Results tagged “service” from Reformation21 Blog

Closely Connected Care

|
With each cultural crisis or natural disaster, our minds are freshly flooded with a litany of images and calls to come to the aid of our neighbors who have been the victims of an injustice or who have suffered loss. One of the downsides of living in a media-connected age is that we can't escape the constant barrage of information about all of the miseries of this life. Additionally, we have an overwhelming number of para-church ministries that, by virtue of the fact that they are specialty ministry organizations, often give the sense that their thing is the thing in which all should be invested. Many of us begin to feel undue guilt about not rising to the occasion, so to speak, when we become aware of all of the needs of those around us in the world. Surely, there must be guiding principles in Scripture that help us know when God expects us to help and when it is outside of our ability. Without wishing to fall into the ditch of undue guilt or the ditch of inactivity, here are three principles to keep in mind as we are daily confronted with global scale needs. 

1. The moral proximity principle. In On Christian Doctrine, Augustine articulated what has become known as "the moral proximity principle" when he wrote: 

"All men are to be loved equally. But since you cannot do good to all, you are to pay special regard to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstance, are brought into closer connection with you. For, suppose that you had a great deal of some commodity, and felt bound to give it away to somebody who had none, and that it could not be given to more than one person; if two persons presented themselves, neither of whom had either from need or relationship a greater claim upon you than the other, you could do nothing fairer than choose by lot to which you would give what could not be given to both. Just so among men: since you cannot consult for the good of them all, you must take the matter as decided for you by a sort of lot, according as each man happens for the time being to be more closely connected with you."

In short, Augustine suggested that we have a greater responsibility to assist those who live more closely related to us by time, place or circumstance. You have a heightened sense of responsibility to come to the aid of those who are "more closely connected with you." This means that we must start with our own family members (1 Tim. 5:8), neighbors (Luke 10:25-37) and residents of the community in which we live. The proximity we have to those with whom we are most closely connected determines the moral responsibility we have to assist others. As Paul Tripp notes, "A man...needs a clear sense of what God calls him to do as a husband, father, neighbor, relative, son, worker, and member of the body of Christ."

2. The ecclesiastical priority principle. "The moral proximity principle" paves the way for the priority that we should place on caring for the members of the body of Christ--those in the local church in which we worship, first of all, and then, Christians in the wider church. This is clearly articulated in Scripture when the Apostle Paul wrote, "As we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those of the household of faith" (Gal. 6:10). A believer is to have a desire/commitment to assist those in the household of faith. Since we have limited time, energy and resources, we are to first and foremost focus our attention on how we can spend these talents in coming to the aid of our brethren. When there is a hurricane, we should think about the needs of the saints in the churches with whom we have ecclesiastical affiliations prior to thinking about other churches/community needs. We often begin to feel undue guilty as we are bombarded with calls to give to charities/networks. Instead, pastors should help guide their congregations with well researched and tangible ways that members of one congregation can assist members of another. This principle was exemplified by the Apostle Paul who took assistance form the Macedonian and Corinthian churches to the impoverished church in Jerusalem (2 Cor 8:1-3; 1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 9:5). 

3. The collective provision principle. As believers seek to care for those who, within their moral proximity and ecclesiastical priority, have needs, it is important for us to remember that we can do a great deal more if churches work together to care for the needs of others. One of the great tragedies of the church in America is that there is often a pernicious territorialism that hinders a more widespread caring for others and co-laboring for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Each of our churches belong to Christ. Believers are members of one another on account of our union with Christ. Pastors should labor to create partnerships with one another so that collective care occurs in the hour of needs. This principle applies to supporting missionaries and should also help govern our efforts at local mercy and outreach. 

While seeking to act on these principles certainly helps us narrow our focus, unburden our consciences from unnecessary guilt and walk in the good works for which Christ has redeemed us, a great deal of wisdom is needed in pressing forward. Additionally, caring for others costs time, energy and resources. Yet, as we remember that Christ poured out his soul and offered His body for us in order to care for the deepest needs of our soul, we too should be motivated to seek to assist those in need. 

As Jesus Sees It

|

One of the benefits of having young children while being a pastor is that it affords you the opportunity to get plugged into the local school system. When we first met with someone who worked at the school, we told them the name of our church. Their immediate response was, "Oh we used to go there! It's a great church! But...there just weren't enough teens for my kids to have friends." I also heard this from another person who had visited our congregation.

When I shared this with a friend of mine, he told me that he has had similar experiences. He noted that he had followed up with two families who had visited the church he pastors; but, that they ultimately decided to go elsewhere. Their reasoning was the same. The sound preaching of the Word was there--and that was the most important thing for them--but there just weren't enough young couples their age with whom they could connect.

As I was relaying these two episodes to a mentor, who is himself a retired pastor, he wistfully looked to the corner of the room and mused to himself, "You know, if every family that complained we didn't have a big enough youth group had just stuck around we'd have had the biggest youth group in town!" If I didn't laugh, I would have cried.

There are a lot of things that people look for in a church. Those things can be superficial (e.g. "the building needs to be beautiful"). They can be substantial (e.g. "The Word needs to be preached faithfully"). Others are understandable (e.g. "I want people my age with whom I can connect"). Often the things for which visitors are looking are things that lie outside of their control. For instance, a visitor may like certain things about a local church but cannot change the pastor's preaching. But, when visitors leave a church because of its composition (e.g. young, old, racial or otherwise) they are giving up on a church because of one aspect of the life of the church that they actually have the ability to do something about.

What amazing things would happen in local churches all over our nation if people attended solely for the sound ministry of the Word of God and then contributed their time, talents, and treasures to help make the church what it could be in other areas that are secondary, tertiary, preferential or understandable. What if, instead of seeing the church that isn't there, we saw the church that is there?

One of the things that the Apostle John sets out for us in the book of Revelation is how Jesus views seven churches. He views some as faithful but small (Rev. 2:9). He views some as needing to repent over serious issues (2:16). There is one church that Jesus sees as having a great reputation and seeming healthy on the surface, but which He explains is actually dead deep down (3:1). This last church in particular shows us that first impressions are often deceptive. If someone had shown up at the church of Sardis they would have said, "This church is respectable. They have a good reputation. They look good. And wow, check out that youth group. Sure, they're a little spiritually sleepy (3:3), but you know, every church has its problems."

When we consider the seven church that Jesus addresses in the book of Revelation, we find that He takes issue with almost all of them; and yet, He doesn't simply walk away from any of them. When it comes to the secondary issues, what if we all started seeing the church that Jesus sees? What if we all said, "You know, the church isn't what it should be or could be...yet; but, maybe the Lord will use me with my time, talents, and treasures to make it a place that can meet the needs of the saints? Instead of seeing the church as a place where people serve me, what if we all started to see the church that Jesus sees-a place beloved by Him (that may not be where it should be yet) and in which God may use me to build it up?

To Be A Diaper Changer

|
I recently happened across a picture online, in which a group of young adults were linking arms at a well attended Christian Conference. The person who had posted the picture wrote a caption underneath it that said something along the following lines: "I don't just believe in these young men and women; I believe that they can change the world." A few days later, I came across the self-designation of a girl who termed herself a "world changer" in her Twitter bio. One doesn't have to look far these days to see how ready the better part of young Christians are to embrace grandiose visions about their futures. On one hand, this seems so very noble. After all, as image bearers of God, shouldn't we desire excellence and seek to be a blessing to as many people in the world as possible? On the other hand, it comes across as supremely naive and somewhat narcissistic to think that I am so important that the entire world needs me and that I will most certainly be a change agent for the entire planetPerhaps we need a reevaluation of our own personal worth and calling. 

A "change the world" mentality often ironically serves as a catalyst for discontentment or undue guilt. The common failures and frustrations experienced in the mundane day-in and day-out aspects of life tend to leave those--who had hoped for more importance--jaded or callused as the years progress. Like the person who gains weight over the years and cannot seem to lose it (I know this so well experientially!) has the peculiar temptation of thinking back to the days when they were younger and thinner, the disappointments embraced by those who have misplaced expectations about their own influence can lead to a nostalgic paralysis in later years. 

Such a mentality also has the adverse effect of inadvertantly leading others to dismiss the importance of the work of the mother who faithfully changes her children's diapers, drives them to sporting and music practices, takes them to the doctor, keeps up the organizational aspects of life at home and serves with her husband in many unnoticed capacities at church. It tells the man who humbly hangs a sign for a church plant each and every Friday night and takes it down every Sunday night that what he is doing is insignificant. It implicitly disrespects the man who gets up at 5:30 every morning and who comes home at 7:30 every night (and who then repeats that process 6 days a week for 25 years) from his job in a factory.

A friend once told me the story of a Christian garbage man whose hands were worn from his work. Someone once asked him about his callused and blackened hands. The man responded, "I'm thankful for these hands because they serve as a reminder to me that I believe that I have been called to do the work that I do and that I can pick up garbage to the glory of God." This is what a "change the world" attitude misses. It fails to embrace Paul's admonition, "Whatever we do in word or deed do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Col. 3:17). 

To be a diaper changer to the glory of God is a glorious thing. Jesus said, "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much" (Luke 16:10). Among the many things that I regret in the early years of marriage is that I was far to eager too be out with people "doing ministry" and was not home enough helping my wife change diapers and put the kids to bed. I say this without any hesitation whatsoever: Any fruit I have in ministry is directly correlated to my wife's faithfulness in doing what is least to the glory of God.  

The reality is that there was only one true and lasting world changer; and, He had to be mocked by men, nailed to the cross, subject to the powers of hell and fall under the wrath of God in order to bring about permanent and lasting change in the world. Whenever we are tempted to want to "think more highly of ourselves than we ought to think," we must remember that the way up is the way down, that he who would be greatest must become least and that the way to the crown is the way of the cross. We must seek to become a "will of God doer" rather than a "world changer"--even if that means changing dirty diapers for the glory of God.   

Wisdom and Biblical Principles of Complementarianism

|
Our little corner of the internet has been ablaze over the past several months with posts and articles about the Trinity and complementarianism. A number of individuals have raised concerns about certain segments of the church allowing chauvinism (e.gsanctified testosteronesoap bubble submission) and abuse (e.g. Black and Blue complementarianism) in marriage to fester under the cloak of complementarian commitment. However, what seems to be surprisingly absent in these discussions is a treatment of what complementarianism in the marital relationship should look like in a biblically faithful and nuanced fashion. As some of our colleagues have been reminding us--words and definitions matter. I suspect that the lack of positive treatment is due, in large part, to the fact that the Scriptures do not give us a detailed list of the specifics of every interaction within the marital relationship. Rather, the Holy Spirit gives us broad principles and examples to follow--thus admitting a measure of subjectivity and necessitating that we seek to proceed with the wisdom that is needed commensurate to the particular situations that may arise. The idea that the Scriptures give us general principles rather than detailed prescriptions for marital situations also tends to be true of of our other relations in the home, the church and the world.

More than anything, it seems to me that we need to approach the complementarian issue by first learning the biblical principles and then by seeking out the wisdom to know how to best carry out these principles in our marital relations. The Scriptures are clear that "the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church" and that "as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands" (Eph. 5:23-24). Additionally, Scripture teaches us that wives are to "submit their husbands as to the Lord," and that "husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the church" (Eph. 5:22-25). The Apostle Paul explains that the Christian wife is to "respect her husband" (Eph. 5:33) and the Christian husband is to "nourish and cherish" his wife (Eph. 5:29). These are some of the clearest statements in all of the Scripture from which we glean principles of complentarianism.

There are, of course, other general principles in Scripture that govern how these role relations work out in the day in and day out circumstances of marriage. For instance, the Apostle Peter tells Christian wives that they are to be submissive to their own husbands--"that even if some do not obey the word, they, without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives" (1 Peter 3:1, 4). In like manner, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" (1 Peter 3:7) and not to be "bitter" toward them (Col. 3:19). Here, the Scriptures speak to the matter of one member in the marriage fulfilling his or her responsibility even--and especially--when his or her spouse is not. In short, we must always ask ourselves the question, "What is my responsibility in fulfilling my role in marriage in light of the disobedience of my spouse?" The Apostle Peter unequivocally states that wives may win their husbands "without a word" when the disobedient husband witnesses his wife's godly character. Likewise, husbands are to dwell with their wives with "understanding" and without "bitterness." Surely, these qualifications have to do with the husband's response to his wife's sinful reactions to things in the home. No matter what the wife's reactions, husbands are to lead their wives in the same the way that Christ leads the church--by means of servant-leadership that seeks to benefit and not by demanding to be served (Matt. 10:45; 20:16). In keeping with this teaching, Tim Challies has helpfully set out four marks of a godly husband's love from Rick Phillip's commentary on Ephesians

These principles do not in any way whatsoever teach that wives are to submit to the sinful verbal or physical abuse of their husbands. This is where ecclesiastical and civil authority comes to bear on the marital relationship. God has established church courts and civil courts to intervene when there is sin and abuse that necessitates such intervention. Seeking out the involvement of such courts also requires great wisdom. When a wife believes her husband is violating God's word in an abusive way, she is to take him to the church courts. Surely a wife is not going to take her husband to the elders of the church any time he fails to speak gently to her. Likewise, a husband is not going to take his wife to the elders of the church every time she speaks disrespectfully to him. However, if there is verbal abuse of such a nature that intervention is necessary, a wife must go to the elders. If there is physical abuse of any kind she is responsible to go to the church and civil authorities for intervention and protection. Tragically, church and civil courts may and sometimes do fail to protect abused women; nevertheless, they are the courts that God has appointed. Every effort must be expended in appealing to these courts for protection. 

Concerning less volatile marital situations, I have learned two things from carrying out counseling sessions over the past ten years in ministry: First, nearly every couple has the same problems. Husbands abnegate their responsibility to lead; wives, in turn, disrespect their husbands; the husband then gets bitter toward his wife; and, a vicious cycle persists. It is a cycle that can only be broken by confession of sin and a willingness to forgive, love, lead and respect. Second, in every marriage there are diverse personalities involved. Just as no two children are the same, so no two husbands or wives are the same. This means that wisdom is needed for both spouses to learn to carry out the unique role to which God has called them in light of the unique spouse to whom they have chosen to join themselves.

As it pertains to the way in which I seek out wisdom to carry out headship in my own marriage, I tend to be extremely hands off when it comes to asking my wife to do things in the home. I have friends who expect their wives to have the dinner ready, clothes folded and the house clean when they come home. I personally do not ask my wife to do much around the home because I understand that she already has her hands full teaching our children, keeping the home and bearing so many of my burdens in ministry. In fact, I see serving her--in ways that I know will make her day easier--a significant part of my call to Christ-like leadership. In this regard, to demand certain things of her might be a failing on my part to dwell with her with understanding and nurture. However, every situation is different. It is not necessarily wrong for a husband to ask his wife to do certain things in the home. He has this God-given authority. To deny this is to deny complementarianism. These dynamics require a great deal of discernment, understanding and wisdom. God has ordained pastors to help counsel and intervene in difficult times on account of difference in personality type and life situations in marriage. When two sinners are dwelling together in marital union--seeking to fulfill their God-given responsibilities in their respective roles--they will almost inevitably face challenges and growing pains.

This post is my feeble attempt to highlight the fact that principles of biblical complementarianism must be gleaned from Scripture and approached with wisdom. While much more can and should be written, my fear in the current debate is that an overreaction to abuses of these principles will be used to downplay the Divinely revealed role relations of husbands and wives in Christian marriage. Much wisdom is needed to navigate the situations that arise as husbands and wives labor to learn how to fulfill their respective roles. May God give us grace to search the Scriptures carefully to discover His plan and purpose for His people in marriage!"

 

"Let the praises of God's mercy"

|
8 7. 8 7. D (Dim Ond Iesu)
Let the praises of God's mercy
My poor heart and tongue employ;
Let each thought of grace and justice
Fill this soul with boundless joy.
Let me think on Christ my Saviour,
Let me dwell on his great love;
Let me serve with all my being
Till I see his face above.

Having known such great forgiveness,
And deliverance from sin's sway,
May the Spirit always teach me
To each truthful word obey.
Oh forgive me for transgression;
Grant me grace to do your will;
Keep my soul and flesh from sinning,
Every part with goodness fill.

Fill my mind with truth unchanging,
And my heart with holy fire;
Give me strength to work with gladness,
And with praise my lips inspire.
Let the Saviour be my pattern,
God the Spirit be my light;
God the Father, my protector;
And God's service my delight.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

With the Lord

|

I doubt that many readers of this blog would know a brother by the name of Johnny Farese. Johnny was born with spinal muscular atrophy. By the time I had the privilege of meeting him in person, he had been unable to sit up for about ten years. He was paralysed in both arms and legs, his body twisted and passive. But, for a man who the doctors prophesied would not live beyond his eighth birthday, Johnny led a remarkably productive life. The quote which adorned almost all his emails was this: "I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do. What I can do, I should do. And what I should do, by the grace of God, I will do."

With these words understood in the light of God's saving grace in Christ Jesus, Johnny set out to serve as he was able. He learned to code and for years maintained a mailing list for and a directory of Reformed Baptist churches, generating much mutual interest and fellowship. All this he did using an intricate arrangement of technology operated through a small tube.

I met Johnny when preaching at a conference in Florida. He listened to pretty much everything he could online, and - the day after the first sermon, when I went to see him - he gave me a lovely illustrated copy of Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, to which I had referred in passing, which evidently coloured my preaching in Johnny's eyes, and which he had immediately ordered as an expression of kind appreciation. We spoke about some of his labours, his hopes and his fears, the struggles and the joys of his condition. I spoke to his brother, Paul, and his wife and children, with whom Johnny lived, and whose selfless care of him brought its own challenges and burdens.

Johnny's brief written testimony is here, and a few years ago he was featured in a television programme:


The Sovereignty of God from Johnny Farese on Vimeo.


Johnny fell asleep in Christ last Lord's day afternoon. He went to be with Christ, which is far better. His soul has left that battered and twisted body in which he sought to serve his Lord so faithfully and fruitfully. He is present with the Lord, his soul made perfect, his joy entire. He is now looking forward to the day when Christ returns, when his soul shall be reunited with his body, but not as it goes into the ground.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual. The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven. As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man. Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed - in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory." (1Cor 15.42-54)
On that Lord's day morning, I was preaching to the church which I serve on Peter's mother-in-law (Matthew 8.14-15). This woman was saved (and there are parallels with our deliverance from the fiery fever of sin); having been delivered, she served. Johnny knew what it was to have his soul delivered from sin, and he knew what it was to serve. The next time you are tempted to excuse yourself from duties, shirk present responsibilities, and let opportunities pass you by, you should remind yourself of a man who could move only his mouth and his eyes, and offered them readily and constantly to the Lord.

Johnny is still serving his Saviour. He will serve him forever, soon with a restored body to match his striving soul - full of strength and vigour, every capacity and faculty thoroughly enlivened and invigorated, knowing no hindrance or obstacle - in the new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells, and where sickness, sorrow, pain and trouble are long past.