The Power and Emptiness of Rhetoric

Last night I watched the President give the State of the Union address. It was vividly clear at the end, he did what many politicians do, promised much. I don’t know about you, but I am exasperated with politicians who promise the moon, but only deliver a moon pie. Ok, that was a bit cheesy, but you get the picture. Although he, and many others, under-deliver, we see the power of rhetoric. The President delivers speeches with power, intellect, conviction, force, flow, eloquence, and creativity. He is able to use rhetoric to stir emotions in people through his content and delivery method.

However, like I said, he (as well as others) has, and continues, to under-deliver. So, on one hand we see the power of rhetoric, but, on the other, we see the emptiness, and sometimes manipulation, of rhetoric. This reminds me of what Jesus said, “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil” (Matt 5:37). I think it would be harsh for me to suggest that politicians are evil, although some are. But, I think we see clearly, with politicians, the power and emptiness of rhetoric. As believer, we must guard what we say, and if we say we will do something, simply let it be done. When we follow through on what we say, we reflect our God and Savior, who never fails short on his promises. So today let us guard our mouth from empty promises that glamorize or puff us up for the moment, that many times only show the emptiness and frailty of our control over life; but, rather let us use our mouth for grace, making our conversation be seasoned with salt (Col 4:6), pointing people to our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

For our politicians, sometimes less promises is more. Don’t tell us what you will do if you have more power, or more money—but rather sometimes speak to us as a leader—encouraging us where we are in life, and using rhetoric not for us to put more belief in government, but more belief in that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” 

Who Doesn’t like Rest

We learn very early on in Scripture God’s design for rest. It was God himself who practiced rest, after spending six days creating the universe. In addition, with Israel, God instituted a pattern that he had initiated at the beginning—work six days, rest the seventh. The Sabbath rest for Israel not only was a command, but a sign displaying God’s covenant relationship with Israel (Exod 31:12-18). In the Gospels, Jesus declares that he is Lord of the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8), and that man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath [was made] for man (Mk 2:27). Furthermore, the author of Hebrews makes a point to believes that the promise of rest still stands (Heb 4:1). The author of Hebrews continues, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from him (Heb 4:9-10).

Many have disagreed as to the nature of the Sabbath rest, founded in the Old Testament, and the implications for believers in the New Testament. So, in this brief blog post how can we reconcile what the Sabbath rest means for believers under the New Covenant. We must remember why God initiated it at the very beginning—prior to establishing it with Israel. God established it after a pattern of working. Connecting the Sabbath rest to work in the New Testament, must be connected not to man’s work, but Christ’s work. Therefore, under the New Covenant and Christ’s finished work on the cross, there are three particular ways (not exhaustive) Sabbath rest applies to believers.

First, we must rest in Christ. Christ is our Sabbath, not us. We cannot work our way to God, because of the severity and consequences of sin. However, through Christ, God worked his way to us, and we can rest in His work through Christ and the Holy Spirit. By resting in his work, we submit and surrender daily to him, allowing him to work his plan in our life for his glory and mission. Second, rest also corresponds to worship. God on the seventh day, rested in his work, observing and admiring the great work he did. Israel on the seventh day, was to take the day to observe, mediate, and worship God for his provision, who he was, what he has done, and for the covenant relationship they enjoyed with God. For us, there must be a day we set aside, to exclusively worship God—who he is, what he has done, and his provision. Third, no matter what happens in life (the good and the bad), we must rest in God’s sovereignty and providence. As the author of Hebrews alludes to, there is an eternal rest that proceeds this life. Resting in this eschatological (or future) truth should comfort us and lead us to rest in the present as God works his redemptive plan of redeeming and restoring his creation to a state of shalom.

So, the question for us this morning remains—who are we resting in? We all like a good rest, don’t we? Good rest, for a believer, is he or she resting in the goodness, the sovereignty, providence, and the work of God. Let us choose to rest in him. If you are seeking God’s direction and are praying that he will move—my encouragement would be, rest. If there is chaos in your life, rest. If you are seeking to try and please God, rest; rest in the finished work of Christ and who he is definitively claimed you to be as a result of what he has done. Resting in that will lead you to have a more gospel-centered, Christocentric approach to [progressive] sanctification. Afraid of the future, rest. As Jesus preached, who, by worrying, can add a single day to their life? 

Solitary Confinement

Solitary Confinement:

I wanted to blog about the necessity of the church in a person or family’s life. I want to address the need for believers to be connected and personally involved in the life of a local church. The reason being, is because I sense that very few of the thousands and even millions of church goers in the West fail to be personally connected and involved in the life of the church family. For the past six months, you could say that I have witnessed personally and first-hand how many Americans experience church—through the Sunday morning worship experience.

However, personal connection and involvement, in a church, is not showing up on Sunday morning, or Sunday night, hearing good music and a good message, and calling it a week. Personal connection and involvement is not showing up early to direct cars, watch children, direct the lighting, playing in the band, or attending a small group. Personal connection and involvement go far beyond attending and even serving in a ministry area.

Church involvement is not about being a member of an institution or “spiritual” country club, where you have membership dues, come and go as you please, and have some rules and regulations to follow. Church membership is about covenanting together to advance, proclaim, worship, and embody Jesus in the world. Quintessentially, the church is about Christ and his mission, not about man and his agenda.

Having witnessed this first hand in my own life, it has become very clear that it is hard to read, understand, and apply God’s word outside the church. Although there are some books of the Bible that were written to individuals, it is all connected to the body, we call, the people of God. We must understand that God’s word was written to and for his people. It is meant to be applied and obeyed within the covenant community of his people. In addition, the mission of God does not come to life outside the involvement and personal connection to a local church body. Encouragement, discipline, or accountability is extinct outside the connection and involvement of a local church body. Church is vital to the overall health of individuals and families.

Here is what I would list as prime importance in being connected and personally involved in a local church:
– Commitment to the large worship gathering
– Commitment to observe the ordinances of the church (baptism and Lord’s Supper)
– Commitment to serving the body, utilizing your giftedness in the body
– Commitment to serving the local community, together with the church body
– Commitment to discipleship, accountability, and encouragement in some form of small group—where Christian maturation can take place.
– Commitment to embodying the kingdom of God through word and deed
– All of this culminating in the covenanting together of actively participating in the mission of God—a mission that seeks to make his name known and glorified as well as see people far from him reconciled to himself.

God forbid, but if we ever had to go to prison, would we want to be in solitary confinement? I would not, nor would you. Solitary confinement is isolation from the community, of which you are a part. The truth is that many believers and believing family’s, live their lives in solitary confinement from the greater community of believers. My encouragement is find a local church, and do not just get “plugged in,” but immerse yourself in the life of that local church body. And I am not talking about staying busy doing stuff; I am talking about being family—loving, serving, worshipping, ministering, encouraging, discipling, fellowshipping, and being on mission. For churches, my encouragement is to make church membership and being integrated into the overall life of the church, extremely important. Do not make it about attending, but being.

Joannie and I are extremely ready to do this where God leads us.

Parable of the Disgruntled Employees

Matt 20:1-16

Proceeding the episode with the rich young ruler, Jesus shares a parable about the kingdom of heaven and how it is like a master who hires out laborers for his vineyard. In this parable, Jesus takes his listeners on a journey in the day of a master hiring day laborers. From morning to afternoon, the master is continuously hiring laborers to work his vineyard. At the end of the day, the foreman pays the laborers their wages—according to their agreement. However, the laborers who had been working all day were disgruntled that the laborers, who only worked a half-day and less, were paid the same amount.

The master in response to the disgruntled employees states, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong, Did you not agree with me for a denarious. Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matt 20: 13-16).

Obviously, the master was quite generous giving the same pay to the last laborer as the first. The first laborers, who were man-centered rather than master-centered, focused on the unfairness of the wage given to the last laborers. Rather than celebrating the fact they had a job, and worked for a gracious and generous master, they instead focused on how the master [and life] had (supposedly) treated them unfair. These disgruntled laborers represent the mentality of many believers today, including myself (many times). We look at God’s generosity and graciousness towards others and wonder why his generosity and graciousness has not come our way, in the manner we thought it should. Maybe we wanted that job, ministry, house, car, or healthy child. Maybe we wanted that spouse, mentor, friend, lifestyle, or break. This reminds me of my eldest son, Caleb, who counts how many Christmas gifts he received verses how many his sister, Ellie, received. (Full disclosure- I did that too growing up.) Thus, in the above examples, the focus is on what is not received—rather than on what is received.

Jesus simply desires to teach that in his kingdom he is the master and can do what he wills, and that in his kingdom there are no favorites, but his generosity and grace extends to all—from the first employee to the last—no matter if it is manifested differently from one employee to the next. Let us be grateful for the fact that we all are laborers of/for the king, and all have been shown generosity and grace from the king. Today, rather than focusing on what others have and what you do not, choose to focus on the fact that King Jesus loves me, choose me, and has shown me grace and generosity. Think of tangible ways Christ has shown you grace and generosity

Ecclesiastical Autopsy

What Causes Churches to Severely Decline and Eventually Die?

Before replanting a severely declined or near death church, it would be helpful to understand how a church succumbed to such a state. As a deteriorating marriage cannot improve without understanding what caused the marital unhealthiness, so too churches, unless they realize what has caused their decline and imminent death, will they be able to replant a vibrant, healthy, reproductive, and missional church.

One suggestion for why churches die is philosophical and scientific. In the life cycle of organizations, everything eventually dies; nothing lives forever.[1] Another reason given for churches suffering major decline and imminent death rests with their ecclesiastical structure, methodology, and focus. Much of the focus is on institutional maintenance, clinging to tradition, and internal struggles rather than a missional focus and contextual relevancy. Dodson and Stetzer note, “The western church has lost sight of its mission, purpose, and calling.”[2] Barna expresses how an inward focus on maintenance and church members causes decline and death in churches.[3] So, resistance to methodological and even ecclesiastical change can erode the vibrancy and vitality of local churches.

However, the most simplistic, biblical, and theological answer in response to the severe decline and impendent death of churches is sin. At the heart, severe decline and death is not a result of philosophical, scientific, ecclesiastical, and methodological error, but rather is a result of the infection and disease of sin. Sin causes unhealthiness, decline, and eventual death. Wayne Grudem remarks, “If our goal [as believers] is to grow in increasing fullness of life…to sin is to do an about-face and begin to walk downhill away from the goal of likeness to God; it is to go in a direction that “leads to death” and eternal separation from God, the direction from which we were rescued when we became Christians.[4]

[1] Alice Mann, Can Our Church Live? (The Alban Institute, 1999), 1.

[2] Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson, Comeback Churches: How 300 Churches Turned Around and Yours Can Too (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2007), x.

[3] George Barna, Turn-Around Churches (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), 33.

[4] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 505.

Expectations of a God-Centered Year

I was thinking this morning of the brand new year that lies ahead. Only God knows what lies ahead for me and my family. While I can plan, prepare, and pray for the future, I have no control over the future. Therefore, I do not know whether this year will be a better year situationally and circumstantially than 2011. My prayer and expectation is that it would be more God-centered than the previous.

Think about this. Over two thousand years ago, around this time, at the beginning of a new year, Jesus (with full understanding of what would happen) sat thinking, contemplating, and overviewing his last year on earth. According to many, Jesus’ last year would not be better than the previous; for in this year he would face an excruciating death. Not to mention how his death unfolded by betrayal, lies, torture, and humiliation. Nevertheless, it would be a year that God would do far more abundantly than anyone could ever have imagined. Through what seemed as defeat and death, God flexed his power, raising Jesus from the dead, sending the Spirit to fill believers, and launching a movement that has not ceased to this day. While situationally and circumstantially Jesus’ (last) year did not look better than the previous, it would be better because God would work and do, in and through His Son Jesus, what only he could do. It would be a year where God displayed more power and glory than the previous year.

So, as we all look forward to this new year, I do not know what the new year holds—only God does. I do not know whether this year will be full of defeats, set-backs, hurts, heartaches, losses, victories, joys, highlights, or blessings. However, I do know that God is not done flexing and displaying his power, might, and glory to the world. Therefore, he, in anticipating fashion, waits expectantly to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us (Eph 3:20). As we plan, prepare and pray for this new year let us understand that God desires to display his power and glory in and through us no matter what the future holds, whether good or bad, better or not. Let us then expect this year to be a more God-centered year than 2011.