The Dancing Puritan

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Occupied With Joy

Whether you are rich or poor, you can choose one of two ways to live. Some people live out their lives in a miserly fashion and they are like the man in Ecclesiastes 5:17 who "eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger." The isolated and lonely man lives out his days filled with anxiety, bad health as a result of his worry, and dies as an angry old man. What a sad picture.

The lonely old man in Ecclesiastes is one who looked for meaning in all of the wrong places. He sought meaning in a self-centered pursuit of money and possessions. He gained it all but lost a lot of sleep (12), gained a lot of manipulative associates, paid more taxes, and heaped to himself multiplied worries.

The reality is that one does not have to be rich in order to be lonely, anxious, sick, and angry. Any person, rich or poor, that is disconnected from a relationship with God, and is absent of any real friends, is in the same condition. He may die with a smile on his face but if you scratch the surface, you will find multiplied sorrows.

What are you reaching for?

A second way to live is to be occupied with joy (5:20). This person does not have time to fret, worry, and waste his life away with sleepless nights. Why? He is too busy enjoying the precious and brief life that God has given him. He imagines, that God might be pleased to grant him 77 years of life and, therefore, he values each second as sacred. He decides to live instead of growing angry and bitter.

This man recognizes that God is the giver of good gifts and that those gifts are to be received with joy.  He also knows that joy does not come from gifts but from God. God purposefully created within all gifts an inability to satisfy. Why? So that upon receiving his gifts we would have to turn back to him for the capacity to enjoy those gifts. There is no joy apart from God.

You see, we glorify God by receiving his gifts with thanksgiving and depending on him to give the capacity to enjoy the gifts that he has given.

Can you imagine being so occupied with joy that your joy-occupation gives an answer for the reality of your faith? That is the life of the person who knows God and enjoys him first and foremost.

Two ways to live. You can choose to leave God out of your busy life. Or you can choose to be anchored deep in his generous character, bath deeply in his sweet grace, receive his good gifts, and live a happy life right now as you anticipate the glories that await you in heaven.

Your choice.

Ray Rhodes, Jr. is President of Nourished in the Word Ministries. Visit him on Facebook.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Define and Declare: A Call to Faithful Gospel Preaching and Witnessing

Photo from The Christian Index

Dr. Johnny Hunt (pastor, First Baptist Church Woodstock, GA) is well known for his evangelistic zeal and his warm and generous heart. Earlier this week he spoke at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary chapel service. Dr. Steve Lemke, provost of the seminary, posted a quote from Hunt's chapel message:
I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.
I have not had the opportunity to read the transcript from the sermon but I do find the quote compelling. My guess is that pastor Hunt may have been referring to the discussion/debate within the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) over soteriology. I would not be surprised if many folks on both sides of the soteriological discussion have been "so focused on defining the Gospel" that they have failed to share the Gospel faithfully.

That being said, the Gospel must be defined before it can be declared. What is the gospel that is to be declared?
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, . . ." (I Corinthians 15:3-4).
Paul delivered what he had received. What he had received was a specific and defined message.

Jude writes in his short letter:
Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).
Notice that Jude writes of "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." He is referring to a specific and well-defined body of truth. Jude's message was not a fuzzy declaration about a general Christ.

As Christians we are to be specific in our proclamation.  The faith that we profess and proclaim is referred to as "the apostles' teaching" (Acts 2:42). It is essential that we communicate an accurate gospel.
But if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed (Galatians 1:8).
We must never be content to ascend to our ivory towers or descend to our musty basements because we are enamored with theological precision to the neglect of faithfully obeying Scripture. We must also never charge out into a lost world proclaiming a generic and biblically undefined Jesus. Definition is necessary to declaration.  I know that Dr. Hunt would agree.

If you are reading this and imagine that I am criticizing pastor Hunt, nothing could be further from the truth. His statement is convicting, thought provoking, and challenging. When he served as president of the SBC (2008-10) he served faithfully and as a godly statesman. In recent years he has consistently demonstrated a graciousness and respect for people on both sides of the soteriological debate within the SBC. His example is one worthy of imitation.  We should hear the challenge evident in his statement:

I've never seen a generation so focused on defining the Gospel, but so uninterested in sharing it.

Amen! Let us never be guilty of stroking our theological beards while a lost world sprints to hell. Yet in the name of action let us not be found unfaithful by declaring an unclear message. There are far too many people proclaiming a Jesus that is but a faint resemblance of the biblical Christ.  It is really both/and isn't it. We must go to the study, allow our hearts to be saturated with the biblical gospel, come to grips with "the faith that was once for all delivered," get our hearts hot with a passion for Christ, and then go into the world and proclaim the "gospel of the glory of the blessed God" (I Timothy 1:11). We can do no less. The gospel is a sacred trust. Definitions are vital in our preaching and witnessing.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pastor's Home and Work

A few thoughts about the pastor's home and work...

Susannah Spurgeon includes, in C. H. Spurgeon's Autobiography, the following notes, to "show what an abundant reward of loving approval was bestowed on me for merely doing what it was my duty to do."

My Own Dear One,--None, know how grateful I am to God for you. In all I have ever done for Him, you have a large share, for in making me so happy you have fitted me for service. Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you. I have served the Lord far more, and never less, for your sweet companionship. The Lord God Almighty bless you now and forever!
Think of the love which gave me that dear lady for a wife, and made her such a wife; to me, the ideal wife, and, as I believe, without exaggeration or love-flourishing; the precise form in which God would make a woman for such a man as I am, if He designed her to be the greatest of all earthly blessings to him and in some sense a spiritual blessing, too, for in that also am I richly profited by you, though you would not believe it. I will leave this 'good matter' ere the paper is covered; but not till I have sent you as many kisses as there are waves on the sea (C.H. Spurgeon, 1871).

The call of a pastor's wife is, in large part, the call to cultivate a joyful home that will provide fertile ground for her husband's happiness. C.H. Spurgeon wrote to Susannah, "Not an ounce of power has ever been lost to the good cause through you." It was her "sweet companionship" that God used to help to make him the great man that we honor.

C.H. saw Susannah as a love-gift from God. He believed that God had fashioned her "for such a man as I am."

The pastor, amidst all of his many duties, must be faithful to love and appreciate his wife. He is to embrace her as a blessing to his work, tell her often how much he appreciates her, and enjoy her "sweet companionship." He is to rejoice that she is the ideal gift from God to him and he is to unashamedly communicate his affection for her.

Many a pastor's marriage falls apart. Seeds of destruction are sown when the husband fails to acknowledge, love, and display affection to his wife. The marriage is undermined when the wife does not cultivate a happy home in which her husband might be restored amidst the challenges of his work.

If you are a pastor, pray for your wife. Receive her as a good gift from God. Shower her with evidences of your love and appreciation for her.

If you are a pastor's wife, pray for your husband. Join him in his work by your sweet companionship and through cultivating a happy home for him to enjoy with you.

To all, pray for your pastor and his family. He is thankful to be called into such a work. However, the trials are many. You want your pastor to do his work " . . . with joy and not with groaning, for that would be no advantage to you" (Hebrews 13:17b).