Thursday, July 29, 2010

Certain Men. . . . Jude 4

The news has been caught up this week with Wikileaks and its very troubling posting of critical documents concerning the war in Afghanistan. The man in charge of the website is Julian Assange whose decision to release the documents for the whole world to see has placed a number of allies of the United States military at great risk. It is not without reason to believe that it could lead to the death of these Afghani supporters by the Taliban once they have determined their identities.

But the greater and more troubling issue is how that Wikileaks obtained the documents. According to the Wall Street Journal Online, it appears that they were helped by Pfc. Bradley Manning who worked on the inside to gain access to these top-secret files who then managed to download them and pass them to Assange. As stated today (7/29/10), the military and government investigators have “concrete evidence” that Manning is the culprit.

In observing this story at the periphery during the last week, I have continually been drawn toward the Scripture that Jude left for us in his brief epistle:

Jude 4 KJV For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jude 4 ESV For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. [Cross References: 2 Pet. 2:1; Gal. 2:4; 1 Pet. 2:8; Acts 11:23; Titus 1:16; 2 Pet. 2:1; 1 John 2:22]

There are those who would bring about a breach from the inside. The greatest challenge the church has is not from the outside but those who work to destroy it from within. When you look at the history of the Great Wall of China you will discover that it was never breached from the outside but it was always from within. Some unscrupulous and unprincipled gatekeeper was bribed with money to let the enemy gain the entrance.

Most people who attend church rarely like to entertain the idea that there are negative spiritual influences that is at work on the inside of the church. Far too many have a sentimental view of the church that makes it just a warm fuzzy playground to get our fears and anxieties massaged and put to rest. It is a place more of fellowship than of stimulating personal spiritual growth that directs us to a deeper prayer life and greater understanding of the Word of God. It is not about transformation as much as it is about affirmation.

Over the years, I have greatly enjoyed to read through the commentaries and writings of the Puritans. As with all books, it is important to read with a filter and have the ability to critically think and analyze what you are reading. I subscribe to this idea with all that I expose my mind and spirit to. It is important that we not just let our minds be open to anything and everything that comes down the pike; ultimately it has to stand the principles and tests of Scripture no matter who the author or speaker is. With that thought in mind, I am going to list a few lines from Thomas Manton’s commentary on Jude. Particularly notice the fantastic word pictures that Manton is given to.

From the Preface:

When the Christian church began first to look forth in the world, there were adverse powers without ready to crush it, and Libertines, who like worms bred within in the body, sought to devour the entrails and eat out the very bowels of it.

The monsters of Africa came from the unnatural commixtures of the beasts running wild in the deserts; so when men had once broken through the hedge, mingling in their own fancies with the Word of God, by an unnatural production they brought forth such monstrous and absurd opinions.

Our greatest defense against the enemies from within is a strong hunger for the Word and the constant exposure to it. Both hunger and exposure to the Word helps us to be able to identify and ward off the attacks of those who have “crept in.” One of the jobs of the shepherd is to provide a solid and secure sheepfold. This only takes place through prayer and the ministry of the Word. Nothing else has the capacity to preserve the fold like these two elements (Acts 6:4).

How does a pastor open up the fold to the wolves who can creep in? The following ways are some of the ways that it can happen:

• Soft and easy messages that never confront anything.
• Marketing the church to get a crowd.
• Not allowing the Word to be authoritative in its call for holiness, surrender, and dedication.
• Having a majority of people attending who are actively embracing worldly lifestyles, who have unholy minds, and commit ungodly actions.
• Pastors who do not commit themselves to teaching and preaching through consecutive passages of Scripture that deals with the righteousness that God longs for.
• Being critical of those who love the Truth of God’s Word enough to defend their convictions.
• When worship becomes more entertaining than it does soul-building.
• When the examples in leadership falls into mire that Nadab and Abihu along with Samuel’s sons lived in. Worldly, carnal, immoral, and distracted sums up their actions.
• Falling prey to the sin of silence that never raises a voice of concern about the direction of the ship.

I have a feeling now that the Pentagon is wishing that they had been much more vigilant than what they had been before Pfc. Manning got into their top secrets.

Until next time. . .

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Hired to Be Holy -- Part 3 -- Tell 'Em What They Want To Hear

In this series of blogs, we have been entertaining the different aspects of what it means to be in a position where you are “hired” to be holy. The first post was more introductory about the position. The second post dealt with authority and its abuse despite the appearances of being “holy.” This third in the series goes at the opposite end of spectrum by just giving people what they want. Not nearly what they need but what they want.

Most have probably heard a variation of the story about the fellow who was walking down the street and saw a sign in the window of a shop that said “Fresh Bread.” When he saw the sign, his mouth began to water as he thought about the fresh baked bread. So despite time constraints, he went in the door of the shop and told the proprietor that he would like some of the fresh bread. The proprietor laughed heartily and told the man, “Sorry, we don’t make bread, we paint signs.” It really wasn’t false advertising because it was indeed a sign company instead of a bakery. However, if a sign out front clearly states that we are a church shouldn’t there be something righteous and holy being offered on the inside?

What a diluted time that we live in! But when the pastor is under the pressure to perform with preaching a deadly path can be taken. No matter what we preachers do, we have to understand that the Gospel is confrontational. It is confrontational in that its premise is that man is a sinner and if he does not experience the new birth and is converted, he is lost and will end up in hell. There is no way to soft-soap that message unless you forget it and instead try to use a mental massage to relieve the stresses and pressures of the daily life and the reality is that you can. You can learn to use gimmicks and scatter a few Scriptures here and there and turn the message into a cream puff of inspiration that does not create any hunger for God or His Word or the Spirit either. When that takes place, it will not be too long before the church has turned into a crowd of unconverted people. But the pastor is still living up to his expectations of everyone because of his public trappings of holiness.

But just as deadly as pastor who is an authoritative dictator so is the man who cannot open his mouth and preach to a generation of people who are experiencing a spiritual famine in the land. Sermons that are “feel-good” sermons or those that are constructed to meet the “felt-needs” of the people are superficially shallow and will be forgotten before the people clear out from the restaurants. The temptation toward the superficial is one of the oldest tricks the devil resorts to among men who are told to proclaim the Word. Jeremiah and Ezekiel both preached vehemently against those shepherds who did not lead. They were compared to dogs that could not bark and to shepherds who used the flock to the meet their own needs.

I am pleading with you men who preach to get on your knees somewhere and determine to become a man that is willing to preach with conviction. There will never be any passionate, convicting preaching unless a preacher has poured his soul somewhere in a place of private prayer. He cannot be a preacher of conviction unless he has also given himself to constant study of the Word. Tear the sign off of the door that says office and replace it with a sign that says STUDY. More times than I have ever deserved, God has used my mouth to get the Word through to a people who live in a land of idolatry that is constantly working to entice them. That is what a land of idolatry calls for, a Word from God.

Where were you on September 11, 2001? Most of us will never forget where we were on the fateful Tuesday morning when the terrorist attacks begin. I had just finished a CT biopsy and was rolling a patient to the recovery area when one of the guys I worked with told me what had happened. I just happened to be checking a patient in when I saw the first tower collapse in New York City. A kaleidoscope of emotions were felt by all of us on that day—anger, sadness, fear, deep grief, and a fear of the unknown. On that night, our church was opened for prayer and despite it being an off night it was pretty packed with people. There were even strangers we did not know who came in for prayer.

But let’s play a what-if scenario. What if on September 9, 2001 you would have had a dream that would have shown to you everything that was going to happen on 9/11? What if you were an employee at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon? What would you have said to those people on September 10? Chances are no matter what you would have said you would have been dismissed as a crackpot. You could have warned that planes would be used as weapons to destroy the building and that three-thousand would die and others would have multiple injuries. But because it was not what people would have wanted to hear, I feel sure that most of them would have dismissed it.

That is the exact same scenario that every preacher/pastor/teacher faces every week in America. We have so much to enjoy and take part with here. We have so many perks and freedoms that we often forget that there is a great day coming when we will have to give an accounting for our deeds, words, choices, and actions. There are planes that are about to hit the building. . . the worst thing that those who are hired to be holy is not tell the people what information they need to help them. . . . .

Until next time. . .

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Hired to Be Holy -- Part 2 -- Authority

As described yesterday, vocational holiness is the defined boundaries which those men who are in public ministry positions must uphold. There are certain places and things that a pastor cannot do. For instance, I cannot go to one of the local watering holes here in my hometown and say that I am just going to get a Coke. I cannot spend time riding around town with a young attractive twenty-something in my little Civic as this does not fall into the acceptable lines of vocational holiness. I cannot attend events that are unbecoming to the ministry that I am called to fulfill. However, as stated yesterday, this tenor of vocational holiness for ministry leaders can create a host of problems because it causes them to fall into the default mode of holiness by avoidance. Avoidance of certain places, certain people, and certain situations falls far short of God’s high call for holiness.

One of the areas that holiness has to prevail is the area of authority. A pastor, who is also considered a shepherd, has to allow the tools of his trade to be touched by holiness. A shepherd commonly has a staff—used for guidance and direction—and a rod—used for correction and discipline. Just as a shepherd would wield a rod of correction for the sheep, the pastor has to use the rod of correction sometimes to manage and deal with situations that calls for righteous judgment.

In a little book written by Kevin Leman and William Pentak called The Way of the Shepherd; they make some observations about the rod of the shepherd. A rod that is used too much will lead to a loss of goodwill from the people and a rod that is not used enough or not at all will lead to the loss of their respect. The rod is responsible for three things: protection from predators, protecting the sheep from themselves, and for the work of inspection.

But if a shepherd has only been hired for holiness, he will abuse and misuse the rod in such a way that will destroy the flock. Too much, too soon is never good! However, if that rod has been touched with the holiness of God, the instruction of the Scriptures, and a love for the flock, the shepherd will find a life that is pleasing to God.

Our authority has to have a constant baptism of holiness for if it does not, one can resort to manipulation and political maneuvering. It can lead to the same trap that Diotrephes fell into when he decided he wanted pre-eminence and began to soil the church with his unholy ambitions. No where are the temptations the highest than in the precincts of the structured forms of church government. Power can cause people to do maddening things and it routinely can cause preachers to lose every bit of their sense of spiritual direction. They can begin to jockey for position and for votes because of the subtle temptation to be something in the Temple yard (Matthew 4:5-6).

Authority that is out of control can soon become mired in things that are far less than holy but if a minister is still fulfilling the capacities of vocational holiness it is difficult to deal with out of control authority. How can a minister be certain that he is not falling into the trap of taking authority that is not rightfully his? There are several ominous signs that one is in for a fall when these characteristics are present:

• If a pastor has no one that he is accountable to. All decisions have to come through him for the functionality of the church to continue. A man who operates in this manner will soon become a law unto himself. This holds true for a church of 25 or an organization of 25,000. I encourage you to look for your own historical examples. . . they exist in your own circle of experiences.

• If a pastor becomes less and less approachable and those who have needs will use a “middle-man” to come to him with difficulties because they are fearful of him, trouble is brewing for this leader.

• If a man increasingly becomes isolated—from criticism, from close personal relationships with ordinary members, and from life in general—this is another sign that failure is on the horizon.

• If a pastor has a congregation that is always deferring their praise toward him instead of God, this calls for alarm.

• If a pastor resorts to politically manipulating young budding ministries and crushing them because he is intimidated by their talents, authority has become too heavy handed.

• If a minister, in his preaching or in his casual conversation, is always the hero of every situation, be careful. . . authority is most likely being abused.

• If a pastor increasingly resorts to stating that the voice of God is speaking to him or the famous “God told me” at the expense of purely Scriptural guidelines, he is in hot water. It matters not a whit to us what “God told you,” if it does not line up with Scripture. . . you are wrong! (For this kind of behavior to be confronted there has to be a strong proficiency to know the Scriptures. One cannot just be acquainted with the stories but he must know the Book.)

These are the steps that the real, literal devil (aka Satan) seeks for a man to follow as he entices him to the pinnacle of the Temple to leap. Uzziah fell like this. Aaron fell like this. A host of others fell to this trap but all the while they were living in correct vocational holiness.

What does real, godly and holy authority look like? He is more than willing to admit his own fallibility. This does not mean he is involved in low-living but just that he has a holy task to fulfill which taxes all of his spiritual senses. Holy authority will be Christ-like in that there is never an attempt to cover his ignorance, weakness, or failure. Holy authority is constantly in a training mode that is making disciples and training others to fulfill our overwhelming task of evangelism. Holy authority has one goal—to encourage a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.

We who are leaders must constantly be working toward having a strong exposure to personal, private prayer and a constant diet of the Word. Prayer and the Word are two of the primary ways that God uses to cleanse imperfect vessels. We have to commit both to the discipline and duty of these aspects of worship or it will not be long until we become spiritually vulnerable to mediocrity.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hired to Be Holy -- Part 1

Robert Murray McCheyne—Do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart. How diligently the calvary officer keeps his sabre clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care. Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.

A few days ago, I was foraging around the house looking for something to read. I wanted something easy that required little thinking on my part, purely entertaining in its content. My eyes caught a Louis L’Amour western entitled Galloway. Although I had read it years ago, I could not remember the plot and so I launched into it. Before too many pages I started tracking along with the story again.

Galloway is a member of the famous Sackett family and has a brother named Flagan. In the book, they band together with some of their cousins and work to establish a ranch in a place called Shalako and the story revolves around that episode in their lives. I won’t spoil it for you in case you want to pick it up and read it for the first time or the second time.

However, in that book, my thoughts were stimulated when I started reading about the contentious range boss, Bull Dunn, who has a bunch of rowdy roughnecks for sons. Not only are his sons obnoxious bullies they are gifted with an inbred meanness that pours out all the little town of Shalako. To compound their nasty presence, Bull Dunn, hires a couple of killers to tote pistols and intimidate and beat down folks who oppose them.

In consideration of those hired guns, I begin to think about all the jobs that can be hired out—plumbers, electricians, carpenters, accountants, physicians, and preachers. When there are certain jobs that we want done, somebody to hire is never far away from a Google search or those things called phone books.

It was with that understanding that I started thinking along the lines that I, too, am hired to do something. I am now a pastor and our society, despite all the public ministerial collapses that have made national news in the last few years, there is still a certain expectation that they have for a pastor to be “holy.” It is called vocational holiness. . . . and it can be deadly!

If we pastors and ministers are not careful our calling to vocational holiness can become very legalistic in appearance. It is important for me to stay away from certain places. It is important for me to maintain a certain sense of dignity with the public calling. It is important for me to associate with some folks and not to associate with other folks. It is important for my conversation to be free of profanity. It is important for me to be kind and considerate. It is important to be holy because I am hired to be holy.

But when you are hired to be holy, you can keep up a public fa├žade outwardly and be a dirty dog inwardly and very few people will know it. That was the driving point the Lord was getting at in Matthew 23 when He begin to call out the Pharisees for who they were. Clean outwardly but putrid inwardly. White outwardly but dead inwardly.

Charles Spurgeon—All our libraries and studies are mere emptiness compared with our closets. We grow, we wax mighty, when we prevail in private prayer.

You see a minister can perform at a level of vocational holiness, which is his job, and never really be holy. He can speak in the religious platitudes that people expect him to fulfill and have a spirit that is totally foreign to God. My mind has been drawn to this ever since I read that little western by L’Amour while at the same time was working through a series on the book of Acts.

Luke tells us that Jesus begin to both do and teach. When it is a part of your teaching is part of your life, much credibility is gained. But when your life is not part of your teaching, trouble can be on the horizon. The old adages, “practice what you preach,” or “walk the talk” are good encouragers that often we teach more with our actions than we do with our words. The same pattern has to take place in the life of all of those who are seeking to be authentic models of godliness. Obviously there are none who are perfect but this mentality should not cause us to throw in the towel and decide to just quit, there has to be a desire and pursuit of a higher level of living.

A minister has an even higher calling in both vocational holiness (the public aspect of ministry) and personal holiness (the aspects of the inner life). Every minister must both do and teach! A crucial part of a minister’s life means that he must be given to being godly and holy. Week-in and week-out there must be a steady diet of the Word and of prayer for every minister. If there is the steady diet of the Word and prayer, spiritual growth is a certainty. It will keep us living in the light of integrity.

A minister has to take great to follow the example set forth by the Lord. There are several reasons that he must be given to a life of character.

First, he endures much more severe temptations than others simply because of the intensity of the spiritual battle. As a spiritual leader there are those who look to his example and the bar needs to remain high.

, if he falls the impact is often devastating. It can rend a church and the devil is aware that if the shepherd is smitten the sheep will scatter.

Thirdly, because a minister has a greater knowledge of the truth, he is more accountable, and has a greater chastening to endure for his sin.

Fourth, the sins of the elders are more hypocritical than others because they preach against the very sins they commit. Every leader needs an abundance of the grace and power of God because of their greater responsibility and visibility (This list adapted from 1 Timothy commentary by John MacArthur, p. 103).

Richard Baxter—Many a tailor goes in rags, that maketh costly clothes for others; and many a cook scarcely licks his fingers, when he hath dressed for others the most costly dishes. . . It is a fearful thing to be an unsanctified (unholy) professor, but much more to be an unsanctified preacher.

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...