Wednesday, December 08, 2010

This Blog Has Moved!

I have now moved my blog to:
If you have bookmarked or linked to my blog, please make this correction.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

More Than I Can Bear

Some people carry extremely heavy burdens. All of humanity shares in the cup of sorrow (Job 14:1), but it seems that some have a cup that overflows with trouble. I dare not repeat the mistake of Job's friends and try to explain or pretend to identify with the suffering that you may be enduring. Job's friends were helpful when they simply sat with Job and experienced his suffering with him (J0b 2:11, 13). It was when they tried to give trite statements and explanations for Job's pain that they became "miserable comforters" (Job 16:2; 42:8). Sometimes the best comfort we can offer those who are hurting is the powerful language of our silent presence.

Perhaps a passage of Scripture that is too quickly quoted to aid those who are hurting is 1 Corinthians 10:13. Here we are promised that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our ability to endure it. We often will tell people, "God will not put more on you than you can bear." Although used with the best intentions, this type of language is misleading and hurtful. God does not tempt anyone (James 1:13). Yet, God does allow Satan to tempt us (cf. Job 1:12; 2:6). Satan's suffering is sometimes utilized by God to prove, refine, try and strengthen our faith (James 1:2-4; Malachi 3:3). God will not allow Satan to place more upon us (by way of temptation) than we are capable of bearing.

This is all theologically true. But in the messiness of life, these words often bring little comfort. Why? Because when you are experiencing severe suffering it often feels like you are at your breaking point! It often feels like that you have more than you can bear!

Rather than offering theological explanations like Job's misguided friends, it would be far better to empathize and try and "sit with the sufferer." In these hours of grief, maybe it would be better to turn to 2 Corinthians 1:8-11, "For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death." Paul explains what he knew theologically in 1 Corinthians 10:13, but he tells of what he felt experientially in 2 Corinthians 1:8-9. Paul felt like he was "burdened beyond his strength" and he even "despaired of life itself." If it was okay for Paul to feel this way, it is okay for you to feel this way too.

Like Job, Paul's faith shone through the darkness of his despair. He chose to view his suffering from the perspective of learning more reliance upon God. Paul continues, "But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again" (2 Corinthians 1:9-10). And then Paul makes a simple request from his friends and Christian family, "You also must help us by prayer…" (2 Cor. 1:11).

There are hurting people all around us. They are in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in this congregation. The next time someone says they feel like they have more than they can bear, don't try and convince them otherwise. Instead just sit and listen and then ask, "Can we pray about it?" Don't try and explain away their load, instead help them bear it.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Technology: A Brave New World

We live in a world of technology. One way man seems to be made in the image of God is our propensity and desire to create--and create we have. Some technological advances prove to be great blessings to mankind (advanced Roman roadways "paved the way" for the gospel), while some curse our existence (remember the technological advance of Babel's tower?). Most technological advances are a mixture of both blessing and curse. In this article we will examine the blessings and curses of three technologies of our age.

(1) The Internet.
Our world has become much easier because of the ease of access to information thanks to the World Wide Web. From a spiritual standpoint, churches can communicate with members, church leaders with missionaries, and teachers with students evangelistically in ways never before possible.
With all of its blessings, the Internet has simultaneously created significant spiritual curses. Perhaps the one of the largest dangers is the widespread access and availability of pornography on the net. Statistics show that use of pornography even among Christians is alarmingly frequent. Let us make a "covenant with our eyes" and not let sexual immorality and impurity even be named among those who are Christians (Job 31:1; Eph. 5:3).

(2) Facebook.
The social networking giant, Facebook, has been one of the greatest advances in communication technologies. Christians are able to network and communicate in much more efficient ways. Church announcements, prayers requests, connectivity with other Christians, and opportunities for evangelism and teaching are almost limitless on Facebook.
With the blessing also comes the curse. Perhaps one of the greatest dangers (and also blessings) of Facebook is the ability to renew old acquaintances. This is a danger to married people who may be tempted to innocently (at first) catch up with old romantic interests. What first begins as a "friend request" can easily escalate into running a series of relational red-lights and accelerating into an extramarital affair. This danger is very real. Christian couples who use Facebook should adopt a policy of full disclosure about their social networking use.

3. Smartphones. You can do almost anything technologically from a phone these days. This allows you to be connected and perpetually "available" (both a blessing and a curse!). Also, one can access the Internet, email, texting, games, and even books directly from your phone. One of the great blessings is the ability to have an electronic Bible directly on your phone.
The danger of such "connectivity" on our phones is the distraction it can be to spiritual focus. It can become increasingly difficult to find time to "unplug from the cloud" for quiet time with God in prayer and study. Also, it can be very tempting to text during worship services (or check email or sports scores) when we should be focusing our attention on worship to God.

We do live in a "brave new world" of technology. But it has always been this way (cf. Ecclesiastes 1:9). Man has always had to exercise personal discipline and use the blessings of technology of the age and resist its potential curses.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Soothing Sounds of the Assembly

Have you ever just listened? I hear lots of sounds when God's people assemble for worship. Some of these sounds are appropriate while others are distracting. Congregational worship involves both giving (by participation) and receiving (by edification). As you actively worship this Sunday, consider the sounds that you hear (or maybe the sounds you are making). Consider some of the soothing sounds of our assemblies.

1. Joyful Singers. Every congregation has that person who sings really loud, sometimes out of tune, but with a smile on his or her face without a care about what others think. I think it is wonderful when people make a "joyful noise" to the Lord (Psalm 95:1) and "make melody to the Lord" with their heart (Eph. 5:19). It is soothing to hear heartfelt praise to God that is "not to be seen of men" (cf. Matt. 6:1).

2. Hilarious Givers. The Bible tells us that God loves a "cheerful givers" (2 Cor. 9:7). The Greek word translated "cheerful" here is the same word from which we get the English word "hilarious." Literally, this word says God loves "hilarious givers." Jesus told us to give like our right hand doesn't know what our left is doing (Matt. 6:3). Is it ever appropriate to laugh in church? Absolutely! Especially when you give sacrificially not knowing how God is going to pick up the slack but trusting he will!

3. Parents Explaining. Recently I heard a father whispering an explanation about the Lord's Supper to his son during worship. God instructed the Jews to use the Passover feast as a teaching tool to explain "their story" as God's people (Exodus 13:14). Does this principle not apply to "our story" (as a people in Christ) since Christ is our Passover? It is a soothing sound to hear a parent passing on "our story" to the next generation in worship to our God.

4. Crying Babies. I have often been asked if crying babies disturb me during sermons. I always answer, "Absolutely not!" Crying babies in worship are a blessing! Why? I have been in churches where there were no babies and all the heads were gray. Those churches are growing old and are about to fade away. The sound of crying children in our assemblies is the sound of a living church! When some were "distracted" by the noise of children, Jesus rebuked the naysayers and said "Let the children come to me!" (Mark 10:14; cf. Luke 18:16).

There are many soothing sounds that reflect a people who have gladly assembled to praise and worship God! It is a joyful occasion when we assemble together as the house of the Lord to worship God (Psalm 122:1; 1 Peter 2:5)! Let us come and make joyful noises to God with the fruit of our lips (Heb. 13:15) in worship!