Between the Ends: June 28, 2016

” TOO MANY COMPROMISES… TOO MANY RETREATS. THE LINE MUST BE DRAWN HERE, THIS FAR AND NO FURTHER.”

Good dialogue but so much more…
That quote comes from Star Trek’s Captain Jean Luke Picard, as he realized that the aggressive behavior of the Borg required an answer from those who would remain faithful to the principles of freedom in the universe.  I thought of this, when my wife sent me a great piece from the folks at truth for life and Alistair Begg. In it he writes: “If you are really the chosen of God, and beloved by Him, do not allow all this lavish treasure of grace to be wasted on you. Pursue holiness; it is the Christian’s crown and glory. An unholy church is useless to the world and of no esteem among men. It is an abomination, hell’s laughter, heaven’s abhorrence. The worst evils that have ever come upon the world have been brought upon her by an unholy church.”
 

Now, think with me of Peter’s response to the reality of the world’s future as it rejects the gracious work of God, and pursues its own selfish course of destruction. The Apostle writes, ‚ÄúSince all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness.” 2 Peter 3:10

God’s calling for all of us is to pursue holiness. It has always been the pinnacle of God’s desire for his people. It was the subject of Jesus’ teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and the burden of Paul’s treatise on Romans, and yet with each year that passes, we fall further back.

  • The advance of the homosexual movement threatens us and so we fall back, and soften our position, not merely to love all people, but to condone the unholy “choice” of sinful behavior.
  • When prospective couples come to me for premarital counseling for their wedding, they increasingly cannot testify that they have remained morally pure,and so we fall back, and in many cases proceed almost undeterred. In fact, I’ve witnessed a reaction that questions why I would even dare to ask if they have been intimate with each other.
  • When churches seek leaders,they increasingly find the candidates to be soft in their desire for holy living and unconcerned about the purity in relationships with a spouse and other acquaintances, and so we fall back.
  • Churches often have outward rules, even standards for outward behavior but lack in its people a willingness to become vulnerable or accountable for their own sins of pride, bitterness, or a spirit of criticism; and so we fall back.

Over 200 years ago, Jonathan Edwards challenged his people to pursue holiness in spite of the many allurements of the world; which might surprise you to discover are the same we find today: greed, wanton sensuality, and the many distractions offed up as privileges in worldly living. It was the subject of countless sermons, the focus in his personal diary, and the capstone of his research in his “Miscellanies.”

And it should be the driving compulsion of our own lives, for anyone as Begg notes,”Having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2 Peter 1:4

The challenge remains for all of us; maybe it is high time to draw the line in the sand, and fall back no further…

MJC


Between the Ends: June 21, 2016

TRANSITIONS ARE IMPORTANT IN OUR LIFE, AND HERE’S WHY…

Sunday night we picked up our baby and brought here home.
Now, before you wonder if we’ve adopted while you weren’t looking, or re-enacted the pattern of Abraham and Sarah, our daughter Michaela is 23, just accepted a new job at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, and is moving home for the foreseeable future. She is in the middle of here latest transition, one which took her from the Dayton, Ohio area to her home circle of acquaintances, with many of her same friends; but practically none of the connections she had come to depend on for so long. And then’ there’s the new job! 
 
It is a brave new world for her. And she is not alone. Cleveland, Ohio is in a transition from a sports’s town that had not won a major sports championship in 50 years to the latest NBA championship- crowned city. Thanks, Lebron. Transitions are everywhere. You may have faced one years ago, recently, or, you may be in the middle of one as we speak. Not to fret.
 
There are plenty of examples, visible in the Scriptures, of those who experienced transitions; in Paul’s case, his eyes were opened to behold a glorious God who would take his murderous past and transform it into a greater glory. In Peter’s case, his life course was altered from a boastful failure to a man riding the cuspid for the evangelization of the gentile world.  And unfortunately, in Judas we see a transition from a man hopeful in God to one rejected, miserable, and hopeless apart from God. 
 
Take heart, As we make our way through the pages of Genesis , we find God, working his people through the biggest transition of all; separating those who cared little for the things of God from those to whom he entrusted his plan of redemption. And to Abram, himself a former  idol worshipper, God appeared and commended to him the fortunes of material and spiritual prosperity. It was required only that Abram trust God, walk with him, and follow his lead. 
 
In truth, the God of the Bible can be trusted with our lives, He is faithful, and mindful of every transition we endure- or by reason of his grace, enjoy.  Now,  that transition is part of the greater sanctification of our lives. Enjoy the ride. 

MJC 



Between the Ends: June 14, 2016

THE MEANING OF “COME TOGETHER” AND WHY IT MAY NOT ALWAYS BE A GOOD THING.

Buried in the pages of Holy Scripture is a passage, that while often misunderstood, provides a primer on the present world and its equally present clamor for “coming together.”  Now, don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of good reasons and plenty of biblical precedent for believers coming together and defending causes that advance holiness, promote biblical worship, and involve a clear presentation of the Gospel. They may advance the principles behind Philippians 4:8 or even good common sense living.
 
But, what  I hear most of  the time, and mostly from the media, has less to do with calling God’s people to address their biblical conscious and more often is used as a hook to attract anyone and everyone to an emotional soft-spot that precludes any inspection and critical examination.
 
In Genesis 11, Moses records the plea of a man we believe to be named Nimrod, who says in verse 3, “Come, let us make bricks…” and in the next verse, “come, let us build ourselves a city.” So, what’s the problem you say? Sounds like a good plan.
  1. For starters, when I hear, “let’s come together”, I’m reminded that it’s often a veiled attempt to eliminate the proper distinctions between people of biblical faith and people of the world. I may come together with anyone to condemn a tragedy, but I cannot come together with those who would either seek my physical destruction or those who would shrewdly use any opportunity to contribute to my moral demise. Can we always differentiate between what we can all agree with, and what may bruise our collective biblical conscience?  The Prophet Amos has something to say about that. (Amos 3:3)
  2. Secondly, it suggests a loosening of theological restraint so as not to hinder anyone from being a part of the larger group. Those who represent a larger consensus must be right and can then easily ignore the “unwarranted distinctions” that cause some people of biblical faith to express concern. In a world driven by emotional manipulation, and not ideas, it’s only the “group think” that matters.  I mean, after all, who doesn’t agree that sex trafficing is evil, but, well, abortion, hmm, got to think about that.
  3. Thirdly, and maybe the most damning; it assumes the goal in “coming together” is automatically valid, without considering the possibility that the gathering is neither culturally advisable biblically defendable,or morally commendable.
 

Consider this from Genesis 11. Those who were seeking a consensus to build a tower to the heavens, had neither God in mind or the worship of His Person– a fact that I hope to bring out on Sunday. Their interest was a self-centered, even demonic push to unite around the god of this world. God put an end to such nonsense then as He always will when the cause is not just, and the direction is not true. It may not happen today, nor tomorrow, and my plea is that we would find our hope in God and our salvation in Jesus alone. I’m not at all bitter, only hopeful that the “Angels of our better nature”, will fall at God’s feet and seek his presence and his perfect will.  

Now, that is something that we can come together to believe. 

MJC 



Between the Ends: June 7, 2016

THE NEXT BIG THING: WHAT GRADUATES REALLY NEED.

Because we’re all in a revolving door called life, we find ourselves confronting new vistas and uncharted worlds, which often bring with them new opportunities and new challenges.  In 1976, there I stood as a proud police officer for the 1st MP Co, 716th MP Battalion, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley Ks.  With me were the essentials of my police equipment: weapon, handcuffs, nightstick, and radio. I was ready for the new phase of my life…  I think. The truth, probably, not so much…
 

Your success in life will depend upon certain essentials, especially when your life enters a new phase! I’ve enjoyed several new phases in my life- and whether it was college, the army, marriage, family, seminary, business, church planting, or non-profit, I have faced decisions… And I have discovered: Every decision matters, because they all have consequences. 

The Great Noah of the Bible spent just over a year, in transition from what he was before, to what he would become in a brave new world! He was stripped of most everything he owned when he entered the ark. When he emerged from his hibernation there were but a few essentials at his disposal- the same, by the way, that are yours as well.

For starters: 

  1. Your own vessel (body): Your body is the only one you’re going to get and God expects it to be exercised in holiness and Holy abandon.  “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion… For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification.”  (1Thess.4). “Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.” (1Cor.9:24-27). Noah allowed his pre-occupation with alcohol to blur his focus and his judgment! You cannot!
  2. Your time: we are all given 24 hours in a day and each day is to be lived with the recognition that you are accountable to God for everything you do with it!  Noah understood this while the ark was under construction; lost sight of it when the crisis had passed. He confused leisure with lasciviousness  and woke up to a drunken, mindless stupor. God says, “Redeem the time”, because we live in an evil day! (Ephesians 5:17)
  3. Your relationship with God. Protect it, nourish it and sustain it with the Scriptures. If you have no mission statement for your life, get one… if you’re not in a habit of a daily meditation where you come to the altar of God, then start one. Some of you are entrusting your eternity to some emotional decision you made when you were ten without so much of any biblical evidence, testimony, or growth to confirm you really are a believer. You’re on shaky ground!
  4. Your wisdom: God’s covenant with Noah sustained him, if not instructed him in everything from construction of the ark to the care of his family. But in the crucible of temptation, his wisdom lacked the discernment between what was available and what’s advisable. Alcohol may be allowable in the Scriptures but there’s plenty of support for why it’s not wise for the believer. (all things are lawful… But I will not be mastered by anything: I Cor. 6:12
 

And every day of your college life, work life, or private life, you will bump up against situations that will challenge these essentials. The expectations for your walk with God don’t change because you’re now an adult, you’re retired, you’re in a tough profession, or you’re suffering under duress. 

The point is, that every decision matters, because they all have consequences. Choose wisely!

MJC 



Between the Ends: May 31, 2016

PATRIOTISM LOST!

Having just celebrated another Memorial Day, I got a jump start on Summer’s burgers, dogs, and watermelon. But I worry that the the deeper understanding behind the holiday has been lost. We all know that patriotic holidays are more than days off and time on the lake, but why is that? 
 
The founders of Memorial Day or Decoration Day as some of you will know it, saw a relationship between the God we love and the land we occupy. They understood that the patriotism we manifested was a nation’s grateful response to the blessings we had received from God. And so, reflecting on the patriotic concert the other evening at the PBS Memorial Day special, I’m struck by the growing cavern between patriotism and Christianity.  America is beautiful but not because she has people who die in Vietnam, Iraq, or North Korea, but because God shed His grace on all of us.  And that One act of love motivated others to pick up their crosses and give their lives for something bigger than hot dogs and pop in the campground.  I’m not sure this generation or the previous one gets it!
 
Ok, back to the special for a moment. As clearly and profoundly as the the lyrics to America the Beautiful declared it, the remainder of the program could muster no more gratitude to God than a “High-Five” to a higher power. Really? 
 
To memorialize, says Webster, is to honor by remembering, so when I honor the sacrifice of many, I must soon honor the sacrifice of One… The One who died to make me truly free.
 
Now, just to set the record straight, I served my country in the military, as did one of my sons. I served because I felt an obligation to defend our unique way of life, and to set aside my wants for something more lasting.
 
But let’s remember that it was God who moved the hearts of many (Pilgrims and Puritans) to sacrifice their way of life, and in some cases, their lives, if only to become that city on the hill for you. Which given our current state of affairs, makes the pledge of Allegiance, a bit sticky:
 
I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United Stares of America. And to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…
 
Again, really?

God bless America– please!

MJC 



Between the Ends: May 24, 2016

LET’S HANG OUT TOGETHER!

The other day while I was working in the library at a local college, I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation between a couple of young women who knew each other and were surprised to see each other in that setting. After a few moments of small talk, the conversation ended but not before one woman said, “Hey, we should hang out together soon,” and the other, responded, “Yea, you know,  we should.”
 
Almost weekly I receive a notification from”LinkedIn” a business social website, that someone would like to connect with me. Wow, isn’t that cool… someone wants to become my friend. 
 
Amazing, all around us we find people, living rather isolated lives, some narcissistic, some merely lonely, but almost everyone looking for the benefits that come from engaging with another person. 
 
And why not, God, who is by his very nature, a social “person”, crafted us in his own image, provided the first man a perfectly compatible partner; then communicated with the crown of his creation on a regular basis, and encouraged them to fill the earth, thereby creating families, tribes, nations.. you get the idea. 
 
Like it or not, the two most important commands from God are
  • Love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and
  • Love your fellow man, (love the brethren)
In the fullness of time, God sent His son for a generation that needed their relationship with God restored, and in so doing, He called the Church into existence. His church, not the PTA, not the AYSO soccer league, not the bowling league, baseball team, or any other society or club, now serves as the primary medium for people to gather, to interact, and to share the most intimate details of their walk on this earth with others who share the same spiritual DNA as they do. “Sorry, God, no time, got to _____ tonight…”
 
By the way, it should not surprise you that 12 step programs for addictive behavior require their members show up to regular meetings with their peers. It works, because long ago, God set in place an assembly that was to serve the wide range of needs that redeemed sinners all have: Worship, learning, prayer, and fellowship.
 
“And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread  in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts.” Acts 2:46
 
So, let’s think about where we “hang out” and why?


Between the Ends: May 17, 2016

ARE WE ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS?

 

Someone asked me a few weeks ago, “Hey pastor, who do you think was Cain’s wife?” I did my best impression of a pastor who knows, and I do think I offered the correct answer but here’s a thought… often the questions we ask in response to an assertion or question, will help further understanding. The other day, another person asked me, ” how would you respond if someone said that their sinful behavior is acceptable before God because the Holy Spirit said it was okay?” Again, the best answer might be found at the end of the questions we ask.

In a great piece by John Stonestreet from Breakpoint Daily, Stonestreet provides a toolkit for responding to especially controversial questions that come our way. I’ll include the link to the article at the end, but the take-away here is a series of questions that can be offered, “When you know that to have an opinion counter to the new cultural orthodoxy is to be thought of as hateful or intolerant.”

I might add that one of the skills most used by Jesus was the practice of asking poignant questions to drive the individual back to the real issue behind their question. I’ll list Stonestreet’s toolkit for you:

  1. What do you mean by that?The battle of ideas is a battle over the meaning of words. 
  2. How do you know that is true?Assertions are not necessarily arguments.
  3. Where did you get this information? Make sure they have the facts.
  4. How did you come to this conclusion? Behind most questions, as I said earlier is a hurt, a story, or a pain that is looking for relief. 
  5. Final two questions? What if you’re wrong? What if you’re right? Ideas and actions bring consequences.Are we prepared to face them? 
 
Want to see more? Go to Breakpoint.org for more information.
 
Who’s on your prayer list this week?   
Have you asked God to bless our church, its pastor, or the church that you attend lately?


Between the Ends: May 10, 2016

WHY THE OBITUARY SHOULD BE REQUIRED READING

Do you know why I like Sunday evening gathering at our church? Because the tone is different and the worshipful setting of the morning is augmented with a equally worshipful evening interaction between pastor and people. It’s the off-camera, unprepared, and vulnerable responses from people that make these services distinctive and beneficial. In honor of Mother’s Day, I asked the question, ” What is the best memory and the worst memory of Mothers’ Day you have?” One of our dear ladies, replied in part, ” It’s losing a child (children), and confronting the helplessness and anger that follows, challenging your trust of the Savior and your attitude.” 

Death is that awful enemy, isn’t it, that relentless pursuer of your dreams, and the one adversary we cannot shake in life. But as I will remind you on Sunday from Genesis 5, in a world where death is the constant companion for everyone, God injects Himself into that world in three very distinctive ways:

  1. God is at work, pursuing the individual. 
  2. God is at work, protecting His Remnant (Chosen ones). 
  3. God is at work, sustaining the family that bears His name. 
 

In a world where the culture of death reigns over the spiritual and physical world,depriving it of longevity and laughter, there is yet good news.

God is not dead, He continues to pursue individuals, in order that He might draw them to Himself; He will maintain a remnant on the earth until He comes; and, He sustains the presence of Family through His church and those who boldly confess His name before the world. 

And therefore, even in the obituaries, we can praise Him. 
 
What are your ten highest priorities this week? 
Where does pursuing the Holiness of God rank in those expectations?


Between the Ends: May 3, 2016

HYPOCRISY GETS A FACE LIFT

I had two experiences as a soldier in the late 70’s that have shaped my understanding of human nature these many years since. Throughout the 7 weeks of our basic training, we were instructed in Judo (martial arts self defense) as a part of hand-to-hand combat instruction. I will never forget the drill sergeant’s final words that day, “Men,” he said, “you have learned exactly enough to kill yourselves.” The second lesson also occurred in the military, this time as we were preparing to deploy to Germany for a readiness exercise. Having completed a “short course” in German, we ready… only to discover we were asking the locals,”Who is the toilet,” rather than “Where is the toilet.”

What does this have to do with you? Plenty! Truth is, we can become very proficient at knowing the “language” of Christianity without every knowing the righteousness associated with a life in pursuit of God’s holiness (I Thess. 4). We learn just enough to become dangerous– able to fool ourselves and others into believing that we are in a right relationship with God. After all, no-one knew the finer points of the law better than the Pharisees, and yet I find it almost unimaginable that these same leaders were willing to prostitute themselves (or at least one volunteer) by committing fornication, if only they could trap the Lord Jesus– and all because they could not conquer their own pride. 

Let’s not fool ourselves; either about the depths to which the human heart can sink, the distance we can find ourselves from Christ, or even our perception of the slack hand of God’s judgment to deal with our wretched condition. Not convinced… read Genesis 6.
 
By the way, the Teens are working on a mission statement for their lives. Have you tried writing one yet? What should be the primary goals for our Christian life?


Between the Ends: April 26, 2016

A world evolving badly

Many years ago, as our children were growing up and the digital world was still in it’s infancy, Debbie and I were determined to put toys and activities in front of our kids that were designed to nurture their creativity, build their problem solving abilities, and counteract the mind numbing effects of a steady diet of only television. With that in mind, they received “Lego’s” for Christmas presents, were required to take piano lessons, and were restricted in the amount of computer access they could have. One game both of our boys enjoyed was “Sim-City”. Its premise was that you were in charge of building a city; laying out its dimensions, creating the industries and amenities it would offer, and determining how the culture would function. Josh and Daniel loved playing the game and would spend hours creating their own cities; cities as you might guess, vastly different from one another in their makeup.  

Unfortunately, that is the burden that Cain was saddled with but in his case, he was a murderer, now without a home, and soon,, a husband and father without a purpose, or spiritual legacy. He was as it is said, a “man without a country,” and more importantly, no God in his life, with which to give him a vision, or hold him accountable. When we throw off God’s accountability, we’re left with ourselves as the sole authority for our behavior, and honestly, that is often discouraging, and aways dangerous. In Cain’s case, he marries and then builds a city, and with those two actions, the secular world was born; from then on, it will pose a threat to the blessings and potential that can come to culture when God is exalted, His wisdom sought after, and His authority respected. 

With Cain, all were left with is, “Sin-City.” 

MJC