and the righteous requirements of the Almighty for His people.
 
Ezra opened the Book of the Law and began to read. He would pause periodically and one of the Levites would speak and give the sense of what had just been read. Ezra would pick up where he left off and begin reading again. The people sat in quiet attention as the severity and the kindness of God was read and explained in perfect detail.
 
By the end of the book, the people had come to realize, through Ezra’s reading and the Levites’ preaching, why they had been tossed out of the promise land in the first place. God had set before their ancestors a blessing and a curse. They had chosen the curse rather than the blessing by worshipping false gods and transgressing their covenant. Forty years later and the nation was still suffering for this error. They all understood clearly, were broken-hearted, and wept bitterly under the shadow of the great platform as the word was read and preached over them.
 
In the midst of their brokenness, Nehemiah, Ezra, and the Levites spoke again and commanded the people not to weep. One of them said, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Absolutely amazing. Here the people are convicted and broken over their sin having been moved by the preachers’ bold proclamation of the word. Now the preachers move from preaching the Law of God to preaching grace the grace of God.
 
The nation had erred. For future reference, the people needed to know just how serious was that error. They needed to be broken, however, it was not profitable for them to remain in that brokenness. It was just as important for them to know that God’s anger had abated, and His covenant was being restored. They needed their mourning to be turned to joy, for the joy of the Lord was their strength.
 
This is such an important lesson for us. Too often our view of God gets skewed by unbalanced preaching or lack of communion with God. If your pastor is always preaching the severity of God in His judgments and omitting the preaching of grace, or if you are not spending time with God in personal prayer and Bible study then you can start to see God as a ruthless tyrant that is just out to get you. The reality is that God is good. He is slow to anger. He is abounding in steadfast love and mercy. His desire is for you to find joy in the grace that he supplies.
 
Our strength is not in fear. Our strength comes from the joy that God supplies. His grace, that is greater than our sin, empowers us to live lives characterized by joy. We are among those who have been confronted with our sin, and who have come to know the One who saves us from sin. Our mourning has been turned to rejoicing. We have been crucified with Christ, and like Him, we have been raised from the dead by His perfect and unbounded love.
 

I encourage you to live in joy. Yes, you have sinned against God, but if you have repented and believed in Jesus as Savior then you have been set free from sin. You have died, and yet you live. So live! Live in the strength of His joy.


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The Peace Offering and The Lord’s Supper

I recently embarked upon the task of leading my congregation through the book of Leviticus on Wednesday nights. I have never before attempted to do this mostly because I have never felt ready. Leviticus is a tough book to study, but I have found that if you put the hard work in, it will yield delightfully rich fruit.
 

Take the peace offering introduced in Leviticus 3 for example. This was an offering that the Lord prescribed for those who wished to have fellowship with God. It could be an expression of thanks or praise to God. It could also be offered in petition for God’s help in times of hardship.

Here is what was so special about peace offerings. In it, only the fat (the premium choice cuts) of the animal and its blood were burned upon the altar. The rest was divided between the priest and the offeror(s). It was the only kind of sacrificial burnt offering where the individual bringing the offering was permitted to eat a portion of the sacrificed animal.

God gave his people the peace offering so that they could have communion with Him. Think about it, sitting down around a table in a home or at a restaurant is one of our favorite things to do with the people we love. We share meals together after weddings and funerals. A meal was involved in most lifelong sweethearts’ first dates. This is what the Lord afforded his people in the peace offering, a chance to share a meal with the God who loved them and whom they loved.

There are several notable instances in the Old Testaments where peace offerings were given. A peace offering was prescribed in Leviticus 23:19 as a part of the Feast of Weeks celebration (what the Greeks called Pentecost). A peace offering was sacrificed in Deuteronomy 27 just before Moses’ death. Another was given in 1 Samuel 11 after a great victory over the Philistines. My favorite reference to a peace offering is in 1 Kings 8:63, where King Solomon, to dedicate the newly built temple, sacrificed a peace offering so large that the whole nation was able to share in a communion feast with God!

I was wonderfully blessed by studying the peace offering in the Old Testament, but what really blew my mind was when I shifted to studying how the peace offering relates to the person and work of Jesus Christ. That is the tricky thing about Old Testament studies. We have a bad habit of leaving the Old Testament in the Old Testament instead of allowing it to point us to the Christ of the New Testament.

I began to ask the question, is there anything like a peace offering in the New Testament? Is there a place where the worshippers gather around to eat the flesh of a sacrifice? There is!

In John 6:47-57, Jesus told His Jewish inquisitors that unless they ate His flesh and drank his blood they would have “no life.” They thought He was senile, but if they had understood what He was saying and how it related to the peace offering, they would have had peace and fellowship with God. They would have been there at the last supper when Jesus said, “This bread is my body which was given for you… this cup is my blood which takes away sins and gives life.”

What has the Spirit revealed except that Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was a peace offering in reverse? It was God sacrificing His most precious possession. It was Him inviting us to a feast upon the Lamb that was slain by eating the bread which symbolizes the flesh of the sacrifice and drinking the cup which symbolizes His blood. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper we demonstrate to God that we accept His peace offering.

 
One other thing: In the Old Testament it was forbidden to eat the blood of any animal. All clean animals were given for food, but the blood belonged only to God because the blood was the animal’s life. With that in mind, ponder this: Jesus invites us, not only to eat His flesh but to drink His blood. My English will not allow me to describe how significant is this statement. In it, He invites us to feast on His life and take it into ourselves. His blood gives us life!

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What Does It Mean To Live A Christian Life?

Ask a dozen Christians this question and you will get a dozen different answers. Most of the answers will be some form of “live a good life, please the Lord, be like Jesus, and set the example.” These answers are not necessarily wrong. Good works that please the Lord and set the example for others are fruit of the Spirit, but there is a more biblical answer.
 
The best answer for what the Christian life is all about is summarized in Galatians 2:20. “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
 
The first sentence says, “I have been crucified with Christ.” By this Paul means that he has died to any notion that he can live the life required to please God. He had already blown it. God had created him, given him life, and made it clear what were His righteous requirements. Paul had come up short. Add to this that God had sent His only son to Paul’s rescue, an offer he had initially rejected. Worse, he was a persecutor of the church. It was because of rebellious people like Paul that Jesus suffered condemnation and death.
 
When Paul came to the realization that he had blown it, the man that he once was died. He was nailed to the cross with Christ. He had experienced the conviction of the Holy Spirit when he came face to face with Christ on the Road to Damascus. Sorrow over His sin led him to identify with and comprehend the suffering of Christ. He died of godly sorrow.
 
However, he did not remain dead. The next phrase reads, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” When Paul reached the realization that he had blown it… when he died to himself… the crucified and risen Christ came into Paul and took up residence in his heart. By this, Paul, who was once dead and crucified with Christ, was raised up and made to live. Before this occasion where Christ came into Paul, he had been unable to please God, but now, by the power of Christ living in him, he would be able to live for God’s glory. It would not be Paul who was pleasing the Lord, but the Christ who was living in him.
 
After his experience on the Damascus road where he died and was raised again, Paul would not be satisfied with just hanging out and waiting for Jesus to return or call him home. Paul would L-I-V-E. He planted churches all over the Roman world. He was instrumental in raising up new leaders of the Christian faith who would carry on the leadership of the Church after the apostles were martyred. He prayed. He studied. He gave generously. He was honest. He would author much of the New Testament under divine inspiration. All of this represented the life that Paul lived, “in the flesh.”
 
He tells us in Galatians 2:20 that that life he lived in the flesh, he “lived by faith in the Son of God” who loved and gave Himself up for Paul. This is to say that Paul lived not by trusting in his own accomplishments or goodness, but by trusting in Jesus, His life, death, burial, and resurrection. It was the good work that Christ had done for him that caused him to be able to live an abundant life, bringing honor and praise to God the Father.
 

So here is the most biblical answer to the question, “What is the Christian life all about?” First, it is about dying… everyday realizing that the penalty for your sin was suffered by Christ on the cross. Apart from Christ, there is no chance of you pleasing God. If you ever had an opportunity to honor God in your life, you blew it a long time ago. Second, it is about living. If you have died to yourself, then you have also been raised to a new life. So live! Jesus loved you and gave Himself up for you so that by faith in His sacrifice you could live, and with Him living in you, you could make an impact for His glory.


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One Bible Text That Will Radically Change the Way You Handle Conflict

There is one passage of scripture (just one), that if godly people would hide it in their heart it would change the world. It is a passage that I had to memorize in my spiritual formations class in seminary. I am so glad that I did. It has made a tremendous difference in my life and ministry over the past 11 years.
 
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
 
The first line says, “the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone…” The word for “servant” is more accurately translated as “slave.” If one is a slave to Jesus, then he or she cannot help but be kind. To fight and quarrel is a part of their old nature that has passed away. Kindness is the characteristic of their Lord and the whole reason why they are able to serve Him in the first place. Being right, being vindicated, and coming out on top of a conflict takes a backseat to showing kindness to the one who is in err. Servants of Christ know how being shown kindness will draw the erring one to repentance and new life.
 
The passage goes on to say that the slave of Christ must be “able to teach…” The word implies that the servant must go beyond just sound teaching. One is to be apt in his or her ability to teach. When there is conflict, rather than return evil for evil, escalating the conflict into a war of words, the servant of Christ is able to provide a timely word of instruction. The ability to teach is derived from the servant’s wealth of experience in walking in step with the truth of the gospel and profound confidence in who he is in Christ. People who fly off the handle in times of conflict reveal the insecurity in their hearts and their lack of godly wisdom.
 
The Lord’s slave must be “patiently enduring evil…” As slaves of Christ, we are going to be treated badly at times. Jesus said in John 15:20, “A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” The problem with a lot of people who call themselves servants of Christ is that they think being a servant of Christ entitles them to better treatment. The truth is that we deserve worse. The Lord, in all of His great love and grace, has patiently endured our sin and evil. Should we not show patience and grace to those who are doing us evil?
 
We must correct our opponents “with gentleness.” Too often, when we correct opponents we do so to prove that we are right and they are wrong. There is, however, something more important than being right—your brother’s soul. The goal is to get him or her to turn away from the evil that they are doing or the untruth that they are teaching or believing. You are not going to accomplish this by issuing a harsh correction. Proverbs 15:1 says, “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Our goal should always be to point our opponents to Christ, and this requires us to do so in the character of Christ.
 
The last few lines of the passage say, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” There are a few gems here. First, God is the one who grants the erring one repentance. The outcome of God granting a person repentance is two-fold. One, it leads them to the knowledge of the truth, and two, it delivers them from the snare in which they have been trapped by the devil. If we believe that we are right and they are wrong, then only God granted repentance will change their minds. It is to this end we should work and pray in every conflict.
 

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A Lesson from the Cricket Basket

In first-century Corinth, there was a great debate over food offered to idols. It was an old pagan practice around which everyone in the region grew up. The pagan temples would offer sacrifices to the gods. The meat from these sacrifices would be sold in the marketplaces and at banquets sanctioned and or hosted by the temples.
 
A shift to a monotheistic (one God) worldview was wrought by the introduction of Christ to the city. Converts began to have a conflict of conscience about the tradition. Soon, everyone had an opinion. That is what Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 8:1 when he said, “now concerning food offered to idols: we know that all of us possess knowledge.”
 
The majority of people held one of two opinions. One group held that the meat was the derivative of pagan worship and inherently evil. No Christ follower should be able to eat any meat from the marketplace with a clear conscience. The other group, quite strong in their faith, stood on the truth that there was only one God, so if the pagan gods to whom the animal was sacrificed did not exist then there was no harm in consuming the meat.
 
One group condemned the other for presuming upon God’s grace. One group held the other in contempt for being legalistic. The two were vehemently opposed and divided between one another. This is why Paul said, “this knowledge, puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1b).
 
He is explaining to them that nothing good can come out of this debate. It reminds me of when, as a child, we used to buy a basket of crickets for fishing bait. If they were not all used and got left in the boat for a few days, they would eat each other one by one. Soon all you would have was one big fat cricket in the basket. That is where this debate was headed in the first century.
 
There is a huge debate going on in our nation right now. The debate centers around flags and monuments. The two sides, those who want to see the emblems removed, and those who want to see them kept, are diametrically and sometimes militantly opposed to one another.
 
I imagine Paul speaking into our current situation, “now concerning flags and monuments: we know that all of us possess knowledge. This knowledge puffs up…” All of us have an opinion, and that is the problem. The harder we grip our knowledge the more convinced we are that we have to win and our opponent has to lose. Our opponents are just as convinced of their position and that they must come out of the contest on top. Anybody see a problem here?
 
Friends, there is a better way. Love. Take a look at the rest of 1 Corinthians 8:1-3, “Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that ‘all of us possess knowledge.’ This ‘knowledge’ puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.”
 
What we see daily played out on the evening news is a demonstration of our collective ignorance. It is obvious that we know nothing when we imagine that we know everything. If we imagine that we know, then we demonstrate that our “knowledge” is immature. But when we love God, we show ourselves to be known by Him. When we are known by him, our actions and reactions show themselves to be in submission to Him.
 
I wish I had space to explain the rest of the chapter. Paul goes on to conclude that neither side is right because neither of them is loving God (looking to God). If they were, then they would know as they ought.
 

This is the knowledge to which we should all cling: one single soul is worth more than all the flags and monuments in the world. Arguments could be made for leaving them standing, and arguments could be made for taking them down. You are free to have your own opinion. Only, do not allow your freedom to become a stumbling block for your brother. It is better to sacrifice your freedom for the sake of your brother’s soul. “But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).


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What is a Pastor?

I am currently reading the book entitled The Pastor, by Eugene Peterson and have been reminded just how much our increasingly secularized culture has shaped the perception of what it is to be a pastor. When we think of a pastor, we get one of two pictures in our minds. One is of a clean shaven, sharply dressed fellow who stands behind the pulpit and wows the congregation with his oratory and poetic skill. The other, a tattooed hipster with gelled hair in a tee-shirt and skinny jeans with the masterful ability to communicate the mysteries of spirituality all the while keeping you relaxed enough to not spill your overpriced coffee. Neither of these caricatures even come close to what is a real pastor.
 
I guess the simplest definition for “pastor” is the person who leads a church, but that definition does not help unless we define what is a church. A church is a body of believers. What is a body? It is a metaphor illustrating how many members are joined together to function as one person. Just as your hand has a specific function in your body but is not independent of the feet, so also each member of the church has a specific function but does not operate independently of the rest of the members. The body that is the church was fashioned by God and has Jesus as the head.
 
The pastor leads this body, but I must be careful with that word “lead” too. He leads by being a servant. He cares for the members and makes sure each is functioning properly. This is a daunting task in this dark and evil age. His members are navigating difficulty, loss, temptation, and the consequences of sin. He keeps them fed with the word of God. To do this, he has to know them. He has to be available to them in their hardest darkest days and able to encourage them with the truth of God’s word.
 
Perhaps there is an even better definition. A pastor is one who cares for a congregation. What is a congregation? It is a collection of people. His congregation is made up believers and unbelievers. There are people in the congregation who are loving servants of the Lord, and there are some still wrestling with whether or not to follow Jesus. There are others who have been deceived, either by themselves or others, into believing that they are Christ followers, but they are really not. The pastor must care for all in this congregation of people. He must be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged and able to correct gentleness (cf. 2 Timothy 2:21-25).
 
Additionally, I would say that the office of pastor is a vocation. By “vocation” I do not mean that he is a professional. The word vocation literally means a calling. Pastor is not just a title. It is definitely not just a job. A pastor may attend seminary and receive training in his vocation, but a pastor does not become a pastor by earning a degree(s). Neither does he become a pastor by being ordained. The title of pastor is earned as he works in his vocation and is formed into the role by his God.
 
I am in no way offering myself as the picture of what a good pastor looks like. When it comes to leading the body, caring for the congregation, and learning the vocation, I have made more than my fair share of mistakes. I want to be better though. I want to earn the honor of being called “pastor” by the people I love and serve. I know that I have been called by God, and I pray daily that He will form me into my vocation.
 
If your pastor leads the body, cares for the congregation, and takes his vocation seriously, then you can count it another blessing from God. If your pastor is not the leader he should be, then pray for him. He is probably just like me, still learning. Be patient with him. Be understanding. Encourage him regularly.
 
“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’” 1 Timothy 5:17-18

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