Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Job Review

Imagine that you work for a large corporation. In the course of the year, you get your annual job review. This time, your review results come to you directly in an envelope marked "from the office of the founder." They are on company letterhead and written personally by the founder John Smith from his offices on 20th floor of headquarters. You begin to read the results written personally to you. It says:

From John Smith, the founder, who sits on the 20th floor,
"The remarkable work you have done for the company has not gone unnoticed. You have worked very hard and put in many long hours. In the course of your duties, you have successfully unmasked outsiders who have disguised themselves as members of our company and exposed them publicly. I know that you have defended my reputation against malicious and false rumors about me. You've shown remarkable stamina in the performance of your duties."

Reading up to this point, you would have no reason to expect something other than a glowing review. But read on. Founder Smith continues:

"However, I know that the affection you had for me and for the company when you first hired in has somehow left you. REVIEW RESULT - Think through how this happened. Remember what it was like when you hired in. Re-think your current attitudes. WARNING - If you don't do this, I will personally remove you from your position." Granted, in early 21st century America, affection for the company you work for is not a pre-requisite. However, using this scenario, we would think that the first part of the review was so genuinely good that the second part really shouldn't matter. If you're being such a great worker, why would having a strong affection for the founder and the company be so important? After all the phenomenal work you've done for the company, why would not having an affectionate/loving attitude toward the founder and the company be so important that without it, you'll be fired?

While not a perfect analogy, I thought this scenario would be a good parallel to a passage of Scripture which has been in my thinking over the last week. My reflection on it was triggered by a great article by Pastor Francis Chan in PUBLIC PASSION VS PRIVATE DEVOTION .

It comes from looking at Christ's letter to the Church of Ephesus as found in Revelation 2:1-7.

The letter reads:
1 "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this:2 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;3 and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary.4 'But I have this against you, that you have left your first love.5 'Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent.6 'Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.7 'He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

I realized that I had forgotten just how important love is to our God. It makes up the top two commandments of the Old Testament Law (see Matthew 22:34-40). It is considered the greatest of three great Christian virtues (Faith, Hope, Love; see 1 Corinthians 13:13). The subject is so important that the Apostle Paul wrote a long section of his first letter to the church in Corinth to re-inforce this (see 1 Corinthians chapter 13). In Corinth, the issue was apparent pride in possessing certain spiritual gifts and a looking down on others whose gifts seemed less important. An attitude of love was needed to resolve this mess in Corinth. It was obvious that a problem existed in Corinth. But what about the church of Ephesus at the time Jesus gave them His letter? Look how genuinely hard they worked for Him.

In our very down-to-earth American culture, I think we may have a hard time taking to task someone who genuinely works very hard for God and for the faith yet whose attitude of love is diminished or even missing. We might think that such a person has earned God's favor by their hard work so their lack of a loving attitude should simply be overlooked. Or worse yet, we might rationalize away what we see by thinking that hard work for God MUST be an indicator of true love for God. If that were true, the Lord Jesus would have had no reason to address the Church of Ephesus how He did. But He did. In God's mind, there is a difference.

The problem with cases like that of the church of Ephesus is that people can defend the true things of the Christian faith but do so for very wrong reasons. You might perhaps be in a discussion with an atheist about the simple question as to whether or not God exists. You might be very familiar with arguments for natural theology (i.e. the very universe reflects God's hand of creation), with arguments about biblical sufficiency, history, logic, etc. In terms of WHAT is being said by you, you would be correct. However, if you looked to your motives, you might need to ask WHY you're doing what you're doing. Is it to prove to yourself that you're right? Or, is it being done with a sense of love and concern for the condition of the soul of the person with whom you're debating?

The Pharisees of Jesus' time on Earth provide a good example. We know of the numerous instances that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees. Yet, of the major religious groups in Israel at the time of Jesus, the Pharisees' stated theology was way closer to Jesus' than any other group. Jesus and the Pharisees had a lot in common theologically (i.e. belief in the resurrection of the dead; the longer list of Old Testament Biblical books). The Pharisees seem to have been driven by the desire to be right. What is painful to realize in their case is that they could give the right answers but do so for the wrong reasons.

One last thing. This is something I am trying to reflect on and work through. When the Lord Jesus addressed the church in Ephesus, He doesn't say that their hard word for Him was wrong. It was done with a mindset that forgot the basics of the faith. So, in our time, how to we correctly and strenuously defend the Christian faith, work for the service of Christ AND do so with a proper mindset of love. What I have witnessed of others is an either/or approach, not both/and. How do we do all of these things commanded of us, including love, well? Much prayer is going into the answer which I need to apply to myself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Audio of New Year's Day Message

The audio of my New Year's Day message at Troy Christian Chapel is now on the church website. You can access the page by clicking on the title of this blog entry or simply go to

and download the January 1 2010 sermon.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Happy New Year 2010

Happy New Year 2010!!! The blog took a back seat to some events going on in late 2009. Those are over now so the blog will be getting more attention in 2010.

Over this last New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, our home church of Troy Christian Chapel conducted its' fourth annual 24 Hour New Year's Prayer Time. We had a watchnight service and I had the privilege of being able to deliver the message for the service. I have posted the text here.

Revelation 21:1-8
1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 6He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. 7He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 8But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

We are about to embark on a new year, the year of Our Lord 2010. It is seems ironic that our culture, which is very oriented to the present-moment and is easily distracted by every shiny object placed in front of it actually takes time for reflection as we move from one year to another. In addition, if you count years the way many do today, we shift from not only one year to another but from the first to the second decade of the 21st century.

It is rather common for the media to look at the year which is ending year in a summary review. We look back at the most newsworthy items and remember those who died during the prior year. Individually, this is a time to “take stock”. It is a time for New Year resolutions.

In looking to the year which has just past, I think we also need to look at and focus on the future. Consider how we are all being drawn into the future with the passage of time. The flow of time can be compared to a quickly moving stream or river. On many of our recent family summer vacations in northern Michigan, Zack, Rocky and I have gone “tubing” on the Indian River in the northern Lower Peninsula. This kind of tubing is not the one where you tie an inner tube to the back of a fast moving boat. Instead, you simply sit down in the tube, wince at how cold the water is, even in August, push off from shore and simply float down the river for a few hours. Sometimes, to have us stay relatively close to each other, one of us might try to grab the branch of a tree from the shore and try to stay in place while the others catch up. Trying to stay in place in that fast moving river is not easy. It is tiring and takes a bit of effort. In the same way, in the flow of the stream of time, trying to hold onto the past is also difficult.

I am not talking about simply remembering the past. That is definitely a good thing to do, especially if you are trying to avoid repeating past mistakes. What I am talking about is how some people, in their hearts and minds, live in the past. I think there are three ways this happens.

1. Failing to recognize the passage of time; We often treat the time given to us by God on this Earth as an infinite resource rather than one which is most definitely fixed by death. It is living opposite of what the Psalmist tells us in Psalm 90:12: “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” One who fails to recognize the passage of time does not number his or her days aright. The value of time as a FINITE resource is lost on this person.

2. Obsessing over what is perceived as better times. Such “better times” might be thought of in terms of the economy, relationships in family, dating, marriage, etc. The American Christmas experience can fuel this type of living in the past. Pastor Paul Edwards pointed out on his talk show in November how many of the sappy, sentimental Christmas songs of today can actually bring about a sense of depression as we might do more than just remember Christmases past but perhaps long to somehow re-create or go back to a Christmas in times past. Time’s arrow points only one way and such a re-creation or idealization simply cannot be done.

This mindset is not confined to the Christmas season. In our materialistic, youth-oriented culture, there is a temptation for us as we get older to look back and yearn for days in the past in which we had youth, optimism, strength, good looks, a better-paying job (or even simply a job). Our body might be living in 2010 but our heart and mind is living (and chained to) a bygone time.

3. Obsessing over past faults, failures, regrets, errors and sins. I am not talking about imagined faults or a sense of false guilt. I am speaking about unpleasant things which really happened, some of which were out of our control, in which we were, in a sense, a victim, as well as those instances in which we had full control of a situation and still purposely erred or sinned, perhaps even victimizing someone else.

Keep these three points in mind. I’ll be dealing with them again in a few moments. Remember earlier that I compared the flow of time into the future as a quickly-moving stream. I need to stress that those who are believers in Christ have the Lord Jesus Christ as a traveling companion as we go “tubing” into the future.

To push this analogy just a little harder, it can be said that Christians first encounter Christ at different points in the stream of time. Whenever that encounter happens in our personal history, we find that Scripture shows us that when people first encounter Christ, we encounter Christ in a way which may seem strange to our hearing and jar our thinking. When Christ first becomes manifest to a person or persons, a crisis occurs. In John 3:19, we read:

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

The word that the NIV translates as “verdict” and the NASB translates as “judgment” is the Greek word “CRISIS”. Listen to the passage again in this light of this:

“This is the CRISIS: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.”

One definition of the word CRISIS is
“A stage in a sequence of events at which the trend of all future events, esp. for better or for worse, is determined; turning point.” Doesn’t that describe so well what the presence of Christ does in our lives?

We see this in the parable of the 10 Virgins found in Matthew 25. You might recall the basics of the parable. Five are wise and five are foolish. However, a close reading of the parable will show that if one could be an observer of the events of this parable, no distinction can be made among the virgins until the appearance of the bridegroom, the symbol for Christ. It is only then that a foolish virgin can be distinguished from a wise virgin. The arrival of the bridegroom precipated the crisis of whether provision was made ahead of time or not. Simply put, Christ brings CRISIS. He brings separation and division. When we first met Him, He too brought about a CRISIS for us as well.

To continue the analogy of time as a stream moving toward the future, Christ, the Crisis bringer, can be compared to a channel marker which controls and separates traffic on a river. In the case of Christ, the channel marker indicates a type of “fork in the road”. Just as Christ divides humanity into a type of sheep or goat, (see once again Matthew 25 for this parable of division as well), Christ splits our stream of time into two different directions. We are going to the future. However, the stream is then split into two. One stream of time, the one in which Christ is not a part, empties into a lake. It is not a placid, peaceful lake such as a Houghton or Higgins Lake up north but rather into the Lake of Fire.

The other stream takes us to the new heavens and the new Earth. It is that which is spoken of in the text I read at the beginning. Allow me to re-read a portion of that text:

3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 5He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

What wonderful promises await us in that future time and place. Note also that the separation of God’s people from evil is from this point a permanent one. Thus, we are moving not only toward the future, we are moving toward the HOLY FUTURE. Holy in both senses which the Bible applies to the term. Both moral purity as well as separation to God away from evil. We will be living in God’s dwelling because God will be living with us.

With all of this in mind, how should we respond?

Lay aside guilt over past sins, errors and failures. If you are believer in Christ, remember that Christ died for your sins, ALL OF THEM. Ask God to forgive you. Trust that He has in Christ. If necessary, forgive yourself. Don’t remain chained to the past any longer. Ask forgiveness of God, if needed, for misusing the finite gift of time which He has allotted to you. Lay aside unrealistic expectations from your past. Trust God that though your outward circumstances may have suffered over the years, your best days are not behind you. Nor are you going to be having your best life now. Unfortunately, having your best life now is true only for hellbound unbelievers, not for a Christian. For a believer in Christ, your best life awaits the time of the holy future.

2. ABIDE IN CHRIST – Please be more concerned about abiding with Christ than with living the Christian life. Hopefully, that got your attention. Should we be living the Christian life as Christians? Absolutely. Yet, in the attitudes of our hearts and minds, we may find it more comfortable to do Christian things rather than spend time and our lives in the presence of our companion who travels with us into the holy future. If you abide in Christ, simply staying with Him, living a genuine Christian life will flow naturally. Will it take effort? Yes. However, that effort will not seem incredibly burdensome to you. Rather, it will flow from the joy of being in the abiding presence of the Lord in your life. As Psalm 16:11 says: “You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy;” and Nehemiah 8:10 concludes the thought: “The joy of the LORD is your strength.”

3. BE A MIGRANT TO THE FUTURE – In the Detroit area, it is not uncommon to see or know individuals who have migrated from a foreign culture to American culture. Sometimes, these migrants will reflect the cultures from which they came. This can happen by way of such things as language, food or clothing. In these cases, the place from which they came has a strong influence on their present moment.

In what way should Christians be migrants? We know we are pilgrims in an alien word. We get a further hint from Saint Paul. In Romans 6.11, Paul tells us that we need to “consider ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Being actually dead to sin and outside its reach is a mark of the life we will have in the new heavens and the new Earth, in the holy future. So, for a Christian, the way in which we conduct ourselves is not the past influencing the present, but rather the future influencing the present. Our migrant culture, as foreigners in this world, is based on future experience, not the past experience. We can live the life of the land to which we are going and do so now. Live as one who knows the time and place to which you are migrating and where you will eventually spend eternity.

4. DON’T PUT OFF THE THINGS YOU ARE CALLED TO DO & WISH TO DO- If we are not chained to the past but know we are being called into the future, we can live life in the present moment with a confidence that God is with us. Ask God to give you the wisdom to know what He is asking of you. Keep in mind that Scripture tells us that God gives us the desires of our heart. I understand this not as God fulfilling our personal whims but actually supplying to us the desires for the things He wants us to want. My counsel is that unless you are stopped by circumstances outside your control, follow through on what God has put on your heart. It might be something such as going to seminary or taking a missions trip. Perhaps it is something which may not seem as outwardly noble as what I just mentioned but are still important things nonetheless. Such things as taking that once-in-a-lifetime cruise with your family, telling someone close to you that they are loved and so important in your life. Perhaps, it is even something as simple as the joy of learning to play a musical instrument like an Irish Tin Whistle. It could be any number of seeming small things. Use these opportunities wisely and well.

I need to conclude. In October of 1964, Ronald Reagan, 16 years away from being elected President of the United States, gave a speech called “A Time for Choosing”. In that speech, Reagan stated he believed that the American people had a rendezvous with destiny. While that may very well be true, I know that the Bible indicates we have a rendezvous with the future.

This rendezvous with the future was portrayed graphically in a set of paintings which make up the altar piece of a cathedral in Ghent, Belgium. In this painting done by the Van Eyck brothers in the 1420s, we see in symbol the gathering of God’s faithful from all of history. These people from every language, tribe and nation gather around the throne of God and of the Lamb, Christ Jesus. This is where we are being drawn. This is where we belong, with all of the saints of all history who also met Christ the Crisis Bringer in their voyage down the stream of time. Standing shoulder to shoulder with them, we will rightfully be worshipping God forever. As believers in Christ, that is our destiny.

With God’s help, will you choose to sever the chains holding you to the past so that you can live that life of the holy future, both then and now?