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12.12.2017

Advent Devotional Thoughts

Greetings All!

This week's "thought" comes as one selection from a series of Advent Devotional Thoughts sent out by an organization called CCO (Coalition for Christian Outreach) which seeks to place people for Gospel outreach purposes on college campuses. One of the things it focuses on in its discipleship of students is to help them see that their career (in whatever field it may be in) can be their "calling from the Lord" just as much as some full-time work in the local church or missions. One does not have to go into the ministry, or some exclusively "Christian" service, to be "serving the Lord full time."  This is nothing new, as Martin Luther stressed it 500 years ago as one of the many insights of the Reformation.  Yet it does continue to get overlooked (even to this day) in some Christian circles. The author is Gene S. Twilley who serves as CCO Campus Ministry Staff at Delaware County Community College in Media, PA. Enjoy.











Attitude Adjustment 

     Eight months after finishing my undergraduate studies, I started working as an auto liability claims adjuster for a very large insurance company. There were ample benefits with the job—from day one, I was vested in a matched 401k; I had a pension, nearly a month of vacation per year, and great health benefits.  I loved the people I worked with. An older African American woman called me her newly adopted son. We worked in collaborative cubicles—four to a large cube—and laughed a lot.  But I hated the work. In a claims environment, every call is a complaint. The workload is heavy. I was threatened with physical violence over the phone, bullied with potential lawsuits, and accused of all sorts of character flaws.  There were and are far worse places to be employed. But in the moment of any sort of seemingly bad circumstance, we don’t usually think about what could be worse. We long for something better.
     Then my wife and I attended a wedding for one of her coworkers, and I was making small talk with a woman I didn’t know, and who I probably wouldn’t recognize if I saw her today.  In the midst of conveying to her what I did, before I had the opportunity to complain about my job, she exclaimed, “How exciting! You have the opportunity to help put people’s lives back together every day.

Sobering.
Clarifying.
Convicting.
     I was willing to approach my work as a Christian who had hope in Jesus, but not as a Christian who had hope that my work actually mattered.  I don’t know where this woman was in terms of faith, but she pointed out something that I was completely missing.  Isaiah 61 is a messianic prophetic utterance. Jesus took up this section, read it in a synagogue in Nazareth, and explained, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).

    He was anointed to preach good news to the poor.
    He was sent to proclaim liberty to captives.
    He was sent to give sight to the blind.
    He came to release the oppressed.
     In all of that, Jesus was announcing the “year of the Lord’s favor.” In the broader context of Isaiah 61, we see other really good things too! There is comfort for those who mourn. Those who sit in shame and in repentance are made beautiful. They are planted deeply into God’s grace, that they might praise rather than mourn. The people of God are called by the Servant of God to be re-creators of things that are broken… All that hope, that expectation, that rebuilding of the things that have been broken—it’s in Isaiah 61.  It all finds its beginning, current, and end in Jesus.
     And this is the kind of hope that can lift me out of myself and all my meandering thoughts about greener pastures. I start to ask different questions.  After all, aren’t we called to care about the situations that God has placed us in, the broken places already in our midst? How can we make the most of our God-given opportunities today? How might we redeem the time that he’s given into our possession?
     As a claims adjuster, I was occupied with my work—getting through the day, looking for the next best thing. It was a job, not a calling.  Or was it?  What if every opportunity to serve others is a calling from the Lord? Tim Keller explains, “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”  Calling is found at the sweet spot where my vertical and horizontal relationships meet—where I love the Lord and where I love my neighbor. Too often, maybe we’re disappointed with where we are because we simply don’t see the potential of the work ahead of us. But what if some of us are so concerned with our own emptiness that we don’t see the joy set before us?  Isaiah 61 tells a bigger story, and in this story, work becomes service, pain becomes joy, and despair becomes hope.
Come, Lord Jesus. 
Give us eyes to see."

     One of the blessings of understanding the biblical concept of "the priesthood of all believers" is to grasp that all believers are called to minister Gods grace in all is various forms to others, but not all are called to do it in the same way or in the setting of being on staff at a church, parachurch organization or a mission.  People can live out their divine calling while being an engineer, nurse, teacher, athlete, lawyer, accountant, construction worker, farmer, technician, programmer, and so forth and so on!  Their "prayer room" is their office.  Their "congregation" consists of their co-workers. Their "pulpit" is their position. And their "testimony" is their honesty, approachability, and integrity -- all done for the glory of God -- which paves the way for opportunities to share the Gospel over a cup of coffee in the break room, or as they frame a house together with others.  God forbid that the only place "ministry" happens is through the pastor in the church! That's NOT how God ever intended it!
     As Gene Twilley reminds us, any job, profession or occupation can become exciting when we see it as a way to be "re-creators of things that are broken."   A simple "job" can become a calling from the Lord when we come to see it as "an opportunity to serve others."   Or as Tim Keller reminds us: “our work can be a calling only if it is reimagined as a mission of service to something beyond merely our own interests. Thinking of work mainly as a means of self-fulfillment and self-realization slowly crushes a person.”
     So, as Christmas approaches give yourself a present.  Re-envision your job as a ministry.  God has placed you there.  Opportunities for service and outreach abound.  In many places of employment, you will rub shoulders every day with people who have never heard the Gospel.  Redeem the time.  Work well and with integrity.  And as the opportunity arises, "be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" ( I Peter 3:15).  God may have strategically placed you where you are for the very purpose of reaching out to that one person who would never darken the doors of a church, but may come to Christ because you -- outside the doors of the church -- cared enough to reach out to them in love.

In The Service of the Gospel, Pastor Jeff

12.05.2017

The Sensate Culture

Greetings All!

     Today I struggled long and hard to know what "thought" to post.  So many books, so little time to read through them all!  But I finally settled on this one from Harold O. J. Brown's book "The Sensate Culture."   It was published in 1996 and has to do with the three stages nearly every major culture passes through as it moves from it's initial rise to power to eventual collapse.  Having read it in 1996, and just skimming it's pages once again today, I realized it is not only full comprehensive research, and wise insight, but is also rather prophetic -- since what he predicted 20 years ago has come into fuller measure today.

















     After taking a class with him, I must tell you he is one of the most intelligent people I ever learned from (with John Frame, in my opinion, coming in a close second).  I say that because I want you to know he knows his subject well.  He is well-studied, knows history, gives attention to detail, and sees things from a somewhat non-biased (since no one is unbiased) big-picture perspective -- and combines it with an incisive understanding of culture and human nature. I highly recommend the reading of his book (if you truly care to gain an understanding of where we are at culturally speaking, and why so much upheaval is taking place). That's why I share this little taste of what his book has to offer. Enjoy.
     "Sorokin (in his book Social and Cultural Dynamics) identified three distinct phases through which cultures pass: 1.) Ideational - This is where a culture is willing to sacrifice pleasures and immediate goals for the sake of higher principles. Self-denial, asceticism, and martyrdom are natural behaviors from the ideational point of view.   2.) Idealistic - This is a compromise stage between Ideational and Sensate, where spiritual truths and values are still rated above all others, but it appreciates the realities and values of the sensory world and does not treat them as meaningless or non-existent.  3.) Sensate - At this point, the culture tends to be interested only in those things (usually material in nature) that affect the senses. It seeks the imposing, the impressive, the voluptuous and it encourages self-indulgence... No apology is made for encouraging people to squander their resources on self-indulgence...
     The great democracies of the ancient world (e.g., Athens and the Roman Republic) arose during an idealistic culture and did not survive the shift to sensate culture. Democracy requires self-discipline and self-control on the part of the masses -- qualities that are derided and destroyed by sensate culture...  Our present sensate culture [the phase the U.S. is in right now] increasingly lacks one of the most important conditions for a vibrant democratic government, namely, moral responsibility and integrity on the part of the majority of the citizens. Democratic institutions necessarily presuppose that people will govern themselves in many areas of life, but this is precisely what is discouraged and impeded by the sensate attitude of "eat, drink and be merry."  The idea that there are certain eternal or divine principles of justice that most people will respect without compulsion (which is characteristic in both the ideational and idealistic cultures) disappears in a sensate culture where people are interested only in things that give pleasure, avert pain, and provide immediate gratification.  When people do not have ideals and principles that move them to act without compulsion for the good of all, no government functions smoothly or well.  In the sensate phase of society, it is extremely difficult to maintain faith in the moral legitimacy of government, whether monarchical or democratic....
     Democracy presupposes a consensus of values or widespread agreement concerning what constitutes the morally good and desirable life. These are features of an integrated culture, but they become lost as a culture disintegrates in a transition phase. Consequently, one can predict with certainty that the democracy that we in the West profess to value is doomed to die if the sensate phase continues without any fundamental reorientation. When any form of government functions well, without the need to resort to extensive compulsion (by force), it is a sign that the citizens it governs have an adequate degree of personal responsibility and integrity. In an overripe sensate culture, governing a large multitude of people becomes progressively more difficult no matter what the political system, whether monarchy or democracy, oligarchy or dictatorship, because people interested only in that which gratifies their own senses find it next to impossible to act spontaneously and without compulsion, for the benefit of the community...
     In his inaugural address in 1961, President Kennedy made an appeal to the remnants of the idealistic mentality among the American people: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." Unfortunately for the Kennedy's hopes, the remnant was not hardy enough to accomplish what he expected of it, for the culture was already too sensate, and the influence of the mass media and mass communication was rapidly exterminating virtually every memory of earlier idealistic attitudes...  Events of history -- "historical accidents" so to speak (ie: the murders of John Kennedy and his brother Robert, Vietnam, segregation, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., just to name a few) - have all contributed to the increasingly acute crisis of democratic theory in Western society, although its fundamental causes lie in the nature of the sensate culture itself, not in historic incidents, however dramatic...
When a sensate culture is wealthy and luxurious, as Western culture now is, it becomes increasingly difficult to motivate people to exert the self-denial and effort necessary to overcome dangers and avoid economic catastrophes...  It is difficult for the population of a democratic society in a late sensate culture to generate its own moral sense, or build the morale necessary to produce endurance under difficult and trying conditions. In such a culture, Jesus' words, "not to be served but to serve" (Matthew 20:28) strike most people as pure foolishness. Idealistic societies prize service; sensate societies cherish gain... As the sensate mentality becomes more pervasive, democratic politicians are forced to become nothing but demagogues, flattering the people and offering them easier and easier acquisition of more and more material goods and pleasures, as the Roman emperors provided the plebs with bread and circuses."
     This is not a political rant.  I don't belong to any party.  Nor do I indulge in politics.  I never bring them into the pulpit because I have never seen governmental systems as the answer to the human problem. I tend to follow Jesus on this and leave what is Caesar's to Caesar.  In fact, that's what impressed me about Prof. Brown -- after an entire course with him, I had no idea of his political affiliation, be it Democrat, Republican, or any other party (if he even belonged to one).  In fact, his general attitude seemed to be the one I espouse: That the Gospel of Jesus Christ was too radical to be held captive to any humanly devised political system or party.  That's about as political as I get!
     No, this "thought" is about the rise, and eventual demise, of any culture.  What brought it to prominence, and what will eventually lead to its downfall.  And I offer it to you simply as wise thoughts to consider, as well as soul-food to guide you in your prayers. Because cultural collapse, as our increasingly recurring glimpses have shown us, is a matter worthy of our earnest intercession.

In His Service, Pastor Jeff   

11.28.2017

Dear Christian Man, Why Are You So Lonely?

Greetings All!

     This week's "thought" comes to you from Nick DeColaRoss McCall, and was taken from their blog site "Cru."   It's about men needing male friendship -- what is necessary for that to happen, and what prevents that from happening. And you don't have to be a man to benefit from what is said here!   You may be a wife, brother, sister, child, or teenager soon to be heading into manhood. Or you may have a son, husband or friend who looks down, or feels lonely, and needs male friendships to help him grow,  become more connected, and find more joy and purpose through meaningful relationships with other godly or Christian men. If so, this article is worth a read.  Enjoy.










Dear Christian Man, Why Are You So Lonely?

     Enter the search terms “loneliness” and “men” into Google and notice many options it gives you. Millions. Major media outlets including the Boston Globe, New York Times and Huffington Post have all published studies on the phenomenon of male loneliness and its potential to become a health crisis…  So, what is coming between Christian men and the sense of brotherhood they long for?
Vulnerability scares men more than skydiving.

     Men are the masters of saying a lot without giving much away.  Many men want great friendships without any risk factor. Sharing an area of struggle or telling someone that you want to get to know them better feels risky. It is risky.  People can misunderstand us, judge us or otherwise disappoint us. If we’re honest, we’ve all known some form of rejection in our lives and we’d prefer to avoid that in our future. But the ability to be our authentic selves, our good, bad and ugly selves, is impossible without vulnerability.  Too many men’s events are full of talk about how we can be warriors for God while ignoring the realities of men who are losing their battles. Our common enemy loves to see an isolated Christian, and many are hiding in the corners of our gatherings or choosing not to come.  If this is you, you’re not alone. If you’re unsure who you can be real with, ask God to point you in the right direction.
Men don’t see each other in 3D.

     If you only see friends once a week for a Bible study, are you doing life together or checking boxes? Information alone doesn’t change our beliefs or lead to transformation. Biblical truth experienced through meaningful relationship is a recipe for life change.  Snake hunting in the Everglades. Eleven hours binge-watching HBO’s “Band of Brothers” in camouflage clothing. Monday night football. Coffee and acoustic music… Do something together with no obvious spiritual value. Having fun is a spiritual activity because it lowers the defenses we often put up in small group settings and allows people to see another side of us.  Far too often we paddle in shallow honesty while craving the deeper waters of transparency and vulnerability.
     Accountability is a popular term among Christian men. If we say it enough times each week we must be doing something right – right?  The danger is that we fall into the trap of attending a weekly men’s group and confessing the same thing without committing to whatever it takes to change. It’s not authentic because it lacks the courage to look at what’s driving our behavior…  Are you willing to let others ask you questions you don’t want to answer?  Are you willing to ask someone those questions?  You might have to put your superficial friendship on the line to reach for something better, but if nothing changes, nothing changes.

Men search in vain for the “right” small group.

     Men’s groups and events abound. We often look for the perfect group based on our stage in life and our first impressions of other people in the group. But this presents two problems. We won’t feel safe with people until we’ve been through something with them. And once the perfect group includes someone as imperfect as you, it’s days are numbered. Deeper friendships take more time than we’re used to giving anything these days. They also involve working through conflict, which we try to avoid at all costs.
Men have lost the art of living for others. 

     The paralytic in Mark 2 could never have had an audience with Jesus without his four friends tearing a hole in the roof and lowering him down.  They went the extra mile.  Do you ever feel paralyzed in your life as a Christian man?  Do you know others who fit that description?  What lengths will you go to for each other?  It might be taking calls in the middle of the night, or offering to have your friend live with you while they work through something. It might be something much simpler. What’s certain is that you’ll need to do more than “like” your friend’s Facebook posts, but so will they. This pursuit of deeper relationships is how you really want to live because it’s how you were designed to live.
Men cannot become their truest selves alone.

     Many of us have had mixed experiences with male role models growing up, but if we choose to avoid pursuing male friendships we stand no chance of healing old hurts. Those open wounds will wait patiently for the chance to hit you with a sucker punch.

     At one point in my early 20's a former girlfriend nicknamed me "Desperado" after the man spoken of in the song by that name. You know, the one "out mending fences for so long" who needed to "let somebody love [him]."  I assume it was because I wouldn't let anyone get too close to me.  Of course, the rugged, independent, individualist male image isn't as prevalent in society as it used to be (John Wayne and the Marlboro Man are known to very few today), but a degree of the image still lingers in the background of the male psyche to urge men to go it alone or think they really don't need deep male friendships.
     I was once one of those men. But I've gone through enough to realize it's not healthy, nor was it ever God's intended purpose that men isolate themselves and try to go it alone. In fact, that can be as bad as friendships with men who are bad influences. It can often get us into trouble and leave us with much pent-up stuff brewing inside.  Jesus established deep relationships with the inner three (Peter, James, and John) and very solid relationships with the other nine.  And though they had their moments of disagreement and relational friction, other than Judas they were there for each other and had each other's back. Even when Jesus sent the disciples out it was never alone -- but "two by two."  We would do well to heed His method and example!

In the Bonds of Christian Fellowship, Pastor Jeff 

11.22.2017

Christian Faith -- God as the Initiator of All and Every Saving Good

Greetings All!

     Today I share an excerpt that has to do with one of the most important aspects of the Christian faith -- God as the initiator of all and every saving good.  A. W. Tozer once spoke of this as well in the opening chapter of his classic work, "The Pursuit of God."  But James S. Stewart (1896-1990) emphasizes it even more strongly here in his classic work, "A Man in Christ - The Vital Elements of St. Paul's Religion."  (And lest there be any confusion, Stewart is not the famous Hollywood actor from the well-known Christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life," he was formerly Professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, a minister in the Church of Scotland, and Chaplain to the Queen of England from 1952-1966.)














     


     I pass his words along to you as something we all need to ponder, meditate upon, cherish, and take into the soul as truth that will stir the heart to praise God for His unspeakable grace. Read it, and then read it again, until every trace of contrary opinion is erased. And then let it move your heart to respond by bowing the knee in adoration of a God so gloriously worthy.  Enjoy.

     "Everything in religion that matters starts from God's side. Even faith and repentance and prayer, three attitudes of soul which might appear to originate in man and to be said to be human virtues, are, if we believe Paul, nothing of the kind. They are God's creation, God's gift. Faith because it is evoked by the action of God in revealing Himself as worthy of all trust, repentance because it is produced by the divine reaction to sin of which the cross is the culmination, and prayer because when "we know not what to pray for as we ought... the Spirit itself makes intercession for us."  In the words of Baron von Hugel, "The passion and hunger for God, comes from God, and God answers it with Christ." 
     Man's intelligence and will and heart and conscience never initiate anything in religion. And over the best moral and spiritual triumphs of this life the saints can only cry, "not unto us, Lord, but unto Thy name be glory" (Psalm 115:1).  In this sense at least, Schleiermacher was right when he defined religion as "absolute dependence."  Of ourselves, we can do nothing. There is no Creator but God.  "And every virtue we possess, And every victory won, And every thought of holiness, Are His and His alone."  This is the meaning of grace, and this is the inmost secret of reconciliation.
     It is hardly likely that a Gospel so annihilating to human pride will ever be popular with an age conscious of its own enlightenment and trusting in its own initiative for world redemption... Nor will Paul ever be 'persona grata' with those -- and there are many of them -- who seek, by a punctilious observance of religious ordinances, to screen from their own souls, and from others, the stern and disturbing fact that their first necessity is to have God change radically their whole attitude toward Himself.  If Paul's doctrine of reconciliation means anything, then the religion that is tinged with self-satisfaction, is, even when it bears the Christian name, a thing downright heathen, and the man who thinks his own deeds and character are doing God credit and have a claim on God's regard and favour, is the victim of a disastrous delusion. To spiritual pride of every degree, nothing could be more devastating than Paul's evangelicalism.  For where religion walks around clothed in the garments of moral unreality [thinking that by one's own efforts they can earn God's grace] his Gospel will always be anathema.
     But who cares? It is the Gospel of God and there is no other.  It is the very Gospel of Jesus, who proclaimed God's initiative first and last, who was Himself God's initiative become flesh. Jesus, whose eyes were like a flame of fire to those who would seek to appease His divine displeasure by their gifts and offerings and character, but whose eyes smiled the welcome of heaven to those who confessed they had no standing before God at all. Jesus, who did not wait until sinners sought Him, but went forth to seek them first, coming to bring the gift of reconciliation near to men, and dying to put it in their hands. No man who is too proud to be infinitely in debt [to God] will ever be a Christian. God gives forever, forever man receives.
    Is it incomprehensible that the holy God should thus deal with unworthy man?  Maybe, but as Barth pointedly remarks, "only when grace is recognized to be incomprehensible is it grace."   For me, Paul would say, religion began on the day when I ceased straining and striving and struggling for heaven's favour, and was content to bow my head and accept the gift I could never win.  It's all the doing of the God who has reconciled me to Himself through Christ" (II Cor. 5:12). 
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     A. W. Tozer put it this way: "Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him. Imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.  We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit.  "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44 and 65), and it is by this prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the outworking of that impulse is to follow hard after Him. All the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand" Thy right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:8).  In this divine "upholding" and human "following" there is no contradiction. All is of God, for as von Hugel teaches, God is always previous." (The Pursuit of God, pgs. 11-12)
     Take a moment to let that truth wash over you. It really will change your whole perspective on life and cause you to see God, and His grace, in a whole new light.

In The Bonds of Gospel Truth, Pastor Jeff