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.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Lesson from the Greek Financial Crisis

While our own nation wrestles with record deficit spending, soaring national debt, and credit rating downgrades with threats of more, we should take particular interest in the current circumstances of the nation of Greece.  Not because the Greek financial crisis directly impacts our own nation’s financial future, but because many of the same mistakes made over the past 100 years in Greece could easily be duplicated here.  Allowing our government’s determined trend toward nationalization of some industries and institutions, especially healthcare, instead of reforms within the current configuration, will shift our economic future onto the path, or rut, upon which Greece has found itself entrenched.

Following World War I, Greece transitioned to the nationalization of many institutions including schools and hospitals.  Where local trustees had once successfully administered these vital social institutions with passion, representing community interest and supported by local funding, state-appointed bureaucrats replaced them, being awarded posts on the basis of politics rather than proven merit.   As national control expanded, local and community interests became less influential than national political agendas.  The local leaders, state appointed, then worked to strengthen their own party machine by distributing what our own political system calls ‘earmarks’, that would encourage local support for the national party most generous, regardless of inefficiencies and wasteful spending.

One economic expert, Richard Parker, a lecturer from the Harvard Kennedy School, attempts to debunk some of the popular explanations for the current crisis in Greece, noting, for instance, that the percentage of Greek workers employed by the state is no higher than most other European countries at 1 of every 5.  And yet, what Parker fails to mention is that public payroll expenses (salaries and pensions of state workers) have ballooned from 38% to 55% of state revenues over the period from 2000 to 2009. It should be no surprise, then, that local appointed officials are the most hostile to reform and austerity measures aimed at reducing the burden these benefits have become, the very privileges that have contributed to this broken system.

In a recent letter from Thessaloniki, Antonis Kamaras, advisor to the mayor of Thessaloniki, encourages Greeks to solve the current financial crisis by looking to the example of their grandparents, who relied upon local, community based administration and funding of many of these services and institutions that have been nationalized.

What I found fascinating was to recognize that a letter was written to Thessaloniki, from the Apostle Paul, recorded as Second Thessalonians in our New Testament.  And just as today many in Greece are relying upon the government to ensure their own income and future, in Paul’s day there were some there who were relying upon others for their own welfare.  Paul addressed this issue as follows:

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with labor and hardship we kept working night and day so that we might not be a burden to any of you … For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order: if anyone will not work, neither let him eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10).

In our own country, we have a growing percentage of our population who is dependent, to some measure, upon government assistance.  What is more troubling is the desire of one of our political parties’ to nationalize certain segments of the economy, a move which will only deepen the tax burden required to support the growth in government assistance those changes will bring.  As Kamaras has advised his country to look to the example of their grandparents, I would encourage them, and us, to look further back to the exhortation that Scripture gave to their distant relatives.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Self Admiration

I have been shocked lately by my inclination to self-admiration.  That phrase, “inclination to self-admiration,” comes from a section title in John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion.  Here is a paragraph in the section which is well worth the wade through some impressive language:

Nothing pleases man more than the sort of alluring talk that tickles the pride that itches in his very marrow.  Therefore, in nearly every age, when anyone publicly extolled human nature in most favorable terms, he was listened to with applause.  But however great such commendation of human excellence is that teaches man to be satisfied with himself, it does nothing but delight in its own sweetness; indeed, it so deceives as to drive those who assent to it into utter ruin.  For what do we accomplish when, relying upon every vain assurance, we consider, plan, try, and undertake what we think is fitting; then—while in our very first efforts we are actually forsaken by and destitute of sane understanding as well as true virtue—we nonetheless rashly press on until we hurtle to destruction?
John Calvin, Institutes, 2.1.2

Part of the reason why the contemplation of hell is so important (see the blog post from Ritch here on June 20) and part of the reason why we shrink from such a contemplation is that human nature is nearly everywhere publicly extolled.  This teaches us to be satisfied with ourselves and satisfied in ourselves.  Even when we know, deep within, that this self-satisfaction cannot be true, we keep embracing the lie.  Calvin calls this hurtling to destruction.

For years, we have been taught in American culture that our basic problem is that we do not think of ourselves highly enough.  I wonder if the real problem is that I think far too much of myself.  (Note that I did not say that I think too “highly” of myself.  “Highly” implies something in today’s self-image conscious society that gets everyone off track.  And, perhaps, we shall see by the comments whether or not my subtle shift in language has helped or not.)  I suggest that the answer to poor self-esteem is not a better look at oneself, but rather, to change where one is looking.  It is only as we understand that a righteousness from God is revealed from heaven to us that we can comprehend a proper view of ourselves.  This righteousness is completely by faith, not by anything that I can do, and it is found in the Gospel of Jesus Christ—His death, His burial, His resurrection.  That is power from God.  (See Romans 1:16-17)

So, by pausing today to take my eyes off of myself, my work, my recreation,  my, my, my!—and gazing upon my Savior, I am thunderstruck by my sin of self-admiration and repent of it.  There is only one King, and I am not Him.

The Times of London once asked a number of authors to write on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?”  G.K. Chesterton’s answer was the shortest of those submitted:

 “Dear Sirs,

I am. 

Sincerely yours, 

G.K. Chesterton”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Gambling in Washington: An Open Letter to My City Council

As someone who watched many Westerns as a boy, I assumed it was common knowledge that alcohol and gambling don't mix well:

In fact, this was also a widely understood reality in the early-17th Century, if this painting by Adriaen Brouwer is any guide:

But it is a reality that many lawmakers, including the majority of our state's legislatures, are either ignorant of or choose to ignore.  And because of a bill passed in 2009, throughout the state of Illinois communities are allowing video gambling in establishments that already have a liquor license.  

On July 2, the City of Washington is voting on amending an ordinance that bans gambling in our city.  Below is a letter to council members voicing my opposition to a form of gambling that preys upon the weak. After the letter are a list of our city council members and their email addresses.  If you choose to contact them, please address them with the courtesy and respect they deserve as our leaders.


An Open Letter to the Washington City Council,

I am writing this letter to urge you not to raise revenues for our community by exploiting its weakest members.

On July 2, you are voting on an ordinance which, if passed, will legalize gambling in our community.  There are clear moral and pragmatic reasons for you to oppose such a measure. 

First, gambling costs a community more than the revenue it promises.  According to John Kindt, for every dollar of revenue gambling brings in, taxpayers spend three dollars in “increased criminal justice costs, social welfare expenses, regulatory costs, and increased infrastructure expenditures.”

Second, gambling harms the weakest members of our community.  The entire gambling industry relies upon promising an opportunity for those who are in greatest need.  It is targeted toward the poor and depends upon them—especially those who are ethnic minorities—participating in it disproportionately.  As the Chicago Reporter noted in 2007, an analysis of lottery records since 1997 shows that the poorest zip codes generate the most lottery revenue.  The article observed that in Chicago, “the South Side's 60619 ZIP code area, lottery players spent more than $23 million on lottery tickets in fiscal year 2002, more than any other ZIP code in the state.” If this ordinance is passed, know this: revenues will be gained on the backs of those in society we should be striving to protect.

Third, electronic gambling represents an especially predatory form of gambling.  Dr. Natasha Schull, a professor at MIT, has written several excellent articles on electronic gambling machines.  She notes that these machines are “calibrated to increase a gambler's ‘time on device’  and to encourage ‘play to extinction,’ which is industry jargon for playing until all your money is gone.”  Inside the machines “complicated algorithms perform a high-tech version of ‘loading the dice’—deceptions no self-respecting casino would ever allow in table gambling.”  Schull observes that these machines “are designed to exploit aspects of human psychology, and they do it well. In the eyes of the gaming industry, this may look like success, but it comes at great expense for gamblers.”

Why are communities throughout Illinois suddenly presented with this choice?  It’s not because our lawmakers have realized that video gambling is an ethical and practical good for our community.  According to the Chicago Tribune (3/28/12), lobbyists for the gambling industry deluded lawmakers into believing this would prove to be a tool to help dig our way out of our budget deficit.

It won’t.  Gambling revenues never come without exacting more than they give.  And even if they were a lucrative source of income for a community, I would still ask that you not pay my bills by exploiting the weak.

Thank you for your service to our community,

Dr. Daniel J. Bennett
Senior Pastor, Bethany Community Church


For those of you who live in Washington, please contact your city council member and politely express your desire for them to oppose this measure.  

The contact info of your city council member can be found below or here: (click on "City Government" link).

Gary W. Manier:

Ward I:
Bob Brucks:

Ward II:
Todd Clanin:

Ward III:
Dave Dingledine:

Ward IV:
Gene Schneider:

A map indicating your ward can also be found here: (select the "maps" link).Here is a really bad copy of a map that indicates which ward you live in (light blue is Ward I, light green is Ward II, dark green is Ward III, and brownish color is Ward IV).   


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Justice, American Style?

It has always been true that wealthy people get more of their way in human courts.  Likewise, no matter the system of jurisprudence, there is a tendency for the players in the court systems to view justice more as game theory than as a real determination of right and wrong.  But I wonder if we are moving further and further away from justice and more and more toward the judicial system as an elaborate game.

More to the point, I wonder if people actually can buy their own justice.  No, no, no, I’m not talking about bribes and pay offs.  What I’m talking about is that a wealthy person can buy an excellent lawyer who knows very well how to play the sophisticated game, while a poorer person cannot afford such excellence.   When the “game” (or trial) is played, let’s face it—some are better at it than others.  And it appears that real justice, real fact finding is not the goal.  The goal is to “win.”
Let me suggest a few examples which have caught my eye and have given me reason for this concern. 

--O.J. Simpson hired a dream team of lawyers for his trial for the murder of his wife.  F. Lee Bailey, Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian (whose daughters are now even more famous), and Robert Shapiro (cofounder of LegalZoom) enabled the erstwhile running back to be declared not guilty of murder.  His attorneys did an amazing job of jury selection and of trial execution.  And O.J. paid a lot of money for their defense.  Fast forward a few years, O.J., now a much poorer fellow, comes against a wrongful death lawsuit and later robbery charges for stealing his own memorabilia.  O.J. does not have the money for the high powered lawyer team.  He loses both cases and is now incarcerated at Lovelock Correctional Center (interesting name for a prison!) in Nevada.

--Rod Blagojevich hired the lawyer, Sam Adam Jr. (the same attorney who successfully got R&B performer R. Kelly off of 14 counts of having sex with a minor) in defense against federal corruption charges.  His attorney played the game well, and a hung jury was the result.  However, Blago was out of money; the feds knew that and retried the case.  This time, with lesser lawyers, Blago was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison.

--John Edwards was recently tried on charges that he violated federal election laws in getting money from a supporter to fund the needs and lifestyle of his mistress with whom he had a child.  Edwards’ attorneys, Abbe D. Lowell of Chadbourne & Parke and Allison O. Van Laningham and Alan W. Duncan of Smith Moore Leatherwood, are among the best that money can buy, for Edwards is a very wealthy man.  This trial, too, ended in a hung jury.  However, because the feds knew that Edwards could pony up the money for yet another trial, they chose not to refile charges against Edwards.

--Roger Clemens, famed former major league pitcher, was recently tried for lying to Congress when he testified in hearings on performance enhancing drugs.  The first trial was declared a mistrial because of prosecutorial misconduct.  The second trial, just concluded, resulted in Clemens being declared innocent on all charges.  Clemens was represented by Rusty Hardin of Rusty Hardin and Associates, a very good and very expensive Houston attorney.  Word is that Clemens paid in the neighborhood of $3 million for his defense.

Now my concern has nothing to do with innocence or guilt of any of these figures.  It may be that true justice was done in all cases.  However, I simply want to ask a question—does a person get the justice that they can pay for in America?  It may have always been true that getting a better lawyer gets you better “justice,” but I fear that we are increasingly headed to a place where the wealthy can get what they want in court because they have extremely skilled game players.  This will result in a diminished respect for the law in our culture.

If you are still reading, good for you because this leads me to my real point!  My real point is that this world is not our home.  If you want “real” justice that is not dependent on how much you can pay an attorney, you are living in the wrong world.  God, for His own good purpose, has ordained that this present world be uneven in terms of justice.  See how the prophet Habakkuk agonizes over this truth:
1:2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?
Why do you make me see iniquity,
    and why do you idly look at wrong?
Destruction and violence are before me;
    strife and contention arise.
So the law is paralyzed,
    and justice never goes forth.
For the wicked surround the righteous;
    so justice goes forth perverted.

Isaiah 59 affirms that we will be frustrated by “justice” on this earth:
The way of peace they do not know,
    and there is no justice in their paths;
they have made their roads crooked;
     no one who treads on them knows peace.
Therefore justice is far from us,
    and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
    and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
We grope for the wall like the blind;
    we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
     among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
We all growl like bears;
     we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
    for salvation, but it is far from us.
Justice is turned back,
    and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
    and uprightness cannot enter.
 Truth is lacking,
    and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.

Happily, for the believer in Jesus Christ, the injustice of this world will be overturned by our coming King Jesus.  Note how Isaiah 59 continues:
The Lord saw it, and it displeased him
    that there was no justice.
16  He saw that there was no man,
    and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
    and his righteousness upheld him.
He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
    and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
    and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
18  According to their deeds, so will he repay,
    wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies;
     to the coastlands he will render repayment.
19  So they shall fear the name of the Lord from the west,
    and his glory from the rising of the sun;
for he will come like a rushing stream,
    which the wind of the Lord drives.
20  “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

Don’t you love it?  God sees that no one on earth can intercede for perfect justice, so He comes Himself.  He straps on righteousness as a breastplate and the helmet of salvation on His head.  And He will be the perfect judge.   The doctrine of the Trinity is wonderfully, mysteriously at work here, which would be great fodder for yet another blogpost!
Jeremiah 23:5 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

What is wonderful for the believer in Christ is that this judge, because of the doctrine of the Trinity, is also our attorney.  He defends us:
1 John 3:2 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

And, wonder of wonders, God is both our vindicating judge and our interceding advocate because in the person of Jesus Christ, He also paid the penalty, took our judgment.  And for that, there is no distinction of race, of wealth, of earthly status.  There is only this—are you saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ?
Romans 3:21-26 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

As we move further away from biblical absolutes in our culture, the more that our judicial system is subject to manipulation, the influence of high priced lawyers and gaming.  The court of heaven is not so.  The Judge of all the earth will do right.  Do you have the Right Man on your side?  If so, the perversion of justice now will bother you, but not too much.  Rather, heaven and the return to earth of the rightful King become all the sweeter.  Even so, come Lord Jesus!

Scott Boerckel

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Summer Heat as a Reminder of Hell

Why is July the hottest month of the year for us in Illinois?  Answer:  Because the other 11 months are cooler!  I enjoy cool weather far more than hot.  I long for April and May to linger and I mourn when they pass.  I do not relish the beads of sweat that pop from my pores from simple tasks like retrieving the mail, nor the sauna that invades my car in the church parking lot, nor the labor of slathering sun screen to protect my pale skin against the onslaught of UV rays. Yet I find that complaining about summer heat gains little advantage to either my body or my soul.  In every circumstance God intends to grow us so that we enjoy Him more thoroughly and serve Him more faithfully.  Moaning over the heat of summer accomplishes neither.  So I have committed this summer to using the heat to help me consider more deeply the seriousness of my sin, the righteousness of God and the grace of the Gospel.  When I feel the hot lash of the sun against my sin, I intend to think more deeply about the biblical doctrine of hell.  Truly, July is not as hot as hell, but July's discomfort can remind me of a doctrine set before us often in the scripture for our help and encouragement.

Have you taken time to think about hell lately?  I doubt many of us have.  It is a most uncomfortable doctrine.  Many deny it because it seems too awful for God to author.  Yet as Christians who believe God’s Word, we can no more deny the reality of an eternal hell than we can deny God as the Creator, Jesus as Incarnate God, the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin, the empty tomb as a demonstration of God’s power and heaven as our eternal home.  If we disbelieve hell, we should throw our Bibles into a fiery pit . . . for nothing stands true in scripture if this doctrine is spurious.  As J.C. Ryle observes,  “From “no Hell” to “no God” there is but a series of steps.”
The Bible clearly teaches us that hell is a real place of eternal torment as an expression of God’s righteous response to sin.  Hell is a place of separation forever from God and His goodness.  Heat is not the only miserable aspect of hell, but it is a prominent one taught in scripture.  In scripture, Hell is called a “Lake of Fire”, “unquenchable fire”, and “eternal fire”. Jesus description of the rich man’s misery in Hades provides the most haunting and terrifying vision of hell’s agony:  “The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.  So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'“(Luke 16:22b-24)

What positive effect could possibly result from a concerted contemplation of hell?  Everything revealed in scripture is given us for our profit.  Few contemplations are more profitable our souls than meditating upon the holiness of God in relationship to hell.  I believe the church would be energized if we allowed the reality of hell to rest upon our souls more deeply.  Let me offer five ways that a consideration of hell will benefit our lives:

1.    We will pursue the assurance of our salvation more earnestly.

Our salvation from God’s wrath is a vital matter.  Hell’s horror reminds us of what is at stake for us.  We cannot afford to be wrong about the eternal safety of our own souls.  In view of God’s righteousness, Peter calls us to be diligent in confirming our calling and our election (cf. 2 Peter 1:3-11).  We pursue assurance by pursuing the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our life (cf. Romans 8:9).  The more of the fruit of God’s Spirit that we see born in our lives, the more comfort we have that God’s life has been given to us by the Spirit.  Let us ask ourselves carefully, “Have I been born of God’s Spirit and made alive in Christ?” 

2.    We will fear God more reverently.

The doctrine of hell reminds us that God possesses great passion for His own glory.  He does not tolerate opposition to His sovereign glory.  He will not abide evil to remain forever, but plans to sever evil at its roots and to destroy it completely.  God will not allow good and bad to dwell side by side for all eternity!  God’s holiness is so pure that even the smallest sin must be destroyed in the deepest pit without remedy or hope of its revival.  In view of hell, our fear of man dissolves into the abyss.  We recognize that all flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower of the grass.  We are not God; God alone is God.  And that is a great thing!  The doctrine of hell bows my heart to His throne to acknowledge Him as Lord over all.

3.    We will cling to the Gospel more dearly.

Why do some saints shed tears when they speak of the Gospel?  Because they know that they are “saved” by it.  They know of the eternal misery that assuredly would be theirs apart from it.  The doctrine of hell makes me sing “Amazing Grace” more loudly.  God’s grace would not be immeasurable if it did not overcome an eternal loss.  The Gospel becomes sweeter in view of the bitterness of hell’s death.  I deserve to experience God’s wrath and yet the Gospel opens a door of escape.  Jesus is my City of Refuge to find safety from the avenger!  On the cross, Jesus satisfied God’s wrath in my place!  He rose from the grave to rob death of its sting.  O the wonderful cross that displays God’s love and rescues me from hell! 

4.    We will proclaim the Gospel more passionately.

How can we not proclaim the Gospel when we know it is the one remedy to keep our friends and family from suffering the eternal misery of hell?  We grow dull in our evangelism because we grow dull in our thoughts about hell.  R.C. Ryle drives me to compassion in his description, Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body, – the eternal sting of an accusing conscience – the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devils and his angels – the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised – the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future – all this is misery indeed. It is enough to make our ears tingle, and our blood run cold. Yet this picture is nothing, compared to the reality.”  What a portrayal of God’s justice against all those whose sins are counted against them!  They need a Savior!  Let us tell them of the One who loves them and died for them to deliver them from God’s just punishiment!  I love Charles Spurgeon’s thoughts, “If sinners will be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. And if they will perish, let them perish with our arms around their knees, imploring them to stay. If hell must be filled, at least let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
5.    We will hate sin more thoroughly.

Hell exists because sin does.  How putrid must sin be to God if He created hell to dispose of it?  Sin promises life to us, but delivers only death and hell.  Many rebels hear of the doctrine of hell and shake their fist at God saying, “We must kill You for this!”  Those who love God hear of the doctrine of hell and shake their fist at sin and say, “We must kill you for this!”  The doctrine of hell makes both the redeemed and the defiant speak the same words, but they direct their hostility in a completely different direction.  How can we love a thing that would lead us to hell?  God does not lead us to hell.  Sin does.  God leads us in grace to life in His Son.  The call of God is clear to all of us, “And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.  (Rev 22:16-17)

So this month, when you are talking with a neighbor and they compare the heat of a July day to hell, be ready to tell them that hell is much more hot than they think.  And ask them if they would like to talk about heaven and God’s plan for us to enjoy Him there for all eternity.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Battling Lust

I concluded the sermon on Sunday by mentioning John Piper's "ANTHEM" strategy for battling lust. The entire article can be found here and I highly commend it to you. In this week's post, I want to highlight one portion of that strategy.  

If you recall from my hurried explanation—where does the time go during a sermon?—the acronym ANTHEM stands for Avoid ("sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire"); No ("say no to every lustful thought"); Turn ("the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction"); Hold ("the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out"); Enjoy ("a superior satisfaction"); and Move ("into a useful activity").

I want you to spend a moment thinking more fully on the "E" in Anthem.  Piper writes:
ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don't say, "That's just not me." What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don't be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart – more than you treasure sex or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don't have: "Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days" (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is
Many have made a very foolish trade.  They have traded Christ and the joy of obedience to Him for passing pleasure that can bring no long-term satisfaction.  There is a passage of Scripture I love to mention at weddings that I didn't have the chance to share yesterday.  In Jeremiah 2:11-13, God declares: 
Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.
To forsake water from fresh springs for the sludge from a broken cistern is a foolish trade.  To forsake the God who is a fountain of living waters for the sludge that immorality promises is a far more foolish trade.

Press on in your sanctification!  Do not become complacent in your battle with immorality.  Flee youthful lusts (1 Tim. 2:22).  Strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Christ Our Passover

Recently a friend asked me to look at the account of Jesus Christ’s prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane.  While the account is recorded in Luke’s Gospel and Mark’s also, I was directed to Matthew’s treatment, found in Matthew 26:36-46.

As he reflected on Christ’s wrestling in prayer prior to the cross, what was impressive to my Christian brother was the necessity of prayer to being in the will of God.  As our Savior fought His most intense spiritual battle, His victory was modeled through His humble, dependent posture of fervent prayer.  Jesus persisted in prayer that evening until He found rest in the good, pleasing and acceptable will of His Father.

What a lesson!  The victorious Christian life is laid hold of through persistent prayer.  This was a lesson of which I needed to be reminded. 

Yet, what I, myself, discovered, as I reflected on that same passage, were words that “became for me a joy and delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).

Previously when I had thought of Jesus’ prayer in the garden, I essentially would think of His request that the cup, which represented God’s wrath against sin, might pass.  That is essentially how Mark and Luke present the prayer of Jesus.  Yet, the record that Matthew gives is consistent, and expansive.

Matthew records that Jesus first requested that the cup might pass from Him, with the caveat that the Father’s will should take priority.  Next, we read that Jesus settled firmly upon the plan and will of God when He prayed, “if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done” (v. 42, emphasis added). 

What I find to be such a blessing is our Lord’s acceptance that the cup of God’s wrath would pass, if He would drink the cup.  In other words, consistent with what all of Scripture teaches, we witness Jesus assuming His substitutionary role.  The cup would pass, passing over those who trusted in Jesus, because Jesus drank.

It wasn’t that I had not known of the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, that Jesus took my place in absorbing the wrath of God due me because of my sin.  It is clearly taught in other passages.  “He (God) made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).  “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24).  I knew, believed, and taught this glorious doctrine.  I had just never witnessed it in the garden, as my Savior wrestled with the cup, and then, through prayerful submission, determined to drink so that the cup might pass from me, from all who would trust in Him.

Jesus Christ our Passover has been sacrificed (1 Corinthians 5:7)!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lessons from my father, part two

Last week, I gave part one of lessons learned from my father.  This is the second half.

11.    Ask lots of questions as a teacher and don’t get too worried about the responses—just get responses.  Then, point people back to the Bible.  I loved watching my Dad teach a Bible study or Sunday School class.  He patiently would endure all kinds of crazy comments because his goal was to get the class to engage the Bible.  He would always draw out so many comments that everyone was amazed by the level of participation.  Then, right at the end, Dad would always summarize the scripture in such a way that put everyone in awe, not of his teaching, but in awe of God and the Good News about Jesus Christ.

12.    Read and study.  The life of the mind is extremely important for the believer in Jesus Christ.  My Dad taught us the importance of academic excellence.  He rewarded it.  He taught us the value of good books.  We saw him reading . . . a lot.  We just figured that that must be a great thing to do.

13.    Be gentle but be bold to make Jesus known.  Let people see that you genuinely care for them and for their eternal destiny.  Few people were more gentle than my father, but he had a burden.  It was a burden that people come to know Christ.  So, he kindly but very directly tried to leave a witness for the Gospel wherever he went.  He was also gentle but purposeful with his parents, his brother, and his sister.  It was a delight of grace that Dad saw so many of his extended family become part of God’s family.

14.    Don’t be careless.  Take care of your property.  Take care of your family.  Take care of God’s family.  Take care of your neighbor.  Dad was intentional in showing care, not just of material things, but of relationships as well.

15.    Keep your word.  Don’t make promises unless you intend to keep them.  Dad famously was a keeper of his word.  Even when people would attempt to release him from promises made, even when others did not hold up their end of promises, Dad was unrelenting.  He would keep his word. 

16.    Be scrupulously honest.  Even if it means that you lose financially, keep your good name instead of silly money.  Dad was meticulous about paying all he owed, and if there was any doubt, he would pay more just on principle of not ever being accused of shorting someone.

17.    Do not be afraid to stand alone on principle.  One time, my father was the only “nay” vote in a church meeting.  This was quite embarrassing to his children.  Why, since all the “yays” had been seen first, did Dad have to vote at all?  It was because he wanted an important principle to be reviewed.  (And it was reviewed to the satisfaction of all and for the blessing of the church).

18.    Many need models for living for Christ.  Seek to be such a model.  Dad taught Sunday School classes for young married couples for decades.  Lots of men learned from a great model.

19.    Always be thankful.  Especially in the last few years of my Dad’s life, I noticed that along with his aging came also an increased thanksgiving.  His prayers reflected this as did his conversations.  He became less worried.  He didn’t grow as frustrated by cultural decline or political debates.  Instead, he grew more and more thankful.  He saw reason for thanksgiving in everyday interactions with restaurant workers, medical people, his church family, and his own family.

20. God gets all the glory.  My Dad was so unassuming that were he not taller than most of his generation, he would likely have gone completely unnoticed in most settings.  This is as he wanted it because he really did want God to get all the glory, weight, and significance for what He had done with my Dad’s life.  Dad knew who he really was, and he knew Who God really is.  That settled any drive for attention in my father’s heart.

In the photo above, Dad is, quite by accident, leading my son Mark and his new bride out of the reception.  Everyone was waiting to ring the bells and greet the happy newlyweds, but Dad got caught exiting late and became a bit of comic relief.  Now that he's with the Lord, however, this photo is precious to me, not as comedy, but as a picture of Dad's leadership of our family--humble, gentle, not taking oneself too seriously.  And, quite literally, this is the last image I have of my father's leadership.

It has been two years since I laid my hand on my father and bid him to enjoy the presence of the Lord.  I am thankful for the life of one who left such a bold imprint of faith on his family. My prayer is that, in passing along to you some of what I learned from him, you too will live a contented, thankful, as a "God-Centered Christian," to the glory of God.

Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Summer Camp versus House Mortgage by Ritch Boerckel

This week I am in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin with 160 teenagers for summer camp.  What a great week as we focus on our theme:  Be killing sin or sin will be killing you.

This topic is drawn from John Owens classic work entitled, "The Mortification of Sin."  When John Owen wrote his treatise on sanctification in 1656, he could little imagine the kind of world that teenagers in 2012 would encounter.  Yet his message is timeless as it is drawn from the pages of holy scripture.

The teens have been learning that sin is a serious wound that must daily be put to death (cf. Romans 8:13; Colossians 3:1-5).  Sin is not only a work of our hands, but a foul condition of our hearts.  We must strike at the root of sin and not just at the bitter fruit of sin.  Sin that is not killed will deprive our soul of strength and comfort.  Such sin will untune our hearts so that we cannot enjoy God.  Yet no one can put to death a single sin without the death of Christ.  Killing sin is the work of redeemed, blood-bought people.  As born again believers, we are able to kill sin only by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We dare not strive to wrestle our sin in the power of our own good efforts.  The messages this week have not be airy marshmallows tossed to sugar starved youths!  I wish you could see the enthusiasm that the teens have for biblical substance in teaching and consecrated faith in living.  What a joy to be here with them.

Before I left for summer camp, I shared with my sister-in-law, Carol, about our plans for camp.  She looked at me and said, "Every year I tell parents and grandparents, 'Find a summer camp that will tell your children/grandchildren about Jesus .  Then do everything in your power to get them there.  Sell the car, remortgage your house, dig into your retirement savings . . . do everything in your power to provide a way to get them to camp so that they can have a week to hear about Jesus.'"

I could not agree more! Why is this particular investment such a significant one?  Let me offer you five reasons why a church summer camp that clearly teaches the Gospel can :

Reason #1:  Summer camp provides extended time for teens to learn the glory of God in the Gospel message.

At our summer camp, the teens meet two times each day to hear a message from God's Word.   At camp we have opportunity to control the schedule of a teen's day so that they have opportunity to think without interruption about God and His design for their lives.  They are free from many of the distractions that keep them from such focused concentration while they are at home.

Reason #2:  Summer camp provides opportunities for teens to spiritually evaluate their own lives and to commit their lives to Christ.

Each morning, the teens meet in small groups to discuss how they are personally interacting with God's Word.  The week is designed for spiritual life change as the teens think about where they are in their relationship with God.  Today I talked with one of the teens about their walk with God.  They said that last year they gave their life to Jesus while at our camp!  They talked about the struggles that they continued to have, but how Christ has made such a difference.  God used last year's summer camp to open this young girls heart to the Gospel.

Reason #3:  Summer camp provides access to spiritual leaders who can talk individually with teens about problems in their lives.

This year we have 28 adult volunteers who have committed themselves to spend this week with teenagers in order to personally talk with them about Christ.  How thrilled I am when I see a group of girls huddled around one of our female volunteers in deep conversation.  Summer camp has reminded me that many teens yearn for adult interaction to talk about spiritual issues in their life.  Summer camp gives the teens access and comfort for deep conversations with godly adults to occur.  My practice at camp is set aside a couple afternoons to plant myself in the sweet shop.  I bring my computer to do some work, but I never get any work done.  Teens will come up to the table, sit down and want to talk about a myriad of subjects.  After we talk for about a half an hour, one set of teens leaves and another appears.  My sense is that teens really want to talk to Christian adults about issues that they are facing.  As a dad of a camper, I am thankful that my teen son has other godly adults who interact with him during his week of camp.

Reason #4:  Summer camp provides an opportunity to develop Christian friendships with other teens.

Many teens share Elijah's discouragement.  They wonder whether there are any other teens who have not yet bowed the knee to Baal and who are faithful to Christ.  One teen that I talked with today remarked that he does not know of any peer in his school who is following Jesus.  He wishes that he would have at least one school friend who would share his fight against sin and his desire to proclaim Christ.  Here at camp, he seems really joyful to be around other guys his age who share his love for Jesus.  Camp is a great boost to his faith.

Reason #5:  Summer camp provides impetus for the teen to connect more deeply to the church when they return home.

While huge decisions can be made for Christ during a week of camp, those decisions can easily fade if they are not followed by a year long commitment to Christ and His church.  Camp often makes a deep commitment to church more inviting to a teen.  Often teens feel that they are on the outside of their peer group when they are at church.  Camp can change that perception.  Often teens feel that the youth group is cold to them.  Camp can change that perception.  Often teens feel that the youth leaders do not know or care about them.  Camp can change that perception.

So if you have to, remortgage your house and send your children to camp.  Oh wait . . . our church provides a scholarship every teen who needs one.  We tell parents, "Pay whatever you are able to and the church joyfully will cover the rest of the cost for you!"  We believe that the week will be worth it for you, for your child, and for God's glory.