Dear Children

Letters From A Father's Heart

Don’t Worry About Whether You’ve Put God In A Box, But Rather Whether You’re In His “Box”

Dear Children,

For years I’ve fretted when I’ve heard anyone make the charge that someone is attempting to “put God in a box.” That never sat well with me. It’s one of those problematic things because it’s wrong-headed while at the same time intertwined with some truth. It is possible, for example, to put God in a human box. One way of doing this is by exalting Man while dethroning God. God is turned into what we, as Man, wish he was. We put him into a nice package that is more palatable to our fleshy tastes. To the extent that we do this, we are putting him into a human-sized box. And then when we put him into this box, we accuse anyone who disagrees with our new packaging of wanting to put God in a box themselves. I’ll discuss this in more depth later, but for now, let’s consider the fact that God actually is in a box. Furthermore, He made the box himself.

When we speak of a box, what we’re really talking about are limitations. When we place limitations on God based on our own opinions, for example, it might be truthfully said that we are putting him into a box. But there really are limitations concerning God that we ought to consider, some involving us, and others involving him.

One of the sides of the box within which God actually does exist is, we might say, a moral side. God can’t sin. I’ve heard the claim made that God can do as He likes and it isn’t considered to be sin because He’s God. That’s not what I’m saying at all, and when you hear these sorts of things about Jesus you should consider them as heresy. What I am saying is that God cannot act in a way that contradicts His nature. That’s one side of the box, and it consists of one of His attributes. 

Another side might be considered a logical one. You’ll hear the question, can God create a rock so big that He can’t move it? It’s a trick question designed to prove that it is impossible for God to be without limitations. But God actually is limited by His own logic. He can’t, for example, make a square circle.

*A possible third side could be based on epistemology. These limitations, however, are more about us than God. We were given five senses, and it’s through these senses that we experience and interpret our world and our God. God affirms this when He tells us that our thoughts and ways are not like His thoughts and ways. So our understanding of God is necessarily limited by our cognitive and sensory capabilities. How does the finite grasp the infinite? How does what we know compare to what God knows? What words exist that can describe to us, in any meaningful way, those things for which we are not equipped to comprehend? Epistemology becomes another side of the box then. It exists because he has revealed to us what he wants us to know about himself in words that we are capable of comprehending.

The forth side of this box, it might be said, is God’s law. And like the epistemological side, it involves us more than God. God forbids creating for ourselves a god that is not. We are not given license to create another god under the guise that “all things are possible with God.” We are forbidden to create a god that is more to our liking, or to superimpose onto the one true God revealed to us by scripture any old thing that suits our fancy. In the great falling away that you will be living through, there is a tendency to subject God to the moral whims of our culture, and then to judge him according to those whims. The current zeitgeist charges us to release God from the supposed box us “religious” folks have put him in so that He can be what their whims dictate that He ought to be.

In the final analysis, no matter what our ideas about God are, whether they’re heretical or not, they will always be confined by limitations. Someone might say, God would never send anyone to Hell. But to say such a thing is to put God in a box, on the outside of which is the possibility of him doing just that. Or someone might say that there are many roads to God. That would be putting God in a box that excludes the possibility that he only provided one way. We should always take God at His word, but in so doing, you can expect charges that you are putting him in a box. You can take comfort, however, that often times the box you’re putting him in is one of his own making.

So the real question is not whether or not God is in some kind of a box, or even whether or not God exists in a box of sorts. The real question concerns our knowledge of God. We must continually ask, is what we think we know about God true? And how do we know if it’s true? We can look at the Pharisees as an example. What they thought was true about God was not. So it naturally followed then that what they thought was true about themselves was not. They gave us examples of how easy it is to be misguided and deceived when we are proud, arrogant and self-righteous. But to not be like them doesn’t mean that we should run into the ditch on the other side of the road and embrace prideful and arrogant lawlessness. Truth is still truth, and any deviation from truth is a lie no matter how constrained or liberating it feels to us. So what to do?

I submit to you that we are all subject to God’s grace. If we are not deceived, it is only by His grace that we are not. The moment any of us thinks that we have an opportunity for boasting, we should fret. So ultimately, dear children, I’d say for you to not worry so much about whether you’ve put God in a box, but rather, if you must worry, worry about whether or not you’re actually in His box. With all of the deception that is now plaguing our Western Civilization in which you are steeped, I’d say that that’s plenty enough to worry about. And, also, I admonish you to pray, dear children, as I pray for you and us also. Pray that by His grace, you will walk a path lighted by His Word and that you will not stray to the left or to the right. You ought to pray for revelation and a heart that can hear the truth, even when that truth hurts. And always keep in the forefront of your thinking that it is only by His grace that you will spend your lives free from deception.

Your father

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Yes, Your Mother And Father Are Hypocrites… Sort Of

Dear Children,

The word hypocrite is thrown around a lot today; sometimes rightly and sometimes wrongly. So it’s a good idea, since words are the building material for our thinking, to contemplate what is meant by this word lest we discover that our thoughts are constructed of faulty material. So why don’t we start thinking about that word, hypocrite, by looking at its definition? A quick google search defines it thus:

The practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform

Now I want you to think hard about this definition, but not in light of how the lives of others may be hypocritical, but rather how your own life is hypocritical. That we are so much more adept at discerning hypocrisy in others has a way of blinding us to the hypocrisy in ourselves. So for starters, as we study this word, let us realize that we have our own propensities toward this sin, and we ought to be troubled more by those failures than the supposed hypocrisy that we see in the lives of others. 

So to begin, let’s unpack this word a bit. I want you to notice two important components in the definition. There’s the objective component: “the standard,” and then there’s the subjective component: “one’s own behavior.” Therefore, let’s look a little closer at these.

One method of escaping the charge of being a hypocrite involves the claim that there is no such thing as an objective standard by which all human beings can be measured. By doing this, so it is reasoned, the charge of hypocrisy is dodged because there is no held standard to which one’s behaviors do not conform. This sounds easy enough on the surface, but life still forces the one who attempts to hold this view into hypocrisy, because holding to the “truth” that there is no standard is itself a standard. This view makes too many assumptions as it attempts to free the man for libertine freedom while holding humanity to the restraints of a civil code. One can’t, on the one hand for example, insist that there are no such things as objective moral standards, and then on the other expect to live in a safe and civil society. According to his standardless standard, he has no right to impose any moral standard on his neighbor. But those who attempt to live according to this extreme do just that, and so qualify as hypocrites.

But it gets worse. According to this standard of standardlessness, one can’t even make the charge of hypocrite without becoming one. If there is no objective standard that applies to all human beings, then it only follows that living a life of hypocrisy doesn’t fall short of any standard because no such standard exists. 

But we, your parents, don’t live that way. We do have a standard. And, we not only preach that standard, we have taught it to you as best we could. And I also realize that where there is a standard there is the opportunity for hypocrisy. What’s worse, our standard includes a prohibition against hypocrisy. We agree with, “thou shalt not steal,” and we have no problem with, “hypocrisy is sinful.” And on top of that, we are guilty of both. 

It would seem then, if we were to endure the trial of thinking about it for a bit, that no matter what anyone says, hypocrisy is a fact of life for everyone. But before we go too far down that road, let’s explore the objective and subjective just a little further with a little story I made up:

A man robs a bank. The police show up and surround the building trapping him inside. He then takes hostages and begins to make demands. During the standoff, he manages to kill seven hostages, one because he found out that he was gay, one because he was a foreigner, one because she was Muslim, one because he was black, one because she was a woman, and he hated women, one because he was poor, and he hated poor people too, and one because he could see that he was a man wearing women’s clothes. He also raped two women, one of which he got pregnant and then forced her to have the baby. But, alas, in a stroke of genius he manages to escape his predicament with over ten million dollars that he didn’t even need because he was already very wealthy. He was just greedy and wanted more, plain and simple.

On the way home, after stealing another ten dollars from a homeless person, he stops by his extremely rich buddy’s store to buy a bottle of liquor and a hundred cartons of cigarettes to hand out to minors in his neighborhood. While there, he notices a young boy, who was obviously very poor, slipping a nickel-piece of gum into his pocket. When the boy attempted to leave with his stolen gum, the robber alerted the store owner that the kid was shoplifting, and he lectured the kid that stealing was wrong.

Here’s my question to you. Was what the man said to the kid true or false? Was the kid stealing? Yes. Is stealing wrong? Yes. This story highlights the confusion that we can find ourselves in when our sins mix themselves up with each other. We find comfort in simply disregarding people as hypocrites when they point out our sin. But you need to know two things. Your failure to hold to a standard does nothing to negate the existence of that standard, nor does it mean that you can’t yourself, as one who has fallen short of it, appeal to that same standard. And just because someone else has fallen short of it, they too can appeal to it and insist that the standard exists and that we are all accountable to it. 

No one should feel compelled to turn a blind eye to standards of right and wrong out of fear of being called a hypocrite. Such would swing the door wide for anarchy and beckon it in, because everyone falls short, which would mean that no one could ever hold anyone accountable. What policeman has never exceeded a speed limit? What judge has never lied? Yet they still hold others to standards that they have fallen short of. No one really wants to live in the kind of Hell on earth that would result if, once we have broken a law, we can no longer appeal to that law in favor of a more peaceful society. But unfortunately, that’s exactly where the culture in which you live is headed. No one can appeal to a standard because once they do the response is predictable. “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” you might hear. “Are you perfect? Then what gives you the right to suggest that there is a standard by which we ought to live, you hypocrite?” None of these admit the existence of the standard. They only ridicule anyone who suggests that it’s advantageous for everyone if we all do our best to live by it. Remember, Jesus said, even of the Pharisees, live as they say, not as they do. (Matt 23:1) For Jesus, that they were hypocrites did not negate the law that they taught.

The Gospel does impose itself into this seeming dichotomy; let’s consider how. First, the Gospel has two components, the bad and the good news, both of which apply to our discussion. The bad news is that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. God is sinless. He is no hypocrite. He can and does point to His own standard and holds all men accountable to it. In fact, all of humanity is under God’s judgment for falling short of His standard. That’s the bad news.

But the good news is that He loved the world so much that he provided a way of escape from His justice. That escape is through Jesus’ righteousness and His atoning sacrifice. We, your parents, make no pretense of righteousness. We do admit, to ourselves, to God, and to our fellow Man that we have fallen short, not of our own weak standard, or any standardless standard, but of God’s holy and righteous standard. We, at the same time, like the robber in the story, point to His standard as the standard by which all will be judged by God, even though we ourselves have fallen under that same judgment. We do realize though that that looks a lot like hypocrisy to those who have not sought refuge from that judgment. But we don’t point to ourselves as holding to the standard, only that there is a standard by which we are all held accountable. And we call all men to repent, just as I, a man whom you’ve watched up close and personal live a sub-standard life, call you to repent.

But it’s not like we repent and live a life of righteousness. No, we repent and then live a life of repentance. We sin, we repent, and we call all men to live repentantly also, and there’s no hypocrisy in doing that. And yet still, I don’t claim to not be a hypocrite. I only claim that to the extent that I am a hypocrite, it’s wrong and sinful, and I pray that God will grant me the faith and grace to repent and change.

My dear children, there is much hypocrisy in this day, yes, very much indeed. And, yes, it’s in the Church too just as it’s in your own home. But there’s no less of this sin to be found in those who stand outside the Church and point their fingers at Jesus’ Bride and accuse it day and night of hypocrisy. They should take Jesus’ words seriously and remove the log from their own eye before they attempt to help the Church remove the speck from its eye. And in the same way, beloved, if you find yourself observing hypocrisy in me, I pray that you would do the same. It’s my prayer, in fact, that you, dear children, would live as un-hypocritical a life as you can, and by doing so that you will be able to perhaps help your own father remove the logs that blind him so much. My need is excessive, and nothing blesses me more than to have my own children rise up to help me defeat the formidable foe of hypocrisy that plagues me.

Your father

If You Don’t Get Into The Pot You Won’t Get Cooked

Dear Children,

I’ve told you of the analogy of the frog being cooked in the pot. The main point of this little parable is that Man can handle a lot of small changes as long as they span generations, but he can’t handle large and sudden changes. It wasn’t that long ago that I can remember people shaking their heads and saying that “gay marriage” would never happen. Today it’s Man’s law in this land and many of those who said it would never happen have embraced it. Why? Because they were living in the pot rather than outside of it. They gave into the zeitgeist, yes, but they didn’t give in to it all at once. It was a slow fade, little by little they conceded. So this brings us to a couple of questions. Do you live in the pot, and how does one live outside of it?

As always, the best way to answer such questions is to go to the scriptures which contain truth for all time, which is another way of saying that they contain the truths which have existed outside the pot for time immortal. And even though you will watch your friends and relatives have their religion boiled out of them time and again in the pot that is this world’s ways and thinking, if you remain in the truths of God’s Word you will be able to, yourself, hold onto your faith in your Lord and Savior. You will see and understand things differently, you will have confidence in what you know, and you will understand what you observe in this evil world. 

In the scriptures we see things like:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 

Jesus is giving us an analogy here comparing the one who is basing his life’s decisions on what the ever-changing zeitgeist says, and what the non-changing Word of God says. It’s easy to live in the pot. All you have to do is allow this world to program your thinking by uncritically accepting every message and premise it transmits to you through its music, its entertainment, its news media, and its institutions of education. I can promise you that if you do that your opinions will drift from this to that, always aligning, as if magically, with what this world want’s you to think. The 2nd chapter of Hebrews also warns us with this admonition:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 

God knows that Man doesn’t change drastically. He drifts. He fades like a bright colored garment left in the sun. And all the while he is unaware, sure that he’s being steadfast until he begins to read his Bible and finds problems with what it says rather than allowing it to illuminate problems in his heart.

The purpose of the pot is to cook food. Flesh is put there and boiled to prepare it for consumption. In the same way, this world is in the business of preparing you for consumption. It does this by making you comfortable with ever more vile sins until you have lost your bearings and no longer possess the strength to resist. We also get insight into this in Ephesians chapter two:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience… carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

The Bible is clear on this. Either we follow the “course of this world,” and “the wide path which leads to destruction,” or we follow the narrow path with the lamp of God’s Word. We either serve mammon or we serve Jesus whom this world hates. Nothing unifies the world in a single cause like the name of Jesus. The world is in a constant state of war with itself. But it will unify in its rebellion against God Almighty every time, because it exists in the pot. It is being prepared for destruction.

In the end, your life will be marked by war no matter which way you go. If you hop happily into the pot you will be at war with God. If you follow Jesus, you will be at war with your own flesh, this world, and the prince of this world, Satan. The first will promise peace, peace, peace… always out there, always achievable some day, once you’ve gained enough understanding, acceptance, kindness, beauty, education, money, respect, possessions, security, power and love. It will ever be out there in the future as you rise every day to chase the sun. But you will never possess it because it is a lie.

Not so with following Jesus. To be reconciled with God is peace that surpasses this world’s understanding. To not owe the creator of the universe a debt that you can never pay is true peace. To not hate God because you are His debtor is a peace that this world cannot understand. To love God because he paid that debt is a love this world will not comprehend. It is this love that will give you the strength you will need to follow him, to not only hear His words but to do them and to endure the hardships that will surely be coming your way because of your life outside the pot.

As this world grows darker at an ever-increasing rate, it will be more difficult for one to live in the cauldron while attempting to look like he is at peace with God. The days of living in lukewarmness are coming to an end. It will be difficult, and you will be sifted, as will I. I pray that your faith is true and sure and that it will endure. I pray that God will remain faithful to you as you remain faithful to him in His strength. I pray that you will stand, and after you have done everything, that you will remain standing to the end, as I pray the same for your mother and myself. God is able, this I know, to keep us.

Your father

The Centrality Of The Gospel

Dear Children,

You will have ample opportunity during your lives here in the western hemisphere to sit through many a presentation of one sort or another. You will hear teachers and salespeople go on about this and that and all the while you’ll be eagerly waiting for them to get to the main thing, that one thing that matters the most that they are taking their sweet time getting to. And you’ll wonder why they’re taking such a long route around to get there. I’m sure they have their reasons. There’s a lot of research that goes into how to hook someone into buying something long before that someone has any idea of the cost, the actual cost being that main thing that you want to know, and what they’re taking so long getting around to.

Well, make no mistake my children that in this thing called Christianity, the Gospel is the main thing and that fact will be underestimated by you and most others. Our problem as humans is that we have a hard time grasping the main elements of the Gospel. One of those elements is the depth of our despair, the totality of the wrath of an angry God, and the absoluteness of our wickedness in the hot light of God’s holiness. I am convinced that if we understood that one thing alone it would change everything. Indeed I hope you will spend your life endeavoring to grasp it. The more you’re able to do that, the more you will find that your circumstances will not dictate your joy. The Gospel is our only reason for joy, and without it, no joy is possible.

The best part is that the Gospel is free. But it’s only free to the objects of its affections. It was not free in the grand scheme of things. This is another difficult thing to understand, and the fact that God’s holiness is woven into it makes it all the more difficult. Jesus was holy. That, my children, is no small thing. He was perfect and righteous and in pure fellowship within the Trinity, unmarred by sin. And yet, He took our sin on himself. He paid the price. I’m sure that it’s beyond our human ability to grasp the cost involved when such holiness takes on sin in order to bring about the gift of salvation offered to this world.

And another element is the love that was expressed for those who are His when this payment was made. If we could grasp the condition of those for whom God paid such a high price to redeem, at the very point when he paid the price, I’m sure we would be undone. We talk about love. But I’m sure that our words are rendered bankrupt in their attempts to express the totality of the Gospel. We were saved from God’s wrath, at a priceless price, into His love, through absolutely no merit of our own. There is simply nothing to compare to that. And in the same way that Man seems to ever be discovering the secrets of the universe, I am convinced that His children will ever be discovering the awesome wonders of this thing called the Gospel, the good news. For indeed it was the best news any of us could have ever gotten.

Dear children, I bid you contemplate these truths. There is so much that we don’t know, and possibly are unable to even comprehend given our finite minds. Do your best to not underestimate this beautiful thing. It is the center of our hope, our joy, of our very lives.

I pray, dear children, that you would spend your lives digging ever deeper into the miracles of the Gospel, and that you would increasingly become undone by the magnificent, wondrous, awe-inspiring, boundless, transcendent beauty of Christ, and him crucified.

Your father

 

God’s Word, The Beacon Of Truth

Dear Children,

The Bible is not a book suitable for fools, for it is the fool who approaches this work of works with the premise already set in his heart that the claimed author doesn’t exist. That said, you must make up your mind about this your own self. But as you make up your mind do so only after you’ve made up your mind about a few particulars concerning your own existence.

For one, you exist in time. One of the most profound passages in the Bible is God answering the question put to him by Moses, “Who shall I say sent me?”

I Am,” was the answer, and these two words are, therefore, our creator’s signature to His magnificent work. I was told of this passage before I read it, and it put me into an immediate state of awe and wonder. The words, I am, speak of existence, but not only of existence but also of an existence as it relates to time and space, or perhaps better put, to an existence from the perspective that is outside of them both.

It’s difficult to think outside of one’s own perspective. I am a Westerner now living in the early 21st century. My mind interprets all things from that perspective. And while I might manage to capture and confine a few of the influences bearing on me from that experience, I’m convinced that it’s a hopeless endeavor to escape the myriad influences sufficiently to evaluate myself and my world from any other perspective. I can never say, “I am.” I can only say that “I am here and now.” Indeed my own history as recent as yesterday is already fading from my grasp and tomorrow is completely unknown.

Yet still, I’m aware of a history that preceded my own existence, but even the study of that is limited by my perspective and made further hazy by the perspectives of those who witnessed it and did their part in conducting it to the present. It is clear to me that Man can never “be” in the same sense that the “I am” is. Man is a blind fool wandering around in the annals of time, seeing his own short history of existence in the light of a dim flickering lamp that creates long shadows that hide truths. And he is completely blind as it regards his future. He is led about by a ring in his nose, that ring being his fleshy desires.

As a result of such contemplations of time, you will inevitably be led to your origins. On this matter, the Bible and your culture are not compatible. Pay no mind to anyone who attempts to reconcile evolution and scripture. If it be concluded for you that your existence is the result of evolution, then reject God and accept the ramifications of such a faith. But if it be concluded in your heart that evolution is beyond your ability to reason, then reject it. Your father lacks the required faith to believe the tenets of evolution. It is an easier task for this feeble mind to see the I Am as the author of Man’s existence, and so by extension your father’s existence. Still, I understand those who put their faith in a system of knowledge that denies the coming day of judgment wherein an account of their lives will be required. Man generally prefers to see the world as he wishes it to be rather than how it really is. But know this, reality itself dangles precariously on the tiny thread of that portion of the total of truth which we hold to be true.

On the second matter, you exist in space. That is to say that you exist on a slab of land on a planet in a gravitational relationship with two heavenly bodies, all three of which are spinning and churning through cold nothingness. But it’s more multifaceted than just that. You also live in a family, a community, a region, a culture and a nation. And don’t forget, if you are in Christ, you also live within a global community of believers who together make up the body of Christ. It’s these facets that exert themselves upon your existence more than anything else. They pull and push you this way and that. Without some sort of stabilizing force in your life you will have no recourse but to look inwardly for orientation and direction, and in so doing you will be navigating yourself according to the feelings and the prevailing thought-patterns within which you find yourself immersed at any given time.

God’s word is the only answer for such chronological and spatial disorientation. It is a beacon on the horizon by which you can fix your position in time and space according to the great I Am. You will not be lost, your direction and purpose will be sure, and you will endure the course set before you, which, though it is not well trodden, it is certainly not untrodden.

I pray that God’s Word would become a lamp unto your feet, a beacon of hope, and a comfort in your trials. I pray that you would hear and trust the promises of God and that you would set your face like flint in the direction that God has marked for you to go. I pray that you would not falter, that you would rise up as a mighty warrior in Christ’s army, and that where I have failed and fallen, you will succeed. May you, in the end, hear those blessed words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” I desire nothing for you more than this.

Your father

Forsaking The Body

Dear Children,

A couple of years before you were born your mother and I happened to follow a minivan into a grocery-store parking lot. The words, “Praise The Lord” were displayed in large letters across the back window along with other various Christian symbols and stickers, so we were both excited to speak to the lady. In our conversation, it wasn’t long before your mom asked her where she fellowshipped. The lady responded in the strangest way. With noticeable disappointment showing on her face, she answered, “Oh. So y’all are still doing that?” Well, the “that” she was referring to was attending church. And yes, we were still doing “that ,” and still are.

Since that time I’ve seen quite a bit of this sort of thing among professing believers, and I think they are in error. You can’t leave the Church and still be the Church. My hand in the other room does me no good. It must be attached to my body to be of any use. Besides, it needs my heart to keep blood pumping through it whether I’m using it or not. Without that blood, it would rot. And when I see attempts by some to remove their gifts from service to the Body, it perhaps rightly seems a little rotten to me.

In contrast, I can also remember visiting a little Baptist church in Georgia one evening not long after becoming a Christian. They were assembling to go out sharing the Gospel by knocking on doors. I can remember speaking to an older gentleman there who said he’d been a part of that congregation for 40 years. I now know with all confidence that that man had been through a lot with that little fellowship of believers. And you ought to expect that, in the same way you’ve been through a lot in our family, a congregation will also go through a lot as a community. That’s because they’re the same thing. Your church is your family.

Both of these people left a lasting impression on me. I’d personally rather be the man who stuck it out for the long term, and I’d rather you be as well. So let’s discuss a few things to be on the lookout for and to expect when it comes to the fellowship of the brethren. I’ll discuss some things I’ve seen and perhaps some things to look for as you guard your relationships with your church family.

The Parachurch Ministry

Doing church is hard work, especially for the pastor. Don’t ever forget that. Preaching on Sunday morning is but a fraction of his job, and probably the easiest and most rewarding part. For the rest of the week he’s holding together a congregation of sinners who all have their hobby horses to ride, axes to grind, pet doctrines to push, scandals, pregnant daughters, wayward sons, men and women abandoning their families, drug, alcohol and money issues, illnesses, deaths, births and lots more I’m sure. And if that’s not enough there are building issues, money woes, payroll and government bureaucracies to contend with. But sure enough, on Sunday morning there are three or four hundred ears gathered to hear a message.

But there are some who see a congregation as a ready-made audience that needs to hear their important message. And who knows, there might even be a little cash in it, you know, to “support the ministry.” So without any of the work it takes to manage the storm that is the week in a pastor’s life, or without shedding any of the tears through the night with any of the congregants and bearing any of the burdens of the flock, there they are, desiring access to this flock… through the back door so to speak.

“Para” means beside, and as such, parachurch is an apt description of these ministries. They are headed up by folks who are walking alongside the Church. And while some of them are worth their salt—perhaps most even—some are nothing more than parasites. They exist off the hard work of other people. They are not themselves in a church, but rather can only be described as functioning beside the Church. They bounce here and there, never really being part of a local Body, not really being accountable to anyone, but always kind of… nearby, feeding, if you will, off of the true Body. Beware of these. Approach them, or participate with them, with caution. God is preparing a Bride for His Son, and I am confident that there won’t be any best men to stand “beside” that bride at the great wedding.

House Churches

House Churches have always had a special appeal to me and I don’t think there’s any question that these churches were the norm in the early Church. And I see no scriptural basis to make the case against this kind of church today as long as it’s living out the biblical mandate of coming together as a body of believers and functioning as the Body of Christ. But like anything else, beware. It might well be that there has been so much inability to get along with the rest of the Body that a very small group has finally retreated into a living room somewhere and are finally able to be of one accord with one or two other families, until, that is, they’re not able to get along. A good house Church will probably outgrow the house at some point, so it will probably either go very well there or very wrong. If you find yourself in this kind of church, make sure there is love for Christ’s Body found in it and not just criticism of it. Make sure that there’s love of Christ there and not just love of His doctrines. And make sure that the Word is preached and there is communion. In other words, just as I said, make sure that it functions like any other healthy Body, or at least as healthy as any Body can be expected to function.

Loaners and Hyper Spiritualists

In my judgment, this probably describes the lady we met in the parking lot, though in our short encounter I can’t be certain. Nevertheless, we need to understand the truth about who we are as human beings so that we might ward off some of the setbacks that come with our humanity. One truth is that it’s our nature to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. In addition, and just as importantly, we tend to see our own failures in a more favorable light than we do the failures of others. These two truths work together to the detriment of the Church.

It has been my experience that I tend to judge myself more according to my intentions and desires than my actions. At the same time, I tend to judge those around me according to their actions. Such tendencies can easily lead to spiritual snobbery, and indeed it has with me. But it’s far more complicated than just that. I’ve given you only a couple of factors. There are more. So let me add another as an example. We all, being just one part of Jesus’ Body, naturally see and experience things differently. So we can tend to hold everyone else to standards that we like, because of the gifts God has given us, while at the same time giving ourselves a pass on other important things that we don’t like. And sometimes when the rest of our congregation doesn’t snap-to in a way that we think they ought to, why we up and leave because who wants to “worship” with a bunch of spiritual failures who aren’t serious about God? Well, that’s a hyper-spiritual mentality, and it’s wrong.

I also think that some of our negative mentalities toward the church might be rooted in our tendency to think of the congregation in a general sense. This sense might be derived from our negative experiences and judgments concerning individuals. Our minds then conflate those experiences into a general representation of the entire local Body. Having developed that global picture we then wrongly apply it back to everyone individually and at the same time to no one in particular. This is not good. If you work at thinking of your brothers and sisters individually and refrain from thinking about “the Church” in generalities, you may be able to ward off such a deceptive and destructive mindset. 

Still, I think we are all prone to such thinking, especially when we’re walking along the spiritual peaks, but probably not so much while we’re in the valleys. It’s actually much easier to get on our high-horse while we’re on the mountains. But when we do think in terms of individual brothers and sisters, then that might just lead us to think of ourselves in the context of those brothers and sisters, which, as difficult as it may be, is an excellent start down the road of remembering and considering our own failings. Ultimately, loaners and hyper spiritualists, I think, have a difficult time of differentiating between their desires for the Church, and the many individual realities that those who make up that church are experiencing. It then follows that they have difficulty being a part of something that they see as lacking or committing to a thing in which they are not the beginning and the end of. Many of these will transition through the next group, church-hoppers, before vacating the visible church altogether.

Church-hoppers

I’ve done no research on this. I can’t say whether “church-hopping” has ever been as prevalent in the past as it is now, but I don’t think it has. Life in the church is in many ways like marriage. A friend told me before I married your mom to keep both eyes wide open before the wedding and afterward to close one. A prospective local body should be approached in the same way before you sign on with it. And once you do, I promise you that you will find plenty of reasons to keep that one eye shut. But your church is also like your wife or husband in that you don’t just up and leave because of a few problems. It really is a part of your larger family.

Think of your own family. Think of our worst times, or maybe one of our worst days as a family. They were really bad, weren’t they? But did anyone throw up their hands and go join another family down the street, as if that family had it all together? Of course not. That would be unrealistic. I can tell you now that you will get angry with your brothers and sisters in Christ. So there, I’ve told you. So don’t be all shocked and surprised when it happens. Bad things are going to happen in all families and they’re going to happen in all churches. It’s just the nature of family. If you up and leave too quickly, I believe you will find one of two things will happen. Either you will church-hop until you discover that the whole idea of church is futile, then you’ll become a loaner. Or, you will mature, settle down, and learn to navigate the bumps, twists, and turns of family life.

We’ve been with our current church for 17 years, and in those years I’ve seen a lot, and not all of it was good. But God is not shocked or surprised. In fact, the whole thing is His doing. He created Church. We are all rubbing against each other and being formed into building stones that actually fit quite well together, which is Biblical. It is actually a living out of Roman’s 5, where Paul tells us that we, “glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.” We are also told by James to consider it pure joy when we face trials of many kinds because it brings about maturity. There’s no indication that these trials and tribulations are found only outside of your Church body. No, they’re on the inside too. We are learning to love and forgive as we grow in grace together, and that’s something you just can’t get as a church hopper.

Conclusion

Now, with all this said, please don’t think I’m telling you to never leave a church. I would never tell anyone to stay in a church come whatever during a time when churches are abandoning the truth of God’s Word in droves. But it’s also not as easy as it may seem. Church leadership can ride the ragged edge of apostasy and you may find it difficult to know for sure if it’s time to abandon that local body in favor of a more solid and healthy fellowship. Add to this the relationships you will have formed over the years and it becomes even more difficult to make these decisions; because if you’re doing church right, you will be leaving deep relationships behind when you leave. Much prayer, counsel, and discernment will be required. Still, I’m confident that the American church would be much healthier today if more Christians would take their commitment to their church more seriously and would not abandon their local bodies so readily.

But I can tell you with all confidence to never abandon God’s Church altogether. We are meant to be in fellowship with our brothers and sisters. And just so you know, sitting through sermons once a week doesn’t qualify as fellowship. We refer to our brothers and sisters in Christ as brother and sister for a reason; we are family. And that family is not so different than the one with which you share your home. There is anger, flare-ups, grudges, unforgiveness, moodiness, and failures of every sort. But there is also happiness, restoration, forgiveness, joy, laughter, celebration, and relationship. You get the whole gamut with both your family at home and at Church. So we don’t cut and run from our family, and we don’t cut and run from our fellowship in unhappy times. That’s just how it goes.

So, dear children, I pray that you will have discernment in your relationship with your local fellowship. It actually is a beautiful thing, and God will use it to mature and complete you as He uses you to do the same for others. The Church is God’s doing. Don’t ever think you’re too good for it, of not good enough. I pray that your relationship with your local body will be rich and rewarding.

Your father

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” Says The Teacher. “Utterly Meaningless! Everything Is Meaningless.”

Dear Children,

There was a popular bumper sticker a while back that said, “excrement happens.” Of course, it used a more colorful word than excrement, but I hope you get the drift. It conveyed the notion that life comes at us by random chance, and that some of that random chance is not so good; it just “happens” without any reason or purpose. That sticker reveals a worldview that is inconsistent with the view that I hope you adopt in your short lives.

We know that things do happen to everyone in life, so when they happen to you, your response will be what matters? And how you respond will depend on your basic philosophy of life which will revolve around a sense of purpose. The temporariness and apparent randomness of our lives will threaten our sense of purpose. But keep in mind that the life you are living right now is eternal and the realization of that should change everything. If we are not eternal beings, then the bumper sticker hits the nail on the head. “Excrement happens,” and that’s all you’ve got; your body lives for a while, and then it dies, and that’s all there is to it.

Some will spend all of their time in the futility of simply reacting to circumstances. Every decision they make in life will be in reaction to the external forces that so-happen to come their way. For others, their purpose will be to experience thrills, sex, and adventures. And still, for others, their lives will be spent to start and sustain a career, get married, buy a house and raise a family. But in the end, all of these endeavors have one thing in common, they end in death. Meaningless, says the preacher, utterly meaningless.

But I pray that you will embrace the only purpose that makes sense of it all. I pray that purpose would undergird whatever kind of life you live. You must understand that the only way you can grasp this is to know that you are not merely flesh, but rather that you are flesh and spirit. While your bodies will be wasting away, you can know that inwardly you will be being renewed day by day in your spirit. Your eyes will not be fixed on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. Your purpose will not be to breathe air, occupy space and obey the whims of your flesh, but rather to do the work which God has prepared in advance for you to do. Your goal and purpose will not be to simply enjoy life but rather to hear, “Well done my good and faithful servant” in the everlasting.

As I enter the autumn of my years I understand the words in the book of Ecclesiastes even more. Solomon laments that life is meaningless, a chasing after the wind, and no matter what path you choose, you can know that, as the end draws near, it will all be meaningless unless you have grabbed onto the eternal purpose that can only be found in Jesus the Christ.

I pray that at an early age you will commit to doing just that by grabbing onto Jesus with all of your might. I pray that you will be able to defend the few hours that you have been allotted against the attack of meaninglessness that comes in the form of promises by the flesh. I pray that, as your life comes to an end, you will be able to say, “I served my Lord,” as you ready yourself to meet him rather than, “I had a lot of ultimately meaningless fun.” May our Lord grant you the ability to serve him with steady devotion. 

Amen

Your father

_____________________

Read:

Eclesiastes 1

Ephesians 2

2 Corinthians 4

I Have Food That You Know Nothing About

Dear Children,

In John chapter four you’ll find the account known as, “The woman at the well.” One of my favorite parts of this story is when Jesus’ disciples return from their expedition into the nearby town to buy food. It seems that they find a lot of activity around Jesus and they were concerned that he ought to eat something. But He replies to them in the tiniest of parables when He says, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” But the disciples didn’t hear a parable; what they did hear was that He had food hidden or something. So Jesus had to explain:

My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish His work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.

In your lives, you’ll have ample opportunity to work on one project or another with your church, and you can have a great time with your brothers and sisters in these endeavors. But there’ll be those times when you do something, almost on a whim, and it will turn out to be amazing and satisfying. When it happens you’ll realize that you’ve just been involved in a sort of miracle, something that cannot be attributed to mere happenstance, and it’ll be wonderful. Here’s one of the few examples in my own life.

Many years ago, one summer afternoon, I was driving from Nashville to Chattanooga. Early in the journey, I saw a man hitchhiking and without much forethought, I decided to give him a ride just as I was passing him by. I pulled into the emergency lane and slowed to a stop. As he approached the car I got a closer look at him and realized that he was quite scary looking. For a fleeting moment, I thought about peeling out of there before he could get in. But I didn’t.

He was quiet as we drove along. His head was shaved and he had lots of scars and tattoos. He said that he’d just gotten out of prison and was trying to get to Florida. When I asked him what he was in prison for, he dryly answered, “murder,” as he stared emotionless out the window. As we drove he began to nod off as he fought sleep. I told him he could recline his seat if he wanted, but he would not allow himself that kind of vulnerability with a stranger, and I understood that. So I was quiet.

Wanting to witness to him in some way, and being a little afraid myself, I decided to plug in a praise and worship cassette. I thought that that might, at least, ease his mind a little in his weariness. As we drove I began to get an inkling that I ought to buy this man some food, and so a struggle began within myself. All I had on me, you see, was a credit card, and I didn’t want him to know that I had it. After all, I was already thinking about my plan if it turned out that he wanted to carjack me in Chattanooga. So I put the matter of buying food for him to rest. I would not be stopping … or so I thought.

Somewhere in rural Tennessee, between Nashville and Chattanooga on a Sunday afternoon where businesses were scarce and most were closed, a sudden loud noise and vibration from underneath the car startled us. I came to a stop and learned that, though it was still holding air, the outer part of the tire had departed.

It so happened that an exit was right in front of us, so I followed the ramp up to the stop sign as I contemplated a tire change. To my surprise, I saw two things that changed everything. An open tire store on one side of the road and across from that a Golden Corral. This was a rural stretch of I-24. It was on a little two-lane road that happened to intersect the freeway, and there weren’t lots of businesses around; there were only these two as far as I can remember. But what’s important is the fact that I then realized that God wanted this man fed, and He was going to feed him, and I was going to be the one He used to do it.

The whole experience became one that I think only a Christian can appreciate. It was the maker of the heavens and the earth, the creator of all things, deigning to use me in his work. I can tell you that there’s nothing like it in the world. I drove up to the tire shop and told them to replace the two rear tires, then I offered the hungry soul with me an all-you-can-eat feast. It was a special treat to watch that man eat and to see the excitement in his eyes.

But I too was fed in more ways than a physical meal. I was fed by doing God’s will and his work. And when we are fed in that way, it’s better than the best of the best in gourmet feasts. Most of us, I’m convinced, have very few opportunities like this to actually see God’s hand move. But I am also convinced that it need not be quite so rare. That day I missed a golden opportunity to share the Gospel. Today I would have no problem to almost immediately strike up a conversation concerning His good news. Then, as a new Christian, I was afraid. I don’t know why. As I’ve introduced the Gospel to more and more people it has gotten much easier to do. That day was a blessing to me more than it was to that poor man. He didn’t hear of God’s redeeming love from me, as he should have, but I caught a glimpse of God’s sovereign hand at the price of two tires and two meals.

I’ve learned since to reject outright the notion that the Gospel is preached without words. There are many, many organizations and people who expend themselves in alleviating human suffering. But if that’s all they do, then their cause is lost from the outset. Preaching the Gospel is the only hope that the reason for their suffering can be addressed. Jesus said that fixing up the outside of a man was nothing more than whitewashing a tomb full of dead men’s bones. He prefers that we deal with the heart through the Good News of Man reconciled with God.

I pray for you, therefore, dear children, as you walk through this life that you will feast on doing the will of him who sent you and finishing His work. The field is indeed white for the harvest, so I pray that you will go forth, and reap a barnful of food that you will find eternally satisfying.

Your father

False Freedoms And Freedom Indeed

Dear Children,

You will hear words like liberty and freedom bandied about. But those words, more times than not, are sorely misunderstood in this age. They imply something that is impossible, which is that Man can be free to do as he wishes. But Man is not free. Life itself binds us. In the end, we are left with a choice between different sets of freedoms, all of them coming with their own set of snares and restraints.

Some years ago Kris Kristofferson penned the now famous words, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” And yes, the freedom he was referring to is a kind of freedom. Having nothing to lose, nothing to claim as your own, no one to love or to love you, or no material possessions that can be used as leverage against you, does provide for a sort of freedom. A homeless panhandler, for example, might have that kind of freedom. Since he has nothing to lose, no one can threaten to take anything away if he doesn’t abide by some kind of expectation. Yet, in many other ways, he’s still not free. He’s not free to go home, or to know the joy of providing for a family, for example.

And then there’s Marxism. It promises a sort of freedom. This is the freedom that comes with being a ward of someone or something much more powerful than yourself. It promises something much like the freedom you experienced growing up in my house. You were free from the worries of providing for yourself food, shelter, and clothing, but you had little say in how you would live. But Marxism is different than what you experienced under my roof and rule because Marxism doesn’t love you. That, and it never delivers on its promises because it can’t. It only enslaves people into a pipe-dream of some way-off Utopian paradise which never arrives.

For others hedonism is liberty. Our bodies want to sleep, be fed, be comfortable, and most of all to experience pleasure. But to run after these things without constraint is self-destructive. Our bodies—or as the Bible puts it, our flesh—is by its nature self-destructive. It can never be satisfied. It can never get enough of what it constantly craves. Eventually, the hedonistic pleasure-seekers begin to sedate themselves with drugs and alcohol to take away the pain brought on by purposelessness, which causes even more self-destruction. It’s a downward spiral. Yes, there is a kind of freedom in casting off all restraint, but unfortunately for those who choose this course, reality will not be cast off.

For others still, lots of money is freedom. They cast off the restraint of slothfulness that the body attempts to impose, and they work really hard in hopes of great reward. They are then free to have nice things. But they are not necessarily free to be satisfied with those nice things, or to stay home from work. There are a lot of freedoms that we can chase after, but in the end there is no real freedom. Sooner or later we will live out what Solomon called, the “vanity of vanities.”

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.
What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun? ” (Ecclesiastes 1:2-3 )

All freedoms have some merit. Who doesn’t want to be comfortable? Who desires to toil day and night only to be exploited by the lords of the marketplace? Who wants to be poor? Who loves suffering? But all of these “freedoms” involve a submission of some sort to a master of some sort, none of whom are righteous. But there is a righteous master to whom we can submit. His name is Jesus, and He is a ruler, make no mistake about that.

The Bible tells us that this Ruler came to set the captives free. This Ruler tells us that in him freedom can be found, and when we find that freedom, it will be “freedom indeed.” So the question is raised, what is this freedom that Jesus offers? To answer, why don’t we first take the scriptures on their face value. They too tell us that we are not free.

I’ll show you two examples of this. In the first one, Jesus asks us to throw off the heavy yoke. We must understand that that word, yoke, means that there is a master with reins, and to His will we must bend.

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Jesus is pointing to a freedom here, but not in the sense that Man normally thinks of freedom. He is not saying that we are able to cast off everything that constrains; that would be impossible. He simply offers us an exchange for our heartless freedom-destroying masters. Beware, therefore, of anyone who preaches total freedom, for such does not exist, and an awful snare awaits those who believe it does.

The second example points to another kind of master, the Good Shepherd:

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  (John 10:21)

Jesus is our shepherd, which means He is our authority. We are free to graze in His pastor, but we are not free to graze wherever our flesh demands. So what does His freedom entail? If Jesus came to “set the captives free,” then what captivity are we in that we need being set free from? The answer is, “sin.”

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”  (Jn 8:35-36)

In this passage, Jesus is in a discourse on the subject of slavery. Those who opposed him were claiming to be free. They rejected Jesus’ assertion that they were slaves. But the slavery of which Jesus spoke was worse than simply being a slave to an earthly master. One might hope to eventually break such bonds as those. But no man can break the bonds of sin. He is a slave to it for life unless he surrenders to the good master who alone has the keys to unlock those chains.

Dear children, I would that you not go chasing after the things of this world which make empty promises, but that you would chase after your heavenly Father. It is my desire for you that you seek the face of God, and that eternity would ever be in your sights. I pray that you would take on Jesus’ yoke and that you would answer to His commands so that you might experience joy in this life that cannot be stolen by circumstances. I pray that you would fix your eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen, for what is seen with your eyes is all temporary, but the things that are unseen are eternal and will not pass away!

In our hearts, we want freedom. And I pray for you, dear children, that you would find the kind of freedom that will make you free indeed, that we may enjoy it forever.  Amen.

Your father

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Believers believe And Skeptics Are Skeptical. That’s What They Do.

Dear Children,

I must tell you that many times in my Christian walk my faith has been shaken. I’d like to pass along what I learned during those times of doubt.

First, remember that your faith is faith. We do not have faith in what we can see but in what we can’t see. If we could see God in the same sense that we can see the sun, we wouldn’t need faith, we’d just look up and there He would be in all His glory. But while we must have faith that God exists, we can be sure that it isn’t a blind faith, or worse, a faith that we have in spite of evidence to the contrary. No, there are millions of reasons to have faith in God based on lots of evidence and sound arguments. But, as the scriptures point out, all the reasons in the world are not enough if God does not grant us the gift of faith. As His enemies, Man will look for any reason to reject God, reasonable or not.

I make this point so that you will do everything in your power to keep your faith. There will be times when it will be weak, or even seemingly non-existent. It is then that you need to contend for it. You must fight.

It’s much easier in many ways to be a skeptic and simply look for a way to pick everyone else’s world apart while at the same time having faith that there is no truth in your own world. The skeptic doesn’t have to bother with making his beliefs consistent. He can attack Christians for believing that there is absolute truth on one day, then accuse them of lying on another. He can talk about how important it is that all be well educated in one breath and then in the next insist that life is ultimately meaningless. He can decry that some children are malnourished today while doing everything in his power to make sure their slaughter is legal tomorrow. He is a skeptic. His basis doesn’t have to make sense. It’s based on having no basis, and on that basis, he seeks simply to question and destroy the basis of the faith of others.

You will know this person when you meet him. He has questions. But he doesn’t want answers. Indeed, his questions are not based on a search for answers. He, after all, doesn’t even believe that there are any answers. Rather, his questions are nothing more than darts aimed at your faith. He doesn’t knowingly offer anything in replacement of your faith; he simply doesn’t want you to have faith, and for good reason.

The Bible says that you, if you are in Christ, are the light of the world and that that light exposes evil deeds. All humans know deep down that there is a God, and they know that they are sinners. It’s because they know this that they spend their lives suppressing that very truth in order to anesthetize themselves against their ultimate destiny. If they can snuff out your light, it will soothe their inner souls concerning that destiny. They will be tireless in their efforts to reinforce the lies that they have bought into in order to sooth their sinful flesh and its desires.

But peace with God is worth more than any temporary and shallow experience that your flesh promises to offer. Such peace is not temporary. It can’t be stolen. It’s not based on your own abilities to earn it. It’s not based on your beauty, intellect or riches, all of which are fleeting. It will be with you in good times and bad and to the end of your days. It will allow you to look back at your life and say, it is well.

Dear children, I so desire that you will find the pearl of great price, the joy found in peace with God. To be cynical, angry and bitter, and at war with God is the easy road. The world will love you for it. Following your heart is all that is required. It’s downhill all the way. But to follow God will bring you Joy and peace, which I pray that you will wear like a garment throughout your lives.

Your father

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