Life-Giving Reproof

When I reflect upon my life over the last year, I see an embarrassment of riches that I refuse to take any credit for at this point.  In some way, the good harvest that I’m experiencing in the present has its root in the past.  Between June 2008 and July 2009, I navigated three jobs, five months of unemployment, and commuting around Los Angeles without an automobile.  During that thirteen-month stretch, I wrestled with my identity as a man.  I felt like I could not provide for myself in this city filled with dream makers and dream weavers. Deep down in my soul, I longed for a relationship with a woman who followed God with her whole heart.  Because I lacked an automobile and a steady job, I could not invite someone into my life with a clear conscience.  Hindsight also seems to suggest that I might have written myself off from the dating game, too.

Before I plunged head long into this thirteen month stretch, I faced a stiff challenge from a former employer.  At the time, I had finished my first and only year of teaching at the high school level.  This man served as the head of school for this private, high school.  During my exit from the school, he expressed disappointment in my performance, but even more so with my lack of vision.  It was this latter point that lead my former boss to pray for me before walking me to the front door.  I do not recall the exact words, but the gist of them centered around trusting in God to develop a vision for my life and goals.  My former boss gave me a much needed rebuke.  The reason that I bring this up has to do with the following scripture passage:

“The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.  Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence” (Prov. 15:32-33, ESV).

Six years ago, I lacked the foresight into my previous employer’s rebuke and prayer.  Little did I know that it was a life-giving reproof.  I needed to hear the words that I lacked vision for my life.  Those words pierced my soul with the light of God’s truth.  Over the next several months, the Spirit of God used his light to reveal what was present within me that I could not see.  Suppressed passions and talents began coming to the surface; however, bad habits and sinful patterns bubbled up, too.  If I really wanted to be a man, then I knew that I needed to acknowledge my heartfelt passions and my bad habits and my aimlessness.  Fourteen months of counseling provided the context to work things out.  It became clear that I needed to man up with the person that I had become.

When I lost my teaching job in June 2008, I had no idea that I would gain wisdom from it in the future.   Here is another Proverb that I found, which is similar in theme to the above quoted verse: “Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future” (Proverbs 19:20, ESV).  I could have rejected my former employer’s advice about the direction of my life.  Maybe that possibility existed, but I am not willing to bet on it.  I chose to enter counseling in order to get a handle on me and my life.    The Lord used my former boss to reprove one of his wayward, younger men.  From my perspective, I see God’s hands all over this event from June 2008. Name one employer who prays for the person that he or she just fired.  A few months later, I landed a job in the professional camera world where I have been working ever since.

One part of the story has ended well.  It has paved the way for my present circumstances.  I gained wisdom from a painful time and incident in my past.  This has allowed me to dwell among the wise, which I take to mean my wife and our marriage.  If I had refused to act on my former employer’s rebuke, my current life would not be sustained by wisdom.  There are brief moments in life that carry great weight.  By God’s grace and mercy, he has revealed to me some of the significance of this incident from my past.  I expect many more to come.  It is my hope and prayer that I remain open to listening and receiving life-giving reproofs.  If I cease to be transparent or humble for life-giving reproofs, then I open myself up to a rude awakening.

“The sufferings of the Saviour finally culminated in his death…It is but natural that, when we speak of the death of Christ in this connection, we have in mind first of all physical death, that is, separation of body and soul.  At the same time we should remember that this does not exhaust the idea of death as it is represented in Scripture.  The Bible takes a synthetic view of death, and regards physical death merely as one of its manifestations.  Death is separation from God, but this separation can be viewed in two different ways.  Man separates himself from God by sin, and death is the natural result, so that it can even be said that sin is death.  But it was not in that way that Jesus became subject to death, since He had no personal sin.  In this connection it should be borne in mind that death is not merely the natural consequence of sin, but above all the judicially imposed and inflicted punishment of sin.  It is God withdrawing Himself with the blessings of life and happiness from man and visiting man in wrath.  It is from this judicial point of view that the death of Christ must be considered.  God imposed the punishment of death upon the Mediator judicially, since the latter undertook voluntarily to pay the penalty for the sin of the human race.”

(Louis Berkhof, “Doctrine of the Person and the Work of Christ,” “The States of Christ,”  Systematic Theology, pp 338-339, Banner of Truth ed., reprinted 2005)

 

Louis Berkhof on the Death of Christ

“The first and principal duty of a pastor is to feed the flock by diligent preaching of the word. It is a promise relating to the new testament, that God would give unto his church “pastors according to his own heart, which should feed them with knowledge and understanding” (Jer. 3:15). This is by teaching or preaching the word, and no otherwise. This feeding is of the essence of the office of a pastor, as unto the exercise of it; so that he who doth not, or can not, or will not feed the flock is no pastor, whatever outward call or work he may have in the church. The care of preaching the gospel was committed to Peter, and in him unto all true pastors of the church, under the name of “feeding” (John 21:15-17). According to the example of the apostles, they are to free themselves from all encumbrances, that they may give themselves wholly unto the word and prayer (Acts 6:1-4). Their work is “to labour in the word and doctrine (I Tim. 5:17); and thereby to “feed the flock over which the Holy Ghost hath made them overseers” (Acts 20:28): and it is that which is everywhere given them in charge.

“This work and duty, therefore, as was said, is essential unto the office of a pastor. A man is a pastor unto them whom he feeds by pastoral teaching, and to no more; and he that doth not so feed is no pastor. Nor is it required only that he preach now and then at his leisure, but that he lay aside all other employments, though lawful, all other duties in the church, as unto such a constant attendance on them as would divert him from this work, that he give himself unto it—that he be in these things labouring to the utmost of his ability. Without this no man will be able to give a comfortable account of the pastoral office at the last day.”

(John Owen, Works, vol. 16, pp. 74-75)

John Owen on the Duty of Pastors

The Scriptures and Prophetic Revelation

John Paul Jackson is a controversial figure to many given his past affiliation with the so-called Kansas City Prophets.  Right away, this raises red flags for many, and I must confess that a few pop up within me, too.   This begs the question as to the reasoning for posting this video of Jackson discussing the theology behind the rhema word and the logos.  He runs a ministry called Streams Ministries International, which I am sympathetic toward.  Through this ministry, Jackson disciples followers of Christ through the biblical use of the spiritual gifts.  He focuses on the gift of prophecy as it relates to dreams and visions.

There is discernment needed whenever exploring the spiritual gifts, especially those tagged as signs and wonders.  One of the reasons that I keep my finger on the pulse of Mr. Jackson’s ministry is that he stresses the veracity of the bible in such a way that sets him apart from those who operate similar ministries.  He has been known to call out his peers within the Pentecostal and Charismatic wing of the church for their hypocrisy.  Jackson sits squarely within the Third Wave Charismatic movement; however, he flies underneath its radar so to speak.

In this video, Jackson briefly discusses the theology behind the rhema word and the logos word. The view he expresses calls into question the popular take in this area precisely due to the emphasis that he places upon the scriptures. Yes, one needs to exhibit a filter with Jackson and his ministry; however, it is the Holy Spirit through the apostle Paul who commands God’s people to rightly divide the word (2 Timothy 2:15, ESV).

In the World not of the World

For some, the book of Revelation is an altogether frightening read with little to commend it.  Another group sees it as a gold mine of future events encoded in cryptic symbolism and rhetoric.  These individuals obsess over every comma, period, phrase, and image.  Both of these two groups miss the point of Revelation as stated by the Lord himself: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you [John] about these things for the churches…” (Revelation 22:16a, ESV).  In this passage, these things refer to the previous twenty one chapters including the one with this verse.  The content of the entire book has been given by the Lord to his people as represented by the phrase, the churches.  My conclusion is simple and twofold.  Number one, the book of Revelation was meant to give hope to its readers rather than fear (Rev. 1:3, ESV).  Number two, it is not a catalogue of encoded secrets about the future.

If the last book of the bible contains God’s words to his people, then it behooves his church to read and study them.  What does he want to say that is so important?  After all, the apostle John records all that he sees and hears into a manuscript called The Revelation (Rev. 1:1-2, 11, ESV).  This has been preserved for nearly 2000 years.  I find it hard to believe that the sole purpose of the book of Revelation after 2000 years is simply as something to decode.  There is a message contained within it.  In fact, this New Testament book contains multiple messages and themes pertinent to the present day.  One important theme comes to light in the following verse:

“Then I heard another voice from heaven saying, ‘Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities'” (Rev. 18:4-5, ESV).

When the apostle John wrote the book of Revelation, the Roman Empire neared the peak of its dominance.  The Caesars demanded veneration from the people in exchange for protection and provision.  The Christians in John’s day refused to bow to Caesar and Rome.  Many responded to God’s call to come out of Babylon.  Throughout the book of Revelation, Babylon symbolizes the dominant world system of evil, which demands worship of itself rather than to God.  Needless to say, these first century Christians lost their lives for their obedience to God.  These brave men and women and children believed that whole-hearted devotion to God trumped anything that Caesar and Rome could offer in this life.  These Christians were in the world, but not of the world.

God’s clarion call to his people in our day is to align themselves with him rather than the world.  It is a constant battle.  Unlike the times in which John lived, Christians in the West do not face the same degree of persecution like our first century brethren.  This is not the case for Christians in the Middle East and Asia.  Over this summer, Christians in Northern Iraq have fled to other countries for their lives.  This region had a long history of Christianity, but this is soon to be a distant memory.  The persecution has been intense upon these men and women in Christ, whose devotion is to the one true God rather than Allah, Buddha, or Krishna or any other pagan deity.  There is a saying, “we become what we worship.”  The point being that what I worship shapes or forms my life.  Another way to say this is that leaving Babylon is not only a choice of who to worship, but it is also a lifestyle one.

If I refuse to obey God’s command to come out of Babylon, then compromise that leads to sin will surely follow.  Once sin is present in my life due to compromise, then the judgment of God looms over my life.  What I have described is a progression implied from the text in Revelation 18:4-5.  In many respects, certain streams of the Western church have refused to come out of Babylon as they opt to remain in it.  This has lead to moral compromise with the culture and society.  Some examples are the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and Exodus International.  The latter no longer exists as a faith-based entity.  The previous two Protestant denominations have slid into Liberalism, which is nothing more than a form of godliness that denies its power (2 Timothy 3:5, ESV).

In no way do I want to suggest that the solution for coming out of Babylon is to live like a hermit.  Jesus teaches his people that the spiritual life of the kingdom of heaven demands that one penetrates the culture like salt and light (Matthew 5:13-15, ESV).  Those who claim to follow Christ like yours truly must leave the salt shaker in order to season and preserve society and culture with God’s truth.  To shine as a light means allowing the light of God to shine through me.  This implies humility and meekness.  Humility demonstrates my posture before God while meekness is toward men.  These qualities require lifelong pursuit and discipline, which suggests a way of life or a lifestyle.  My sense is that God bellows to the church in the west to come out of Babylon.  He beckons us to him through his word by the Holy Spirit.  May we not grow dull hearts and ears toward him and his word.

 

“I would like to buy about three dollars worth of the gospel, please.  Not too much—just enough to make me happy, but not so much that I get addicted.  I don’t want so much gospel that I learn to really hate covetousness and lust.  I certainly don’t want so much that I start to love my enemies, cherish self-denial, and contemplate missionary service in some alien culture.  I want ecstasy, not repentance; I want transcendence, not transformation.  I would like to be cherished by some nice, forgiving, broad-minded people, but I myself don’t want to love those from different races—especially if they smell.  I would like enough gospel to make my family secure and my children well behaved, but not so much that I find my ambitions redirected or my giving too greatly enlarged.  I would like about three dollars worth of gospel, please.”

(D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers: An Exposition of Philippians, pp. 12-13).

D. A. Carson and the Gospel of Powerlessness

Racial Unity within Diversity

A day is coming when the redeemed of the Lord will worship together as one.  Many of the bugaboos of the present age will be distant memories: racial profiling, hate crimes, mass murders, serial killers, terrorism, human trafficking, sexual abuse, pedophilia, sickness, death, suffering, and much, much more.  All of these things will have no place in the age to come.  For that, I am immensely grateful. This brings me to the current situation in the state of Missouri.  The governor declared a state of emergency for the Ferguson-St. Louis area in addition to imposing a curfew.  Ever since the death of Michael Brown, civil unrest has engulfed the region.  Once again, this situation raises the issue of race relations in this nation.

I attend church each and every Sunday morning.  This is not something that I say as a badge of honor.  It is simply a fact; however, does my attendance have any impact upon those in my life?  If the Lord called me home suddenly and swiftly, would there be a hole left behind because I no longer bring to those people and situations something good and right?  There are some days when I whine and complain about making a difference in the world through my work.  I long to influence culture and society on a larger scale.  In the yearning to have greater influence, have I lost sight of those people in my immediate circles?  If I expand this out to include the US, does the citizenry within each state take time to press into the people and circumstances right in front of them?

Like I said at the beginning, the age to come will be enjoyed for its magnificent diversity and unity.  Here’s a sample from the book of Revelation:  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 21:3-4 & 22:3-4, ESV).  This is such a glorious picture of a glorious future where sorrow and suffering and wickedness no longer wreak havoc upon God’s people and his earth.  It is a soon coming reality at the end of the age.

Each community of believers who profess Christ as Lord holds or embraces this magnificent vision of the age to come.  This begs the question about how we live in this present age in the light of eternity.  Anyone who follows Christ by faith will end up in the age to come.  It is our destiny, and it is a message to proclaim to those in our lives.  No one can fathom what it will be like to live on an earth without sin’s curse.  Each day of my life falls under the influence of either my sin or the sins of others.  How do I relate to my wife?  my coworkers? or my family?  Every one of these relational settings has the potential for conflict, pain, hurt, betrayal, joy, productivity and more.  My future hope must impact the everyday otherwise there is no life and power in it.

There is a part of me that longs to see an eternal mindset grip my nation in the area of race relations.  The reason that I say this has to do with a couple of verses from the book of Revelation.  Here are some snippets: “…by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation , and you made them a kingdom…,” and “…a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…” (Revelation 5:9-10 & 7:9, ESV).  These two passages depict a redeemed people of God, who comprise an array of people, languages, and nations.  No nation or people group will be left out of God’s kingdom provided that they believed in Jesus by faith.  The age to come is the ultimate reality for racial unity in the midst of great diversity.

What does this mean for today and Missouri and other parts of the world experiencing racial disharmony?  Someone like me, who claims to be a follower of Christ, is to live life in such a way that promotes racial harmony and diversity.  Any gospel-centered church and ministry worth its salt should provide an earthly foretaste of the age to come.  People inside and outside the church should be able to see these communities as examples of racial unity in the midst of diversity.  In many ways, I believe that God’s people and his church are to lead the way in race relations.  After all, this is what the eventual reality will be in the age to come.  This means that I have work to do along with all those who follow Christ.  We must roll up our sleeves and show the world what it looks like to live out racial unity in the midst of diversity.