Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Honor Of A Brother

Sometimes the most penetrating lessons are those learned from our kids. Though we may feel like we spend so much time teaching our kids manners, how to share and treat other kids, to obey, etc. - I often think that if we humbled ourselves, and opened our eyes we would learn some extraordinary lessons from our children about how to be loving, caring, sensitive, gentle, selfless, thoughtful, and giving. Now, I know kids might not consistently show such qualities of the heart but, let's be honest, neither do adults – and that is why we can learn from our children. And, as I stated a moment ago, the lessons we can learn from our kids often have the most impact.

Someone sent me a link this past week that is related to one our kids in Grace Bible Church. A couple weeks ago Peter DeFilippo hosted an Alex's Lemonade Stand in hopes of raising money for cancer research. While hosting a lemonade stand for such a cause is outstanding in and of itself, read below to see how Peter came about such an idea -

I am Peter DeFilippo, and I am hosting an Alex's Lemonade stand for cancer research. I have a brother with a brain tumor, and I was walking down the hall while visiting him at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. I saw a flyer about Lemonade days in the family room. I asked my Mom if we could do this, I would be glad. She said yes. It is important to me to raise money for this research so that people don't have cancer anymore.

I was overwhelmed by the simplicity, genuineness, concern, and selflessness that Peter so boldly and lovingly exhibited. The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 4.8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Could there be any earthly thing worth thinking about more than Peter DeFilippo's heart and actions. I've been thinking about it all week and the question that keeps coming to my mind, and challenging my heart, is – Could this be what Jesus meant when He said in Matthew 18.3, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." In fact, you should keep reading in that chapter as Jesus goes on to express his admiration for children.

I have found that as adults we often think that because we are bigger, have jobs, pay the bills, etc. that we are more mature than our kids – and perhaps we should be. I think that's what God intends for us. But are we, really? I'm not sure that’s necessarily the case –
• intelligence does not equal maturity
• possessions do not equal maturity
• positions of authority do not equal maturity
• popularity does not equal maturity

Well, then, what does equal maturity? We need to be humble and teachable enough to learn from anyone and any circumstance the Lord may bring into our lives – from the youngest of children to the most painful event. That may be the greatest (but not the only) sign of maturity. I am positive Luke DeFilippo does not always make his brother Peter's life easier. Yet Peter is able to take his attention off of himself and express a genuine, God-given love and concern for Luke. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about having a love and concern for others. Thank you for teaching us about selflessness and sacrifice. Thank you, Peter, for teaching us about unity. Peter, thank you for teaching us about what it means to be a Christian.

Let's think about these things that Peter has taught us – for they true, honorable, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise.

By the way, Peter raised $1040 by hosting an Alex's Lemonade Stand honor of Luke – not that it mattered.

Answer The Question

As much as we might not like it (and even try to fight it) judgment is a reality of life. We make judgments, and we are judged, daily – often without even realizing it. One of the most well known, and often misquoted, verses in the Bible is Matthew 7.1 – “Judge not, that you be not judged.”

What so many people fail to understand is that not all judgment is bad. Judgment can bring (among other things) improvement, progress, even salvation (as we see most explicitly in the gospel). In fact, one of the most vital questions one needs to address when sharing the gospel is, “From what are we saved?” You water down the gospel if you tip-toe around this question or refuse to address it altogether.

This past week I spent some time in Florida visiting my father. Now, I would consider myself to be a very alert individual. I know who is around me and, in general, what they are doing. So you can imagine my irritation (being the every gracious and patient one that I am) when suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, a gentleman appeared in front of me, blocking my forward progress. He looked me in the eye and asked directly, "Are you saved?"

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this intrusion. I uttered in response the first thought that came into my mind, "Saved from what?" All right, I'll be honest, that was my second thought. What I was first thinking, but did have the grace not to say, was, "Who the heck are you?" But when I responded, "Saved from what?" I think the man who stopped me was as surprised by my question as I had been by his. He began to stammer and stutter. Obviously, he wasn’t quite sure how to respond and was ill-prepared to listen and have a conversation. And one might even assume he just wanted to preach at me.

After stuttering for a moment, the man seemed to catch his breath enough to say, "Well, you know what I mean. You know, do you know Jesus?" Then he tried to give me a brief summary of the gospel.

This unexpected encounter left an impression on me that made its way into my thoughts periodically throughout my trip. I was torn about what to think because, on the one hand, I was delighted in my soul that someone cared enough about me, even though I was a stranger, to stop me and ask about my salvation; but, on the other hand, it was clear that, though this man had a zeal for salvation, he had little understanding of what salvation is. He was using Christian jargon. He was throwing Christian clich├ęs at me - and the words fell from his lips without being processed by his mind. As a result, his words were empty of content. Clearly, the man had a love for Jesus and a concern for people. Few Christians have the courage to engage perfect strangers in evangelistic discussion. But sadly, he had little understanding of what he was so zealously trying to communicate.

Dr. R.C. Sproul writes a very, very good children's book called – The Prince's Poison Cup. In it, Dr. Sproul clearly and brilliantly helps us see we cannot have the cup of God's fellowship without Christ first drinking the cup of God's wrath for us. The basic upshot of Dr. Sproul's book is - We are saved by God, for God, from God.

• Could a statement be more aggressive – We are saved by God…
• Could statement be more gracious and reconciling – We are saved by God, for God…
• Could a statement be more merciful – We are saved by God, for God, from God.

This what Paul is saying in 1 Thessalonians 1.9-10 – “For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” This is something I try to keep my eye on when hearing gospel presentations. How is the problem being described – because there is a problem. In fact, there's an enormously gigantic problem and it isn’t just “broken shalom” - it also includes the judgment and wrath of God.

Gospel means good news – it's the good news of Jesus Christ. However, understand the news can't be good if there isn’t first, or if it's not addressing, bad news. The bad news is our depravity. It's the judgment of God under which we fall. The bad news is that our rebellion has led us to an eternity of God's fury being poured out on our heads. It's the cup we're served. If you can't, first, be honest about the problem, the bad news that dooms us, then the good news really isn’t good – it's nonsense.

So as we (personally) dive deeper into the depths of the gospel, and as we (personally and corporately) bring the gospel to the world to which we're called, let's always keep the bad news, the reality into which we are born, as the prelude to the good news. When discussing and explaining the gospel, we must answer the question, “From what are we saved?” It's then, and only then, that the gospel is truly good and Christ is exalted to His rightful place in our lives.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Re-Telling Story

I love listening to our oldest daughter, Isabella. This stage of her life is fascinating to me because she retains so much of what she's taught. I almost can't believe some of things she knows and I love listening to her tell me the things about which she learns. For example, she loves telling jokes. I use the word joke loosely because they really aren't jokes and they really aren't funny. What is funny, though, is how funny she finds these "jokes". I find myself laughing at how hard she laughs. Now, sometimes it gets to be a little much because she likes to tell, and tell, and tell, and tell these jokes again – to the point I have to say, "Let's take a little break, Pixie."

Much like Isabella likes to tell and re-tell her jokes, the Lord desires we reflect and re-tell ourselves about the glorious way in which He has revealed Himself. In fact, ONE OF THE IMPORTANT FUNCTIONS of
worship is recital - a “re-telling” of the wonderful things that God has done.

• Psalm 75.1 - We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds.
• Psalm 78.2-4 - I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the LORD, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

The New English Bible translation of Psalm 75.1 is a little closer to the Hebrew – “Thy name is brought very near to us in the story of thy wonderful deeds”. God’s “Name” is part of His gracious self-disclosure. It is a revelation of who He is (Ex. 3:14; 34:5-7, 14). God’s “Name” then, is brought very near to us in the story of His wonderful deeds - that is, who God is, disclosed in the accounts of what He has done.

Thus the re-telling of what God has done is a means of grace to bring God near to His people. Believers who spend no time reviewing and pondering in their minds what God has done, whether they are alone and reading their Bibles or joining with other believers in corporate adoration, should not be surprised if they rarely sense that God is near and eventually turn away from Him – they don’t know Him. They have loved His works more than His being.

The emphasis this psalm makes regarding God is that he is the sovereign disposer - the “disposer supreme” (as one commentator puts it). It is wonderfully stabilizing to us to rest in such a God. He declares, “At the set time that I appoint. I will judge with equity"(75:2). It is hard to imagine a category more suggestive of God’s firm control than the set time. Yet mere control without justice would just be fatal. This God, however, not only sets the appointed times, but judges uprightly (75:2).

Further, in this broken world there are cataclysmic events that seem to threaten the entire social order. So elsewhere David ponders, "When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?" (Psalm 11:3). But here we are reassured, for God himself declares, "When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars" (75:3). So the arrogant who may think themselves to be the pillars of society are duly warned - Boast no more (Psalm 75:4).

Tell and re-tell God’s wonderful deeds to yourself, your children, your friends – believers and unbelievers alike. Let's bring His Name near.