Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Q and A from Romans 8:1-17

After teaching from Romans 8 yesterday about life according to God’s indwelling Spirit (as opposed to life according to indwelling sin in Romans 7), the following questions surfaced. Here’s a bit more insight to help, as I suspect these kinds of questions may have been in the minds of several others as well. If you’d like more background, listen to the message here as well (click on the message from 9/26).

1.    When you stated that we tolerate sin, or manage sin, do you mean from others, ourselves, or both?

I was referring to our own selves. Frankly, we too often use lines like "I'm only human" or "I was hurt really badly so I can’t help it" or "I just need some time to deal with this" or "What I did/said/thought wasn't that bad" or "I only did it once" to actually cover up what is simply disobedience. We essentially give ourselves room to let sin hang around. That's how we tolerate sin and manage it instead of killing it. When we operate that way, it ends up actually killing us, albeit slowly.

2.    You said that one of the weapons we can use against sin is running away from it. But if I keep running from sin, won’t it keep coming back as a temptation?  If I face it and deal with it, then it more than likely go away, right?

Don't think of running as a bad thing in this case. If I physically run from a woman who is tempting me sexually, or from anything that has a physical aspect to it, I actually benefit myself in the battle against sin.

You are, however, right that if I run from things that are inside, that's not good. That's when I should resist temptation, dealing with it head on. But running is very helpful and biblical when it comes to physical, outward temptations from which we can actually escape. So you're right in one sense, but not in the complete sense.

On the ‘heels’ of that comment (no pun intended to the ‘running’ thread in this answer), let me add that I would always encourage anyone to face their sin head on as you say. But sometimes facing it head on is to get away from it by running. Freedom is sometimes spelled 'fleedom!' (And Joseph, Paul and Timothy would agree!)

3.    When you said that we should stop trying so hard to be spiritual, are you saying we don’t need to pray, do devotions, and stuff like that?

First, I am fully aware that this is the hardest element of yesterday’s message to wrap your arms around; I imagine many small groups had/will have some really good discussions concerning this teaching point. One reason we grapple with it is because we are, especially in this western culture, programmed from birth to "do" as much as we can. Physically and spiritually, “earning our keep” and “paying our dues” is almost woven into the fabric of our existence. But the real truth is that we don't actually do anything to become spiritual (key word become). That's what God does in us because of Jesus and through the Holy Spirit when, by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, he saves us. That’s when, through the response of repentance, we inherit from God a new nature and a new status: we are his spiritual sons and/or daughters.

Notice the word I used – inherit. We didn’t do anything to deserve or earn this new life or position. We simply enjoy the privileges. Someone else paid the price and we reap the benefits. That’s pretty awesome, eh? And when that mindset takes hold of us, we will stop doing stuff for the wrong reasons. We will quit trying to “list” our way into God’s favor and we will, instead, enjoy living with it and by it.

Succinctly put, we do things because we are spiritual (key word because). It is precisely because we are now sons and daughters of God that we find ourselves with new desires and appetites, the kind that result in behavior that prays, studies the Word, gives, serves, worships, etc. There’s a lot that the sons and daughters of God do, but not to gain sonship. Rather, simply because we are granted it through Jesus the moment we believe.

I readily admit this is a fine line; but it is an important one. Otherwise, we start taking credit for our growth and spiritual "success." Truthfully, you would not want to spend time with your Father in praying, reading his Word, serving his body, sacrificing for his kingdom, etc. if the Spirit wasn't in you; that's who gives you the desire to do those things.

So fundamentally, it's all about source. Do we 'do' things so we can make ourselves spiritual (i.e., we are the source), or do we 'do' things in response to God’s indwelling Spirit (i.e., God is the source)? When I falsely think I am the source, spirituality becomes a list of tasks that is self-centered on me trying harder at certain times (ritual). When I realize God is truly the source, spirituality becomes a life of fruit that is centered on abiding in Jesus 24/7 (relationship).

Monday, September 27, 2010

Peter and Paul on Washingtons and Lincolns

Just because the market is slow and the budget flat doesn't mean that the work of the church has to be as well. Quite the contrary! In times when money is sparse, opportunities are endless. Sometimes, though, we think you have to have one to chase the other. Well, let's rethink that. Remember – While money may not be inconsequential, it certainly isn’t indispensible.

In doing exactly that -- rethinking how closely ministry and money are actually connected, I went to Acts, asking myself, "What is biblical about the connection between the two?" While I have not exhausted the answer to that question, here are at least two things I do believe to be biblical about ministry and money:

Ministry isn’t a commodity governed by the market; it’s an opportunity empowered by the Spirit. The early church wasn’t looking for permission from society or approval from the culture. They didn’t test the market to see if it was ripe for disciple making. Instead, the early believers took the command of Jesus seriously and “witnessed” of his resurrection the moment the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost. They didn’t check to see if “witnessing” was in the budget, or if the apostles had approved an evangelism category under “outreach.” No, they just did it.

I realize this is hard for some of us to accept because we are so engrained with the American style of ministry. But try and see it as a first-century Jew or Gentile believer. There was intense persecution, little organization, minimal resources, and many obstacles. Yet, a contagious and courageous people rose up and, led by the Spirit that Jesus left, continued his work anyway. The result? Christianity spread over the known world! Essentially, a “down” time culturally was actually an “up” time spiritually for the early church.

Ministry isn’t bought with money; it is pursued with boldness. The New Testament believers knew nothing of waiting for a line item in the budget before proceeding towards spiritual opportunities. They simply obeyed God courageously as he led them by his Holy Spirit. Check out Acts – Prayer meetings were held by rivers, churches were started in homes, and city-wide crusades took place in the streets as God’s Spirit enabled. It wasn’t like they said, “We’ll move forward when the money comes in.” Not even, “We’ll move forward and hope the money comes in.” They instead probably just said, “We’ll move forward.” Generally speaking, I personally don’t believe they even factored in money as a primary part of the opportunity equation.

In fact, on one occasion when Peter was asked by a first-century roadie to sell the Holy Spirit, he gravely rebuked Simon the magician and told him he “had no share in this ministry” (Acts 8). Apparently, money didn’t equate to ministry in Peter’s mind.

When money was requested in New Testament ministry, it was primarily given away to other churches who were struggling due to famine and persecution (Phil 4; 2 Cor. 8). The bulk of Paul’s financial appeals in his letters were not for his own ministry projects or ideas; they were on behalf of others. It seems Paul didn’t feel like is ministry hinged on money, either.

Rather, both Peter and Paul were bold in how they pursued the work of God in spite of a lack of resources. So bold they weren’t afraid to be broke if that’s what obedience meant! Personally, I suspect it didn’t matter to them that much. After all, their kingdom initiatives weren’t items to be purchased, but calls to be obeyed.

Too many church leaders have a dysfunctional attachment to the bottom line. Our enthusiasm levels are unfortunately tied to the offering levels, and often our boldness dries up when the budget looks similar. May God forgive us of this unfortunate endearment to sources of motivation that are earthly and temporal.

So what have I done with these thoughts that have been circulating in my head for months now? As I have looked specifically at what is ahead for the church I help pastor in the next several years, a lot of what I and the elders are sensing God calling us to pursue aren’t things we are going to purchase; they are opportunities we are going to chase. Explore. And we don’t need to have dollar amount in the budget in order to have a spirit of boldness in us. I am realizing, thankfully, that nothing in a streamlined budget stops true ministry from occurring. I can paint a strong vision and maintain a tight budget at the same time.

Granted – there are no doubt some costs associated with our vision; there will be some expenses in chasing the opportunities God puts before us. But none that should prevent obedience. There, I said it. None! Which means, regardless of where we landed on the budget, we could still chase the opportunities and open doors with fervency, not hesitancy. It is God going before us, not Benjamin Franklin.

I can still picture the smile on my face after that conversation with Jesus and interaction with his Word. Ah, the freedom in seeing things biblically, not just culturally. And yes, I am still processing how all of this is going to sound to our staff. Our leaders. Our church. But even as that unfolds, it will be an opportunity for God to show himself strong on our behalf and lead us all towards a more scriptural understanding of ministry and money in the body of Christ!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

I've Traded In My Trench Coat!

Here is an excerpt from a recent message I preached on the glorious doctrine of imputation and the grand truth of God's bigger-than-my-sin grace that it showers upon us! "Oh, for 1,000 tongues to sing my great Redeemer's praise!"

[This is only audio; no video will show other than the title slide.]

Monday, September 20, 2010

New Book Released

New book, "Different, Not Just Better," was released at First Family yesterday...humbled by the great response among the body. Love the sheep in that fold! You can read it online here (sorry, it's not downloadable, just readable), or call out office to order a hard copy ($7.00).


SR Tip #7

Friday, September 17, 2010

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sunday, September 5, 2010