Paul says we Christians are running a race. Here's what I'm looking at on my run toward Christ.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

An Open Letter to My Senator

Below is an e-mail that I have already sent to one of my senators.  I found myself talking to others about this subject and quickly realized that that was useless.  I decided to send the below e-mail as well.  If you feel strongly about this, or any subject, please stop complaining in the coffee shop and talk to those who represent you instead.  Believe it or not these e-mails make more of a difference than the meme you may share.  You can find contact information for any of your representatives online.

Senator Grassley,

I write to you today because I respect you and your service to my state and country.  You have always been responsive to me in person and the last time I sent an e-mail.  I write to you today because you have always seemed to me to be a good man, a man of character and faith.

I am an employee of KWAY radio in Waverly and you have always been helpful to us.  I do not represent KWAY radio in any way in this e-mail.  I have the privilege of serving as an elder at Grace Baptist Church in Waverly.  You, before my time, had attended services and even spoke at the church and many appreciate that to this day.  I do not represent Grace Baptist Church in any way in this e-mail.  I simply write as a concerned citizen.

You sir, however, are a representative of me and I am a representative of Christ Jesus so I must write this e-mail.

Please ask President Donald J. Trump to reconsider the Department of Justice’s policy of splitting up immigrant families.  I find this policy to be both highly unusual and incredibly cruel.

I have a thirteen-month-old boy and I love him to pieces and I couldn’t imagine anyone separating me and my wife from him.  Taking my son from me, and especially from my wife, would be about the cruelest thing I could conceive of being done.  These people who are separated from their children no doubt feel the same way.

Jeff Sessions cited Romans 13 in his defense of this policy.  I wholeheartedly agree with Romans 13 and my life is affected by that passage.  But you men and women in the government represent me and I think Romans 13 is much easier to follow if you, my representatives, make and enforce just laws and policies.  As a citizen of a democratic-republic I implore you to work to change this policy.

The policy of ripping children from their parents is beneath the dignity of our country and this policy is completely beneath the dignity of the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Jesus Christ asks me and you to care for the least of these.  He demands that you and I let the little children come to Him.  He says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones- those who believe in me- to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.”  Those are strong words and the trauma of government ripping children from their parents may cause these little ones to distrust the King of kings. 

Mr. Grassley, I respect you.  I trust you.  Please represent me well.  I know there is not a simple solution to illegal immigration.  I’m not naïve.  I understand that the parents are committing a crime, but this punishment most certainly does not fit this crime.

Thank you for your time and consideration of my e-mail,

Matt Ray
Waverly, IA

Friday, June 8, 2018

The Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things

On Sunday our church voted to hire a new senior pastor named Jonathan Davis.  I'm excited to have Pastor Jonathan and his family join us but I am worried about something.

I'm worried about a dangerous cult.  A cult that has affected so many organizations and individuals.  A cult to which churches are not immune.

I'm worried about the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.

The Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things is something I hope Grace Baptist Church avoids.  Now, the ways things have been done are hopefully not all bad.  I've been a part of the way we've done things and many great Christians I admire have been influential in creating many of the ways we've always done things.  That being said, I hope we avoid the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.

Our new senior pastor will come and continue many of the ministries that we already have in place.  Jonathan will do some things the way they were done before he arrived and he may come to appreciate the ways things have been done.  But he will most certainly make some changes.

Why am I writing this and why do you care about my church's leadership transition?

I write this because the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things is a problem in, dare I claim, every single church that wants to grow.  If you are part of a local church that is attempting to grow in its mission, and I hope you are, then you will feel the pull toward this cult. 

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority.  They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.  Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."  Hebrews 13:17

I write this for myself as much as for you.  I have a hard time resisting the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things, too.  I have to work hard to submit to authority and to obey leaders and to TRUST them. 

Trust is what this is all about.  Why do we want to do things the way they've always been done?  Because we know it works.  Could the new idea work better?  Perhaps, but I know and like the way it's always been done.  Simply saying that something is not the way we've always done things is not enough reason not to try it.

So, I implore you to trust your church leaders.  Not to trust blindly, but to trust.  We want our leaders to serve us with joy.  They must give an account for how they lead and that is enough stress.  We must trust that they are calling on God for guidance and that they desire to lead us like the Good Shepherd to green pastures and quiet waters even if we must go through the valley of the shadow of change. 

Avoid the Cult of the Way We've Always Done Things.  Be willing  to experience change because growth in the depth and breadth of your church's ministry will always involve a change of some sort.  Embrace the changes your leaders lead your church body to and be excited for the growth that change might cause in all of you today.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Raspberries and M&Ms

I recently fasted from dinner the night before until breakfast the next day.  I say that, not to sound more religious, but to talk about something God taught me.  In fact, when it comes to the discipline of fasting I am lacking.  I hardly ever do it and I've never gone more than about 40 hours and I likely won't ever write a how-to on fasting.

So, on the afternoon of my day of fasting I saw some raspberries on the dining room table and walked over to grab a few.  I almost forgot I was fasting.  I almost responded to my hunger and didn't think about what my plan was.

Then that evening I was going to leave the house.  I looked over on the kitchen counter and saw a big bag of dark chocolate M&Ms.  I reached over to grab some and then remembered that I was supposed to be fasting.

I was struck by a thought after the raspberries and definitely after the M&Ms: I have such easy access to food.  I began to pray for those who don't have access to food at any moment.  I began to think about how I was hungry by choice rather than by circumstance.  I began to thank God for the way He has blessed me.  I am so blessed by God that not only do I have my needs met, but He has showered me with conveniences.  I can eat any time I want to eat.  I have snacks and meals readily and quickly at my disposal.

So, would you pray with me for those who struggle with food scarcity?  This is people in Ethiopia, in China and in Bremer County, Iowa.  Pray that they would have their needs met.  Pray and ask God if He wants you to be a part of meeting that need.  If you are a part of my church then perhaps you should serve at the community meal.

"Let them give thanks to the LORD for His unfailing love
and His wonderful deeds for men,
for He satisfies the thirsty
and fills the hungry with good things."  Psalm 107:8-9

God literally satisfies me with good things to eat and drink.  However, Psalm 107 talks about spiritual hunger and thirst and God longs to satisfy that need for you, too.

In Psalm 107 the anonymous writer lists off the many ways that people come to fear and trust the LORD.  He writes of the ways that people are redeemed and from what they are redeemed.

"On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.  Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.'  By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.  Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified." John 7:37-39

"Then Jesus declared, 'I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty." John 6:35

"Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare."  Isaiah 55:1-2

"Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him." Psalm 34:8

There is a great need for physical food and there is a greater need for spiritual food.  Jesus Christ is that food and drink.  His body was broken for us as bread and His blood was poured out for us as wine.  In communion we remind ourselves of our need to have Jesus to survive in the same way we need food and drink.

"Whoever is wise, let him heed these things
and consider the great love of the LORD." Psalm 107:43

God's love for us is great.  He has given us His Son.  And He has given His Son for others.  So, as I was reminded of the luxury I have with raspberries and M&Ms that others don't, as I was drawn to pray that others would have food, I am also drawn to thank God for the good food and drink He gave me in Jesus and I am compelled to pray for those who are spiritually starving.  Pray with me that those who are dying of spiritual starvation would taste and see that the LORD is good today.

Friday, May 18, 2018

A Full Cupboard

My son turned one this week.  He's a good little boy but like most of us he gets a bit cranky when he's hungry.  Hangry, I guess would be the term.  And sometimes when Joshua is hungry and complains we go to the cupboard and get him a graham cracker or fruit bar or some sort of snack.

We make it a priority to have snacks in the cupboard for Joshua.  We sometimes forget to get the things we need, but we always have something for Joshua because we love him and we know that babies are not known for their patience.  I hate when we get in that rare jam where we don't have something he needs.  It would not be pretty if he was hangry and I hadn't purchased his food for him yet.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't give Joshua whatever he asks, whenever he asks.  Snacks are not a spoiling for him, they are a necessity. There are other things in the cupboard he asks for and other times when I know he doesn't need to eat that I deny his request despite his whining.

This all leads me to this question: how do you pray?

Do you pray to the Father of the full cupboard or the possibly empty cupboard?

When Jesus died on the cross He purchased every grace we need.  When Jesus said, "It is finished" (John 19:30), He meant it.  When Christ paid our price He purchased a cupboard full of everything we need.  Christ's cupboard is full, it is bursting at the seams, it is beyond bulging because of the infinite supply of grace it contains.

This does not mean that He will necessarily give all that we want, but He will give us the supply of grace for our every need.

"And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:19

So, how do you pray?  Do you pray to the god of the empty cupboard or to the LORD that has purchased everything you'll ever need?  When you pray for patience do you imagine that God has to manufacture patience for you or do you know that He simply takes it out of the cupboard?  When you pray for the grace to endure today do you know that that grace comes from His glorious riches and not from spiritual food stamps?

Pray to the God of the full cupboard.  When Jesus died He died for more than your get out of Hell free card.  When Jesus died He died to start and finish your sanctification.  When Jesus died He purchased a full cupboard of grace to give you for every need.  When Jesus died He died to adopt children into His Father's household that will be well cared; cared for much better than I care for Joshua.

Pray like your Heavenly Father has a full cupboard today.

Friday, May 11, 2018

When Mothers' Day Isn't Happy

Mothers' Day is supposed to be happy but what about when it isn't?

For many, Mothers' Day is somber or perhaps even cruel day.  For some, the Mothers' Day church service is a reminder of what they don't have anymore or never had.  For some each carnation passed out amongst the pews is a dagger to their soul.

Some have lost their mother and this holiday is the reminder of what they lost.  For some their pain is an empty chair at the table that belonged to the child they had to bury.  Others mourn the child that was miscarried.  And others hurt for the mother they can't seem to be able to be even after tests and IUI's and every intervention they've ever tried.

Mothers' Day is a holiday worth celebrating.  Mothers' Day should be celebrated.  But on Mothers' Day let us pray for those who are wounded by the holiday.  For the women, and even men, that lament on Mothers' Day, please know that I hurt with you. 

When I was a boy and I needed comfort, I rarely went to Dad.  My dad is a great fixture in my life, but when I had a physical or emotional wound I went to Mom.  Mom would put me on her lap and kiss away the pain and wipe away my tears.

God is our Heavenly Father, but He also has all the great traits of moms.  The beauty and strength and ability to create life that moms have  are a shinning example of the image of God.  God is like a mother is so many ways. 

"He will wipe every tear from their eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." Revelation 21:4

To all of you that hurt on Mothers' Day, I want you to know that it is more than okay to hurt.  Your pain and agony is valid.  But do not mourn as those who have no hope.  Lament with hope.  It hurts now and it stings so much, but Jesus will one day put you on His lap and wipe every tear from your eyes.  He will make all that is wrong (the death, infertility, estrangement, etc) right again.  He will fix it all.

To those who hurt on Mothers' Day know that our God loves you today.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The End of All Things is Near

If you were told the end of the world was near, what would you do?  Would you tell people that you loved them?  Would you go skydiving because, what the heck, you had nothing to lose now?  Would you spend all your savings on fun stuff?  Would you hole up and buy supplies to last the end out?

In reading 1 Peter chapter four today I was told the end of all things is near.

"The end of all things is near." 1 Peter 4:7a

Well, shoot.  The end of the world is near.  It says it in black and white.

Peter announces that the end of all things is near and then gives us instructions on how to live in light of that fact.  Before we look at that I want to address those who think Peter may have been wrong since he wrote that sentence two-thousand years ago.

Peter was not wrong.  He was not like the crazy "numerologist" who claims to have found a code for when the apocalypse would take place.  He isn't the strange guy who's predicted the date of the rapture three times.  Peter is right: the end of all things is near.  From Christ's resurrection to now we have been in the last times.  The Second Coming of Christ could be today and that statement has been true every day from His coming out of the tomb to today.  We are one blink of an eye from the end of the world and we could be another thousand years from the end.  We don't know when the day is but we do know that it is as near as ever.

So, Peter proclaims that the end is near and then gives instructions.  Let's look at the passage:

"The end of all things is near.  Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray.  Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.  Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms.  If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God.  If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory and the power for ever and ever.  Amen." 1 Peter 4:7-11

Let's quickly break down what we must be in response to the news that the end of all things in near:

1) Pray
We must pray.  In fact, we must have a clear mind so that we can pray and be self-controlled so we can pray.  Peter says that our prayers can be dampened by a cluttered mind.  Our prayers are most effective when we clear out the junk and replace it with thoughts about and to God.  Peter also says we must have self-control in order to pray well.  Prayer is a delight but it also is a discipline.  We must have self-control in order to have a healthy prayer life and a thriving prayer life is needed in our doomsday prep kit.

2) Love Each Other Deeply
Peter says we must love each other deeply and that this is the most important thing in light of the end of all things.  Why?  Because love covers a multitude of sins.  If we are going to live with one another we will sin against one another and we need love to cover up those sins.  When is the last time you've been offended and elected to let love cover that up?  Without deep love we won't be prepared to live in the last days.

3) Offer Hospitality Without Grumbling
How many had this down until the "without grumbling" part?  Offering hospitality is one of the themes of the entire Bible.  Look at it yourself and you'll see Abraham being blessed for it, Sodom cursed for a lack of it, Israel blessed and cursed for being on both sides of it, and the Savior's parents needing it on the night of His birth.  Hospitality is a BIG deal to God.  Hospitality is not being Martha Stewart; hospitality is having the posture that all of "my" stuff is actually God's and then acting accordingly.

4) Use Gift to Serve Others
Whatever talents you have (and yes you can call to mind the parable of the talents) are given to you by God.  Even if you think, "I've worked hard to hone this skill", the talent itself and even the desire to craft it comes from above.  Every good gift comes from above (James 1:17).  Therefore all of our gifts are to be used to serve others in the name of Jesus.  God gives grace to others through you.  Are you being a faithful administer of His grace?  Peter says if you can speak (and he doesn't necessarily mean speak well) then do it as if you're speaking for God.  If you are writing then do it as a representative of Jesus.  If you can play baseball or do hair or trim trees or cook or drive a car, do all things for others in the name of Jesus. Why?  "... so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." 

The end of all things is near.  How's your prayer life?  How deeply are you loving others?  How are you at offering hospitality without grumbling?  How are you using your gifts to serve up God's grace to others? 

The end of all things is near and this is the assignment.  How are you going to prep for the end?  Be obedient to Peter's end times instructions today.

Monday, April 30, 2018

What Fans Your Flame?

Within every Christian there is a battle.

"So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.  For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law." Galatians 5:16-18

Within every Christian there is a conflict being waged between our sinful nature and the Spirit.  If we are going to have a say in who wins this fight we must begin by examining the combatants.

The sinful nature, also translated the flesh, is what our fallen humanity is by default before our conversion.  This nature has no interest in glorifying God or obeying Him.  This nature rejects Jesus as Lord and/or Savior.  It will reject Jesus as Lord be disobeying His commands and it will reject Christ through trying to be its own Savior by being, as Paul calls it, under the law.

The Spirit is not the Holy Spirit.  At least not exactly.  The Spirit is the new heart in a Christian as it has been renewed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  I say this because if the sinful nature were waging a war against the Holy Spirit Himself the sinful nature would lose each and every battle decisively, but since we all experience wins and loses by both parties we know that the Spirit refers to something else.  So, the Spirit is the new nature given to us by God that is moving toward its promised completition (Philippians 1:6).

The war between my sinful nature and the Spirit is fought on the battleground of desire.

In verse 16 we see the word "desires" associated with the sinful nature.  This word in Greek is "epithumia" which Pastor Tim Keller in his study on Galatians says is best translated "over-desires" or "inordinate desires".  See, St. Augustine defined sin as disordered desires.  Our sinful nature often desires things that are flat out wrong, but it also overly desires good things and turns them into idols.  It desires things inordinately.  We see this with the good gifts of sex, wine, family, sleep, etc. 

The Spirit has desires, too.  Our new nature has strong desires.  Above all, our new nature desires to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.  The Spirit unhindered will stop at nothing in its pursuit of enjoying God.  As Pastor John Piper's cornerstone doctrinal statement says, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him."  The Spirit longs to be satisfied by the pleasures that are at His right hand forevermore.

"You make known to me the path of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence,
with eternal pleasures at your right hand." Psalm 16:11

We have these two natures at war: the sinful nature and the Spirit a.k.a. the new nature.  Who wins in your life?  Now, as a Christian who is not yet glorified there will be wins and loses on both sides, but as we are being sanctified the Spirit grows and the sinful nature shrinks.

There are several ways to join in this fight and I've written about this topic in the past from the book of Colossians, but today I want to focus on perhaps the most important way to fight this battle.

What fuels your joy?

I've described the battle between these two forces with the old proverb about the two dogs that fight and the one that wins is the one you feed.  That's a good analogy, but I now think there is a better one:

Which fire do you fan?

Our lives are controlled by our passions.  What we have a deep love for, we will sacrifice for.  What we desire most deeply, we will chase most swiftly.  What we are most passionate about, we will risk the most to get. 

What most spurs you on to love the ways of God?  What disciplines or activities fan the flame of your passion for Christ?  Identify those things and then use them as the billows of your new heart.  Pour them like gasoline on the fire of your joy in Christ.

Let's help each other.  Comment with the things that fan the flame of your love for Jesus today.