Friday, February 29, 2008

Insight For Living

It's amazing how you can plop down just about anywhere in Psalm 119 and get a verse that really speaks to life issues.

This long poem right in the center of the Bible is all about scripture. It was obviously written by someone who loved God's Word and wanted to laud its authority, beauty, power, and helpfulness. Each of its 176 statements points out the relevance and the aid of the Bible for the varied concerns that we face daily, like suffering and temptation and persecution and decisionmaking.

Take verse 32, for example. It says "I will run in the way of your commandments, for you shall enlarge my heart." I see the text highlighting 2 matters of crucial import to those who are followers of Christ and on the journey with Him.

Notice that the writer speaks of running. We're accustomed to the metaphor of walking to describe the Christian life, but here a much more energetic, accelerated pace is endorsed by this particular lover of God. He is exuberant about his faith and finds exhiliration in it. It is not a chore or a burden or simply a duty, but a lifestyle in which he delights.

What a contrast this is with the attitudes exhibited by many contemporary believers who seem to be bored with church and prayer and Bible study. Their pilgrimage is a drudgery. There is little enthusiasm. They appear to be just going through the motions. Somewhere along the way they have veered off into a ditch and gotten stuck in the mud spiritually, maybe due to sin or sorrow or disappointment or pressure. They need somehow to reconnect with the Lord in such a way that they sense again the joy, freedom, and lift that come when the daily walk becomes a sprint. This Lenten season would be a terrific time to do some reflection and evaluation and make some fresh commitments to this athletic race of the soul.

But it's critical to observe, too, that the psalmist mentions the proper running track. He refers to eagerly springing forward "in the way of your commandments" which gives him a definite lane to run in and a finish line to attain. It's not haphazard. It's not just zest and momentum and perspiration. There is direction and discipline. Here is a clear focus. This writer moves toward greater levels of obedience to the principles and precepts that he discovers in scripture. He advances and makes progress by living out the knowledge that he acquires in God's Word.

Lots of present-day Christians, different from the cold, half-hearted crowd mentioned earlier, have boundless excitement. They may shout in church. Say "amen" and "praise the Lord" frequently. Smile constantly or shed tears at a moving gospel song or get emotional or volunteer for all kinds of church jobs. They may sincerely love Jesus and desire to please Him. But if they don't immerse themselves in the Bible and build their lives around its practical teachings sooner or later they will get tired and run out of spiritual energy. Burnout will occur. They'll stumble into some sin. Discouragement will set in and their run will slow to a crawl. They'll meet up with stresses or struggles that they don't have the resources to deal with because they've been living on fumes rather than on the fuel of scriptural insights.

What all of us really have to have is enlarged hearts. Only God can do that kind of soul remodeling and expansion in us. He has to do it before we can be saved(regeneration) and He has to do it before we can grow as believers(sanctification). His methods can sometimes be uncomfortable and painful. He has our best interests at heart, though, and so is far more concerned with our holiness than with our happiness. If we are the runners then He is the trainer. Let's remember, too, that He is the prize at the end of the marathon.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Generational Partnership

There is a place at the table for both younger people and older folks when it comes to ministry in the church and in associational life.

At least that's what Acts 2:17 seems to suggest.

On the day of Pentecost the apostle Peter quotes from the Old Testament prophet Joel to describe to curious and confused onlookers what has just happened to the disciples in the upper room with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit and the launching of the Church. There is that intriguing line that mentions young men seeing visions and old men dreaming dreams as a result of the life-giving, energizing work of the Spirit.

Clearly both age groups are to be vitally involved in the leadership and mission of the Christian movement. It is regrettable, then, that in congregational life and associational affairs there is often a tension and occasionally even outright conflict between generations. Older adults sometimes say that the young are too green, too immature, too radical, too bent on change. Younger people speak of their elders as being too old fashioned and resistant to anything new and unwilling to share power and embrace fresh directions in the midst of a culture that is fluid and diverse and in constant flux, quite unlike any other period in our history. Lines get drawn. Cooperation suffers. The incredible impact of a united team with each age demographic offering its unique gifts and abilities is missing.

Proverbs 20:29 shouts at us that young and old both bring crucial contributions to bear on Christian work. It says that the "glory of young men is their strength, and the splendor of old men is gray hair" which indicates that we need the energy and zest and creativity of the younger set and the wisdom and depth and experience of the older crowd in order to have balance and cohesion. To neglect either generation's input and inspiration and integration is to make the body less potent than it could be. Whether it's worship styles or ministry approaches or methodology, we need to listen to each other and learn and find common ground and share together in reaching our communities for Christ. This applies to individual churches and to our Peninsula Baptist Association in this critical transitional moment.

Scripture highlights for us 2 mistakes that need to be avoided.

The young must be careful not to repeat the error of new king Rehoboam, Solomon's son, in 2 Chronicles 10 when he foolishly ignored the wise counsel of his older advisors and accepted the shortsighted advice of his contemporaries. That ultimately resulted in the division of the United Kingdom! There was a time when the monarch should have paid attention to the more seasoned reflections of his mature consultants.

But older church leaders must strenuously seek to guard against the attitude of king Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. On one occasion he unwisely showed all his treasures to some visiting Babylonians. The prophet Isaiah chastised him for that and predicted that a day was coming when the enemy would show up and seize all that material wealth from a future generation. Hezekiah's selfish response to that dire warning was to remark, in essence, that at least it wasn't going to happen in his time so he could just relax and enjoy the present. Sadly, many senior saints in our congregations think similarly. Their position seems to be "We realize that our way of doing church will probably not draw younger people, but we want to maintain our comfortable ways of leadership and procedures for now. After we're gone, the folks coming after us can do whatever they want to.It's more peaceful this way." That's a prescription for losing time, momentum, and ground. It's a recipe for church and associational failure. It puts security above Kingdom business, ease before reaching people for Jesus.

Even if it takes effort and work and patience, let's find ways to come together generationally. These are such exciting days to be alive and involved in ministry. We must not miss our opportunity. After all, this is the only time we will have to make our mark and leave our legacy. Right now the PBA needs the fresh ideas of young people about techniques and strategies. We need their enthusiasm, too. We also need the accumulated insights of our older folks, who shouldn't back out but rather should reinvest and renew their commitment in their freer retirement years to helping make our association strong and vibrant, sharp and focused, effective and successful.

It's a joy and privilege to try and be of help during these months. Feel free to call on me.