On Helping without Being a Fool

3 Mar

Helping people is complicated.

It is always complicated, and becomes only increasingly so, when you are attempting to cross cultures. Now obviously there is a big difference between complicated and impossible. And as believers, we have tremendous advantages as we go to help people, in that we have a Word that transcends cultures, a God who is not bound by our culture, and the Spirit who speaks to people in all sorts of different cultures. But, we are going to have a difficult time really benefiting from those advantages, if we don’t at least acknowledge, that helping people cross culturally is complicated.

In an interesting article on what’s happening with the non-profit, Invisible Children, the author quotes someone who tries to help us appreciate just how difficult helping others cross culturally can be.

He writes,

“Imagine you had some really well-meaning Japanese high school student who is really motivated by what he sees on the television about Ferguson. He shows up in Ferguson and he wants to help, he wants to make a difference. He doesn’t speak English, doesn’t have much money. What’s that person going to do other than get hurt or cause trouble? Nothing whatsoever.

“Now imagine this guy was a millionaire. Whatever this guy does is just going to be a disaster. How could it not be? You look at that and it’s obvious. Just try to put yourself on the other side of this. Now we’re the Japanese billionaires. We’re just as foreign. We’re just as clueless. We’re just as relatively wealthy.”

Again, I don’t think this kind of illustration means it’s impossible to help. In some ways it is a bit of a caricature. Because, it is assuming the person is foolish and not willing to learn and listen. Plus, the reality is, sometimes people from different cultures can see things that those within the culture cannot. But, with all of those qualifications, it does make a point, doesn’t it?

It is very difficult to help others if you don’t at least start by recognizing your own difficulties in understanding and then moving from there to really loving them and listening. I personally think one of the best helps I have had towards becoming a missionary was receiving training in biblical counseling, because when it comes to helping people, truly biblical counseling emphasizes the importance of involvement, entering into the world of the people you are counseling and asking questions and listening to the answers.

Helping people doesn’t end there, but that’s a good place for it to start, and it seems especially difficult for many of us, who are American Christians.

Is the Spirit of God at Work in Your Church? part 2

23 Feb

What does it look like when the Spirit of God is at work in your church?

To answer that question, we’re first going to look at the comparison Paul makes in Ephesians 5:18.

This comparison is basically the setup for the rest of the verse and so if you’re going to understand the rest of the passage, it helps to begin with this comparison. When Paul says “and do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit” he’s making a comparison. It’s actually probably better to say he’s making a contrast and it’s a contrast that at first seems a little strange for us.

I understand that we’re not supposed to get drunk with wine and I understand that we’re supposed to be filled with the Spirit but why does Paul mention these two things back-to-back? Why does he say “and do not get drunk with wine” and then in his mind he thinks that is an appropriate contrast to being filled with the Spirit?

The reason Paul mentions these two commands back-to-back as a “put off” and a “put on” is because he’s really describing two radically different kinds of lifestyles. He’s talking about two radically different ways of living. The first way of living, “do not get drunk with wine,” is a foolish lifestyle. If you look down at the text you’ll see how Paul commanded us in verse 15, he says, “Look carefully then how you walk. Not as unwise but as wise.” And then in verse 17 he says, “Therefore do not be foolish.” This way of living that he describes at the beginning of verse 18 is just an expression of how a foolish person lives.

It’s how a person who doesn’t understand the gospel and how it connects to his life lives. He’s consumed with the desire for earthly pleasure. The days are evil, the world is wicked and so how does he respond to the fact that the world is wicked? He is consumed with a desire for pleasure. That’s getting drunk with wine at it’s core. That’s what you’re doing when you get drunk with wine, you’re cramming your face with pleasure. Getting drunk with wine is an expression of a foolish kind of lifestyle where a person’s appetite for earthly pleasure is out of control. It’s where a person’s appetite for earthly pleasure is the thing that controls him. That’s why Paul, the next thing he says, he says “don’t get drunk with wine for that is debauchery.” Do you know what “debauchery” means? It means “wildness.” Paul says, “That’s living like an animal.”

Being controlled by a desire for earthly pleasure is living this life in a foolish way like an animal.They are thirsty, these people, and the thing they look to to satisfy their thirst is earthly pleasure which is why this is such a good place for us to start as a church. When we think about: is the Spirit of God working in this church? here’s the question we need to begin with: where as a church are we looking to for ultimate satisfaction? We’re talking about control.

Is the Spirit of God filling this church? Well, what is it that is really in control of what we do and what we think and the way we live our lives out? Is it the same thing as the world? A desire for pleasure, earthly pleasure? Is our appetite for earthly pleasure what controls us? Is that the center of our lives? Are we controlled by a lust for more? We need to ask that because there’s a lot of religious activity that is trying to use God the same way a drunk uses alcohol. A drunk looks to alcohol and stuffs his face with alcohol because of his passion for pleasure now and that’s the way many people are in terms of their relationship with God. The reason they’re excited about church, the reason they come to church, why they do what they do at church is all about pleasure now. How can I use God to get what I want now?

What happens when we’re controlled by earthly pleasures and not the Spirit, it produces chaos in our lives and in our relationships. Paul says it’s debauchery. It leads to wildness.

It’s kind of like, I think, if you can imagine you enter a room, there’s a lot of people, this is the foolish lifestyle, this is the way many people are living in their life, it’s the opposite of being controlled by the Spirit, but there are many people, and it’s sort of like if you enter a room and you can imagine in this room there are all kinds of instruments, there is a drum, there is a guitar, there is a piano, there is a keyboard, there is a trumpet. And these people enter the room and with the foolish person, the foolish people, it’s like they go into the room and they’re taking these instruments which could make beautiful music but they’re going wild just playing these instruments as loudly as they can with no clue how the instruments are supposed to work and that’s what’s happening in our world. God has filled this world with all sorts of instruments that give him glory and are intended to bring us pleasure but the world doesn’t know how to use them in a way that honors God and so what we hear is chaos, chaos. Loud crazy chaos.

And one of the ways we can tell something is happening in our church is that we are in the process of stopping misusing the instruments God’s placed in this world and as a result that loud crazy chaotic noise is being turned down a bit in our lives and in our relationships. Meaning, more specifically, that the church that is filled with the Spirit has turned and is turning from being controlled by desire for earthly pleasures like alcohol. They’re not foolishly trying to find ultimate satisfaction in things that are not satisfying and instead they’re being driven by a thirst for something that does satisfy, something that does last, something that is more significant than earthly pleasure and that is the gospel, God and the person and work of Jesus Christ.

So, if we want to know if we are filled with the Spirit, the first place to look is at this comparison.

What is controlling you? What is it that controls you?

The days are evil, where do you turn to for satisfaction? Are you stuffing your face with more and more earthly pleasure now, is that what controls you? Well, that’s the opposite of a life that is controlled by the Holy Spirit.

Is the Spirit of God at Work in Your Church?

19 Feb

I’ve found that people ask all sorts of different questions when you talk to them about church.

Sometimes the questions they ask seem like funny questions. Sometimes they’ll ask you questions that seem like good questions. And sometimes they’ll ask you questions that at first seem like funny questions but in reality are pretty good questions.

Like, sometimes people ask, “Is the Spirit of God at work at your church?”

Now, that can seem a little bit like a funny question because what pastor is ever going to say that the Spirit of God is not at work at his church? Certainly not a pastor who’s concerned about what the Bible has to teach.

On the other hand, though, it can be a good question. It’s not just a funny question. It can be a good question for a whole lot of reasons. For starters, we are desperately dependent on the Spirit’s work. We, as a church, desperately need the Spirit of God to be at work.

We cannot accomplish anything that matters as a church apart from the Spirit of God’s work.

The Bible would be an incredible burden to us as a church if we came week after week after week and the Spirit of God was not at work in this church.

Take a book like Ephesians.

Ephesians would be an incredible burden on our back because all throughout this book Paul’s been describing God’s great goal for us as a church and how God is calling on us to live as a church and it’s huge, really.

Think in your mind throughout the book of Ephesians.

Paul has told us things like, “God has a great plan of presenting us to himself holy and blameless and above reproach.” He’s told us even in chapter 5 that we are to be imitators of God which is a shocking command.The Apostle Paul has told us as a church that we need to be like God and he’s exhorted us in chapter 5 as we’ve studied this chapter, to be radically different than the people around us, specifically, you remember, he’s called us to be sexually pure. He says there shouldn’t even be a hint of sexual immorality in the church and he’s told us to turn from greed and he’s told us that our conversation needs to be different. Then he goes on to say in verses 15-17 of chapter 5 that we are to make the most of every opportunity. He acknowledges that the days in which we live are evil, we know that, and Paul says, “In evil days, because the days are evil, we need to grab hold of every single opportunity we have as a church to glorify God and to do people good.” He tells us we are to understand what the will of the Lord is, understand what God wants for our lives and all of this is very exciting: to be holy and blameless, to be like God, to be different than the world, to know what God wants for my life, to make the most of every opportunity.

It’s all very exciting but it is kind of overwhelming when you start to think about it because how in the world are we ever going to be able to do all of that?

I know me and I know a little bit of what God’s like, how am I going to be like God? I know us and I know a little bit of what the world is like, how are we going to be sexually pure? How are we going to stand before God holy and blameless and above reproach? How are we going to accomplish all these different commands that Paul describes for us in the book of Ephesians?

An important part of Paul’s answer is found in the work of the Spirit in terms of our everyday holiness. It’s found in what Paul talks about when he describes in verse 18 the importance of being filled with the Spirit. An important part of the way, as one man puts it, that “we fulfill God’s great purpose for our lives and for our church is by being filled with the Spirit continually” which is why this is a pretty good question.

Is the Spirit of God at work?

Because if the Spirit of God is not at work doing this in us, the whole rest of the book of Ephesians cannot be fulfilled. If the Spirit is not at work in this way, if as someone has said, if you could somehow delete verse 18 from Ephesians 5 about the Spirit filling believers, then everything else in this book would become legalistic and actually pretty much impossible.

The problem is not with people asking you, “Is the Spirit of God at work?”

The problem instead is sometimes with the way they try to go about answering it because they’re often looking to things as proof of the Spirit of God’s work that are very different than what Paul described as evidence of the Spirit of God’s work.

This is one of those questions there can be a whole lot of confusion about.

What does it mean for the Spirit of God to fill a church? What does it look like in a church, in a community, when the Spirit of God is really at work?

There are a lot of people who are answering that question in a way that’s very different than how the Apostle Paul does. In the next several posts, I want us to look at Ephesians 5, and what we will see is that one of the primary proofs that the Spirit of God is really at work in a church is when the lifestyle of believers in that church and the relationship of the members of that church are being radically transformed from what they were before they were saved, to something that looks a whole lot more like Jesus Christ.

In other words, as we look at our church and we ask, “Are we being filled with the Spirit of God the way we should?” what we’re going to see we need to look for, what we need to look at, is if we as a people are delighting more and more in Christ and experiencing more and more joy in Christ and becoming more and more like Christ Sunday after Sunday after Sunday.

Peace and Tranquility and Prosperity

4 Feb

Peace.

We sometimes think the way we gain peace is by getting more. More money. More security. More achievements. More people knowing about us.

And so we attempt to achieve peace by working more, earning more, knowing more, doing more.

John Calvin suggests this approach to obtaining peace is wrong-headed. Instead, a peaceful life begins with giving yourselves and possessions and desires and ambitions to God and trusting completely in his blessing.

He writes,

“To begin with, then, in seeking either the convenience or the tranquility of the present life, Scripture calls us to resign ourselves and all our possessions to the Lord’s will, and to yield to him the desires of our hearts to be tamed and subjugated.”

Instead of thinking I will achieve the life I want by getting something outside of me, I will instead find peace when I trust all that I have and all that I want to God’s wisdom about what is best for me. We have to make a deliberate and daily decision to do this, because we are wanting beings, and our desires are constantly running this way and that. In particular, Calvin continues,

“To covet wealth and honors, to strive for authority, to make for magnificence and pomp, our lust is mad, our desire boundless. On the other hand, wonderful is our fear, wonderful our hatred, of poverty, lowly birth, and humble condition! And we are spurred to rid ourselves of them by every means. Hence we can see how uneasy in mind all those persons are who order their lives according to their own plan. We can see how artfully they strive – to the point of weariness – to obtain the goal of their ambition or greed, while, on the other hand, avoiding poverty or lowly condition.”

If left to ourselves, we run as fast as we can from humbling situations towards positions of importance. We naturally strive for achieving a better position for ourselves, but unfortunately this pursuit often distracts us from really enjoying and using the life God’s given us.

How do we avoid getting stuck in this trap?

Especially, when everything and everyone around us is encouraging us to engage in this pointless pursuit.

John Calvin continues,

“In order not to be caught in such snares, godly men must hold to this path. First of all, let them neither desire nor hope for, nor contemplate any other way of prospering than by the Lord’s blessing. Upon this, then, let them safely and confidently throw themselves and rest. For however beautifully the flesh may seem to provide for itself, while it either strives by its own effort for honors and riches or relies upon its diligence, or is aided by the favor of men, yet it is certain that all these things are nothing, nor will we benefit at all, by skill or by labor, except in so far as the Lord prospers them both. On the contrary, however, his blessing alone finds a way, even through all hindrances, to bring all things to a happy and favorable outcome for us.”

If I want peace, instead of worrying so much about how I can get more, I need to work hard at resting in God’s loving concern for me and trusting that He will provide for me exactly what I need when I want it.

Relying on the Lord’s blessing alone like this is not only right, it is wise. If we get everything we want by our own strength, we won’t be able to enjoy it. It will be a cursed prosperity.

“Again, though we might be enabled to obtain some glory and riches for ourselves by following our own plans and trusting in our own efforts, if the curse of God rests on us, we will not really taste even the least particle of lasting happiness from it. (A worldly prosperity may be attained in forgetfulness of God, but it is accursed.) Without God’s blessing, we shall obtain nothing but what turns to our misfortune. For we ought by no means to desire what makes men more miserable. Therefore, suppose we believe that every means towards a prosperous and desirable outcome rests upon the blessing of God alone, and that, when this is absent, all sorts of misery and calamity dog us. It remains for us not greedily to strive after riches and honors, whether relying upon our own skills, our intelligence, or our own diligence, or depending upon the favor of men, or having confidence in vainly imagined fortune – but for us always to look to the Lord so that by his guidance we may be led to whatever lot he has provided for us. Thus it will first come to pass that we shall not dash out to seize upon riches and usurp honors through wickedness and by evil plans, or greed, to the injury of our neighbors, but pursue only those enterprises which do not lead us away from innocence.”

The Pleasantness of Religion

2 Feb

As believers we often talk about the importance of self-denial and picking up our cross in following Christ.

And, of course, we should.

As we do so however, we should be careful to remember that we are not simply talking about self-denial for the sake of self-denial. In other words, the reason we talk so much about self-denial is not simply because we do not believe in pleasure.

The reality is while there are many difficulties that come into our lives as a result of following after Jesus, there is also tremendous joy and good that is produced as well. Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus. It is in fact so sweet that Jonathan Edwards once said, “It would be worthwhile to be religious, if it were only for the pleasantness of it.”

I suppose it would be hard to prove this to someone who hasn’t experienced it, but for those of us who know the joys of following Christ, this kind of statement is obvious. Still, it helps to remember just how kind God has been in saving us, even in terms of our life as it stands right now, and so Jonathan Edwards suggests five different proofs that a real relationship with God makes life more sweet.

1. It doesn’t stop us from enjoying legitimate earthly pleasures.

God has filled this world with many different things to enjoy. The smell of bread. The taste of chocolate. The beauty of the ocean. The sounds of music. Our relationship with God, following Jesus, it doesn’t stop us from enjoying these things. As Edwards once put it, “The sensual man cannot boast of the enjoyment of any kind of gratification but what the religious man may enjoy as well.”

What our relationship with God does do is teach us how to enjoy these pleasures in a way that doesn’t harm us. “Religion teaches us to use temporal comforts like men and not like brutes, like reasonable creatures and not as if we had nothing else but sense and no understanding.”

2. It doesn’t only not stop us from enjoying legitimate earthly pleasures, it helps us enjoy them better.

Tools work best when they are used for their purpose. A hammer is a great tool, but not as a toothbrush. Earthly pleasures are like tools God has given us. But the wicked man doesn’t really know how to use them. He doesn’t know their purpose. He uses them in ways they weren’t intended. And so, over and over, he takes good tools and breaks them. The godly person however, by God’s grace, is enlightened as to the purpose of pleasure and is trained in its use, so the tool does its job and he is able to actually delight in that pleasure to its fullest.

3. It keeps us from false pleasures which though they look like they will produce joy only really produce pain.

Sin is pleasurable for a moment and sorrowful for a lifetime. Satan is a master at presenting the bait and hiding the hook, and our relationship with God, makes our lives sweeter, by keeping us from being ensnared by temptations that look pleasurable but really only ensnare us.

4. The difficulties that our relationship with God brings into our life, in the end, only increase our joy.

If we look carefully at the things that seem most difficult about following Jesus, we will see that even though they are hard at first, they actually increase one’s joy.

For example, repentance. “Repentance of sin is a sorrow arising from the sight of God’s excellency and mercy, but the apprehension of excellency or mercy must necessarily and unavoidably beget pleasure in the mind of the beholder.” In other words, when we see the glory of God it does cause us to sorrow over our sin and turn from it, and that is difficult, but at the same time, we do get to see the glory of God and that produces joy. Plus, repentance produces joy in that it refreshes us in the forgiveness God’s offered in Christ and enables us to have peace in our minds in terms of our relationship with Him.

5. It produces pleasures that are deeper and profound than can be found in any ordinary earthly pleasures by themselves.

“The religious man enjoys spiritual pleasures that are much better than any others. He has pleasures of mind as well as pleasure of body.”

We don’t only follow Jesus for the good it will produce us, the giver is more important than the gift, but as we follow Jesus, we should rejoice that we serve a God who is so kind, that He has stuffed His commands with kindness, and in calling us to pursue Him is calling us to pursue our greatest good.

How Spiritual Knowledge is Obtained

29 Jan

There is no knowledge as valuable as spiritual knowledge. Sometimes it seems like there is no knowledge more rare.

How is spiritual knowledge obtained? Jonathan Edwards suggests the following:

1.) The procuring cause is Jesus:

It was purchased for them through the work of Jesus Christ. For me to have spiritual knowledge, Jesus had to die and I need to be united to Him.

2.) The immediate efficient cause is the Spirit:

All spiritual saving light is given by the immediate teaching of the Holy Spirit. For me to have spiritual knowledge, the Spirit of God has to remove the obstacles in my heart and give me a soft and teachable heart that can understand what the Scriptures are saying.

3.) The means by which this knowledge is communicated is the Word:

This is the only likely way to ever obtain this knowledge, to converse very much with the holy Word of God, frequently to read the holy Scriptures. And if anyone is seeking after spiritual understanding, and does not do this, he can reasonably expect no other than to be disappointed.For me to have spiritual knowledge, I need to devote myself to the study of Scriptures.

4.) The foundation of this spiritual knowledge is regeneration:

Man must be made of an angelical nature before he has angelical knowledge; he must be made partaker of the divine nature before he is partaker of divine light. For me to have spiritual knowledge, I need to be born again.

Taken and adapted from Jonathan Edwards, A Spiritual Understanding

Seeing Things At A Distance

29 Jan

“The views of some men are confined to a narrow compass…nothing seems real to them but what they see with their eyes, and is the object of their bodily senses. The reason of this is a certain narrowness of soul, that has but a very scanty and confined knowledge, confined to the dust they tread on. This world appears very great to them, and worthy to set their hearts upon. ‘Tis because of a littleness of soul, they are like insects, worms and ants, to whom a little hillock looks like a mountain, and a spire of grass like a tree, and not like men, who tread these things under their feet as very little things not worthy the minding.

So they are of very narrow views and conceptions with respect to time. They can see no farther than just before them, and the things of another world, they are too great and too far off for them to behold…This is from a certain littleness of soul, and a pitiful scantiness and narrowness of mind, that they can’t realize the things of another world because they can’t see them, will not realize things that are to come because they be not present.

But to the spiritual man, God hath given largeness of heart, greatness of soul, that he sees and understands the things of the spiritual world as well as this. It’s beneath the greatness of their souls to be confined to a little clod of earth, and to a seventy years. They see things at a distance, and can see the reality of things that are to be a thousand years hence, as well as at present.”

Jonathan Edwards

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