April 17

March 2012

The Blessing of a Healthy Community at Bethel

Recently my family and I attended a session at NMU on preventing suicide, drug abuse, and self-abuse among young people.  The presenters started a campaign a few years ago selling T-shirts with the statement “To Write Love on Her Arms” on the shirts.  The thought came from an encounter with a young woman who had written an abusive statement on her arm and Jamie, the head of the organization, wished he could right love on her arms to turn around her negative thinking.  The T-shirts caught on thru a website and have sold like hotcakes.  In addition, multitudes of young people have contacted Jamie and his assistants to tell their sad stories of destructive actions with drugs and self-abuse.  Both of my children were wearing their T-shirts which they had purchased over the internet after the campaign caught on in Marquette.

Jamie and his assistant Denny, who had come to tell his story of beating drug-addiction, appeared to be Christians by some of the things they said.  They have been invited all over the country to speak at universities and other venues about how young people can get help.  The Great Lakes Rooms at NMU were packed with college students.  During a Q & A session many young adults rose to tell stories of coping with addiction, fears of suicide and similar problems.  They spoke to Jamie and Denny as though they were personal friends.  These very compassionate men who do this ministry full-time clearly have struck a chord with many lonely, struggling young people.

The main gist of their advice was that we all need a healthy community to turn to for love, strength, and a sense of belonging.  Denny’s life was turned around when his mother convinced him to go on a church mission’s trip.  He was antagonistic to Christianity, but went anyway and discovered a man who followed up on him afterward out of concern.  Realizing somewhat thought that much of him to pursue him afterward changed his life.  That one man’s follow-up and the positive experience of the mission’s trip caused Denny to reject the drug-culture that had become his unhealthy community.

As my family talked about this later, I realized how blessed we are to have a healthy community here at Bethel.  The Bible calls this koinonia  fellowship, Acts 2:41.  The early believers were devoted tokoinonia because their former community had become hostile and destructive to them.  In the church they found the love, strength and sense of belonging we all need to make it.

Recently we went thru some family stresses that caused us to feel very weak and helpless.  Because of the love we feel here at Bethel we felt permission to be vulnerable and ask for help.  We found deep empathy, the sharing of similar stories, listening ears, valuable advice, and friends willing to drop everything and come to our aid.  We came out of the experience praising God for the wise, mature, loving believers God has brought to Bethel.  As I listened to Jamie and Denny, I realized I had just experienced what a healthy community is.

We have a tremendous resource in the body of Christ here at Bethel.  Let me urge you to spend time with Bethel people, get to know them, and learn to love them.  Worship God with them, study the Bible with them, and serve in ministry alongside of them.  When stresses arise don’t feel you have to go it alone.  Be vulnerable.  Seek wisdom and help.  You will find an incredible community that wants to be there for you.  And you will become a part of that community that is there for others.

Your friend, in koinonia, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

February 2012

Mastering the Art of Working with People

What is the common denominator to the following situations?  Two out of three people get fired for the same basic reason.  This is one of the major reasons foreign missionaries come home from the mission field.  USAToday reported that only 12% of people with MBAs possess this skill.  This is the number one source of conflict in any given ministry situation (teaching, youth ministry, board meetings, etc.)  If you guessed “the inability to get along with people,” you are right.

On a personal note, I have seen many people hurt and/or offended in church or ministry situations because pastors and/or church leaders were calloused, indifferent, or unaware of the damage their overbearing or insensitive actions or reactions caused.  As one observer sadly said to me about the people who left his church, “Those people could’ve been reclaimed had the pastor and other leaders reached out to them with loving concern for their welfare.”  But this is not a problem just for pastors/leaders.  As the opening observations above reveal, this is a problem for people on many different levels and in many different positions.

This is why the Bible has much to say about interpersonal relationships.  Whole books of the Bible like Proverbs or James are dedicated to this.  Indeed, Jesus taught that agape love is tested best by how we treat those who rub us the wrong way, Matthew 5:43-47.  We would do well in mastering people skills to think deeply on what the Bible teaches in this area.  Let’s consider just a few skills from Proverbs 18 that are practical and much needed.

Wise people work at being sociable and actively seek advice from others.  Proverbs 18:1-2 teach, “An unfriendly man pursues selfish ends; he defies all sound judgment.  A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.”  Clearly here working at friendly sociability and valuing advice from others are keys to good relationships.  Foolishness and unfriendliness characterize those who don’t do these things.  They are not using “sound judgment.”

Wise people are patient listeners who care enough about others to understand them before advising them.  Proverbs 18:13 counsels, “He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.”  People with good relationship skills have a certain humility about themselves that causes them to value others equally as themselves.  They want to understand other people and be patient with them before giving them advice.  People can tell when those presuming to advise them have that attitude and it creates a greater willingness to listen.

Wise people know that generous actions soften people’s hearts and open the way into their lives. Proverbs 18:16 affirms, “A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great.”  This proverb is not encouraging manipulation but rather sincerity in being generous toward others.  It’s a me-first world.  When Tim Tebow spends time after his first playoff victory with a young girl who has endured 72 surgeries people are impressed.  How many wealthy, famous athletes do that right after a big victory?  Such generous, humble actions have worked Tebow into many people’s hearts.  He is a living example of this proverb.

To be effective we must be effective with people.  Let’s learn, change, and be a blessing.

Your friend, needing to learn, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

January 2012

Radical Christian Discipleship & the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock

The Apostle Paul’s experience in Acts 21:12-14 gets to the heart of radical Christian discipleship, if I may use that expression often used by Pastor John Piper.  Here’s what happened:

When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered them, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart?  I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”  When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

Two echoes should immediately come to mind from Jesus’ life and teaching.  1) Jesus’ own struggle in Gethsemane in Mark 14:32-42 is echoed by Paul:  “Take this cup [of death] from me.  Yet not what I will, but what you will.”  2) Jesus’ teaching on discipleship in Mark 8:31-37 is modeled by Paul:  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross [death to self] and follow me.” 

This leads me to define Christian discipleship this way:  The heart of discipleship is unconditional obedience   to the will of Christ accepting self-denial and self-sacrifice for His Name’s sake.  Let’s notice some features of this definition:  1) Disciples have decided that Christ’s will is the highest good.  2) Disciples have decided that obedience to Christ is their main responsibility.  3) Disciples have accepted the fact that obedience will be costly.  4) Disciples are willing to pay the cost in personal loss and hardship to follow Jesus’ will for their lives.  5) Disciples know that great blessing will come to many others because of their commitment and this is what sustains them.

One of the great examples of this radical discipleship is the American Pilgrims who founded Plymouth Rock Colony.  They concluded that God’s will for them to reform the Church of England was to establish an American plantation as a model of Christian discipleship for the entire world to see.  They arrived at Plymouth Rock in November after a 3-month journey on the Mayflower and by the end of March half their number had died from the harsh conditions.  William Bradford served the colony (36 yrs) as its longest serving governor thru deep hardship and personal loss.  He and his wife left their only child behind in the care of relatives because he was not old enough to make the trip.  Upon returning from scouting Plymouth Rock after arrival, Bradford learned his wife had fallen overboard on the Mayflowerand drowned.  He had to decide to return to Europe to be with his son, or to stay on and help Plymouth Colony.  At 30-yrs-old he chose to stay on and became the guiding force of Plymouth Rock that so influenced the direction of American democracy and history.  We owe a huge debt to that colony and Bradford in particular.

But here is the point:  The entire Pilgrim experiment was motivated by radical discipleship.  Whether Bradford made the right decision or not is debatable and is not really for us to judge one way or the other.  The point is that he was convinced that staying with the colony was God’s will so there could be no going back, even at the cost of never seeing his son again.  Most of us will never be called upon to make such sacrifice.  But the same principles that impelled Jesus, Paul, Bradford, and the Pilgrims must impel us.  Let’s enter 2012 intent on following Jesus wholeheartedly paying whatever cost His will demands, knowing that succeeding generations will reap the benefits of our discipleship.

Your friend, a disciple in the New Year, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

December 2011

Keeping the Sacred in Our Holidays

I don‟t know how you feel, but I find it disturbing that Christmas sales, decorations, and music begin in the stores before the Thanksgiving holiday. The rush to capitalize on the consumerism of Christmas has now made Thanksgiving seem like the forgotten holiday. It‟s largely now a day for turkey, football, and family, and the real reason for the day – thanking God for His manifold blessings to us – is mostly ignored. The crowning insult to Thanksgiving is that Black Friday is the day people really look forward to which is now the anti-Thanksgiving day as people greedily rush not to give thanks but to get more. One girl in Muskegon fell in the rush at Wal-Mart and was trampled upon ending up in the hospital. She‟s fortunate she was not seriously injured. Local officials were so shocked at how busy the police and fire departments were Thursday night through Friday that they have asked retailers to reconsider the madness for next year. Are we losing any sense of the sacred in our holidays?

Not long ago, a professor of psychology in one of our great universities gave a word suggestion test to his class of 40 students. He instructed them to write the word “Christmas,” and all the class did so. “Now,” said the professor, “right after the word „Christmas‟ write the first thought that flashes through your mind regarding that day.” When the papers were turned in, such answers were given as “tree,” “holly,” “mistletoe,” “presents,” “turkey,” “holiday,” “carols,” and “Santa Claus,” but not one had written, “the birthday of Jesus.” As there was no room for the baby Jesus in the inn, there is no room for Him today in the celebration of Christmas. As we watch how consumerism has overshadowed even Thanksgiving, we know it is also true of Christmas itself. What to do?

Be careful to include reflections on Jesus in your holiday activities. Our Christmas series this year on the true nature of the babe in the manger is designed to do this very thing. When we really understand what the Bible says about His nature as the God-Man nothing else should overshadow our awe at Him. Put yourself in a frame of mind during our services to worship Him and then talk with friends and family about a few things you have learned.

Participate in our Christmas caroling this year. Going to our seniors and singing about the real meaning of Christmas with other believers puts the emphasis on Christ and giving rather than acquiring. The simple effort to participate in Christ-centered events will help you stay focused on Him. Along this line, plan to attend our Christmas Eve service that is being specially designed this year to be a family Christmas around the true meaning of Christ.

Consider investing in an Advent Calendar this year and taking some time each week to go through the devotions and object lessons that emphasize various aspects of the Christmas story. It will help you glory in what you have in Christ and balance out the secularism that is overtaking our most sacred holidays. God bless you. Have a Christ-filled Christmas!


Your friend, rejoicing in Jesus, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

November 2011

The Importance of Relationally Based Ministry

One of the most important principles of ministry for the Lord that we can grasp is the absolute necessity of healthy relationships as the basis for effective ministry.  In other words, we can have everything else right in terms of skill, giftedness, and knowledge, but if our relationships with each other are wrong then our ministry will be wrong.  And we will undercut the very message we are trying to convey.  Let me share some quotes I have heard that emphasize this.

God will not bless a divided church, said by a well-known pastor.

Your family is not a part of your ministry; your family is your ministry, said by Howard Hendricks to young men preparing to be pastors, including yours truly.

The first one about a divided church that is racked by dissension and unforgiveness is that it undercuts the very message we proclaim.  Paul writes in Philippians 1:27, “Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”  Clearly here, the gospel of Christ is not only what we believe but also how we behave.  Paul is saying that we can conduct ourselves in ways that deny the gospel we claim to believe.  One principle of the gospel is that we are reconciled by Christ in one bodyunto God, Ephesians 2:14-18.  If that is what we proclaim but then live unreconciled to one another we are teaching a different gospel – one that does not reconcile believers to each other nor heals relational breakdown any better than the unsaved world.

Consider a church I know in Lower Michigan that at one time was the largest church in our Baptist conference in all of Michigan.  Over a period of many years that church was so racked by various squabbles that they split three times with three new churches splintering off of them.  An interim pastor said right from the pulpit in a sermon that they had better change the way they operated because they were getting a reputation.  Can you imagine driving by that church with its glorious past only now to think, “That’s the church that split three times?  I wonder what’s wrong with them.”  Doing the hard stuff of working through disagreements, respecting one another, and “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” could’ve spared that church’s testimony, Ephesians 4:1-3.  We must do the relational work if we are to adorn the gospel.

Consider the next quote by Dr. Hendricks.  It’s easy to separate what happens at home with what we do in our ministry.  It is easy to think we can be at odds in our marriage but still do “our thing” effectively at church.  But my old professor was right.  In fact, Peter says to husbands that the way they treat their wives will determine whether God answers their prayers or not, 1 Peter 3:7.  That’s how seriously God takes this.  Again, if the gospel reconciles us to each other as well as to God but we live in perpetual unresolved tension at home we are living a gospel opposite of the one we are proclaiming.  It will not only catch up to us but repel the world we are trying to reach.

Because of quotes like the two above I became aware of this for which I thank God.  At times in my ministry because of my wrong reactions before church I have had to apologize to Ellen right during worship before I preached.  I knew that not to do so would render my sermon offensive to God.  I thank God for those humbling experiences.  I thank Him for helping us do the sometimes very hard work of being reconciled.  Remember, effective ministry is always based on right relationships.

Thanking God for you, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

October 2011

The Two Pillars of Assurance

Having the assurance of salvation is one of the most important blessings a person can have.  We can’t really serve God effectively and accomplish His purpose for our lives if we aren’t absolutely sure we are children of God.  John Wesley found this out personally.  He came to Georgia as an ordained priest in the Church of England to do missionary work in the American Colonies.  He failed miserably going home to England totally defeated in large part because he did not have the assurance of his own salvation.  What a difference when Wesley finally came to that assurance!

In our EE ministry we find multiple people, with even church backgrounds, who are unsure they have eternal life.  For many, they don’t even know it is possible to be sure.  Then, on the other hand, multitudes in America today have a false assurance of salvation based on a superficial decision someone led them to make being told they should never doubt their salvation from then on.  Sadly, there are many people we could only wish would doubt their salvation.  That would actually do them some spiritual good for they have a false security even Jesus warned of, see Matt. 7:21-23.

As one who doubted his own salvation for many years, I have struggled with how a person can have a true assurance of salvation.  I believe there are two pillars we must lean on.  The first is that assurance of salvation is based on faith in God’s promises.  John 6:47 says, “I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life.”  It is obvious that Jesus means he who believes the promises that He has just made in John 6:  that He is the bread of life, come down from heaven, to give His flesh for the life of the world, who is to be received by faith resulting in eternal life.  So assurance of salvation is objective; it is based upon taking God at His word and believing on Jesus Christ for eternal salvation.  It is wonderful to know that one’s faith is resting in Jesus Christ in this way.

But there is a second pillar that is vitally important.  Eternal life accomplishes in us a dramatic change of life.  This is the subjective side of assurance.  We now have God’s nature implanted within us by the Holy Spirit and this nature begins to change our desires, behavior and outlook, see 2 Peter 1:4.  While these changes don’t bring eternal life like faith does, they do confirm its real presence.  Of these changes three should begin to show themselves to strengthen our assurance of salvation.  1 John 3:9-10 says we should 1) Stop sinning as a lifestyle choice, v. 9, 2) Start living right as a lifestyle choice, v. 10, and 3) Love other Christians with practical deeds of love, v. 10.

While Christians will never be sinless, we should sin less.  And we particularly should not want to defend and continue in sinful lifestyle choices.  There is a difference between struggling with sin and pursuing sinful lifestyles.  All Christians struggle and do sin, but they don’t continue in sinful lifestyles defending them as okay.  That’s a sign one is not a Christian no matter what is claimed.  Also, it is a sign we are saved if we love our spiritual family.  God’s nature within us draws us to other Christians in fellowship, corporate worship, Bible study, service, etc.  If we don’t want to participate with the family of God, that’s good evidence we don’t belong to it.

To summarize:  salvation is a free gift of grace which is life-transforming.  Both are true.  Faith is the grounds for assurance but life-change is the evidence of assurance.  Where these two exist, there is the happy security that we are indeed new born again.

At peace with assurance, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

September 2011

Lord, What Are You Teaching Us in All of This?

One of the questions going through our minds in response to the recent losses in our family has been,“Lord, what are you teaching us in all of this?”  During a time of his deepest trial a pastor friend of mine once said to me, “The trials we go through are never wasted events, but they are always preparation for future usefulness.”  I am convinced that is true.  It is right, then, to ask what the Lord is teaching us and how He may be shaping us to serve Him better.

One thing that has been confirmed by experience is that the Lord gave us the body of Christ because we really do need each other.  I always knew that we are “members one of another” as 1 Corinthians 12 puts it, but now I have experienced it.  Just as my hand instinctively reaches out to rub a sore muscle making it feel better, so the body of Christ has reached out to us in each loss making us feel better.  Down in Muskegon we are connected with three churches – Ellen’s home church, my home church, and the church I pastored.  All three came alongside of us supporting, encouraging, and ministering to us so that we knew we were not alone.  And of course, the outpouring of love from Bethel has only multiplied our comfort.  How grateful we are for our deep involvement with the body of Christ over many years.  It has been an investment with amazing returns in our time of need.

This morning I read that “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways, says the Lord.”  That is a harder lesson to learn but one that we have to accept and believe is best if we are to refrain from resenting our trials.  After spending eight years of their retirement devotedly caring for Ellen’s middle brother, the most natural thing in the world for us to think that God would do after David’s death was to allow Ellen’s folks time to visit their only grandkids in Marquette enjoying all the things they had often been denied.  It seemed natural that such a sterling example of love would be repaid by extra time to make up for lost time.  When cancer intervened and prevented that it seemed so unfair.  Ellen’s mom was so deserving.  Lord, surely you should’ve prevented this!  It is still hard to come to grips with what to us is the logic of fairness.  But in this we are judging God according to human standards.  We also can’t see the big picture and what God may bring out of this for some great purpose.  Maybe with what has happened lives will be changed in ways they wouldn’t have otherwise.  Such close deaths and the inspiration of lives lived for Christ will carry a lasting impact.  Maybe a Christian legacy impacting us deeply at two funerals is more important in the long run than a few more fleeting years here on earth.  Deep down we know that is what we all live for and why Christ saved us.

Maybe a final lesson, at least for now, is the importance of recognizing the shortness of time.  Just talk about cancer and you hear additional stories from almost everyone.  Today the UPS man told me about a three-yr-old relative with large cancerous tumors.  It strikes everyone both young and old.  We plan on living, but the truth is that we may be closer to death than we realize.  Charles Spurgeon once said,“Serve the Lord with all your might while you can.”  “Then when the evil days come and you no longer can, you won’t live with regrets over wasted time.”  That is such good council.  “Boast not yourself of tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth,” says James.  Give the Savior our best so we can meet Him without regrets.

Your friend, learning in the hard times, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

June 2011

Jesus’ Great Promise Revisited

Easter Sunday I spoke on Jesus’ great promise from John 11:25-26: “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” That Sunday my brother-in-law, David, had his 50th birthday and I didn’t think then that just 15 days later he would pass away into the fullness of Jesus’ promise. Then while we were downstate for David’s funeral I stopped by my parents’ graves. There engraved on each of their grave markers in shining bronze were the words of Jesus’ promise again. I had forgotten that we had chosen those words for their markers at my mother’s death seven years ago.

Needless to say this great promise of Jesus has taken on new heights of significance now that my brother-in-law and both my parents have experienced the amazing reality of what Jesus promised. Let’s revisit the wonder of what Jesus said is awaiting all who know Him as their personal Savior.

When Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life,” He was claiming prerogatives that only Almighty God has. Only God is the source of life and only He can bring resurrection life from death. Jesus then was both claiming to be God and promising to do what only God can do for those who trust in Him. Then so we will understand the implications of such an astounding claim, Jesus goes on to explain the meaning of both of those claims for our entire being – both body and soul.

“I am the resurrection” refers to the believer’s body. Here Jesus says that “even though he dies” (physically), “he who believes in me will live” (physical resurrection). Jesus is clearly promising that someday the bodies of believers will be raised again from the grave to experience a new physical life based upon His resurrection from the dead. We know this will happen at Jesus’ return when He calls forth the bodies of believers to be glorified and made like unto His glorified body. So the believer’s death is only temporary. We are not saying goodbye, but only see you later. There will be a reunion in which the body will triumph over the grave and the disciples’ joy at seeing Jesus after His resurrection will become our joy when we see Him and each other again.

“I am the life” refers to the soul. The question we have is where are our loved ones now? Are they in the cold ground unconscious until Jesus returns? No says Jesus. “Whoever lives and believes in me” (spiritual life), “will never die” (spiritual resurrection). Jesus affirms that believers “live in me” meaning they have experienced a spiritual resurrection. The Bible calls that being born again or receiving eternal life. Jesus said in John 3:16 that such a person “will never perish but have everlasting life.” To perish is to be separated from God, but to have everlasting life means to never be separated from God. So Jesus means the soul of the Christian is never separated from God but goes on living where God is in heaven. So there is future resurrection hope for the body, but immediate hope for the soul. We have comfort not just for the future but for the present, right now.

Many years ago a nationally known American evangelist explained it like this: “Someday you will read in the papers that I am dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. At that moment I shall be more alive than now. I shall have gone up higher, that is all—out of this old clay tenement into a house that is immortal; a body that death cannot touch, that sin cannot taint, a body fashioned like unto His glorious body. That which is born of the flesh may die. That which is born of the Spirit will live forever.” In Jesus, our loved ones live and will live. Both are true. Thank you Lord Jesus.

Your friend, thanking Jesus, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

April 2011

Our 1st Duty in Every Situation is to “Be a Christian 1st

For some time I have been thinking about our most important responsibility in the midst of life’s duties, pressures, stresses, and problems.  I believe it is always to realize that no matter what else may happen God wants us to be Christians 1st and foremost in how we respond.  Since actions and reactions are what other people judge us by, when we are frustrated, stressed or upset by things our number one priority is to act, react, or speak as we know Christians should.  On the positive side, this is how we “adorn the gospel” and set it forth in its most attractive fashion.  On the negative side, in an unguarded moment we can do great damage to our testimony by failing to be Christians 1st.  So a little phrase has been going thru my mind recently:  “In this situation, trying as it may be, my #1 duty is to be a Christian first in how I act, react, or speak.”  Perhaps more than anything else this will show that we have matured in Christ and will attract others to Him.  Consider 2 verses.

 

Ephesians 4:29 admonishes us (Amplified Bible):  Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk [ever] come out of your mouth, but only such [speech] as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it.  This is a very strong negation as well as positive affirmation.  Linked as it is with bitterness, indignation, and wrath in v. 31 we can see that the Apostle Paul is very concerned that we be Christians 1st in our speech.

 

The negative side is that we should never be guilty of “gutter talk” – crude, obscene, coarse, or disrespectful language.  Growing up my mother would not let us say words like “darn” or “heck” because they were too close to other bad words.  While that may have been extreme it did cause us to be very careful we were not picking up the gutter language of the culture.  The positive side is that our words are to be “others-centered.”  Notice the key thing to being a Christian 1st is how our speech affects “others.”  That has to be our central concern – how is what my lips will utter going to impact others?  Paul gives three standards:  goodor beneficial words that build people up rather than tear them down, fitting words that meetneeds rather than simply venting or blowing off steam to no one’s help, words of blessingthat leave people feeling like they’ve been in the presence of the God of grace.  When we meet these standards we are being Christians 1st in our speech.

 

Colossians 1:11-12 speaks of mature Christians who show maturity by being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, . . .  Note here again that it is under stressful and un-ideal conditions that maturity is best revealed by acting as Christians 1stEndurance speaks of not quitting and running out on others when things are disappointing. Patience is forbearance toward others and not lashing back, seeking vengeance, or refusing to forgive.  Joyfully giving thanks is the refusal to give into cynicism or negativism.  God is the One who has ordered our circumstances so we remain positive and hopeful rather than develop a critical spirit.  Reacting in these ways shows we have mastered, by His grace, being Christians 1st in our actions.

 

Your friend, seeking to be a Christian 1st, Pastor Brian (:-}).

April 17

March 2011

The Remedy for America’s Language Deterioration

After writing last month’s article I was sitting in a public place when two teenagers – boy and girl – sat down near me.  At one point the girl uttered a profane word.  Grieved over her language I turned to look at her.  I almost couldn’t help it.  So unembarrassed was she that she didn’t even notice my look.  She went right on talking to her boyfriend oblivious to how offensive her language was in a public setting.

This reveals to me new trends in the use of profane language.  I had friends growing up who swore, but only when they were hopping-mad, not as a routine part of their daily conversation.  Now it has become a customary part of daily speech.  A second observation is that we are now hearing this from young girls.  Generally women, being the fairer sex, are less prone to adopting crude ways of behaving than men are.  The old comment “Watch your language, ladies are present,” was the common concern of even the most uncouth of men.  To hear teenage girls swear like a sailor as part of daily conversation in a public building with adults around without even flinching is a new low in the corruption of our culture.

Let’s now consider the impact that an encounter with the Living God had on the Prophet Isaiah’s tongue.  Isaiah 6:1-13 records one of the most amazing visions ever of the Lord in all His majesty.  It is reminiscent of John’s visions in Revelation.  The first thing Isaiah – the best man in Israel at the time – felt was his own sinfulness.  He cried “Woe to me!  I am ruined! . . . my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty,” v. 5.  What about himself did Isaiah feel would bring the imminent judgment of God?  “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” v. 5.  As one pastor paraphrased Isaiah, “I have a dirty mouth and I live among a people with dirty mouths.”  The first evidence Isaiah realized that he and Israel were desperately sick was their collective dirty mouth.  Of course, the next action in vv. 6-7 was an angel touching Isaiah’s lips with a live coal from the altar cauterizing his mouth and cleansing his guilt.  How instructive this is for America today.

1st — We are a desperately sick nation for even our women and children now have dirty mouths.

2nd — Only a renewed vision of God’s holiness will cause us to see how wicked this really is.  (Note:  One critical way of recovering this renewed vision is for the church to teach the utter sinfulness of sin in light of the utter holiness of God’s Law as a reflection of His pure character.  Unless people see themselves like Isaiah did as totally condemned before a majestic God whom their tongues have offended, they will never feel the weightiness of the guilt of their sin.)

3rd — The only remedy for dirty mouths is a thorough cleansing only God can give us.  (Note 2:  Isaiah could not change his mouth himself.  Jesus said, “Out of the heart the mouth speaks.”  It is too ingrained in us.  Isaiah needed an angel to bring the cleansing coal from the altar to change him.)

4th — This cleansing of our mouths is a painful experience.  (Note 3:  The fleshy part of the lips is very sensitive to a burning coal.  Cleansing is painful involving guilt and repentance.  Are we willing to lovingly confront each other and even people around us, as George Washington did, over offensive language to arouse guilt and bring repentance?  Will we risk their displeasure to save their souls?)

5th — The cleansing of our mouths prepares us to serve the Lord effectively in a corrupt culture.  (Note 4:  After his cleansing Isaiah said “Here am I, send me,” v. 8.  To reach a foul culture we must be known as those who talk differently.  Our speech must be so pure and clean, so gracious and considerate, so helpful and uplifting, that people can literally hear by the way we talk that we have renewed hearts.  In a day of crudeness and disrespect God’s people have a chance to shine if we will.)

 

Your friend, hoping to shine in speech, Pastor Brian (:-}).