Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Good, The Sad, The Funny

It's been an extremely busy couple of weeks but I'm now back to my regular blogging schedule with this post.

The Good

There appears to be a multitude of blogs and websites that address the topic of integrating faith and work. However, there are two online resources that I've come to appreciate and would like to highlight:

Marketplace Network is headed up by Kent Kusel and Randy Kilgore. Randy is the author of a number of thoughtful articles on the area of integrating faith and work.

Work Research Foundation is a Canadian based organization focused on influencing Christians toward a biblically based engagement with work and public life. Gideon Strauss is one of their primary writers and the editor of Comment, a monthly publication of the WRF. It's a little more academically rich and philosophical than your typical work-faith discussion forum but I've found it very beneficial.

The Sad

Even if you're a casual sports fan, you've undoubtedly heard of the many doping scandals that plague the contemporary sporting landscape. The use of steroids or human growth hormones are a problem that simply isn't going away anytime soon. Apparently, the problem of performance enhancing substances has now crept into the realm of academic achievement.
Dr. Al Mohler blogs on Academic Doping and America's Parents. He reports on the trend of parents who are "asking doctors to prescribe drugs like Ritalin and Adderall so their students -- especially teenagers -- will perform better on tests and assignments". This is truly a sad commentary on what we value as a society.

The Funny

If you're a member of a Sovereign Grace Ministries church or are familiar with SGM, you'll find last week's post by Tim Challies particularly humorous. He introduces us to the Successor, a spoof of the Apprentice reality show starring CJ Mahaney and the Sovereign Ministries team.

Monday, September 18, 2006

All Things Working for Our Good

For various reasons, the past week has been difficult. However, God is reacquainting me with a sweet gospel truth that I know well but am gladly reminded of.

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers."
(Romans 8:28-29)

From Beside Still Waters, C.H. Spurgeon elaborates on this passage of scripture better than I ever will...so I'll let his timeless words speak to us.

"Everything that happens to you is for your own good. If the waves roll against you, it only speeds your ship toward the port...You gain by loss, you grow healthy in sickness, you live by dying, and you are made rich in losses."

"Could you ask for a better promise? It is better that all things should work for my good than all things should be as I wish to have them. All things might work for my pleasure and yet might all work my ruin. If all things do not always please me, they will always benefit me. This is the best promise of this life"

I often think that what will make me happy is to have things work out according to my desires . Yet, this isn't what will bring me lasting joy. Spurgeon reminds me that it is actually far better that things work for my good than to have things work as I wish. My wayward heart doesn't always believe this but the promise of Romans 8:28 is indeed "the best promise of this life".

Spurgeon also speaks to God's purpose in the midst of difficult circumstances.

"Sometimes a storm brings people to their senses and arouses their consciences until they cry to the Lord. At other times, serious business losses bring such distress that people are driven to seek riches that are more enduring than gold, a competence that is more reliable than profits, and a comfort that is more genuine and lasting than wealth."

His recommended response? Humble submission to God's purpose accomplished through our trials.

"Submit cheerfully. there is no affliction that comes by chance....Not a drop of bitter ever falls into our cup unless the heavenly Father's wisdom places it there. We dwell where everything is ordered by God. Whenever adversity must come, it is always with a purpose. And, if it is God's purpose, should I wish to escape it?"

Whatever your struggle this week or next, I trust this meditation on "the best promise of this life" will encourage you.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Does God Want You To Be Rich?

The current issue of Time magazine poses a provocative question as its cover story - "Does God Want You to Be Rich?"(Hat Tip: ThinkChristian). The article by David Van Biema and Jeff Chu is thoughtful, well written and balanced. It tackles the question by surveying the broad spectrum of answers coming from the Christian community. It has already provoked responses from various Christian leaders such as Al Mohler who has provided an insightful commentary.

I think this is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it's interesting that a mainstream publication like Time is devoting a cover to this issue. Evidently, they must see this as a key point of differentiation or segmentation within the church at large. Noting the varying views represented by different Christian leaders, one would have to conclude that Time is at least partially correct. Views range from those espoused by "prosperity gospel" proponents such as Joel Osteen to more cautionary, qualified answers from those in the traditional evangelical camp.

Second, I believe that our interaction with money on a daily basis makes this a vital question. Whether we're earning it, spending it, saving it, craving it or losing it altogether- we're interacting with money each and every day. Yet we spend so little time discussing this daily interaction from a biblical point of view. Some of the answers represented in the article indicate that more biblically centered discussion on this topic is sorely needed. So perhaps this question is a timely one (no pun intended, really!)

Finally, how an individual chooses to answer the Time magazine question really revolves around his/her understanding of the gospel and in particular, the intent of the gospel. While most Christians would agree that Jesus' death on the cross atoned for the sins of every believer, the ultimate purpose of this work is not always in view. This is how the apostle Peter understood this purpose in 1 Peter 3:18 -

"For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God" [emphasis mine]

The ultimate benefit we derive from the atoning work of Jesus Christ is a reconciled relationship with the living God. It's not enough just to acknowledge or even assent to the gospel. If we don't treasure or value that reconciled relationship, we will end up "loving" the gospel for all the wrong reasons. We may in fact acknowledge that Christ died for our sins but if we value other benefits like financial prosperity, health, etc... as equivalent or superior to the treasure of knowing God, we're worshiping the gift rather than the Giver.

The answer to whether God wants you to be rich, may well rest on whether you think the prize of our salvation is God Himself or simply a million dollar stock portfolio.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Remembering 9/11

On September 11 2001, terrorists hijacked three planes and flew them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, and into the Pentagon in Washington. It cost the United States, hundreds of billions of dollars, thousands of lives and untold suffering. Five years to the date, you can scarcely turn on the television, listen to the radio or read the paper without commentary on 9/11. It's the defining moment of our time.

Perhaps the best way we can remember the sad, tragic event is to offer a prayer for our nation and for those impacted by the suffering of 9/1. Yet, always keeping in view God's loving, sovereign rule over all matters concerning nations and individuals alike. Wars, terrorism and plots of evil men are no match for Him.

Here are words of comfort and encouragement from Charles Haddon Spurgeon taken from the book, Beside Still Waters.

Nothing will happen that God has not forseen. No unexpected event will destroy His plans. No emergency will transpire for which He has not provided. No peril will occur against which He has not guarded. No remarkable need will take Him by surprise. He declares the end from the beginning , from ancient times things that are not yet done (Is 46:10) ... He sees everything, the past, the present, the future. All, all, all of the future is fixed by Him. Derive great comfort from this fact.

Suppose you go out to sea with the most skillful captain... Even with the greatest foresight, he can never promise an absolutely safe passage. there are dangers...

When you come to the Ship of Providence, however, He who is at the helm is Master of every wind that blows and of every wave that breaks its force on the ship. He forsees both the events that will happen at the destination and those at the starting port. He knows every wave, its height, width, and force. He knows every wind in all its connections We are safe with a Captain who has fore-arranged and fore-ordained all things from the beginning to the end. It is to our advantage to put implicit confidence in His guidance:

Be this my joy, that evermore
Thou rulest all things at Thy will
Thy sovereign wisdom I adore
And calmly, sweetly, trust Thee still

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Myth of Influence

Ever wish you were more influential for the gospel? It's a truly noble desire. Unless, you start to think that your influence might be enhanced, if only you were more successful. It's not uncommon to be thinking along these lines -

“If I could only get this business off the ground, it’ll give me the credibility I need to share the gospel with my business associates”

“Once I get promoted, I’ll be able better positioned to influence my co-workers…”

“If I achieved prominence or recognition in my field, I’d use my position as a platform to honor God…”

It can be tempting to believe that particular success or notoriety would offer better opportunities to influence those around us.... except it doesn't always work that way. Tom Krattenmaker's article in USA Today tells the story of how the late Reggie White, NFL Hall of Famer came to realize that personal notoriety doesn't necessarily make for an effective proclaimation of God's truth.

In the arena of sports, few were as outspoken on matters of faith as the late Reggie White. During his Hall of Fame career as the NFL's leading defensive end, Reggie White would unabashedly proclaim his faith in public settings. Indeed, the “Minister of Defense” was as well known for his evangelistic zeal and commitment to his family as for his uncanny ability to sack quarterbacks. Yet, just before his untimely death, Reggie recognized the folly of the semi-celebrity Christian serving up endorsements for Jesus Christ.

“I used to have people tell me, 'God has given you the ability to play football so you could tell the world about him,' … "Well, he doesn't need football to let the world know about him."

The USA Today article tells the full story of Reggie’s transformation from gospel pitch man to a thoughtful witness for Jesus Christ. It's notable that Reggie White was humble enough to realize he needed to change his approach –

"Most people who wanted me to speak at their churches only asked me to speak because I played football, not because I was this great religious guy or this theologian. ... I got caught up in some of that until I got older and I got sick of it. I've been a preacher for 21 years, preaching what somebody wrote or what I heard somebody else say. I was not a student of Scripture. I came to the realization I'd become more of a motivational speaker than a teacher of the word."

Most of us may not be called upon to offer personal testimonies to the masses. However, we too can fall prey to the notion that our personal success will somehow lend the necessary credibility to our message. The apostle Paul thought differently about the notion of influence for the sake of the gospel. When addressing the Christians in Corinth, he made the point of reminding them that they were nothing special when measured by the world's standards.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord."

(1 Corinthians 1:26-31)

Paul did this to remind the Corinthians that the calling they received was all of grace and not because of their intellect, position or heritage. By God's design, their election by God was meant to nullify self exaltation and to lead to a boasting in Jesus Christ.

To paraphrase Reggie White - God doesn't need us to be successful or influential to let the world know about him. It may be that the influence we hope to gain with an unbelieving world begins with service, not success. Here's how Jesus viewed this -

"You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

(Mark 10:42-45)

While God does use men and women of standing to accomplish his will, Jesus' words reminds us that true greatness and lasting influence come by way of humble service . Our influence must be rooted, not in our achievements or personal standing but in God who delights in using the weak.

Waiting for success to enable a better testimony? Perhaps there's no need for us to wait after all. With the right perspective, we might find that we're best suited to be used by God right now.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Sermon Jammin' with John Piper, Ravi Z and crew

Here's a little frivolity for this rainy Friday.

A few months ago, I discovered Sermon Jams from a ministry called Relevant Revolution. Sermon jams are the creation of John Mahshie, a 23 year old from Asheville, North Carolina. He's taken portions of sermons from John Piper, Ravi Zacharias, Alistair Begg and others and mixed it with hip-hop rhythms to create an interesting blend. Here are a couple of our (my kids love them too!) favorite jams.



John Mahshie offers these sermon jams free of charge as another way to introduce young people to the gospel and perhaps reach a demographic typically unfamiliar with the likes of John Piper. Here's a writeup about John Mahshie in his local paper.

Regardless of what you think about the quality of his work, John's passion and initiative is commendable. The way he's using his creative gifts for the purpose of advancing the gospel is something we can all learn from and apply in our own lives.