Thoughts of a Country Preacher

The Monday morning ruminations of a pastor.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Log

Matthew 7:3-5 3 "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? 5 "You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye.

I’ll confess, I loved seminary at SBTS. I loved it for many reasons. Yes, I loved it for challenging my theology, and pushing me intellectually. But I also loved it because of the many fantastic men of God who challenged me spiritually, and as a result has changed my life for the better.

One of those men was Buddy Gray, pastor of Hunter Street Baptist Church, in Hoover AL. The first time I met Pastor Buddy, he gave a brief lecture to my Formations class. He talked a bit about family, and discussed how to apply the "log principle" to our families. He made the observation that a lot of times, whenever he gets upset over his wife about something, it is God’s way of pointing out a stronghold of sin in his own heart. So before getting angry with his wife over something, he checks his own heart – and usually he finds that same sin in his life.

Since this discussion, I’ve tried to apply the same principle to my own life, and have found that it works almost perfectly. For example: let’s say that I’m balancing our checkbook, and I start to think that my wife is being wasteful. Instead of getting upset at her, I stop and look over my own spending habits. 9 times out of 10, I’m the one being wasteful. If I think that my wife is being selfish, I look at my own life, and sure enough, I’m the selfish one.

Sometimes this even extends to my church family. I get frustrated because people are stuck in doing things the way they’re comfortable with. They demand their own way. They’re not "missional," and often seem to stand in the way of God’s work. But then after stepping back for a moment, I realize that first and foremost, these are all my own problems, not theirs.

I’ve been thinking about this lately, and I’ve had to wonder, why is this? Why is it that I see sin in other people’s lives so easily, but my own seems to be covered so well? I think the problem is that we can see other people’s sin because we are so familiar with it in our own lives. We can see through their justifications for it, and how they try to hide it because we have done all of that ourselves. Their sin is so easy for us to see because that same sin, though perhaps unacknowledged, is very close to our hearts. Those sins we see in others that make us the angriest make us angry because they reflect our sins and at some level convict us of our own heart condition.

So what sins of others make you the angriest? May I suggest taking some time and looking for that sin in your heart? If you can see their sin so easily, you should wonder what makes that sin stand out to you so plainly?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Creation Care

I seriously doubt that anyone would ever call me an "environmentalist." My family all drives trucks and SUVs, we don’t recycle, and I like meat. And yet I often find myself at odds with my conservative brethren over environmental issues. I have a deep respect and love for the environment borne out of a lifetime spent in the great wilds of our nation. I was one of the few kids who didn’t watch TV after school, opting instead to spend my afternoon’s roaming around the family farm shooting stumps and trying to find the end of the creeks that ran through our property. When we went on a family vacation, the most important item we packed was a tent. It was either camping or staying home for us. In fact, to this very day I have spent more time sleeping in a tent, a truck, or under the stars than I have in hotel rooms. And my fondest life memories all involve a quiet sunrise with a few close friends as we prepared ourselves for the day’s hunt.

Our natural resources are more valuable than gold – and even rarer than diamonds. Today it is impossible to find an unspoiled environment. Even if you hike for days in any of our federally protected "wilderness" areas, you will still find crushed beer cans lying around.

We must protect the earth that has been entrusted to us. In Eden, humanity was tasked with the stewardship of God’s creation, and that purpose did not change after the fall. The only thing that changed after the fall was the fact that instead of embracing this stewardship, we rebelled against it – and we continue to do so today.

Which is why I was so encouraged by the Southern Baptist Environment and Climate Initiative. Southern Baptists speak to so many issues, and I am glad to see that this one is being addressed. I believe that this initiative reflects my own feelings on the subject very well – cautious of much of the climate claims coming from some, and yet concerned about the environment due to biblical admonitions.

One issue that they discuss but do not really address is the issue of Global Warming. Again, they take the same approach I do about it – it hasn’t been proven, but there are enough warning signs that should make us stop and think. Myself, I don’t know if Global Warming is a fact, or just a bunch of political maneuvering. Frankly I don’t care one way or another. Again, my concern for the environment is borne out of Biblical admonitions and little more.

I think of it in financial terms. My family lives on a budget. We keep to a budget when times are tough, and we keep to a budget when we are well paid – that is just a responsible stewardship of the finances that God has given us. Do we keep a budget because there is a financial emergency? No, we keep a budget to avoid financial emergencies.

In the same way, should we take steps to preserve our environment now because there is an environmental emergency? No – we do it now to avoid an environmental emergency in the future. That is just a responsible stewardship of the creation that God has give to us.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

An Apology, A Thanks, And A Really Quick Post

The Apology –

First off, let me apologize for my absence. Blogging has taken a back seat for a variety of reasons for the past several weeks. Inclement weather has been an annoyance; we’ve had three funerals, and everything that goes along with them. Several that has come to Christ, and all that goes along with that. My Father in Law started his cancer treatment, which has been a constant strain upon my wife. Eldon seems to have become the epicenter for a flu outbreak – which has kept me running back and forth to hospitals, a new baby, and oh – let’s not forget Easter. We all know that Easter isn’t a busy time of the year in the church. Add to that trying to keep up with my son’s new words, new activities, and new daredevil stunts, I hope you have a better understanding as to why blogging has taken such a back seat. I realize that these are all excuses, and I’m sorry about that too. But first and foremost I want to extend to you, my readers, my most sincere apology for my unexplained absence here.

A Thanks –

Despite my absence, this site has not lacked activity. There have been many of you who have checked in on me, more than few have done so daily, and I thank you for that. At the turn of the year, I was under the impression that both of my readers had somehow stumbled on this site by accident and stuck around for a chuckle. My time away has proven this wrong. To my surprise I have more than just a few regulars – and they are actually interested in what goes on here. For that I am eternally humbled by that – and grateful. Thank you for showing such interest. My readers really are the best part of this blog.

A Really Quick Post –

While things are slowing down, there is still much to do, so my post will not be too overly involved. Last Sunday, in preparation of Easter, we started specifically focusing our attention on the person and work of Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we looked at his purpose in Mark 10, where we are told that Jesus came to give his life as a ransom for many. In preparation for this message, I came across one of Piper’s sermons where he explored what is meant when Jesus said that he was to be a "ransom for many." This excerpt, reproduced from the Desiring God website, had a tremendous impact upon me, and I hope that it impacts you as well as you focus on Christ.

Jesus Came "to Give His Life as a Ransom for Many"

But now let's take the specific act of Jesus' service that he mentions in Mark 10:45. "The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus came to "give his life as a ransom for many." This is what Christmas is about. He came. He did not come to be served. He came to give his life a ransom for many. Let's think about this act of service.

It Was Intentional

First of all, let it sink in that this act of giving his life as a ransom was intentional. It says he came to do it. Christ did not come to earth for other reasons and then get caught up in a plot that resulted in his death. He came to die. Hebrews 2:14 puts it plainly:
Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.
Jesus came to die.
Look back in this very context to Mark 10:33–34. Jesus is on the road going up to Jerusalem. There is fear and amazement in the air, because everyone suspects something tremendous is going to happen. Jesus tells them what he is walking into, willingly:
Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death, and will deliver Him to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock Him and spit upon Him, and scourge Him, and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.
So Jesus is knowingly walking into the jaws of suffering and death. Verse 45 says why: He came to give his life a ransom for many. Don't miss this. Jesus is choosing to suffer. He is choosing to die. He is participating intentionally in his own execution.

His Death Is a "Ransom"

Now why is his death called a ransom? "The Son of Man came to give his life a ransom for many." Ransom is a good translation. The Greek word here (lutron) meant just that—a payment to release someone from some kind of bondage: prisoners of war, slavery, debt. So the implication is that Jesus sees his death as a ransom to release many from bondage. He is paying what they cannot pay so that they may go free. He is substituting himself for them. And at the cost of his life, they get freedom.
So this ransom is describing a substitution. Jesus in the place of the many. Sometimes people say that the word "for" doesn't have to mean substitution. "Ransom for many," they say, may only mean, "for the benefit of many," not, "in the place of many." But listen to this compelling word from Leon Morris:
Even if . . . we take the substitutionary meaning out of the preposition ["for" = anti], we have not taken it out of the passage, for the situation [in view] is one in which the many are condemned, their lives are forfeit. If Jesus gives His life "a ransom for many" and thereby they are released from their condemnation, then a substitutionary transaction has taken place, understand the individual words as we will. (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross [Grand Rapids; Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1955], p. 36)
That seems exactly right to me. But what is the bondage or slavery that the many are in that they need to be ransomed from?

What Are "the Many" Ransomed From?

Jesus describes us in John 8:34 as enslaved to sin: "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin." He did not see us as occasionally sinning, but as under the power of sin. We are slaves of sin and we need to be ransomed from its power.
But that's not the worst of it. Jesus taught that the penalty for sin is eternal punishment. In Matthew 25:46 he says, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Sin brings the wrath of God. It brings judgment. If we don't find rescue from the guilt of our sin, we will be punished, Jesus says, forever, because sin is an infinite offense against an infinitely holy God. So the slavery and the bondage that we need ransoming from is the slavery of sin and eternal punishment.

How Do We Know We Need Ransoming?

That is what Jesus comes to do: ransom many from the guilt and power of sin and the penalty of eternal punishment. That is our condition. How do we know this is so?
First, our conscience tells us that we are sinners. We know that we have fallen short of our own standards, and therefore how much more must we have fallen short of God's. But what about the penalty of that? It is amazing how we excuse ourselves here. Some say, "I am not worse than others." Some say, "My sins are only small, compared to the sins of others." Some say, "God would not condemn me, because he is loving." Some say, "Eternal punishment would be unjust."
But what are all these? They are opinions of men. How can you know how God will respond to your sin when you die? The answer is written by God in your heart (Romans 1:32); and written plainly in his Word. Therefore, do not let your own mind make up an answer to this. Way too much hangs on it. Search the Word of God. Seek for his answer and he will show you. I believe the answer is plain in Scripture: our condition of sin will bring judgment and wrath on us after we die if we do not find a rescue. "The wages of sin is death," said the apostle Paul, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). There are two destinies: eternal life, and eternal death. Eternal death is what we need to be saved from because of our sin.

How Does Jesus Ransom Us?

So what then is the way Jesus rescues us? Jesus says, "The Son of Man came . . . to give his life as a ransom for many." He gives his life for the many. That is, he dies for many. The ransom price is his life. This is why the Bible says again and again that Christ died to save us. "While we were yet sinners Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). We were "justified by his blood" (Romans 5:9). "We were reconciled to God by the death of his Son" (Romans 5:10). "He bore our sins in his body on the cross" (1 Peter 2:24). "Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust" (1 Peter 3:18).
The heart of the Christian message is that Christ came to give his life a ransom for many. That is, to die for many. That is: to save many from their sin and from its guilt and power and penalty in eternal punishment.

Are You in "the Many"?

Now the last question is: who are the many? Are you in the many? Were you ransomed when Christ died? Are you still under the guilt and power of sin when you might be free? Are you moving toward eternal life or eternal punishment? Who are the many that were ransomed by the Son of Man when he gave his life?
Turn with me to John 15:13. Here Jesus answers the question about whom he ransomed. He says, "Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." He says that he will lay down his life for his friends. He will ransom his friends. So here is the question for us this Christmas: Are you a friend of Jesus? If you are, you were ransomed. If you aren't, you can become one this morning. What does it mean to be a friend of Jesus?
The next verse explains (John 15:14): "You are My friends, if you do what I command you." This is not how you become a friend. This is the way you act when you are a friend. This is not the way you become his friend. It is the evidence that you are ransomed. The ransom is what frees you and empowers you to do what Jesus commands you to do. First you know yourself ransomed, then you enjoy the freedom and power and fruit of the ransom.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Main Difference

What makes a church grow? A simple and effective answer to that question could net an author millions should he choose to write a book about it. But seriously, I've seen churches stagnate for decades in their community just to have a new church planted not 300 yards down the road that grew from nothing to 1200 over the course of a year or so. So why do some churches grow while others stagnate and die? I'd dare say that "uber blogger" Tim Challies has presented the best answer I have read to date. The biggest factor is how we view the world around us. Are lost people our enemies, or are they potential friends? How you answer that question has a major impact on your church. I would encourage everyone to read his article here:

Distrust, Suspicion, or Love

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Humble Endorsement

It has been announced that Dr. R. Albert Mohler will be nominated for the position of President of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008. Myself, I cannot express how excited I am about this announcement. I believe that Dr. Mohler is the right man for this job at the right time, and will be able to lead our convention to new heights through grace and determination.

Let me share for a few moments why I would endorse, and plan to vote for Dr. Mohler.

Dr. Mohler walked into Southern facing some of the worst opposition any seminary president has ever faced, yet went because of a clear calling from God - a calling confirmed by the amazing success the school now enjoys.

I had the privlege of being in his Sunday School class for 3 years while I was in seminary, and that gave me the chance to watch him when he probably didn't think that he was being watched. And his example alone has had a profound impact on how I carry myself in ministry, and how I relate to those I minister to.

After his class dismisses, he is immediately mobbed by people with questions - and every single one of those questions gets an answer. In church Dr. Mohler can't take two steps without someone stopping him, wanting him to explain a large, complicated point of Christian doctrine to them. But no matter who they are, and no matter what they ask, he is always very careful to give them a complete answer in a way that they understand.

I've seen him stoop to clean up messes, walk people to their cars, pick up dropped purses, and rearrange his schedule to attend a class party - there is no task too small or insignificant for him to do.

Every couple of nights, Dr. Mohler will take his dog for a walk through the campus housing areas for the sole purpose of meeting and getting to know his students.

Dr. Mohler purposely seeks out students to invest in and mentor - the next generation of Southern Baptists is his number one priority.

Dr. Mohler has a love for both Southern Seminary, and the SBC at large that defies description. His greatest desire is to see the kingdom of Christ advanced through the SBC.

That is why I plan on going to Indy for the sole purpose of voting for Dr. Mohler, and why I pray that many more do as well. There is simply no better man for the job.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas to you and yours. I'll start posting again after the New Year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Who's Getting Hurt?

One may ask that what does the MBC's decision to defund Acts 29 affiliated churches hurt? The Great Commission for one, Kevin Larson for another.

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