Is it wrong to be contemporary? I don’t think so. Being in touch with people and in touch with your times is a good thing—Jesus was. Paul was. For some, being contemporary in our service for Christ means being contaminated—or “worldly.” I think Charles Spurgeon was another good example of a man who was current with his times but not contaminated by them.
“When 19-year-old Charles Spurgeon was called to the New Park Street Pulpit in 1854, London newspapers derided him as a brash upstart. Critics complained that his plainspoken, direct speaking style was too edgy—and dangerously innovative. A secular magazine referred to his colloquial speech as “slang.” A newspaper editorial categorized his preaching as “ginger-pop sermonizing.” One particularly harsh critic wrote:
‘He is nothing unless he is an actor—unless exhibiting that matchless impudence which is his great characteristic, indulging in coarse familiarity with holy things, declaiming in a ranting and colloquial style, strutting up and down the platform as though he were at the Surrey Theatre, and boasting of his own intimacy with Heaven with nauseating frequency. His fluency, self-possession, oratorical tricks, and daring utterances, seem to fascinate his less-thoughtful hearers, who love excitement more than devotion.’
During that first year, pundits regularly predicted an early end to Spurgeon’s ministry in London: “He is a nine days’ wonder—a comet that has suddenly shot across the religious atmosphere. He has gone up like a rocket, and ere long will come down like a stick.
Spurgeon’s critics were wrong, but they weren’t silent. They attacked him, slandered him, and fiercely opposed his ministry. They called his successes flukes and his failures proof of his character. What did Spurgeon do? He just kept preaching. He kept writing. He kept sharing the truth of Scripture as plainly and directly as he could for 40 years of faithful ministry.” -Faithlife
Without realizing it, we can build very nice boxes to live in and then function in ministry happily ever after. The box is safe. It protects our culture and way of life. It protects us from “worldliness”. But God didn’t put us in this world to live in a box. He created us to be salt and light in a dark and pagan society. Our box may be comfortable but it is irrelevant to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ.
We should step back and take a look at what has happened to our homes, churches, and institutions over the past three or four decades. Our kids have grown up in boxes; sheltered homes, sheltered schools, sheltered colleges, and sheltered seminaries. When they attempt to enter the world, they are incapable of functioning outside the protective box – their “safe house”. And then we lose them. We lose them to repeat the same thing for their children – and often we lose them from Christianity altogether.
The need is to live and serve God “in the world” as salt and light. Yes, it is possible to be current with our culture and not contaminated by it. Jesus did. He was a “friend of sinners” and still holy. How many “sinner friends” do you really have? Would sinners feel as comfortable coming into your home or into your church as they were in coming to Jesus? It’s something to think about.
Prayer without planning presumes upon God. Planning without prayer presumes without God. As we look ahead it is not an “either or” proposition but one of “both and.” Every venture in life for the Christian should begin with prayer and continue in prayer. But, we also need to plan. Planning is part of our stewardship and responsibility. In fact, we should do this better than anyone else because we have a higher calling and more compelling cause. Investigating, planning, organizing, and setting goals is not in place of prayer but rather fueled by prayer. It flows from a core conviction that is rooted in a desire for God’s glory and His will to be done. When God does answer prayer we are not surprised. In fact, we are already at the plow and ready for work. You can see this in action when you read Nehemiah 1-3. Pray and Plan. Then, expect great things from God!
Out of God’s great love for His children he miraculously leads them out of Egypt. Yet at their first resting place they find themselves hemmed in between the desert and the Red Sea. Then, to make matters worse, the whole Egyptian army is now bearing down on them! You can understand how they all start crying out in complaint to Moses and to God. Finding yourself “between a rock and a hard place” is not a pleasant place to be. What is God doing?
God is doing many things. But, the most important thing He is doing for His people at that Red Sea is revealing to them who He is. They will come to know Him by these overwhelming circumstances. And it is the same for you and me today. It is through difficulties, the most hopeless of circumstances, that God is teaching us about himself in ways that we will never comprehend by reading a book or sitting in a class. He sets the stage to demonstrate His glory and show you Himself. This is how you come to know Him – by experience. The cloud by day, the pillar of fire by night, the parting of the sea, the water from the rock, the bread from heaven; without the crisis we see no need and we have no reason to cry out to him. “And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of he Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.” Exodus 14:31.
God will keep hemming you in and putting you into impossible places. He is setting the stage to do something great once again. Yes, it is a test of your faith – that is the nature of the Christian life! The next time you find yourself wanting to cry out to God in complaint, start looking for what He is going to do. I can promise you – it will be great, it will be good, and you will come to know him in ways you have not known him before.
“Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Exodus 15:11
Job wants to know why and so do I! This morning I found myself reading Job in my Chronological reading plan. The entire book seems to be a search in trying to answer that question. Job wants to know why. Why all of this trouble? His friends think they have figured it out. His wife has given up. We want to know why because we are searching for patterns and parallels for our own lives.
God does not answer the “why?” He does not answer that this is judgment, or discipline, or pruning for more fruit. He does not say he is trying to convince Satan or prove a point. He does not answer the “why?” But HE DOES ANSWER with the “WHO?”, and that is all that matters. It is all that ever matters. See Job chapters 38-42.
Who is God? A right view of God will mean a right view of myself, of life, of everything. A right view of God will ignite praise and thanksgiving in any and every circumstance we find ourselves in. In difficult times we can struggle to hold on to a right view of God – and even when we do, our emotions may take time to catch up to our theology. This was true for Job and it will be true for you and me.
At this (all of his calamity), Job got up, tore his robe and shaved his head. Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:20, 21.
The next time you go through a struggle and want to ask God, “why?”, consider exploring the “Who” instead. You will find yourself moving from discouragement and frustration to joy and praise.
Have you ever stopped to consider how much time you spend worrying about things? We are Christians and we worry as if there is no God. Turn your thinking back from what “might happen” to what you know is true about God. His Word will instruct you in that truth and bring a confidence, peace, and joy back into your life—even in a trouble-filled world. What consumes your thinking? What do you mull over in your mind? A Word-filled life will be a joy-filled life.
Matthew 6:31–34 says, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
D. Martin Lloyd Jones says in his book Spiritual Depression; “Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?”
If you have time, listen to last Sunday’s message, “Joy Even in Uncertain Times” at http://valleycommunityco.org/media.php?pageID=19
I have heard that the average Christian spends less than thirty seconds a day in prayer and the average pastor less than three minutes. Shocked? Don’t be. Stop and think about how much time you spent in prayer today – apart from blessing your food or a superficial nod to God. We do not pray as we ought – I don’t think any of us would argue that. Sadly, it shows up in our lives, families, churches, and ministries. As a whole, we are a powerless people, having drifted far from our God.
Here is my challenge to you for 2014: Take ten minutes, three times a day, and pray. That’s not much, but probably significantly more than what you are presently doing. We are busy with a thousand other things that together won’t amount to what might be accomplished in prayer. Regular and fervent prayer was the pattern of Christ and the New Testament Church (Mark 1:35, Acts 2:42). This needs to be revived.
David, the man after God’s own heart, said, “Evening and morning and at noon will I pray and cry aloud, and he will hear my voice” (Psalm 55:17). David purposed in his heart and set a pattern in his life for prayer. Daniel did the same, “…he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously” (Daniel 6:10).
Ten minutes, alone with God, three times a day. Friend, that is my challenge to you for 2014. Think what God might do in us, and in his church.
Even though he faced harsh circumstances, hurtful people, and the ever looming shadow of death, the apostle Paul found joy in all these occasions. His joy rested firmly on his view of God and not on a horizontal plain. His chains may seem incredibly restrictive but in reality they served to advance the gospel and encourage fellow believers.
“Now I want you to know brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14)
We too may find ourselves opposed… and even in chains. Certainly not our choice, but God’s. And, He is always up to something amazing! So, we can confidently say with Paul, “I will rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).
I grew up in an academic culture where we did not ask questions. It was not encouraged and it was not considered to be appropriate. In fact, asking questions was often viewed as a challenge to authority. So, most students didn’t want to take that risk.
I do believe it was part of the day in which we lived. Students were staging “sit in’s” and carrying signs like “Question Authority.” The kick back from the older generation was to try and shut all that down. So, many of us went through high school, college, and graduate school without asking a lot of questions. We just listened to what we were told, did our work, and received our diplomas. We learned, but I am convinced we did not learn as much as we could have. I am not blaming anyone. That’s just the way it was.
I am finding more and more that the very best learning takes place when students ask questions. It makes even more of a difference when teachers ask questions. Learning is accelerated. Consider how Christ engaged his students, even the curious and critical. It was the way of His ministry, even from the beginning. “After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46).
Lectures will always have their place, but the greatest learning will take place in what follows. Welcome questions. Start asking questions. You may be surprised at what you learn.
Last week I talked about the need to simplify our lives. We all know it is easier said than done. Here is the process that I go through, and one that might be helpful to you (If you are married, try to work through it together):
- Take some time to write down your current activities—everything you are presently doing. Everything. I usually just do this with a pen and yellow pad. I will fill several pages. It will take awhile but it is a necessary process. You need to face what is going on with your life.
- Go through each item on the list and ask yourself, “why am I doing this?” or “what is my motive?” While this may be painful, it will help you to get to the heart of things.
- Prioritize your list of activities in order of importance and mark each one:
- Those things that are indispensable to your life.
- Those things that are important to you.
- Those things that someone else could probably be doing.
- Those things that are a just a waste of time.
- Drop the things that are a waste of time, delegate the things that others could be doing, and postpone some of the ones that are important.
- Rework your schedule and activities and calendarize them. Start with the indispensable, then schedule in margin. After you have done this you can put in a few other things. Remember, margin is what you didn’t have and the indispensable was getting crowded out.
- Plan your transition to the “new normal” and give yourself deadlines.
- Put it all in writing.
- Make yourself accountable to a trusted friend who will follow up with you.
These are tools I use. I am sure you can find many others. I wish I could say that I did this once and have been cruising along ever since. The truth is I already have my yellow pad out for 2014 and am ready to go back to work.