Murphspeak's Weblog
What Is Happening Out There and In Here

Jun
23

Maybe that’s too harsh. Maybe our country stands for truth, justice and (quoting “Superman Returns”) “all that other stuff” . . . just not in June.

Like Michelle Obama, I’ve been ashamed of America. In 1989, as America looked on as college students were turned into tank axle grease, I was very ashamed. Nothing like quietly standing on the sideline while hope is ground under tracks of tanks. A proud moment, for sure.

On the upside, how awkward would it have been to condemn China’s inhumanity to their citizenry and then come crawling for money some twenty years later! How embarassing that would be! Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Nothing more awkward than asking for a loan from Uncle Ted and then having to look the other way as he paws at your wife or starts beating “the help”.  The upside of China owning a controlling interest in the U.S.A. is that if the U.S. government has a controlling interest in GM and our President can fire GM’s C.E.O. because of that controlling interest, then properties of equality means that Obama better be sending some Father’s Day cards to China. Who’s your Daddy, indeed.

So as we sit on the sidelines watching the government shooting protesters in a barrel, we need to look for the sunny side. The smartest man in America, The One, he who is “like God” according the editor of Newsweek has foreseen that we will obviously need something from Iran down the road, and integrity be damned, you don’t go biting the hand that might feed you. There’s nothing more noble than expedient self preservation and looking the other way.

Which reminds me of Seinfeld, the great “show about nothing”. Remember that the show’s legacy was tarnished by it’s very poor showing on it’s final episode.  It wasn’t a good episode, but it may be oddly prophetic.  In the final episode, Jerry, George and Elaine were arrested and put on trial for failure to be ‘Good Samaritans’.

It makes me think that if this is our final episode, we’ve been a great nation “about nothing”, as we stand on the sidelines and fail not only in being Good Samaritans, but in saying anything at all.

Jun
22

“. . . All the “i’s” are dotted and the “t’s” are crossed.” Our Community Organizer in Chief doesn’t want to engage in speculation regarding a missile launch toward Hawaii by North Korea. At least he didn’t say “I’ve been to Hawaii this year, no biggie.” Just thinking it is apparently enough.

The main function of government – at least according to the Constitution, if I remember my Junior High Civics class correctly – is to “provide for the common defense”. I had no idea that was the common defense against missing dots and crosses on two letters of our alphabet. I thought it might be a defense against a madman with missiles aimed at an innocent populace, but editing documents is vital too. I wonder what the “I-dotting” and “T-crossing” is spelling out? Could it be “I am an idiot”?

I have to say I’m a bit disappointed in Mr. Obama. His tactics remind me of my fifth grade teacher. Do you suppose that if North Korea doesn’t stop with all the saber rattling that we’ll ALL have to stay in at recess? I wonder if he will “turn this car right around” or have to engage in his “I’m not mad, just very disappointed” speech for Kim Jong Il.

Did this guy not at least see the scene from “Team America” where Hans Blix threatens Kim Jong Il with writing “a letter, telling you how angry we are”? It won’t work, Barry.  

Try this on for size: “Look, the world is tired of this tinpot dictator, Kim Jong Il, starving his people, bootlegging NBA games and acting like a crazy man. He so much as shoots a rubber band in the direction of the great State of Hawaii, and I will personally give the order – the second the rubber band leaves his hand - to wipe him from the face of the Earth.”

Obama’s acting like Dustin Hoffman in “Kramer vs. Kramer”: “Don’t you eat that ice cream. Do not eat that ice cream.” And the kid eats the ice cream. I hope – hope – that Obama will at least act as forcefully with North Korea’s renegade, madman leader. Is this the hope and change Obama promised?

Jun
22

It’s not a misprint. Looks like I meant to write “Politics In Play At Church”, but it isn’t, I didn’t.
We have a time of prayer after announcements and before singing where our pastor leads us to pray for our neighbors and loved ones, pray for the deep health needs in the fellowship, the financial crises being faced by so many. This particular week, he said to pray for our leaders: “We need to pray for our country and our state. We need to pray that our President will be saved, be born again, surrender his life to Jesus Christ. The Bible says ‘pray for your leaders that it may go well with you’. So we pray for our President to be saved. We pray for him to turn from his wickedness and repent and be saved. We pray for our governor to be saved; for our Senators and Congressmen. Not just that circumstances would change for us, but that their souls be saved.”

We got several complaints about “Politics in Church”. A couple folks left repeated messages on our church phone, saying that they wanted to know Pastor Chuck Smith’s phone number, and “wouldn’t he be interested in all the talk of politics.”  A couple of angry notes written on -yes, you guessed it – prayer cards.  Now who’s being political?

All the talk of politics? We’re praying for our friends, neighbors and leaders asking that God would save them from Hell, and that’s a political discussion?

See, here’s the deal. A great many who call themselves Christian voted for the current batch of bad leaders our pastor was praying for. I was told by family and friends that I had to vote for Arnold for governor or I was throwing away my vote. I did not vote for Arnold, I threw away my vote, and consequently, I have no franchise in the debacle that is California’s political scene.  That’s not the important thing.
I am more concerned for Arnold’s eternal soul than the dire financial and political trainwreck that is California state politics.

Many churchgoers voted for Obama all over this country. Many people I used to admire voted for Obama.
I am more concerned for Obama’s soul than for the wreckage that is America’s financial and political collapse.

I have a Scripture to share with those who feel the need to defend their vote for Obama, for Arnold, for any of our corrupt Senators and members of Congress.  After Jehosophat had partnered himself with wicked King Ahab, the prophet Jehu made this statement:

Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him and said to King Jehoshaphat, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the LORD? Because of this, wrath has gone out against you from the LORD.
2 Chron. 19.2

Who are you helping and loving, and how are you helping and loving them? We hear all the time “Love the sinner, hate the sin”, but if loving means helping, and this passage condemns both helping the wicked and loving those who hate the Lord, it is time for some rethinking.    The Bible needs to define our loving and helping – and who receives such devotion.

We talk about the holiness and purity of God every week in church. More and more our culture and the leaders in our culture are encroaching against God’s holiness. These leaders are setting policy that mocks God’s Word and mocks God’s holiness.

It’s time for us to stop being fans of men and become true God Enthusiasts. The more wicked our culture becomes and the more fame and attention our leaders collect, the more that God’s Word will collide with their lifestyle. If our thoughts are immersed in the culture, all of God’s Word will soon seem to be on the attack against our culture because our culture stands against God. Our society is made of individuals, and as our society stands against God, it is a collection of individuals standing against God.

So we must never stop praying for God’s salvation to come down and save these people, our people. It’s going to get very cultural, very political – and very unpopular.

Jun
20

“Another right wing attack”; “typical Republican assault”; “still more anti-Obama rhetoric”.
I picked these comments from the comments section of a few of my favorite online haunts. I’ve noticed a pattern here, and it seems to be a theme attack originating from the White House and from B. Hussein Obama’s attack dogs. The theme? We’re being overwhelmed by negativity from a veritable tsunami-like onslaught from the -ahem- Conservative Attack Machine / Republican Attack Machine.
Here’s the thing, Obama and all your sycophants: You can anywhere else in the mainstream media and find masturbatory approval for you and your half baked ideas. Chris Matthews, if you called him right now, would dress up like a French maid and make you dinner. You could probably eat sushi off of Keith Olbermann’s naked body for only a wink and a nod. Brian Williams is probably arranging your sock drawer as I’m writing this. Did anyone make sure that guy left the White House when he was last bowing to The One?

Look, if I want a “Tiger Beat” or “Teen Heartthrob” approach to the decisions and policies being crapped out of the White House, I can tune in to ABC, NBC, CBS. If I have cable, I can tune in to all of those – PLUS: CNN, MSNBC, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC and that new all gay channel on satellite.
Look, there’s a host of stuff on TV I don’t like. There’s hours of programming on radio and reams of paper filled with news and commentary that manages never to ruin my day. I simply avoid it.

The problem you have that I don’t have is that “the other side” is watched, heard, understood and appreciated.  The single news channel you don’t own is frequented by staggeringly higher numbers than many of the other outlets – combined!
As Bernard Goldberg points out, Obama and the Lefty Lackies exhausted themselves, their credibility and the American Public’s ability to absorb any more crap. We’ve reached a maximum saturation point and we’d like to hear the other possibilities so we can figure out truth.
So instead of obsessing about the one, single news channel that doesn’t also serve as Obama related soft core porn, be happy with the fact that you have every other major network, every major newspaper in the bag.
Just turn the channel. It’s what I have to do whenever your smug mug comes on. I reach for my wallet to make sure it’s still somewhat intact and grab the remote.

Jun
24

For three weeks he lived in his car in front of our church.

It’s funny that at least a dozen people approached me in the second week to see if I understood the scandalous nature of a homeless man living in his car in front of the church. My first thought was that I would never go to a church that ignored a dude living in a car in front of the place and my second thought was wondering if folks thought he was just vacationing the first week.

“WE gave him food” said several folks in an accusatory tone.

“That’s a mistake” I answered.

“Do you even know his name?” asked one lady, indignantly.

“Yes, his name is Dave” I replied. (That’s not his real name. The names have been changed to protect the guilty, with apologies to Joe Friday.)

“Well, how could it possibly be a mistake to offer him food in Jesus’ name?” came the retort.

“We’ve been talking with Dave for the last week, and we’ve offered him two different places to live, but he doesn’t want to be accountable, he doesn’t want to work and he doesn’t respond to the clear instructions of Scripture. He said his plan is that he wants to be found unconscious so he can be taken by ambulance and given medication by the county. He says he doesn’t want to live somewhere where someone will tell him what to do. That’s how he got kicked out of the house he was living in before – came home loaded and his own family had warned him, he got loaded anyway and put himself out on the street. You think you’re helping him by giving him food, but you’re just helping him to keep living on the street and continue getting loaded. God has a better way.”

Another man said “Dave said you won’t let him use the church restroom to clean up.”

“Yes” I said, “that is true. We can’t help him live on the street – we don’t want him there, God doesn’t want him there and we have two different places for him to go, but he refuses.  He could have a bathroom right down the hall from his bedroom in twenty minutes, but he wants to be on the street.  Go ask him again.” I continued and explained the same thing over and over. By the time we asked the police to come and move Dave along, we had offered him four different places to live and get sobered up, straightened out and live in a clean, safe, godly environment.

I was stunned when we had arranged for him to go to a place just down the road in Perris. He refused, saying “I don’t like Perris.”  I’m not crazy about Perris, but I like sleeping in a car and peeing in a cup very much less than the ambience of Perris.  I’d take Perris, a bed, three squares a day and an opportunity to get sobered up in a heartbeat.  Not Dave.

The last straw was in the third week when one of the brothers came up with two places to stay. Our youth pastor, Mike, was out talking with Dave and Tom, who had come up with two additional places for Dave to go and live. Tom asked Dave, “So I’ll come by in one hour and take you over to the house?”

Dave answered “Yes.”

Mike was really happy – he said “That’s great Dave, I’m really glad to hear you say that.”

Tom had walked away and gotten is his car, and Dave looked at Mike and said “I’m not going anywhere, I just said that to get Tom to shut up and  leave me alone. I’m staying right here.”

Mike said “Dave! You’re living like a reprobate! I haven’t seen this since ten years ago when God told me I was one and that I was living like one and I was going to die in my sins. You’re totally forsaking every bit of God’s grace! You’re living in a car, you haven’t bathed in weeks, you’re in danger by choice, you’re baking in the sun by choice, you’re living like a caged animal by choice. You have to repent right now!”

Mike was totally right. Most folks don’t believe people are making choices like Dave made, but they’re making the exact same choices, just most of the time in more comfortable surroundings.

In all our discussions about a ‘post modern’ world, and speaking in a becoming manner to “this generation”, we must understand the deep spiritual battle that is going on all around us. Dave is a “down and outer” who refuses God’s grace – forsaking grace to have his way. He has defined “his truth”. But for every “down and outer” like Dave, we’re surrounded by well educated and successful “up and inner” middle class and upper middle class and straight out rich people who are just as stubbornly refusing God. There is nothing but danger for their souls where they are, and telling them anything less increases their jeopardy.

There comes a point when we must remember Jesus’ example with the rich young ruler in Mark 10. There we read that Jesus “loved him and said” a hard, hard truth that sent the young man on his way, away from Jesus, away from grace and into profound sadness. In an age where no one may believe in absolutes, Jesus remains the Absolute. If the son of man be lifted up, he will draw all men to himself. Not if the ‘culture’ be lifted up, not if ‘reason’ be lifted up, not if ‘indulgences’ be lifted up. Only Jesus – and He cuts a definitive and prolific figure across all of time, all of philosophy, all of everything. He is the only answer to the only questions that really matter.

May
29

When we talk about reaching “This Generation”, are we Seriously Seeking, Enamored With The Discussion or Daydreaming the Possibilities?

 Are we enamored with appealing to this generation, or making a simple proclamation of the Gospel? 

Are we daydreaming the possibilities of being the one who discovers the intellectual equivalent of the Rosetta Stone for speaking to this generation, or are we simply in love with Jesus and sharing His Gospel no matter what the results?

 It seems very easy to mistake a passion for reaching the lost with an infatuation for this generation.  In making a wholesale acceptance of their purported reasons for rejecting Christ, we validate their rejection of conventional beliefs, almost with an air of admiration for their hostility toward Christianity based on their perceptions of hypocrisy, unfairness, judgmentalism and lack of meaning and validity in message for our modern day.   All these critiques gained from distance of second or third hand with no personal investment – most of this generation says that they believe these negative types about Christianity without ever observing them first hand.

 I say there is a difference between a “burden” for this generation and infatuation with it.

 Their caustic and sarcastic view of the world strikes us as funny and inventive and resonant with our own history.  They know the same cultural touchstones and references, and maybe we have more of a maudlin yearning for what might have been than a deep passion for what God intends today.  I seen in my own life a deep desire to appeal to my peers, almost like a jilted lover, I can feel a semblance of wanting them to see that I ain’t such a bad guy, and why not give Jesus a try?  But mainly (sadly), “I ain’t such a bad guy.”

 I admit that sometimes I regret that I won’t be invited . . . and even if I was, I can’t sit at the cool kids’ table, because “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful.”  It is a very thin line between engaging this generation and engendering or encouraging them to remain ensconced in their intellectual fortress, isolated from God and life.  Flattery may delay rejection, but it may also be lethal to their souls.

 Bottom line, “If the Son of Man be lifted up, He will draw all men . . .”  We have to lift Jesus up before the culture, not the culture up before themselves.  We spend an awful (and by that I mean terrible, poorly spent) time trying to Post Mortem the Church.  But the Church isn’t dead – it will not die.  Those who reject Christ are dead – dead in their sins.  Our methodologies and philosophies may be wracked with diseases and illness, but we must stop admiring this generation, we must stop analyzing the various ‘whys’ and excuses offered for rejecting Christ and simply lift up the Name and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

Mark 10

 17As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

 18“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’

 20“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

 21Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 22At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

 

 

Infatuation tells them what they want to hear, but love lets them walk away from the Truth.

May
08

Socket Wrench has some real issues with Paintbrush. There hasn’t always been a problem – it’s only emerged since Socket Wrench found out about Paintbrush. All his life prior to that was just doing what socket wrenches do, the focus on the nut or bolt at hand, with no regard for the Hand, as it were. He tightened, he loosened, and hoped for an occasional dip in the chem-tool solution to smooth out the rough spots.

Then one day he looked up and realized a Hand was guiding him. He became fascinated by the work of the Hand and began watching it. He enjoyed being cared for by the Hand. The Hand knew just how to use him, how to take care of him and exactly where to put him away. All was well between the wrench and the Hand. Until Socket Wrench saw Paintbrush.

It wasn’t the quantity of time that bothered Socket Wrench, it was quality of life. You see, Socket Wrench was kept in a dark metal box. He was brought out to work in dirt and grease, he was often banged around and even dropped. Sometimes he was left out on the tool bench with dirty rags laying over him. That was the only life he knew until he saw how The Hand took care of the paintbrush.

Socket Wrench had no idea what plush digs Paintbrush ultimately came from, but the Hand always took Paintbrush out of this really nice, soft looking cardboard wrapper that was perfectly fitted to Paintbrush’s shape. Always and only on sunny days, always working with bright, clean paint. Hand dipped Paintbrush in nice cool paint, and gently glided Paintbrush around, changing the color of any surface with the cool, refreshing paint. When Hand was done with Paintbrush, Hand always, always rinsed off Paintbrush in cool, clear water, brushed away even the slightest hint of paint on the smallest bristle, carefully dried Paintbrush and gently placed Paintbrush back in his cardboard paper container.

It made Socket Wrench sick. When he saw the Roman Holiday that was Paintbrush’s existence and the Country Club Social that was Paintbrush’s work life, Socket Wrench burned with anger. Some nights Socket Wrench was never put away. He had a chunk of metal from the Hand’s ‘93 Toyota’s water pump bolt stuck in his gearing and it had been there for about three years. But he never complained about it, felt bad even bringing it to mind. He spent four months lost between the toolbox and the garage wall and had been replaced by a loaner from Hand’s neighbor, and the loaner had a swivel head – so what? Yes, sometimes, Hand used WD-40 on him. But keep it in context, after all – WD-40 is a cleaner, but it’s no lubricant. Paintbrush’s work was out for everyone to see – but how could anyone know the work Socket Wrench did if the moment he was finished, Hand closed the hood. Friends and family would come and ogle the bright, shiny and beautiful work of the paintbrush while Socket Wrench’s vital work went unnoticed and unappreciated. Life, by comparison, was obviously unfair.

One day Hand cleaned out the garage and his storage area and stuck a box full of paint supplies next to Socket Wrench’s tool case. Hand had left the toolbox open and Socket Wrench saw his bristles peeking out of his plush little cardboard wrapper and tried to look away, but Paintbrush caught his glance.

“Hey Socket.” said Paintbrush.

“It’s Mr. Wrench to you, pal.” spat Socket.

“Whoa, hey – lighten up, at least we’re here in the shade.” said Paintbrush.

“Yeah, like you need the break . . . jerk.” mumbled Socket Wrench.

“What was that?” asked Paintbrush.

“I said ‘like you need the break’, okay? I’ve seen how you live!” shot back Socket.

“Seen how I live? Seen how I live? I’m surprised you can see into the blinding glare that is my existence from inside your cool, shady garage. You don’t know what you’re talking about.” said Paintbrush.

“What the . . . hey, Bristlehead, listen here, you’ve got it made with your high living and your soft, cool paint and fresh, clean water rinses.” replied Socket.

Paintbrush glared at Socket and shot back: “You have no idea what I go through. I can’t breathe when I’m dipped in the paint. And do you really think that steel brush feels good after an afternoon of painting rough-hewn lumber siding? I’ve got gummy paint residue down in the deepest part of my bristles – I’m new and I’ve already lost about 1/3 of my bristle flexibility. Do you know what that means to a paintbrush? Flexible and straight bristles are all I’ve got to hold on to and the clock is ticking my friend. I’m not made of metal and I’m not going to last forever. What happens when my bristles don’t bend like they used to or they get all frizzy and I can’t cut in trim anymore? What then, huh? A doghouse repaint and then I’m done. Look, I got a family member being used as a duster over by the chem-tool tray.”

“That brush is family? You can’t even tell he was a paintbrush anymore.” Socket said.

“He was my uncle. We haven’t spoken to each other since the doghouse.”

“Dang, man – I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” said Socket.

They both sat in silence. Though Socket had brought it up, Paintbrush thought of all he’d held against Socket, how he’d envied the shade and special toolbox Socket Wrench had compared to drowning in paint, working in the sun and being bounced around in the bucket next to Masking Tape, who was always too close and didn’t know when to shut up and let it go. Then he remembered and wondered how hot it was for Socket that day early this summer when Hand had left Socket in the driveway for Son of Hand to work on his bike. Being metal and all, it had to have been unbearably hot. Paintbrush knew he couldn’t take that kind of heat. That kind of heat frays the bristles. He shuddered.

Paintbrush was suddenly embarrassed. He had felt pretty self-righteous in the midst of Socket’s ranting. He felt ashamed and he knew Socket did, too, because Socket was looking down and that took some work without a swivel head.

“Hey, Socket.” said Paintbrush.

“Yeah.” said Socket, looking sidelong and over the cardboard into Paintbrush’s bristles.

“Look, I’m sorry, I guess I got really full of myself. I didn’t think about what it’s like in your side of the world.”

“No,” said Socket, “this is on me. I never looked at it from your perspective. I’m sorry – I’ve been mad at you . . . and mad at Hand for no good reason.”

“Yeah, me too.” said Paintbrush.

They sat quietly for a moment. Birds flew by and they could hear the phone ring inside the house.

“You know what’s really funny?” asked Socket.

“No – what?” said Paintbrush.

“I would be a lousy paintbrush.” said Socket.

Paintbrush chuckled and said “Yeah, but can you imagine changing a sparkplug with my head?”

They laughed.

“It’s funny,” said Paintbrush. “Hand only puts us and uses us where we work the best. I couldn’t work – let alone even live as a socket.”

“And I wouldn’t make it a day as a paintbrush. It would break my heart and make me crazy to try and do what you do. You’ve been put to work in the best place for you to succeed.”

“What do you say – you want to call the Hand good and be friends?” said Paintbrush.

“I’m with you, Paintbrush. I hope I see you around so we can talk again.”

“Me too, Socket, me too.”

They both startled at the sound of another voice.

“I think you’re both a couple of pansies.” came a gurgling voice over in the corner. “Wusses, both of you, weak little complainers is what I think.”

It was Plunger, with what looked like toilet paper and something horrible stuck to his plunge.

Apr
29

Over the last couple months, I’ve realized that I have a very bad tendency for toting my agenda everywhere.  In my time of worshiping God, my agenda has robbed me of quality time with God.

Interestingly, Scripture is full to overflowing with great promises of what God has for me.  Every one of God’s promises should be an expectation for me.  The same is true for “us”, the corporate body of Christ.  We have every confidence that God’s promises for us are as good as – check that; better than gold.

My problem is coming to God with my agenda.  My agenda is expedient, immediate and cheap.  My agenda has all sorts of holes in it once my grand plans become a few seconds old.  I’m most often more short sighted than a housefly . . . especially compared with God’s eternal perspective and ability to work all things together for good.  I can barely manage not burning cookies, let alone manage daily affairs for eternal good.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in my tendency for favoring my agenda over a faithful expectation in God’s promises.  I’ve been drawn to Psalm 73, where David’s perspective, his measurement of the condition and affairs of his world – his agenda – have caused him great despair.  Beautifully, David enters the house of the Lord.  More than just going to the Place, he enters in to all that God’s dwelling intones and offers.  Here’s what David’s surrender of agenda allowed for his heart’s expectations of God:

21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,  22 I was senseless and ignorant;
       I was a brute beast before you.

 23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

 24 You guide me with your counsel,  and afterward you will take me into glory.

 25 Whom have I in heaven but you?   And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

 27 Those who are far from you will perish;  you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

 28 But as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
       I will tell of all your deeds.

I notice that the imperative for David, and the imperative for me is the delight in being near God, to set all my hope and all my heart on Him – that means there’s absolutely no “Plan B” if godliness doesn’t work out; it will because God said He would present me before Himself ‘without fault’.  The final imperative is telling of His deeds.  That is both what His great faithfulness has done and will do in our history and in my life.  It means I know His agenda, forsake mine and expect His great promise.

Apr
23

My neighbor used to have the best lawn in the neighborhood.  It was lush, green and perfectly manicured.  Then, he had some health challenges.  His family decided to help him out by hiring a landscape company to come in and care for his lawn.

Within two months, his lawn was a shambles of its former self.  There were weed patches everywhere.  Crabgrass had taken hold, and within three days of a fresh mow, the fiddleheads resembled an invading force standing sentry over a conquered territory.  There were burn spots from either the grass being cut too short or fertilizer.

How did this happen?  The landscape company that was hired to help my neighbor with his lawn brought their own tools and equipment.  Their tools and equipment had been used on countless other lawns – and in doing so, they introduced foreign growth and challenges that my neighbor’s lawn had never seen.  Soon, the little seeds from far away places took hold in my neighbors’ lawn and transformed it from a healthy and well contained environ to a host for weed growth.  What was once an aesthetic delight and value had become a hothouse breeding ground for dandelions, crabgrass and even the dreaded lawn fungus.

Worse yet, the contamination of my neighbor’s lawn soon spread to mine, since we share a common strip of grass on our property line.  His landscape company would mow the common area strip and bring the seeds of dissenting growth and by simple activity spread into my lawn what had never intended to be there.

How could this have been prevented?  It was, after all, the best of intentions that brought that landscape company into our neighborhood.  My neighbor’s kids were only trying to take care of their Dad – they really, truly meant well.

However, the landscape company used the wrong equipment.  Had they used my neighbor’s mower and edger, his equipment – the equipment that had been bought and provided exclusively for that domain, all this heartache would have been avoided.

Sometimes, with the best of intentions, I introduce into my field, my domain, my family, my ministry a plethora of problems because I don’t use what God gave me.  Paul said it this way to Timothy:

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  2 Timothy 3.14-17

and . . .

“1In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” 2 Timothy 4.1-5

“Discharge all the duties of your ministry”, for the pastor, for the teacher, isn’t just what you do at Bible Study, or leading worship, anything at church.  My ministry begins with my heart being right before God, loving my wife and my kids and taking them to Jesus . . . then all that stuff that happens ‘at work’.   God clearly tells me what He wants from me — all of my duties to Him, and asks faithfulness. 

That’s what God is telling me about serving Him.

Apr
21

I urge you not to read this but instead read 1 and 2 Timothy and the book of Titus and ask after the Lord, “How should I serve in the body of Christ?”

If you want to know what God is saying to me about how I should serve in the body of Christ, you are welcome to read on. But this is my conviction for me.

What would happen if you were walking back to work from your lunch break and suddenly a man in a white lab coat accosted you and wrested you to the ground. He pulls down your pants and unceremoniously inserts a rectal thermometer. As his hand goes to your throat, you notice that he is wearing gloves and are oddly thankful for this.

“Hold still!” he demands, “I’m checking your pulse.”

You have no reason to disbelieve him, it is, after all the first thing he’s said to you. You are having difficulty breathing, however. Squirming and resisting is reflexive.

Like an MMA fighter he moves from side guard to full mount and flashes a light in your eyes then pins your head to the ground; you can hear him breathing right in your ear. He grabs your nose and jams a tongue depressor into your throat. He dismounts but relents no control and manages to remove the thermometer. You are curious how it did not break.

As his pressure upon you lessens, you prepare to refasten your pants, get to your feet and kick him in the head. But alas, he is only repositioning and to your horror, removes a hypodermic needle from his pocket. (Again, how did that thing not break, you wonder?) In a classic TV doctor move copped from Hawkeye Pierce and every medical drama you’ve seen on T.V, he grasps the safety cover off the needle with his teeth and to your shock, horror, pain and dismay, jams the needle into your butt-cheek and presses the plunger. As you edge toward hysteria, shock takes over as he pulls another syringe, pops off the safety cap, flips you over and jams another syringe into the opposite butt-cheek. That is going to hurt on the way home.

Finally he stands, you begin to try and right your disheveled self, your now semi-prone, semi-nude figure a spectacle to the now great crowd of onlookers. The man bends down and shows you a medical degree from Northwestern (How did we know he’d be from Chicago?) and throws a business card into your lap, which, for the first good break of the day, nearly covers your genitals from the shocked stares of gawkers.

“Don’t worry – I saw you were symptomatic and I’m glad to say I’ve treated you for Inobedderranew Disease. No need to thank me.”

This rather horrific analogy is completely made up and no judgment should be drawn against Northwestern or its Med School graduates. Their pitiful football program is another story. All these characterizations are unimportant. What is important is the principle at work here; the hypothetical treatment you received in this story is the furthest thing from Medical Care. What happened is more akin to rape.

This occurs philosophically in Churchdom very regularly. We have a created or conjured office of ‘Discernment Minister’. There are more so called ministries that evaluate ministry than there are actual ministries ministering these days. Some are formally formed and solicit support, others are a volunteer corps, standing ever vigilant and at the ready to evaluate, invalidate, vivisect, dissect, postmortem or even perform exploratory surgery on unsuspecting ministries everywhere.

The purpose statement for these ministries always contain important buzzwords and Biblical characterizations. We have the aforementioned “discernment”, variations on the theme of “watchman on the wall”, “prophet”, “voice crying in the wilderness”, “restorer of ministerial integrity”, “watchdog” or some type of “town crier”.

What I have learned is that none of these terms are fully applied from the Bible and into the “ministry” of the watchdog group. When the Old Testament prophets are called to be “Watchmen”, they always, always feature a face to face ministry to the people group they are a part of. Ezekiel did not have the convenience of a blog for making his declarations. He was not allowed to speak from anonymity. Instead, God by His own hand broke Ezekiel down and gave him a heart for mourning and sent him face to face with the ones the Lord was calling to repentance.

Habakkuk’s description of ‘watchman’ was applied to watching the work of God – both His judgments and deliverance. Habakkuk had asked for judgment, the Lord said He was sending the Babylonians and Habakkuk basically said “Yikes! Not the Babylonians!” But rather than say ‘be careful what you ask for’, I must embrace Habakkuk’s words and say that God is trustworthy and perfect in His judgments, even when no fruit is on the vine and life has become a study in paucity.

Never do we see the ‘Watchmen’ of the Old Testament looking over the wall of another city. They are always keeping post on their own city, on their own ministry, on their own people whom the Lord called the Watchman to minister among. They are personally invested citizens who minister to their kindred and those who share life with the Watchman.

We’ll also see the discernment “ministries” use many of Paul’s quotes to Timothy and Titus, quotes from throughout the New Testament that are taken gravely out of context. Each of these quotes must be seen in the context of the day. Paul never offered or commanded any Scriptural discipline to a body of believers that he had not already ministered in, that he was coming to minister in, or that he was ministering in. When he teaches Timothy about bringing correction, it was for Timothy as a pastor of the church he was pastoring. These were not missives fired indiscriminately, they were personal, knowledgeable and prayerful and intended for personal follow up.

In the book of Revelation, the message to the churches were very personal. The church at Smyrna was not addressed with the sins of the church at Laodicea. Neither was the church at Laodicea praised for the works of Philadelphia. There were no blanket statements of caution issued – instead, the Lord spoke clearly to each body the appropriate need, praise or correction.

What has happened in churchdom today is tantamount to that rogue doctor I began with. And the biggest problem is, it seems than rather keeping an eye out and crossing the street and refuse to be either his victim or his audience, many have replicated the model of the doctor and become exactly like him. Now we have a bunch of doctors roaming about, waiting to see another fellow, labcoat or no, showing symptoms that we may administer our rough justice equivalent of ‘spiritual medical care’.

The proliferation of this rogue “Church Doctor” is being replicated most prolifically in response to the ‘pre-existing condition’ of the ‘Discernment Ministry’. In response to the work of these self-appointed rogue officers, we see a legion of respondents becoming exactly what they despise in order to bring a halt to the ‘Discernment Ministry’.

It’s like roaming the streets mugging people so they won’t have the opportunity to become muggers. It’s a like a combination of the spiritual “SS” and a ‘retroactive abortion’.

“Do you have ze papers?” has been replaced with a spiritualized equivalent of street gang inquiry: “Who you with?”

And God have mercy on your soul if you’re wearing the wrong colors or answer incorrectly, or worse, your answer is “neutral” or unconcerned with the most recent wrong perpetrated on one church group or another.

The reality is that we are not to be watchmen on the wall looking into someone else’s city. The Lord does not require us to be free lance fruit inspectors. The Bible shows no office of “Health Inspector”. We are not called to minister cure without an appointment. There is no such thing as vigilante church inspectors. There is a cooperation between church bodies for verifying works, there is “vouching” for ministers. There is sending and giving relief in time of need. There is not an office of Exchequer of Church Calling and Health.

As a pastor or a ruling entity in a church body, you may wish to invite a free agent “Discernment Minister” into your fellowship to evaluate and inform your fellowship as a consultant. That is your right, though I fail to see the profit in that alleged prophet. Just the same as you might bring in a computer consultant or a tech systems consultant, or invite a company to present Sunday School curriculum, it is your right as a ruling body of a church to invite a special speaker to come in and tell you all the ways your church family might be beset by false teaching in the world today.

Paul said men preach Christ for all sorts of reasons, and the reasons he lists are all wrong. When he cautions and teaches Timothy and Titus about dealing with false teaching, he is cautioning them to maintain their own swimming hole. He is teaching about symptoms to beware of and to correct within their own purview of ministry. He never advocated ministers of the Gospel becoming traveling minstrels of judgment and doom. He left that to the Spirit – and the book of Revelation is evidence that the Holy Spirit does not need our help in convicting.

I can speak now to what God has put on my heart. As a pastor, I’m asked all the time, every time we meet together about any number of ministries. One of the perceptions of Christianity and the Church is that no one knows what we’re for, but we’re very clear on what we’re against. I would like to see every question about what our church is about be distilled to this answer: “We’re about Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

It was Paul’s ‘mission’, and apart from Christ, Paul was likely the greatest theologian to ever walk the planet.

I am called to serve my church family.   I don’t see any freelance fruit checking prescribed in the Bible.

So when someone asks me “What do you think of Rick Warren and Saddleback’s emphasis on AIDS relief in Africa”, what do I say?  I was asked this week.

I say, “I don’t know all the details of Rick’s ministry, but here at New Song, we have been called to reach out to the community of Ckara Ckara in Bolivia. We support our community with Food for the Hungry International, and are part of the Adopt a Child / Adopt a Community Program.”

“But don’t you think it’s kinda weird that Warren has Saddleback so involved politically?” asked my asker.

“I can only tell you what we’re doing here at New Song” I answered.

“Is that your way of saying you don’t agree with Saddleback and Warren?” she continued.

“No, it’s my way of saying I can only tell you what we’re doing at New Song. I can only tell you what God called me to do and be a part of, and that’s why I can tell you about what we do at New Song. Just like I don’t know what God has for you today, apart from His call for you to worship Him according to Spirit and Truth.”

“You know” she said “many of your churches are critical of Warren. Whose side are you on?”

Bingo. “Whose side are you on” is an interesting question. Joshua asked that question and was humbled by the answer. In the blog-dom, I don’t know that the Captain of the Army of the Lord’s answer would have sufficed. We are that arrogant and full of self justification. We’ve appointed ourselves vindicators, validators and mediators; the only thing that cannot be agreed on is whose measure of the pound of flesh required for retribution is correct.

My answer to the inquiring church lady was “If the Lord is telling you to be a part of what Saddleback is doing, you’ll have to ask them how to be a part of what they are doing. I can only tell you what our calling is at New Song. We are called to discipleship – growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ and taking His Word and His love to our community and to our world.  I can tell you the ways God has given us for serving Him in this church family.”

She was not satisfied with my answer; she had a personal agenda that I frankly cannot be concerned with.

As I write this analysis, I have to constantly delete sentences that prescribe the action the Lord has put on my heart to you, the reader. I walk an equally fine line of becoming what I despise. It never crossed my mind to apply Paul’s words about judging another man’s servant to ‘watch my life and doctrine closely; it will save you and those who hear you.’ I am learning I am only called to teach and lead worship in my church. I am not called to crack heads together in order bring the ministry of reconciliation among people I don’t even know. I am called to honor the Lord in my life of worship, to do everything “decently and in order”. That means I am to be very clear on the Lord’s call for me. I must be convinced that I’m serving where He wants me, how He wants me, when He wants and most importantly, Why – for His glory.

Post Script
 
 

 

As a post-script, I have been motivated in the past by trying to right the wrongs done to me and others. I can neither remedy nor repair those wrongs. My friend Hank told me “You can never make up for the past; you can only live upright and godly today. Apologize for what you’ve done and humbly trust the Lord to repair and heal. You serve Him today.”

More important words have never been spoken for those of us who claim the Gospel and the Ministry of Reconciliation. You and I can never make it up. You and I can never remedy or repair the wrong that’s been done. For the Monergist, all that has happened, the good, the bad and the ugly is from the hand of God; it glorifies Him – get over it. For the synergist, your ‘balance’ is all wrong – trust more in God if you can’t get over it.  No matter your theological underpinnings, trust God and do what He says.  Forget what is behind, press on to the mark of the high calling of Jesus Christ.

Jesus’ words to Peter after their morning fish breakfast come to mind. Peter is worried about how his lot in life will compare to John’s. And Jesus’ words to Peter are just as appropriate for me as I worry about what’s going on elsewhere in the Kingdom: “What is that to you? You follow me.”

That’s what the Lord is telling me about serving Him.

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