Monday, July 22, 2013

What is possessing your soul? (repost from the Generosity Monk)

AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO: DON'T LET AVARICE OR LUXURIOUSNESS POSSESS YOU; RUN INSTEAD TO GOD

6. Sometimes two opposing mistresses have possession of a man, avarice and luxuriousness. Avarice says, “Keep;” luxuriousness, says, “Spend.” Under two mistresses bidding and exacting diverse things what can you do? They have both their mode of address. And when you begin to be unwilling to obey them, and to take a step towards your liberty; because they have no power to command, they use caresses. Their caresses are more to be guarded against than their commands. 
What says avarice? “Keep for yourself, keep for your children. If you should be in want, no one will give to you. Live not for the time present only; consult for the future.” 
On the other hand is luxuriousness. Live while you may. Do good to your own soul. Die you must, and you know not when; you know not to whom you shall leave what you have, or who shall possess it. You are taking the bread out of your own mouth, and perhaps after your death your heir will not so much as place a cup of wine upon your tomb; or if so be he place a cup, he will drink himself drunk with it, not a drop will come down to you. Do well therefore to your own soul, when and while you can. 
Thus avarice did enjoin one thing; “Keep for yourself, consult for the future.” Luxuriousness another, “Do well to your own soul.”
7. But O free man, called unto liberty, be weary, be weary of your servitude to such mistresses as these. Acknowledge your Redeemer, your Deliverer. Serve Him, He enjoins easier things, He enjoins not things contrary one to another. 

I am bold further to say; avarice and luxuriousness did enjoin upon you contrary things, so that you could not obey them both; and one said, “Keep for yourself, and consult for the future;” the other said, “Spend freely, do well to your own soul.” Now let your Lord and your Redeemer come forth, and He shall say the same, and yet no contrary things. If you will not, His house has no need of an unwilling servant. 

Consider your Redeemer, consider your Ransom. He came to redeem you, He shed His Blood. Dear He held you whom He purchased at so dear a price. Thou dost acknowledge Him who bought you, consider from what He redeems you. I say nothing of the other sins which lord it proudly over you; for you were serving innumerable masters. I speak only of these two, luxuriousness and avarice, giving you contrary injunctions, hurrying you into different things. Deliver yourself from them, come to your God.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) from Sermon on the New Testament 36.6-7. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Ron Shimkus with Jesus: My Friend, Mentor, Hero

Ron Shimkus - Top Left - Zimbabwe 2005
I learned yesterday morning that Ron Shimkus passed away in Zimbabwe of a heart-attack. Ron was in his late-60s (I think) and leaves behind a beloved wife, 3 adult children, grandchildren, and spiritual children and grandchildren all over the globe.

Not surprisingly, Ron died while on the front-line of ministry. For the past several years, Ron has poured his life in sharing Christ in Zimbabwe, caring for orphans and widows, and seeking justice for the poor. I met Ron in 1999 while attending Iowa State University and was blessed to have him pour into my life off-and-on the past 14 years.

As a life-long laborer with the Navigators, Ron has modeled for me what it means to preach the Gospel and to do good to neighbor. Ron was a heavenly man on earth, and now, based on his profession of faith in Jesus Christ, he is a heavenly man before His Father hearing, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."

The most remarkable thing I remember about Ron Shimkus is the transformation I saw between 2002-2006. When I first met Ron he was marked by passion, determination and a clear focus on reaching hell-bound people for Jesus. On one occasion, Ron remarked, "If we're not sharing Christ with lost people, what the hell are we doing?"

Soon after this conversation, as a grown man just around the age of 60, Ron  identified serious areas in his soul needing God's touch of grace. He took a sabbatical for a year. He met with counselors. He read his tattered Bible and listened to the Holy Spirit. In the prime of his life, he didn't rest on his laurels or accept the status quo. He wanted to be like His Savior Jesus, and he opened himself to the work of God in his heart and life. And what happened?

In a just a few years, I saw a new man. He still desperately cared for hell-bound people. He desperately desired us to be faithful to Jesus' Great Commission. And yet, there was a tenderness, compassion, and empathy that oozed out of his veins. I saw the fruit of the Spirit in him like in few I've ever met; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control flowed out of his person.

I knew that this man had been with Jesus. And his being with Jesus has led to almost another decade of faithful service to His Lord and Savior. My heart aches to see him go.

A friend of mine and my wife both remarked, "I never thought he would go." Ron seemed invincible, unstoppable, a constant pace-setter, all-powerful even. And yet, he wasn't. He was just a man, a sinful man. His body was weak and broken both spiritually and physically. He knew this. He taught this truth to others. It's what led him to trust in Jesus alone as the one who is all-powerful. Jesus the all-powerful one let (let!) His body be broken to save men like Ron, and you and me, from our sin and brokenness. Ron knew there was no hope for salvation anywhere else (Acts 4:12). He trusted in Christ, and he taught me and anyone willing to listen to trust in Christ as well.

I love you Ron; I miss you Ron; and in Christ, I believe we will meet again.

To the glory of God the Father.


Tuesday, July 09, 2013

My disappointment after 3 years as a senior pastor

On June 21, I celebrated 3 years of pastoral service at Cornerstone Church. On a recent vacation my wife and I reflected on what we've seen as the joys and sorrows of 3 years of service. Let me fill you in on what I've been learning and seeing:

1) First, I am privileged to work with other servant leaders. What I thought were weaknesses in my first 12 months, I realize were mostly personality differences. What caused frustration in my first 12 months, I now appreciate. We've gelled as team because we don't try and do each other's jobs but do the best job we can with the resources God has provided.

2) Second, God has been so gracious to bring new faces into our body. Some are people new to Christ and Christianity. Other have a deep faith and history of growing in Christ-likeness. I'm always shocked to find that someone is growing or enjoys or feels at home and wants to serve with our church family. My shock is related to myself (I too enjoy and feel at home in this family). But I'm constantly aware of my own short-comings and yet I realize my face, my ideas, and my leadership are a major part of what shapes this body (praise God, I'm not the only influence). Thus, whenever someone makes this church their home, it's a pure delight and joy to my heart.

3) Third, I've have seen God's mercy time and time again. People have forgiven me for foolish and sinful words. People have forgiven me for leadership mistakes and rookie errors. God's been merciful to use me and the rest of my broken church family to minister life through the Spirit to one another. We have it so so good. God's mercies are new, apparent, and real every morning at our church.

So what's my sorrow; what's my disappointment?

My only disappointment in 3 years of service is that I have not been the pastor I want to be. I've not prayed enough. I've not been doing the work of evangelist enough. I have not listened well. I have not served well. I have not used my time well. I have not loved well. God has been merciful, and yet, I don't excuse any of my failures. By God's grace, my 4th year can and will be different. God provides sufficient grace (future grace) to lead me unto holiness and faithfulness. To this gracious God I turn for empowerment.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

The Boy Scouts made a consistent decision

Most are aware that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recently made provisions to allow scouts from all sexual orientations to be in the program. It's likely this will follow in the coming years with allowing scout leaders of all sexual orientations and practices as well.

I believe both decisions are consistent with existing BSA beliefs and practices. Let me explain:

1) The BSA does not remove scouts or scout leaders for engaging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. It seems a bit hypocritical then to disapprove another form of sexual activity that is not condoned in the Bible. If you don't hold all scouts and all scout leaders to a standard of abstinence outside of marriage and fidelity in the marriage of one man and one woman, you do not have a leg to stand on to oppose homosexual activity.

2) Those who hold to a traditional view of marriage who desire to see the BSA stand for Biblical principles regarding heterosexual activity in the confines of marriage between one man and one woman have only one recourse. They need to be consistent with their principles. For example, they might impose consequences for failing to be marked by sexual purity as it is outlined in the Bible. Maybe a Scout loses rank? Maybe a scout leader is asked to take a year or two sabbatical for adultery or fornication? And maybe if repeated, and unrepentant sexual activity outside of marriage continues, a scout or leader would be removed from membership.

3) These are the principles and practices of most evangelical churches with regard to purity and sexual integrity. Admittedly, even the church has failed (see a compelling article here: http://christianthought.hbu.edu/2013/06/28/homosexual-behavior-and-fornication-intimate-bedfellows/), but consistency is the key. It is bigoted for Christians in and outside the BSA to say one form of sexual sin is disapproved while condoning other sexual sins.

4) What does this mean for the BSA? Well, it could mean it's too late for the Christians to see a change in the BSA's direction. It would be awfully difficult in the 21st century to stand up for and promote the Bible's expectations of sexual purity. Let alone have a majority vote to pass in a secular organization for such principles of sexuality. But who knows? Even secular researchers have begun to see the devastating effects of the sexual revolution and the breakdown of the family so just maybe in time the world will see once again that God's laws are not burdensome but actually principles to bring blessing.


Monday, July 01, 2013

The power of vision (learning from D. Martyn-Lloyd Jones)

D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones  (MLJ), 1899-1981, was a Welsh physician turned pastor who ended up serving Westminster Chapel (a Congregational Church) in London for the better part of his life. I'm about to wrap up Iain Murray's one-volume biography on MLJ.

One thing to note is that MLJ was an opponent of the mid-20th century efforts of ecumenicalism. That is, he believed any true Gospel-preaching pastor and church should not willingly stay connected to pastors and churches who had denied the Gospel. At the time, this was very unpopular. Godly men, like John Stott and J.I. Packer, believed evangelicals needed to stay connected to bodies like the Church of England to be salt and light. MLJ, however, spoke vehemently against those who tried to align with churches and pastors who denied the accuracy and authority of the Bible, the substitutionary atonement of Christ, and the veracity of miracles (like the virgin birth, Christ's resurrection, etc.).

The major reason for this view was that MLJ believed you couldn't be in fellowship like this with people who were clearly not Christians. They might call themselves "Christians," but to remove themselves from historic Christianity meant they were Christians in name only. What fellowship could then be had between light and darkness?

I give all this background to make a few simple points:

1) Packer and Stott believed the presence of evangelicals in denominations filled with heretical pastors and teachers would bring about an evangelical renaissance. History has not proven this to be true. In fact, several "evangelicals" abandoned Gospel-truths in order to advance up the church ladder.

2) The spirit of the age in the 20th century was all about unity, ecumenicalism, and the like. MLJ had the courage to go with Scripture rather than public opinion. It is wise to be on "the side of history." But history is not decided by textbooks or opinion-makers but by the holy Judge--the Triune God.

3) As we move forward as Christians in the 21st century, our goal is not to align with the spirit of the age or be on what humans believe is "the side of history." We live before a holy Judge and live in light of His holy statutes. Beware of making decisions that seem wise or winsome to the world if these decisions are not in alignment with Biblical truth. So says Isaiah, "The grass withers and the flowers fade, but the Word of our God lasts forever."