Monday, June 29, 2009

I Am Not Ashamed

Have you ever thought to ask a Christian whether or not they were 'ashamed' of the Gospel - you know, the birth, life, ministry, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ? Think about it, you'd have to be selective wouldn't you? Who came to mind? If anyone did, why them in particular? You wouldn't think to ask the question of someone who was obviously unashamed, right? So, let's say you actually decided to ask the first person who came to mind - do you really think they'd admit to it, if in fact they were ashamed of any part or all that is associated with the 'good news?' I'd guess probably not.

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God (Romans 1:1) wrote, 'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ...' (Romans 1:16). By itself, Paul's definitive statement 'I am not ashamed' to the church in Rome implies that it is possible for a someone who has 'believed' to be ashamed. The fact that he made such a statement is sufficient evidence that there must have been believers who were presently struggling with the issue Paul aptly pivoted upon. The fact that Paul's statement was recorded and included in our Holy manuscript means that there is also definite, hermeneutic, life application for us today.

If then it is possible to be 'ashamed', and there are 'believers' among us who are ashamed - what is the evidence? How can you tell? Who could blatantly confess being 'ashamed' and at the same time profess to be a 'believer?' Sure, a new believer might be uncertain and even unstable - but that's the result of a lack of knowledge, depth and confidence that only comes with discipleship, devotion and time - not the result of being 'ashamed.'

I propose that those who are 'ashamed' - those who are embarrassed to be at once a servant of Jesus Christ, sent and separated unto the Gospel, as Paul was - do not believe. Ultimately, it is those who do not believe the full gospel that are subsequently ashamed of the gospel. I know people in this sad condition; some of them were close friends, some of them are still in full-time 'ministry', others have 'backslidden' and made absolute wrecks of their lives altogether.

Of course, they won't admit it. It is not what is said, but what is done that speaks volumes - actions speak louder than words.
The behavior of the 'unbelieving' and sure signs of the 'ashamed' are attempts to reason tradition away with new, progressive revelation (and ironically, new traditions), to question longstanding, culturally appropriate and principled standards and convictions (and replace them, ironically, with new standards) aimed towards undermining and eventually eroding away core, seminal, foundational and transcendent, doctrinal truths. Afterall, if you aren't ashamed, you don't have a problem believing. It's rarely the new convert who second guesses giving anything up for the new found joy - it's usually the coddled blue bloods who've been around, handed everything, and know relatively little else. Many times, it is the same entitlement mentality, and the assumption that they 'know more' and 'can't be taught anything' because of their heritage or the bitterness stemming from personal encounters with hypocrisy and inconsistency in ministry that is their folly.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons Paul instructed the church in Thessalonica to 'know them that labor among you - and are over you...'(I Thess. 5:12). It is easier said than done, easier discussed in seminary and preached from a pulpit than lived during the week - but that's where the true test is passed. Are you ashamed or not? It's not about what is easier, more convenient, or generally accepted in the community. It's not even really about our preference, what is relevant or relative - it's about carrying the cross daily. Jesus said, 'If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily , and follow me.' The way of the cross is a reasonable service that requires sacrifice of self - not accommodation of self.

There are those who are not willing to do that. Knowing this, Jesus said, 'whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. For what is a man advantaged , if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away ? For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed.'

Our unwillingness to carry our cross, and make the necessary sacrifices of self is connected with 'shame.' I'm not looking for a lighter cross. Yes, the load may be heavy to bear at times, but that suits the Christian posture well - especially the believer who is following for a trail - a trail traced in blood, the spotless blood of the Lamb Who gave His life for me.

'For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth...'(Romans 1:16).

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Quest-ion

What is a conviction? Is it something you would die for, or over, before compromising? Is it a personal, intrinsic sense of guilt or wrong-doing, a verdict reached by a judge and jury, based on a prerequisite set of rules?

What are rules? What is a rule? Why do we call guidelines, parameters, standards or restrictions, ‘rules?’ How is that a fair reference for an objective fact?

Someone said, ‘Rules are meant to be broken.’ Who said that? Why did they say that? What injustice, mistake, or inconsistency at stake produced such a blanket statement?
Is this fallacy or truth? Is it morally or ethically right? Is this possible? Can rules be broken, bent, or are they only ignored and disobeyed? And, if not the rules, what then is broken if they are ignored or disobeyed?

Is someone who upholds the rules only called a ‘ruler’ because someone who ‘breaks’ the rules is considered ‘unruly?’

Why is a ruler either a pompous dictator or measuring stick? Why are element rulers always straight, but human rulers aren’t?

Who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules. Why are rules enforced? Who’s the real ruler, the manufacturing company who makes the ruler, the royal parent-progenitors, the legislating elected, or the voting body who of their own volition acquiesce to a particular authority?

What is the ‘exception to the rule?’ Are there exceptions? What are exceptions made for, who are they made for? What does that mean and how does it apply to you?

Is there anything absolute? Is there an Authority?

Of course there is. And if there is, which we’ve established, then there are rules. If there are rules, then they must be both upheld and played by with conviction.

You see, it’s all about the question. The heart of your question will betray the answer you're looking for. Ask yourself - are you asking the interrogative question – to argue, or are you asking the inquisitive question out of a sincere heart that truly desires to learn more?

That is the question.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Happy Friday!

Happy Friday! Make the most of this Father's Day weekend - and don't forget your Heavenly Father either!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Prescription

'When thirsty, draw from a well. If there is no well, dig one. If you don’t have a shovel, use your hands. If you have no hands, use your feet. If you have no feet, pray for rain. If it’s the dead of summer, die trusting that God will quench your thirst.'

Instinctively, we look for a convenience store instead. We take a drink. It’s easier that way, our immediate thirst is satisfied – and we can always go back. It just makes sense. Skill sets and tools aren’t necessary – besides, it’s a whole lot easier when someone hands it to you.

Over the years we've invested countless hours with hundreds of young people, parents, extended family members - peers, and young men aspiring for ministry.
Read our post below about LIFE, for context. Some of them make it, some of them don't.

I’ve marveled at the unfortunate result of broken homes, for instance. When father and or mother only keep the faith during service, there is no wonder why children are tempted to reduce the Gospel or reject it altogether, and blame the church. In many cases, parents are guilty of having only a form of Godliness, and have thus created this inequity in their homes by denying its true working power. Still, surprisingly, some siblings pull through, and, though grossly imperfect, choose righteousness. I know, because my sisters and I were some of those kids.

I’ve seen people offered and subsequently accept positions they were, by all means, unqualified for and unworthy of. I’ve seen people passed over for position, only to see those appointed fall flat on their face – because somewhere the anointing apothecary was spotted by iniquitous insects. I know, because I have not only seen both, I have been both the observer and the unworthy.

In time, however, all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

How do we make it? How do we avoid inevitable pitfalls that threaten to leave us broken, jaded, cynical, skeptical and untrusting?

We do so by taking Titus’ prescription for preventive care into consideration: a pure heart. I know, because I’ve had to keep my prescription current.

Titus 1:15 - Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Periodic Elements of Life

When Milton Bradley invented the game of LIFE in 1860-he almost had it right. Life has a definite start (at conception), and, unless you're like Enoch or Elijah, it also has a certain end. There are other trite similarities between the game of and LIFE itself - like the fact that the cars we drive and even some people we know, are plastic (you can't always blame elective surgery for that!).
I said Milton Bradley 'almost' had it right, because while his boardgame mimicks LIFE, life itself is not a game-it is a serious journey.

The Apostle Paul practically penned his own epitaph in his second epistle (letter) to his son in the Gospel. After describing the condition of LIFE, issuing words of encouragement, challenging and instructing, Paul concluded with this:

'For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:' (2 Tim. 4:6-7).

Paul summarized the journey of his LIFE in sixteen words-'I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.'

In the journey of LIFE, there will be ups and downs, hills and valleys, tragedies and surprises-there will be bouts, courses and season. At some point in life, every man will step into the ring, onto the track or into the course with only a God-given measure of faith. At the end of life, we end up at one of two inevitable, inescapable destinations. One would think that the knowledge of hell would be a deterrent enough, or that the hope of Heaven would serve as sufficient motivation, it is the sum total of the daily journey of LIFE that ultimately determines our destiny.

Obtaining the desired outcome is predicated by how we deal with the periodic elements of LIFE; the fight, the course, the faith.

Faith without action is paralyzed (James 2:26), so we 'contend for the faith' (Jude 1:3).

Paul didn't say he 'won' every fight, he just said he 'fought'- and put up a 'good fight' at that. He gave it his best. He stayed in the ring and went toe-to-toe on the canvas until the final round. Determining to fight is a prerequisitive to triumph, and fighting for all you've got is imperative, because if you're fight isn't sustained and you fail to 'finish', then you're effort was for not.

Paul said he 'finished' the course. He didn't quit half-way, throw in the towel or tap out. He ran the race with patience. He learned to forget about his past, to bury it in the blood of the cross and continually press towards the mark Christ had set for him!

Life is but a vapor and at some point this journey will end; it may end prematurely or in the glory of old age. When we stand at attention before the great white throne on the other side of a trumpet sound, will we be able to say we have 'finished' the course? To fight is to be true, and to finish is essential-but what are we contending for? If we fight every round and cross the finish line-but fail to keep the faith, than we have fought for a lost cause!

Most importantly, Paul said 'I have kept the faith.'

In the journey of LIFE there will be a fight, there will be a course- and you will have faith in Someone, someone or something. The challenge today, or tomorrow, or whenever you meet your adversary, confront temptation, or experience a trial- is to 'fight' (a good fight), 'finish' (your course), and 'keep' (the Faith).

Remember these equations: LIFE= Fight, Course + Faith. However: Fight, Course, the Faith+ Fight, Finish, Keep= LIFE (eternal)

So fight on, run on, endure hardness as a good soldier-and most importantly, keep the faith, that is, in Christ Jesus!