Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Learn to Discern

In his great book on preaching, Haddon Robinson tells the story of a Chinese boy who wanted to learn about jade went to study with a talented old teacher. This gentle man put a piece of the precious stone into his hand and told him to hold it tight. Then he began to talk of philosophy, men, women, the sun and almost everything under it. After an hour he took back the stone and sent the boy home.

The procedure was repeated for several weeks. The boy became frustrated. When would he be told about the jade? He was too polite, however, to question the wisdom of his venerable teacher. Then one day, when the old man put a stone into his hands, the boy cried out instinctively, 'That's not jade!'"[1]

What the boy learned from the wise man was the critical skill of discernment. His method was tried and true—expose the student to the real article so that he would become so familiar with it that it would be easy to quickly spot a fake.

In the same way, if we become intimately familiar with the Scriptures then we can develop the spiritual skill of discernment. The New Testament writers admonished us to learn to discern truth from error.

In 1 John 4:1 we are told, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Paul echoes this same command in 1 Thess. 5:20-21, “Do not despise prophecies, but test everything and hold fast to what is good.” Notice that in both these passages we are told to “test” the teachings of pastors and authors, because not all that glitters is gold.   

In short, discernment is the intuitive ability to read between-the-lines and perceive beyond what is being said. Discernment involves an insight that goes beyond the obvious. Joe Stowell writes:

“Discernment in Scripture is the skill that enables us to differentiate. It is the ability to see issues clearly. We desperately need to cultivate this spiritual skill that will enable us to know right from wrong. We must be prepared to distinguish light from darkness, truth from error, best from better, righteousness from unrighteousness, purity from defilement, and principles from pragmatics.”[2]  
Like one of my seminary professors said, “Christians don’t get brownie points for being stupid!”  Evaluate what is being taught by comparing it to the Scriptures.  Don’t be a gullible Christian that takes in everything just because it has a Jesus-sticker slapped on it or because it’s on the Christian TV station or because you got it out of the Christian bookstore.

Instead imitate the believers at the church of Berea. Observe what Luke says about their pattern of investigation when Paul and Silas rolled into their town and started teaching, “Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).  In other words, they just didn’t take Paul and Silas at their word, but they did their own investigation and went back into the Old Testament to confirm their doctrine.

In the marketplace of spirituality there are numerous fakes, knockoffs and counterfeits.  It has been said that Satan is not a creator, but a great imitator. For every one of God’s truths, Satan has concocted ten counterfeits that look right, sound right and feel right.

This is why knowing true Biblical doctrine is so important. Many believers have left the study of doctrine for the stuffy seminary professors in tweed jackets. However, knowing the truth and becoming conversant in right doctrine is essential for staying wise to the wiles of the Devil. As C.S. Lewis said, “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.  If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you—you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all.”[3]

[1] Haddon Robinson, Biblical Preaching, Third Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 242.
[2] Joe Stowell, Fan The Flame (Chicago, IL: Moody Press , 1986), 44. 
[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper One, 1952), 78. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Choosing God When It Hurts

Christian author Ellen Vaughn has a chapter in one of her books entitled, “Grieving But Still Giving Thanks.”  In it she tells the heart-wrenching story of one suffering saint, Bob Meyers, and how he learned to trust God in the midst of pain.

Bob and his wife Judy had been married almost twenty-seven years and raised three kids. They were still very much in love and on the morning of September 26, 2000 everything in their lives was perfect. The two kissed goodbye as Bob went to work and Judy drove to the store to do some shopping.

Sitting at a busy four-way intersection, Judy got a green light so she let off her brake and started accelerating. However, as she crossed the intersection, a 73,000 pound, tri-axel, fully loaded dump truck smashed into Judy’s minivan. The driver of the dump truck wasn’t paying attention and the force of the impact threw Judy’s van seventy-five feet down the road, where it was hit again by heavy-duty pickup truck. Judy died instantly.

At Judy’s funeral a few days later Bob said to a packed audience, “God is trustworthy. I don’t know what He’s doing or why. But I know He knows. I am leaning on Him to get me through.”
Two years later, on October 2, 2002 Bob was watching the eleven o’clock news. The reports that evening were about the infamous Beltway Sniper who was terrorizing the people of Washington DC.  The sniper had stuck again, this time killing a man who stopped at a Northern Virginia Sunoco gas station to fill up. As the man pumped his gas a single round from a .223 rifle tore through his skull shattering it into fourteen pieces. At the time, authorities weren’t releasing any information about the victim.  

The next day, Bob’s doorbell rang and in front of him stood family and friends who were crying. “Bob, we have something to tell you,” his nephew said. “The DC sniper got Dean. He’s dead.” Dean was Bob’s oldest son and the subject of the previous night’s news reports. The weight of the situation caused Bob to crumple in a pile at his front door. It was all too much to bear. In just two years he’d lost his wife and son in tragic and unexpected circumstances.”     

A few weeks after the death of this son, Bob’s story was picked up the news media and he appeared on Larry King’s cable television show. Bob was asked by Mr. King how he found the strength to move on. Here is what Bob Meyers said to millions of people, “God could have changed things for both Judy and Dean, but He didn’t. Instead of trying to figure it all out, even though it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me, I have to rest in the fact that God knows what He’s doing. There is no way I could reconcile Judy and Dean’s deaths into a human reference. Trusting God springs from believing Bible truth, which makes clear that God is God and I am nothing. The comparison between God ways and mine, of His thoughts and mine, is the difference between heaven and earth. I either believe that God is good and is in control, or I don’t.”[1]      

If there is one lesson that we learn from Bob Meyers its this: every time we suffer we are presented with a choice—bless God or curse God. In fact, this was exactly the same choice that Job was faced with when Mrs. Job saw her husband sitting on the ash heap, covered from head to toe in painful sores, having just buried ten children.

“Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips” (Job 2:9-10).

Job’s perspective was based on his theology—he was looking vertically. His wife’s perspective was based on her trials—she was looking only horizontally.  Job realized that for most of his life he had been the recipient of many underserved blessing and therefore had no room to rail against God. Job knew that God owed him nothing, yet He had been given so much.

Before we curse God for evil, we must think back to all the times He was silently blessing us, and we never acknowledged His good gifts. In the end, Job chose God simply for God’s sake irrespective of all the comforts, blessings and material things the Lord had lavished upon Him. Do we value God the same way? Suffering will always reveal what we truly believe about God.   

Maybe the great scandal of the universe is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but “Why does God do so many good things for people who never recognize His existence?”

[1] Ellen Vaughn, Radical Gratitude (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), 156-157.  

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Small Stuff

There is an ancient Indian legend of a king who loved chess. He challenged visitors to a game, and was usually victorious. One day a traveling sage visited the kingdom and was challenged to a game by the king. To entice him to play, the king offered to give the sage whatever reward he asked if he won. When the sage explained that his prize would involve rice, the king thought nothing of such a small reward.

To the king’s amazement he was swiftly defeated in just a matter of a few moves! To honor his word, the king ordered his servants to go to the granary and locate the rice. But the sage, had something more in mind. He asked for one grain of rice to be placed on the first square of the chessboard, and then that it would be doubled on each following square until all 64 squares were filled.

The request seemed modest, and the king ordered a bag of rice to be brought. One grain was placed on the first square, two on the second, four on the third, eight on the fourth and so on. But it quickly became apparent that the terms of the request were impossible to meet. By the twenty-first square more than one million grains of rice would be required. By the thirty-first square the total would go over one billion—with more than half of the chessboard still left to go. By the end, the wise man had a lifetime supply of food at his disposal because he understood the power of exponential growth.  

Small things have a big impact when they are added together. The Scriptures have a lot to say about the value of small things. Zechariah encouraged us not to “despise the day of small things” (4:10). Solomon warned us to be on the lookout for the “little foxes” which can rob us when we aren’t looking (Song 2:15). Proverbs 13:11 tells us that wealth which endures is gathered “little by little” over a lifetime. Jesus taught that as stewards of His kingdom resources we ought to be faithful in the “small things” (Luke 16:10). Christ even compared His ministry to a tiny mustard seed that grew into a towering tree (Mark 4:30-32). Remember one of Jesus’ most fantastic miracles began with just a little boy’s sack lunch of sardines and bread (John 6:9).    

When you think you don’t have much to offer, remember God has a special way of using routine faithfulness in the “small things” to accomplish great things! Too many of us get caught up in future, grandiose thinking.  “The Lord is going to give me a great ministry down the road.  Then I will matter to Him and to others.” The danger in being caught up in “someday I will do a great thing for God” is that we may miss the frequent and daily opportunities to serve Him which, by the way, may make an extraordinary impact for the Kingdom.

Great opportunities often disguise themselves in small tasks. The little things in life determine the big things. There will always be more people willing to do “great” things for God than there are people willing to do the little things. The race to be a leader is crowded, but the field is wide open for those willing to be servants.

So where do we begin? Moses had a staff. David had a sling. Samson had a jawbone. Rahab had a string. Mary had some ointment. The widow had two mites. Paul had a pen. What do you have? Start small and give it to God. -DM

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Reversing the Curse

In his fantasy story, The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis imagines a beautiful, enchanted land called Narnia. It has towering waterfalls, majestic snow-capped mountains, idyllic beaches and lush forests. However, when four siblings accidently wander into Narnia from their wardrobe, what they find is not a utopia, but a frozen wasteland. The kingdom of Narnia has fallen under the curse of Jadis, the Ice Witch, who has cast Narnia into a hundred year winter. Moreover, Narnia’s true king, Aslan the lion, is nowhere to be found.

The inhabitants of Narnia are powerless to stop the black magic of Jadis, who captures one of siblings, Edmund, and holds him hostage. Then one day, Aslan is rumored to be back in Narnia. As Aslan enters Narnia a strange thing happens—the inhabitants notice the witch’s ice beginning to melt. Upon his return, Aslan proposes a ransom for the release of Edmund. Aslan allows the Witch to take his life so that Edmund can go free. She accepts and plunges a dagger into the heart of Aslan.

It looks like all is lost. However, the creatures of Narnia notice soon after the death of Aslan that the ice in Narnia is totally thawed. Three days after his death, Aslan is miraculously brought back to life. Aslan and the Witch face off in a final battle. When Aslan roars all of Jadis’ minions wither in fear and then the witch is crushed in the jaws of Aslan. Narnia is finally free of the curse and the presence of evil in the kingdom is banished.

It obvious to see the Christian allegory that Lewis had in mind when he wrote the Narnia series of books. Narnia like Earth is in the clutches of the old Serpent. For now the Adversary rules this world system and has the curses of death, disease and disaster to aid him. However, there are rumors that the King is soon returning to reclaim what was lost. 

Jesus is our Aslan, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who gave his life on the Cross to set us from the captivity of Satan. Upon Christ’s return and conquest the curse of sin will be taken away, just as Aslan’s presence in Narnia caused the tundra of Narnia to thaw. The redemption will be complete—through his death and resurrection from the dead Jesus will restore everything in the spiritual and physical realm. As Rev. 22:3 promises, “No longer will there be anything accursed.” Why? Because of 1 John 3:8, “For this reason the Son of God appeared: to destroy the works of the devil.”  

What will the New Earth, with the curse removed, look like? In our resurrection bodies, we will again dwell on Earth— a New Earth— completely free of the Curse. Unencumbered by sin, human activity will lead naturally to a prosperous and magnificent culture. The removal of the Curse will be as thorough and sweeping as the redemptive work of Christ. In bringing us salvation, Christ has already undone some of the damage in our hearts, but in the end he will finally and completely restore his entire creation to what God originally intended (Romans 8:19-21). Christ will turn back the Curse and restore to humanity all that we lost in Eden. -DM