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Thursday, August 2, 2018

Exciting Orphan Care Ministry Announcement!

What if every dollar donated to the Orphan Care Ministry could be used over and over?  What if the contributions you made could help fund not just one adoption, but many?  Well, we’re happy to announce that this is now the case!

We have recently partnered with Lifesong for Orphans, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping churches address the orphan crisis.  Through Lifesong, we will administer the donated funds to adopting families in the form of interest-free loans.  The beautiful thing about these loans is that they can be repaid with the adoption tax credit.  In a sense, we allow the government to fund these adoptions by repaying the loans through tax credits.  The adoption fund fronts the money in the form of an interest-free loan and the government repays the loan in the form of an adoption tax credit to the adopting family.  This means that every dollar you donate to the Orphan Care fund is not used once, but over and over as the money is loaned and repaid, loaned and repaid.  Our adoption fund will continue to grow over time with each contribution.

Lifesong will assist us in managing our donations, administering these loans, helping with additional fundraising, and screening families for assistance.  Lifesong provides this help with zero fees or administration costs.  We are very excited about this.  Please pray that the Lord will use this partnership to facilitate many more adoptions by PBF families!

Check out the short introductory video here:

Thursday, July 19, 2018

How Can A Man Lead His Wife and Young Children?

Sometimes we have questions submitted to the Truth & Circumstances podcast that are better suited for answering on this blog. Here's a good one: 

“What are some extremely practical ways that a man can lead his wife and young children spiritually? What does that look like in everyday life?”

These are things we’ve talked about before, particularly in our Boot Camp series, but they certainly bear repeating.  
  1. Keep a close watch on your own spiritual wellbeing.
The best thing you can do for your family spiritually is have a close, vibrant walk with the Lord. Your relationship with the Lord is the well from which you will draw resources to lead your family.  Perhaps the biggest mistake that many men make is to think that they can lead their families well while neglecting their own spiritual life.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  If you are not living a life of fellowship with Jesus, not only will you not have the spiritual resources to lead well, but you will lack all credibility with your wife and children.

At Providence, we regularly talk about the three main means that the Lord uses to foster fellowship with Himself.  They are fellowship through the Word, fellowship through prayer, and fellowship through meaningful relationships with other believers.  A lot of men are great at the first two, but they overlook or completely disregard the third.  If you would enjoy vibrant fellowship with the Lord, you must not only be spending time with Him privately, but you must also be stoking the flames of your affection for Him by having regular conversations about Him with other people who love Him. God has given the church to the church to help the church be the church.  There is no other way.  You asked for practical, so here it is in very practical terms.  Get into the Word, get onto your knees, and get involved with other Christian men who are serious about leading their families.  A great first step toward that third means of fellowship is our Men's Reveille that takes place on the second Saturday of the month at 8am at Providence.
  1. Do with them what you're modeling for them.
Practically speaking, this means reading the Bible with them, praying with them, and getting them involved with other believers.  To lead them well, you must make sure that they understand that we don't do these things as ends in themselves.  These things are means of fellowship with Jesus.  It's all about Him, not tasks.  So we go to the Word to enjoy him, we pray to enjoy him, and we spend time with believers to enjoy him.

You cannot make them do these things on their own, but you can create an atmosphere in your home where there is the expectation that they will at least participate in these things with the family.  Ideally, you will be training them to do these things on their own as well.  They will see that this is just the way that the Christian life is lived, and your enjoyment of the Lord will be contagious to them.
  1. Bring the things of the Lord into everyday conversations as much as possible.
If you keep your eyes and ears open, there are dozens of opportunities every day to turn conversations toward things of the Lord.  Your wife and children have problems - point them toward the Lord.  There is evidence of God's hand all around them in nature and their own bodies - ask them questions about these things. 

The entertainment that they take in provides a plethora of opportunities to talk about meaningful things.  Ask them,"what do you think that song is trying to teach?”  “What was the message of that movie?”  Then prompt them to compare those things to the truth and wisdom of the Scriptures.

Current events also provide opportunities to talk about the Lord.  For many people, even professing Christians, the sky is always falling.  When unfavorable things are done by the government, when natural disasters take place, when horrific crimes are perpetrated don't allow those moments to escape without teaching your family something about the Lord, without relating it somehow to the gospel.

In all this, you’ll be training them to view the world through the lens of Scripture and the existence and attributes of an Almighty God.  This takes discipline, but it will pay dividends over the years.

These three things come straight from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, where the men of Israel were commanded to love God above all things and to teach their families to do the same.  In our Men’s Boot Camp in recent years, we’ve memorized this passage.  That’s another practical step I would recommend to keep your own mind and heart focused on the objective.

 4 "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
 6 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.
 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deut. 6:4-9)

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Blessings and Responsibilities of a Church Covenant

I was listening to John MacArthur years ago as he talked about his schedule of preaching three times a week - Sunday morning, Sunday evening, and Wednesday evening.  Of course, he loves to preach, but he said that he would be at church every time the doors were open even if he didn’t have any official responsibilities.  Why?  “I just want to be with God’s people.”

That’s stuck with me over the years and replayed in my mind as my family and I drive to and from church or to and from an occasion for fellowship.  My wife and I often will comment to one another after an evening with church family how much we love these people with whom we’ve covenanted.   

We are bound by love and a firm covenant to a particular group of believers in the body of Christ at PBF.  That covenant is a precious thing that carries both blessings and responsibilities.  Among the blessings of meaningful church membership is a growing affection for God’s people.  This affection would seem inexplicable given all our common imperfections and petty annoyances, but the Holy Spirit knows what He’s doing and He does it all the time.  He uses other imperfect, annoying people to stir us up to love and good works.  As they keep the covenant promises they made to us, He uses them to form us into the image of Christ.  And it’s wonderful.    

There are also responsibilities that are part of our church covenant.  This is one reason we recite the church covenant at each members meeting.  We have actually promised to do specific things in one another’s lives.  Those items are outlined in the covenant.  Among them are these: We further engage to watch over one another in brotherly love; to remember one another in prayer; to aid one another in sickness and distress; to cultivate Christian sympathy in feeling and courtesy in speech…

It seems that keeping this covenant necessitates spending time among the other members.  How else will we watch over one another, know how to pray for one another, aid one another, and cultivate sympathy for one another?  It also seems that keeping this covenant necessitates knowing who is in the covenant and who is not.  How can we take these promises seriously if we do not know to which individuals we’ve made them?

This Sunday we have the opportunity both to enjoy the blessings and to exercise some of the responsibilities of church membership.  It’s our quarterly potluck and members’ meeting.  For some people in the world, there are few words in the English language that communicate “snooze-fest” like words “potluck” or “meeting.”  I would contend that those people don’t understand the nature of the New Testament church.  We are built to grow through fellowship and by fulfilling our responsibilities to one another (Eph 4:7-16).  Participation in these things with a biblical mindset actually causes our affections for one another to grow.    

This is more than a sales pitch to increase our numbers at the quarterly meeting.  This is about growing to love the people of God.  The elders desire for those of us who may be on the periphery, either physically or in our hearts, to push in and view this kind of fellowship and interaction as a vital part of meaningful service in the body of Christ.  

Our quarterly members meetings are crucial if only to know who is in the covenant and who is not.  When we remove people from membership or add people to membership, we are all saying, “these are the people to whom I have made the promises contained in the covenant I signed when I joined, the promises which I have just recited again in this meeting.”  We are responsible for one another.  It’s essential to know who we’re accountable for.

But this quarterly meeting will include information about several exciting things coming up beginning in the Fall.  The elders will be sharing our vision for where we’d like PBF to go in the coming year.  Please view participation this Sunday afternoon, not as an optional add-on to your Sunday morning, but as preparation to strive side-by-side with one mind in full accord with those whom you have made a covenant (Phil 1:27).  

May the Lord press upon our hearts both the blessings and responsibilities of church membership so that we too say, “I just want to be with God’s people.”

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Why Save the Soccer Team?

I’ve just read about the Thai boys soccer team that has been trapped in a cave for 12 days since water filled it and prevented their exit.  They are in perilous danger as monsoon rains are threatening to fill the caves further.  Options for rescue include draining as much water as possible so that the boys (many of whom cannot swim) can wade to safety, drilling a hole to the cave where they are located, and using scuba gear to help the boys swim out.  It’s a frantic operation that has drawn an international team of rescuers.  

If I take off my biblical worldview glasses, I have to ask: why all the fuss?  From where does this impulse come to help these boys and their coach?  Why would any of these rescuers risk their lives for a chance to rescue anyone?

On a naturalistic worldview, where all living things are a product of blind, evolutionary forces, this situation is just one of many ways in which “mother nature” is weeding out the weak.  This is survival of the fittest taking place before our very eyes.  Nature is picking off the least suitable for survival in this harsh world.  We’re evolving as a species…and we’re getting to watch it happen.  Atheists and so-called agnostics should watch with dispassionate, yet rapt attention.

However, no one seems to be watching this situation develop as if observing a scientific process.  It’s a human crisis.  I dare say that among the international rescue teams there are those who would be self-described atheists.  Given how vilified creation science is in this country, its possible that a many of those helping with the rescue assume an evolutionary explanation of life.  But how can that be?  How can they hold to naturalistic beliefs while risking their lives to save others?

They can’t help it.  They are made in the image of God.

You see, we can claim to believe wrong things and convince ourselves to some extent that we are right, but we have no choice but to live in God’s world where His truth reigns (Rom 1:17-19).  Fallen as we are, marred as His image is in us, it is not gone.  God values human life because He made man in His own image (Gen 9:6).  Because we are made in His image, deep down we value human life.  This is why we almost universally experience outrage when the weakest among us are victimized, contrary to the dictates of evolutionary thinking.  

In moments of great danger, when we see others in peril, the image of God in us moves us impulsively to move to help.  Without thinking, we risk our lives to save strangers.  These actions do not comport with survival of the fittest, but they coincide perfectly with the character of the God who made us and in whose image we are created.  

The natural man may deny the existence of God with his mouth, but he cannot deny the existence of God with his life.  He will not naturally live for the glory of God, but he cannot help but live as if God exists.  God’s image is woven into every part of the natural man’s being - it shows up in the way he impulsively values human life.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Dirty Underwear and The Meaning of Life

The life of an Old Testament prophet was nothing glamorous by human standards.  They simply did whatever the Lord told them to do.  Said whatever He told them to say.  Numerous times God commanded the prophets to act out unpleasant scenes to serve as timeless visual aids for us.  One such scene is found in Jeremiah 13.  It involved the ultimate meaning of life and dirty underwear.  

The Lord told Jeremiah to buy a new loincloth (the ancient equivalent of underwear).  He told him not to wash it, but just to wear it for a while, then to bury it beside the Euphrates.  Jeremiah did it, no questions asked (Jer 13:1-5).  “After many days,” the Lord told him to go and dig up the underwear.  This was never-been-washed underwear.  Wasn’t washed before it was worn.  Wasn’t washed after it was worn.  It was just worn and then buried beside a river for “many days.”  Now the Lord wants that underwear.

I’ve been accused of being a germaphobe.  I resent the charge.  However, I admit that if I were Jeremiah I might have suggested some alternatives.  “Why don’t we imagine the underwear?  Or maybe we could finish this with claymation.”  But Jeremiah was a good prophet: Then I went to the Euphrates, and dug, and I took the loincloth from the place where I had hidden it. And behold, the loincloth was spoiled; it was good for nothing (Jer 13:7).  

No kidding.  Dirty underwear buried for who knows how long?  “Good for nothing” is an understatement.  I wouldn’t touch it with salad tongs on the end of a ten-foot pole.  So what’s the point?  (That’s the thing with Yahweh’s one-act plays - there’s always a point.)  The Lord explained:

“Thus says the LORD: Even so will I spoil the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem.
 This evil people, who refuse to hear my words, who stubbornly follow their own heart and have gone after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be like this loincloth, which is good for nothing.  For as the loincloth clings to the waist of a man, so I made the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah cling to me, declares the LORD, that they might be for me a people, a name, a praise, and a glory, but they would not listen” (Jer. 13:9-11).

This gets to the heart of life’s ultimate meaning.  God created His people to be good for something.  They do that by clinging to Him, as a loincloth clings to the waste of a man.  The context indicates that “clinging” to God equals serving and worshiping Him alone.  In worshiping the Lord, they fulfill a great and meaningful purpose.  They are His people - they belong to Him.  They are His name - they have an eternal, significant identity.  They are His praise - they live to magnify Him.  And they are His glory - they reflect His character to the world.  

Only to the extent that man clings to the Lord, worships Him, and therefore makes much of Him is he good for anything.  On the other hand, if he follows his own heart and worships other gods, he is good for nothing.  

Did you catch that last sentence?  What is the chief characteristic of the person who is like good-for-nothing underwear, according to Jeremiah 13:10?  He follows his own heart!  Yes, Disney princess movies notwithstanding, the truth is the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9).  It will inevitably lead you away from the one true God and toward gods of your own making.  10-20 seconds of introspection will testify to this, will it not?  When we follow our hearts, we don’t follow God.  

And when we don’t follow God…we are good for nothing.  Nothing.  What a shameful lie we believe when we think the pathway to meaning is to make our own way.  Pride is at the heart of that endeavor.  That’s the point of Jer 13:9.  Pride motivates us to follow our own heart instead of God.  We want to make much of us, not of Him.  Just like Eve in the Garden.  Ironically, our pursuit of personal significance leads to one place - meaninglessness.  Like rotten underwear.

What a powerful image - the more tightly we wrap our arms around the waist of God, the more privileged and significant our existence will be because we will live and breathe to make much of the Creator, who alone is worthy.  The less tightly we hold to Him the more certain it is that we will be good for nothing.

Toward what false gods is your heart pulling you right now?  Recognize what is going on and resist.  Don’t listen to your heart.  Listen to the Lord and cling to Him.   Be for Him a people, a name, a praise, and a glory.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

The Feminist Is Right

I’ve just read an article in the Washington Post by Suzanna Danuta Walters, professor of sociology and director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at Northeastern University.  The article was entitled, “Why can’t we hate men?”  In it, Walters justifies hatred of men because of the many centuries of abuse that women have suffered at their hands.  Her solution to the problem? "So men, if you really are #WithUs and would like us to not hate you for all the millennia of woe you have produced and benefited from, start with this: lean out so we can actually stand up without being beaten down.  Pledge to vote for feminist women only.  Don't run for office.  Don't be in charge of anything.  Step away from the power.  We got this."  The final payoff of the article: “We have every right to hate you.  You have done us wrong.”  

This is not the sort of thing I usually read to relax, but I truly appreciated the article for its honesty.  I found that this feminist author is undeniably right in a couple of particulars.  However, she is tragically wrong about other things.  While Walters is considered by many to be a militant feminist, where she’s right and where she’s wrong is true of mainstream feminism, as well.  So where is the feminist right and where is the feminist wrong?

The feminist is right…about men hurting women.  It is not only perceived inequality that motivates the feminist.  Women have been harmed by males abusing their authority.  Women have been wronged by men.  Who can deny this?  Read the newsRead the Bible.  Woman, in her natural state, is miserable and it is largely due to how she is treated by man.

The feminist is right…that something needs to be done.  A problem as old as recorded history calls loudly for a solution.  The feminist is right to recognize this and to expect one.

The feminist is wrong…about the fundamental problem.  She’s wrong on at least two points.  First, the fundamental problem has nothing to do with the existence of authority structures between the genders.  God created different roles for the genders, including differences in authority, and those differences were part of His pre-Fall, good creation (Gen 1:31; 2:18-25, cf 1 Tim 2:12-14; 1 Cor 11: 8-9).  Male leadership, as God created it, is what is best for men and women.  Gender roles are created to be an inherently good thing.  

Second, the foundational problem is not exclusively male brokenness.  As a result of the Fall, man does have a sinful propensity to abuse his authority, either through passivity or domination, but the Fall had corresponding consequences for the woman (Gen 3:16, cf 4:6-7).  One consequence is that propensity of males to abuse their authority.  The other consequence is that her heart is wired to desire to dominate him, a desire that is not elicited by his abuse of authority.  In other words, she would rage against his authority even if he didn’t abuse it.  The foundational problem then is sin in the hearts of both man and woman.  The human race is tainted by sinful wills that are bent against the opposite gender, man against woman and woman against man.

The feminist is wrong…about the solution to the problem.  Because the feminist misses the underlying issue of sin, she prescribes a solution that will never address the true source of her misery, but will only exacerbate it.  The solution is not for women to become more dominant and men to become more passive—that’s the original cause of this mess.  In fact, when you read Genesis 3 carefully, you find that the feminist solution is exactly what led to the Fall in the first place - a woman leading a man while he sat passively by and watched her.  

Further, her solution could be characterized as a generous helping of more of the curse.  That is, the feminist prescription to the woman is, “give in to your desire to dominate men,” an impulse that God levied as a punishment for the original woman’s sin.  This simply means that the more a woman follows the feminist’s prescription the more miserable she’ll become, diving further into the curse itself.  You see, feminism doesn’t help women.  It hurts them by misdiagnosing their problem and then providing a solution that is itself a curse.

The true solution is for men and women to be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ so that they rightly live out God’s good design for gender roles.  Sin’s curse twisted the hearts of men and women against each other.  This is what we’re seeing in men abusing their authority and women raging against them.  They both need to be changed from the heart out.  

In Ephesians 2:1-10, Paul shows that God gave His Son to be killed, raised, and exalted to free us from our slavery to sin’s curse.  Through repentance and faith, the grace of God works in us so that we are no longer dead in sin, but alive in Christ, created in Him for good works.  Among those good works (we find just three chapters later) is the right functioning of men and women toward one another.  

It should be striking to us that the gospel’s answer to the gender wars looks nothing like the feminist’s.  In Ephesians 5:22-33, we do not read that the gospel calls women to function just like men and calls men to let them.  Of course, it doesn’t.  Again, Genesis 3 shows that’s precisely how the Fall occurred in the first place.  No, because of the gospel, men and women are enabled by God’s grace to function according to God’s original design - wives respectfully, joyfully submitting to their husbands, and husbands lovingly, selflessly using their authority for the ultimate good of their wives.  

The feminist is right - she has a problem begging for a solution.  But where she is wrong will only perpetuate her misery.  Only a man can fix her problem.  His name is Jesus.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Dangerous Preaching - It's All Around You!

I recently came across a conservative thinker who has become somewhat of a sensation in North American in the last couple of years.  He’s extremely articulate and defends conservatism in a far more thoughtful and logical fashion than is typically found on conservative media outlets.  As I’ve read some of his writing and watched some of his interviews, I’ve been intrigued - even drawn in.  He makes sense.  He’s a formidable debater.  He’s right on so many issues.

I found myself wanting to read more, wanting to buy his books.  But then I began to hear hints of spiritual confusion in his thinking and philosophies, many of which were driven by pragmatics, completely contrary to biblical wisdom and teaching.

The Holy Spirit put on the brakes and brought Colossians 2:8 to my mind: See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

So much of what he said was true.  And yet his philosophy, particularly as it addressed the heart of man, was anti-biblical and hopeless.  How easily this man could use his truths to desensitize people to his untruths.  This is a potentially spiritually deadly issue because it leads people to a gospel-less place using things they already believe and agree with.

It occurred to me that the entire time I was listening to this man, I was listening to preaching.  Anyone who has a worldview for which they contend verbally is a preacher in this sense: they are seeking to convince others that what they are saying is true.  They are seeking converts.

We listen to preaching when we read any book, listen to any song, watch any movie/TV/YouTube video, or even have a casual conversation.  Everyone has a worldview from which they think and speak.  When they speak from that worldview, they preach that worldview.  Everyone does it.  It is inevitable.  You are a preacher in that sense.  Everyone who articulates an opinion is a preacher.

Who is driving these sermons?  In the case of non-believers, the sermons are not simply driven by their own opinions.  The whole world lies in the power of the evil one (1 John 5:19).  They are of the domain of darkness, held captive by him to do his will (Col 1:13; 2 Tim 2:26).  They willfully follow the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2).  Therefore, the preaching of the world will be a conduit for the lies of the enemy for the purpose of leading the minds of believers astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ (2 Cor 11:3).  

In Colossians 2:8, Paul warns specifically about the elemental spirits of the world.  The apostle is  referring to demonic spirits behind human traditions and philosophies.  What the world peddles as common sense, pragmatic solutions, and public opinion in many cases could more aptly be characterized as doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1).  

What’s the solution?  How do we inoculate ourselves against the danger of the dark preaching flowing into our ears all the time?  The preceding verses hold the key: Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:6-7).

The key is to walk in Christ, and Paul gives three ways of doing that.  First, we must be rooted and built up in Him.  This is Paul’s answer to the John 15 “abiding in Christ.”  We must live in constant fellowship with Jesus, engaging with Him daily, seeking our spiritual sustenance from Him and enjoying Him.  Enjoying Jesus is such a powerful remedy against the alluring lies of the world.  When we are rooted and built up in Him, we know how empty are the bogus pleasures offered by the world compared to His fullness.  

Second, we must be established in the faith.  This simply means to be constant students of the word, the faith once for all delivered to the saints.  “Established” speaks of more than just knowing doctrine, though.  It entails allowing the Scriptures to mold our thinking and how we view the world, which entails voluminous reading and studying of the Scriptures.  We must allow the truth to be the glasses through which we view the world.  With a firm grasp of the Scriptures, we will have a much easier time spotting the traps of the enemy.

Third, we must abound in thanksgiving.  To abound in thanksgiving requires one to keep an eye on what he’s been given.  As believers, it requires us to keep our eyes on the inheritance that is ours in Christ through His death and resurrection (1 Peter 1:3-5), as well as the giver of those gifts (Heb 12:1-2).  

The frightful truth is that we have a malevolent foe who is preaching to us all the time and we rarely realize it.  He uses everyday conversations and social media and movies and books to dress his lies up to look very much like truths we already believe.  He does this to slowly chip away at our interest in and affection for Jesus and replace them with illicit worship.  And since we don’t consider that this is happening, we don’t defend against it the way Paul has commanded.

The moment we stop thinking of the Christian life as a war is the moment we stop thinking biblically and become low-hanging fruit for the enemy (2 Cor 10:4; Eph 6:10-18; 1 Pet 5:8).  We’re listening to preaching all the time.  Are we being captured by it?