Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

A thousand people have said it better, and there are a thousand other articles worth reading on the meaning of Christmas and why we should be celebrating, so I'll say only one thing: Merry Christmas!  May the meaning of this day, that God was born, a child in the manger was the incarnate Lord himself, and that he lived, walked, died, and rose again for the glory of God and the forgiveness of sins, live in your heart now and forever.  Though the holiday feelings may pass, may the truth remain, firmly established in your mind, that he alone is worthy of worship, and whoever has faith in him will be forgiven their sins.  May the time with family and friends, if you are so blessed, be joyous and fill your heart with compassion and prayers for those who cannot be with those they love at this time of year, and always.  May the Lord bless you, as you have a very, merry Christmas!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Good Poetry, take 2

A wonderful poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley, worth remembering as we contemplate what really lasts in this world:


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away".

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Lack of Sufficiency

A recent conversation in the comments with my dear reader, "Anonymous" got me thinking about matters of sufficiency.  Really, Anonymous got me thinking about experience, but experience then lead me to sufficiency because of the questions I had in regards to experience.  Simply put, my question was this, "When is experience sufficient?"  Obviously that question will have different answers for different people, and for different situations.  But, there is a legitimate question with why we place "experience" as a qualification, and why certain amounts of experience are seen as sufficient, whereas other amounts of experience are not.

Admittedly, I have a dog in this game.  For the cause of full disclosure: I'm looking for work in a field in which I cannot claim to have direct experience.  Yes, I have experience serving in a church and working with pastors.  I have been in charge of a ministry and have been involved in multiple ministries over the last 3 years.  But, I have never been a pastor, I've never been an associate pastor, and I've never been in a paid position with any church.

So, for me, the idea of experience being a necessary qualification for any position seems rather difficult, philosophically speaking.  But, I have to admit that there is a good rationale behind the idea.  I mean, I'd rather have a doctor who has done 20 surgeries operating on me, not the just out of medical school intern who has never operated on a live patient before.  Yet, that young surgeon has to begin somewhere, and it is the responsibility of those who have placed me in the care of that surgeon to know that he is ready and qualified to actually do the surgery.  The idea of experience is important, because experience can demonstrate competence in a field, and almost all of us would rather have someone competent than someone untried in important positions in our lives.

But, not every job is the same.  For instance, would anyone say that a mathematician shouldn't be trusted because he does not have the experience of years behind his work?  Or would we dismiss the work of a physicist or a chemist, because of a lack of experience?  Hard sciences, or purely logical pursuits do not require high levels of experience.  Thus, we must recognize that there is a limit to what experience means, and whether or not it is important.

The challenge is to determine where a given job falls in the continuity of experience.  For those jobs which are learned skills, jobs that require quick decisions and have very flexible situations, experience becomes more important.  For those jobs that have rigid rules, that require the exact performance of a set duty, experience becomes less important (generally speaking).  A man working on an assembly line does not need to have a great deal of experience to do his job well, so long as his job is simple and repetitious.  A bank president who must deal with multiple people and multiple emergencies in a given day should probably have significant experience so that he is not quickly overwhelmed.

Yet, even in the case of someone who has significant experience and high qualifications, there is a warning.  Do not begin to think that your experience, your ability, and your persistence are the reasons you are successful.  Remember that success is a gift from God.  (Deuteronomy 18:17-18)  Give thanks to God for the good things you have received, be humble and remember that your experiences have been good because of God's blessing.  Do not boast in your own might, for Scripture is clear that the power of men is fleeting, and the one who does not give thanks to God stores up wealth for others whom they do not know.

At the same time, there is the reverse fact, that sometimes it is the one without experience who has been given the blessing of wisdom.  Look at the example of Elihu in the book of Job.  He says,

"I am young in years,
   and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
   to declare my opinion to you.
I said, 'Let days speak,
   and many years teach wisdom.'
But it is the spirit in man,
   the breath of the Almighty, that makes him understand.
   It is not the old who are wise,
   nor the aged who understand what is right.
Therefore I say, 'Listen to me;
   let me also declare my opinion.'" (Job 32:6-10)

So it is important that we remember, that sometimes it is not a matter of age and experience.  Sometimes the one God has gifted to do a certain job, or fill a position, is the one who is young and un-experienced, because it is that person who will most demonstrate the glory of God.

We could note any number of examples in Scripture of the foolish, the inexperienced, and the weak being used by God for the sake of his glory.  Likewise there are multiple examples of God using experience, age, and wisdom for the purpose of bringing glory to himself.  God is able to bring himself glory through whatever means he chooses, and it is not for us to say that one is too young or too old to be used by God.  Thus Paul gives Timothy his famous charge, "Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity." (1 Timothy 4:12)  We must also embrace this word from Paul, as a guide for our own thoughts, and make a point of not despising those who are young and those who do not have great experience, but must inquire of God to see if he is seeking to use "the foolish" for the sake of his glory.

Paul understood well the reality that it was not his experience and his work that made him anything special.  He says in 2 Corinthians 3:5, "Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God."  He understood that it was God who made him a minister of the gospel, not his own works.  Even in something as theoretically simple as sharing the Gospel of Christ, Paul did not take credit, but acknowledged that God was the one who empowered him.  So we, in whatever we do, whether seeking to fill a position, or seeking to find someone to fill a position, should be more interested in glorifying God than in worrying about matters of experience.

In trying to get the best possible person for a position, and in striving to be the best possible person for a position, let us avoid making experience into an idol.  Give experience its due, admit that those with experience and demonstrated ability are the ones most likely to succeed in the future.  But also recognize the limits of experience, and that sometimes God desires to work through the less renowned for his renown.  In success, be humble, and do not scorn meager beginnings.  Bow the knee to God, and let him glorify himself as he desires.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


Today I spoke with my pastor, Robert Keats, about Genesis 1 and the book of John.  I told him I was re-reading Genesis and John and trying to ask myself questions to get more from the text.  In view of how John presents Christ, as the Light of the World, as the life that is the light of men, and as the incarnate Word of God, I told him I think there is more to the narrative of Genesis than I have been reading.  So my questions of the text were these:  What connection do the first words of creation have with what John tells us about Christ?  How does, "Let there be light" relate to the Christ event?

As I began to re-read and think about Genesis, I then found yet another question that grabbed my attention: why doesn't God say anything was "good" on day two of the creation account?  On the first day we see that God calls the light good.  On day three, God says both the dry land and the plant life created are good.  On days four, five, and six God says that the various acts of creation are each "good."  And finally, on day six, after God has created everything else, he says that all he created is "very good."  But, on day two, there is no statement that anything was good.

There may be nothing to this omission.  It may very well be that there is nothing to be learned from the simple omission of calling anything good on day two.  After all, on day six God calls everything, "very good" thus indicating that creation was exactly according to his plan and purpose.  And if everything was created according to God's purpose, then obviously, what happened on day two had to a good thing.  In any case, Scripture does not give a clear or definitive answer to this question.

If you choose to do a quick search on Google, you can find various answers that people have to why God didn't call the second day of creation good.  Answers range from the idea that the waters above the firmament were set in the sky as a punishment for men (the flood of Noah) and therefore it was not pleasing to God to have this punishment prepared, to the idea that the creation of the firmament and the setting up of the heavens created the realm that Satan would claim as his own.  Unfortunately none of the answers I read really took into account the testimony of Scripture.  For instance there is nothing saying that the waters in the flood came from the water above the "firmament."  Likewise, there is nothing saying that Satan had already taken his domain in the heavens being that as of Genesis 2 he had not yet tempted Eve and Adam had not yet allowed sin into the world.

I have my own theory on why God does not call day two of creation good.  My theory is that day two tells us about God separating creation from himself, setting up the firmament as that which separates creation (the waters below) from the throne room of God (the waters above).  Thus when we see in Revelation 4:6 that there is what appears to be a sea of glass in front of the throne of God, we are taken back to the primordial waters that covered the world, and we are reminded that God is enthroned above the heavens.  God is separated from creation, because of his own design, but he does not intend for things to remain that way.  By the end of Revelation, in chapter 21 we see that God intends to make a new creation, one that will not be separate from himself.  God does not call the second day of creation good because it represents an imperfect idea of what God will one day do, when he will join himself to creation, when there will be nothing that separates him from what his hands have made.  (I do not mean this in a pantheistic or panentheistic sense.)

Obviously, my theory is just that, a theory.  I can't prove my idea is correct.  If I am right, then what that shows us is that God intended, from the very beginning of creation, to bring all things into fellowship with himself.  Thus when we read about the separation of day two we read about an event that was necessary according to God's divine plan, but one which would one day be undone.  This tells us that it should be our aspiration to be brought back to God.  And it tells us that reconciliation with God goes beyond ourselves, it involves all of creation coming into fellowship with God.

But, my point is not to attempt to prove my interpretation of Genesis.  Instead, my point is that it is only through re-reading Scripture that we notice things like the second day not being called good.  We only notice the connections between the waters above and the glassy sea around the throne of God when we read through both Genesis and Revelation enough times that the ideas in each of them take root in our minds.  Yes, reading what others think about Scripture, or hearing someone else point out connections we may not notice in Scripture is useful.  But, we will only begin to see connections ourselves when we become devoted the text of Scripture, in whatever way we have access to that text.

Re-reading Scripture has great value, because it helps us to see connections we might otherwise never notice.  It also encourages us to ask questions, which can be useful to us and help us to get more out of Scripture, even if we cannot definitively answer the questions we ask.  If our goal is to become more like Christ, even as Peter says we are being transformed, and Paul says we ought to live, then there is no better method to becoming like Christ than to dive into his word.  There is no other way to know the mind of God than to give heed to what he has said.  While there may be times we feel as though we are gleaning nothing more from what we are reading, we must remember that God can use those moments to plant something in our minds that will help us later.  Re-reading Scripture is incredibly important to the Christian, and its values cannot be overstated.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Why International Missions isn't Foreign

Recently I had the privilege of teaching a lesson on international missions at my church here in Carrollton, Georgia.  The lesson itself was on missions going on in Thailand.  In many of the international missions lessons in local churches congregations learn about the demographics of the country, they hear about a few specific missionaries, and then they are told how they can pray for those missionaries specifically.  While there is nothing wrong with this method, and in fact there is a lot of very useful information to be learned from this method of teaching, I decided to take the lesson in a different direction.  My goal in the lesson was not simply that the congregation would learn facts about Thailand, but that they would understand that Thailand is not that different from Carrollton, and that international missions is not just something "over there," but that it affects us here at home, and what we do here at home affects international missions.

This post is a follow up to that lesson.  The fact is international missions ought not be some foreign concept or idea.  International missions should flow directly from home missions, from local missions, and from every Christian's personal mission in the world.  International missions is the spread of Christianity to every tribe, people, tongue, and nation, fulfilling the command of Christ to go and make disciples of all nations.  (Matthew 28:18-20)  Therefore, the mindset of international missions should be part of every Christian, as we strive to be faithful to what our Lord has called us to do.

There are two specific reasons I want to address as to what International missions is not foreign: people, and Scripture.  If we understand the reality of who we are serving, and who we have a mission to reach, we will understand that these are not just people who live thousands of miles away, but they are brothers and sisters, and no matter how far away family may be, family is not foreign.  Likewise, if we understand Scripture, then we will understand how what we are to minister is never foreign, it is the wonderful Good News of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that all men might be reconciled to God, redeemed from sin and free to live to the glory of God.  The message is not foreign, and the people are not foreign, even if the culture is totally alien to us.

It may seem like a bit of a contradiction to say that the people are not foreign if the culture is foreign, but people are not just their culture.  Specifically, in terms of international missions, every person is exactly the same.  What I mean is that what Paul says about humans, he says about all of us, he makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile, Greek and barbarian.  Paul says, "As it is written:

'None is righteous, no, not one;
   no one understands;
   no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
   no one does good,
   not even one.'
'Their throat is an open grave;
   they use their tongues to deceive.'
'The venom of asps is under their lips.'
   'Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.'
'Their feet are swift to shed blood;
   in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.'
   'There is no fear of God before their eyes.'

Every human has sinned.  No one fears God naturally.  Not one of us is innocent, and all of us are condemned before God, according to what Paul says here.  Therefore, when we go to minister to humans in any place, any time, and any culture, we are ministering to sinners.  Just as you, if you are a Christian, were a sinner who received the Gospel from someone who ministered to you, so they are sinners in need of ministers who will bring the gospel to them.  There is nothing foreign in sin, we who walk in the light know the ways of sin, because we walked in sin ourselves.

But, not only are people the same, Scripture is the same.  Yes, translation is an art and a science.  And yes, there may be challenges in bringing Scripture to different cultures.  Due to linguistic barriers and the lack of a written language, it may be very hard to explain Scripture or make it widely accessible to certain peoples.  But, despite these challenges, Scripture itself does not change.

The reason Scripture does not change is because God does not change.  Scripture is the personal revelation of a personal God.  Unless God changes, his revelation will not change, and God has said of himself that he does not change. (Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29, Malachi 3:6, James 1:17)  Therefore, in every culture we minister the same Scripture, the same message, and the same God, that all men may know of the Lord who made them and desires that they should come and fellowship with him.  This Gospel does not change, because it is the same to everyone, no matter who they are or where they are.

There are a lot of things that can be foreign in international missions, from language and culture, to location and climate.  But, the things that really matter, the needs of people and means of addressing those needs, do not change.  Every person needs to be reconciled to the God who made them, who requires worship from them.  And the only means of reconciliation is faith in Jesus Christ.  Therefore, international missions may involve going to foreign places, eating foreign food, learning foreign languages, and living under foreign shelters, but there should be nothing closer to home than the ministering of the gospel to those who desperately need to know of the hope that is found only in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

And be Thankful

"And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.  And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God." - Colossians 3:14-16 (ESV)

From what we see in the above passage we note that there are three things Paul called the church to: put on love, let the peace of Christ reign, and be thankful.  Of course these are not three distinct events, they are, in fact, very closely tied together.  How can we love without the peace of Christ unifying us as a body?  How can we be thankful if we are not bound to God or to others through love?  In fact, the very idea of being one body is the reason we (Christians) ought to love one another.

Think about it like this: love unites.  Anger, hatred, fear, distaste, and discomfort all divide.  Those things which stand opposed to love do not bring the body of Christ together, they divide us.  We cannot be ruled by the peace of Christ because we are too worried about whether the man sitting across from us is dangerous, or we want to get away from the smelly bag lady who sat next to us in the pew.  More than that, we are not thankful to God for bringing this brother or sister into our lives, instead we sit in judgment of them, when God shed the blood of Christ to win them.

But, being thankless not only separates us from our relationship with God, it also separates us from those around us, and it separates them from us.  When we do not thank those who do good things for us, we insult them.  We insult them because we do not acknowledge the time, the care, or the resources they put into doing good for us.  We act as though we are deserving of that which we have received, as though somehow we earned some good gift that was given to us.

In my last post I noted that every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of Lights. (James 1:17)  But, James really begins that thought earlier, and the context around James 1:17 is important.  In James 1:16 he says, "Do not be deceived my beloved brothers."  My point being that James urges us to think about what he is saying more deeply than just saying, "okay."  James really intends for us to understand that every good gift, every perfect gift, comes from God.  When one of your co-workers did a favor for you, making sure you wouldn't be too overburdened, that was a gift from God.  When one of your friends called you up and asked if you wanted a coffee, just so they could spend time with you, that was from God.  Every good gift, every perfect gift, all of them, come from God.

It is so important to grasp this because it relates directly to what Paul says about being thankful.  If every good gift comes from God, then when you disregard a favor, or when you belittle the work of someone who sacrificed for you, then you are insulting the kindness of God.  Likewise, when you make light of someone trying to do good for you, even if it does not accomplish exactly what you wanted, it is not simply a slight to that person, it is an insult to God, because he is the one who gave you the gift.  Such an attitude shows that you have not put on love, you are not living in the peace of Christ, and you are not thankful to God.  Such an attitude shows that you have taken for granted the good things you have been given, as though you deserved them, when it is most pertinent to remember that those good things are a gift, and you have not earned any of them at all.

In addition to what being thankless says about your own life, it is also harmful to others.  When you disregard the good things people do for you, or try to do for you, it places them in a position of inferiority.  Instead of you showing appreciation for their kindness, now they have become mere tools, and if they perform well you give them no praise, for that was all that was expected of a good tool.  This is not love for your fellow man.  To be thankless is an insult to those who show love and respect for you.

But, there is one more point worth making: being thankless is a little demonstration of hell on earth.  What I mean by this is, if James is true, that every good gift is from God, then in hell there will be no good gifts.  There will be no friends, because there will be no kindness, because God will not motivate goodness or gentleness among those from whom he separates.  So, when we are thankless, we are demonstrating to those who would do good things for us a little taste of hell.  We are demonstrating the real sin that lives within every one of us when we do not thank people, or God, for the good things we receive, and, in hell, that sin will be given free reign, because there will be no common grace from God to keep it reigned in.

There is simply no excuse for Christians to forget to be thankful.  We, above all people, have received great and wonderful gifts that we do not deserve.  We who have trusted in the death of Christ and his resurrection as the payment for our sin, and the means of reconciliation with God, have been given a promise of eternal life with the Lord.  Every good gift we receive after that ought to refresh our spirits in memory of that which we have received and make us sing the praises of God, that not only did he redeem us from hell, but he also saw fit to give us more gifts on top of that.  Every generous hand, from every person, should invoke in us a deep and abiding thankfulness, for we know that our God is the one who has given this to us.  In short, we should have no problem fulfilling this command from the Holy Spirit, through Paul, "And be thankful."