March 7, 2014
Part 1 “
I struggled for years just getting started in prayer. Based on Psalm 66:18, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me:”, I was told that I should start prayer with confession of sin. So, for about 2 years I dutifully began every scheduled prayer time right there. Through experience, I came to find this to be a poor place to start. Here’s why. Every time I came to God’s throne, I had to wade through my sin. As a young believer this was very condemning. Here is what normally happened. I would start to pray, confessing my sin, and before long I felt like the miserable wretch I actually was, and I began to wonder why God would want to hear from me at all. Needless to say I didn’t get very far. After about 15 minutes of that, I was done.
After a while, I pretty much stopped confessing my sin to the Lord. Then I began to just pray for other people and the things that I needed. Funny thing, after about 15 minutes I was done with that too. I also had this nagging feeling that I was not growing closer to the Lord. It started to feel like God was some cosmic Jeanie hidden in the lamp of prayer. My prayer life grew empty, and pretty soon, I was skipping that time altogether and just reading my Bible. I’m a studier, studying is my sweet spot. So, my fellowship with the Lord did grow as I grew in my knowledge of His Word. But still, prayer was a glaring weak spot in my walk with Him. So I did what all studiers do…… I did a prayer study. It was then I struck prayer gold. Here’s where I found it.
As a kid, I didn’t grow up in church, so I didn’t know the Lord’s Prayer very well. I thought studying the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:7-14, would be a great place to start a study on prayer. After all I reasoned, Jesus probably knows a little something about the topic of prayer. Turns out, my hunch was right, He does. It was in the first few words of the Lord’s Prayer that I found a wide door that ushered me into the Presence of God, and gave me the beginnings a lifetime love of prayer.
“Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name.” (Matthew 6:7b) I began, based on this verse, to start my prayer times by drawing near to my loving Heavenly Father. I would begin, literally saying, Heavenly Father, I come to you as a son. I started to understand that I didn’t have to list all my failures before I crawled up into His lap to spend time with Him. This became especially clear after my first son was born. Christian (my son) never came running up to me when I got home from work in the afternoon and saying, “daddy, daddy, I completely failed you today”. Instead he came running and jumped into my arms and just said, “daddy”, and we embraced. It was the high point of my day. It was what I looked forward to on my drive home. I began to understand that because of the Gospel, this is exactly the way (except magnified 10,000 times) that God, our “Heavenly Father”, feels about His people. He sent His only begotten Son to live and die for us, so that fellowship with Him would not only become possible, but full of unspeakable joy and unfathomable pleasures. Through drawing near to God as my Father, I came to truly understand what the Psalmist meant when he said, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
February 24, 2014
This past Sunday our sermon text at Solomon’s Porch was Hosea 9:10-17. The Book of Hosea provides a lot of opportunities for social commentary, and this passage in particular is one that we need to read and understand in the modern era. I’ll explain what I mean by the previous statement a little further down in this article. But first let me make a few general comments to set the stage.
God refers to Israel in verse 10 as “the first fruit on the fig tree in it’s first season”. I’ve never planted a fig tree, but I have a little experience growing things. I like to garden. In order to grow plants and make them fruitful, you have to employ a lot of self-discipline. With figs, as with other fruit bearing trees, and many vines as well, you must under go years of labor without getting anything from it. You actually have to pick the blooms off so the tree will put it’s energy into growing up and out, so in the future it can become big enough to support a lot of fruit. What God is saying here is, I waited and labored over your fathers all those long years, and then it came time for them to bear fruit. The first fruit in the first season was the Exodus out of Egypt. Finally, after years of picking off blooms, it was time to eat the sweet fruit of His labor, establishing a nation. Then the second half of verse 10 tells of a different tale, the tale of Numbers 25:1-9, where His first fruit corrupted themselves with the Midianites, and became like the thing (false god) they loved, detestable. The story of Numbers 25, as a microcosm, is, in a sense, the history of Israel. Which is the point of the story. God’s current dealings with Israel in Hosea’s time period are no different. God labors, and keeps His Word, while the people rebel against Him at the first opportunity and corrupt the land. The curse of the Law was coming upon them. See Deuteronomy 29:16-29, 30:15-20 for a more full explanation.
The Judgment of God
The rest of Hosea 9:10-17 will be centered around a single theme. Let’s see if we can figure out what that theme is.
 Ephraim’s glory shall fly away like a bird— no birth, no pregnancy, no conception!  Even if they bring up children, I will bereave them till none is left. Woe to them when I depart from them!
 Ephraim, as I have seen, was like a young palm planted in a meadow; but Ephraim must lead his children out to slaughter.
 Give them, O LORD— what will you give? Give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
 Ephraim is stricken; their root is dried up; they shall bear no fruit. Even though they give birth, I will put their beloved children to death.
Ok, I underlined it to make it easy. 5 out of the 7 verses mention children. Specifically, they speak of the judgment of God falling upon the children of the nation. The themes listed in this passage are infertility, miscarriage, lactation failure, and the horrible loss of life that comes through war. War and captivity were coming, along with the horrible famine and mistreatment that would accompany God’s judgment on the people of the land. But I want to take a minute and focus on the overall theme found in this passage. The theme is this, “When God visits in judgment, His people lose their children”. Being that we, as the church, are not a nation state with armies and national borders, what would this curse look like when it visited us?
First, I would expect churches to see fewer conversions or “new births”. The Gospel ministry would begin to fall on deaf ears or not be preached at all because it offends. Gospel transformations would be at a low-ebb, you’d see people making “decisions for Christ” without the changed life that should accompany the washing and regeneration of the Holy Spirit. Baptisms would be fewer and further between. The ministry would be less fruitful over all, and there would be a general feeling of confusion about why.
According to the U.S Census Bureau, the number of Americans with “no religion” more than doubled between 1990 and 2008
According to a study done by Lifeway Research, membership in the Southern Baptist Church is expected to fall by 50% by the year 2050
A study done by the Pew Research Group in 2008 found that 52% of all American Christians think that some non-Christian Faiths can lead to eternal life.
According to Lifeway Christian Researchers there were 314,959 baptisms in 2012. That’s the lowest number recorded in 64 years.
Losing Our Children
Second, I would expect to see a mass of exodus of young people out of the church. Authentic conversions among the children of believing parents would be come scarce. The church would begin to look generationally one-dimensional. Many churches that were once vibrant community centers would grow older in membership and die out of natural causes. A panic would set in among pastors and elders. They would do everything they could to make the church “fun” and “less churchy” so that younger people would find it engaging and stay. Still the problem would get worse. Churches would blame the world with it’s allure of pleasure, or godless government schools, or entertainment culture for the failure. Few would stop and ask the question, “Is this the curse of God given in Hosea 9:10-17 coming upon us?” Many pastors would bark back the answer, “of course not!” “God would never do anything like that to His people!” These are the kinds of men God warned us about earlier in Hosea 9 when He said in verse 8, “The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways”. Because here we have God saying the exact opposite, that indeed He would bring judgment upon the children of His people. At the end of the day, we must understand that it is sin that ravaging our children. So are we in the midst of God visiting our sin of idolatry with the curses found in Hosea 9:10-17?
A study conducted by the Barna Group discovered that nearly 60% of all Christians in the 15-29 year old age bracket are no longer actively involved in any church.
A Study done by Answers In Genesis found that among those that attended a Youth Group in an evangelical Bible believing church for at least 1 year in High School, only 11% were still active in a Christian Church.
Pew Research found that the younger you are, the more likely you are not to be affiliated with a religion. 9% of U.S. adults 65 and older have no religious affiliation while 32% of U.S. adults under 30 have no religious affiliation.
I would say, as a pastor who has felt for a long time that God was judging His people due to the anecdotal evidence of his own experience, that hard social science is now confirming that my experience is common to the American church as a whole. I believe I can say pretty conclusively at this point that, “we are under the judgment of God”.
The Big Trap
What are we to do? That is the question we need to ask. How do we respond to having our eyes opened to the reality of what is going on around us. I think first we need to avoid falling into the big trap of thinking, “Wow, this is too big for me, the church needs to do something about this!” I would not wait for institutional churches to implement a plan of revival. Repentance, reformation, and renewal are rarely top down events. Let me give an example.
I once was at a conference years ago where a man spoke (I cannot remember his name) that had first hand knowledge of the Welsh Revivals in the Hebrides Islands. He was Welsh himself, and had been converted under Duncan Campbell’s ministry during that period. He was a very old, more than 80 when I heard him give the testimony I am about to share. He said to us, “some of you men think that the revival came because Duncan Campbell was such a godly man…… but that’s not true. The truth is there were two disabled widows were concerned that the youth of the Hebrides were falling away from the truth, and so they prayed for faithfully together that revival would come to the Hebrides. These two widows called for Duncan Campbell to come, after God revealed to them while praying that he was to come to the Hebrides to preach. He refused the first invitation and said he wouldn’t be able to come. Upon hearing the news that Campbell wouldn’t come, the widows replied, “this is man’s answer, but God has said otherwise, and he will be here within a fortnight.” And he was. He came to preach for 10 days, but when God moved, stayed for over two years. Watch the story here The Hebrides Revival was really an answer to prayers prayed by two disabled widows, and few people even know their names. Do not think that your prayers and labors of love for the Gospel will be forgotten, or that they will be all for nought. Mighty things have been done because of the prayers of anonymous saints. The world may not remember your name, but it is written in the book that matters, The Lambs Book of Life. The problem is too big for you, but, it is not too big for your Heavenly Father.
Take Direct Action
Secondly, and I really can’t stress this enough, we should encourage people to take direct action. In other words, people should be involved in hands on ministry. Most people are frozen, waiting for the herd to act, waiting for the institutional church to organize ministry for them. Folks want nice clean programs they can plug in to. Biblically, the work of the ministry is committed into the hands of Christians, not the organized entity we often call Church. I am not bashing the entity, I am a full time pastor that believes strongly in it’s legitimacy. My issue is that when the church professionals begin to do things that are not by nature part of their callings, they damage the integrity of the Church rather than build it. We see this in economics all the time. Whenever you do something for someone that they should do for themselves, the integrity of the person, and then eventually, the entire culture is damaged. So indefinite welfare creates ghettos and generational poverty. We must never confuse the purpose of the organized Church. It is to equip the people for the work of the ministry…… not to organize and execute it. We must begin, person by person, to take spiritual responsibility for our selves, our families, and our neighborhoods. Institutions don’t love people, people love people. Top down corporate Christianity has created ministry ghettos. Places where nothing gets done without ministry professionals. We’ve disempowered Christians. In our zeal to have Biblically ordered churches with Elders and Deacons (these are good things btw), we concentrated ministry into “only” or “nearly only” their hands. We often have gifted, responsible, godly believers asking permission to perform ministry in their community that God has called all Christians to do. We should embrace and encourage direct action, unleashing the ministry potential that is sitting dormant in our pews because we stifled it by seeking to grow the rolls our churches, rather than seeking to grow the Church. There is a not so subtle difference. If we want to be a place that bears fruit for the Kingdom, we have to have the environment necessary to grow the plants (ie. Disciples). Right now, most of us just don’t.
Finally, what is the focus of your heart? Forget everyone else. The Israelites in Numbers 25 “came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.”
(Hosea 9:10 ESV) This spiritual truth is retold in opposite form in the New Testament where we are told that, ”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17,18) What am I driving at here? The truth is that worship is transformative. If we worship the wrong things we become detestable like the thing we worship. If we worship the Lord, we are transformed into His image, from glory to glory. But worship is more than singing songs at church gatherings. It is surrendering your life to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is giving your all, your everything to Him. All the great songs we sing are charades without surrendering our lives to Him. Here is where we stand or fall because there really is no middle ground. We are either worshipers or idolaters. Is your life whirling around Jesus Christ like a planet around the sun, or is it a frantic running from one thing to the next, colliding, crashing, peace-less, and joyless? Are you drawn by the Spirit to the deep places of God’s Spirit, uncovered and open before Him? Or are you content with this American life? Do you pray? Do you fast? Do you long for the coming of the Kingdom? Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? Do you commune regularly with the Holy Triune God? Is your soul anorexically thin from not feeding on Christ in the Scriptures on a regular basis? Worship is transformative, it shapes the soul and changes the person. While I am ending here, I really think this is the place we should all start, in the Presence of the Holy. Until we see Him, nothing will change, because it can’t. In the word’s of Thomas Watson, “fly to Him”.
February 17, 2014
Preparing our Hearts for Worship
 O LORD God of hosts, who is mighty as you are, O LORD, with your faithfulness all around you?  You rule the raging of the sea; when its waves rise, you still them.  You crushed Rahab like a carcass; you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.  The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours; the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.  The north and the south, you have created them; Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.  You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand.  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.  Blessed are the people who know the festal shout, who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,  who exult in your name all the day and in your righteousness are exalted.  For you are the glory of their strength; by your favor our horn is exalted.  For our shield belongs to the LORD, our king to the Holy One of Israel.
- I encourage you to take some time this week to enjoy the faithfulness of God that surrounds Him, and you. While we can’t see the raging sea here in Tennessee, we can see some very majestic sunrises and sunsets. If you find yourselves in East Tennessee some time in the near future, the Smokey Mountains could serve as your Tabor or Hermon.
- Consider the righteousness, justice, steadfast love, and faithfulness demonstrated for us in the cross. Christ, who is righteous, died so that justice would be fulfilled. Yet these things were done in order to fulfill ancient promises (faithfulness) made in a solemn covenant that God himself initiated without any merit in mankind (steadfast love).
- Consider how blessed you are to know the faithfulness of God, not just in nature, but in the experience of grace. Sunsets are common to all men, but the revelation of Jesus Christ is special. We can celebrate the God of nature not merely as nature’s God, but as our own Father. This raises us to new joy, and brings to the lips the festal shout.
- It is the Knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ that brings joy to our hearts, and strengthens our faith. It is this Knowledge that becomes a shield to us. Our King, King Jesus, is the Holy One of Israel.
Scripture Readings for the Week
Sermon Passage for Next Week
February 7, 2014
This past Sunday as I taught through Hosea 7, I drew several parallels between the state of Israel in Hosea’s time period, and the state of our own nation and church today. Some of the parallels I made were rising crime and increased border difficulties (vs 1), a public that generally recognizes something is wrong, we all see it, it “surrounds” us (vs 2). A poisonous political climate where men rule without honor, clamoring over one another, rushing to the microphones and tv cameras to denounce each other, engaging in character assassination, and assigning blame (vs 3-7). We have rulers that trust more in their perceived wisdom in making political alliances than they trust in God (vs 8). Hosea 7:9, 10 were the verses in which I labored to focus on for applications purposes.
Strangers devour his strength, and he knows it not; gray hairs are sprinkled upon him, and he knows it not. The pride of Israel testifies to his face; yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him, for all this.
~ Hosea 7:9, 10 ~
How can strangers devour our strength without us easily seeing the cause of our weakness? There are many ways this question could be answered. Perhaps it could be losing our youngest, our best, and our brightest young men in war. Or maybe when our government sells short-term bonds to China and Saudi Arabia to raise money to pay our national expenditures, forcing us to print the money to cover the interest and lowering the value of the money in our wallets and bank accounts. Or when our leaders through bad trade agreements, tax policy, and regulations make it more profitable for American businesses and jobs to move over seas. Or maybe it is just when the average citizen buys more house than he can afford and uses credit cards to rack up debt to large transnational companies, thus transferring his wealth overseas. In any event, it means most of us are now living paycheck to paycheck with no ability to save any of the fruit of our labor.
What does it mean when gray hairs are sprinkled upon us and we don’t know it? Well it can happen when one generation becomes obsessed with youth culture and engages in the fruitless endeavor of trying to live forever. Since the 1970’s the U.S. population has engaged in a health and exercise craze that is unprecedented. Our obsession with youth culture has caused us to encourage our children to remain children long after the time in which they should have become adults and begun to fulfill their proper roles in church and society. The church in particular can have gray hair and not know it when it’s leaders and shepherds turn and ask the youth “what do you guys want?” “How can we change what we’re doing to cater to your inclinations?” When we do this we show that the current emperor has no clothes. By asking them what they want, we are de facto acknowledging that we don’t know what they need. Subconsciously, they have recognized the reality that we are children raising children, and they have begun to seek answers elsewhere.
So what is to be done? How should the church respond to the challenges that face a nation under the judgment of God? First, we have to acknowledge that we are part of the problem and stop blaming congress, the presidency, terrorism, and every other bogeyman. We have the culture and political climate that we have helped to create. We need for it not to be said of us, “yet they do not return to the Lord their God, nor seek Him, for all this.” We need to grow up, take responsibility, look to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and receive the grace and truth that is in Him. Without our turning to Jesus Christ, receiving the centrality of His authority in our lives, all the other advice I’m going to give will be vain. We need a fresh work of the Holy Spirit. We need to be renewed in every way, personally in the inner man, theologically in our minds and hearts, and in our outer man (hands and feet) so that we are not just hearers of the Word but doers as well. We need a holistic approach to discipleship, one that teaches the whole counsel of God and doesn’t leave folks ill equipped to deal with life in a sinful world. Our bodies must be presented to the Lord for His use, and our minds must be transformed by His truth.
Secondly, and this is in line with our passage from today. As Christians, we need to stop giving our consent to wars of aggression, stop sending our sons off to die in opportunistic wars that are based more in economics than in defense of life, liberty, and property. We need to take personal action in obedience to Scripture and avoid unbiblical consumer debt to fulfill our sensual life styles. We need to become self-sufficient, working our way away from government dependency through thrift and biblical wisdom so that we can take care of our own families as well as the poor that are neglected by and in some cases trapped by the government. We need to lead in this area by example while simultaneously calling for our nation to live within it’s means as well, growing toward international self-sufficiency. No longer needing to borrow from other nations to fund our national governments profligacy. We need to stop supporting a poisonous political establishment that is only interested in it’s own power and the welfare of it’s friends on K Street (lobbyists). And we need to help elect a new crop of leadership, beginning at our local level, that seeks peace and pursues it, avoids debt and money printing, and removes costly regulations that free us to keep more of the fruits of our labors.
Thirdly, yes we need to take care of our bodies, you should eat healthy and exercise. But, you need to act your age, and attain the wisdom that one should have by 25, 30, 40, etc. If you know more about nutrition and exercise than you know about the Scriptures, “Houston, we have a problem”. Bodily exercise profits little, but godliness profits in this life and in the life to come. Grown men need to turn off their xbox, break their “Black Ops” disc, and give themselves to developing a real and vibrant relationship with God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ. Stop watching 6 hours of sports each week and you’ll probably find some time to pray and read the Scriptures, which are key to developing that relationship. Your favorite show can wait. Hulu isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Go grab the young men of the church and go do something with them. Have a godly conversation, teach them a real skill (cut grass, change oil or a tire, build something), take responsibility for the future of the Church and nation. It’s time for you to become leaders. If you don’t who’s going to? You have gray hair and you need to know it, and this generation needs to know what you know. We have to start living real life together, because a virtual one is an empty chasm, void of relationship and eternal purpose.
Older women (25, 30, 40, etc) need to have some serious talks with young women about predatory males, modesty, their past mistakes, regrets, receiving grace, and become themselves living breathing examples of a virtuous woman. Honestly, I have less to say to you, personally, I’m a guy, so I don’t really have an inside track here. But also my experience has been if I throw a Bible into a room, the ladies will fight over who gets to read it, while the guys run for the walls. However, I must say this to you…… some of the responsibility for what has happened to men in the church and society at large can be placed in your court so to speak (Sorry for the sports analogy, I’m a guy). Feminism was about women becoming leaders in church and state. It had/has nothing to do with equality, it was always been about supremacy. The problem is at least partly of your making. If you want your man to lead, you are going to have to make room for him, including his mistakes. It’s been two generations since he lead anything at all. He, also, likely never had a man show him how to lead gently and lovingly, so expect there to be plenty of mistakes along the way. Hopefully, “love” still “covers a multitude of sin”.
Pastors, if you want to keep the children of the church, quit hiring other children to be their pastors. Perhaps the Youth Pastor needs to be less of a buddy to play Frisbee golf and compare LeCrae mp3 collections with and more of a deeply spiritual man who is able to guide them into a love relationship with Jesus Christ, discipling them in the timeless truths of the Christian Faith, and helping them form healthy relationships within the church as participants and servants. Don’t ask children what they want and then give it to them. Shepherds give their sheep what they need, they lead them to the best pastures, they don’t let them wander wherever they want to go and eat whatever they want to eat. As a father, I have an 8 year old that would eat Captain Crunch and play Mindcraft 16 hours a day if I let him, but I don’t, because that would be a terrible existence and it would destroy him in the end. The people I shepherd aren’t 8 year olds, I grant you that, but most of the 13 thru 18 year olds I do shepherd would want to play games every Wednesday night and barely even talk about the Gospel of Jesus Christ if I left it up to them to decide. But that’s not what’s best for them. So I give them what they need, a healthy dose of the “Apostles doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer” (Acts 2:42). Yes we have some fun, but fun is not the point. The actual point of being a shepherd, is giving people what they need, because most of the time, what the masses want, or what people think they need, will hurt them in the end.
What I’m saying here actually applies to all pastoral settings. Pastors, don’t think this is just about Youth Ministry. The last 30 or 40 years has seen the rise of the Mega church, which essentially had a ministry philosophy that went something like this, “Let’s ask people what they want and then give it to them”. It is the same trap that most Youth ministries fall into, except on steroids. Over this period, church attendance declined drastically across the board in the U.S., with some studies showing that conservative, Bible believing evangelical churches were losing up to 89% of their children. The relative size of the average church increased, and this masked the steep decline in church attendance for most Christians, because they equated the growth of THEIR church with the growth of THE Church. It’s more than high time we recognize the bankruptcy of this failed philosophy of ministry, abandoning it in favor of the “old paths, wherein is the good way”.
You’re likely smiling right now thinking, I knew it, he’s one of those anti-contemporary church guys, here comes the lecture. I didn’t say return to the church of the 1950’s or even the 50’s AD, what I am suggesting is that “we have gray hair” and “we should know it”. The church is an ancient entity not a contemporary one. There is a reason why most churches were, relatively speaking, organized in the same way for millennia. It is only recently that the church devolved in appearance to be akin to a concert venue. Let’s play a word association game, shall we? I’ll say the word, “worship”, and I bet you just thought about singing. Again, “Houston, we have a problem”. Now, how did we get to become musically centered in our churches? Well, it’s linked to our obsession with youth culture and making things fun. One thing those young people like is their music. And so our attempt to draw in youth beginning in the late 1960’s and 70’s has resulted in a baby boomer dominated church that is also dominated by music. The sad fact is, and here is where I’m going to take on a whole generation of people, they are THE generation that “has gray hair” right now and refuses to “know it”. I’m generalizing, I know, not everyone fits into this category, so listen with an understanding ear as I describe what I see. An exercise crazed, nutritional fad oriented, sexual revolutionaries, the birth of rock-n-roll, Viagra taking, Mega-church founding, 50 is the new 40 generation that refuses to develop new leaders because they think they are going to live forever. They have stunted the growth of their children and put their future in jeopardy. They are the current political leaders, and under their leadership spending and debt has spiraled out of control. They refuse to be adults and sacrifice for their children, instead strapped them with 17 TRILLION dollars worth of debt. They are the elders and pastors of most churches today, and under their leadership the church has drastically declined. Maybe they have been the unfortunate victims of happenstance, but I don’t think so. What the world needs, what the church drastically needs, is for those with gray hair to know it, act like it, and lead like it. We need to abandon this fruitless attempt to be cool, and begin to fulfill our roles as Fathers and Mothers of the Faith. This is an emergency. Those that are my age, Generation X’ers, you need to be preparing to attempt to right the ship as we move into the halls of leadership and power. Generation Y, you need to move out of your parents basement, put the video game controller down, get a job, and stop blaming everyone for your lack of productivity and motivation.
Millenials, read this, learn from it, and begin to prepare yourselves now, for the roles you will play in the all to near future as parents, civic leaders, mentors, disciplers, etc. You are likely to have very few role models, so you are going to have to dig deep into God’s Word to find the truth, and then strike out with your face in the wind to live it out in a world that is likely going to be very hostile toward you, and of course, your Savior. You will not be the first generation to have to begin anew. But you have great tools at your finger-tips like the internet, and an entire sacred history to explore and learn to apply in new creative ways. The world desperately needs you, needs us, all of us, that name the name of Christ, to live Gospel centered, gloriously productive lives, for the Father’s glory.
January 24, 2014
 Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.  Preserve my life, for I am godly; save your servant, who trusts in you—you are my God.  Be gracious to me, O Lord, for to you do I cry all the day. Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, do I lift up my soul.  For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.  Give ear, O LORD, to my prayer; listen to my plea for grace.  In the day of my trouble I call upon you, for you answer me.
Consider, one of the great promises of the Gospel is that the Lord makes those of us that are poor, rich. We are all poor and needy. Sin brings to us spiritual poverty. We are all born dead in our sin and separated from God. His wrath lies upon us, we are filled with fear and guilt because of it. We are poor toward each other. Families fall apart, men often manipulate and hurt one another. Our relationships often breakdown, the earth is full of war and violence.
We are poor toward creation. Our work is hard much of the time and doesn’t always yield what it should. All these coincide to bring many people into material poverty as well
First, take a moment and consider the depth of your poverty. Confess your needs, ask the Lord to preserve your way because Christ has changed your heart and given you a heart toward godliness. Receive from Christ gladly the promise of the Gospel that makes you alive in Christ Jesus, making you spiritually rich. The same now indwelling Christ also gives you a heart to love your brother and your neighbor, making you rich toward men. Take heart in the promise of the Gospel that makes Christ King over all Creation and you heir with Him, making you rich toward creation. Finally through the blessing of Christ’s body, though we may be materially poor, yet we have all things in common, and so we are incalculably materially rich.
Second, we can be sure that all these things are true because we know that God is good, forgiving, abounding in covenant love toward His people. We can be confident because of His character that He cares for and listens to our pleas. It is faith in God’s character, demonstrated in Christ Jesus, that saves us, and applies or rewards us with all the Gospel promises. “And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6)
January 15, 2014
The following is taken from our silent devotion time that we normally begin our worship gathering with on Sunday evenings @ Solomon’s Porch.
 O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!  For behold, your enemies make an uproar; those who hate you have raised their heads.  They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones.  They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”  For they conspire with one accord; against you they make a covenant—
Do you ever feel as if God is silent or seems to not be moving in your life or in the local church? If that’s how you feel, vs 1 shows us that it’s ok to voice those feelings to God, and to further ask him to speak and move, or at least to stir your heart so that you can hear and see Him moving. Take a moment and ask God to speak and move in your life and in the life of your local church.
As our culture increases in hostility towards God, especially His Law and Gospel, it becomes easier for His people to be tempted to retreat into silence, and grow fearful. Ask the Lord to give you as an individual, and the church together, boldness to proclaim the truth of the Scriptures as they are demonstrated in both the Law and the Gospel, even though it maybe unpopular to do so.
Vs 5 gives us a very important perspective for the Christian life. The world hates us because it hates Him. It is against the Lord that they conspire. That is helpful for us to know, because we are small in number and weak. If it was about merely wiping us off the face of the earth the task would not be hard. But their true malice is against the Lord, and therefore we are under the protection of His glory. No weapon formed can defeat us because it cannot defeat Him.
“no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”
Take a moment and thank Him for His divine power and the safety and protection He gives to His people.
December 3, 2013
For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the LORD, who has compassion on you. “O afflicted one, storm-tossed and not comforted, behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and lay your foundations with sapphires. I will make your pinnacles of agate, your gates of carbuncles, and all your wall of precious stones.
All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you. If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me; whoever stirs up strife with you shall fall because of you. Behold, I have created the smith who blows the fire of coals and produces a weapon for its purpose. I have also created the ravager to destroy; no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the LORD and their vindication from me, declares the LORD.”
Here, the covenant idea comes back into the Sacred Writ. Instead of referring to the covenant Christ will bring as the New Covenant, here in Isaiah, it is called a “Covenant of Peace”. Under the Old Covenant God will say,
“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.”
What we should hear is that before, God was establishing a Covenant that had the potential to bring life and peace………if kept. But if Israel chose disobedience it had the potential to bring death, a curse, and judgment. Again, since man is fallen, death, curse, and judgment were inevitable. The Old Covenant could never end in peace with God, not because there was fault or weakness in the Law, but because there is fault and weakness in man. What was the solution? Again, it could not be to make a different covenant with fallen men, since the nature of man was the problem.
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
The New Covenant does not just have the potential to bring peace, it is a Covenant of Peace. It brings the regenerating life of the Holy Spirit to all that come to Christ the Divine Son. He changes every person that comes to Him from an enemy to a sibling, from a slave to a son. Because of Jesus the Divine Son we now can say, “Abba Father”, and God responds to us, peace, be still, and know that I am your God.
November 30, 2013
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy. You visit the earth and water it; you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water;
you provide their grain, for so you have prepared it. You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy.
~ Psalm 65:8b-13 ~
Consider the wisdom and power of God demonstrated in how He provides for the needs whole world. God’s creation of day and night, rain showers, the natural order of seeds, growth, and fruit; dairy, meat, and poultry; It even says “your wagon tracks overflow with abundance”. Here you should think of trains, trucking, and delivery systems. In all these God is not only the creator, but He is active in providing for the needs of the world.
God is not a clockmaker and the world is not a clock. Too often we let the laws we observe scientifically shape our view of God. God is not sitting in some distant place as the creation He made unwinds like a machine. No, He is near, sustaining, and working within the world. Christ is hidden in all these things.
“Thus human work is an imitation of God’s work, a participation in God’s creation and His creativity. Ruling, subduing, multiplying, causing plants to grow, making things- these are what God does, and yet God gives them as tasks to human beings.” Gene Edward Veith Jr
In all things, and in every way, God supplies all our needs. Either directly to us via the natural world, or indirectly to us through the reshaping of nature through our own work, God is our Provider.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
~ Romans 11:33-36 ~
November 4, 2013
Analysis of American Culture through the lens of Hosea 4 continued……
They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding.
As we continue our analysis of American culture and “our rejection of the knowledge of God”, in light of Hosea 4, we come to another mark of a culture/nation coming under the judgment of God. “They shall eat and not be satisfied;” What does this look like in our day? One manifestation of this is the massive increase in psychotropic drugs being used in the United States. America is the richest nation in history. If ancient people could see our modern neighborhoods, they would think they had entered a land where everyone is a king. We have central heat and air and can control the temperature in our environment. Life expectancy has almost doubled since our founding. We are largely insulated from war, poverty, and premature death. Yet, there are large swaths of people in the U.S. with successful jobs, large homes, expensive clothing, and good educations who, nevertheless, cannot get out of bed without antidepressants. Why? They have everything, yet they are not satisfied. They are disaffected with life and they don’t know why. Rather than admit that their life is empty without the God of their forefathers, rather than turning to Jesus Christ and the grace offered in Him, they seek solace in pharmiceuticals and Freudian psychiatrists that tell them to look for answers within, or, who assign blame to the environment in which they were raised. Instead of being redeemed and given new life, they are enslaved to a victim mentality from which they cannot escape. Their lives are unfulfilled, fruitless, and devoid of meaning.
So they turn to sexual immorality and seek their fulfillment in pleasure. “They play the whore.” But there are consequences to sexual relations. Sex is secondarily pleasurable. It is primarily for procreation. How would a nation play the whore yet not multiply? Over the past 40 years or so in the U.S. we have seen birth control pills become popular, and a nation wide abortion industry pop up literally over night. This is either the prevention or murder of future generations for nothing more than the convenience of the living. “They shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD”.
We have also become a culture of addiction. We have everything from sexual addiction and pornography to food addiction and cutting. “They have forsaken the LORD to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding”. Pleasure has a blinding effect on those who are caught in it’s grasp. It takes away understanding. It causes people to have misplaced priorities and results in the breaking of long-standing commitments.
We are watching divorce become common place. We are seeing our prisons fill to the max. We are mesmerized by the rise of senseless violence in our streets and among our children. But most people do not see that it is the heedless pursuit of pleasure that is the root cause. Men do not want to be fathers, but they want to have sex at will. Women do not want to be mothers, but they want to please the men of our culture. Pop culture elevates an epicurean party lifestyle. Sexual immorality and addiction are the result of practicing sex outside of marriage and using the gifts of God like alcohol and drugs, which have legitimate purposes, apart from the Biblical caution and restraint, commonly called wisdom and moderation.
Eventually we’ll get to the aspects of Hosea that bring hope. But for now, it’s important that we allow God to strip us down through His Word, and show us our sins, and their real impact on our lives and nation. We cannot repent of what we do not see. Hosea is a prophet whose visions unmask and lay bare our sins. So we can see them and turn from them, and once again become a nation filled with men and women that are called “a holy people” and “a royal nation”.
To be continued
October 29, 2013
Analysis of American Culture through the lens of Hosea 4
In America, as it was in Israel, we find a lack of the “knowledge of God in the land”. Because we find here in our land, as they found in their land, wide spread immorality. There is “swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and adultery”. It can be said of us, “they break all bounds”. Whether our discussions center on pop culture, political culture, or church culture, the statement remains true. We think of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s recent escapade on stage together at the MTV Awards show, where a teenager engaged in sexually explicit behavior with a married man on a prime time venue. Truly, we break all bounds. Or maybe we can lament the recent murder of a high school teacher in Massachusetts, or New Town and all those children, or the events that transpired in the movie theater in Colorado, or even the recent naval yard shootings. Truly,” blood shed follows blood shed.”
Whose fault are these things? Of course the perpetrators of these crimes deserve the blame. As individuals they decided to commit them, and as individuals they will stand for them. But when God approaches a nation or culture in this much decay, whom does He come to first? Surely in our time, God would approach the leader of the free world, the president of the United States first, but this is not the case. Perhaps, congress then? Shockingly, to many Christians the answer is still, no. Maybe the educators, those responsible for shaping the intellectual lives of our children, maybe God will hold them ultimately responsible? Still the answer is no. God holds the spiritual leaders of the nation responsible first.
Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother.
Judgment must begin at the house of God, because it is the spiritual leaders of our nation that are the ones capable of withholding the life saving knowledge of God from the people of our land. It is the truth of God that not only brings life, but shapes law, art, and even political structures, and power distribution. The Gospel changes everything and when this knowledge is withheld, what starts out as a little leaven, leavens the whole lump. So the same truth that set women free to be more than household slaves, when obscured, turns them into slaves for sexual gratification via pornography, murderers via abortion, and makes motherhood unwanted or at best a lesser calling in life. When God sees these events transpiring He approaches our spiritual leaders and makes sure that they know, that they are responsible.
In our day, is there a spiritual movement based on teaching the Scriptures on a fifth grade level? Are there men who intentionally withhold the deeper teaching of the Scriptures from their people in order to attempt to grow their church’s attendance numbers and coffers? Yes there is, it has gone under the banner of the “Church Growth Movement” or the “Seeker Church Movement”. Believing wrongly, and in many cases innocently enough, that if they would teach on practical things and meet felt needs, that they would draw larger crowds, more people would hear about Jesus Christ, and, via extension, many more would be saved. Instead however, I wonder if we might well say,
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you (priest) have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.
The Seeker Church Movement, and I don’t mean this to be uncharitable, is a group of pastors, who, for mainly consumer reasons, conspired together to withhold the knowledge of God from the people of our land. I know many of these men will say, “I preached Jesus and His cross”. Yes you did. But did you proclaim the whole counsel of God? Did you tell them about all its implications? To those questions the answer is no. We, spiritual leaders, have colluded in a massive failure to disciple the people of God. We have not lead them deeper into the ocean of grace and truth that is given to us in Christ Jesus and declared to us in the Scriptures, instead we have been content to play in the puddles near the waters edge. And because we rejected the “knowledge of God”, He is rejecting our children. Pastor’s children are now referred to as PK’s, which is not a term of endearment but one of derision. It is expected for the children of pastors to not only go astray, but to be leaders in sin in their congregations.
The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame.
What does it look like when the spiritual leaders of a nation have their glory turned into shame? When I tell someone I am a pastor, about 50% of the time their estimation of me drops. Instead of increasing in influence, my stock often plummets. Why is this? Maybe I am a bad example of a pastor…….. but this happens whether these folks have met me and know my failures (which are many) or not. That’s because the Jimmy Swaggarts, Jim Bakers, and Robert Tiltons of the world made us all look like scheisters and conmen. There is also a plethora of bad experiences on the local level, of pastors, who should have been above reproach, but instead, are a reproach to the Gospel themselves. Pastors, our glory has been turned into shame, and we are the ones responsible. And this curse has spread further than to just the homes and reputations of spiritual leaders.
And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds.
By some estimates, upward of 85% of the children now attending Bible believing evangelical churches will not be there when they are 29 years of age. There is a growing and widespread rejection in our culture, not just of Christian doctrine, but of Christian people. In the military, Christians are being described as extremists, and Christian teachings are no longer deemed compatible with military conduct, thus neither are Christians. We are already seeing chaplains being disciplined and muzzled because of the Gospel. In classrooms, especially colleges, Christians are being discriminated against freely. I know many will say in response to this that when Jesus was on the earth He told us that we would be rejected, just as He was rejected. Except, I don’t think we are being rejected for the same reasons He was exactly. I am not saying the military or higher education system is right in what they are doing, but I am suggesting that God has turned our glory into shame, because we, for the most part, have rejected His knowledge, not as a nation but as a church.