A Manner Worthy or a Moralistic Way?

One of the things that I love about the Apostle Paul, is that he always connects ethics with his theology. He never just taught about theology but always taught theology for the purpose of providing the basis for his ethics. Likewise, he never just taught ethical standards without providing that theological basis. For him, they went hand in hand, you couldn't have one without the other.

That's why I took careful notice this morning as I studied through chapter two of 1 Thessalonians. The first half of the chapter contains one antithetical statement after another. In other words he would say "not this, but that." Don't behave this way but that way. Don't do this, do that instead. The reason this struck me as odd, is that it sounds like moralism (addressing only outward behavior rather than dealing with the heart). Paul is giving a list of things to do and a list of things not to do. Look at the long list of antithetical statements his witness(paraphrased):

  • NOT vain BUT profitable
  • NOT error or impurity BUT approved by God  
  • NOT deceit BUT pleasing to God 
  • NOT flattering BUT gentle like a mother 
  • NOT greed BUT working day and night 
  • NOT seeking glory BUT devout and blameless   

Paul has called the people to whom is writing to imitate him (1:6), and now he is laying out for them his witness, behavior, and ethics. So is this just moralism? Is he simply telling them how behave? Is he simply giving them a list of things to do and not to do? Obviously, the answer is "no." The end of this section of his letter is verse twelve where he give the "why" behind everything he has just said:

so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
Paul is not preaching moralism. At the end of this long list of antithetical statements, he calls these people (and he calls us) to live a life that is "worthy of God" – that is, a life that reflects the character of and honors God. About this verse Dr. Michael Holmes said, "Paul directs his converts' attention not to a list of commandments or directory of prescribed behaviors, but to the character of God. This reminds us that for Paul, internal motivation, not simply external actions, is of critical importance."
For Paul the bottom line is living a life that is worthy of God. I've read this verse probably a 100 times before, but this truth hit me hard. As I assess myself this morning, I'm positive that the life I live is not yet worthy of the God who has called me into his kingdom and glory. I can only pray, that with his help my life will reflect the character of God a little better everyday. 

Drag Me From Hell

Drag_me_to_hell I recently began studying through 1 Thessalonians, and this morning I noticed something very interesting. At the end of chapter 1, Paul is writing about the testimony that the believers in Thessalonica have made for themselves. He says that it is widely reported that they have turned to God from idols to serve the Living and True God, and that they anxiously await the return of his Son, Jesus.

It's the statement that comes after this that got my juices flowing this morning (why does that phrase sound so gross to me?). Paul said that they wait for the return of Jesus who "delivers us from the wrath to come" (NASB). What was interesting to me was the word "delivers." In the Greek, the word is in the present participle. So a literal rendering would be: "who is delivering us from the wrath to come." The wrath to come, which speaks of God's judgment, is not now but in the future. But according to this verse, Jesus will not ONE DAY deliver us, but he is CURRENTLY delivering us now from the wrath that is to come. I'm not sure of everything that this means, but I do know that I was extremely encouraged this morning. How reassuring it is to know that Jesus is on my side. He is currently, right now, everyday battling for me, delivering me!

But the really crazy thing that I noticed this morning was the definition of the word "deliver" in the Greek. The greek word here means to withdraw by force or violence. It is often translated "drag," meaning to deliver or to draw out of danger or calamity. I love this imagery. A couple of years ago, my family was going through a difficult time. It seemed as if we were being attacked on every side. I specifically remember praying the following during that time:

Jesus, please help me make it through this without disgracing your name. I'm not asking you to make this situation go away, I'm just asking you to help me stand up under it. And if I fail to continue moving through this trial, please do whatever it takes to get me through. Kick me. Push me. And if I fail to stand, knock me down and drag me through it.

Jesus is delivering us. He is delivering us from our present circumstances, dragging us through if necessary. But more importantly he is delivering us from the wrath to come. He is delivering us from Hell.
As I write this post, there is a movie currently playing in the theaters called "Drag Me to Hell." I love really cheesy horror flicks, and as cheesy horror flicks go, this movie looks like fun. But I couldn't help but make the contrast this morning. Because of our sinful nature, our natural bent is toward hell. Left to our own free will and our own volition, we would all wind up in hell. But God in his sovereignty has provided a way of escape. And in his great mercy, Jesus is delivering us, he is dragging us away from death, hell, and damnation. Jesus, drag me from hell.

Great Prayers of the Past – C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis is one of my all time favorite authors. He was also a Christian apologist, Oxford don, professor at Cambridge, lover of Greek mythology, and expert in Medieval and Renaissance literature, among other things. 

One of the least known things about Lewis is that he was also a poet. The prayer below is both poetry and prayer. I love this prayer because I had never thought of the issues he explains below. Essentially what he is saying is that all of us have in our minds some image of God when we pray to him. But God is beyond any image that we can conceive. So in one sense when we pray and conceive of insufficient images of God, we are committing idolatry. But he goes on to explain that since we are incapable of properly conceiving of God, he condescends to us. He diverts our poorly aimed "arrows," and helps them hit the mark. This is similar to what Paul meant in Romans 8:26 when he said "in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express." 

One more important note. C.S. Lewis would often refer to people, works, or events from history assuming that people would have at least a basic knowledge of them. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case, and one reference in the prayer probably needs explanation. "Pheidian fancies" refers to Pheidias, a first century Greek sculptor who is known for his statue of Zeus at Olympia, one of The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. He also made many other sculptures of gods and goddesses. So when Lewis refers to our thoughts of God as "Pheidian fancies," he is describing how insufficient are our ideas of God.

C.S. Lewis (1898 – 1963)

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshiping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to thyself divert
Our arrows aimed unskillfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolaters, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great,
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

Diligence vs. Hastiness

At times I can be a busy man. I lead our student ministry at Journey, our first impressions teams, media, marketing, some weekend experience stuff, and occasionally some other things that come along. I also lead an adult small group and a high school small group. I am also a husband and father of two (soon to be three) girls. Now, I like being busy. I actually would rather be too busy than not busy enough. I'm a doer. I like to get things done. I enjoy staying busy. I'm not one of these guys who thinks being busy makes them more important, I just enjoy having stuff to do. 

Now, there's nothing wrong with being busy, but sometimes it becomes an obsession for me to see how much I can cram into every day, and that's probably not a good thing. It's the difference between diligence and hastiness. If your busyness is a sign of your diligence, that's a good thing. But too often what happens is we try to cram in so many things we end up making hasty decisions for the sake of expedience. 

Proverbs 21:5 says, "The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty."

The other day, I had a busy day. I had multiple back-to-back meetings, and I was late for the first meeting which became a domino effect and made me increasingly late for each following meeting. Now, I started the day with my Jeep's tank on empty. For the sake of time I continued to push it. I actually prayed that God would not let me run out of gas but would help me get to each appointment. At the time, stopping for gas seemed unwise. I thought I needed those few precious minutes to make up for lost time. I actually went the entire day with my gas warning light on. I never stopped for gas. On my way home, I was going to stop at the gas station that is about a mile from my house. But by then I was running late for the meal that my wife had prepared. So I decided to pass by the gas station. I figured that I could simply get gas on the way to work this morning.

So this morning I left my house at 6:00 for a 6:20 appointment. I got down the road in our neighborhood when my engine died. I had to run back to the house to get the gas can that goes to my lawn mower. There was not much gas in it, but I thought it would be enough to get me to the gas station. I grabbed the can, ran back to my car, put in the little bit of gas, ran the can back to my house (I didn't want it to sit in my Jeep and stink it up all day), and headed to the gas station. By then I was running late, so I had to call my 6:20 appointment and let him know that I was not going to make it. While I was on the phone with him, my engine died again. Now I'm stranded between my house and the gas station, and I don't even have my gas can. So I called my wife (who is not a morning person), explained to her my situation and asked her to grab the gas can, come pick me up, and take me to get some gas. We argued about it because she didn't want to wake up our girls (3 years old & 2 years old). I finally decided she was right. So I walked to the gas station, bought a new gas can at an outlandish price, bought $3 in gas, walked back to my Jeep, put in the gas, drove back to the gas station, and filled up. By then I had missed my second appointment of the morning!

In an effort to save time, my hastiness on a previous day ended up costing much more today. It caused strife with my wife. It cost me money for an item I didn't need otherwise. It caused me to miss two appointments. There is a big difference between diligence and hastiness. I always want to be diligent to use wisely the small amount of time the Lord has granted me. But if I am not careful, busyness can result in hastiness which ends up actually wasting more time than idleness! 

I'm not usually a big fan of The Message, but occasionally it has a unique way of expressing the meaning of a passage of scripture. This is one of the times. The Message translates Proverbs 21:5 like this:

Careful planning puts you ahead in the long run; 
   hurry and scurry puts you further behind.
 

It certainly put me further behind today. For the sake of being good stewards of the time that God has given us, may we all be diligent and never hasty.

Sneak Preview: On Trust

Here is a sneak preview of a message I'm working on entilted "Moved to Rest." Come hear the rest this weekend!


*****

Every one of us felt that perfect rest and peace at
the moment we gave our lives to Jesus. But then slowly over time, it began to
fade. And here’s why:
Your level of
trust must increase as your level of awareness increases.
What does that
mean?

Last summer, Cana was fearless around water. She
was only 2 and a half, but she had this little floatie deal that helped her swim. She
would jump in off of the side, jump off of diving boards, purposefully go under
water. Once she wanted to go down this big water slide, we got all the way to
the top and they wouldn't let her slide because she was to little. She was
devastated and cried and cried. She wasn’t scared of it! Now this year we took
her to the pool for the first time and we expected her to do even more than she
had done last year. But that’s not the case. She won’t even jump to me from the
side of the pool. She wants to, but she breaks down crying from fear. We were frustrated
at first, until we realized what was going on. She’s a year older. Her capacity
to understand things and increased exponentially from last year. Her awareness
of the world has increased. She now has some concept of pain and consequences
and even death. You see, her level of awareness has increased, but her level of
trust in her daddy has not increased in the same measure. She was willing to
jump to her daddy when all she knew was that she might get water in her eyes.
But now she knows that if she stays under the water for too long, she may never
come back up again. And suddenly she's not so sure if she wants to trust her
daddy to catch her.

 When you were saved, for most of us, it was a very
basic childlike faith. All we knew was that it was the difference between
heaven and hell, and significance and meaninglessness. Of course you are going
to choose heaven. Of course you are going to choose significance. But then you
began to follow Jesus and your awareness increased. You realized this isn't
just about going to heaven; he wants your whole life. He wants to have his way
in your marriage, and your children, and in your job, and in your finances, and
your relationships. As you grew in knowledge about what the Christian life was
about, your level of awareness increased but your level of trust did not
increase in the same measure. 

When your level of trust does not increase with
your level of awareness, it creates stress in your life.

Great Prayers of the Past – St. Augustine

St. Augustine of Hippo was an early church father and was both a philosopher and theologian. He may be the single most important figure in the development of western Christianity. Even the great reformers like Calvin and Luther would later be influenced heavily by his writings. 

The prayer that I am sharing this morning is appropriate because God woke me up three minutes before my 4:00 am alarm. Almost immediately after I got out of bed, I began pumping the new Hillsong United album (which you should go buy right now) into my head by way of my Iphone. This scenario brought to mind a prayer I read a few weeks back.

St. Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)

You awaken us to delight in your praises, for you made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it reposes in you.


When not properly understood a restless heart will do nothing but get you into trouble. I must admit that too many times I have been guilty of pursuing other things because my heart was restless. In reality, my heart is sometimes restless because I was made for God. I was made to delight in him and in praising him. This morning, I am at peace. I am at rest because my heart has been reposed in God himself. My prayer for you today is that you will delight yourself in his praise and that you will find peace for your restless heart.

Tortured for Christ

When I was a teenager, my dad had me read a book called "Tortured for Christ" by Richard Wurmbrand. Wurmbrand was a pastor in communist Romania and eventually spent a total of fourteen years in solitary confinement for his beliefs. Beyond that he was tortured on many occasions.

When I read this as a young believer, I don't think I fully appreciated or understood the ramifications of this book. Recently, I received another copy in the mail from a friend and began reading through it. This time around, I have not been able to read more than a few pages at a time. Almost every time I've sat down to read it, I've been reduced to tears. It is absolutely unbelievable what our brothers and sisters across the world have been through (and continue to go through in countries that are hostile to Christianity). What I want to do here is share with you a few stories that have blessed me in recent days.

Once the Communists convened a congress of all the christian leaders in their country. One by one minister after minister and pastor after pastor began professing their allegiance to Joseph Stalin (who by that time had already become a mass murderer of Christians). Richard Wurmbrand and his wife Sabina were present. Sabina turned to her husband and said "Richard, stand up and wash away this shame from the face of Christ! They are spitting in his face." Richard said, "If I do so, you lose your husband." She replied, "I don't wish to have a coward as a husband."

Wow. Sabina put her love for the name of Christ above her love for her husband. It's not like they were being asked to deny Christ or to profane his name. All they had to do was sit in silence. But they could not sit in silence while the name of their Savior was being disgraced. Sabina was willing to lose her husband for the sake of honoring the name of Christ. I don't think I know many people like that, and that is unfortunate.

One more:

A pastor by the name of Florescu was tortured with red-hot iron pokers and with knives. He was beaten very badly. Then starving rats were driven into his cell through a large pipe. He could not sleep because he had to defend himself all the time. If he rested for a moment, the rats would attack him.
He was forced to stand for two weeks, day and night. The Communists wished to compel him to betray his brethren, but he resisted steadfastly. Eventually, they brought his fourteen-year-old son to the prison and began to whip the boy in front of his father, saying that they would continue to beat him until the pastor said what they wished him to say. The poor man was half mad. He bore it as long as he could, then he cried to his son, "Alexander, I must say what they want! I can't bear your beating anymore!" The son answered, "Father, don't do me the injustice of having a traitor as a parent. Withstand! If they kill me, I will die with the words, 'Jesus and my fatherland.'" The Communists, enraged, fell upon the child and beat him to death, with blood splattered over the walls of the cell. He died praising God. our dear brother Florescu was never the same after seeing this.

This might sound sadistic, but it is not intended that way. I hope to one day suffer real persecution for the sake of my Savior. It would be an honor.