Faith Comes From Hearing

preaching textHave you ever said to someone, “I wish I had your faith” or ” I just wish I had more faith.”?

Here’s the good news… you can increase your faith.  While there are many ways we mature in faith, one fundamental way is through the Word of God.

  • By the Word of God we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom 12:2) and sanctified by His truth (John 17:17).
  • By His Word, we are kept from sin (Ps 119:11) and strengthened for every good work (2 Tim 3:16-17).
  • By His Word, souls are saved (1 Pet 1:23) and faith is strengthened (Rom 10:17; Jas 1:21).

Of course, there is much more we could say about the power, authority, and sufficiency of God’s Word, but having said this much surely every belever can commit himself and herself to reading it.  Not just read it, but read it systematically — make it a personal goal to finish it all the way through either in a year or two years.

There is an abundance of good plans available and Tim Challies has presented several of them at his blog.  This past year I have followed the chronological plan, though this year, I will be working the Scriptures with the aid of Dr. Hamilton’s biblical theology God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgement.  There is a plan that has incorporated key passages from the book with daily Bible readings and I look forward to working through them together. (You can find out more about Dr. Hamilton’s book and the reading plan here.)

Whatever your plan, GO FOR IT!  Be diligent; don’t give up and, should you get behind, keep plugging away.  Develop this discipline and rejoice as you see God honor His Word as He builds you up in your faith.

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Before I Speak…

I want to speak.  Yesterday I was challenged to speak, to speak on behalf of the oppresseda-time-to-speak and the marginalized, and… I want to.

But I’m hesitant.

Not in all areas.  Some areas are easier than others — advocating for the orphan and the widow, standing against the evils of abortion, and working to end sex-trafficking.  These needs are overwhelming and I don’t know how to contribute from my small corner of the Texas Hill Country and yet I attempt to eagerly take advantage of any opportunities I become aware of.

And then there’s the race conversation.  I am no less passionate about seeing racial reconciliation, but I am less sure of how to speak and how to advocate or when to engage.

I long to see Christ’s church stand as one man with no dividing walls.  I eagerly anticipate that Day when there is around His throne a multitude of people of every shade praising God in every tongue.  And I want to see the  breakthrough of that eschatological reality evidence itself in today’s churches.

Yet I’m hesitant to speak, apprehensive of entering the dialogue.

But I think I am beginning to understand why, at least in part.

Yesterday’s panel discussions about race, entitled “A Time to Speak,” was a wonderful and engaging discussion.  A ton of good stuff was said on the panel (I only had opportunity to watch the first panel) and I am convinced that the disagreements are not so far removed from one another.  The men spoke with conviction and granted one another grace.  There was a spirit of brotherhood and an evident desire to want to understand each other — even if that desire apparently remained unfulfilled.

As positive of the panel was, the TwitterFeed was abysmal.  The spirit demonstrated as #atimetospeak scrolled across my phone was either superficial affirmation or just downright hateful (not exclusively but pervasively).  There was ready agreement and retweeting if a panel member said something the gallery agreed with and there was immediate hostility if a panel member challenged an observer’s ideas or experience.  The panel, as much as it modeled open dialogue and gracious disagreement, that spirit was lost in transmission.

This is why it is hard to talk about race issues: because while several people want to speak, few people are willing to listen.

We will readily “amen” and “RT” those who echo what we have already decided is true.  And we consistently, predictably, systematically dismiss, distort, and demonize those who say something we don’t like or agree with.  If progress is to be made, this childish, immature, hateful, distrusting, unChristian practice has to stop.

Before I speak, I want to know that you want to understand me and that you will trust that I really do want to understand you.

Before I speak, I want to know that you’re as willing to rethink your preconceptions as you expect me to be.  I need to know that my experience and perspective have something to offer you, because I am ready to crawl into your experience and I recognize that I need what your perspective and experience have to offer me.

Before I speak I need to feel safe, that those I love as brothers and sisters are not going to misrepresent my opinion,n or dismiss my position, or misunderstand my questions.

I want to see profitable conversations and fruitful initiatives in this area of race, especially race in the church.  But this going to continue to be difficult when the TwitterFeed is filled with accusation and ad hominem.  When even those who care enough to watch an event which has been organized to pursue progress and understanding respond in ungracious, superficial ways, there is only minimal hope.  If we cannot be just as ready to receive and understand a differing perspective as we are to affirm and echo the perspectives we agree with, we cannot move forward.

Before I speak, I want to know that I’ll be heard.

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Celebrating Christmas

Piper's 2014 Advent Devotional

Piper’s 2014 Advent Devotional

December 1.

Christmas is upon us; Advent has officially begun.

“Advent?” you ask.  Many Baptists may think I am talking about some elementary math curriculum, or otherwise accuse me of slipping into high-church, liturgical ways which are clearly, they claim, “un-Baptist.”

It is, or course, neither of the two. Advent is simply a word that means coming.  This is the season in which we celebrate (in a distinct way) the coming of the long-awaited, promised Messiah — our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer – for friends, family, and my faith family here at First, Blanco – that those of us who represent Christ would be deliberate about the bringing Christ center-stage this Christmas season.  If, as adopted children of the Father through repentant faith in our Lord, Jesus Christ, even our eating and drinking are to be for His honor and glory (1 Cor 10:31), how much more must our celebration of our Savior’s coming be for His glory?!

And here is the heart of my searching:

In what ways, individually and as a family, can we deliberately make Christ the focus of our celebrations?

I am not asking in what ways we  might include Him.  I am asking:

How can we make Christ the central, most-important, most-thought-about, most-noticeable, most-memorable, and most-savored part of our Christmas celebrations? 

By no means do I propose that I have the answer; I am challenged every year by that question and I endeavor to make improvements every Advent.  I recognize that for many this quest may appear to austere, too serious, strict, or legalistic.  In all honesty, I can’t imagine how any believer who has been transformed and redeemed by the grace of God and the work of Christ can celebrate any other way, can you?  But to be clear: I am not one who gets into all the pagan-root pointing, and winter solstice explaining, Druid-conspiracy, anti-tree promoting.  Some have those convictions and I don’t see the value in demeaning them or labeling them disparagingly, neither do I believe should they castigate those who are not convinced by their arguments and view them as unrighteous, pagan-worshipping compromisers.  In this matter, let “each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom 14:5)  In reality, both sides have something to learn from one another, but to puff one’s self up against the other “side” is both self-righteous and un-Christian.

Rather, tree or no tree, lights or no lights, gifts or no gifts… how can we encourage one another to give Christ His rightful place this Christmas, and, indeed all year round?

Here are a few of our attempts; I look forward to hearing yours.

  1. We have an Advent calendar — two actually.  One consists of magnets that go one the refrigerator.  The other is a manger scene display where stars, animals, and key players are added each day.
  2. We wrap Christmas books (25 of them) and open one each night.  While we designate a few for the final nights of the season, we allow the children to pick the others at random.  Admittedly, not all are explicitly religious, but that presents opportunities to teach the true meaning of Christmas and why we must be gracious toward those who celebrate differently.
  3. We read an advent book as a family.  The ones my children have enjoyed the most are three books in the “Jotham’s Journey” series by Arnold Yltreeide.  They enjoy the daily episodes as the larger story unfolds.  Each episode also includes a reflection and point of instruction.
  4. We also have a “shepherd’s pouch” that hangs on our tree.  There are various jobs the kids can do throughout the month that contribute to an offering (usually to ‘Gospel for Asia’).
  5. I personally read a devotional specifically for Advent.  This year I am reading John Piper’s The Dawning of Indestructible Joy.  It is available on Kindle or for purchase, or you can download a pdf version for free.  A couple of years ago I read and enjoyed his previous Advent devotional Good News of Great Joy.  Digital versions are available free at the Desiring God website.
  6. On Christmas day, there is the reading of the Christmas story (complete with Playmobil reenactment).
  7. And don’t underestimate the significance of well-placed nativity displays.  Not only the glass ones and the porcelain ones and the sell-a-kidney expensive Willow Tree ones, but we have seen the value of having one (or two) that the kids can touch and play with.  Let the children interact with Jesus and His worshippers.

Those are some of the ways we try to deliberately keep Christ the unmistakable center.  What about you?

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Praying for Ferguson

Image from NBC News

Image from NBC News

The images are all over televisions all across the country. The announcement that the nation has anticipated and even braced for was handed down: Officer Wilson will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Michael Brown.

My goal is not to comment on the decision itself, but to offer some thoughts as to how we, as Christians, can process this story and pray for those involved.

  1. Like it or not, this is a significant news story. For many, we need to begin by acknowledging that fact. There is something in this story that we need to be aware of, as Americans and as Christians. To dismiss this story us is to refuse to think through some challenging and humbling realities. More than that, while I understand the temptation to do so, dismissing this story is to violate our Christ-given mandate to love our neighbors, even to love our fellow believers.
  2. There are many people who are genuinely hurting. First and foremost among them are the parents of the young Michael Brown. Whatever the details of his death, the bottom line for these parents is that their boy is dead. We should pray for them, even appreciating the responsible pleas for peace that they have made. Beyond the Brown family, there is a significant part of our nation that have felt and continue to feel genuine injustices. For them, this event is not isolated and they cannot help but look at it through the lens of their past experience. We should seek to understand and advocate for the victims of injustice. We are a nation that is ruled by law, and we are blessed with a superior legal system, but even the best systems are limited by the flaws of the humans who run them. We cannot dismiss the sobering reality that injustice is a reality simply because some behave disrespectfully and dishonestly.
  3. The images on our televisions are not telling the whole story. Images of rioting and looting make for better headlines than peaceful protestors. The reality is: there are more people protesting peacefully than are not. While the images of unrestrained violence and disingenuous “protests” cycle across our televisions, there are those who are responsibility and peacefully expressing their hurt and frustration. Herein lies one of my greatest frustrations: the way news is covered is perpetuating the problem. When self-promoting “leaders” are given a platform and the violent minority are given the front page, things do not get better. We need to hear – and be willing to listen to – those who are genuinely hurting and who have experienced real injustice. We want to pray for them and advocate for them.

There are others who spoken wisely and helpfully into this situation. I hope you will give them some of your attention as well:

More than reading… definitely more than watching… let’s be praying today for the hurting, the grieving, and the lost. Let’s also pray for the end of injustice and for increased progress in racial reconciliation. And let’s pray that our churches would begin to value and reflect the diversity that will one day gather around the throne of our LORd Jesus Christ – one people from every nation, tribe, and tongue giving honor and glory to the One True King. Maranatha, Lord Jesus; Come.

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“Friendships With a Spiritual Thrust”

follow Jesus togetherDiscipleship is all the rage, the hot-button topic getting all the press.  And appropiately so.  We have a discipleship problem, yet I praise God for all the attention the art of disciple-making is receiving.  But at the same time, I think we are missing something.

We have a tendency to look at the parts and purposes of the church in isolation.  We talk about worship and discipleship and evangelism and missions.  Could it be that much, or even most, of the difficulty in these areas are symptomatic of a larger problem?  Could the issues surrounding discipleship, family, church strife, and mobilization for missions have a common core?  I believe, that while our efforts are noble and needed in seeking to build and equip the church, we are neglecting to recognize that at the root of the problem lies our view of the church.

Our greatest need is not establishing better discipleship in the church or more effective training for the church; our greatest need is a biblical vision OF the chruch.  We need a proper understanding of fellowship.

For this I want to point you to a convicting and challenging and energizing conversation.  I listened this morning to an interview with John MacArthur conducted by Mark Dever at 9 Marks.  This interview (recorded March 2014) is to be a wonderfully refreshing and motivating resource for all who want to cultivate authentic fellowship in the church — fellowship that will impact every other facet of church life.

I will not attempt to  to recreate the interchange here, but MacArthur exposes the heart of Christ’s church as a community of gospel-rich relationships, what MacArthur calls “friendship with a spiritual thrust.”  The discussion centers around the importance and power of genuine and authentic relationships as the context for the abundant Christian life.  He and Dever also address those aspects of our fallen nature and pervailing culture that work against and even assault the cultivation of biblical fellowship.  I cannot commend this resource enough.

A large part of my enthusiasm for their conversation stems from what God has been teaching me and pressing into my heart for the last few years.  Indeed, beginning here at a new church, I could think of nothing better or more appropriate to study than this biblical vision of the church as God presented for us in His Word.  Working through 1 Corinthians, last Sunday found us in chapter 4 where Paul is driving home/summarizing his 4-chapter plea for unity.  At the end of that chapter we find displayed a beautiful picture of biblical discipleship, gospel ministry, and authentic fellowship.

In verse  19, Paul informs the Corinthians of his intent to visit them.  In verse 16, he pleads with them “as a father” for them to “be imitators of me.”  Here we see gospel ministry ‘s desire to build disicples in the context of biblical community.  Paul understands discipleship & fellowship to be dependent on paternity and proximity.  He did not begin churches through marketing campaigns or social media presence he birthed them in the gritty context of relationship.  He developed believers in the faith not simply through letters (though he resigned to pen and parchment when need be — and praise God that he did!) but he preferred to be with them, close to them, in their midst and in their homes.

So, as we consider disicpleship …and worship and family ministry and evangelism… let’s first consider a comprehensive doctrine of the church, Christ’s Body & Bride, God’s temple, family, and people.  Let us know what the church is called to be and how we are to be assembled as, a community of faith for the glory of God.  Then, let our discipleship solutions and our worship services and our training conferences be consistent with our calling as His church.  Carefully building up the fellowship, lest we unwittingly tear it down.

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Conviction & Compassion: Powerful Friends

*photo credit "A Holy Experience," Ann Voskamp's blog

*photo credit “A Holy Experience,” Ann Voskamp’s blog

I am sure that many have heard the story of Brittany Maynard.  At age 29, facing the certainty of suffering as she fights the remaining rounds of her battle with cancer, she has made the difficult decision to end her life on her “own terms.”  Her story has captured the attention of millions and has been met by all kinds of responses.

But there’s one response I want Christians to take note of… and give careful attention to.

Kara Tippetts, herself a cancer patient, has peened a letter begging Brittany to reconsider.  You can read her story and her letter at A Holy Experience, the popular blog of Ann Voskamp.  Kara herself blogs at Mundane Faithfulness and written of her cancer experience in the book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the MIdst of Life’s Hard.

What I want Christians to recognize, more than anything, the gentleness born of genuine compassion with which Kara writes.  Hear her words:

Brittany, your life matters, your story matters, and your suffering matters. Thank you for stepping out from the privacy of your story and sharing it openly.

We see you, we see your life, and there are countless lovers of your heart that are praying you would change your mind.

Brittany, I love you, and I’m sorry you are dying. I am sorry that we are both being asked to walk a road that feels simply impossible to walk.

I think the telling of your story is important.  … It matters, and it is unbelievably important. Thank you.

Her soft words seek to embrace this hurting heart.  To be true, much of this is born out of a heart that shares a common suffering.  Yet, compassion is accessible to all who know Christ and the grace and mercy He shows.  Because we have all expeienced despair, pain, frustration, helplessness, and things like these, we can reach out to those in pain and desparation.  We can reach out with understanding, not appalled nor surprised by their choices or rantings because we have felt those same things.

But she reaches out with more than understanding, she aso reaches out with truth.  While gentle in her pleading and sincere in her affection and understanding, Kara is also very clear in warning Brittany, “You have been told a lie. A horrible lie…”

Her words are also stern against those who perpetuate that lie and who stand redy to assist her inacting on it.  She says of those doctors:

“[They have] walked away from the hippocratic oath that says, “first, do no harm.” He or she has walked away from the oath that has protected life and the beautiful dying we are granted. The doctors agreeing to such medicine are walking away from the beautiful protection of the hippocratic oath.”

So Christian, read Kara’s article and pray for Brittany.  But also learn from Kara’s boldness of conviction which has been yoked together wonderfully with a sincere and deep compassion.  She knows full well who the enemy is and who is the victim.  She knows that her mission is greater than truth but to proclaim and uphold truth in a way consistent with the heart of Truth himself.

We must all pray for the wisdom and commitment to yoke together Compassion & Conviction, two more powerful allies cannot be found.

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The Church, the Gospel, & the Future of Marriage

IMG_0323-0.JPG
Two articles appeared in my social media feed this morning that should catch the attention of believers. One is from Denny Burk and another from Dr. Russell Moore both addressing the recent denial of the Supreme Court to hear appeals in same-sex marriage cases.

Denny concisely sums up the decision and its implications for the future of marriage in our culture (assuming that the pattern this decision follows continues).

Dr. Moore however goes one step further. Addressing the church, he aids us well in fixing our eyes on Christ and anchoring our hope in he gospel. In doing so – and this is the part of vital importance – Dr. Moore has equipped us to speak into the culture as we seek the good of our neighbor and the glory of God.

He does so first by reminding us that we are not in some new, overwhelming conundrum. While an increasing secular culture, opposed to biblical norms may seem new to some of us, it has been the regular position of believers throughout generations. Consider this statement:

We live in an era in which marriage is redefined and confused. So did many of our forefathers and foremothers, which is why the Bible is consistently equipping the churches to live in a world of prostitution and adultery and so on. The sexual revolution didn’t start at Woodstock. It is always with us.

I encourage you to read both articles, Denny’s first and then Dr. Moore’s.

Read. Be encouraged. And then live on mission knowing that we as Christ’s church have been entrusted with a wonderful treasure, the gospel of Jesus Christ. And, make no mistake, marriage is a gospel issue. Hear Dr. Moore’s conclusion:

Without a Christian vision of marriage, we have no Christian vision of the gospel… Let’s hold fast to what the gospel reveals about the meaning of marriage and the gospel behind it. Let’s articulate a Christian vision of what marriage should be, and let’s embody that vision in our churches. Let’s love our gay and lesbian neighbors. Let’s move forward with persuasion and with confidence. This is no time for retreat or for resentment. This is a time for mission.

Church, let’s strengthen our marriages so that the proclaim the gospel and then let’s graciously speak our convictions about marriage for the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.

 

 

*image taken from Dr. Moore’s blog article “Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court: What Now for the Church?”

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