From the Pastors

In the second sermon in the Credo: Here We Stand series, “Father, Almighty, Creator,” I mentioned sexual identity as one of the cultural issues on which Christians must take a stand that is grounded in Scripture and compassionate and kind. Below is a list of resources by Christians who are studying, thinking, talking, and praying about this issue. Some of them have personal experience; all handle this subject with grace. These are resources our Calvary Church pastors recommend.

Last summer during my month-long study break in Cambridge, Kurt and Lyndse Felsman came to see me.  We were out for a walk together after a nice meal, and I turned to Kurt and said, “I’ve been thinking about preaching through the Psalms next summer. I’m going to call it God Songs; what do you think?”  He said, “It sounds like God has been doing some things in your heart.” 

In my post-election sermon on Sunday, November 20, 2016, I referenced a number of great articles and books that have helped me think about my position as a citizen of God's kingdom and a citizen in the "kingdom of man." Below I'm sharing those with you. These are all resources focused first and foremost on putting God's kingdom first so I can recommend each one to you.

I want to speak as a pastor about the presidential elections. I believe that the gospel applies to all of life, even the way we think about things like national, state, and local politics. What I have to say may surprise you. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for since for me to do so is wrongheaded for all kinds of reasons. I learned a long time ago from Billy Graham that ministers of the gospel need to stay focused on their primary calling—preaching the gospel.  So let me provide what I think is some helpful pastoral counsel for all of us during this year’s election. I want to encourage you.

Writing to the Galatians, Paul is, in his own words, “astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (v 6-7). It’s not a foreign god or idol turning the hearts of these Galatian Gentiles [people who were not Jews]; it’s a bunch of Jewish teachers, who have introduced the rules and regulations of the old covenant to these new believers. They have said, in essense, You have received Jesus, that’s good! Now you need to follow these dietary laws, keep these rules, and also get a special surgery [circumcision] so you can stay right with God. They were persuasive and many of the Galatians followed along.

All around us are constant reminders that our world needs renewal. Terrorist attacks, security concerns, civil war, the refugee crisis, and a political process gone haywire. Our own lives are far from perfect either. Sickness is a reminder that the world is not as it should be. I picked up a tropical fever on a recent trip to India and Nepal. It’s pronounced deng-ee fever (Dengue Fever), but my wife and I call it the Dang Fever. My wife has been recovering from surgery and that has been a long process. My compassion for the sick and suffering has soared in recent weeks! Physical suffering is only a small part of the pain we feel though. There is all the broken stuff in our lives too. Discouragement, depression, and disappointment. The hurting of family and friends. The reminders of grief and mourning.

There are four viewpoints on the miraculous gifts like speaking in tongues. First, the people I callcharismaniacs, who often do weird and unbiblical things and attribute these things to the Holy Spirit. This is includes everything from holy laughter to barking (I’m not making this up), from being “slain in the Spirit” [falling over] to handling snakes.

Pentecost drew people from all over the known world to Jerusalem—“God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.” It was like a festival with eating, drinking, and fun, which is why Peter will later assure the crowd that the disciples are not drunk. And into this mix comes a small crowd of Galileans speaking languages that these travellers know. It isn’t gibberish; people recognize their own dialects and hear the wonders of God declared. They hear the story of Jesus’ life, death for their sin, and resurrection spoken in a way they can easily understand!

Let me provide some important theological guidance for praying. You don’t have to be eloquent to pray. Our prayers should be simple, honest, from the heart, and informed by Scripture. This is what Timothy Keller calls “intelligent mysticism,” a phrase he borrowed from another theologian, John Murray. “It is necessary for us to recognize that there is an intelligent mysticism in the life of faith…. That means an encounter with God that involves not only the affections of the heart but also the convictions of the mind” (Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God). In other words our prayers must be heart-felt (from the heart) but also from the mind, which means they need to be informed by Scripture! 

I love starting a new journey. Whether the trip is taking me to a place I’ve never been before or follows a familiar path trod a thousand times, I love the freshness of taking that first step toward something delightful and good. This week begins a new adventure through the book Acts, the next Bible book that we are going to explore verse by verse. There are 28 chapters in Acts so you may be wondering how long exactly it’s going to take to get to the end of this journey. The simple answer is about a year, and that includes a detour through another of Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Let me explain.

Outsider is not a derogatory word; it simply refers to those who are not yet in the kingdom. They do not yet know Christ. We can’t act like idiots toward those who don’t believe and then expect them to find the gospel appealing. Instead, we are to “make the most of every opportunity” we have to witness and to do so with grace. What Paul is saying is that we must witness with wisdom and charm every chance you get. 

The great missionary and theologian of the church says, Pray for me! Pray for those who are working with me. Pray for all of us. Paul was asking that people pray for God to open doors so that the gospel of Jesus Christ could be preached. He was asking them to pray for him personally as he was in prison. He was asking them to pray that he could be clear and bold in proclaiming Christ. In short, he was asking them to be concerned for him and those who were working for the gospel andto be concerned that the gospel message spread to more people. We need more of this kind of praying in our churches!

Paul tells Christ-followers to be watchful and thankful in prayer. First, while praying, we should remember our own weakness. We are sinners, weak and in need of God’s help to live this life. (Plus, the Evil One is out there setting traps that we’ll need wisdom and discernment to avoid.) So we need to pray for wisdom, pray for discernment, pray for caution, and pray for guidance. We must watch our step on this journey and rely upon the Lord.

The expression “devote yourselves to prayer” could be translated, “keep on praying.” And while Paul is certainly not opposed to having set times that you sit in your favorite chair and pray, what he is talking about here is prayer as a way of life. There is a classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, by a 17th century monk who has become known as Brother Lawrence. Now I don’t agree with all of Brother Lawrence’s theology (especially as it relates to marriage), but what I do like is his emphasis on being in the presence of God through the day. He would not only pray at the times set aside from prayer within the monastery, but also when peeling potatoes in the kitchen or working outside. He wrote, “We are content with too little. God has infinite treasures to give us, he says. Why should we be satisfied with a brief moment of worship?” Why should you be content to worship God only on Sunday mornings? Or only pray to him during specific times? God wants you to enjoy his presence so much more.

As Paul comes to the closing of his letter to the Christians in Colossae, he encourages them to pray, both for themselves and for the spread of the gospel. I don't think the placement of this prayer in a coincidence. Nor is it an afterthought. After hundreds of words spent explaining to these Christians how their lives had changed because of Christ, and how much more God had for them in spiritual growth and Christ-likeness, in one little line (verse 2), Paul reminds them that they are not alone in this. “Devote yourselves to prayer.” How else can you be the person God wants to be except with his help?

One of the things I love about the Bible is that when we are told what to do, we are also told what we can expect from our obedience. In this passage, Paul tells us to do our work expectant of reward. God often appeals to us with the promise of reward. In fact, Jonathan Edward noted that throughout the Bible, we see the theme of God’s glory and our good bound up together in one. Reward is all about giving us something good while God gets the glory. And when we obey God, it brings glory and joy to God and reward and good for us.

Biblical commentator James D. G. Dunn notes in his commentary on Colossians 3:23 that Paul’s words indicate that work is to be “done from the vital heart of the person, with all the individual’s life force behind it” (The Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon) In short, this means you are to do your work passionately as though you are working for the Lord! Or as we often say around Calvary, do it with all your might. Imagine for a moment how our work would be transformed if we first and foremost recognized that we are serving the Lord.

Do your work reverently to please the Audience of One. In other words, endeavor to please God first. In the Greek, the phrase “not only when their eye is on you” is summed up by a word that literally means “eye-slave.” Don’t be the slave of your boss’ eye and only seek to be pleasing when the supervisor is watching. (The next phrase “to curry their favor” is formed from a Greek word that literally translates “people-pleaser.”)

I like the phrase “earthly masters.” The guy who is your direct report is just the guy you answer to. He’s middle management in the grand scheme of things. You have a “heavenly master” who sees everything you do. He knows what your paycheck looks like and what you have to deal with and put up with. You work for him, and he will reward your work. (More on this on Friday.) But still, that middle management guy (or lady) is to be obeyed. And not just when it’s convenient. Paul is pretty clear in the text: “obey your earthly masters in everything.” That’s huge! It means we shouldn’t argue, talk back, make a scene, or gripe in the break room.

We were made to work. In our work, we serve others, which ultimately serves Christ and brings glory to Him. The pilot is serving passengers. The stay-at-home mom is serving her family. The carpenter is serving people who need cozy homes. The engineer serves us by designing bridges that work and roads that get us safely to our destination. A paycheck is not our primary cause for working; our primary reason for working is to serve and make the world a better place for those we serve.