Friday, March 31, 2017

Always Jesus

This past week I had the opportunity to look at the life of Barnabas with the group of Junior High boys that I meet with on Wednesdays. Barnabas is best known as being Paul’s missionary companion. But a closer look at the Scripture shows a man who is a leader in his own right (Acts 9:27, 11:22,25), set apart by God (13:2), bold and courageous (13:46)... and flawed (15:37-40, Galatians 2:13).

But looking at Barnabas is no different than looking at any other biblical characters who were also flawed.

Barnabas fought with Paul.
Jacob was a cheater.
Peter had a temper.
David had an affair.
Noah got drunk.
Jonah ran away from God.
Paul was a persecutor of the church.
Gideon was insecure.
Miriam was a gossip.
Martha was a worrier.
Thomas was a doubter.
Sarah was impatient.
Elijah was depressed.
Moses stuttered.
Zaccheus was short.
Abraham was old.
And Lazarus was dead.

Surely you see yourself somewhere in this list of characters. The Bible does not pretend that we are more than we are or spare the details of the sin and infirmity that manifests in our hearts and lives.

Telling it like it is is one of the great blessings of the scriptures. For truly it is only as we see the unvarnished truth about ourselves that we can really appreciate the absolute beauty and sufficiency of Jesus. As we continue through Lent and journey toward Good Friday/Easter may we be encouraged that, like Barnabas and all the others, the best thing about us is always Jesus.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Path of Discipleship

As a relatively small denomination the PCA does not often garner a lot of national headlines. This week was an exception though as Princeton Seminary reversed course and decided to withdraw an honor that they had intended to bestow on well known PCA pastor and author Tim Keller. Pastor Keller was on track to receive the annual Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Witness – named after the former Dutch Calvinist theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands. But the decision was reversed based on public backlash and the fear that awarding Keller with the Kuyper award might “imply an endorsement” of Keller’s complementation views regarding headship in the church and the home.

There are many observations to made in the wake of this decision, you can read a couple of the more interesting here or here.

My purpose for mentioning this today is simply to observe that we live in a complex world of ideas. Inevitably the path of discipleship will demand that opinions we hold will, at times, be unpopular. In some cases we may even face the type of exclusion that Pastor Keller has faced this week. One of the things that I have always appreciated about Pastor Keller is the grace with which he takes criticism. He wrote about it a while back for the Gospel Coalition. Here again, in the face of what I would call an “unjust” reversal, Keller has agreed to keep his speaking engagement at Princeton, even without receiving the award. A very gracious response.

Of course the challenges that we face are always going to be in line with what our Savior faced during his earthly sojourn.

Friday, March 17, 2017

And Then There Were "Nones"

If I were to ask you to guess the percentage of people in the GR area that claim to have “no religious affiliation,” what would your guess be? Surely in a place like GR with so many churches the number must be low. 20%? 30%? 40%? Actually overall numbers are closer to 60% of respondents who claim no religious affiliation, a category demographers are calling “nones”.

Perhaps this number is surprising to you, perhaps not. In either case it is a call to prayer, a call to action. Your community is not as churched as you believe. Think about it. Roughly every other person you meet today claims to be a “none”. They do not belong to a worshiping community. They do not hear the Gospel regularly. Most importantly, there is good reason to believe that they do not have a relationship with the Savior.

How are we going to serve them with the love of Christ? Certainly our individual lives offer ample opportunity for hospitality and involvement in the lives of these “nones.” What about our church life? Consider these words from Tim Keller on why we plant churches. “Dozens of denominational studies have confirmed that the average new church gains most of its new members (60–80%) from the ranks of people who are not attending any worshiping body, while churches over ten to fifteen years of age gain 80–90 percent of new members by transfer from other congregations. This means the average new congregation (i.e. church plant) will bring six to eight times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation of the same size.” There is much to dissect her to be sure. But we can say at the very least this is a major reason for pursuing church planting.

Friday, March 10, 2017

The Gladdest Thing

“Turn around and believe that the good news that we are loved is gooder than we ever dared hope, and that to believe in that good news, to live out of it and toward it, to be in love with that good news, is of all glad things in this world the gladdest thing of all.” 
Frederick Buechner,  The Clown in the Belfry: Writings on Faith and Fiction.

Joy. It is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5). It is our constant call (Philippians 4:4)​.​ The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). Joy. It is just a small three letter word, but it truly has the power to turn around your life and the lives of those around you. Why? Because true joy is rooted in our deliverance from sin, death, and the devil and anchored to our adoption as daughters and sons of the living God. This “gladdest truth” is so overwhelmingly bright that nothing can diminish its luster when properly contemplated. There is no trial or hardship (Romans 5, James 1​) -- no principality or power​. Nothing can separate us from the joy of being known and loved by God (Romans 8). Can you pause for a minute right now and bask in this gladdest thing?

Joy this good cannot be contained. Or maybe a better way to say it is that joy this good is meant to be shared. It is OK. Let it out. The joy is the Lord’s and his supply is infinite. I love the line in the Christmas carol “why should we on earth be sad, when our Redeemer has made us glad?” Why, indeed!?

Friday, March 3, 2017

When Life and Preaching Collide!

I know some of you remember the book by Carolyn Custis James, When Life and Beliefs Collide. This week life collided with the text for Sunday in big way. As we continue through Luke we will be looking at Luke 8:22-25, the story of Jesus calming the storm after the disciples were descended on by a sudden squall on the Sea of Galilee.

Tuesday such a squall hit the VanderMaases. It started with pain in the abdomen. Was it flu? By midnight poor Lisa was doubled over in pain and we headed to the hospital. There they discovered a bowel obstruction due to scar tissue from a decades old appendectomy. This led to surgery late Wednesday afternoon which was successful in freeing the obstruction. As I write this Friday morning, she is still in the hospital, hoping to be released. Like the disciples we have questions, (Do you not care that we are perishing? - cf Mk 4:38). While not life threatening this event was very unexpected, inconvenient and quite painful. But we are very grateful to be in the boat with Jesus who has the power to calm the storm. We are also grateful to be in the boat with his disciples (you, our CC family) who have been the hands and feet of Christ to us during this time of vulnerability.

We all can relate on some level to these sudden squalls. Over the centuries Christians have dealt with the various storms of life through the eyes of this text recognizing that our Master can calm the seas. For Lisa and me, as for all of us, our Savior’s last question is always the pertinent one, “Where is your faith?”.