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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Important Reminders Regarding Spiritual Leadership

It has now been almost four weeks since we completed the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp and I wonder how everyone is doing.  Undoubtedly, some have struggled to continue applying the principles we learned, so it may be helpful to be reminded of the importance of the important things we learned.
Remember the destination to which we are leading.  Spiritual leadership requires a man to know where God wants his family to be and to use God’s tools and power to get them there.  The Shema (Deut 6:4-9) tells us that the ultimate destination to which God wants our families to journey is to love Him with all heart, soul, and might.
Has this destination been on your mind over the last several weeks?  Are you using God’s tools of the Word, prayer, and the ministry of the church to help you proceed to that destination?  Perhaps it would be wise to simply take a few minutes to meditate again on Deut 6:4-9 and to refocus on the necessity to be purposeful in following the command to love God and lead our families to do the same.
Remember that in order to lead your family to the destination you must be pursuing it personally.  A man cannot lead somewhere that he is not going.  Your own spiritual health will be a crucial factor in the spiritual health of your household. 
If you have found yourself struggling to continue to disciple your family and lead them in family devotions, it could be because you are struggling in your own devotional life.  Remember that your personal fellowship with the Lord is the well from which will come the resources to lead well.
Have you become inconsistent in your personal time with the Lord in the Word and prayer?  If you find yourself in a rut, the Lord can still save and sanctify your family.  But wouldn’t you rather be a tool that He uses to accomplish that rather than an impediment that He has to overcome? 
Remember how crucial it is to pursue the destination alongside other men.  God has designed the church to grow and function in community, not in isolation.  Ephesians 4:7-16 teaches that all of the spiritual gifts Jesus has given to the church are for the purpose of growing the church in godliness.  That means that we all need the gifts of others at work in our lives.  It also means that others need our gifts at work in their lives.  There is no plan B for the sanctification of the church.  God has put all His eggs in this one model of spiritual growth.
Remember that we are commanded in Hebrews 10:24-25 to meet together regularly with other believers for the purpose of stirring up one another to love and good deeds.  Have you struggled to maintain this discipline?  Has your conference group begun to founder?  Don’t wait for someone else to take the initiative – you make the phone calls necessary to get something on the calendar.  Keep in mind that it is a service not only to the church and to the men in your conference group, but it is a service to your family for you to take seriously your need for the sharpening influence of others.  Recall that all of the disciplines we learned and implemented were easier to maintain when we were meeting together regularly for the purpose of conferencing.  For that reason, this gracious discipline is invaluable and we must fight to keep it alive.
Chew on these things, brothers (and sisters!), and next week we’ll revisit some of the principles from the last few sessions of the boot camp.  Don’t allow busyness to stall what the Lord started.  Let’s press on toward the destination.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Questions about the actual words of Jesus

In the message on Sunday from Matthew 22:34-40 we noted that when the Lord quoted the great commandment from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, He did not quote it perfectly verbatim.  Instead of saying, “you shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,” Jesus said, “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  I won’t reproduce my explanation for that here, but this does raise a few questions that I did not take the time to address in the message.
As I mentioned Sunday, the words of Jesus that we have in the Gospels are most likely not the actual words that Jesus said.  This is not because the Gospel writers quoted Him inaccurately, but because the common, everyday language of first century Jews was Aramaic, not Greek.  Therefore, the words attributed to Jesus in the Gospels are most likely the Greek translation of His Aramaic words. 
So the first question to consider is, should it trouble us that these are not the exact words of Jesus?  I don’t think so, and there are at least a couple of reasons why.  First, the vast majority of us do not know the Greek language in which the New Testament was written, and yet we’ve always been comfortable trusting English translations of a Greek text.  In that regard, we have been okay not knowing “the exact words of Jesus.” So if we are comfortable with an English translation of a Greek text, why not be okay with a Greek text of words spoken in Aramaic?  Second, whether or not these are the exact words of Jesus, these are the exact words that the Holy Spirit wanted written.  We hold to verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, which means that we believe that every word recorded in the Bible is the exact word God wanted to us to have.  2 Peter 1:21 tells us that in the writing of the Scriptures, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.  So the Spirit who spoke through Jesus in Aramaic is the same Spirit who inspired the Greek words written by the Gospel writers.  Regardless of what language in which the words were actually spoken, the Greek text that we have is inspired by God and is therefore trustworthy.
A second question: should it trouble us that the Gospel writers don’t record the Lord’s words in exactly the same way?  The second part of the answer above could be used here, too: all four Gospels are inspired by God, so any differences in them are according to His will.  But secondly, we need to remember that each of the Gospel writers was writing with a specific theological purpose to a specific audience.  So they each organized the Biblical material in such a way to make their specific point.  The synoptic Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – have much material that overlaps, some of it verbatim.  At other times, they recorded things that are very close to verbatim but left out or added in certain material designed to serve their particular purpose.  The Gospel writers were not contradicting each other when they did this.  Rather they were framing these stories and discourses to make a certain theological point unique to their respective Gospels.  All of the stories and discourses actually happened, but each writer was emphasizing those elements that best served his God-given purpose for writing his Gospel. 
This demonstrates a major reason why we have four Gospels and not one.  God inspired four retellings of the life of Christ so that we might gain a broader perspective on the significance of His coming and learn the theological truths unique to each Gospel.  For this reason, when we try to conglomerate the four Gospels, we do damage to each.  Each should be studied in its own context and allowed to speak its own message. 
The Lord has given us a mighty wonder in the Bible.  It contains 66 different books all of which serve a unique purpose in the canon, yet without any contradiction.  May the Lord move us to value it for the miraculous gift that it is.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Do we ALL need relationships?

Much has been said recently in the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp and in Sunday School about the necessity for believers to have meaningful relationships with others in the church.  This is an essential part of how we grow spiritually.  But is it possible that eventually we may reach a level of maturity that makes this a bit less crucial?  Does anyone ever get to a place where they are able to make it on their own?
We should consider the life of Paul as we seek to answer this question.  Paul could be considered the perfect example of Christian maturity.  Surely if any believer could survive and grow without the sharpening influence of other believers, it would be Paul.  Yet, we find clues throughout his writings that relationships with other Christians were vitally important to him.
Consider that Paul always traveled with ministry companions, usually quite a few.  For example, when he wrote Colossians, he had been traveling with Tychicus, Onesimus, Aristarchus, Mark, Justus, Epaphras, Luke, and Demas.  In every Pauline letter except 1 Timothy, he makes reference to the brothers who were with him (Rom 16:21-23; 1 Cor 1:1, 16:18-19; 2 Cor1:1, 13:13; Gal 1:2; Eph 6:21-22; Phil 1:1, 4:18, 4:21; 1 Thess 1:1, 5:25; 2Thess 1:1;  2 Tim 4:11; Tit 3:12,15; Philem 1, 22-23).
Some may suppose that Paul only had those men with him because of the work load of spreading the gospel – he needed these workers for the harvest.  Certainly, these people were useful to Paul for ministry (2 Tim 4:11), yet there is ample evidence that Paul personally desired their presence with him to encourage him in the faith.
For example, he wrote in 1 Cor 16:17-18, “I rejoice at the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have made up for your absence, for they refreshed my spirit…”  In Phil 2:19-28, he called Epaphroditus a “minister to my need,” and wrote of Timothy, “I have no one like him.”  Conversely, in 2 Timothy 4:10-18, he expressed a desire for Timothy to come to him soon, noting the difficulty of having his other companions leave him.  He closed the letter with the urgent exhortation, “Do you best to come before winter” (2 Tim 4:21; cf Tit 3:13).
Further, numerous times Paul expressed his desire to see the recipients of his letters for the sake of his own joy.  He desired to see the Romans that they might be “mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom 1:12; cf 15:24).  He expressed his expectation that the Corinthians would make him rejoice upon another visit, but that he resisted this visit only to spare them sorrow (2 Cor 2:1-4).  He desired to once again see the Thessalonians face-to-face, writing, “For what is our hope or joy or crown of boasting before our Lord Jesus at his coming? Is it not you? For you are our glory and joy” (1Th 2:19-20).  Toward the end of his ministry, he expressed the same to Timothy: “As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy” (2Tim 1:4).
It can also be said that in his maturity, Paul was compelled to be a blessing to other believers and to encourage them.  He frequently sent his own companions to various individuals and churches for the purpose of bolstering their faith (Eph 6:21-22; Phil 2:19-28; Col 4:7-9).  Typical is the closing of his letter to the Ephesians: “So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything.  I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts (Eph 6:21-22).
It would appear that even the most mature need fellowship with the saints, both to benefit their own faith and the faith of others.  We are all called to pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2Tim 2:22).  We are all called to meet together regularly to stir one another up to love and good works (Heb 10:24-25).
For this reason, those of us who participated in the men’s spiritual leadership boot camp should be all the more diligent to continue meeting with our conference groups.  A number of men have expressed to me the concern that this discipline will fall by the wayside without the structure of meeting every Saturday.  Do what you have to do even if it means joining with men who were not in your original group, men who live closer to you and who have a more compatible schedule.  If Paul couldn’t afford to be alone, neither can we.  Let’s persevere in this for our own good, for the good of the church, and for the glory of God!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Evaluating Worldviews

Some men in the boot camp expressed interest in having a bit more information regarding the section on evaluating worldviews, so I thought I would put it up on the blog for others who may find it helpful.
First of all, what is a worldview?  I like the definition in James Sire’s book, The Universe Next Door:  “A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions which we hold about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.”  In other words, a worldview is a way of viewing the world and how that view governs the way we live. 
A worldview can be expressed in propositions, or as the answers to the following seven questions.  These questions can be posed to ourselves and our children to help us think critically about the influences around us.
1. What is the prime reality? Some might answer God or the gods or the material universe.  As Christians, we would say that the prime reality, or the ultimate being, is the Triune God of the Bible.  A way of posing this to children/teens: “Based on these lyrics, who or what do you think the writer of this song would say is the ultimate being?  What would the Bible say?”
2. What is the nature of external reality, that is, the world around us? Is the world created or autonomous, chaotic or orderly, material or spiritual, etc.  As Christians, we would say that external reality is an orderly creation of God consisting of both material and spiritual elements.  We could ask our children: “What is this cartoon teaching about how the world came to be?  Does that match what the Bible says?”
3. What is a human being?  Is he is highly complex machine?  Is he a god?  Is he an evolved ape?  We would say that a human being is a person made in the image of God, but fallen through the sin of Adam.  “Based on what that celebrity just said, do you think he believes man is basically good or basically evil?  What should we believe about man?”
4. What happens to a person at death?  Does he cease to exist? Is he transformed to a higher state?  Is he reincarnated?  We would say that after death, a person goes onto the judgment after which he is blessed with eternal life or punished with eternal death.  “Knowing what you know about that celebrity’s life, do you think she expects there to be a judgment day?  What does the Bible teach about when we die?”
5. Why is it possible to know anything at all?  How do we know things?  Is it strictly by reason?  Strictly by scientific observation?  We would say that we know things because they have been revealed to us by God through various means including reason, observation, and special revelation.  “Do you think that the producer of that documentary believes that there is a higher source of knowledge than man’s own reason?  What is the truest and most reliable source of knowledge?”
6. How do we know what is right and wrong?  Are the concepts of right and wrong relative to a particular culture?  Are they products of evolution that enable man to maximize human flourishing?  We would say that we know right and wrong because we are created in the image of a moral God who has given us a conscience and has educated us by His Word.  “Does that TV show imply that there is an absolute measure of right and wrong...or that right and wrong can be different to different people?  What would the Bible tell us?”
7. What is the meaning of human history?  To make paradise on earth?  Is it meaningless?  Self-actualization?  We would say it is the self-revelation of God through the outworking of His salvific purposes.  “The people on that reality show – what do you think they believe life is all about?  What would God say life is all about?”   
In order to help our kids identify and analyze the influences around them, we really need to cultivate the habit in ourselves.  Sadly, most of us probably do not think much about the message being sent by the influences around us.  But remember that there is no such thing as an influence without a worldview, and every worldview but the biblical one would lead us and our children away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  We need to cultivate the habit of asking ourselves these questions as well as asking our children.
A good way to practice: simply watch a movie with your kids, asking yourself these questions as the movie progresses.  After the movie, talk about it with your kids and lead them to think about how the movie either coincided with or contradicted the biblical worldview.
If you want to read more about this concept, I highly recommend the book, The Universe Next Door.