Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Take a Break

The disciples had just returned from a missions trip with a crowd following them, keeping them so busy they are not even able to sit down and eat. Jesus, showing compassion, says Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest. (Mark 6.31)

Jesus not only said to them take a break, he also instructed them (and us) about Biblical rest. While we can feel guilty about rest, Jesus encourages us to take a break. What do we learn about rest in this passage?

First rest comes after busyness. Leisure is not leisure if you are in leisure mode all the time - that is laziness. Rest or leisure comes after work - hard work. The disciples had worked hard and now it was time to enjoy some rest.

Second rest is quietness. I don't think this means keeping the children quiet or going into the deep forest were there is no noise. Quietness, if we can put it this way, is to be quiet from the noise that makes you busy. It is separation from busyness. So, for example, if you are working, quietness would be separating yourself from work where you do not hear the noise of work.

Third rest restores us for further service for Christ. I believe this is where there is much confusion about rest. You may think, well, does that mean all I do is read my Bible and pray? Is that rest? Well - no. There is rest in God's creation as you garden, play with your children, date your wife, read, exercise, knit, play the piano, listen to music, watch TV, and enjoy a hockey game. The question to be asked is do you enter your work and your service for God with a greater desire to serve Him for His glory and His kingdom after you rest? That means we must chose our rest wisely. For instance, if you chose some rest that leaves you physically exhausted, that will not restore your body. ANother example is if you rest while watching TV that dishonours God, your body may be rested but your soul is not ready to serve. It is good to be intentional about our rest and ask God to bless it so we may serve Him with greater passion!

Why is rest so important? I believe rest is essential because the spiritual battle demands physical strength. Remember when your body is weak that the attacks seem to be the greatest. And so those who never rest or exercise - they become spiritually tired and sluggish.

This also emphasizes the importance of Sundays when two great blessings meet - spiritual rest as we worship together and physical rest as we spend time apart from our work. While not being a Sabbatarian, I believe a major reason we are so spiritually lethargic is because we scrimp on spiritual rest. We think 1 hour of public worship a week will cut it but in fact we become tired with the cares of this world and the burdens of this life.

Jesus says - come with me, to a quiet place and get some rest so that you may be better able to serve the master. Come, rest and be restored for the glory of God.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

This Is Rich!

Paul writes to a troubled church in Corinth: And this is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul had just listed what some of the people were - sexually immoral, homosexuals, male prostitutes, thieves, drunks, slanders and swindlers. What is incredible about this passage is how Paul pastors his people. If you have just been reminded of your past sins- which all too often affect your present struggles and failures- what is it that you need to hear?

First, you need to hear what has changed. Paul did not mess up on the order of salvation when he put washed first, sanctified second and justified last - he was ministering to hurting people, not writing a systematic theology. What would bring maximum joy, amazement and peace to their hearts as they struggle? He had just listed who they once were and now he says to them first - you, who were stained with sin, have been washed. Exactly what we need to hear first: that the dirt of the past has been thoroughly washed away. Further, you have been sanctified: to be made holy in the sight of God. We read in the Old Testament God's people were call to be holy while in the New Testament, God's people are holy. They are made a member of God's people. Finally, they are justified: declared righteous in the sight of God. They have a right standing with God through Jesus - alone.

Second, you need to hear it again and again, in different ways. This is also the value of Paul's pastoral verse. He did not just say - you were justified - period. Rather, Paul lingers as he expresses God's blessing to the people - he stays a while. You are washed - think about it - amazing - but that is not all - you are sanctified - yes, we linger there but we are not done - you are justified in the only name that is worthy, the Lord Jesus Christ. Is that not rich?

Struggle with sin? Guilt? You have been washed, sanctified and justified. What is more amazing? Can money buy this rich treasure? How many people live with supressed guilt and dissatisfaction with earth's so called treasures? Here lies the answer.

Finally, this verse shows us how to minister to others. Paul is writing to a struggling people and what does he do? Reminding them of their sin, he lingers on the grace and mercy of God. Imagine the Corinthians' reaction - if this is what has happened and who I am, I want to live more for Jesus! Not out of guilt but love and thankfulness. And by the Spirit, I have the power.

Paul, the pastor, comforts the hurting and teaches the church how to minister to those who once were - but are no longer.

Friday, May 19, 2006

A 2 Corinthians Ministry

This past week at the Sovereign Grace Fellowship Pastors' Conference, Brad Powers spoke on The Pattern of Pastoral Ministry in 2 Corinthians. The paper was unique because it took Paul's second letter to the church in Corinth and surveyed how Paul pastored.

People today talk about counter-culture ministry and then seek to be empowered with new techniques or end up being burdened with guilt because of their own lack of success because they have not followed the program and the leaders. 2 Corinthian Pastoral Ministry is counter-culture in our church age.

Brad pointed out under the heading Perspectives of Pastoral Circumstance that Paul ministered in weakness. He identified with a crucified Christ (10.1; 13.4); he refused to push himself forward (chapter 11-12); he was under the constant pressure of "parenting" a church (12.14-15); he refuses to use weapons of the flesh in the battle (2.17; 10.1-4); and he recognizes the power of the enemy who has blinded the minds of those who do not believe (4.3-6). In other words, he recognizes his own lack of power, Satan's limited power and God's unlimited power.

But does this mean that Paul's ministry is weak? Absolutely not as all this leads to a ministry of great strength. It forces Paul to rely on God who raises the dead rather than his own strength (1.9-11); it results in Christ being pushed forward rather than a mere man (4.5); it results in the edification of the church through the hardships and overwhelming task of parenting a people (12.19); it allows the use of weapons that are actually effective rather than the impotent weapons of flesh (10.3-4); and it focuses attention on God who makes the light shine rather than on the deep darkness of the enemy (4.4-7).

So many weapons given to pastors today actually make them weak and ineffective. There can be so much self and sin in ministry. On the other hand, ministry can be ineffective because we do not rely on God's power. Maybe that is the reason why the church seems to impotent today - we have not carried out a 2 Corinthians ministry which relies alone on God's great power but have substituted it with programs, egos, and pathetic human effort. Search 2 Corinthians and seek to carry out a powerful ministry because we serve a powerful God.

Friday, May 12, 2006

God's Goodness

A famine had hit the land and we read in Genesis 47, the people of Egypt had spent all their money for food and now were forced to give up their land and finally themselves. There was nothing more they could give. The amazing contrast are God's people, namely Israel (Jacob) and his family as they are satisfied with the abundance of God. God in his good providence had sent Joseph many years earlier so God's people and promises could be preserved. When Joseph sends for his family, he provides them with a variety and abundance of food to eat and carts for them to ride into Egypt. You can imagine the procession as they travel in their limousines and ask to one another to pass the shrimp.

Even further, upon arrival Pharaoh says to Joseph's family: settle your father and your brothers in the best part of the land. Let them live in Goshen. It is as if Pharaoh is scratching his head, running through the various parts of the land - Where is the best land? Where? They have livestock, they need lots of room, they need water - where? Goshen - give them Goshen.

Isn't this a great picture of how God cares for His people? Even in struggles and pain and suffering, God's goodness is always abounding. In Revelation 2 we read of the suffering church in Smyrna that they were poor - the Greek word meaning they had nothing - zero in the bank. But immediately Jesus says - yet you are rich. In contrast, the church in Laodicea was rich in material possessions but were poor and in danger of being spit out.

We have a hard time with this but it is God's truth. In the midst of suffering, God's goodness outmatches and outlasts the world's best. Our God, who simply astounds us day after day with His abundance, is worthy of praise because in a land of famine, he has provided a feast for us.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

To Cast or Not To Cast (Out Demons)

Tonight in our Bible Study, we are going to begin a study on Demon Possession Today: To Cast or Not To Cast. David Powlison has an excellent book entitled Power Encounters which is extremely helpful and my study on this subject has been helped greatly from his insights.

When the Bible speaks about evil or the powers of evil, it speaks about it two ways: situational and moral, seen succinctly in Ecclesiastes 9.3: This is the evil in everything that happens under the sun [situational]: the same destiny overtakes all. The hearts of men, moreover, are full of evil [moral] and there is madness in their hearts while they live and afterward join the dead.

Moral evil is what people believe and do. It is sin, wickedness, unrighteousness which we are responsible for before God. Situational evil is what happens to us as we live in this fallen world or to put it another way, it is the result of living in a broken creation.

This is necessary to understand because when we read the Gospels and Acts, we read Jesus confronts demon possessed people who are, among other things, blind, deaf, convulsing, cutting, screaming, and foaming. Jesus is confronting those who are experiencing situational evil, the sad fruit of life under Satan's kingdom, the one who seeks to destroy and bring pain, tears, and torment. A classic case is Job as his possessions, children and finally health are all taken from him so he curses the day of his birth because of his suffering.

When Jesus casts out demons, he is meeting the kingdom of darkness head on and in a spectacular way he is reversing the curse of Genesis as he gives relief of suffering (thus showing His love); he is revealing that HE is LORD GOD ALMIGHTY and we should pay attention and believe; and he is giving an object lesson for the coming blessings of the kingdom for all who repent and believe.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Flipping through Mark's Photo Album

Reading Mark is like flipping through an old photo album - the pictures describe the events. In Mark 4 Jesus is sailing across the Sea of Galilee when the winds pick up and the waves begin to flow over the sides. Jesus' disciples are panicking while Jesus is sleeping on a cushion. It is a picture you stare at for a while, trying to grasp the moment. Waves are submerging the boat, disciples are panicking as they run with buckets trying to undo the damage of the storm, the winds are gusting wildly, and Jesus is sleeping, not on a hard bench but comfortably on a cushion.

As we close the photo album, we are struck with this precious truth: God's care is so great that we may be in the middle of the storms of life and fall asleep on a cushion, resting in God's sovereign gracious care. In the middle of the storm, Jesus trusted God's care and could find rest.

We have seen this picture before many times. David writes in Psalm 23 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; Elisha is surrounded by an army of Midianites but they do not compare to the army of heavenly angels sent by God; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego have an angel in the fiery furnace; and so on.

You may say, Well, Jesus is God so he should be able to sleep. But Mark gives another picture and that is, if you were to watch them go into the boat, Jesus would look like all the rest. In fact Mark writes: Leaving the crowd behind, they took [Jesus] along, just as he was, in the boat. Mark makes sure we understand that Jesus slept, not because he was God, but slept just as he was - in other words, fully as a human.

The question the disciples asked was: Jesus, do you care? Jesus not only stood up and said, Be still to the wind and the waves, he also slept on a cushion in the midst of the storm. Jesus' care comes not only in power and strength as one who controls the wind and the waves, but in a deep faith that His Father cares. Does Jesus care for you as His child? Enough to allow us to flip through his photo album and see him sleeping on a cushion when the waves and winds blew.