Don’t Miss the Dolphins

Paddleboarding-in-Sarasota-County_MilesArticleOptRecently, Jodi and I rented a paddleboard while spending a week together at the beach.

I must say that as someone who has never surfed or even successfully waterskied, my first try on the board was not very impressive. I had no idea what I was doing so those first rides lasted between 10-60 seconds. (Jodi, of course, owned it like a boss from the beginning). Honestly, it took me a couple of YouTube videos to get the basics down and day two was pretty good. Jodi and I both paddled a bit and had a good time. We also met some folks who seemed to have interest in our paddleboard “sea stories.” We thought they might want to give it a shot themselves so we offered up the use of the paddleboard for them to try.

Their responses:

Husband, “No I’d probably break something.”

Wife, “I can’t since I have a terrible fear of sharks.”

They were very interested in what it was like for us, but their fear of injury or “Jaws” kept them from even trying the board for themselves. This encounter made me think: I wonder how often we forsake “what could be” because of fear?

  • Afraid of what they might say, we refuse to ask that special someone on a date.
  • Afraid of getting lost we never leave the guided tour to experience the heart of a City.
  • Afraid of what “might happen,” we never travel beyond our own country or even our state.
  • Afraid of being “turned down” we simply don’t apply for a new job.
  • Afraid of failure, we choose never to return to school and complete a degree.
  • Afraid of rejection, we never share the gospel with others.

When we choose to allow fear to drive our actions, we acknowledge a (little g) god in our lives. It may be safety, security, control, or some other form of that false god, but, in our fear, we choose to serve it ahead of our goals, dreams, or even calling.

Fear is a non-negotiable in life. Everyone is afraid of something, sometimes. If you have no fear, you have a rare genetic condition called Urbach-Wiethe disease; or, you could be a run-of-the-mill psychopath who experiences fear but doesn’t recognize it. Otherwise…everyone experiences fear. Fear, though, is not the problem. What we do with fear determines our destiny and indicates Who or what we serve as our god/God.

Peter tells us to take our anxiousness/fear to Jesus (1 Peter 5:7). Paul says to seek God rather than serve anxiety (Philippians 4:6-7). Jesus tells us to believe (have faith)…because faith conquers fear.

Now, certainly Jesus did not direct me to go paddle boarding; however, the board serves as a good analogy to understand how to find victory over our fears. We pursue our objective with passion and refuse to quit.

Dolphins JumpingHonestly, paddling was cool but what I really wanted was to get up close to some dolphins. On day 3… I did. The water was choppy but I had mastered how to use it like a kayak so when we saw them beginning to play about a half-mile out, I looked to Jodi for approval, grabbed the board and took off for the open water. It took a bit to get out there (since they did not exactly wait on me). I had to plot an intercept course on the open water, but it paid off. I came to within about 15 feet of three dolphins playing as they surfaced near me. It was amazing! (In fact, it is what I had prayed for earlier that morning when I sat a few hundred yards offshore scanning the horizon. I told the Lord that He was all I needed but that I would love to see some dolphins up close if He’d let me.

When the dolphins submerged again (not to return), I looked down and was well beyond the emerald green water we are known for on the Gulf coast. In fact, I could barely make out the spot of beach I had departed from…but I did it! I saw the dolphins up close, simply by getting on the board, paddling hard and not stopping until I go there.

Our new friends…they never broke anything and they were certainly not eaten by sharks…but they also didn’t see the dolphins.

Here is the question…do you want to see the dolphins the Lord has in store for you?

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The Christian Faith and Welcomed Conflict

open-bible 2“Since I became a believer, it seems I have struggles and conflicts like never before,” said a six-month believer to her pastor. She seemed surprised. The question is, “Why?”

Popular Christian “sales pitches” position a new life in Christ as the elixir that corrects all of life’s ailments. Struggling with ________? Give your life to Christ!

Dear friend, Jesus is the ANSWER to your QUESTION and He does provide a cure for your struggles; however, the cure may not look like what you imagined and your newfound faith will create far more conflict BY DESIGN than you ever imagined. Jesus told us that our connection to Him would incite conflict and division (Matt 10:34). How? Because our faith is at enmity with everything that by nature is opposed to God…including the fallen nature we continue to wrestle with in us! Paul spoke of it this way in Romans 7 when he acknowledged that the Law of God, now written on our hearts conflicts with the old nature (our allegiance to self) and thus a struggle ensues that only Jesus can settle. Our new nature illuminates the deficiencies and rebellion of our old nature. This brings CONFLICT rather than PEACE. Peace occurs as we lean into Jesus, forsaking our prior allegiance to self.

If one doesn’t struggle over rebellion toward God, the reason is that there is no new nature. The presence of conflict is an indication of the new nature and it is a clarion call to fight for holiness. This conflict extends beyond the internal battle of the will; it will affect personal relationships. As we embrace the disciplines that are necessary to honor our new nature, we will illuminate the deficiencies in those closest to us simply by our presence in their lives. Our responsibility is to do so with grace and without a spirit of judgmentalism while faithfully and humbly demonstrating and speaking truth.

The life of faith is one of war against our old nature and a battle for God’s fame which is seen when you and I help others experience a new life in Christ. We are not called to put a coat of paint on a lost person’s life but to tell them that Jesus lovingly desires for them to get a new life in Him.

At a point in our not so distant future, we will experience a resolve to the conflict of natures. When we are in His presence, all conflict will cease. Until then, embrace the conflict as part of God’s gracious plan for our holiness and His glory.

Why I will not see “The Shack.”

the-shack-182x300Many will invest fifteen or twenty dollars this weekend and over the weeks to come to go see Hollywood’s rendition of the best-selling novel, “The Shack.” Most things that happen in the culture at large pass by me without comment but the nature of this offering on the big screen has forced me into the discussion. My interest is “pastoral.” I do not hate books, movies, or believe that Christians should boycott everything not affirmed by some denominational headquarters. In fact, I generally recommend “critical exposure” to cultural phenomenon like “The Shack” so that believers can have an honest and meaningful dialogue with seekers who have questions.

Many in Christian circles have sought to position evangelistic campaigns around this movie. They see it as a conversation starter. For these, the movie will surface the problem with human pain and the benevolent nature of God who brings healing to human pain. So…what’s my “resistance” to such a benign offering?

A few people have asked me if I planned to see the movie. I do not. When the book was first published, I purchased a copy and read it critically, which is to say that I looked for the theological landmines to see if they outweighed the potential good in such a fictional work as this book. In my estimation, the latent theological assertions render this book (and I suspect, the movie) “dangerous” for the average reader or moviegoer.

WHAT? How can I make such a sweeping assertion? Three reasons:

  • Most readers lack theological discernment when it comes to such works. A 2010 article by the President of Southern Seminary, Dr. Al Mohler addresses this concern.
  • Many readers lack the theological foundation to even begin discerning truth from error. I am not speaking of a “Sunday School” knowledge here but am suggesting that if you have not taken time to understand Orthodox Christian Doctrines and why the church has consistently and overwhelmingly affirmed them, then you are highly susceptible to accepting the unorthodox suggestions in this book as foundational.
  • Many readers open the gateway of their minds by assuming the harmless nature of “fiction.” They do so, often times, to their detriment. There is an entire subculture of conspiracy theorists in our world. These are the folks who are convinced of the government’s involvement with Kennedy’s assassination, argue that helicopters and satellites observe and record everything, and have seen Nicolas Cage in”National Treasure” a dozen times and now believe in a secret society of knights that run the government as a shadow team working for the President. Though the suggestions in this movie, for instance, are baseless…they are accepted by those who like to say…”Well, maybe…who knows.”

For the viewer or reader with theological discernment…I find no real harm in the book. Just be critical. If you hear something that sounds foreign to your doctrinal foundation…find out WHY before you simply accept the proposition that “maybe” the Trinity is eternally submissive to One Another and to humanity. Listen carefully before merely accepting that God does not punish sin and merely allows sin to be its own punishment. Ask yourself, “Where is the author coming from? Why even undertake such a work? (This information is well-documented if you look for it.)

As for me, I’ll save my nickels for a movie with more substance and content…like the next release of the StarWars saga :). If you go and hear something that stretches your mind and want to know how it fits with Orthodox Christianity…give a shout. I’d enjoy the conversation and the opportunity to offer a perspective that may help bring clarity.

Should “normal people” study theology?

Bible, study (2)A former professor of mine once said, “If churches did a better job at teaching the Bible, I’d have much less to do here at Bible College.” Now before you discount the statement as some flippant remark or a veiled complaint about working conditions, hear how he defined it.

Many churches have professionally trained ministers and leaders who pour over the Scriptures to prepare well crafted lessons ready for application in a person’s life. This is not bad; rather, it is a key element of the homiletic process…in other words, we teach pastors to do this very thing in preaching.

But, as I am suggesting in the article, there is there a need for the “people” to wrestle with the difficulties and work toward their own convictions on theological truths.

What I Am Not Saying

  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on Ancient Near East literature or the fine tenets of every facet of theological musing.
  • I am not advocating that every believer become an expert on the top five non-Christian world religions.
  • I am not advocating a dismissal of pastoral ministry and teaching. We have and need pastors who are well trained and able to guard the congregation from error while leading them to maturity in the faith, which necessarily includes teaching the church to think for itself on theological matters.

As an example, we are not all medically trained. When something is amiss in the body, we seek out a doctor (hopefully) who has given her life to medical studies. We SHOULD though…have a working knowledge of how the heart and lungs work and be able to recognize that a persistent cough or headache is not the body’s original design.

What I Am Advocating…and Why

To credit the man who first planted the thought in my mind, what Dr. Wilbanks was saying was that many churches failed to promote or expect the “people” to study and know the basics of core doctrine and a general framework of our faith.

Yesterday, I promoted a particular book on a specific theological truth in my message on the Incarnation. Bruce Ware’s book, The Man Christ Jesus, was a particularly helpful resource in the discussion on the Incarnation of Christ. The Incarnation itself is a “big deal” and a distinguishing doctrine in the cacophony of religious traditions. Even if the “people” are not experts in the doctrine, there is an implicit and practical need to become conversant with the main points. Why? So that you can speak of it to others, be encouraged in your faith, and recognize error when presented by others.

The example of the Bereans comes to mind from Acts 17:10-12 where we are told that the church (1) heard the teaching, (2) and examined the Scriptures daily, (3) to see if the teachings were true.

What Tools are ESSENTIAL for our Preparation? 

This is the subject of another posting, but in general, for the person setting out on the journey for the first time here are six tools:

  • Regular attendance in congregational and small-group teaching. (You cannot grow apart from exposure to truth). I cannot overemphasize this!
  • A good Study Bible. These resources typically have introductory material that helps set the stage for understanding.
  • Supplemental reading from a good Introduction to Doctrine resource like Grudem’s Introduction to Systematic Theology.
  • A survey resource on the Old and New Testament. (more on that later).
  • Some select charts and maps (a timeline of biblical history and a map of the biblical lands is very helpful for understanding.
  • A general word study resource. These are readily available online. A good resource is the Word Study Bible.

Again, more on these in another post but a couple of thoughts for reflection:

  • Are you a student of God’s Word and biblical  doctrine?
  • When is the last time you chased down a biblical truth for yourself, apart from a Sunday School lesson you were teaching?
  • Do you know more about your favorite sport or sports team, political party, or “Brad and Jen’s life” than you do God’s instructions?

If you have thoughts on the subject or particular tools you use and recommend, share them in the comments and thanks for dropping by.

Pants ARE Required

Open Bible 1Rarely do we find anyone wrestling with an outside appearance. On the outside, most of us look pretty good. Pastors and preachers stand to preach and minister on any given Lord’s day. We shave and shower. We comb our hair. We dress the part. We carry a Bible (even the one on our iPad or iPhone). We have the language down. Based on all outside appearances, we are fully qualified and prepared to stand before the Lord and His people…

But what about the part you cannot see? What about that which is hidden just past the layers of the external? 

In Exodus 28, God gave explicit instructions on how the garments of the priests were to be constructed, how they were to be worn, and that they were for GLORY and for BEAUTY (Ex 28:40). Most people “get” the robes and the stones, the breastplate and the ephod…even the crown. But notice what God describes that is not readily seen:

42 You shall make for them ylinen undergarments to cover their naked flesh. They shall reach from the hips to the thighs; 43 and they shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they go into the tent of meeting or when they come near the altar to minister in the Holy Place, lest they zbear guilt and die. aThis shall be a statute forever for him and for his offspring after him.

God designated that the priest was to wear pants…”breeches” in the NASB actually. Underwear in our modern vernacular. This was the part of the priest’s attire that was not visible to others but would be known to God.

God is just as concerned with our private lives as He is our public. He wants our hearts to be prepared as certainly as He wants our sermons. He demands holiness and glory even in the most discreet and hidden places in our lives if we are to approach Him.

This is weighty to consider. To know that God examines every aspect of our lives and holds us to account for the private as well as the visible…should give us pause.

This truth is not only for pastors, but for everyone who ministers before the Lord. A true understanding of the Scriptures means that this includes everyone in some respect.

Perhaps power is missing because we put on the external facade of holiness and service but we chose to ignore the need to cover our shamefulness but putting on “breeches.”

“God is not mocked,” the Apostle Paul reminds us; “whatever a man sows, so shall he reap.” (Galatians 6:7). We cannot hide our unholiness from God and to flaunt it, by refusing to cover our guilt and shame with the forgiveness of Christ (through repentance and faith), is to invite the harvest of condemnation and to reject the presence, power, and peace of God in our lives.

Today…don’t forget to put on pants. They are required to please God.

Sheep Bite-And the Shepherd’s Calling

Open Bible 1

It was a great day at church. Good worship. A strong word from prospective (CP) church planting partners. Then an afternoon training and great time in D-Groups reviewing and growing in understanding the principle of God’s unrelenting pursuit of rebellious sinners (me).

After this glorious but long day…I was clearing out email…and there it was. An unsolicited epistle, a message from someone not connected to the fellowship…sharing how I had been an offense to them a couple of years ago. Sheep Bite.

No longer are my thoughts on the glorious day I had just experienced. I’m now labored over the complaints, the appropriate response, my own need to justify and respond line by ever-loving line. Sheep bite…and they’re not even my sheep.

Sometimes sheep bite because as a “shepherd,” you get close to a nerve. I once had a dog that had a leg that had been surgically repaired. It was tender. If I touched it too hard or got too close to the bad nerves, she’d turn to bite. It wasn’t that my dog was mean or aggressive. It was that the spot was tender. That’s totally different than if a dog (or in this case, a sheep) runs up to ambush you. The former demands understanding. The second “deserves” a defensive posture. People are sheep. Sometimes sheep bite…not always, but sometimes. It hurts. It is not good. We may want (and can even justify) a retaliatory response. We may start to devise a new recipe for “mutton.” Then it hits me…the reminder from the Lord…Those are His sheep that I am considering barbequeing! I’d never want to take out my Lord’s sheep, even those that bite me…because they are His.

The Lord corrected me. He reminded me that I am a shepherd and He owns the flock. I cannot destroy a sheep for biting me since I do not own the sheep. Well who will take care of this rogue, biting sheep assaulting the unsuspecting shepherd? Obviously not me, and here are three reasons why:

  • One, I was a biting sheep and the Lord pursued me relentlessly and saved me while in active rebellion against Him. He pursued me!
  • Two, God’s Word forbids it. “Do not let kindness (loyalty/loyal love) and truth (faithfulness) leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.” (Prov 3:3). I am not responsible for driveby emails, but I am responsible for maintaining my “loyal love” for the SAVIOR that relentlessly pursued me. He can deal with His own sheep. My allegiance and response is to Him.
  • Three, I need not be concerned with whether my rights have been violated or if my heart needs to be justified in the matter. I have no rights! I was relentlessly pursued by a great Savior that I bit all the time (and unfortunately still do…to my shame)! He is in the business of rescuing biting sheep! If He rescues another biter…and they bite me…it is up to Him to deal with that. The Lord will be my confidence and He alone can insure that I not be overtaken.” (Prov 3:25-26).

“Pastor (you might ask), aren’t you concerned that someone may read this and become more concerned with what was said or who said what?”

Actually, I was concerned about that. I’ve taken a number of steps to try to keep the details to a minimum so I could push the focus to what God is teaching me…so that, maybe, I can encourage/instruct others with the teaching (Psalm 51:13). What I KNOW to be true…”It’s Monday” and there are a number of shepherds being bitten today. Some, because they got too close to a nerve. Some, because they were ambushed. Before reacting with the emotion that was driving me, take your thoughts captive. Do so by focusing on the relentless pursuit of God’s love for you. Then tell the Great Shepherd. He has your back. He knows what it is to be bitten. He’s endured your bites and mine for years.

Our Values on Display

Open Bible 1I was blessed this morning in my morning Scripture reading as I began the Gospel of Luke (after many, many months in the Old Testament Prophets). In the first chapter I was struck afresh by an observation from a passage in the Gospel of Luke.

In Luke 1:13-16, the angel Gabriel announces to Zacharias the priest that he will have a son in response to his prayers and according to the purpose of God (See Galatians 4:4-5 for a little perspective on God’s timing and purpose). These are the “broad strokes” of the announcement:

  • Your wife (against all odds and outside of what is expected to be physically possible Lk 1:18) will bear you a son.
  • You will give him the name John
  • Many people will rejoice at his birth
  • He will be great in the sight of the Lord
  • He will be consecrated to God by solemn vow (drink no wine)
  • He will be filled with the Holy Spirit
  • He will turn many of the sons of Israel back to God!
  • He has been chosen by God to be the forerunner to the Messiah.

I was struck by how this “father” must have valued the announcement of his son’s future life. Nothing was said of John’s success in business, academic achievement or how many trophies he would receive playing sports. Noting was spoken about his prom date or the beauty of the woman he would marry. These are things we tend to value, but they are (I suggest) not the most significant. John’s existence had everything to do with his relationship to the Messiah and his usefulness to the purpose of God as the forerunner of the Christ.

Here is the value question: If God announced to you that your child will be a great missionary and live in obscurity; or, your child will be greatly misunderstood and vehemently opposed by many because of His religious faith; or, your son will be a preacher whose stance on truth will cost him his life…do WE value the purpose of God in that announcement the same as we do the promise of academic, athletic, or business success? Are we as “stoked” about our child sharing his faith as we are his receiving a $1,000 scholarship for a high school essay?

Ultimately, the answer speaks more about our heart and our values and our view of God’s sovereign calling…than it does about anything our child achieves or has assigned.

Perhaps we should seek the answer from the One who looks deeply into our souls. Perhaps in so doing, we will recognize error in our values…or maybe we will be affirmed in them! There is no greater place to be than in the midst of the will of God. To this end, we should pray, and yield, and seek, and long.

Lord bless!