Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Eve 2009: Don't Fear, Fear God

By Mountain Standard Tim, it is 11:32 pm.  Christmas Eve is ticking to a close and soon I shall be visited by the first of 3 spirits, all of which will be played by Jim Carrey and/or Muppets.  :)

I've found myself a bit pensive today.  My sin has been before me today, and with Christmas being a season about the Gospel, I've had some extra ammunition to fight thoughts of doubt and guilt.  As I read Luke 1, this evening, Zechariah's prophecy about the ministry of the Messiah was powerfully comforting.

"And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Tender mercy. Forgiveness of sin. Light to those who sit in darkness. Peace.  All this is found in the Gospel, that is, the Good News that Jesus was born, lived, crucified, and resurrected in the place of sinners like me, that I might be reconciled to God.  It's a tradition of mine to bust out Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Christmas Sermons during Advent each year, and I've been greatly comforted by his words.  Bonhoeffer lived through some excruciatingly tough days, seeking to follow Christ (and lead the Confessing - i.e. anti-Nazi - German church) during the rule of the Third Reich.  He was eventually martyred for his leadership and refusal to submit to Hitler.  In preaching on Rev. 14:6-13, he brought out the following, which is a great comfort as well:

This is a great comfort for all who believe: The gospel remains.  It is an eternal gospel, our gospel, which we hear, read and preach, Sunday by Sunday, the gospel that once changed our lives, when we understood it for the first time. ... The gospel remains through all eternity.  We need not fear or trouble ourselves  with the thought  that it might, as it seems today, be abandoned.  What are ten years or even more of our experience and observations? The gospel is eternal and remains despite everything.  It remains the one and only true proclamation of God and his lordship over the world.

... That is the first command of the gospel. "Fear God" and you will have nothing else to fear.  Don't fear what the next day may bring. Don't fear other people. Don't fear violence and power, even when it comes to you personally and can rob you of your life. Don't fear the high and mighty in the world.  Don't fear yourself. Don't fear your sins. All these fears will die. From all these fears you will be set free. For you they are no longer there. But fear God and him alone. ... Fear God seriously and "give him glory." He would be acknowledged as the creator, as our creator, he would be acknowledged as the reconciler, who has made peace between God and man; he would be acknowledged as redeemer, who at the end sets us free from all our sins and all our burdens.  Honor him and his holy gospel, "because the hour of his judgment has come." And this judgment is the gospel itself. The eternal gospel is the judge of all peoples.

For those of you who know Christ this is a great hope in which to rejoice.  The first Christmas was a huge moment in the history of God's plan to save us.  Rejoice, take hope, remember.  For those of you who don't know Christ, who don't acknowledge him as Lord and God of all, know that the baby born in Bethlehem was born to rule, born to save.  Don't reject his salvation, for every person on earth will fall into one of two groups: those who are saved by Christ or those who oppose him and justly face the consequences.  Know his tender mercies.  Feel the warmth of his sunrise.  Step out of the darkness.

Merry Christmas.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

We Are Not Ignorant of His Schemes

Over the past week and a half, a lot of godly men and women have suffered much:

  • Johnny Hunt, Pastor of Woodstock Baptist Church and President of the Southern Baptist Convention, diagnosed with prostrate cancer.  [Hunt is a leading supporter of the "Great Commission Resurgence" (GCR), a push to streamline SBC structure to better mobilize for missions.]
  • November 24 - Maria Moore, wife of Dr. Russell Moore (Highview Baptist/SBTS) hospitalized, requiring blood transfusions.  Dr. Moore, in addition to being a powerful Gospel preacher, has also come behind the GCR movement, and recently preached at the Acts 29 (A29) Louisville Bootcamp.
  • November 26 (Thanksgiving Day) - Matt Chandler, lead pastor of The Village Church, suffers a seizure. Chandler is a powerful preacher and mobilizer for Gospel mission, a leading voice in the Acts 29 Network, recently preaching at the Acts 29 Louisville Bootcamp.  Chandler is also Southern Baptist.
  • November 27 - Frank Page, South Carolina pastor and former President of the Southern Baptist Convention (in addition to being a supporter of the GCR and member of the task force developing strategy) suffers the sudden death of his daughter Melissa, age 32.
  • November 28 - Thomas Young, lead pastor/church planter of The Sanctuary Fellowship (a Texas A29 Church), dies suddenly and tragically, leaving behind a wife and several children.
Some might conjecture that such a series of events is accidental or coincidental.  However, the Bible speaks of suffering and pain as coming from three sources: the Flesh, the World, and the Devil.  The Flesh refers to our human sin nature.  The World (as Pastor Robert Cheong would say) is corporate flesh.  It's what happens when a bunch of sinful humans live in sinful community - sin manifests itself in cultures and their systems of expression.  What about the Devil though?  Who or what is he and what role does he play.

The Bible speaks very calmly and certainly about the existence of a real and personal Devil.  Formerly an archangel, at some point in eternity past, he chose to revel against God's authority, leading an angelic revolt.  The notion of a created thing overcoming its creator is laughable, though, and the Devil and his angels lost and were cast from heaven.  Satan shows up throughout the Bible as a hateful being, bent on destroying God's good work.  His onslaught is described as being systematic and planned.  In brief, here's how the Bible speaks of him
  • Satan seeks to tempt the righteous to do unrighteous things (Job 1-2, Matthew 4:1-11).  This is usually done in collusion with the sin nature innate to all humans (James 1:14).
  • Some temptations to sin include physical and painful attacks on the person.  Job suffered such, as did the Apostle Paul (2 Cor. 12:7).  In his personal ministry, Jesus "went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil" (Acts 10:38).
1 Peter 5:6-11 speaks directly to this:
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,  casting all your anxieties on him, because  he cares for you.  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your  adversary the devil  prowls around  like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.   Resist him,  firm in your faith, knowing that  the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  And  after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace,  who has called you to his  eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.  To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Pet. 5:6-11)
A roaring lion seeking someone to devour.  Paul elaborates on similar in 2 Corintians 2:11.  In context, Paul is speaking to the church at Corinth, urging them to bring a repentant man back into fellowship, he urges them to do so "so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs."  Satan wants to destroy the church corporate, in addition to individual souls.

What does this mean for these 5 men & their families?  All of these are intimately connected to a expansive push of Gospel mission.  Satan has a vested interest in seeing that the mission does not go forward.  Captive souls, dead in sin, are his prey. "In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.  For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord" (2 Cor. 4:4-5).  Satan is yet a created being, and when Father God calls people to salvation, he is powerless to stop them (John 10:22-29, Romans 8:38-39).  However, God has decreed the lost souls hear the Gospel by we humans preaching to them (Romans 10), and when we join Jesus in proclaiming his Gospel, we join Jesus in entering into a ground war against Satan.

What does this mean for me? One might ask, I've been chewing on these thoughts over the past few days.

  1. Pray that the Gospel would go out to every people and people group on Earth.  The Gospel is a message for all people and all people must hear.  We had a prayer meeting at church this morning, praying for the Gospel to go out among the nations and it really hit home to me how we must pray this forward. 
  2. Pray for the leaders around you who are Gospel pace-setters.  Start with your pastors, but be mindful of missionaries, leading pastors in this nation, etc.  My church, Sojourn, has 13 elders (pastors) so I pray for several each day, with each assigned to a specific day.  However you do it, though, just do it!
  3. Think globally and act locally.  The Gospel is for the ends of the earth and it starts next door.  Get to know your neighbors! (This is a week-sport for me.) Get to know your co-workers.  Love your family.  Speak the Gospel to them.  
  4. Think globally and act globally.  The Global Mission requires a ton of people.  Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few and that we are to ask the Lord of the Harvest to send out workers into the Harvest.  In addition to praying, might you be the answer to the prayer?
  5. Don't be afraid.  This world is one of trials, yes, but read the Book.  In end, God's victory (already accomplished through Jesus) will result in a final rest for God's people.  As Jesus said, "In this world you will have trouble.  Take heart: I have overcome the world."
  6. Pray some more.  See #1-#5.
Feel free to chime in below with any thoughts or questions.  Grace and peace!

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