Wisdom overlooked

gods-wisdom-02Harriett Hinkle has rubbed off on me. When I look at hymns for worship, one of the first things I do is notice the date when the words were composed. It’s interesting to correlate the songs we sing and the times in which they were written. For example, many of our songs about Heaven come from the Great Depression era. It’s not hard to see the connection. Many of our favorite songs were written between 1850 and 1950.

As we were preparing this Sunday’s song service, we were searching for songs that talk of God’s wisdom, I noticed something in those dates that caught my attention. Very few hymns written in the 1800s or 1900s mentioned the wisdom of God. Generally speaking, only very old songs and very new songs mentioned God’s wisdom. This gap made me wonder—why have we neglected this attribute of God? Hymnals overflow with songs of his love, power, and holiness—but not his wisdom. Why?

Perhaps in the last two centuries, our technological achievements and scientific breakthroughs led us to believe that our wisdom approached God’s? Maybe we no longer felt as acute a need for his wisdom? It could even be that we have come to neglect wisdom as a virtue at all.

Whatever the reason, I’m grateful that scripture reminds us to praise God for his wisdom. Our pride needs the reminder. God is not the cosmic valedictorian and we the salutatorians. He alone is wise. His thoughts are higher than our thoughts.  His wisdom is beautiful and powerful. It draws us to it as we see our own simplicity. We are not his advisors; we are fools who desperately need guidance. “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Romans 11:33 ESV)

Try this paraphrase: “Have you ever come on anything quite like this extravagant generosity of God, this deep, deep wisdom? It’s way over our heads. We’ll never figure it out. Is there anyone around who can explain God? Anyone smart enough to tell him what to do? Anyone who has done him such a huge favor that God has to ask his advice? Everything comes from him; everything happens through him; everything ends up in him. Always glory! Always praise!” (Romans 11:33-36 MSG) Praise God for his wisdom!

Don’t be a lone wolf…

IsolationWe prize individuality over community. Nobody likes to be lonely, but we all like to be independent. We think that we don’t need anyone—but their company is nice! We idealize the Lone Ranger—who, if you remember, wasn’t alone.

As we’ve been studying through the book of Acts on Wednesday nights, I’ve been struck by the importance of community in following Jesus. Here are just a few things I’ve noted as we’ve studied:

  • When Judas betrayed Jesus, the disciples replaced him at the first opportunity. Each one mattered.
  • The miracle of Pentecost arrived when they were all together in one place. It would have been no more difficult for God to reveal himself to every individual, wherever he or she was, but instead he moved on the community.
  • Nobody practices “self-baptism.” Every convert was baptized by another convert.
  • They intentionally spent time in each other’s homes and shared with each other.
  • When the Ethiopian was reading scripture, God chose to miraculously direct Philip to help him, rather than miraculously answer his question.
  • God appeared individually to Saul, but he depended on his friends who led him to Damascus, Ananias who taught and baptized him, and Barnabas who vouched for him.

I could go on, but I’ll stop here. God has always called a people, not just a person. It’s a real shame that many of us get frustrated with the church or a little bit prideful and decide that we can go at it on our own.

Yes, we need to read and study scripture individually and privately. It’s important that we have that faith-building experience, but it is equally important that we read it communally and interactively. Studying with others causes us to see things we miss, corrects for our biases, and holds us accountable when we would be hypocrites.

Perhaps that’s why Paul charged Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture” (1 Tim 4:13). If you’re not in a small group study or Sunday School class, you’re missing out—and you’re holding back a blessing from others.

In Response to the Hickory Hollow Shooting

 

nashville-movie-theater-shootingViolence struck awfully close to home in the recent weeks. The sanctity of a small church’s prayer meeting was shattered by a racist gunman. A military recruitment office was terrorized by a radical Muslim in the heart of Tennessee. Twice in the last weeks has a simple trip to the movies ended with death and destruction. How do Christians respond?

Here’s my opinion:

FIRST: We pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We pray for peace (Philippians 4:6-7). We pray for the mentally ill and the misled. We obey Jesus by praying for our enemies, our government, and for boldness even in fear (Matthew 5:43-48). We pray for the police who run into harm’s way while the rest of us run out. We just need to pray.

SECOND: We must not be controlled by fear (2 Timothy 1:7, Psalm 34:4). Recent events make us jumpy—and that’s reasonable, but rarely does fear promote good long-term decision-making. Fear motivated Pharaoh and Herod to infanticide, Pontius Pilate and the Pharisees to murder, and Hitler’s Germany to genocide. We may be tempted to stay home; don’t. Society is incredibly safe. Statistics indicate that the rate of violent crime is at the lowest it has ever been in our lifetimes. Don’t let fear control you.

THIRD: We must not over-react. We will not bar the doors to the church and shut down the movie theaters. As long as we live in a free society, there will be a miniscule minority of people who use that freedom to cause harm. We ought not to overreact by destroying our freedom. Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” As of 2013, there were 40,024 movie screens in the United States. 99.9975% of them were safe on Wednesday. 100% of them were safe the day before and the day after. This was a tragedy—but don’t forget that it is the exception, not the rule. No amount of metal detectors, guards, dogs, or police can ever guarantee total security. Check out Psalm 20:7.

FOURTH: We must look for ways to be peace-makers (Matthew 5:9). These stories are still unfolding, but there is a common theme in most senseless acts of violence: mental illness. The perpetrators generally are people with great brokenness. Christians ought to be leaders in looking out for the marginalized, the broken, and the hurting. We need to spur our society on towards real, merciful solutions for the mentally ill instead of the revolving doors of hospitals and jails.

FIFTH: We must keep an eternal perspective. Scripture teaches that each one of us will die. If it isn’t by a human’s act of violence, it might be by the violent acts of cancer cells which strangle the body. Regardless, life is a vapor that is here for a little while and then vanishes away. We, of all people, need to remember the things that matter most and live life in light of eternity.

We are grieved that these terrible crimes have been committed. We mourn with those who mourn. We celebrate the men and women whose heroism makes a difference in our lives every day. We look to Jesus as our ultimate hope.

Prerequisites

chairThe Emperor Menelek II of Ethiopia used an electric chair as his royal throne for many years. How come? During the late 1890s, the Emperor was told of the new method of executing criminals in the United States by electrocution. So he ordered three electric chairs from the States. But there was one tiny problem: he forgot that electricity had not yet been introduced into his country. The chairs were useless. To save his investment, he appropriated the same as his royal chair.

Electricity is a prerequisite to the electric chair. College students know all about prerequisites. You can’t take General Chemistry 2 until you’ve successfully completed General Chemistry 1.  A prerequisite is something that must come first. Electricity is prerequisite to the electric chair.

There was one time that Jesus talked about prerequisites. In Matthew 7:1-6, he said that some people get really excited about identifying the flaws in the people around them, but there is something that must happen first: “take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Peter repeated this message by saying that judgment begins with the household of God (1 Peter 4:17).

Sometimes we forget how important it is to take care of our own house before we take care of others. We need to make sure that we take the prerequisites, first!

What Makes a Great Church?

From a sermon entitled: “What Makes a Great Church”…

Before the term “mega church” was ever conceived, Charles Spurgeon pioneered one right in the heart of London, England. When he was just twenty years of age, the New Park Street Church in London called him to be their preacher. Soon people were coming in such large numbers that the church building couldn’t hold them. So they constructed a new building—the Metropolitan Tabernacle—which seated 6,000 people, which was unheard of in that day, and they filled it twice every Sunday.

 

For thirty-one years, he filled the Metropolitan Tabernacle twice on Sunday and hundreds and hundreds of people were baptized.

 

Charles Spurgeon, who is referred to by many as the prince of preachers, would have been the first to tell you that the source of the churches strength and success wasn’t in any special program or new idea, nor was it in the words that he preached: Left to themselves they were just mere words. There was a greater source of strength. So what was it that gave this church its power?

 

Well, the story goes that one Sunday, five young college students who were preparing for the ministry visited the Metropolitan Tabernacle to hear Spurgeon speak. While waiting for the church doors to open, Charles Spurgeon himself approached them and asked if they would like to see the powerhouse of this great church. The soon-to-be preachers were delighted to see the secret to the power of this church. Spurgeon led them through a long hallway, down a stairway, and cautiously opened a door at the bottom. What the five young men saw astonished them. Looking through this open doorway, they saw about 700 church members bowed in prayer asking God for His blessing on the upcoming service. “That,” said Spurgeon “is our powerhouse!”

Want Burns to be a great place? Pray for our family.

Pray for me as I preach to select the best topics, study them faithfully, and deliver them well.

Pray for the elders to shepherd this flock and care for our spiritual needs.

Pray for our leaders and go-to people who organize our work together.

Pray for every member who struggles, who celebrates, or who is somewhere in between.

Pray that God would use us to reach those nobody has reached, serve those nobody has served, and love people who have never experienced the love of Jesus.

Pray for God’s grace and presence to abound in our family.

Book Review: Graceful Uprising by Jonthan Jones

gracefuluprisingSome time ago, I heard a sermon called “Grace: Don’t Tell Me What It Isn’t.” Jonathan Jones took that advice when he wrote his walk-through Romans: “A Graceful Uprising.”

Jones’ book walks us through the powerful epistle to the Romans, one section at a time. He hasn’t written a verse-by-verse technical commentary. Instead, he helps us work through the chapters and major sections with an eye towards application. Many of us have trouble understanding how we fit in the world of the Jews and the Gentiles. Jones excels at finding appropriate applications for the modern church.

He is balanced and biblical, with an eye towards helping us appreciate the beautiful fullness of grace. He fights our temptation to pigeonhole it, abuse it, or neglect it. He wants us, through the book of Romans, to “taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8). The book demonstrates powerfully what grace will do in our lives and congregations—if we’ll just get out of its way.

The book would make a great guide for a small-group walkthrough of the book of Romans or for personal reading. I enjoyed it—and think you will, too!

The book is available from Amazon or Start2Finish books.

Christianity is Weird

weirdChristianity has always been weird. It is different than the way most people act and live. That’s why Jesus could refer to his followers as “salt and light” in Matthew 5:13-16. We are not called to be like everyone around us. We are different.

When the world complains about being forced to go one mile, Christians go two (Matthew 5:38-48).

When others retaliate and demand revenge, Christians turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39).

When our culture seeks security and satisfaction in possessions, Christians invest in a different kingdom (Matthew 6:25-33).

When most people love the people who love them back, Christians love their enemies (Matthew 5:44).

When half of marriages end in divorce and homosexual unions are normalized, Christians view marriage as a man and wife becoming one flesh, and they fight for love even when they don’t feel like it (Matthew 19:5).

When multitudes seek greatness through power and strength, Christians find it in service (Matthew 20:26).

When many see porn and obscenity as entertainment, Christians cut off anything that can pollute the heart (Matthew 5:30).

When the crowds demand that they get what they deserve, Christians forego their rights to help others (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

When racists discriminate, Christians teach that God is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11).

While everybody else looks out for number one, Christians visit the orphans and the widows (James 1:27).

When people fight to be first, Christians are fine with being last (Matthew 20:27).

When society is insulted it stands up and fights back, but Christians bless in return (1 Peter 2:23).

When the average guy is proud that he’s a pretty decent person, Christians know they fall short of the standard–of perfect holiness (Matthew 5:48).

When it seems like everyone is ignoring God and his way, Christians know that the way is narrow that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).

Christianity is not the average way of life. This is nothing new. Scripture says that the world is surprised that we don’t join their way of thinking (1 Peter 4:4). We must not fall to the temptation of being like everyone around us. Let’s embrace the weird!

What You Say…and How You Say It

recklesswordsThis has been the most controversial week in our nation’s news that I can remember. It takes about ten seconds of television watching or internet surfing to realize that people are passionate—and disagreeing—about their beliefs. Things get hot quickly!

We are discussing many critically important ideas in our country right now, and Christians should be an important part of those conversations. How we speak in these times matters very much.

When Ephesians 4:15 says that we are to speak the truth in love, it is not only referring to the content of our speech, but also to the method of our speech.

Here’s a reminder: “Whoever blesses his neighbor with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, will be counted as cursing” (Proverbs 27:14). In other words, what we say can be totally accurate, but how we say it can destroy any good we could have done.

Before you comment on Facebook or argue at the water cooler, consider these words of God:

  • “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)
  • “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” (Psalm 141:3)
  • “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)
  • “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.” (Proverbs 26:4-5)
  • “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19)
  • “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.” (Matthew 12:36)

On the contrary, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.” (Proverbs 25:11)

If you want to represent the faith in what you say, make sure that you represent it in how you say it!

A Third Place

Where are the three places that you spend the most time?

For most people, the first place is home, and the second place is work. But what about the third place?

"Barbearia" by Fabio Pozzebom/ABr - http://www.agenciabrasil.gov.br/media/imagens/2006/10/24/1802FP03.jpg/view. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 br via Wikimedia Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Barbearia.jpg#/media/File:Barbearia.jpg

A barber shop in Brazil. The barber shop is an example of the third place; in many societies it has been a traditional area for (especially) men to congregate separate from work or home.

For parents with school-age children, the third place might be the little league bleachers. For a business professional, it might be the golf course, the coffee shop, or even the bar. Where is your “third place”?

Missiologists (people who study how to do mission work) have written much about the third place because it is one of the places where you can do the most good for the kingdom. A man’s home is his castle—and many people don’t like the intrusion of door-knocking, so it is hard to reach someone at home. A person’s job keeps him busy. It’s sometimes difficult to have a meaningful discussion at someone’s work without getting him in trouble with the boss. The third place usually is a place of freedom, community, and relaxation—a great place to have a spiritual conversation that might bear fruit.

When you read the book of Acts, you see that the apostles tended to spend time in third places. They reasoned in the synagogues—the centers of Jewish community life. They taught in the marketplaces—the centers of Gentile community life.

Here’s a suggestion for how to share the gospel: identify your third place and become more intentional about showing the light of Jesus there!

How’s your boat?

How's Your BoatImagine that your soul is a boat. It’s not a gas-powered boat; it has oars and a sail. If you’re that boat, there are four things you could be doing.

SAILING: Sailing is living the Christian life with the wind at your back. God is powerful and active, and you see, feel, and recognize that clearly. Prayer is a pleasure and study is a joy.

ROWING: Rowing is when you are working. You find the disciplines to be a duty more than a delight. It doesn’t feel like God is doing much. You feel alone often. You keep at it, you don’t give up, but you don’t see the results.

DRIFTING: Drifting means that you’re feeling the same way you felt if you were rowing—but instead of digging in, you’re letting yourself drift. You don’t feel like approaching and obeying God, so you don’t. You feel sorry for yourself, so you indulge and self-medicate. You’ve given up for now, but hope is not lost.

SINKING: A boat that drifts long enough will eventually sink. It will collide with another boat or a shore, or eventually time and negligence will compromise the hull. Drifting long enough leads to numbness, negligence, and death.

If you pray, worship, and obey despite negative circumstances and feelings, you won’t be drifting, and when the winds come up again, you will move ahead swiftly. On the other hand, if you do not apply the means of grace, you will at best be drifting, and if storms come your life, you might be in danger of sinking.

In any case—pray no matter what. Praying is rowing, and sometimes it is like rowing in the dark—you won’t feel that you are making any progress at all. Yet you are, and when the winds rise again, and they surely will, you will sail again before then.

(Adapted from Tim Killer’s Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God)