Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ravens’ Beaks

 

Last week I wrote about eagles’ wings and how we need to wait upon the Lord in order to renew our strength. So can we think about a different bird this week? The raven is not a majestic bird that soars in grace like the eagle. It is actually a scavenger bird, eating the carcasses left behind by nature. Thanks to Poe, the raven has taken on an association with the darker side of literature. 

But God has worked through the raven. The fowl served a purpose after the flood, as Noah sent one out that did not return, letting him know it was not yet safe to disembark. But more importantly, God used ravens to help Elijah and to teach him to trust in the Lord. In I Kings 17 the prophet came suddenly onto the scene and told King Ahab that there would be nether rain nor dew for three years. 

This was punishment for the idolatry that had become commonplace in Israel’s northern kingdom, but it was also God’s evidence that He was superior to Baal. Ahab’s wife Jezebel had once served her father as the high priestess of Baal, and she was determined to turn Israel into a Baal-worshipping land. Baal was believed to be responsible for sending the rain, so when the land experienced drought for three years, who do you think the people prayed to? They would call upon their god—a mute idol—and beg him to send the rain they so desperately relied on in their farm culture. 

Elijah’s declaration of drought would make him a marked man, persona non grata throughout Israel. So the Lord instructed him to go to a private place to lay low while He issued judgment on the idolaters. The text tells us, “The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook (v.6).”

The brook from which he drank was a wadi, a stream that only held water after the rain, but God supernaturally allowed the brook to supply water for an extended period of time in a drought. And Elijah was taken care of by using the first Door Dash service; his meals were brought right to him from the beaks of ravens. And yes, raven are scavengers, but that doesn’t mean they brought him what they eat. One may have brought him fish while another brought him bread. While the idol worshippers prayed to Baal and starved, Elijah was eating fish sandwiches and drinking water from a wadi. 

Do you think this strengthened Elijah’s trust in God? Twice a day he witnessed a miracle from the beaks of ravens. In the next chapter he would have the famous confrontation with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, and I believe his experience with the ravens made him up for the challenge. 

Never doubt that God can supply your needs. Whether it is manna in the wilderness or meat at a wadi, the Lord can provide for us any way He sees fit. We can mount up with eagles wings and have faith through ravens beaks because our God will never let us down.   

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Sunday, June 19, 2022

Eagles Wings

 


When I was a kid I had one of those cloth Bible covers with the zipper, the kind that could hold pens and highlighters, and in my case, candy for church. The front cover was embroidered with a picture of an eagle in flight, and these familiar words from Isaiah 40:31:

“But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Those words greeted me every Sunday morning when I unzipped my Bible at church, and I know many people have found comfort in that passage. 

That was Isaiah’s purpose, after all, to bring comfort. The chapter opens with the words, “Comfort, yes comfort my people!” That word comfort invited a remarkable shift in mood, as the first thirty-nine chapters dealt primarily with judgment. Because of years of idolatry and rejecting of their Lord, the southern kingdom of Israel was about to be conquered by Babylon and taken into captivity. That was the prophet’s message. But the captivity would not last forever; God was not giving up on His people. Chapter forty opens with a message of comfort that God would end the captivity and let them return to the promised land. 

But the Jews would be weak and weary. After seventy years of slavery they would be physically drained, and the journey home would be no Sunday afternoon stroll. As the crow flies, the distance from Babylon (modern Iraq) to Jerusalem was between 400-500 miles, but following the river stretched the trek into 900 miles. Their slow moving caravan would spend four months on this route. How many times would their children ask if they were there yet? They were probably tired just thinking about it. 

But “the everlasting God, the Lord…neither faints nor grows weary (v.28).” When we grow weary we can wait on the Lord and allow Him to renew our strength. Waiting does not mean we sit idly by; the word is packed with action. We are not mannequins that God poses while He works. Waiting means to hope and expect. We trust that the Lord will keep His promises. We do not go in our own natural strength, but in a renewed strength. 

‭‭‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬To renew means to exchange. This is like changing clothes: you take off what you were wearing, but you replace those clothes with something new. In this instance, the captive Jews would change their strength like it was laundry. They would disrobe from their depleted, physical energy, and then dress themselves with the fresh, clean linens of God’s strength. 

Maybe you need a new wardrobe. You have been wearing that same outfit for far too long; it is faded, dirty, and threadbare, symbolic of your weakened condition. You are worn out, mentally and emotionally exhausted, but the Lord offers you something new off the rack. 

You will then ascend on high like eagles. You will run and not grow weary; you will walk and not faint. One would think that after flying we would be exhausted, but no, we will still find the energy to run. Even after we run there will still be enough gas in the tank to walk. So exchange your strength for His by waiting on the Lord. Keep hoping and trusting in Him, and you will soar to new heights. 


Friday, June 17, 2022

SBC 22 Update


The Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting is in the books, and I wanted to give a recap of some of the highlights. We were glad to represent Putman among more than 8,000 messengers in the beautiful city of Anaheim, California. 

Most notably, the SBC dedicated serious time to the issue of sexual abuse within the convention. One year ago messengers asked for the creation of a Sex Abuse Task Force (SATF) that would report back 30 days prior to this year’s meeting. The report was horrific (to quote outgoing SBC President Ed Litton, it was “a gut punch”). In response, Southern Baptists overwhelmingly voted to adopt both recommendations from the task force. 

First, the convention approved a continuing task force, called the Abuse Reform Implementation Task Force (ARITF), that will work for as many years as is needed to continue the effort begun by the SATF, which was only given one year to work. 

More importantly, the convention adopted the creation of a database at the SBC office. The report found that many pastors and staff members guilty of abuse were able to easily move on to other congregations and continue their abuse. The database will allow churches to run the names of potential hires to see if they have been credibly accused at other churches. The convention first suggested this back in 2006, but only now adopted it. 

There are safeguards built in. In order to be considered as “credibly accused,” the offender will have had to have confessed in a non-privileged setting, and have been found guilty in either a criminal or civil suit. This means that pastors cannot be blacklisted just on the words of a single accuser; they will be afforded due process (see Johnny Depp and Amber Herd). 

Additionally, messengers adopted two resolutions submitted by individual messengers. Resolution 6, titled “On Lament and Repentance for Sexual Abuse,” offers a formal acknowledgment and apology for the convention’s sins. Resolution 5, titled “On Support for Consistent Laws Regarding Pastoral Sexual Abuse,” calls on state legislatures to enact consistent laws making abuse between a pastor and a member of his congregation as a greater crime, similar to laws that hold teachers, doctors, therapists, and others in positions of authority to a higher standard. The imbalance of power makes the abuse worse because it violates trust. Many of the survivors in the SATF report stated that they felt they had no choice but to submit to the advances of their pastor. The resolution also calls for safeguards for pastors who report abuse from other churches, shielding them from retaliation. 

These four items of business were overwhelming adopted. They are not an end-all, but a vital first step in the right direction. The ARITF will continue the work to make future recommendations, beginning next year at the meeting in New Orleans. 

Another important vote was in regards to the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). A motion from the floor called for the defunding and abolition of the commission. Speaking for his motion, the messenger said there are times when the leaders of the ERLC speak on an issue, they presumably speak for the SBC, but they do not always represent the positions of every pastor. Obviously this is true. But there will never be 100% agreement on every issue. There are 14 million Southern Baptists. How can we each agree on everything? 

Abolishing the ERLC is not the answer. The SBC president will make many statements, and we do not all agree with each of those statements, but we do not abolish the office of the president. Similarly, the ERLC has been given latitude to speak on current issues, and sometimes we will disagree. I proudly voted to keep the ERLC, and I was glad the motion to defund it was defeated. 

In Acts 1:8 Jesus said His disciples should be witnesses both at home and around the world, and the ERLC is an arm of the convention designed to carry the Gospel into the public square. They provide resources in apologetics that pastors and congregations can use, touching on topics such as homosexuality, gender issues, and abortion. With the Supreme Court likely to reverse Roe v Wade at any moment, it seems foolish to abolish the very commission that has been fighting to end Roe for decades. Once Roe is reversed, all fifty states will have to make decisions on abortion, and the ERLC is primed and ready to leap into action. 

The SBC is not perfect. It never has been, and it never will be. Ours is a history of both mistakes and struggles to get things right. We have been on the wrong side of slavery and evolution, but eventually got it right. We have wrestled internally with inerrancy. We are currently seeing a rise among some who want to ordain women pastors (with Saddleback Church currently on the SBC chopping block). With as many churches and members as we have, we are always going to have some contentious conversations. As soon as we settle an issue, there will be another problem lurking in the shadows. That doesn’t mean we are in trouble. It doesn’t mean “there is drama in the SBC,” or that conservatives need to jump ship and become independent. 

The whole point of the SBC is to cooperate together so that we can accomplish more. We strive for unity, not uniformity. We agree on what is nonnegotiable, and recognize that we have differences in doctrines such as soteriology (Calvinists and free will), eschatology (is the rapture before the Tribulation or after?), and ecclesiology (church government, for example). But we join hands at the cross of Calvary and rally around our risen Savior. I am proud to cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I believe our future is bright.         


 


Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Follow the Blueprints


I’m not an architect, but I have seen a few sets of blueprints in my life. I love how incredibly detailed blueprints are, with everything to scale, showing every door and window, and noting the dimensions of each component. A good set of blueprints can let the builders, plumbers, and electricians know exactly what they need to do. If you are unsure, just consult the blueprints.  

No, I am not an architect, but I can follow blueprints. Not the trademark blue paper used for sketching plans; I am talking about the pattern of conduct that mature believers should model for younger Christians. In his first letter to the church in Thessalonica (which still exists as Thessaloniki in Greece) Paul commended the congregation for doing exactly that. He wrote:

“And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia (1:6-7).” 

The Greek word translated as example literally means an exact reproduction, and it gives us the English word type, as in, “He is the type of person you can trust.” Paul commended the Thessalonians on their conduct; they imitated the example set by Paul, and in so doing they became an example for other churches to follow. Christians in Macedonia and Achaia, which were other cities in Greece, were able to look at the Thessalonians and know how they should conduct themselves. But the blueprint extended beyond their immediate neighbors, because in II Corinthians 8 Paul mentioned the Macedonian churches that pitched in to help the struggling congregation in Corinth. Even though the Thessalonians were in extreme poverty, they still dug deep to help meet the needs of these brothers and sisters in Christ that they had never met. 

Blueprints are vitally important. If you have been a believer for a while you need to be a set of blueprints that other people can use. There are younger Christians looking at you, and they need to know how to become a better husband and father, or wife and mother; they need to know how to conduct themselves in pressure situations; they need to know how to pray. You can be a set of blueprints that unbelievers can see as well. Your pattern of behavior can be a shining light to a lost world. They can see you and want what makes you different. Your blueprints can point them to Jesus. 

And if you are someone who has not been a believer that long, you need to be following a set of blueprints. Learn from someone who has been walking with the Lord for a while. Ask questions. Take notice. No one is perfect, but a good set of blueprints can help you along the way. You should be following blueprints until you are able to start drafting your own for someone else to follow. 

You don’t have to be an architect, but we all should be working with a good set of blueprints. 

     

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Sunday, June 5, 2022

Sculpting a Lion

 


A sculptor once made a remarkably lifelike statue of a lion. A friend of his was struck by how realistic the image was, especially in light of the fact that he could not have a lion stand still and pose while he was working on it. When his friend asked him how he was able to craft such a stunning piece of art, the sculptor replied, “I just kept cutting away anything that didn’t look like a lion.” 

That is great advice for life. No, I am not talking about us sculpting lions, but in living lives of holiness. In I Peter 4:2 the Apostle said believers are called to “live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God.” Being a Christian means we are called to live a set apart life—set apart from the world and set apart to God. Rather than a lion, we need Jesus to be our model, and then we simply need to cut away anything that does not look like Him.

The Apostle Paul gave us some specific character traits that might need to be cut away. Before listing the famous fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, he first mentioned what he called the works of the flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God (v.19-21).” 

Sinful habits are the opposite of Jesus. Allowing them to remain in our lives would be like giving a lion sculpture zebra stripes. It is both confusing and inaccurate. Another Apostle, John, would write, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world (I John 2:15-16).”

‭‭ ‬‬Are there things in your life that do not look like Jesus? A sculptor would not settle for decent or just “good enough;” she continues to work with her chisel in hand, slowly removing what should not be there. Why would Christians settle for just good enough? Our goal should be to look just like Jesus, so do not allow anything to remain in your life if it does not look like Him. ‭‭ ‬‬‬‬

Of course, we will never become sinless in this life, but that does not mean we should not be striving for it. We will finally become sinless when we get to heaven (I John 3:2), but until then, may we always be at work in our studio, chipping away anything that does not look like Jesus.