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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

What To Do When Men of God Disagree?

Just some thoughts...

What do you do when men of God disagree? Years ago when I was in seminary and had not been in the ministry very long, I was confused and dismayed by some disagreements that some of my "spiritual heroes" had.  Godly men, sincere, yet they held views that were, though not polar opposites, different about certain biblical understandings.  I did, and still do have great respect for these men, but at the time I seemed to be stuck with the option of agreeing with one, which would of necessity would mean the other was “wrong.” Both men knew the scriptures and the depth of their relationship with Christ was above question. My desire was to choose the one that was "right," but how could they both be "right"?

I will come back to this in a moment, but first I want to digress with a similar example from the history of our worship and congregational song between two men who had virtually polar beliefs based from the same passage. Benjamin Keach, a Particular Baptist pastor in the late 1600's, believed that it was biblical to sing hymns ["songs of human composure" as they described them], while Isacc Marlow, a member of Keach's congregation, favored the tradition of the day of only singing from the psalter, that is, from the metrical versions of the psalms. Without wading into too many details, both men wrote treatises expounding their rationales [Marlow first, then Keach in response], both grounding their positions in Col. 3:16.  The details of their arguments are interesting, but not necessary for the point right now: Godly men can differ, and differ substantially over the very same passage. Can both be right?

What is missing is perspective. If I could hold in my hand a large multi-faceted diamond, the facets and colors that I would see would most likely be different than the ones that the person in front of me would be observing. Both the other person and I are looking at the same gem. Both are “right,” but what is missing is perspective. We just are not capable of grasping the full beauty of all the facets from just one angle; we are limited. Because I cannot see everything that the person in front of me sees, I cannot say that the observations are incorrect; only different.

Remember the well worn story of three blind men touching an elephant? One is feeling a leg, while the other is holding on to the trunk and still another is feeling one of the large ears. One says that an elephant is like a tree, unmovable; one says that round like a large hose and flexible, while still another describes the elephant like a large fan. The issue is not whether one is right and the others wrong; the issue is that their observations are incomplete. They all contain part of the truth, yet none can “see” what an outside observer sees: grasping partial knowledge is insufficient to make a definitive statement for the whole.

I am totally confident that I do not know it all; especially when it comes to scripture. I believe that it is safe to say that only God has the complete understanding, though He gives us enough for us to follow and be obedient to Him. [The “incompleteness” of our knowledge is not from lack of love, but for our good to help us trust Him more– there is no faith in sight.] If this is true, and I sincerely believe that it is, then we must come to the understanding that although we have partial knowledge, we do not have complete domination of all things in the scripture. If I do not have complete knowledge then there must be things I cannot see, or that I might be partially wrong in my understanding.  However, I think the use of the phrase “partially wrong” would be better described as incomplete.  What we can say is, “Given the knowledge and understanding of the passage at hand, this is what I believe.”

Not to push an illustration too far, for nearly all illustrations break down at some point, but it seems wiser for one of the blind men to hear the others’ descriptions and realize that the elephant may be much more than his own experience and understanding, rather than try to prove that his understanding is right and the others wrong. The foundational truths of scripture like the Trinity, the virgin birth, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, salvation in Christ alone, His Second Coming, and Scripture as the Word of God, are non negotiable. However there are many secondary issues, such as when Christ will come, and others like the some of the Calvinist /non-Calvinist debates that have seemingly served more to divide the Body of Christ, than unify it.

Is it possible that since we do not know everything, we could lay aside the idea that one is right and the other wrong and realize  since we don’t have all the knowledge of God, what seems an unreconcilable opposite from our viewpoint is only a matter of perspective in the sight of God?  God is consistent with Himself, but we do not yet fully know Him; there is unfathomable mystery in God’s nature and character. He has made Himself know through Christ and His Word, but our finite minds are limited. If we were capable of “figuring it all out” we would have to have be God, Himself.

I believe we would be better served to “seek unity in the bonds of peace” than try to invest so much energy into proving that we are right and the other wrong. [Again, I am not talking about heresies here or the non-negotiable beliefs. Apologetics is needed now more than ever.] How we must grieve God’s Spirit to spend more time fighting among each other, than sharing the Good News to a lost and dying world and ignore the very prayer of Jesus to the Father in John 17: “Make them one as You and I are one.”

So the next time we are tempted to post that searing criticism against a brother’s view, can we stop and reflect on the blind men and the elephant. Even as I write this, I know that some will completely miss the point. However, I am just sharing what I believe God is attempting to teach me, so we can refocus our efforts on what God has called us to do and what God has called us to be.  Just some thoughts....
"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (ESV; 1 Co 13:2)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

What I desire my students learn this year...

1. God loves them. God is in control. God has a plan for their lives. They can trust God.
-“for we live by faith, not by sight”   2 Cor. 5:7

2. Their worth comes from what Christ has done in their lives, not by how “good” they perform.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith...” Eph. 2:8-10

3. God’s approval is based on faith and obedience not how many “likes” one receives. 
“...Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed..” 2 Tim. 2:15

4. Mastery of the skills needed in their calling is not an option. 
“Along with their relatives—all of them trained and skilled in music for the Lord—they numbered 288.” 1 Chron. 28:7

5. Knowing and deepening their relationship with God is a vital part of their everyday life.
That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings...” Phil. 3:10

6. To learn to embrace the difficulties and suffering as a normal part of life this side of heaven.
 “In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1 Peter 1:7

7. Don’t give up; it is and will be worth it.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Rom. 8:18

Sunday, February 14, 2016

How Many Rocks Have You Hit This Sunday?

I know that sounds silly; there are some Sundays when things don’t go exactly as planned that we can get frustrated enough to throw some rocks, but hitting rocks?  I’m sure you’ve already guessed where I am going with this: Moses’ striking the rock when the Israelites needed water. At first glance one might think that it is a simple matter of controlling one’s anger, however, I believe that it is worth our unpacking to see what else might be there.  Let’s look at the passage in Numbers 20:1-13.

1 In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried. 2 Now there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron. 3 They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! 4 Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? 5 Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!”

6 Moses and Aaron went from the assembly to the entrance to the tent of meeting and fell facedown, and the glory of the Lord appeared to them. 7 The Lord said to Moses, 8 “Take the staff, and you and your brother Aaron gather the assembly together. Speak to that rock before their eyes and it will pour out its water. You will bring water out of the rock for the community so they and their livestock can drink.”

9 So Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, just as he commanded him. 10 He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” 13 These were the waters of Meribah, where the Israelites quarreled with the Lord and where he was proved holy among them.

Let’s have some background: Forty years have passed and most of the early generation had died. Miriam’s death is the only record of a woman of the original group. She had been one of the leaders, but also instrumental in saving Moses’ life as a baby.  Not only was Moses’ grieving the death of his beloved sister, the people had no water and had begun to complain once again. Notice that as before, the people were blaming Moses for their situation.  Being without water is a serious issue for we can live only a few hours without it.  But already they had forgotten the past 40 years of God’s gracious provision as if it had never happened. When life’s circumstances get desperate, we can develop short term memory loss of all that God has done in our lives to that point; such was the case of the children of Israel: they were thirsty, their children were crying, their containers of water were empty and all they saw around them was sand and rock.  This was not the first time that they had blamed Moses for their circumstances, but let’s focus on this instance for right now.

Notice how Moses and Aaron respond: They both fall face down in front of the Tent of Meeting in reverence and fear, for they well remember the last time the people complained. The cloud of God’s presence appears, where in the past this had been a sign of direction and protection, now [as before when the sons of Korah had rebelled], it was a sign of judgment.  As they had done in the past, Moses and Aaron go before the presence of God and fall on their faces pleading for help.   Notice God’s response:  [1] Take the staff, [2] gather the people, [3] speak to the rock and the water will come. This is different than the earlier account years before in Ex. 17:2-6, when God told Moses specifically strike the rock.

One might ask, “Why take the rod if he wasn’t going to use it?  Good question. Perhaps because it was the symbol of God’s authority. But this time God only commands that Moses speak. God doesn’t always act the same way in similar circumstances. Sometimes we pray and God miraculously moves, heals, touches; then sometimes in seemingly the exact same set of circumstances, the heavens seem sealed shut and God seems distant. Let me assure you that He is not distant; He is closer than your next breath. His plan for our lives is developing, stretching us to trust Him more, not totally unlike the children’s of Israel’s 40-year trek in the wilderness, which was not just punishment, but a time of training to trust in God to lead and supply. God now tells Moses to “Speak to the rock.” God wants Moses to learn that obedience is important, even when it doesn’t make sense. God had spoken the universe into formation out of nothing; He had spoken His commandments and His covenant. In Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and dwells among us. Speaking is important.

One thing that is so disappointing is that Moses began well: falling on his face in reverence. But he takes a decisive turn:  First, rather than speaking to the rock, he chastises the people, then, he begins to assume authority and power to do the miracle: “Must we bring you water from this rock!” and finally, he strikes the rock not once, but twice, allowing his frustration and anger to take control.

Does God provide water for the people even though Moses had disobeyed? Yes, God’s grace and mercy are constant. However, Moses and Aaron have disobeyed and disqualified themselves from being able to enter the Promised Land.  Let’s review what God gives as the reason for their punishment? “You did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites.”   The question is, “How did they not show trust and honor? There may me many more reasons, but let’s review a few:

       [1] Perhaps they allowed the frustrations of the circumstance to change their focus from God’s power to their own frustration with the situation– they had had enough.
       [2] Moses begins complaining, and so acts just like the people to whom he is addressing.
       [3] He fails to obey, striking the rock, rather than speaking to it. Even though he had to strike it before, God doesn’t always do things the same way twice. By claiming to “bring water from this rock”
       [4] Moses was claiming power that was not his, but God’s only. God does not share His glory with another. Moses did not honor God by giving Him the credit for providing the water and it cost him the privilege of being able to enter the land.

To be sure: God demands trust and obedience from those with whom He has a covenant relationship and God does not share His honor.  God has no needs; He is God. So what could we possibly give to God? The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.

How does this apply to worship leadership? God does not share His glory with another. One of the great dangers of ministries that are very public and visible is allowing the focus to center on the human leadership and failure to be the facilitator that guides the focus on the only One who is worthy of worship. Unfortunately, there are well-meaning brothers and sisters in Christ shift their focus each Sunday to those who stand before a congregation to “perform.”  Like Moses claiming a power that wasn’t his in the first place, some would manipulate those listening to produce their desire result. My prayer is that this is the rare exception. There are many sincere men and women who lead in worship and do so in way that facilitates congregational worship. May God teach us how we can lead in such a way that we do not get in the way, but guide the worship to God alone.

1. Life is full of sadness and frustrations; however it is in those times that we need to focus even more on God’s love and character and follow His will and direction closely.
2. We must continually remind ourselves of all that God has done to help us when the frustrations and problems come.
3. God’s mercy and grace are constant, even when we are not.
4. God doesn’t always do things the same way twice; we must not assume His will, but seek it.
5. God does not share His glory with another. We must recognize His love, provision, protection, nature, and character.
6. The only thing that we can give to God is our trust, obedience and gratitude for all that He has done and all that He is.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Living by Fear or Faith --- Numbers 13-14 ---

Another mass shooting–  terrorists around the corner: we live a world of uncertainty with concerns in that back of our thoughts that we or one of our loved ones might be the next victims of this kind or some other senseless tragedy.  How are Christians to respond?   I believe that God’s Word have much to say on the subject, but I would like to focus on chapters 13-14 of Numbers. I highly recommend Dr. Dennis Cole’s commentary on the book [ ]

Because the section is rather lengthy, I will only refer to it and not quote the entire two chapters here. In chapter 13 you will remember, Moses had led the Israelites through the desert from Egypt to the borders of the land which God had promised to give them. Twelve spies are sent out check out the land– Was it good or bad? How are the people, the cities? Notice that Moses’ request implied the possibility of something bad and getting information about the situation was not bad in and of itself— they needed the report in order to adequately plan attacks. So, checking out the situation was not a lack of faith, but at this point, strategic planning.

For 40 days the 12 cover the land and bring back the report: The land and its fruit are indeed great, but 10 of the 12 shared a negative evaluation: [1] the people were more powerful, [2] their cities were too fortified and large, [3] there were giants.  Notice that their evaluation only took into account what they thought they could do. They had forgotten all that God had done for them and the miracles that had happened.  God knew about the people, the cities, and the giants, but He also knew what He would do if they would but trust Him. Caleb speaks up giving a counter perspective, one that counted on the power of the God that had delivered them, but the 10 countered with repeating and then even adding their own evaluation “ We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” Their focus was on their own ability, but God had never commanded that, but that they trust Him. Their failure to believe was a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself.

Chapter 14 retell the grief of the people weeping all night: “[2-4].  Their focus was on the problem: “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this wilderness! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.” Focusing on the problem and not God made them forget all that God had already done for them.  They were “stuck” in thinking only about the giants and walled cities and never mentioned the beatings they had received as slaves in Egypt. Fear, and wrong focus causes us to forget or disregard the negative.  Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices.

Moses and Aaron fall down in complete distress at the lack of faith of the people, tearing their clothes as a sign of their grief.  God’s people had forgotten all that God had done and were rejecting the promise that God had given them, and in doing so rejecting Him as God. Joshua even tries to persuade the people, but to no avail. God suddenly appears in the cloud in view of all and declares: “How long will they treat me with contempt?”

What does it meant to “treat with contempt?”An online dictionary states: “The feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless; scorn. 2. The state of being despised or dishonored” How were the Israelites treating God as inferior, worthless, and dishonored?   [ ] Anytime we disregard what God says, we are responding in contempt of who God is, and God does not take it lightly.

Moses pleads on behalf of God’s honor [Egyptians will say God was not strong enough to do what He said He would do] and on God’s own nature and character: [God is patient, loving, kind, and forgiving]. V. 20-38   What is God’s response? [1] He forgives, but declares the consequences for their disobedience. Here God shows the balance of love and justice.  Rather then wipe them all out instantly, they will return to the wilderness where they will die, [something they said that would have been better anyway - v. 2-4], but in the process learn to trust God. The children for whom they feared would be spoils of war will inherit the land, and God will bring glory to Himself in how He accomplishes all of it.

V. 39-45 Once the people heard that they were going to have to wander in the desert for 40 years, they decide that they had made a mistake and were now “ready to obey.”   Late obedience is still disobedience. In fact, Moses told them to specifically not to go, but they disobeyed again, proving that they really had not learned their lesson.

What can we learn from this that can help us today? When fears seem to overtake you, or you are facing overwhelming circumstances, here are ten things to ponder and I pray will be of help:

1. God is faithful to His promises, even though we are not; we can trust Him and we can believe He knows what He is doing. God said He would give them the land, they just failed to believe Him.

2. Strategic planning is not a lack of faith as long as at its center is trust in God, not human ability.

3. Caleb did not try to deny the negative but put it in perspective. God was the One that was fighting for them. We do not pretend that the danger does not exist; we place our trust in the One who is our Protector, Provider and God.

4. Lack of faith and negative reports spread like wildfire. We tend to forget what God has done in the past and only worry about the unknown.

5. Failure to believe is a rejection of the promise of God, and of God, Himself. We must focus on God, not the circumstances.

6. When we take our eyes off of God and His power, we are left with the hopelessness of our own efforts. We will become “stuck” and unable to think rightly. We need to refocus on who God is and all that He has done.

7. Living by fear rather than by faith will lead us to make poor choices. We tend to minimize the bad of the past and forget the great things God has brought us through. We must continually remind ourselves of God’s goodness and faithfulness.

8. When we reject God’s commands, we are rejecting His promises as well. In rejecting His commands, we are rejecting Him and all that He wants to do for us and through us. We are showing “contempt” toward God.

9. God will forgive sin if we confess it. However, sin always has consequences. It can be forgiven, but damage done remains as a reminder and a warning to avoid that road that leads only to defeat and despair. Sin affects innocent people related to the sinner. The children under 20 years of age and Joshua and Caleb, who were innocent had to wander in the desert for 40 years, as well. Our sin doesn’t just affect us.

10. God can and will use the consequences for our good and His glory. During the 40 years, the Israelites learned valuable lessons about how to fight, how to trust God and the nations around them became fearful of the God of the Israelites.

Monday, September 28, 2015

“It’s a good worship song, but......”

Not a rant, but a concern. I heard Bryan And Katie Torwalt’s worship song “Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here,” that for the most part expresses the joy of being in the presence of God in worship. Yet, I have some issues with part of the text:

"Holy Spirit, You are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere...."

I believe that it is worth the time to share some concerns that I believe warrants further study and underscores the need for our worship leaders to take to heart the analysis the text we put on the lips and hearts on those with whom we are leading.  Rather than a long discourse, I’ll will just list them:

1. God is the one who takes the initiative in worship, we don't show up and invite God to join us. – Remember that the bush was burning before Moses got there.

2. Since the Holy Spirit lives in us, we are the Temple of the Holy Spirit, then it is not a matter of "welcoming the Holy Spirit", but acknowledging His presence in our lives. The song, I'm sure, is referencing Pentecost or when the church prayed and the place where they were staying was shaken. But in both accounts, they did not pray for those things, for they did not know they were going to happen as they did. Rather than praying for such an experience, we might should pray for the sensitivity to hear God's voice and the boldness to obey.

3. Praying for the experience is not what the early church did, they prayed for the boldness to share. I realize there are those that will disagree, and that's fine. I just think we are treading on thin ice doctrinally and we get much of our doctrine from what we sing.

This is a topic that needs unpacking:
There are four bases from which we make decisions: God’s Word, history and tradition, human intellect, and personal experience. Though all four are important, nothing should ever take precedence over God’s Word.  Throughout history the source for heresies can be traced to getting these out of balance.

For example, let’s say that we have a song that “the Lord gave me.” If we are not careful,  then we are saying that the text and music are directly from God, which places it on the same level as God’s Word, or to say it in another way, we have received further revelation from God. Such logic has led to many doctrinal heresies and problems in the Body of Christ. The issue here is that we forget that we have “clay feet” that we are the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve and share in their fallen nature.

We can be sure that any word we receive from God will not contradict what He has already said in His Word.  For this reason, then we must pass what we write through the filter of God’s Word: Is what is taught here consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture? Just because the Bible mentions something does not mean that it is teaching it: Scripture mentions that Judas hung himself, but that certainly doesn’t mean that we are to go and  do the same.

4. Seeking the experience first puts the cart before the horse. When Daddy comes in from a trip away and has a habit of bringing a surprise to his kids, it doesn’t take long before the kids begin to look forward to what their father is bringing more than himself.  We need to be cautious about measuring our worship based on feeling or the level of a given experience. Remember the admonition of Jesus: “Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name and perform all kinds of miracles?”  And he said to them, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” [Matt. 7:23] The test of our worship is our obedience response to God, not our feelings. We can have an experience outside of the realm of obedience.

5. Because many of the songs we sing come from artists, downloaded from the internet and then sung in our churches the theological filter is absent.  I have no doubt about the sincerity of the artist or composers, nor their good intentions, however, I imagine most are not trained in theology. We don’t sing intentions, we sing lyrics, regardless of how sincere.  In the days of the use of hymnals one could rely on the fact that a committee on theology had at least reviewed the text of the songs and made adjustments before publication. Now, however, the gates are down and we are dependent on the artists/composers and the theological depth of the worship leaders to serve as the gatekeepers for what is sung in churches.   It is worth remembering the Arian controversy, though he was sincere in what he believed [Jesus was not divine], and shared his teaching through sermon and catchy songs of the day. It became such a problem that congregational song was virtually abolished after the Council of Laodicea.

6. We must be careful that we begin to worship the idea of how we feel in worship, or worship the trappings of worship instead of the God whom we are worshiping.  Not to unlike the teenager that is “in love with the idea of love,” it is easy to become enthralled with the idea of worship. And for those leading worship, to become enamored with the feelings of leading worship, rather than focusing on the One to whom the worship is directed.

7. What can be done?  Fix the text as need be. Sometimes it can be done with just adjusting some of the text. Write the composer and share your concerns. If they listen to you fine, if not you just leave the song out or use your corrections for the local worship services. Remember, our people will remember more of what they sing than just hear, and if there is an emotional response, as is many times in a worship service, the memory of the text is actually stored in a deeper part of the brain. Paul pleaded with those to whom he wrote to guard themselves against false doctrines, so we should do no less and certainly not promote them through putting them in the hearts and minds of those to whom we serve.

Before the worship set is selected, as we are praying through what is to be sung for the service, we must check the text of what we are going to be using. If you are lacking in theological training, there are reputable institutions with online courses available– take advantage of them and prepare yourself. We are responsible to God for what we are teaching [James 3:1] and we must remember that we are teaching as we lead in worship [Col. 3:16].