Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Habitat for Humanity

This week, our church is working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. I have spent much of the week on a roof sweating like a maniac. I love it. Nothing soothes the soul like the sound of pounding hammers and the whir of power tools. If the Church ever fires me, I'm becoming a contractor.

When I get a chance, I'm finishing my thoughts on Romans 8:28.

By the way, have any of you worked with Habitat before? Anything that I should know?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Hope and Pain of Romans 8:28

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love God, to those who are called according to His purposes (Romans 8:28).

I love and breathe and hope and live on the premise that Romans 8:28 is true. As a pastor, I am not given an inoculation against despair and grief. If I were, it is only the antidote common to all of the Church of God, and it is the passage cited above.

There is awe in this verse, and I daresay, there is horror. The horror comes because the flesh is weak. The wonder comes because the spirit is willing. This, by the way, is no superficial verse to pull out for back-patting. This verse means God is in control, and that He uses intense pain to conform us to His purpose.

To understand this verse, we have to deal with words and meaning. This is no intellectually boring exercise. It is important. Our joy hinges on understanding how God works for us and in us and through us, and how He uses every circumstance to bend and shape us to His all-consuming purpose: To unveil the fullness of His glory for all His people to enjoy.

Notice that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God. Does this mean that God is responding to everything that happens in order to bring good from evil? Is God the omni-competent responder to disaster and tragedy and sin? Is He acting as a Celestial "fix-it" man, only working with what we give Him to work with?

I am not satisfied with this picture of God. It makes Him grand, but it makes him a bit like Superman. He can show up to fix things that have gone wrong and bring about a happy ending, but the evil that has taken place is often a waste, an uncalled for and gratuitous evil.

I admit that there is mystery here. One of the grandest mysteries, in fact. It revolves around the problem of evil. Where mystery is thick, the Christian ought to be cautious and willing to yield, yet I feel as a pastor I must go behind the veil and see what is happening in Romans 8:28 so I may bring the hope to the people. The hope that God wastes no pain, that no pain is unplanned, and that in the crucible of suffering, God is sculpting something that will emerge a spotless reflection of His Son.

Coming to the brink of mystery then, we can only observe what we see. We will look at pain, suffering, and evil in a way a man looks over the world from the top of Mt. Everest. He is awed by the sight, and he fully aware than one misstep will mean death. It is as if the chasm is pulling him to the edge to fall over. It is not safe here, but the view is worth the risk.

So we observe in Scripture that God has ordained in His plan to glorify Himself certain terrible events to come to pass. He sent Joseph to Egypt by way of the wickedness of his brothers (Genesis 50:20). They meant this for evil, God meant it for good. The most glaring example of this is the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus. It was ordained that He be slain before the world was made, and yet He was slain because of the wickedness of men. It was sin to kill the Son of God, and yet His death is our only hope.

It is clear, I believe, that God is much more than a responder to tragedy. Everything is, in fact, running according to plan. He is not making things up on the fly. God is not the author of evil, neither does He participate in it. However, He certainly uses it to bring about triumph and goodness. As John Piper said in a sermon on Romans 8:28, "The rugged hope of the believer is not that we will excape distress or peril or hunger or slaughter, but that Almighty God will make every one of our agonies an instrument of his mercy to do us good" (see the entire sermon here).

Here is the hope of God being the God who sees and plans all things: Nothing surprises Him. Everything is happening for a predetermined reason. We know that reason as well; it is to demonstrate His greatness and glory. The means of our being conformed to God's image for His glory are much like the doctor's needle; yes, the shot hurts, but the cure contained inside is wonderful! Sometimes, our worldliness demands a painful cure. When the remedy comes, we can rest in the faith that it comes from the Lord and that He is working the situation to our good.

I hope to examine this verse in greater detail tomorrow. Starting with the fact that God uses "all things" for our good.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Eulogy and Sermon

I know that many of you may think this to be strange, but I enjoy preaching at funerals. At least, most of the time I do. Today, I did not enjoy it so much. More on that later.

The reason that I enjoy preaching at funerals is because I can think of no where on earth where the gospel of Jesus Christ is more relevant than over a dead body. I am not making light of grief or death. I mean to magnify the greatness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

When the deceased is a fruit-baring believer, I find the funeral to be a grievous, yet glorious experience. Even the unbelieving family members know the testimony and fruits of such a person. The eulogy for the "dead" brother or sister is a wonderful introduction to the gospel.

Two things motivate me to preach the gospel with passion and enthusiasm at a funeral. One is that the deceased would beg me to if they could. The Rich Man in hell begged for someone to be sent to preach the gospel to his brothers. A saved person would beg the gospel to be preached to his family and friends that they too might see and glory in the presence of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, I rejoice greatly in the truth of Jesus Christ while standing near the dead. I know that one day, if the Lord tarries, I will most likely lie in a coffin somewhere surrounded by grieving friends and family. I can think of no greater outrage I could feel than if at that moment the preacher neglected to preach the gospel over my dead body to my friends and family. If I could, I would haunt that man. He needn't say one thing about me, but he must glory in Christ Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the truth of the atoning power of His death. He must tell the people that I was who I was and that I am who I am because the gracious Lord of all the Earth suffered and died for me.

The funeral today was nearly devoid of rejoicing. The deceased was 21 years old and died under tragic circumstances. The family, for the most part, does not know Jesus Christ. The comforted themselves with the idea that the young lady was now with Jesus in glory. I grieved. I wept. What should I say?

So I stood behind the desk and I told the truth. I told them that if their loved one could speak to them now, she would beg them to know Christ. I preached from 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. I told them the truth of sin and death and heaven. I told them that soon, they too would lie in state. Where, then, would their soul be?

It is hard to look into grief stricken faces and leave doubt about the eternal destiny of their loved one. But what else can one do? Should we act like everything is okay and soothe their conscience? The Lord have mercy on those who do. Rather, we ought to stand and tell the truth and prick the sore soul and cause them to consider eternity. I pray that God will use this tragic and untimely death to open eyes and ears and hearts to the glory of God in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Why I am Happy that God is Beyond My Comprehension

I wrote this devotional before I was even a blogger. Someone asked me to write something on the Trinity because of a previous post, and I thought this might be a good introduction before I move into something more serious.

I remember lying awake as a child wondering how God could have no beginning or end. It boggled my mind. Everything in my known experience had a mother and father or had started from somewhere. But God went back forever. This truth blew me away. Now as an adult, I am still mystified that God goes back forever. This is only the beginning of the mysteries that amaze me about God.

Some things that the Bible teaches about God are hard to understand. In fact, the Bible says that we only know certain things “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). This is not to say that we are completely ignorant of God. Or that our current knowledge is somehow insufficient. We know enough, and what we know brings us joy inexpressible. I compare this incomplete knowledge to my knowledge of my personal computer. I know how to turn it on, get on the internet, use the word processor, and play with the photo shop. I know enough to be amazed at the technology. However, I have no real idea how it does the things that it does. How information goes through the processor and what a gigabyte is and how it is stored on a microchip is beyond me. I don’t even know if they still use microchips. My knowledge of my computer is incomplete, but I enjoy it all the same.

With God, I know enough to know that I must know more. I have no real desire to know more about my personal computer; I can use it as I need to for now. Knowing God is an imperative. I want to know more of Him. He is my source of joy and strength and encouragement and life and love and all. The more I learn, the more mysteries I run into that convince me that He is greater than all I have ever imagined or can imagine.

When the Bible declares that God is One Being and yet three persons, some people are ready to abandon the faith for something more manageable. It is perplexing as to how God the Holy Spirit is fully God, not part God, and yet He is not God the Father or God the Son. God the Father is also fully God, and yet He is neither the Son nor the Spirit. These three are One God, equal in essence but different in person. I am so happy that this is so. I can feel that refreshing, child-like wonder that I felt on the day that I learned that God had no beginning. It makes me wax poetic and ask, “Oh God, to what shall I compare Thee?” The reason I have no category for God’s Triune nature is because there is simply nothing like God nor can there be. God is completely unique. He is totally outside any other thing in my experience, and I see Him through a veil, hidden from complete seeing and knowing.

I think also of the mystery of the passion of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ, the God who is man, and conversely, the man who is God. What a staggering statement. Even now as I wish to convey to you the truth of it, I find myself stammering for words. (How aggravating it is to be struck dumb over things about which I should sing most clearly!) I think of Jesus, the Holy One, sweating drops of blood and crying out to be delivered from the cup of God’s wrath: the cup which He was destined to bear, the cup which He left heaven to partake of. Yet, I see Him flinch. Is it real fear that I find in Luke 22:41-44? Does Jesus tremble only in His humanity, or did God flinch that day? I cannot see past the mystery of that veil, and yet the more I dwell on it, the more I know that that place, that time, that moment is most holy. Battle was waged in that moment. A battle whose outcome would affect the earth, the angels, the galaxy and all of creation. In one trembling, sweat-soaked moment Jesus proved Himself Savior and King of the universe. One moment of many that Jesus had while on earth. He rose and set His face toward Calvary, choosing to endure that pain of death and the weight of sin over His temptation to ease.

These mysteries are real, and they are a gift. How sad it would be if Jesus were only a man like me, and how disappointing if God were such that I could completely know Him. In some ways, Jesus was indeed a man like me. But in others, Jesus was more a man than I will ever be. Our difference lies not in the fact that He wasn’t human, it lies in the fact that I am less human than He. My humanness is fallen; His was not. I am less than I ought to be, that is why I have never sweat drops of blood over sin.

In short, it does not upset me that I do not fully understand all of the things which God has revealed in His Word. There are many mysteries which I have not even mentioned here, and there are multitudes more that I have yet to discover. Far from upsetting me, I have come to cherish and to expect them. I meditate upon them with great pleasure.

As I meditate, I do not attempt merely to understand these mysteries for knowledge’s sake as I once did. I once sought answers to the questions because I wanted to make perfect sense of God. I thought that theology meant finding out all the answers, and if I could not answer something, then I had failed. This is not the case. I certainly do not have to know all of the answers, and I can say with great joy that I know that God is Trinity, but I do not understand fully how this can be. Instead, I now meditate on the Trinity with wonder, hoping that God will more fully draw me into this mystery of how great and magnificent and unique and astounding that He is. I want to see more that will cause me to marvel. Answers are not the only things that thrill me, I greatly enjoy the mysteries as well. Besides, I have found that answers to my questions are often doors to greater mysteries!

I have two hopes in writing this short article. One is that you may see how I love the Mystery of God. The second is so that you can know that mystery is good, and that it is not shameful not to fully understand. Seek God, and the answers will come. Seek Him in the Scriptures, for that is the only place that these mysteries are revealed.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Power of the Tongue

I am currently preaching through James on Sunday mornings, and last week's passage has gripped me and grieved me. It has encouraged me some, but mostly it has horrified me. It is my earnest desire and sincere prayer that the terror of this passage might grip the church which I serve. Unless I misunderstand James, then I have to believe that the most deadly force for evil on earth is in my own mouth; it is my tongue.

Read carefully these words from James 3:6 (New American Standard)

And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.

That's your speech he's speaking of, and it is mine. Your mouth is a world of iniquity. Your speech defiles you. Your words have determined the course of your life, and your speech is flavored with the foulness of hell. Your speech, not someone else's speech. Yours. James drives this point home in verse eight of the same chapter:

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

No one can tame it. Not me and not you. It is too evil for our control. And the most grievous thing of it is this: The reason you cannot control it is because it reflects who you are.

I am not trying to unduly burden you. Truly, it would not behoove the body of Christ to add to it burdens that are not hers, or to heap guilt upon a beloved brother or sister that is undeserved. I confess to you that my own tongue and speech is my undoing. When James says that the tongue "boasts of great things," he has called me out (vs. 6). When he says that it is a world of iniquity, I am ashamed. And when he confronts me with the fact that I use it to praise God and to curse men, I admit my guilt. Men, he says, that are made in the image of God (vs. 9).

This has been James' concern all along. He taught us that failure to love men is a reflection of a faithless relationship to the God who made them. John puts it bluntly by saying, "The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now" (1 John 2:9). You cannot love God, whom you cannot see if you do not love your brother whom you do see. In that brother, especially a Christian brother or sister, you are looking at a reflection of the majesty who made him.

Interestingly, James has made the case up to this point that a faith that is not accompanied by faithful works is no faith at all (vs. 2:17). It is a worthless faith that cannot save. To claim to have faith and to not really have saving faith is a lie. It is not neutral. It is damaging to those who speak it and to those who hear it.

So my challenge for myself today and every day is to watch my speech. It is a deadly thing, but it can be a wonderful thing. I cannot tame my tongue, but God can by the power of His Holy Spirit. James told us that man has tamed every beast of the field, but he cannot tame the tongue. But there is nothing under heaven which God cannot tame. He can stop the mouth of the blasphemer and sinner, and He can season my tongue with grace. A tongue used for cursing is a blight on the world; a tongue ready with the sweetness of the gospel is a treasure.

So please, for the sake of your soul and those who listen to you, watch your mouth. Remember, "I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment" (Matthew 12:36). Every word, brother and sister, every word.

I want to end on an encouraging note. We know that our tongue is a deadly thing, but I have also said that it can be life-giving. Consider these words today as you endeavor to bless both God and man with your speech, "Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). You can impart grace to the hearer through your speech today. May God bless us with tamed tongues and gracious speech.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Just Tell Me When It's Over

I am a bit of a weirdo. I confess this to you freely. If I am in a situation where someone is about to, or currently is, embarrassing themselves by saying or doing something foolish, I can't stand it. This is so bad that I cannot even watch television or movies with very much enjoyment. My wife recently rented the new Johnny Cash movie. I like Johnny Cash, but I couldn't watch the movie. Why? Because of the profanity or nudity or something "moral" like that? No, I don't even think that the movie had much of that in it. The reason I could not watch is because I knew Johnny Cash's real life story, and I knew that eventually, he would break covenant with his wife and they would divorce. I could not stand to watch that happen, so I left the room.

Today, as I was driving down the road, I was listening to "Christian Radio." On the program, they had folks calling in about various things. One lady called in and said that she had never realized before that Jesus was God the Father. She went on and on and on. I was about to wreck my car. I was literally begging the radio host to cut her off, to correct her. I was yelling like a lunatic in my car to people who could not possibly hear me. I told you I was a weirdo.

It got worse, after the caller hung up, the radio host tried to correct her. However, it quickly became apparent that his view of the Trinity was really no better than hers. He kept saying, "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are three people" or that they are three separate "beings." Then, he would affirm that there is only One God. I was in hysterics. I was so horrified that other people might be listening that I was dying on the inside. I had to change the station before I had a total breakdown.

To further complicate things, I find myself being overly introspective perhaps. So, I began to analyze why this so upset me. It didn't take much probing to realize the answer.

"Self," I said, "the reason that this almost sent you into an uncontrollable frenzy is because you know that the average member of your church probably would not do any better and that means, at some level, you are failing them."

I live and labor with the understanding that many of those for whom I will give an account are fairly ignorant of the fundamentals of the faith. (Is this true, or just perception?) I am afraid that despite all of my efforts, my ministry may look more like slap-stick or tragedy than heroic epic. If my life were a movie, I would probably have to leave the room or shut my eyes and say, "Just tell me when it's over."

So that is partly why that radio show made me so uncomfortable. It is a deep-rooted sense that I am inadequate for the task that God has assigned me. However, I must say, that if you put a guy on Christian Radio who articulate the latest trends to grow a church but cannot articulate the majesty of the Triune God, then a pox upon you and your house! Not a deadly pox, just a rashy, itchy sort of pox.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I Have Been Assimilated

I had LASIK surgery this morning. Yes, that's right, I had surgery this morning and I am blogging this afternoon. I'm not staring directly at the computer screen, mind you, but I can still type and think. I wanted to give you the scoop on this modern miracle while the experience is still fresh.

I was, admittedly, quite nervous about having my eyeballs dissected. But I studied the statistics and decided I was about as likely to have my eyes gouged out in an industrial accident as I was to lose my sight in this surgery. My eyesight was 20/400, so I figured it was worth the minute risk. (That means what the average person could see at 400 feet, I had to be 20 feet away to identify.)

So I went in. They graciously gave me a 5mg Valium upon my arrival. I asked if they had anything bigger, but apparently they didn't. So, I contented myself with what looked like a crumb of a valium and waited my turn with sweaty palms. I imaginged what life would be like without sight. I'd have to learn Braille, I'd have to get a computer that would type as I talked. In the mean time, my wife would have to read all my commentaries and Scriptures to me. I cringed for her if this surgery was botched. There are only a select few that can read and enjoy F.F. Bruce and the scholarly guild. I'd probably have to pay someone to do it or she'd eventually leave me, no matter her level of sanctification.

At last, it was my turn. Less than 15 minutes after swallowing my relaxation pill, which basically means it wasn't working yet. I laid on my back under the laser gun and talked to God.

One of the things I dreaded most was the dreaded "spider clip" they put on your eyelids to prevent blinking. That's not what they call it; that's what I call it. It looks like metal spider legs clipped to your eyelids. In some warped part of my mind, I imagine them to be akin to some hideous arachnid that uses its legs to immobiize you so it can deliver a slow sting to your exposed flesh. Imagination can be a terrible thing.

The doctor comes in the room, and puts the spider clip in on my left eye. It takes him 10 seconds, and I hardly felt a thing. I was thankful that I could not see what he saw. Seeing my own eye in that freaky condition would have been too much for me to bear. They squirted some more drops on my eye, and told me that they would soon be putting something over my eye and everything would go black for a moment. Then, I would hear a whirring sound. In preparation for this, I was handed a teddy bear and told to relax. I left my pride at the door. I clutched my teddy and tried not to cry.

This thing was lowered on to my eye and my world went dark. I did indeed hear the whirring noise as the machine sliced my cornea and flipped back the flesh like a peeled onion. I felt nauseous. The worse was yet to come. I became aware of the monstrosity that they call the "Exomer Laser" for the first time. There were two lights, one green and one red. I was told by the doctor to concentrate on the red light. Immediately, I felt like Jean Luc Picard in the episode where he was captured by the Borg. This was no laser eye surgery; I was being assimilated.

The doctor told me that I would soon hear a popping sound and smell "something funny," but that it would be over in a few seconds. The popping quickly followed. It is the exact some sound a welding torch makes when it strikes metal. The funny smell is roasting flesh. I went as stiff as stone. You could have picked me up by the toe and waved me around like a magic wand. I looked at that light, and I imagined myself being drawn into it.

In a matter of seconds, the left eye was finished. The doctor congratulated me for doing so well. He didn't realize that I had cracked all my teeth and that I was in a state of semi-shock. I didn't say a word. He waited two minutes and put the spider over my right eye. I realized what a wonderful thing contact lenses were. I wanted to be fishing, running, anything. I felt faint. The cornea slicer was placed over my eye and everything went black again.

By the time the red light was over my eye again, I thought I might pass out. I fought the nausea again and realized that if I did black out, I would certainly be buying Braille books. Plus, I would never get to read the seventy-five dollars worth of books I had just ordered from Amazon. They were in route even as I lay there. I had really wanted to read Mark Dever's new books. My tears mixed with the saline. The popping began. I breathed through my mouth, hoping I couldn't taste what I had smelled. It was over in seconds.

Two minutes later, I was on my feet and headed for a quick check-up before being released. They shined a bright light in my eye. It hurt like mad. My eyes were very light-sensitive at first. Plus, my vision was smokey. I felt like I had walked into a windowless bar and everyone was smoking. I was deep in haze, similar to having your head submerged in a fishbowl and opening your eyes. I was told this was normal. I wanted to go home.

I did make it home, my eyes burned the whole trip home. I had to wear some funky goggles the whole way, and I have to wear them each night for a week. But when I awoke a couple hours ago, the difference was uncanny. I could see people. Like, I could and can really see. I could read my alarm clock. I can see the fire hydrant down the street. I can see how ugly I am in the mirror. It's incredible. I am still a tad hazy, but I can easily see ten times better than I could before surgery. I am in awe.

So, all in all, I expect that it will be worth it. No more contacts and near perfect sight will be quite a boon for me. It is, actually, a dream come true. I am thankful for LASIK technology. Oh....and from now on, you can just call me Lucretius Borg. And if you have been thinking of getting LASIK, go ahead and sign up. Resistance is futile.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Thought on Suffering

I want to pull together for you some thoughts I had as I went through my quiet time this morning. As I was reading through the book of Hebrews, I was struck afresh by this verse, “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (Heb. 5:8). I confess to you that this verse always shocks me, and for that I am glad. Indeed, this section is so rich with beauty for me that I believe I can taste it. Consider this as well, “In the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear” (5:7). Here, we have Christ suffering, crying, and learning obedience.

This reading sent my mind on a tangent of the way that God deals with men, and if the Son of God was not exempted from this process, how shall I then escape it? I will not. I must suffer to learn obedience. Look at these words to Peter, “Simon! Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat” (Luke 22:31). The Lord allowed Satan to sift Peter like wheat so that the chaff might blow away forever and obedience and faith might be learned. He was sifted that he might learn the sorrow of betrayal and the folly of pride.

Do you see the pattern of the men and women of the Bible being sifted and tested for the purpose of godliness? Consider these examples to encourage your heart:

Remember Hannah, weeping at her barrenness before the Lord of Hosts (1 Samuel 1:9-18).

Remember Abraham, contending with God over the lack of an heir that was promised (Genesis 15).

Remember David, hiding in the wilderness with vagabonds, though he had been anointed King and heir over all Israel (1 Samuel 22).

Remember Paul’s chains (Colossians 4:18).

The list could continue for as many godly characters as you could think of. Even if their trials, their ordained trials, are not listed in Scripture you can be certain that they are there. The balm for our souls comes with pain, for being weaned from this world is rarely a pleasant process. As the Word teaches us, “The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the hearts” (Proverbs 17:3). Being in the heated crucible of God’s purifying fire is a glorious, and often painful place to be.

But my soul takes comfort in this verse:

“We do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:14).

The wonder of this verse is that Jesus’ total triumph over sin did not make Him proud, it made Him sympathetic. He remembers the bite of the flesh and the lure of sin. He knows the full weight of temptation as no other man ever has or will. He resisted at all points. He succeeded in saying no where all others failed. So He can now sympathize with our weakness.

I believe that I am being sifted even now, as probably are many of you. I am not who I wish to be, and I know that in order to become that, God must refine me. I am willing to be pruned under the sympathetic hand of the Master. I know that He cuts for my good and for His glory. I know that on the other side of suffering lies glory unspeakable.

I had all these thoughts this morning because I took time to read the Word. Isn’t Scriptural meditation wonderful? If nothing else, I hope that this little lesson will spur you to spend some time in thought over the Word of God today. This lesson is not unique, such thoughts are mine daily as I draw from the well of God's Word, and they can be yours as well.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A Matter of Grave Necessity

As is all too common in evangelical churches today, our church has a bloated membership roll. We have people on the membership roll who never attend, and some who are virtually unknown by any of the members. This is unacceptable by any Biblical standard for several reasons:

1. If one has no interest in the local church, then one's profession of faith is highly suspect. It is doubtful that such a person is regenerate.

2. It is a breech of covenant and a discouragement to the community of believers.

3. It is a failure to shepherd our members, and to guard the rest from wolves.

4. It lessens the high commitment Jesus calls for in Christian life and service, and it makes a sham of the Lord's Supper table.

With this in mind, and with a heavy heart, I have written this letter to those we cannot yet find or contact. I have had this approved by the deacons, now we are combing the roll to see who needs a visit, and who we don't even know how to contact other than a letter to the last known address. Let the reader judge and inform:

Dear ________,

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We hope that this letter finds you doing well, and that you are remaining fiathful to the profession of faith in being a disciple of Jesus Christ that you made before us here at First Baptist Church Plaquemine. We are concerned for you and for your well-being, and it is this concern that has prompted this letter from us.

The reason that you have this letter in your hand is because we have you on our roll as a member of the Church. This is a very serious thing for us and for you. The Bible teaches us that God’s glory is made evident to the angels, mankind, and even the demons through the Church that was purchased from sin by Jesus Christ through His death on the cross (cf. Ephesians 3). Because you have at one time been an active member of this Church, you are a reflection of who we are as a Church; you are an example of God’s graciousness.

When you joined this fellowship, you promised to be faithful to Jesus Christ and to the Church that He loves. Our church functions like a body, some are the hands, some are the feet, and some act as eyes. Each part is needed for the body to function properly (1 Corinthians 12). Furthermore, we are commanded by our Savior to meet together for encouragement, counsel, worship, and learning the Scriptures (Hebrews 10:24-25). The reason that you are receiving this letter is because you have been absent, and we desire to have you back into fellowship.

If you have joined another church family, we would like to know this so that we may update our records. If you are somehow prevented from attending due to illness or circumstance, we would like to know this so that we may know how to better serve you. If you simply are ignoring the desire of our Lord for all professed believers to gather together, then our desire is that you repent from this and join us.

We realize that these are strong words, but this is serious business. If you are not attending a church, you need to find one to which you can commit. If you do not love the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and the brothers and sisters He has purchased, then you have no cause to believe that you have ever known Him. The Bible teaches, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments,” and “we know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 2:3; 3:14).

Perhaps other things have distracted you from your duty (and joy!) in attending church. Please allow those things to distract you no longer. For the sake of your family and for your own soul, make the church a priority. If for some reason you cannot attend here at First Baptist Church Plaquemine, we would like to know why. We will pray for God to send you somewhere else to serve. We are an imperfect family, and we have our faults. We are open to critique.

Please know that if we have not heard from you within the next few weeks, we will be subtracting your name from the membership. This is not what we want, but we feel it is right for the health of the church. The pastor’s office is open, and so is his home. The deacons and members are also available. The appropriate numbers are enclosed with this letter. Please use them if you feel that you must talk to someone about the contents of this letter.

God bless you, and we hope to hear from you soon.

Your Pastor and Deacons,

What do you think, dear readers? How can we do better?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Warning: This is not a 'Phase'

Well, we are finally back from Louisville. We had a fabulous time, and now we have to go back to work. Thank the Lord. While I was gone, there was no coup to eject me from the pastorate, nor was any heresy preached from the pulpit. Everything went well. In the near future, I plan on examining a few things from the statement that came out of the "Together for the Gospel" conference. I believe that there are some statements in there worth developing.

My son stayed with my mom and family for the duration of our trip. This was the longest that the wife and I had been away from him for the entirety of his life. (I think it was three whole days.) Anyway, this gave me time to reflect on him and child-rearing. Reflection is easier than reaction. Anyone who has chased a one and half year old around the house all day knows what I am talking about.

I love my son. I actually believe that he may be the brightest, most handsome child on the planet. God is very gracious to have gifted us with such a prodigy. However, our angel has taken to the habit of telling us "No!" quite forcefully whenever we ask him to do something that he doesn't want to do. Sometimes he gets so angry that he will spank himself. It is quite bizarre.

I was talking about this tantrum-type behavior with other parents to make certain that this is fairly normal. Apparently, and much to my relief, this is not unusual. I was told that it is a "phase" that most children go through.

At first, I was comforted by this. But something in my overly-analytical brain kept analysing this phenomena of tantrum throwing rebellion. In the end, I have concluded that this is no phase at all; I believe that it is the raw, selfish sinner being displayed free from the constraints of peer pressure and fleshly discipline. So really, it isn't a phase. It is as natural as a poopy diaper. At some point, children learn that it is uncouth to poop one's pants, and so they run to the bathroom. Adults still have selfish, barbaric tendencies in their hearts, they simply learn to scheme and plot. Occassionally, you may even witness an adult tantrum when all constraint is cast off. It is an ugly thing to behold. I believe that it was C.S. Lewis who likened children to "little savages." And I might add that they grow into big ones.

I wrote all of this to say that I do not laugh at outbursts of rebellion anymore. It isn't funny. It is my role as a father to see to it that he learns to discern right from wrong, and to so raise him in an environment of God's graciousness that he may come to faith early in life. Being born again is the only cure for the beastial, selfish behavior we begin manifesting as soon as we are able.