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Changed By Glory

"And we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another." II Cor. 3:18

“We’re like a family!” <- Really?

Many churches make it their philosophical aim to be like family and when that reputation is achieved it is thought to be a sure sign of health and unity. They want a place where people care for each other, praying for one another during difficult times, checking in on one another, greeting everyone that comes into their gathering with warmth and gladness. When people say that their church is like this, they will usually gladly declare, “We’re like a family!”

But the question that needs to be asked sometimes is, “Really?”

Let me start by saying that a church should be like a family. It should be a place where we genuinely rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, where we bear each other’s burdens, where we take care of each other, where the needs and longings of others are a concern to us, a place where when we gather there is warmth and palatable love and commitment. To this every church should aspire.

The problem, I think, is that often when we say that a church is like a family or that it should be like a family, what we really have in mind is an idealized, Hallmark-channel, Ward-and-June-Clever-esque family. We want our church to be like a family without the messiness and tough-love of a real family.

A church member may believe that their church is like a family until real discipleship begins to happen. It feels like a family until individual sin is confronted. It feels like a family until someone speaks difficult truth into your life – telling you something you don’t really want to hear. Then it is no longer a family in the idealized sense. It is divided. It is uncomfortable. People avoid each other. The “dinner table” is tense.

The problem is that what was just described is real family life. In a real family there is warmth and love, but there is also messiness, there is confrontation. In a real family you find the people that love you enough to risk relationship for your greater good. In family is found the few people on earth who can speak hard truth to you, because they love you, because they care more about your long-term security and joy than momentary ease – yours or theirs.

Family life is wonderful, but it is also very hard, because we aren’t perfect. The same translates to the church. It is a wonderful thing to be a part of a church, but it’s hard, because we are sinners and the Word we speak to each other confronts that reality with imposing light.

Imagine a family where everyone is allowed to do their own thing. Destructive behaviors are never challenged, the father passively sits in the arm chair with beer in hand as chaos unfolds, mother is careful not to say anything to her rebellious daughter lest she upset the balance, the son is making some poor decisions, but challenging him would just upset the peace of the moment. The family is gathered, everyone is smiling, there is a kind of peace and togetherness, but it is actually kind of creepy. Because no one is being real. There is a terrible selfishness at work as the members of this family care more about the comfort of the moment than they do the good of one another.

Now imagine a family where one sister sees that her sibling is becoming more and more distant, getting into relationships that could be harmful. She so badly just wants to let it go, to let there be a kind of “peace”, but she loves her sibling too much for that. She loves her sibling enough to sacrifice momentary comfort for lasting good. A father sees his son showing signs of destructive behavior, he gets along well with him and he doesn’t want to mess that up, but his love for his son motivates him to speak to him. The son’s initial reaction is to run out of the house and slam the door, but perhaps over time he begins to see that his father was right. The point being, a real family is a place where the individuals love each other so much that they are willing to risk comfort and approval for the sake of each other’s good.

In Ephesians chapter 4, we are told that we grow up in Christ and are protected from harm as we speak the truth in love to each other. Sometimes when looking at that verse people take “love” to be the manner in which we speak, when I think it is more about the motivation. In his writings, Paul had some very harsh and difficult things to churches and individuals, but he was speaking the truth motivated by love. Sometimes in the church when uncomfortable truth is spoken people call it out as unloving not because it is unloving, but because it doesn’t fit into our idealized view of love – because what is being said challenges our self-love.

So before you boast that your church is like a family, consider whether or not it is actually a community of loving accountability under the authority of Christ and directed by his Word. Will your “family” atmosphere hold up to the rigors of discipleship? If it will, then you are blessed and you have a true family dynamic, but if not, then your idea of family is likely idealized and skin deep.

In the church we are supposed to be like a family, because that is precisely what we are in Christ! But during this age in redemptive history the reality of sin means that we can only truly be described as being like a family if our loving dynamic includes both tender love and tough love.

So strive by God’s grace, anchored in his love displayed in the Gospel, to give love and receive love in both forms. By doing this we will be able to move from cheesy clichés about what it means to be a family and onward to an authenticity that leads us to lose sleep, risk relationships, weep, pray, plead, and rejoice until the whole family is together with Christ their head – safe and sound.

The Painting I Felt

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There are few famous painting more disturbing than The Scream. It is a frightening piece of art, that leaves you wondering what was going through the painter’s mind or what is so distressing  to the ghoulish, distorted figure on the canvas, hands grasping the cheeks, mouth gaping wide, looking as if they are literally melting in terror. Almost like it was yesterday I can remember seeing that painting and thinking, “I know the feeling that painting conveys.” It left me sick, scared, wanting to look away, and yet, I felt like it was a painting of my soul.

One day, as a young teen, something began to stir in my heart. A dread. I suddenly had a sense of the goodness of God, my failure to honor him, and the judgment I deserved because of that. Reminders of sins committed haunted my young mind, tears began to flow when no one was around. And then, one day early in that crisis, I saw that terrible painting while flipping through a World Book encyclopedia. Agony washed over me. I stared, riveted at the twisted, tormented creature on the page – it was me. I knew what the subject of the painting was feeling. I was dirty, I was twisted, I had a offended a good God, I deserved hell.

There was no self-justification, no seeking escape from reality. I was doomed and I deserved it. I felt that painting. Only the screams were bottled up inside of me. I remember crying alone, out on the farm, that painting in my mind, murmuring audibly, “I’m lost. I’m lost. Forever lost.” I wanted to claw at my heart, I would lay in bed and grind my teeth, certain my state was beyond saving. How could someone like me, who grew up with the privilege of knowing the truth, having sinned so egregiously, have any hope?

Then. One day, with a feed bucket for the livestock in my hand, eyes blurry, feet staggering, I was suddenly overwhelmed with a different feeling. I knelt down and began to thank God for the Gospel – the truth that though I deserved to be condemned Christ was condemned in my place. The burden lifted, the terror was gone. Appetites changed, love for God’s word gripped me, a desire to be with God’s people and to hear the Word preached possessed me. Over the next weeks as I continued my work on the farm, I started singing hymns passed the time. Especially precious to me was, “It Is Well” namely the lines:

My sin o the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part, but the whole
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise The Lord, praise The Lord
O my soul

I had a longing to depart and be with Jesus. I prayed and prayed for him to come so I could be with him. I was changed. As the years went by, my love would cool at times, I would fail often, my faith would weaken, but when I remember that day I felt that painting and I remember the sweet relief of the Gospel, the fire is kindled anew.

I praise God for that day I felt that terrible painting. I praise God for feeling about my sin the way I did, because I believe with all of my heart it was right. Indeed, I am certain my grief did not reach the point it should have – I was spared the depths of despair that one ought to feel when their depravity is compared to the all-surpassing perfection of God. It is my hope that we would all have that moment where we have a real sense of our wretchedness, for it is then that the glory of Christ overwhelms, and we are changed.
That painting is terrible, but I thank God for graciously letting me feel it.

I know that I fail and my love grows cold when I lose sight of what I was and now am in Christ. My love grows cold when the news that Jesus was my wrath-bearing sacrifice ceases to be to me the good news that it is.

My experience is not an authority, the word of God alone is that. But as I look at the word, what it tells us about God, ourselves, sin, and salvation, I am burdened that the church is apathetic and unholy because it is full of people who cannot identify with that painting because they have not seen themselves in the light of what God has revealed. They don’t know what it is like to stand in the light with all your filth, to sense the weight of impending, much-deserved, divine judgment, and to be appalled, lost, undone, broken.

The painting I felt is only a fraction of the despair that Christ bore for me when he cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And the joy that followed the knowledge of mercy is but a speck of the joy that will wash over when I see my Savior in his glory and know from what wretchedness I came to what a state I have been lifted by grace.

Faithfulness Does Not Always Equal Effectiveness

An essential aspect of pastoral ministry is raising up leaders for the expansion of kingdom work and the next generation of church leaders. Writing to Timothy from prison as he senses he is about to depart from the world, Paul admonishes Timothy to hold fast to what he had been taught and to teach it to others. Speaking of the state of the times that are to come, he urges Timothy to persevere in teaching the message with which he had been entrusted and to raise up faithful men who would be able to do the same. Remember that word: faithful. (2 Tim. 2:2, 1:12-14, 4:1-6)

As I read blogs and see books and seminars advertised for the church, there seems to be an appropriate desire to raise up leaders, a recognition that this is a vital responsibility of the church. But I wonder as we identify and raise up leaders if what we’re aiming for is what we should be aiming for. I wonder if there are leaders who shouldn’t be leading, and some who are leading who shouldn’t be.

I say this because I see lots of material on raising up “effective” leaders who will make an impact; leaders who will bring about the desired results. I see classes, books, and seminars that focus on how to raise up this brand of effective leaders; when filling jobs, churches are looking for effective leaders.

A POTENTIAL PROBLEM

But there’s a potential problem with this: It’s possible to be effective and not be faithful and it’s possible to be faithful and not be apparently effective. What the Bible portrays as faithfulness does not always lead to what is often called “effectiveness.”

So in light of that, what is the first thing we look for in leaders? As we train leaders, what is the goal?

A BETTER SOLUTION

The Scriptures abound with examples, like Isaiah, of men who were faithful but not always effective in a quantifiable sense. If you consider Jesus’ training of his disciples and relevant texts in the Pastoral Epistles, the aim always seems to be faithfulness. Jesus did not choose guys with stellar corporate leadership qualities, but simple and unimpressive men who would follow him. In fact, the ministry that Jesus modeled for them was often counterintuitive, and it didn’t look very effective at times. Yet in every sense it was, and at every moment Jesus was the epitome of faithfulness (John 6:66, 8:29).

Or what about Paul? In his ministry, he knew that it is God who gives the increase. He knew that “if our gospel is veiled it is veiled only to those who are perishing” and that the only hope of what might be called “effectiveness” is God’s life-giving decree (1 Corinthians 3:6, 4:1-6). This is theological understanding of his duty to be faithful is perhaps why Paul was able to move on so confidently when his message was persistently rejected! (Acts 18:6) Writing to Timothy, Paul instructed him to be faithful to answer his opponents with gentleness. He does not guarantee they will come around if he does this, but recognizes that through his faithfulness, perhaps God will grant them repentance (2 Tim. 2:25).

FAITHFULNESS, THEN EFFECTIVENESS

Here’s the point: if we pay attention to Scripture, raising up faithful leaders is our unavoidable priority. At the same time, we need to recognize that faithfulness does not always guarantee “effectiveness.”

Many faithful men are overlooked because they don’t have the walk, talk, and swagger of an “effective” leader. They don’t have the numbers to show or the stories to tell. They aren’t charismatic, they don’t impress, but they are faithful! I’ve written before about the danger of elevating quantity over quality when sending people into ministry, especially overseas. Here I’m simply generalizing the point:  the quality we should look for more than anything else is not eagerness or even impressive and apparent fruitfulness, but faithfulness.

But what do we mean by “faithfulness”?

Faithfulness is ordering your life according to God’s revealed ways and means for bringing about his ends—regardless of what the immediate results may be.

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE FAITHFUL?

Faithful men are those who in every sphere of life show they believe God’s way is best, even when it doesn’t appear to be working. They are those who are willing to labor according to God’s design all of their life, even if they are labeled irrelevant and ineffective, because they rest their head on the pillow of God’s sovereignty, the promise that his Word will accomplish its purpose (Isaiah 55:11).

In that sense, faithful leaders will indeed always be effective leaders, but they will be effective because God’s ways and means always accomplish their intended purpose. Effectiveness is important, but if we are going to think about this theologically, we must admit that to a large degree what defines effectiveness is somewhat hidden in God’s sovereign decree. As I mentioned earlier, we are compelled to believe that Jesus was an effective leader, though that was not always apparent by our standard of measure. His effectiveness was that he did what the Father had given him to do (John 6:37-39). What does that leave us to do then? Embrace the truth that God will bring about his ends through his ordained means, therefore we are to be faithful to what he has revealed (Deut. 29:29).

Faithful leaders are men whose faith is not in what is seen, what is measurable, what can be boasted about in a newsletter, but in what is unseen, in the words that God has said.

Perhaps I’m just a small church pastor trying to justify my often unexciting and slow-moving ministry. I hope that’s not the case. I want results as badly as the next guy, and I pray for an effective ministry. But more than that, my ultimate aim is faithfulness and I pray my desire to be effective always takes a backseat. One practical way this shows itself is that as I raise up leaders, I don’t pass over unimpressive, yet faithful men.

 

The Glory of Womanhood

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.                                                                                                                  (Genesis 1:26-27 ESV)

  The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” Now out of the ground the LORD God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh;

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.            (Genesis 2:15-25 ESV)

It is International Women’s Day – a day when we should ponder with awe on the accomplishments of women across history and a day when we should thank the women in our lives for all they have done. It is also a time when we should praise God for women, created unique and in His image for His glory.

In Genesis chapter 1 we get a very cursory view of the creation of man and woman. We are presented with mankind’s unique position as created in the image of God – given dominion over the creation to tend it and care for it and given a mandate to fill that earth. But in chapter 2, Moses slows down and gives us a more detailed account of how God did this. We see that he creates the man, gives him his command, puts him in his place, but it seems man had been given a task that he was incapable of completing alone. A divine mandate in which something was missing. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t whole, it wasn’t the reflection of divine goodness which would reflect the diversity in unity that God displays in the Trinity, where separate persons of the same nature have distinct roles in perfect unity. Reflection of divine glory, you could say, was impossible without unity in diversity.

It is unlikely that Adam, with the amount of natural revelation he had, could have articulated the above but as he looked at the creation and as God brought the other creatures to him, it became clear that something wasn’t right. It seems that Adam needed to experience the reality that he had been called to do something that he was not capable of. A piece of the picture was missing. And it was. Woman was missing.

God, who is good and does what is good, allowed the man to see that it was not good for him to be alone – that something crucial was missing. So God took from the man and made a creature from his same substance, made in the Divine image, but gloriously unique. Like the man in many ways and yet made to display aspects of the divine glory that man was not equipped to.

By calling her a “helper”, God was not designating the woman as in any way inferior to man, but simply that she was the missing piece to the total goodness of creation. Man and woman, united as one, each fulfilling their distinct role in unity with each other would now be able to be faithful to their created purpose as image bearers of God.

The woman was of the same substance and nature as the man, yet she was gloriously unique. She was more than just the rest of the reproductive system, she was a helper suitable for his calling. Meaning that she fulfilled a role that she was uniquely made to fulfill, a glorious, image-bearing role that man was incapable of. In the Trinity, just as the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit and each operates in their own role in the radiance of one Divine glory, so also the man is not the woman and the woman not the man, their roles cannot be traded and together they reflect the divine glory they were created to reflect.

The glory of womanhood is found in the unique way the woman was created to reflect the image of the triune God.

This International Women’s Day, I hope that men will praise God for his wisdom and glory displayed in women and that women will be humbled by and rise to grasp the lofty purpose for which they were created.

7 Reasons You Should Start Studying Theology Right Now

Many Christians see theology, the study of God, as being the labor exclusively taken on by pastors and scholars. Such Christians are mistaken and are missing out on something incredible. And here are seven reasons why…

  1. Because to know God is the essence of eternal life (John 17:3)
  2. Because God has made himself known (Hebrews 1:1, Deuteronomy 29:29)
  3. Because by beholding Him we become like him (II Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2)
  4. Because by knowing God rightly we worship him rightly (John 4:23, Proverbs 19:2)
  5. Because we are commanded to get knowledge and to think on excellent things and there is nothing more excellent than God (Proverbs 23:12, Philippians 4:8)
  6. Because we should be always ready to give an answer for our hope and be ready to teach others (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:2)
  7. Because there is literally nothing greater that we could do than this (Jeremiah 9:23-24)

If these seven reasons are not enough, then I don’t know what is.

There are many amazing, sound resources available for you to get started on and I would love to make suggestions. For starters, feel free to take a listen and look at what we are doing to encourage the work of theology at Immanuel by clicking here.

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.”

(Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

Follow Your Pastors Into The Gray

Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)

That passage of Scripture is one that pastors do not like to preach, though they fantasize often about doing so. It is a passage that has been both abused by church leaders and ignored by church members. In a time when the church is plagued by individualism and rampant immaturity it is a passage that does not sit well with many. It is uncomfortable. But it is a passage that if looked at properly, can lead to increased joy and unity in the church.

Before I talk more about this passage, or at least one aspect of it, I want to start by saying what this passage is not. It is not a blanket statement that as a member of a church you must obey everything your pastors say and you must accept everything they speak as inspired truth. In fact, Paul writing to the Galatians had strong words for the teachers and leaders that were troubling the people there with false teaching. This is what he said there:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.(Galatians 1:8-9 ESV)

The Scriptures are clear that false teaching, false Gospel, and ungodly living is reason to rebuke a leader with 2-3 witnesses and to flee from that church if need be (1 Tim. 5:19). If a pastor leads you into sin or into false teaching you do not obey him, you do not follow him! Period!

So what is that passage in Hebrews talking about?

It is that which I want to address. As a Christian you have the responsibility to stand up for the truth of the Gospel with the Scriptures as your ultimate authority. And it is obvious that as your leaders lead you in the foundational, clear-cut truths of Scripture you should obey them. But what about the areas of every day life in the church that are not as clearly lined out? What about those things over which there may be various opinions? What about the gray areas?

It is my aim to encourage you to stand firm in the Gospel, ground yourself on the word of God, and then follow your pastors into the gray areas.

What is the gray?

What I mean by the gray is this: The grey is those things in the life of the church that are applications of Gospel truth and implications of Scriptural mandates which may not be clearly spelled out in Scripture. It is those necessary things in the life of the church which are matters of wisdom, things which may not necessarily be proven or refuted in a black-and-white manner from Scripture but are deduced from Scripture or hinted at in Scripture. Matters of application.

Gray areas in the life of the church are those things which you may have an opinion about – an opinion which you may even feel strongly is correct. Maybe it has to do with music choice, service style, preaching, leadership style, church government, kids’ ministry, ministry initiatives, etc. None of these things are necessarily unimportant, but they may qualify as gray areas.

You have the responsibility as a congregation to maintain a faithful Gospel ministry, faithfulness to God’s word comes first of all, but then in the day-to-day you are called to follow your pastors into the gray – to trust them even when you don’t agree because you know that in the black-and-white of the Gospel they are faithful. A failure to “let them do this” makes leadership, which is already a burden, a grief instead of a joy.

As a pastor I know what it is like to keep watch over souls with groaning and a little bit of nausea. It is not fun. I want to be held accountable for preaching the Gospel faithfully and caring for people’s souls. And I also want to hear the insights and views of those in my care. But pastors have to make decisions. They have to take biblical truth and make specific applications that they are convinced will be for God’s glory and the eternal good of their people. Every pastor knows what it is like to make those decisions with groaning and not with joy, because we know how it will be received. It is a profound burden.

It is not your job to judge the motives of your pastors, but simply to obey them insofar as they are not leading you astray from the Gospel. Your pastors are sinners saved by the same Gospel as you. They make mistakes. They too are being sanctified. There are many gray areas that you will follow your pastors into that you won’t agree with and you may be right! But it is a gray area. So you follow. You follow and when you hear your brothers and sisters begin to complain, you stop them. And guess what? As time goes on you may find that what you thought was “the gray” was not so gray after all. As you mature you may come to see that want was once unclear or even faulty to you, was actually just what you needed.

Faithful pastors are jealous for the souls of the people in their care. Like an overtly cautious father who doesn’t let their child go into the deep end just yet, they may falter and disappoint, holding back a little too long. But know they love you.

For the faithful pastor the things in the gray are not unimportant – just like they are not unimportant for you – but the difference that you need to acknowledge is that your pastors will stand before God and give an account for your soul. They will be held responsible for how they led in the gray areas. If your pastors have any awareness of their calling, any idea of the God whom they serve, any knowledge of the Father over whose children they watch – then you need to know they carry a heavy, heavy burden.

In closing, notice that the writer of Hebrews does not call us to begrudging obedience toward our leaders. Where we have the attitude, “Of course I will submit, but I need you to know that I don’t like it!” That is the posture that makes leading a grief for your pastors. Rather, have the humility to recognize that it is God that has made them you leaders (Acts 20:28), therefore, pray that God will give them wisdom and then trust that He will (James 1:5). Be aware of your own sin and immaturity (1 Cor. 10:12) and trust in the Great Shepherd who never fails – though his under-shepherds often do. And finally, thank God that you have pastors who love you enough to preach the Gospel to you and to put up with the stress and pain and spiritual struggle of church leadership. Marvel that  by God’s grace you have men in your life who are willing to be held accountable for your soul! Pray for them. Stand firm on the Gospel. And then follow them into the gray.

Don’t Take It Personally

Whether you are a pastor or just a Christian seeking to be faithful to disciple others, I have an encouragement for you.

There are times when your faithfulness in ministry will lead to opposition of the worst kind – opposition from those that you are ministering to. Nothing is more disheartening and nothing offers more temptation to grow bitter or weary in doing good than this. There are days when you will be tempted to love yourself and compromise because the price of truly helping people is just too high. I can promise you that if you are faithful you will face this kind of opposition. Why? Because even the Christians that you are ministering to have indwelling sin, just like you do. Immature Christians especially are going to have strongholds where old Lord or Lady Autonomy are putting up a fight. And when this happens I have a few simple words of encouragement.

Don’t take it personal. 

In the moment the opposition you face may seem like a personal attack, but it may not be.

When we meet people with God’s word, we meet them with an authority that is higher than us or them, and if we are doing our job we will present God’s word to them as such. And when the word of God with its authority and insight meets our sin and remaining grasp on autonomy (self-rule) often a fight ensues. And if you are being a channel of truth, it will feel often like the fight is against you. But it’s not.

Let’s admit that we are weak, that we fail in our delivery of truth. But the reality is that even Jesus, who had perfect delivery, faced more opposition than we will ever know. The bottom line is that sinners, even the saved sinners in your church, don’t like being told they are wrong, they don’t like having their self-rule violated. And neither do you at times I am sure. This is in part what makes ministry such a sacrifice. This what makes Christian love in the local church so hard. But don’t bear more of the burden than you must. Recognize the problem. Don’t take it personal.

What is the problem?

We get a good picture of the problem and how to respond to it in 1 Samuel 8 when God’s people rebel and demand their leader – the prophet Samuel – to give them a king so they can be like all the other nations.

When Samuel approaches God with their request God responds to him:

And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. (1 Samuel 8:7 ESV)

The people’s request may have seemed like an affront to Samuel’s faithful leadership. Perhaps he could have taken offense and lashed out at them. But God pointed out to him that the problem was bigger than a problem with Samuel, and yet this truth also lifted the burden of responsibility off Samuel. He did his job. He was faithful. He didn’t need to take their rebellious request personally.

As a pastor this is something I need to remind myself of often and as you disciple people or shepherd people, if you are faithful, you will need to hear these words as well. It is part of the messy business of helping people grow to look more like Jesus. And in the process, as you do not take offense but rather entrust yourself “to Him who judges justly” (1 Pt. 2:22) you also grow to become more like Christ.

This is also a reminder to us as we receive truth. We may not like the way it is spoken, we may not like the person speaking, but is our rejection of the messenger actually a rejection of the message?

Be faithful. Be humble. Don’t shy back from speaking the truth. People will get upset. They will say hurtful things. They will take their rebellion out on you. Chances are you have done the same thing at some point. This is a part of God’s authority colliding with sinful hearts. For the love of the church and for the love of God, keep speaking the truth in love, holding forth the Word of God for what it is – our final authority. And if they respond well, don’t boast. And if they respond poorly, don’t take it personal.

Appendix: Seeing Your Sanctification In The Ordinary

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4 ESV)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 ESV)

In my sermon on Friday I addressed in one point the “kingdom-minded, calling focused prayer” of Paul. Speaking on this I exhorted us to see the need for a shift in the priorities of our prayers and I called us to see that very often our prayers reflect what we see as best.

I also qualified my statements by saying that Scripture is clear that we should cast our cares on the Lord and lay our needs and burdens before him, yet we should seek his kingdom and his righteousness first of all. (1 Pt. 5:7, Phil. 4:6, Matt. 6:33)

As I reflected on the sermon later in the day, I felt that I should have shown how these two kinds of prayer requests, the kingdom-minded, calling-focused prayer and prayer for our ordinary needs in this life, go hand-in-hand toward the greater goal. The last thing I want to do is create an unhealthy division in the way we view life which pits the spiritual over against the physical, rather I want to encourage us to bring our temporal needs to the Lord in a way that is kingdom-minded and calling-focused, in a way which is consistent with the “already and not yet” that we live in as Christians – keeping our highest end in sight (to glorify God and enjoy him forever).

Every need, every trial, every twist and turn in life is an opportunity to be sanctified, to grow in Christlikeness. When our job goes bad, this is not irrelevant to my walk with the Lord. When I get sick, this is not outside of God’s bigger picture.

Every temporary burden is an opportunity for growth and we should view it as such. If we pray then merely for our problems to be resolved, then perhaps we are not as kingdom-minded and calling-focused as we should be, not as aware of the reality of God’s absolute sovereignty and love towards us as his children.

We pray that God would help us find a better job, but in and with that request we pray that God would work through this situation to form Christ in us. We even thank God for bringing this into our lives for our good as an opportunity to grow and experience joy that is further untethered from the stuff of now. We pray that God would heal our cousin, but above all we pray that God would be glorified in their life – or in the taking of it!

We don’t divide our prayers into two categories, but rather we seek to have an outlook on every, ordinary aspect of our lives that is centered on God’s glory. We pray seeing the potential for sanctification in every ordinary struggle.

This Is My Lot Forever ~ A Poem

Sweat beaded upon the brow

The terror of hell alarming –

Justice divine impending now

Is this my lot forever?

~

Justice confirmed in burning mind

The soul with no excuses –

For God to damn is right and true

Is this my lot forever?

~

Agreed to face that terrible end

That Great Glory offended –

Terrifying the truth unchanging

Is this my lot forever?

~

With dry mouth and pounding heart

To hope would seem presumptuous –

I dare not even lift my eyes

Is this my lot forever?

~

A glimmer of light invades the darkness

I startle but can’t believe it –

My doom, my death is surely proper

Surely, this is my lot forever

~

Trembling lips lisp a prayer

A pitiful resignation –

Oddly content to face the dark

Surely, this is my lot forever

~

Light so brilliant shocks the heart

Strange, sudden, unexpected –

What does it mean? Where is it from?

What is my lot forever?

~

Bursting in fullness, refulgent, and clear

Terror of doom nigh forgotten

The source of light is the source of doom

What is my lot forever?

~

Like sun on the face, like stone under feet

With confidence now overtaken

The One I did dread now strangely I love

What is my lot forever?

~

The glory that damned now the glory of grace

The Savior the glimmering prism

Beckoned now to look on his face – Dare I?

What is my lot forever?

~

His beauty, my sin, what a juxtaposition!

Daring to view his splendor

Captivated by what would have consumed

Let this be my lot forever!

~

Sin of others painted on Him

The Beautiful One before tribunal stood

Struck, then crushed, forsaken

Wasn’t that my lot forever?

~

Panting for breath, by discovery stunned

My sin already atoned for

The glory of terror now the glory of joy

This is my lot forever

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