The Great Commission Tension a Pastor Faces

Pastors go through some very strange emotions during the course of a week.  Having been in pastoral ministry for 25 years, I’m still learning how to process the various ebbs in flows, not just in a church but in my own heart. 

By tension, what do I mean?  Do I mean that I am under stress?  No, I’m not trekking there. What I mean by tension is this:  two competing views on how something should be done that should be leveraged, not resolved.  I borrowed this from Andy Stanley’s talk on The Power of Tension a number of years back and I hope you will have time to watch it sometime. 

But I’m not Andy Stanley.

And he’s not the pastor of Arapahoe Road Baptist Church—I am.  Therefore, I shall land here a bit and share with you the tension a pastor faces.

Ministering to the people inside the church while wanting to reach those outside the church.

“That’s a tension, you say?”  Uh, yeah!   Huge tension (I’d use all caps there, but that’s rude).  How is this a tension?

I was called by God through ARBC to pastor this church.  Every day, I thank God for this privilege.  We have a wonderful cross-section of ages at our church that few have in Denver. That’s a good thing, by the way.  I love being among them, loving them, preaching and teaching them the Word numerous times a week, and ministering with them in various aspects during the week.

So where’s the tension?

The tension is, we are surrounded by people who do not know Christ.  Many haven’t even considered Christ.  For a church of lifelong believers living and moving in church world for most of their lives, this may seem incomprehensible.   Many of the things we often take for granted: 

  • where books are in the Bible
  • what certain words mean
  • what certain programs accomplish
  • what our distinctives are as Baptists
  • the need for missions and the Great Commission

These things are so ingrained in our church world culture, that we do not realize that most folks outside the church (1) know what a Bible, (2) what a Baptist is, much less a Christian, and (3) what the Great Commission is.  In fact, like it or not, the word ‘Baptist’ carries both good and bad baggage (“Wasn’t Fred Phelps from Westboro Baptist Church?”).

Thus the tension:  ministering meaningfully to those inside the church so they grow, while developing a culture in the church where we go and reach others for Christ.  With this, other mini-tensions break out:

  • How do we create atmospheres in the church that help us grow, but also provide an atmosphere where the unchurched and unbelievers may come and fell welcomed and at home?
  • How do we create a culture where our worship times not only connect with the Word of God but also connecting with the city where God has placed us without being gimmicky and watering down the Word and losing focus on Christ?
  • How do we provide a wonderful connection time at our building, without the building being the only connection time?
  • How do we provide ways for teams to meet, without the meetings totally dominating the week that outward ministry cannot take place? 

These are things that pastors think about.   If we trying to resolve the tension, then we would choose either or:  all in with ministering to those inside, or all out in reaching the culture.  That’s not a good option.

If we leverage the tension, then we work to maintain a balance and let each area work and balance that tension to make sure we do not lean too far one way or the other. 

The pastors at ARBC love this church.  We realize that this church is Christ’s and we are connected with His Kingdom.  We search the Scriptures, teach the Scriptures, love our people, and connect with the place that God planted us.   As we connect with our city, we must evaluate what must change in our church. …

… which may provide a tension within a church member:  leveraging the culture we love in our church with reaching the unchurched in our culture. 

Something to think about—that’s what we pastors do.

[Originally blogged on April 29, 2014, with needed updates.]

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Christians, Beware Your Political Posts

I’ll get right to the point. Christians, our primary allegiance is to the Kingdom of God, not in any earthly kingdom or democracy or any other political structure. 

Too often, our political leanings and our religious morality have blended into an American civic religion that is bolstered on a Judeo-Christian notion of God and country, rather than distinguishing and allowing our primary citizenship to inform our living here.

Last night at our Wednesday night prayer time, we looked over two parables in Matthew 13:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls,  who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matthew 13:44‭-‬46 ESV).

Of the many lessons we can draw from these passages, one is simple: Christianity is about being all in.  Christianity is about Jesus being enough.

I’m not advocating Christians being snowflakes and worry about offending people.  I’m saying, “With what are we offending them?” The gospel of Jesus offends all by itself (1 Corinthians 1:18-31).  My aim is not calling Christians to quit offending (we will by our existence and our message).  My aim is a call to offend with the right things, not temporary things.

If you have one post that expresses how God sent Jesus to save and how He is is love by sending Christ to die on the cross for our sins, then you turn around and post about how someone is an idiot because they do not share the same political view as you do–are we helping the cause of Christ? James warns us about the tongue: “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are ade in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:9b-10). 

Are we apathetic in our worship services when we sing and hear taught about the wonders of Christ and His saving work, but then get fired up during a patriotic service?  Are we showing that our citizenship here means more than our citizenship in heaven (2 Timothy 4:9-20)? Are we walking by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7)?  Has the God and Country motif morphed into our country as our god?  Does pledging allegiance to the flag warm our hearts more than pledging allegiance to the Lamb (Revelation 4-5)? “Shout for joy to the Lord all the earth” (Psalm 100:1). 

Are we more concerned that people share our political views than we are in sharing Christ’s glory and majesty? Is our goal to make people Republicans or Democrats, or citizens of the Kingdom that was bought by Christ’s shed blood (Ephesians 1:7)?  Has Obama or Trump become our messiah? There is only one Savior, and that is Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5; John 14:6). Jesus is enough.
The point is, do our conversations and posts show that those who disagree with us are our enemies and are worthless?  Do we look at others through political lenses or missional lenses? Does our conversation show that we want people to be and think like us, or to be and think like Christ? 

Everything we say is a calling card to our hearts.  “Out of the overflow of our hearts, the mouth speaks” (Jesus, Matthew 12:34). 

Do our mouths (and posts) speak about Jesus early and often?

  

Churches Need to Recapture the Sufficiency of Christ

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith:

Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Timothy 1:1-2).

When you bring up the notion of church in our culture, a number of different responses arise—and not all of them are good responses. It seems the only time churches get mentioned on the news is due to some moral or financial failure. We know that’s not true in every case, but it sure seems true watching the 10:00 news. Some have trouble with the church because it’s the one active sector in society that does not pay taxes as a religious, non-profit organization. 

But many have trouble with the church because of the claims she makes about truth.  This past Thursday, four of us went to a meeting with a gathering of Denver Baptist pastors (aka, our Mile High Baptist Association) to listen to a gentleman named Hunter Beaumont speak.  He’s a pastor here in Denver who is doing well in connecting with those in our city who are not connected with a church yet.  His talk was about Being Church in and for Post-Christian Culture. He noted that American culture has historically been shaped by the Christian worldview.  As a result, almost all Americans have values and instincts that would not be possible without the historic influence of Christianity.  Today, however, most are not practicing Christian.  Many even see Christianity and the Church as an obstacle to the good life they desire. 

This is a tension that’s only around for unbelievers, but also believers. The predominant religion in this country is secularism, which says that you can have a good and fulfilling life without God.  There was a time when home and school and church all taught the same values which were informed by a Christian worldview.  Not so now.  In our colleges, there’s 12 secular professors for every 1 conservative who has some tie to a Judeo-Christian ethic. 

When asked which books qualify as Holy Books (Bible, Koran, Torah, Book of Mormon), the following say “None of these.”

Elders (born before 1945):  7%

Boomers (born from 1946-1964): 8%

Gen-Xers (born from 1965-1983ish): 18%

Millennials (born after 1983): 22%

We also see that those who are not religiously affiliated at all are rising.  Colorado is at 29% (the highest is Vermont at 37%). 

Churches are tempted to move, too.  Francis Schaeffer noted, “Tell me what the world is saying today, and I’ll tell you what the church will be saying seven years from now.”  Numerous articles tell of how those churches who seek to capitulate to the world are actually shrinking, and those which stick to the convictions of Scripture are actually staying steady or growing.

Why do we need to dig into 1 and 2 Timothy here and now?  Because our churches need to recapture the sufficiency of Christ in His resurrected glory and saving gospel now more than ever, regardless of what our culture dictates.  And because of the glory of the gospel that saves and shows us that Jesus is alive, that glory and beauty must translate into a life that draws others to Jesus. 

The church submits to the authority of Christ himself.

At the very beginning, you see in verse 1, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”  Epistles in that day started off with the one who is writing the letter. And given the nature of the letter, Paul reminds Timothy (and us) of what gives him the authority to write a letter of this magnitude.

Paul was sent (which is what the office of apostle means, sent to an area where no other witness is) by Christ, for Christ.  In this letter, Christ is speaking through Paul.  But how did this come about?

The first time we see Paul, he was referred to as Saul of Tarsus.  In Acts 7, one of the deacons of the Jerusalem church named Stephen who, when arrested and brought before the authorities.  In that time, Stephen recounted the entire history of the OT, then rightly pinned the blame on the killing of God’s messengers on their forefathers, and pinned the killing of their Savior, the Messiah, Jesus, on them as well.  They stopped their ears, rushed him out of the city, and stoned him (that is, with actual stones). The authorities didn’t want to hear it.

Saul of Tarsus watched their cloaks while they did their work.  Soon, as it says in Acts 8:3, “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”  

If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c]blameless (Philippians 3:4b-6). 

But in Acts 9, as he’s on his rampage toward the city of Damascus in modern-day Syria, Christ appeared to him!  Yes, that Christ.  Remember last Sunday how we celebrated Christ rising from the dead?  Paul met him firsthand and saw the reality of what these folks whom he was through into prison were preaching about.  The first question Jesus asks?

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”  All Paul could muster was, “Who are you, Lord?”  To which Christ replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.  But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what to do” (Acts 9:4-6).  And it is here that Paul, immediately surrendering to Jesus’ teaching, receives instruction about the nature of the church.  While there exists an institutional aspect and an organizational structure that many use as reasons to stay away from church (we shall discuss this later), ultimately and primarily, the church is the body of Jesus Christ.  When anyone persecuted believers, they are persecuting Him because of our unity in Christ.

You see, Paul persecuted the church because it was so captured by the beauty of Christ and His good news, knowing that He lives in resurrected glory, that they lived out a passionate, hopeful, joyful life as disciples of Him. Even in the midst of persecution, Jesus was enough.  John Stott once said, “Today, the church is not persecuted so much as ignored. Its revolutionary message has been reduced to a toothless creed for bourgeois suburbanites. Nobody opposes it any longer, because really there is nothing to oppose.”  Paul says, “Christ has called us to salvation, to sanctification in our Christian walk, and to serve Him by showing in words and actions who Jesus is!”  The world will take notice.  Some will be repelled, some will be compelled.  Some will say, “Enough of Jesus,” while others will see that we believe Jesus is enough.

“You’re Right–The Church is Full of Hypocrites!”

James Spiegel shares an incident that happened to him as a teenager. He was one who would go and mow neighbors lawns to get extra cash. So he went to inquire about some business, the man said that he would be gone over the weekend, but if they mowed his grass, he would pay them $25 on Monday.

The lawn was rather large, and they could not finish it on Saturday, so they had to take time on Sunday to finish up. On Monday when the man returned, they informed him that it took them two days to finish his large lawn. “Two days?” he inquired. “You mean you mowed on Sunday?” They nodded in the affirmative. “Well boys, I don’t allow work to be done at my house on Sundays. I can’t pay you.” They watched him dig out about $2 in change from his pocket. When he handed it to them, he said, “I’m doing this out of the kindness of my heart.”

When he and his friend went home, the friend told Spiegel’s father (rather irately), “Hypocrites . . . Lousy hypocrites! They smile so sweetly and look so righteous at church, but in the real world they’re nothing but swindlers and cheats!”[1]

One of the questions the culture often lobs at the church is this in its various forms: “Why are Christians such hypocrites?” One book I read in dealing with the subject of the questions the culture asks the church is put even more starkly: “Why are Christians such jerks?”

Immediately someone who is a consistent Christian sees a story like this, the immediate reaction is to grow defensive: “Why do they lump us all into the same batch of dough?” Then we risk dismissing them out of hand. We must however dig deeper out of love for Christ and love for those whom He made and dig into what fuels these questions to begin with.

It must be said that Jesus was never a big fan of hypocrisy, either. This we see abundantly in John 7:53-8:11. Those who have the majority of versions will have this section bracketed with a small note that says, “The earliest manuscripts do not include 7:53-8:11.” This is true, and has caused some concern. But do not let it. This account was preserved by the Holy Spirit who sought to include this—and it does nothing to contradict any other teachings or doctrines found in Scripture. Let’s read this now, as we stand:

They went each to his own house, but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives. 2 Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. 3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

Hypocrisy was nothing new—and Jesus hated it. But God reveals these hypocrisies in others and ourselves to eventually lead us to holiness.

A little background to this story. Jesus is in the Temple teaching, when the scribes and Pharisees in a rather sanctimonious and animated fashion. Why all the fuss? Verses 4-5 bring this to light: “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” The motive is clear “This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him” (8:6).

As we step back, we notice a number of things that tip off their hypocrisy. The first and most obvious is that they were not interested in justice—they were interested in Jesus being trapped! And they simply used this woman as leverage!

Secondly, notice that they caught her “in the act of adultery.” How did they happen upon that?

Thirdly, if they caught her in the act of adultery, then where was the man? Did he get away? Did they let him get away? Was he an unnecessary part to their plot? Was he a member of the scribes and the Pharisees and they wished to protect him?

Nathaniel Hawthorne once noted,

“No man can for any considerable time wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which is the true one.” Jesus would leave them even more bewildered.

This leads us to the first way we must answer the question of “Why are there so many religious hypocrites?” by answering it this way: “You are right—and so is everyone else!” If you answer in this way, please make sure you say this in the correct tone! Don’t answer with that defensive tone with finger pointed, saying, “Well, maybe I am, but so are you.” No, no, no!

Acknowledge that there are hypocrites in the church. Acknowledge that you are a hypocrite as well. Why is this important? Because:

(1) it demonstrates a humility rather than a moral superiority over someone else.

(2) You acknowledge what is obvious to everyone—even churches are filled with hypocrites.

(3) You make people take stock that they do not always follow through on even their own self-imposed standards.

The world is watching. They hear on the news of a cop who misbehaves and deep down they recognize that this is not how it should be. They hear, as we heard, of a group of teachers who changed the grades of the tests their students took, deleting their bad grades.[2] The world watches us as well—and the world knows what we stand for to some degree or another knows some of what we believe. The world also notices when we mess up. And we must acknowledge that we mess up as well. If we don’t, then we are just as blind as those who don’t see their own hypocrisy. Churches are littered with hypocrites, from the infighting and party spirit to moral failures by leaders. Tim Keller brings out another point: “At the same time there are many formally irreligious people who live morally exemplary lives. If Christianity is all it claims to be, shouldn’t Christians on the whole be much better people than everyone else?”[3]

Yet, as we will see more at the end, we are not saved by our morality—we are not saved by what we did or didn’t do, or what sins we’ve committed intentionally or otherwise. We are saved by God’s grace in what Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Recognizing the deception of our hypocrisy is actually an amazing part of God’s grace toward us.


[1]James S. Spiegel, Hypocrisy: Moral Fraud and Other Vices (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999), 25. Quoted in Randy Newman, Questioning Evangelism (Grand Rapids, Kregel, 2004), 192.

[2]http://www.newschannel5.com/story/21129693/email-directs-teachers-to-delete-bad-grades

[3]Timothy S. Keller, The Reason for God p. 53.

How Do We Cast Our Anxieties on God?

Interesting how we’ve often heard that we should cast our anxieties on God, but not the how!  What does this mean?  Let’s hear from John Piper:

This word “casting” in [1 Peter 5:7] occurs one other time in the New Testament—in Luke 19:35, in exactly the same form. It’s Palm Sunday and the disciples have been sent to get the donkey for Jesus to ride on. Then verse 35 says, “They brought it to Jesus, and casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

So the meaning is simple and straightforward: if you have a garment on and you want an animal to carry it for you, you “cast” the garment on the animal. In this way you don’t carry it anymore. It’s on the animal not on you. The donkey works for you and lifts your load.

Well, God is willing to carry your anxieties the same way a donkey carries your baggage. One of the greatest things about the God of the Bible is that he commands us to let him work for us before commanding us to work for him. “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22). “Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4). “From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him (Isaiah 64:4).

God wants to be a burden bearer because it demonstrates his power and puts him in a class by himself among the so-called gods of the universe. “No one has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him.” So throw the garments of your anxiety onto him. He wants to carry it.

What a fantastic picture and what a glorious truth!  Anxieties will come, and someone will carry them–either you, or Christ!  Put them on Christ!

(To listen to the entire sermon by John Piper, listen here.)

Remembering Dr. Ray Robinson: My Talk at PBA Founder’s Day 2017

If anyone led with joy, it was Dr. Ray Robinson. He was my professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University from 1992 to 1994. Below is the transcript of the talk I gave that their Founder’s Day back on April 4.

—-

Words cannot begin to express how grateful I am to be here today.  Palm Beach Atlantic University has always been foundational and formative to everything that has come afterwards.  Dr. Mims, thank you so much for the kind introduction.  After I graduated, I left for Kentucky to attend seminary, back to South Florida, back to Kentucky to pursue studies after God called me into the preaching ministry, and now for the last 5+ years have made my home in Denver, Colorado.  I am geographically far away from PBA, but PBA is never far away from me.  And while Ray Robinson may be away from us, all that he taught us and meant to us is very near to us.

Would you please take your copy of God’s Word and turn to Philippians 1:3-6. 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:3‭-‬6 ESV).‬‬

All of us risk making our residence in remembering.  We as alumni who loved PBA (or any other academic institution) risk making our residence in remembering, only looking in the rearview mirror, and never move on. And that’s a testimony to this place and the people who make up Palm Beach Atlantic University. But almost 25 years removed from graduating from here, I saw that Ray Robinson wanted us to move on, to grow, to live, to pursue God’s specific will for our lives in finding our life’s work, but also to pursue His general will for all—our sanctification, that we see that Jesus is enough in all of life. 

But we must remember to look at where God has taken us.  As far as my academic journey, Palm Beach Atlantic was my last shot.  You see, before I came to PBA, I was an average student who became a terrible student. I was academically and in many ways spiritually directionless and began to borrow other people’s will for my life rather than God’s will. I knew He wanted me in His service, but I felt I had to get some things straightened out.  But when God calls, He calls.  And He gives strength to step out. 

I first visited PBA in October 1991. I had just come home from washing out in my former major and was working as a janitor at the Florida Power Corporation where my father worked. My former pastor and PBA alum Chris Whaley and I drove down.  I had just turned 20. As soon as I set foot at PBA, I knew two things (1) this was where God wanted me, and (2) this was my last shot academically.  It was a strange combination of how this had to work out, but was going to work out. 

I met professors such as the remarkable Marlene Woodward-Cooper, Bob Burroughs, Gordon Longhofer, Anna Keith, Susan Joyce, Timothy Steele, Michel Simoneaux (the dean at the time), and a number of others.  But one man stood out:  Dr. Ray Robinson.  

All of us have professors that stood out for various reasons.  Some may be forces of nature. Some may exude an intellectual prowess. Some may be, well, quirky and a bit eccentric.  Imagine having all three in one person, and you have Dr. Ray Robinson.   But God used Ray Robinson to help sanctify me and be used by God to move me along to what God started –moving me toward Christlikeness.

The first time I saw him in action was during a class all music students had to take: Oratorio Chorus.  At the time, Oratorio was from 7-9:30 on Monday nights at an area The purpose of the class was to learn a classic extended work, such as Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Schubert’s Mass in B Minor, Rutter’s Requiem, Handel’s Messiah, and the like. 

Little did I realize what God was up to.  When Jesus rescues us from our sin, He begins that work of sanctification in us. He uses His Word, His, Spirit, and His church. And he also places people in our lives who model for us and invest in us in ways we do not appreciate until some more miles are in that rearview mirror. I focus on three.

Enthusiasm.  The word enthusiasm comes from two parts meaning ‘in God’ (you see it—en theos), showing a divine inspiration. He exuded passion for his craft. And this passion became contagious. When I first walked in to Oratorio Chorus in February of 1992 (25 years ago), within about 10 minutes I began to wonder who this conductor was!  This wasn’t just a job.  He wasn’t just earning a paycheck.  And believe me, students can sniff this out from a mile away. 
When I first sat in Oratorio Chorus, I would see how passionate he would be about the work.  About 15 minutes in, I thought, “Who is this man?”  He didn’t look like a young man, but his energy ran circles around all of us in the room combined. Even with 50-60 people in the room, he knew what we were up to.  

Excellence:  President Fleming reminded us at an Alumni event this past Sunday night of Dr. Robinson’s pursuit of precision and his pursuit of excellence, right up until the moments before an Oratorio concert… even to the point of delaying the entrance of those who came to see us perform.  As he spoke of this, I remembered 1 Corinthians 10:31: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

He wouldn’t let us slide. He so much wanted us to see the privilege we had of doing these works and wanted to pull the best out of us.  I remember, again at first, when we were in the middle of the semester—removed from the newness, but still a ways away from the performance, our enthusiasm waned.  He would be frustrated and motivated, with all these varying emotions cascading down to where he would make these utterance and noises, like he was speaking in tongues.  “Hey.  Lookit. Hey now.” How something could be so serious and so humorous all at once.  But it focused us.  Excellence. Never letting down.  Looking through the windshield.  Sanctifying.

Excellence in study. He helped me in my preaching.  You see, Dr. Robinson unwittingly taught me some aspects of homiletics and hermeneutics.  Commitment to the author’s intent. Whenever we would learn a new work by Bach, Beethoven, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Faure, Brahms, or Rutter (to name a few), he would spend time telling us about the composer, when he wrote the work, why, the timeframe—really, the whole history.  Why?  Every piece of this information played into the interpretation of the piece.  He so much wanted us to understand and abide by the composer’s intention.

That helped me in my preaching.  Just as it wasn’t up to me to determine how I preached.  Study. Find out about the author, the times, the reason why he wrote what he wrote, and get as close to what the ultimate Author intended.  He drove him the understanding that “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and is profitable for teaching, reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 


Engaged with his students
. His priority was “his kids.” He didn’t just want choir members to make the music, but he wanted the music to be a tool to help make the members.  And not just to uber talented ones.  

Dr. Robinson cared about me as a man.  He cared about me as a person.  He cared about my soul and our souls. When any of us blew it, you could tell it broke his heart.  When we succeeded, he cheered us on.  When we found out that he loved seeing us start off our recitals with Bach, we started off our recitals with Bach.  
“He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it on the day of Christ Jesus.”  For believers, Jesus has rescued us from our sin through His death and resurrection from the dead. He leaves us here to work through us, yes, but also to work in us.  By the Word, the Spirit, His church, and through men and women pouring into us, He works.  And did He ever work through Dr. Robinson. 

I wish I could tell him now all that he meant to me.  But due to our hope in Christ, we will see each other again, and I shall tell them.  But for all of you who have had someone who has meant a lot to you–a parent, friend, professor, whoever–tell them while you can.  You never know how much time you have left.

May we all have the enthusiasm, the pursuit of excellence, and a willingness to engage that work with us and for us. Thanks, Dr. Robinson.  God used you.  God knew I needed you in my life.

Have People Written You Off? God’s Not Finished Writing Your Story

wp-1484835298178.jpgSome may have written you off because of your past, but Jesus is not finished with your story. He’s still writing it in a way that you will see that Jesus is enough.

Some of the most sublime takeaways from many preachers’ sermons are those which are unplanned. While this wasn’t one of them strictly speaking, it was a matter that God showed me on Saturday night.  Here were two principles that had been playing in my mind coming together.

  • People writing others off because they cannot get past their past. 
  • Jesus is not finished with your story. 

Stories, by and large, are written.  In the case of our spiritual lives, our stories and narratives aren’t written on pages, but on our hearts, our souls, our minds. We see from Scripture that God writes His law on our hearts. In Romans 2:14-16, we read:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when according to my gospel, God judges by Christ Jesus.

God writes His law on every heart of every one ever born, as is evident by the basic understanding of right and wrong that permeates every civilization (even the mere notion of right or wrong) comes from (like it or not) God’s law written on our hearts.

So let’s add this principle first of all:  God has written His principles, His heart on our hearts.

When we as believers consider our past prior to Christ entering those very hearts, even those laws written on hearts–but there is a problem. Prior to Christ, we have hearts of stone. The Word has no effect, not landing, not planting that seed. Even if you have a high respect for God, you do not nor cannot apply. If you have a low respect for Him, then you look at the lack of effect the Word has, you risk believing anything regarding the things of God and the Bible as foolishness, being uneducated, antiquated, and unenlightened.

To me, it explains why so many take such pains to disprove him. It’s hard work to overcome His law and His Word. Painting Bible-believing, Christ-honoring, God-loving people as rubes, bigots, and hicks is an ad hominem that speaks a great deal to those who believe like them and to those on the fence.

The reality is, every worldview operates on some sort of faith.  None of us has all of the information available at any point, so we take what information we have and, based on our worldview, fill in the blanks of what makes sense to us.  But everyone still operates on faith, either that there’s no God, there is a God, or what God is like–and thus violate the second commandment in making God in our own image.  No, not with carvings, but with ideas.

When we surrender to Christ, who is the key of understanding Scripture and the spiritual world, we realize that our past is just that–passed! The profoundness of how Christ rescues from the depth of our sin (a depth we can never recognize before Christ) speaks against those who deem Christianity foolish, uneducated, antiquated, and unenlightened.

Once we’re past the God dilemma, we now come across the people dilemma. Even if God hasn’t written us off, many people (even inside churches) do just that.  In fact, this is why so many who are Christians and who are struggling, struggle most with coming to church. “What will people say or think?” “I need to fix myself before I come back.” “I can’t bear to disappoint people I love.” While I cannot guarantee that people won’t do this (they will), I can guarantee you that those who are the ‘real deal’ will recognize the depth of their sinfulness, and the depth of Christ’s rescue.  And they will find comfort, support, encouragement, and (most of all) the cross (Galatians 2:20).

God has not written you off. And God’s people (those who are truly God’s people) will not write you off either because they recognize that God did not write them off when He had every reason to.

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