The Lord Is Coming to Purify His People

As we have been looking at the prophet Malachi, notice he does not say that the Messiah who was to come was going to come in and destroy their enemies or restore their national identity or power. Jesus’ primary mission in coming to earth was to purify His people.

“But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord.” Malachi 3:2-3 (ESV)

Malachi uses two images to describe what the Messiah is going to do when He comes. First, he is going to cleanse His people using fuller’s soap.  I hope I’m not the only one who had to look that one up in the dictionary. A fuller is one who “cleans, shrinks, and thickens, or dyes cloth or newly shorn wool.” He would do this using strong lye soap, after which the clothes would be placed on rocks and beaten with sticks. I don’t know about you, but it does not strike me as a pleasant experience to be placed on a rock and beaten with sticks.

The second image Malachi uses is that of the refiner’s fire. What does it mean to pass through the refiner’s fire? In the refining process the blacksmith would take a precious metal and literally burn out all the impurities and imperfections. What does this tell us about Christmas, why Jesus was born? It means that when He came, to borrow from Gary Thomas, his purpose was not to make his people happy, but to make them holy.

What would Christmas look like if we allowed Christ to do His purifying work in our lives? Are we willing to go through that purifying process even though it may mean that it is going to be difficult and may cause pain as He burns away the sin that we have allowed to take root in our lives?

The Lord Is Coming

Malachi’s message, was a message of hope in a dark time. It had been thousands of years since the promised Messiah had been first prophesied. The people were starting to return from Exile, but Jerusalem and the Temple the exiles had erected were shadows of their former glory. Though they longed for the Messiah, it would be another 400 years before He would come.

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:1 (ESV)

Throughout history, God entered and reminded his people that He was going to keep His promise. Just when they thought the night could not get any darker, that is when the dawn broke. As we approach Christmas we remember the point at which Christ broke through from heaven to earth. Though it has been a long time since then, we can take heart, because Jesus is coming again!

From Around the Block: Free Books By John Piper

Desiring God has a few free downloads from John Piper:

Good News of Great Joy is a selection of devotional readings for the Advent season beginning December 2nd.

Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist is Piper’s best-known book. In Desiring God, Piper coined his famous (and controversial) phrase “Christian hedonism.” He argues that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. I had to read this book twice as an undergraduate student at Taylor University. I have to admit that when I read it as a wet-behind-the-ears freshman I disagreed with most of the book. It turned my world upside down. I came to realize that I saw myself at the center of “my” universe. I would read it again my senior year and I found that I agreed with Piper much more than I disagreed with him. Bottom-line, God gets all the glory.

When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy was written in 2004. Piper understands that sometimes we don’t feel like desiring God above everything and everyone else. Sometimes we don’t want to be “most satisfied” in God or enjoy him for a minute, let alone forever. Often, God’s glory is the furthest thing from our minds. If you ever feel that way, then this book is for you.


Preparing for Christmas

I don’t know about you but a lot goes in to preparing for Christmas. Before we left for Thanksgiving I made my annual trek out to storage and brought in the two artificial pre-lit trees, the christmas ornament organizer, and boxes and boxes of Amy’s various decorations that will soon take over the house. I also pulled out my strands of beautifully blue-hinted LED outdoor Christmas lights which are attached to a timer that automagically turns on the lights at dark and runs them for six hours. I like going to bed with the glow of Christmas coming in from the windows.
Before Jesus was born at Christmas over 2,000 years ago, his people had to get ready. God sent them the prophet Malachi who reminded them that God was going to keep His promise and one day would send His messenger to help them prepare.

“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.” (Malachi 3:1 ESV)

When Malachi writes that God’s messenger will “prepare the way” it literally means “to clear a path.” In the ancient world, a herald would often go ahead of the king and announce his coming ahead of time-so that the people might make themselves ready. Can you hear the herald? “Make way! The King is Coming!” The prophecy of a messenger heralding the coming Messiah would be fulfilled 400 years later in John the Baptist, as Mark 1:3 describes as the voice of one crying in the wilderness who would herald: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord,  make his paths straight,”

How did John the Baptist prepare the way for Jesus to come? I believe there were three ways in which John prepared the way for Christ:

1. He taught a message of repentance. When he preached he called the people to repent of their sins. If we are to ready our hearts or our homes for Christ, we must first repent of our sins.

2. He pointed people toward Christ, not himself. He could have easily been interested in building his own kingdom here, his own “ministry” or business. Though he did have his own disciples, he pointed people to the Messiah. Likewise, we can help prepare the way for Christmas by pointing people to Christ! We can make Christmas about so many other things, when He is the real reason that we celebrate.

3. He had an attitude of humility. John would so esteem Jesus that he would be quoted as saying, “the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie” (Luke 3:16 ESV). The ancient practice of footwashing was performed by the lowest servant of member of the host family. John was in essence saying that he wasn’t even worthy enough to be the lowest servant of Jesus. In a world filled with arrogance, hubris, and pride, a healthy dose of humility is what sets our Savior apart. We can truly prepare for Christmas this year when we recognize that He is God and we are not. When we put Christ in the proper place in our lives–first, where He belongs, we will be ready and prepared to celebrate Christmas this year.

Though I hope that you go all-out this year, with decorations, presents, parties, and food. I hope that while you are spending the next few weeks preparing for Christmas that you will take a moment and make sure that spiritually you are ready to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Where Do We Go From Here: Thoughts for the Church

I sat down this morning and wrote down some thoughts reflecting on the outcome of yesterday’s election and its ramifications for the church.
First, Whoever sits on the throne in Washington, God is still king.

In Scripture, Daniel would tell the pagan king Nebuchadnezzar, ”the Most High is ruler over the kingdom of men, and He gives it to anyone He wants” (Daniel 4:25). The Psalmist writes, ”The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His kingdom rules over all” Psalm 103:19. Handel chose Psalm 2 for a section of his Messiah, ”Why do the nations rebel and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers conspire together against the Lord and His Anointed One: “Let us tear off their chains and free ourselves from their restraints.” The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord ridicules them. Then He speaks to them in His anger and terrifies them in His wrath” (Psalm 2:1-5).

These passages and the message of Scripture teaches us that God is ultimately in control, even of pagan kings and empires.

Second, don’t let your disappointment turn to bitterness or bigotry.

No matter how we voted, we have a responsibility as Christians to pray for our President; 1 Timothy 2:1-4. When Paul wrote these words he meant the Roman Emperor, probably Nero-one cannot get much more reprobate than that. If we’re not careful we become bitter and begin to blame those who do not see things as we do; why should it surprise us that the Lost act like Lost people? Once we allow bitterness to take root, then bigotry is not far behind. Bigotry is when we blame someone of a different race or culture for our own problems. There is no room in God’s kingdom for racism.

But how did we get here? How did we elect someone to the highest office of the land that is so staunchly against God?Just as Romans 1 teaches that “God delivered them over to a worthless mind” as a nation we have forsaken God and He is allowing us the leader that we have asked for.

“And because they did not think it worthwhile to acknowledge God, God delivered them over to a worthless mind to do what is morally wrong. . .Although they know full well God’s just sentence–that those who practice such things deserve to die–they not only do them, but even applaud others who practice them.” Romans 1:28, 32

So Where Do We Go From Here?

One thing this election has showed us is that we no longer live in a Christian nation or even a Christian culture. Because of this we must be prepared as a church for greater persecution and the limiting of our religious freedom. We must learn to be as bold as Daniel took a strong stand for the Lord and prayed openly in Babylon. We must pray for our President and our leadership. We must pray for revival. Our hope is not political, but spiritual.

We must build a solid foundation from God’s Word – knowing what we believe and why.

“Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” 1 Peter 3:15. Most Christians don’t know what they believe or why. As we are now living in a culture that is starkly different, we are going to have to be able to defend why we believe that abortion is murder and that marriage is between a man and a woman.

We must teach our children God’s truth

4 “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. d 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. 6 These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. 7 Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. j 9 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:4-9

We must do better planting churches in the cities, in the Northeast, and the West.

America used to be a rural country, we were a country of pioneers and farmers; we have shifted now to the cities. Many conservative churches abandoned the urban areas to the liberal mainline denominations and moved out to the suburbs. We must move back to the cities. In Camden, SC, we live in an area where there is 1 SBC church for every 800 residents. In some of the cities that need the gospel Miami = 1 SBC church >; 9,087 residents, Cleveland = 1 SBC church >; 42,500 residents, and New York = 1 SBC church >; 59,760 residents.

This election showed us that we must learn how to do multi-cultural ministry right here at home. If you were here for the trunk or treat, over 80% of our treaters were not members of our church, but more importantly, they reflected our community. Our church does not look like our community! We are going to have to reach across cultures in order to fulfill the Great Commission and survive as a church.

At the end of the day, God is in control. Let us rest in His sovereignty and focus on the mission until He comes back!

Audio: Where Do We Go From Here?

Linked: Post-Election Rundown

Before I share my own thoughts tonight, I thought I would share some recommended reading from around the web concerning the election:

Aftermath: Lessons from the 2012 Election by Dr. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

The Briefing (Audio) by Al Mohler

The Loyal Opposition by Denny Burke, Professor of Biblical Studies, Boyce College

The People Have Spoken — What Should Christians Do Now by Ed Stetzer, VP LifeWay Research

Electoral post-mortem: Where do we go from here? by Matt Privett

Christians, Let’s Honor the President, by Dr. Russ Moore, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

Postscript of a Presidential Election by Thom Rainer, President, Lifeway

25 Million Self-Described “Evangelicals” Voted for Obama, Why & What Else Do The Exit Polls Tell Us About How Christians Voted? by Joel Rosenberg

Historic Camden Revolutionary War Reenactment

I love history.

I sometimes think I was born in the wrong century, except I would miss my technology in about 5 minutes. We moved to Camden, SC, a little over 6 months ago, and since that time I’ve taken Eden and Caroline to the Historic Camden village about a half a dozen times. Today I was that Dad. Yes, I took my two little girls to see a revolutionary battle reenactment. We had “the talk” beforehand. I explained that it was going to be loud, that there were going to be guns and cannons, but they weren’t shooting real bullets. I told them that the soldiers were just going to pretend to be dead. In spite of it all, we went anyway. We went because they are fascinated with Historic Camden and how people used to live. We went because I love history and right now my girls love it too. We went because our nation is free because real men and women gave their very lives. When I stood out on that field and watched men dressed up as soldiers pretending to battle, I was reminded that we are in a real battle and we won’t just get up and walk off the field when this battle is over.

“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12

I’m thankful to live in this country where men died that I might live free over 200 years later. I’m more thankful, however, that Christ died 2000 years ago and won the ultimate victory.


My Thoughts Following the Kershaw Baptist Association’s Fall Meeting

I attended my first bi-annual meeting of the Kershaw Baptist Association yesterday. The KBA includes 51 baptist churches in Kershaw County, South Carolina, that partner together for missions locally and globally. I love it when churches work together as I’m a firm believer that we can go farther and make a greater impact when we are unified than when we try to do things alone.

The Good:

  • Our Missions Committee presented an update on the partnership that we currently have in Peru, helping to reach unreached Urarina tribes along the Rio Tigrillo, a branch of the Amazon. We sent teams from several churches during the month of September who saw around 170 come to faith in Christ, including from one village that previously had no Christians. There is another trip planned into this same area in January. This is an amazing example of doing something together that we could not do alone. It also shows the strength of churches adopting a people group and investing together over a period of time. This, by far, is what excites me most about being part of the Kershaw Baptist Association.

The transition:

  • Just a few weeks before our meeting our Director of Missions, Jimmy Hanf announced his resignation. Jimmy shared that he is transitioning to a ministry role that will allow him to travel to Peru more frequently and engage more churches in international missions. This is really his heartbeat when you talk with Jimmy. As he transitions January 1st into this new role, my prayer is that God will allow him to make an even greater impact.
  • This transition also means that as an association we will be transitioning to a time without a called leader. Hopefully at some point the Missions Committee will recommend the hiring of an interim Director of Missions. My hope is that they will be able to find someone who can come in and help us come together as an association and specifically refine our purpose.

The Not So Good:

  • Baptists in general can get divisive when it comes to budgets. My e-mail has been filling up leading up to this meeting with words of impending financial cuts coming to the association’s 2013 budget. The budget that was presented and approved included cuts to payroll for the first time. Thankfully, the meeting did not turn ugly, but it did get a little bit tense. The association overwhelmingly approved a budget that more closely followed the funding from the churches.
  • In some ways the local Baptist association is losing ground. While impending conflict usually means more Baptists show up for these meetings, there were few in attendance. According to the giving report, for 2012 there were churches that did not financially support the association. I could have counted on one hand the number of people in the room under 65. Added all together, I believe that unless something changes, the budget cuts and dwindling support and participation are the future of associational life.

The Way Forward

  • Baptists have formed associations for centuries. As time marches onward our associations are facing financial realities which are going to force them to redefine their vision and purpose. Just as the state convention is restructuring, the association will follow. Here in SC our state convention is going to move to a 4 day work-week beginning January 1st. At the same time that we are downsizing the denominational structures we should be maximizing and upsizing our commitment to reaching the darkness with the gospel.
  • I’m currently serving on the Constitution and Bylaws Committee for the association. While we are going through a process of modernizing our organizational document I’m reminded that fixing this document is not going to fix the problems with our association. My experience has been that when we trust each other, no one really cares about the constitution. It sits on a dusty shelf somewhere. Whenever trust breaks apart, when unity turns to strife, when we beat our plowshares back into swords, the constitution is one of those things that is dug up and sharpened for battle. My prayer is that over the next year we can work toward restoring our trust and focusing on that which binds us together – the Lord, who has called us on mission.

It would be a lot easier if we operated in an episcopal form of church government where decisions were made from the top-down. As a free-church tradition, we have the freedom to make the decisions for ourselves how best to do ministry. The struggle with our form of government is that means it is sometimes messy. I’m happy having to strap on my boots and gloves sometimes and wade through the mess, because in the end it is worth it. The question we must ask ourselves, is “is this a hill on which to die?” There is really only one hill worth dying on and that is for the One who gave His life for mine.

Running the Race

This weekend marked the beginning of the Summer Olympic Games held in London, England. Amy and I stayed up to watch the opening ceremonies and have caught some of the coverage so far. We have cheered on the athletes and teams from the United States, sometimes sitting on the edge of our seats. While we watched with bated breath the swim heats, we looked over and our girls were pretending to swim laps across the sofa-going for the gold! It’s amazing to watch the intensity and the level of competition among all the various sporting events. What we don’t see are the hours and hours of dedication and practice to even have the chance to compete on such a high level.

I came across this quote in a book by John Maxwell called The 5 Levels of Leadership: “Nobody achieves anything great by giving the minimum. No teams win championships without making sacrifices and giving their best.

This is so true when it comes to our Christian lives, and our life as a church. The author of Hebrews would write, “Therefore, since we also have such a large cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the source and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that lay before Him endured a cross and despised the shame and has sat down at the right hand of God’s throne” (Hebrews 12:1-2, HCSB).

We will never grow in our Christian faith by giving the minimum required. We will never grow in our marriages and relationships by giving just enough. We will never grow and take the next steps as a church by simply showing up every once in a while.

1.      We must deal seriously with our sin

In this passage we are challenged to throw aside “every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us.” What we don’t realize many times is that the Enemy is a liar. He attempts to tempt us with sins that may seem to satisfy for a moment, but in reality cannot deliver what they promise. In fact, sin is counter-productive because Satan’s desire is not to make you happy, it is to steal, kill, and destroy you. Christian, sin is slowing you down and holding you back. Let’s deal seriously with sin. Let’s confess it, turn from it (and not back to it!). Once we confess our sins, Christ has promised to “forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9, HCSB).

2.      We must run with endurance

You honestly do not want to see me run. It is an ugly sight. I’m really happy each time I go out to make it back alive. I’ve encountered everything from wild poodles to unchained pit bulls. I never seem to come up on these rabid animals when I start out-it’s usually once I’m quite winded and don’t have much to offer in terms of speed. Many times in our Christian life we run back to the house just as soon as things get hard or we start to get out of breath. Any good runner will tell you that you have to get over that hump, because once you do it actually does start to get easier. I hope you’re ready to make the sacrifices necessary to take your family and our church family to the next level. It’s not going to happen if we simply sit on the sidelines-we must get into the race!

3.      We must keep our focus on Christ

He is the author and perfecter of our faith. He is the beginning and the end. Sometimes when you’re running it helps to focus on a particular spot ahead in the road. If you can focus on that spot then you can run there. Sometimes you have to push out anything else that may be in your field of vision in order for you to focus on your goal. When we start to get tired, when we start to face conflict or doubts-let’s remember something. Christ suffered and endured the cross on Calvary. He suffered and bled and died so that you and I might live. With His strength and help there is nothing that we cannot overcome in this life or the next. One really cool thing that happens when we keep our focus on Christ is that all the little things sort of just fade away. When we are intensely focused on knowing Christ and making Him known, then the things that trip up most Christians and churches don’t seem all that important-because 99% of the time they aren’t!

As we look forward to a new church year and a new school year, let’s make a commitment not to simply give the minimum. Let’s see how far we can go. Let’s run this race. Are you ready?