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Archive for June, 2009

 

Last Sunday I preached a sermon on Mark 9:14-29 called “I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” Those were the words of the father of the boy who was demonized just before Jesus set both the boy and his father free by casting out the unclean spirit. In response to the Lord’s question about faith, the man said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Yes, he had faith but he also had some doubts. The man’s faith was not always strong, which I think all of us who are honest can relate to.

The father’s honest response got me thinking about doubt. As I did, I came across some of the thoughts of Os Guinness recorded in one of my notebooks.

According to Guinness, doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is a middle ground between faith and unbelief. He says that doubt is unstable and fluid by nature – it can easily move toward either faith or unbelief depending upon how we “feed” it.

There are three things we need to know about doubt:

  1. Doubts are normal. Everyone has them, some more than others, but they’re common to all of us.
  2. Doubts are unique. Not everyone’s doubts are the same. In other words, it isn’t enough to provide a “cookie-cutter” treatment for someone,s doubt because many other factors are involved.
  3. Doubts are an opportunity. They give a chance to study, explore, learn, and grow (which is always a good thing).

There are what Guinness calls seven “families” of doubt or, as we might call them, seven things that lead to doubt:

  1. Ingratitude
  2. A faulty view of God
  3. Weak foundations (a poor understanding of the basic doctrines of Christianity)
  4. A lack of commitment tot he Lord
  5. A lack of spiritual growth
  6. Unruly emotions (being driven by your emotions rather than truth)
  7. Fearing to believe

What can we do about doubt? How do we deal with it? Guinness offfers three suggestions:

  1. Admit your doubts
  2. Doubt your doubts (ask yourself whehter or not you have good reasons to doubt what you’re doubting – question your doubts and challenge yourself – something most of us never do).
  3. Begin with the faith you already have and go from there.

We all wonder from time to time whether this is all true and if we’ve been duped somehow. That isn’t the important point. What’s important is how we deal with it. May we say with the man in Mark’s Gospel, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

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Morning Prayers

 

Lord,

May we learn the lessons You’re teaching us the first time.

As we gather with our brothers and sisters in Christ this morning, may we remember that it’s all about You, not us.

In Jesus’  Name, Amen.

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“Away with originality!” That’s what I need to say and practice in my calling as a pastor – a shepherd of God’s flock.

It is not my job to be original, to come up with things nobody has ever seen before in the Bible. It is not my task to develop new and novel explanation of “the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” As a pastor, it’s not in my job description to reinvent the wheel.

Jesus said in John 4:34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” God the Father sent God the Son – Jesus – to accomplish a specific task, who then sends His people, those who believe in Him, to continue that same work as He says in John 20:21 – “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.”

Paul told Timothy to “Follow the pattern of sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. (2 Tim. 1:13-14) In 2:1-2 of the same letter, he wrote: “You then, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” Again, he exhorts Timothy, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing form whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (3:14-15). What are those “sacred writings”? The inspired Scriptures, according to 3:16. Paul wrote all of these words shortly before his death – they were obviously extremely important to him.

Jude wrote to his readers, “Behold, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Being unoriginal does not mean I can’t be creative or that I can only use words used in the Bible to convey the message. It means that I have to remember my main and plain purpose – to guard the truth that has been handed down to us from generation to generation. I need to proclaim and defend the Gospel, not edit it.

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“Look for recurring themes” is a common exhortation when reading or studying a document. The same should be true for our discussions and conversations with others, too.

Over the past several weeks, one theme has come up repeatedly and it doesn’t have anything to do with sports, politics, school, church, or even food – it’s the sovereignty of God.

Romans 8:28-29 – both the verses and the truth they convey – has made its way into dozens of conversations. “For God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose; for whom He foreknew He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”

That incredible statement and promise assures us that the sovereign God – the Creator and Sustainer of the universe – is orchestrating, directing, and moving everything in the life of those of us who are His own for His good purpose, which is defined as conformity to Jesus Christ, His Son. In other words, God’s purpose in all things is to make you and me more like our Lord Jesus Christ and He’ll do whatever it takes to get us there.

It’s amazing how many times my conversations recently have moved to this point: “Remember what Romans 8:28-29 says. God is using this (whatever “this” might be) to conform you to the image of Jesus, His Son.” I don’t think I’ve ever referred to one single passage more often than I have these past few weeks than in my life as a Christian. Obviously, it’s a recurring theme.

But do we believe it? Do I really believe it? Do we believe that the flat tire on the way to an important event is being used by God to make us more like Christ? Is losing a job or having one you don’t like part of God’s purpose and plan? Do we believe that it’s for our good to get picked on at school because of our commitment to Christ? Can a broken marriage really be used by the Lord to conform us to the image of His Son? Do we believe that God is working for our good in the death of a child so that he can bring us into greater conformity to the Savior?

The answer to all of the scenarios above is yes. Honestly, I don’t know how I would even begin to deal with any of them (let alone all of them) if I didn’t have absolute confidence that God is totally and completely sovereign. Only a sovereign God could make good on the promise of Romans 8:28-29. If He isn’t sovereign, I don’t think it means much of anything at all. We can trust God in the midst of excruciating and unimaginable circumstances because we know He’s good and He’s sovereign. Not only that, but we can also trust Him in the midst of circumstances that are simply irritating, routine, and confusing (as when we ask, “what is God up to?”).

Romans 8:28-29 is a recurring theme in the Bible and also in life, but do we really believe it?

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Here are 5 good books dealing with the history of the Christian church:

  1. Church History in Plain Language, by Bruce Shelley (Word). A good survey which lives up to its title.
  2. A History of Christianity (two volumes), by Kenneth Scott Latourette (Harper Collins). More academic, but still readable.
  3. Christianity Throughout the Centuries, by Earle Cairns (Zondervan). Reads like a novel.
  4. Trial and Triumph, by Richard Hannula (Canon Press).  Brief summaries of 46 Christians through the ages.
  5. In the Fullness of Time, by Paul Maier (Kregel). Subtitle says it all: A Historian Looks at Christmas, Easter, and the Early Church.

Enjoy!

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“You play to win the game,” repeated a National Football League head coach several years ago when he was questioned about some of his strategy at the end of a particular game. There is a plan, a purpose, an aim, and a goal to every football game, he said.

A Christian has a goal and an purpose, too. Paul identifies it in 2 Cor. 5:9 – “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him (God, that is).

The way we “win the game” is to think, speak, and act in such a way that our Lord is pleased. How do we know what pleases Him? It’s in His Word. If we know and understand the Scriptures, we’ll know what pleases God and what doesn’t – there won’t be a lot of guesswork.

Pleasing God should be our ultimate aim. I pray that it’s my aim and yours, too – for His glory and our good.

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Manure stinks, but without it plants won’t grow.

Trials and suffering stink, but without them we won’t grow as Christians.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:6-7).

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:3-5).

So, praise God for the manure even though it stinks. He uses it to produce growth in both plants and His people.

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