Thursday, July 7, 2016

Our Communities need the Church to be the Pillar of Peace

Just as I did with Ferguson, I am doing so now. I waited. I watched. I thought. I prayed. Now I speak.

I am not attempting to address all the ills in our country or even the most recent ones, nor am I attempting to address why we have all these ills in our country. My hope is that as believers grounded with a biblical worldview we already understand that the reason for all the world's problems is sin and until Christ returns problems will persist. That said, I do want to address the Church's response (collectively and individually) to the wrongful events in our country involving discrimination and injustice in our communities.

Seeing Shalom in Our Communities
Last night at our church we studied Micah 5. One of the takeaways from our Micah 5 study was, "Jesus is peace/shalom (wholeness; nothing missing, nothing broken)." (v5a, cf. Isa. 9:6-7, John 14:27, Eph. 2:14)
“And he will be the source of peace.” (Micah 5:5a, NLT)

“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” (Isa. 9:6-7, NLT)

“I am leaving you with a gift—–peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27, NLT)

“For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…” (Eph. 2:14, NIV)

In a world that is rapidly becoming more divisive and hateful, Jesus is truly the only hope of peace in this world. We as ambassadors and children of God are to be the representation of His peace in this divisive, hateful, and hostile world, even if it costs us our lives/reputation/status in the process.

The Church is supposed to be the safe place for conversations concerning those who feel discriminated toward or have experienced injustice and the bridge toward reconciliation and peace in our communities when trust and unity has been destroyed or corroded between peoples. Sadly, we are not a safe place or a bridge (for the most part). But why is the Church supposed to be this? Because as you see in those verses above, Jesus is peace. There is no true peace apart from Jesus. The world cannot give each other true peace. But the Church can, because we are the Body of Christ filled with the Spirit of Christ!

The Church should not be getting sucked up into the media-driven (social media included) stew that profits nothing but more division, hate, and hostility. We're supposed to be the voice and sign of Jesus' peace/shalom in the midst of chaos. Why? Because we who profess Christ bear the name and the redeemed image of He who is Peace/Shalom and we know His peace/shalom is the only substantial answer.

Church, be His peace/shalom during these turbulent seasons. Christian, be His peace/shalom during these turbulent seasons. Release Jesus into the situation through being an extension of His peace/shalom.

Please, don't misunderstand His peace/shalom. Jesus' peace is not passive or weak or quiet. His peace/shalom is wholeness. Restoring wholeness in a broken situation involving broken people while still part of this broken world, that is His peace/shalom in action. Be that! Do that! Pursue that! Pray for that! And trust God with the rest.

How Can We Begin Restoring Wholeness in Our Communities, Church?
1. Truly care for your community and your surrounding communities (especially those in turmoil).
    • Become the safe place for victims.
      -Mourn with them. Pray with them and for them. Hug them. Love on them. Speak less, listen more, and think before you speak. Be patient with them––not everyone bounces back as quickly as others.
    • Become the neutral zone for the community.
      -Show the community you don't take sides, you're not trying to be God, or the law, or the government (civil, state, or federal). Therefore, ALL parties of the community (the minorities, the majority, the civil servants, the forgotten, the outcasted, the young, the old, etc) will feel like their voice will be heard. And always, ALWAYS exemplify grace. Grace softens hard hearts. Grace is the entryway to the Gospel.
    • Have purposeful conversations with disunited members of the community.
      -Find out if there are members of the community who feel mistreated or discriminated toward. Hear them out. What are the problems? What are the concerns? With whom and why? What does reconciliation look like? Then gather all the parties and discuss ways to begin working toward reconciliation.
    • Partner with other churches, para-church ministries/organizations, and community organizations in your community.
      -There is strength in numbers and unity. When the churches begin working together with each other and other local ministries/organizations, the community begins working together. When a community begins working together, then progress and improvement is underway.
2. Demonstrate the Gospel
Many churches do a great job of preaching the gospel. But very few churches do a great job of demonstrating the Gospel.
    • Serve your community.
      -Just as Christ came and served us according to our need (Matt. 20:28), we follow His example and serve others according to their needs. Find ways to be in your community, serving them and serving alongside them. Don't assume you know what they need (other than salvation). Ask first, then serve.
    • Accept all within your community.
      -Is your church truly welcoming to all of those in your community? Would any minorities or other ethnicities in your community feel welcomed in your church? Would any homosexuals in your community feel welcomed in your church? Whoever is in your community should feel just as welcomed in your church as God welcomed you into His family when you were His enemy (Rom. 5:6-8). And this goes beyond words. This is shown by your actions and attitudes toward them.
    • Be the example of unity and love to your community.
      -Show the community what true unity and love looks like by how you unite with and love one another in your church, other churches, and the community.
    • Pray for the events and churches in other communities.
      -Don't be indifferent toward the troubles in other communities. Pray for them. This further demonstrates unity and love to your community.
    • Extend a hand across the aisle and support other churches as they are demonstrating the gospel in their communities.
      -We are the Body of Christ. Our unity is a testimony of Jesus to the watching world (John 17:21). So whenever there is an opportunity to stand with each other in righteousness or in gospel demonstration, do so! This further demonstrates unity and love to your community.
3. Don't try to be the Savior, but point them to Him.
Here is the balance to #1 & #2. The Gospel is not for the salvation of communities. The Gospel is for the salvation of people (Rom. 1:16). The Church's aim in being the pillar of peace in our communities is not for the salvation of the community but for the salvation of the people of our communities. Once the people come to Christ in saving faith, communities will change. It is the Church's job to proclaim and demonstrate Jesus. It is the Church's job to be the representation of Jesus' peace/shalom in our communities. It is Jesus' job to do the saving and restoration, not the Church's. So, let us simply do our part and then we wait, watch, and trust Jesus with His part.

Final Word
I am fully aware that what I have discussed may not be applicable outside the US. I am also aware that there may come a point in the future where it will not be applicable in the US. But as of now it is. Thus, Church in the US, for the sake of the Gospel and those whom Christ died for, be the pillar of peace in our communities. They need you. We need you. I need you.

*Earlier this year I taught a sermon entitled "Jesus on Justice & Injustice toward Others". It's a message on Jesus' view of kingdom justice toward others. We would do well if we walked this out as churches/Christians.

July 7, 2016

Saturday, July 2, 2016

11 Reasons Why to Study Theology/Doctrine from Psalm 111

One morning, during my time in the Word with God, I found myself at Psalm 111. I don’t recall what led me there. But clearly the Spirit wanted to minister to me from this Psalm specifically. After a quick read through Psalm 111 something caught my attention. So I went back and spent time going through each verse and I noticed something extraordinary about this Psalm. Psalm 111 gives 11 reasons why every believer is to study biblical theology/doctrine.

Maybe you’re the Christian who has said or thought, “Why do I need to read/study theology/doctrine? That’s for pastors, teachers, professors, and so on. I’m just a regular believer. I love God. I read my Bible. I go to church. I try to obey what I read in my Bible and am taught at church. I don’t need to know all that other stuff.”

Well, the psalmist of Psalm 111 answers that question. And if you hang with me for a little while, we’re going to walk through each verse and discover these 11 reasons.

“1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart, in the {assembly} of the upright, [in the congregation]. 2 {The works of the LORD are great}; they are studied by all who {have pleasure} in them. 3 [Full of splendor and majesty] is His work, and His righteousness endures forever. 4 He has made His [wondrous works] to be remembered; the LORD is gracious and compassionate. 5 He has given food to those who revere Him; He will remember His covenant forever. 6 He has made known to His people the power of His works, in giving them the heritage of the nations. 7 The works of His hands are [faithful and just]; all His precepts are [trustworthy]. 8 They are [established] forever and ever; they are performed in [faithfulness] and uprightness. 9 He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever; holy and awesome is His name. 10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; [all those who practice it have a good understanding]; His praise endures forever.” -Psalm 111 (NASB, {NJKV}, [ESV])

What is Theology & Doctrine?
Not everyone knows the meaning of “theology” or “doctrine”. Allow me to give a quick and basic explanation.

  • Theology comes from two Greek words, theos and logo. Theos = God. Logo, in this context, = logic/study. Thus…
“theology” = “the logical investigation of God” or “the study of God”

Hence, why I said “biblical theology” in the beginning, so you know I’m speaking of the God of the Bible and that the logical investigation/study of God is to be from the Bible.

  • Doctrine is of Latin origin and it means “teaching(s)”. Thus…
“biblical doctrine” = “the teachings from the Bible”

Many verses in the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, mention the Hebrew and Greek transliteration of "teaching" as "doctrine" (e.g. Job 11:4, Deut. 32:2, Rom. 16:17, Eph. 4:14, 1Tim. 4:16, Tit. 2:1, 2Jn. 1:9).

To be sure this does not get misunderstood, there are different kinds of theologies and doctrines. Different churches, religions, and many philosophies have theologies and doctrines. So this is a good point of clarity when speaking with others. Find out which theology/doctrine they’re referring to, is it biblical theology/doctrine or some other form of theology/doctrine. Don’t do this to argue, but so you’ll know if you and they are in the same book or not.

11 Reasons Why Every Believer is to Study Biblical Theology/Doctrine
What many believers don’t realize is the moment they read/study their Bible, they’re entering into theology/doctrine. The moment you ask any questions pertaining to God, you have entered into theology. The moment you ask what does the Bible say about this or that, you have entered into doctrine. The moment you seek to answer those questions about God or what the Bible says, you have entered into theology and doctrine. These examples are the occasions that many don’t realize this is exactly what they’re doing.

What we will find in an unlikely place like Psalm 111 is why every believer is to intentionally pursue the study of biblical theology and doctrine. Here are its 11 reasons:

1st Reason: God is worthy of praise and thanks with our whole heart. (v1)

“Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with all my heart…”

What have you ever truly put all your heart into? A sport, a project, a relationship, etc? Was it for something you didn’t know or didn’t treasure? Probably not. Same is true here. You cannot praise and thank the God you don’t know. Even more, you cannot praise and thank God with your whole heart if you don’t know why He is worthy of praise and thanks with your whole heart. So, how do you come to know more about God, how do you come to know why God is worthy of praise and thanks with all your heart? Through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

2nd Reason: God’s works are great and enjoyed by all who study them. (v2)

“{The works of the LORD are great}; they are studied by all who {have pleasure} in them.”

If you think a surface reading of the Bible and a surface knowledge of God is enough, you are severely short-changing yourself. What is something that you thoroughly enjoy? What is something you can spend endless time doing? Reading, gaming, crafting, surfing, writing, etc? When you enter into your world of pleasure, do you feel as though it’s too small or do you feel like it’s boundless and you can’t wait to explore it more and more? God’s works are so grand, it’s an infinite ocean of exploration and excitement! To the believer who truly loves God and finds pleasure in Him, studying His works is the greatest enjoyment of all! And this can only happen through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

3rd Reason: God’s works and goodness are eternally breathtaking. (v3)

“[Full of splendor and majesty] is His work, and His righteousness endures forever.”

God is the most magnificent artist! His Creation and all the details therein are a divine masterpiece! Whether it is music, or art, or photography, or entertainment, we’ve all experienced in one of these forms something that has left us speechless. Well, there is no end to the awe that comes from knowing God’s character and works. But experiencing this only comes from studying biblical theology/doctrine.

4th Reason: God’s wondrous works are to be remembered. (v4a)

“He has made His [wondrous works] to be remembered…”

We are to remember God’s works. He has made His works to be unforgettable! What has been an unforgettable song or movie that you’ve heard or seen? For me, it was Inception. I took my wife to the movies to see Inception when it was in the theaters. She fell asleep. I, on the other hand, was in a deep trance and thought it was outstanding. It instantly became one of my all-time favorite movies. I watch that movie whenever it comes on. So much so, I can remember details and use it in examples or explanations when in conversation or teaching. How much more unforgettable are God’s works? We can only come to remember God’s unforgettable works through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

5th Reason: God’s character and acts toward His people. (vv4b-5)

“…the LORD is gracious and compassionate. He has given food to those who revere Him; He will remember His covenant forever.”

If your spouse habitually sucked, would you take an interest in them? Probably not. Such is the case in many marriages across the world. If your spouse consistently rocked, would you take an interest in them? Probably so. What’s the difference? The difference is the character and actions of the spouse. It’s harder to exhibit love and desire for another when the other habitually sucks, but it’s not so hard to do so when they don’t. God never sucks! God’s character is intact and His actions toward His people are based on His character, and that benefits us in everyway! But if you don’t know His character then you cannot recognize His constant actions toward you. If you can’t recognize His actions toward you, you will begin to think God is absent or indifferent or untrustworthy. The only way to get to know His character and be able to recognize His constant actions toward you is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

6th Reason: God reveals how powerful He is to His people. (v6)

“He has made known to His people the power of His works…”

The God of the universe is…your…God. Let that sink in. This vast and detailed universe—an innumerable amount of galaxies, each billions of miles in size—was spoken into existence by God. Spoken! No sweat, no effort, just words. Boom! Mind blown. And this God has chosen to reveal His great power to you. You! In other words, God has given you exclusive, front-row, all-access viewing of His mighty power. Genesis to Revelation is flooded with the declaration of how powerful God is, and studying biblical theology/doctrine is how we explore the declaration of the power of His works.

7th Reason: What God does is true and just, and what He says is true and fixed. (vv7-8)

“The works of His hands are [faithful and just] all His precepts are [trustworthy]. They are [established] forever and ever; they are performed in [faithfulness] and uprightness.”

Have you ever heard someone say, “If God’s so good, why would God do/say this or allow/not say that?” More than likely if you haven’t thought this yourself, you probably have heard this. And why is that? Because people cannot see how if God is “good” can He then allow so many “bad things” to happen, or Himself do things that seem unfair (e.g. wipe out men, women, children, and livestock), or instruct His people to do things that seem discriminatory (e.g. teach there’s only one way to God). These kinds of questions and criticisms stem from a lack of understanding God and the nature of what He does and says. In a world that questions everything the Bible teaches about God, if you don’t know that what God does is faithful and just or that what He said is trustworthy, you will buckle under the pressure of these kinds of attacks and your own doubts. The only way to know so is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

8th Reason: God orchestrated the redemption of His people. (v9a)

“He has sent redemption to His people; He has ordained His covenant forever…”

Many professing Christians do not know the gospel. They think the creedal statement of “Jesus Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead” + John 3:16 = the Gospel. Is that wrong? Nope. Is it complete? Nope. What if I told you Genesis to Revelation is the gospel, how would you respond to that? There is no greater love drama than God’s redemption of the nations which starts in Genesis 3:15, and so many believers are missing out on the breadth and depth of the ultimate truth to mankind—the gospel. How do you come to know that God orchestrated the “immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:7) through the redemption of His people? Only through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

9th Reason: God is holy and must be revered. (v9b)

“…holy and awesome is His name.”

When you were young, was there something or someone you greatly feared? Not frightened, but more respected its authority and afraid of its consequences? For me it was my father. He had a commanding presence. I dreaded getting in trouble. Yet, I still managed to get in a lot. The mention of my father's name when I was younger would cause me to act right. If you’re a believer and the thought of God and His holiness does not invoke reverence, then you may not know the God of the Bible. There is no way you can truly know about God and His holiness and it not cause you to stand in awe and respect His authority. The only way to get to know more about God’s holiness and marvel at His name is through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

10th Reason: Revering God leads to wisdom. (10a)

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom…”

Come on, who doesn’t want wisdom? Do you want to be wiser than what you currently are? I know I do. And apparently with the robust amount of self-help books, blogs, and articles, so does everyone else. More than likely you do too. The Bible says the beginning of wisdom is fearing the LORD—reverencing God. Not gaining more self-help knowledge. Nope. As we discussed above in the 9th reason, how do you come to revere God? Through learning more about His character. The more you learn about who God is the more it spurs your soul to revere Him. The more the reverence of God bubbles within you wisdom is what is produced. And how do you come to learn more about God to bring about this wisdom? Through studying biblical theology/doctrine.

11th Reason: Following God’s wisdom leads to wisdom. (10b)

“…[all those who practice it have a good understanding]…”

Players who don’t know their team’s playbook look foolish when they play. Why? Because they’re doing things (or not doing things) that don’t fit with what the rest of their team is doing. Actors who don’t learn their lines look foolish when they perform. Why? Because everyone else is on cue but them and it messes up the performance. You can’t follow what you don’t know. You may do your surface reading of the Bible, or a devotional here and there, or your sermon splash from the church service, but your obedience will only go as far as your knowledge, and your growth will only go as far as your obedience. You cannot follow God’s wisdom if you don’t know God’s wisdom, and you won’t grow beyond what you know. Studying biblical theology/doctrine is how we grow in what we know, which leads to following more of what we now know more of.

This blog article was not to discuss “how” we study biblical theology/doctrine, but that we do. This blog article was to demonstrate how a simple psalm like Psalm 111 indicates the “why” for all believers. So many believers don’t study biblical theology/doctrine because they believe they don’t need to or have to. But nothing could be more wrong. It’s like God gives us the keys to the Willy Wonka Chocolate Factory and many Christians are content with hanging out front and never going inside and being blown away. To study biblical theology/doctrine is a privilege we receive from God to learn more about Him through His Word to us. Psalm 111 gave you 11 reasons why you are to study theology/doctrine. Ignore this to your own detriment. Heed it for yours and others benefit.

Maybe you're scared or hesitant. Well, don’t be. Dive in! The Holy Spirit will be your lifeguard. It is His responsibility to lead us into all truth (John 16:13-15). Get your appetite wet and watch how it will grow.

We live in an age that affords us so much access to a plethora of Bible/Christian related resources, which comes with its own dangers and benefits. So yes, be careful whom you listen to and read. Go to my “Recommended Sites” page to get a good selection on some biblically-solid resources. Maybe go and purchase “Dug Down Deep” by Joshua Harris. He shares through his testimony how he personally came to his study of biblical theology/doctrine, why, and what it produced in him. It’s not long and it’ll get you started on your own journey, if you haven’t started. For those who have started and are looking for some more depth, try R.C. Sproul’s “Everyone’s A Theologian”. This will definitely feed your appetite.

And last, but not last, pray. Pray for the desire to know God more deeply. Pray for understanding when you read His Word. Pray for discernment with whom to listen to and read. Pray for God’s direction to the right resources. Pray.

July 1, 2016