This blog is the combined effort of four senior pastors of different churches. Their desire is to point you toward living a God-centered, gospel-focused, Christian life.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Spring Cleaning

As I do a little spring cleaning this afternoon, I thought I’d pass on a few links I’d found interesting. These are things I thought I might someday do a blog post on, but at this point…the odds aren't looking too promising. 

So here are some links to three things not interesting (or important) enough to stand on their own but not uninteresting enough for me to just delete.

First, here’s an article on contextualization entitled, “Don’t Throw Out Your Nice Suit Just Yet.” It argues that just because you’re reaching one “demographic slice of the current generation” with trendy (fill-in-the-blank) church trappings, it doesn't mean you’re reaching an entire generation—much less those of other generations.

In an increasingly diverse culture, each decision we make seems to “target” one demographic and “alienate” another. There are important ramifications for gospel ministry as we try to help one strive for a unity that not only goes beyond our shared preferences but demands we die to our insistence church be done our way.

Second, here is a crazy website many of you have probably seen before. If you like graphs, you’ll love this site. http://knowmore.washingtonpost.com/

Some of them are not only colorful but enlightening....



Some of them are...well, some of them are about facial hair....




Finally, Song Lyrics in Chart Form also uses graphs, but in a slightly less useful but pretty funny way. 

Here are some examples:







Hope you found that enlightening. Have a great week!

Daniel

Thursday, February 19, 2015

You Can’t Not Be There




The elders and deacons at East White Oak Bible Church had a great time of fellowship and planning at our retreat last month.  We discussed how best to organize our ministry, how to evaluate our church health, how to best utilize and enhance our facilities for greater effectiveness.  But there was a key theme that emerged in the midst of the conversation.  That theme was more important than any of those items, important as they are.

Here is that key theme:  We long to be men who are so filled with God’s Spirit that we greet each opportunity to meet together as a church with joyous expectation that God will meet us.  We believe that our spiritual preparedness will lead our congregation to the precious joy that is ours in meeting the Lord together in weekly worship.  We want to lead our church in a heart of corporate worship that says, “You can’t not be there!”

This has nothing to do with trying to generate a phony enthusiasm.  It has nothing to do with gimmicks to get people emotional.  It has nothing to do with guilt trips.  It has everything to do with our heart’s preparation for the unique privilege of worship together.

Here is a question that might test the temperature of our souls.  When church is cancelled due to weather, how does your heart respond?  There are, of course, reasons for a feeling of relief, perhaps from responsibilities or from the hazards of travel.  However, if your heart experiences something like joy over not having to go to church, may I suggest that you keep reading?  I believe that I need to cultivate in myself a sense of wonder and joy about the unique privilege of worship together.  I want to pass that sense of wonder to you too.

This week, I spent time reading through the Psalms.  One key principle for interpreting the Psalms is to ask, “How was this Psalm used in the corporate worship of the people of Israel at the temple?”  This principle is important because the Psalms were the worship book of Israel in temple worship.  So, it is not surprising that lots of words are used in Psalms which convey the power and privilege of corporate worship of the true God.  Words like “sanctuary,” “temple,” “courts,” “congregation,” and “throng” are employed to describe the utter marvel of the privilege of worship with God’s people.
In much of the Psalms, the attitude about going to the temple to worship is, “You can’t not be there.”  Or, perhaps more clearly, “you can’t help yourself—you just have to be at the temple.”  This attitude infected every Israelite at least at some points in Israel’s history.  There were times when worship at the temple was an all-consuming passion.  Those were times of revival.

So, here we are, centuries removed from temple worship, yet longing for that same delight in the worship of the Lord.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all of us had such a joy, a longing, a passion to be together to worship the Lord that we couldn’t not want to be there?  We would be so delighted that we couldn’t help tell others to join us.  We would change family plans and activities to avoid missing.  We would express our shock to one another that we just can’t believe that God lets us do this.

To capture a bit of this reveling in worship together in the Psalms, consider the Psalms which describe the privilege of joyous praise together:

Psalm 22:22 I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:

Psalm 22:25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will perform before those who fear him.

Psalm 34:3 Oh, magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Psalm 35:18 I will thank you in the great congregation; in the mighty throng I will praise you.

Psalm 42:4 These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Psalm 68:24-26 Your procession is seen, O God, the procession of my God, my King, into the sanctuary—25 the singers in front, the musicians last, between them virgins playing tambourines:26 “Bless God in the great congregation, the Lord, O you who are of Israel's fountain!”


Psalm 100:4-5 Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name! 5 For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.

Note in all of these passages above that there is both a personal AND a corporate dimension to worship. The “I’s” and “my’s” are directly related to praise in “the great congregation” in the “mighty throng” in the courts and gates of the Lord. For the Israelite worshiper, there was something very compelling about worship together that brought great thanksgiving and joy.

Now, let’s look at some Psalms which show the contemplation that happens in corporate worship. Not everything is high volume, high energy. Some of what brings the worshiper to worship is contemplation of God’s nature.

Psalm 40:10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation; I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness from the great congregation.

Psalm 48:9 We have thought on your steadfast love, O God, in the midst of your temple.


Psalm 111:1-2 Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.2 Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. 

In these texts above, we see a dimension of “thought,” of something happening “within my heart” in corporate worship. That dimension focuses on God’s attributes, most particularly God’s faithfulness and steadfast love. The Israelite worshiper loved to ponder God’s faithfulness and steadfast love with other worshipers.

Next, there is one verse in Psalm 73 which shows the value of worship together as an apologetic for the truthfulness of our faith.

Psalm 73:17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.

In Psalm 73, the writer Asaph had been lamenting how it seemed that the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer. It was only after the experience of corporate worship that he could see clearly the reality, the truth of his faith. I have seen many people deny the faith that they had once believed. However, I have never seen a person do that who was devoted in body (they showed up), in mind (they engaged their thinking), and in heart (they loved worshiping the Lord with God’s people). The mindset of “you can’t not be there” is so powerful in fending off the attacks of doubt and demons.

In Israel, this idea of “you can’t not be there” was so strong that it even overcame selfishness. Selfishness is very hard to overcome, by the way, because we find it very hard to get away from ourselves. The only place where we truly get away from ourselves is in corporate worship. Even in individual worship, we cannot get away from ourselves because the relationship between ourselves and the Lord is so binary. But in corporate worship, we can indeed get lost in wonder, love, and praise because we join with others. Consider these words from Psalm 84:

Psalm 84:1-2 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.
Psalm 84:10-11 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.


The writer of Psalm 84 says that his passion for corporate worship is so strong that he’d rather be there as a nobody than be a big shot anywhere else. In his worship, he concludes that God is so very good that there is nothing good that God would withhold from him. In a jaundiced, skeptical world like ours, even believers can become jaundiced and skeptical. A heart that says, “you can’t not be there” cannot be skeptical because the goodness of God washes over that heart like a flood.

Have you ever wished that you could do something to extend your life? Or that you could extend your joy in life into old age? Psalm 92 offers the principle that a “you can’t not be there” heart of corporate worship causes a person to flourish into old age. In fact, such a heart of worship keeps one young and vibrant.

Psalm 92:12-15 The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.13 They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God.14 They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green,15 to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

I love that phrase, “they are ever full of sap and green.” Corporate worship keeps our lives active at what is most important in life. If you are concerned about fending off the ravages of aging, a heart for corporate worship is far more important than diet, exercise, or cosmetic surgery. I believe that God especially blesses a heart of corporate worship.

Finally, we ought to consider how Israel felt when the privilege of corporate worship was stripped from them. There came a time (586 B.C.) when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and corporate worship of the true God was forever changed. Sadly, it was only after that opportunity was gone that the people of God recognized what they had had. At that moment, the realized how they had squandered years, even generations, of privilege. It was all gone. Psalm 137 described their sadness.

Psalm 137 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres. 3 For there our captors required of us songs, and our tormentors, mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” 4 How shall we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land? 5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill! 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth, if I do not remember you, if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy!

Dear brothers and sisters, let us not repeat the sins of Israel. Instead, let’s treat each Lord’s Day as a special opportunity to meet the Lord together, to sing His praise, to offer prayers and petitions to Him, to study His Word and His works, to engage fully in the thing that God has created for us to do forever—declare His glory.

You can’t not be there.

Psalm 122:1 I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”



Friday, January 23, 2015

Our Two National Sins



Our Two National Sins

Each January, we are given the opportunity to ponder our two great national sins.
 
January 22 reminds us of our great national sin of abortion.  Since the Roe v. Wade decision on January 22, 1973, we Americans have experienced over 54,000,000 abortions.  My heart is burdened on several counts.  There is the tragic loss of life.  There is the untold pain experienced by both women and men in the aftermath of abortion (how I long to tell post-abortive women and men that there is freedom from their pain through Jesus Christ).  There is the seeming entrenchment of the predominant view that abortion on demand is a societal good. 
 
The third Monday of January reminds us of our great national sin of racism.  We celebrate the birthday and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  We are reminded again of the evils of the past—of slavery, of segregation, of racism.  We are reminded of the remarkable history of the non-violent struggle for civil rights.  We are reminded of the need to recognize that this wound still needs healed.

On both of these issues, I have a tendency to shy away from loving my neighbor as I love myself.  Loving my neighbor requires that I actually enter my neighbor’s world.  Am I really caring of the woman who feels that she has no options for her unplanned pregnancy?  Am I willing to love her as I love myself?  As a white person, have I tried, really tried, to understand the challenges and difficulties that an African-American has both historically and presently with both blatant and subtle racism?

I was watching a television documentary on MLK day about King’s life and work.  When they got to the Selma protests, I wept, really for the first time in my life at the sad specter of our racist past.  And then I felt sad at myself—that I have lived so long and had not had that reaction until now.

May God forgive me.

Galatians 5:14 “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”


Monday, December 8, 2014

What Does the Manger Have to Do with the Grave? Christmas and the Value of Human Life



“In him was life, and the life was the light of men.”  (John 1:3)  How Jesus’ coming to earth changes everything.

Preface: The nation’s collective conscience about the value of life is changing.  We are losing our understanding of the intrinsic value of human life.  However, the incarnation, the entrance of Jesus Christ to this earth as a baby, teaches us about why life is so valuable.

The Drive for the “Right to Die”

Brittany Maynard was a 29 year old woman who was diagnosed with a terrible and terminal disease, stage four glioblastoma.  She decided to use her final days on earth to promote “Right to Die” laws in the United States, and, in a video presentation that went viral, declared the date that she would take her life.  She kept her promise and on November 1, she took an overdose of barbiturates and died.[i]
It would be only the most calloused individual who would not sympathize with Brittany’s plight.  The challenges of receiving a terminal diagnosis test the mettle of any individual, and any true Christian must look with compassion upon such a hurting individual and her family.  Still, two troubling issues emerge:  1) Brittany wanted to use her illness as a pulpit from which to be a missionary for legalizing assisted suicide in every state; 2) The organization “Compassion and Choices” used Brittany as the poster child of their advocacy of so called “death with dignity.”

At first blush, it might be thought, “What is the problem with assisted suicide for the terminally ill?”  After all, a person should be able to dictate the terms of their death, just as they live, right?  Failing to allow that seems cruel and who wants to promote the continuation of pain and suffering of hurting people?  One key word is “autonomy,” the ability to be in charge of one’s own life.  The “right to die” advocates have quite an affection for autonomy.  Why should the state, they reason, have an interest in stopping me from asserting my autonomy about when I will die?  In fact, Brittany Maynard, in one of her last videos, expressed it this way, “The worst thing that could happen to me is that I wait too long . . . and somehow have my autonomy taken away.”[ii]

The Christian Response to the “Right to Die”

How does the Christian respond to such a compelling figure as Brittany Maynard?  It is helpful to pull back from her personal story for a bit and see the landscape that legalized assisted suicide will bring us.  It will bring us the utilitarian view of life—that life is worth living only as long as that life produces something of value.  This leaves us with two questions—who determines what is “valuable”?  And how can we know “value” from “non-value”?  Let’s back up from Brittany’s diagnosis and consider a person who is not terminally ill but is perpetually depressed.  Should we leave it to them to live or die?  How about a person who is really, really sad because they faced a really, really bad day? How much pain does it take to become “unbearable”?  Who gets to decide what is bearable and unbearable?

The focus on the primacy of the individual assumes that the individual knows what is best for himself.  Is that true?  “Right to die” advocates actually disagree about this.  Some suggest that once a certain point is reached in lack of autonomy, others should be allowed to make the decision for the patient.  So, the focus on autonomy ends up with a person having to prove his own value, does it not?  What happens when a doctor determines that you no longer have an “autonomous” life?  Does that mean that the state is compelled, by “compassion” of course, to kill you?  

An ethic of life based on autonomy and utility will lead to people not admitting their needs for fear that they will be deemed to lack “quality of life.”  At the very best, this ethic promotes the wrong kind of living, people living lives that are separated from others because we would not dare reveal that we are needy.  There would be little reason for sacrifice to care for hurting people. Why sacrifice your autonomy and utility to care for someone who “ought” to be dead anyway?

The idea of the “right to die,” while presented as a compassionate response to human suffering, is actually a cruelty which will bring untold suffering to our nation.  Rev. Dr. Ignacio Castuera, one of the leaders of this “right to die” movement, cleverly named “Compassion and Choices,” said in response to the Catholic Church’s rejection of this ideology, “Even many Catholics disagree with the Vatican on numerous issues, ranging from birth control – to a woman’s right to choose – to end-of-life choice.”[iii]  Note that it is Castuera, an advocate of this position, who equates the position with the right to abortion.

Horrific Problems Ahead

Here are some of the horrific problems which will occur in our country if this “right to die”—“death with dignity” view is embraced:
1)    Society does not want to bear the costs of human suffering.  Already we are seeing that our government dependence of health care is creating all sorts of questions about the cost of that care for the value received.  This will lead to an increasing dependence upon an exit, as in assisting people to die.  People, especially the elderly, will feel guilty about being a burden on others when they do not have “autonomy.”
      2)  It is anti-God.  Joanna Rothkopf, declares in a salon.com article, “The issue with outlawing assisted suicide for those certain, justifiable cases is that the law then assumes that life, by any means, is more important than personal philosophy and comfort. And that life-centric view is largely derived from our predominantly Western Christian society.”[iv]  Rothkopf admits that the only real hindrance to an America shaped in her image is the “life-centric view” that Western Christianity provides.  As Al Mohler notes, “the restraining power in America, when it comes to the issue of legalizing assisted suicide, is the continuing influence in America of its Christian heritage, of the Christian worldview, that continues at least in some way to shape the society.”[v]
      3)  The “right to die” view assumes that the highest good is to avoid all suffering.  This will lead to ever increasing reasons to take suicide as the preferred option in the face of suffering.  This is particularly true where one person’s suffering creates suffering for someone else.
4)  Death, rather than being fought as an enemy, will be embraced as a friend.  This leads to a diminishing of the value of life at every stage, no matter how autonomous, no matter how useful.

What Does This Have to Do with Christmas?

By now, you are probably asking, “What does this have to do with Christmas?  Isn’t a pastor supposed to write about Christmas in a December blog?”  I have good news for you!  This most certainly is about Christmas, the celebration of the incarnation of God in the flesh.  Let me show you how:
      1)  Instead of not wanting to bear the costs of human suffering, Jesus willingly came to this planet to bear our griefs and carry our sorrows.  He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant.  We do not have feel like we are a burden to God, because He took our burdens upon Himself!  Isaiah 53:4-5, “Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  Philippians 2:6-7, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.”  
      2)  Instead of being anti-God, Jesus came to earth to make God known!  John 1:14, 18, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.”
      3)  Instead of avoiding human suffering, Jesus embraced the cross.  His soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death, but He did not take an escape route (although He could have called down legions of angels to escape the suffering).  He, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross. Matthew 26:53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? Philippians 2:8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross; Hebrews 12:2  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God; Matthew 26:37-38 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.”  
      4) Instead of death being a friend, Jesus entered this world, fought death, and was victorious over it.  As Douglas Moo writes, “The resurrection of Christ means a final and decisive break with death and all its power.”[vi] 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. ; Romans 6:9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.; Acts 2:24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.

So, I urge you to resist the siren call of our age to think of death as a welcomed friend, to believe that the highest good is to avoid suffering, to live as though God does not exist.  Instead, remember the Savior, Jesus Christ.  He bore the costs of human suffering.  He came to earth to make God known.  He embraced His own suffering for our sake.  He fought death and defeated it utterly.

Just over a year ago, I shared at East White Oak's services about a friend of mine who was suffering from stage 4 glioblastoma (ironically very similar to Brittany Maynard).  My friend Suzy died about 14 months ago, but instead of taking her own life, she continued to live and to share Christ will all around her until the Lord took her home.  Her testimony was so compelling that the staff at the hospital where she received treatment had a special meeting with her to ask her why she could endure such hardships.  Here is what she said:
"I believe in and have faith in God and that has helped me through everything. Because Jesus died on the cross to forgive my sins I believe that I will spend eternity in heaven with Him. And so death is not a scary or frightening thing for me. It is just the time when I will get to meet Jesus face-to-face. Right now I feel like I am being held in the palm of his hand. And as long as I am on earth, as long as I have breath, I want to experience the joy of living as He wants me to live and doing what God put me on earth to do."

Be glad.  Your Savior values your life.  “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” John 1:3.

Merry Christmas,

Scott Boerckel