Adopting the Divine Attribute

When God’s people hear “Be patient” (James 5:7-8) from the Holy Scriptures we must come armed with more knowledge and understanding than the world in our circumstances if we are to be obedient to this command. I may be entirely wrong about this assumption but I believe that the vast majority of the populace, even inside the church, view patience as an attitude toward a circumstance. But God’s Word deals with two primary kinds of patience, endurance for a season and mercy toward a people.

Thirty-six times the New Testament (ESV) uses the word patience, or a variant of that same root word. But of those thirty-six times, twelve of them speak directly to “enduring for a period of time.” The Greek word “Hupomeno” (transliterated) is used in these instances, but never of God’s patience. This seems to make sense to me as I consider the fact that God lives outside of time, has ordained all things, and is working all things together according to the counsel of his own will. However, when God’s patience comes into view the Greek word “Makrothumeo” (transliterated) is used; and that twenty-four times.

“Makrothumeo” is not a passive patience but an active patience. A patience that manifests itself in tangible ways. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament describes Makrothumeo as “to delay [God’s] wrath, i.e., its outbreak…to be longsuffering…” God’s Makrothumeo is made most fully known in His divine self-revelation to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7 when “The LORD passed before [Moses] and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin…”

We find the manifestation of divine patience (Makrothumeo) scattered all throughout the New Testament:

Matthew 18:26 & 29—Patience manifested in mercy, grace, and the forgiveness of a debt owed. Makrothumeo of God the Father

1 Timothy 1:16—Patience manifested in mercy toward the Apostle Paul so that he might become an example of God’s patience to others. Makrothumeo of God the Son.

Galatians 5:22—Patience as a fruit produced by the Holy Spirit through the lives of believers submitted to His leading. Makrothumeo of God the Holy Spirit

Most interestingly, the Makrothumeo of God is commanded of believers. Literally, the manifestation of Godly Patience, exhibited in mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love is a non-negotiable for the Redeemed, the Called-Out-Ones, The Church! Stop right now and read James 5:7. Seriously. It’s Makrothumeo…

How do we handle persecution, hardship, trial, racism, neglect, sexism, transgenderism, LGBTQ, political differences, marriage problems, disputes with the neighbor, struggles with our kids, etc…? The Makrothumeo of God: mercy, grace, being slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love, and forgiving even as we have been forgiven.

As AW Pink reminds us in his Attributes of God, “When tempted to be disgusted at the dullness of another, or to be revenged on one who has wronged you, call to remembrance God’s infinite patience and longsuffering with yourself…Since this divine attribute is manifested only in this world, God takes advantage to display it toward ‘His own.’” We would be wise to do the same.

“Therefore be emulators of God…” (Ephesians 5:1).

Lord, let it be true of me first.

Church Growth & Decline

“If we’re not growing, we’re actually declining.”

Have you ever heard that before? The cultural business trends and models have crept into the Church and given pastors and congregations a skewed view of successful ministry. It’s easy to fall into, really. Numbers equal success and expansion is the fruit of faithful ministry; or is it?

We all want to grow. We want to see fruit and we often times consider numerical growth as fruit and a blessing from the Lord. But what if decline is blessing? Can a shrinking congregation, a downsizing small group, or a program being completely eliminated actually be a blessing? Pastors, could you rejoice in this? Congregants, could you encourage each other in this?

Most of The Publicans readership is familiar with Ahab and Jezebel from 2 Kings. Their partnership in leading Israel was wicked through and through and it was in this wickedness that “growth” was rampant. When anything goes, often times, an increase in numbers will result. But God raised up Jehu (2 Kings 9-10) to deliver His judgement on the wicked house of Ahab.

But it’s not Israel’s growth during idolatry that drew my attention. It was 2 Kings 10:32 and the sovereignty of God that jumped off the page at me. Here it is in several versions:

ESV—“In those days the LORD began to cut off parts of Israel…”

NASB—“In those days the LORD began to cut off portion from Israel…”

HCSB—“In those days the LORD began to reduce the size of Israel…”

NLT—“At about that time the LORD began to cut down the size of Israel’s                                          territory…”

Why would the Lord reduce the size of territory? Why would the Lord intentionally hamper growth? Perhaps it’s because the Lord didn’t understand then what we know now, namely, that if we are to be successful then we must be growing. And growth is up to us: how we present ourselves, whether or not we are relevant, and making the masses comfortable (I hope you can read sarcasm).

Don’t misunderstand me, I pray that God saves all 13,241 people who reside in Greene County, Illinois (we’re pretty small, huh?) and that Christ’s Church explodes in genuine, heart-exuberant, God pleasing praise and worship until the glorious appearing of the Lion of Judah! But is that God’s plan? What if God’s plan is to cut off parts of Eldred Baptist Church? What if God’s plan is to reduce the size of the local body in our area? What if God’s plan is to prune Greene County and in so doing enrich worship in Spirit and in Truth in those who belong to Christ thereby bringing purity to our worship, a pleasing aroma to Him? What if we started defining successful ministry by the accuracy of the presentation of the Gospel, the authenticity of the heart in worship and adoration of the King, with humble submission to God’s perfect will and way, regardless of what the latest Christian magazine or best-selling book on growth tells us is success?

Brothers and sisters, I pray to encourage you in times of growth and decline, the Lord is Sovereign. Preach the Gospel and praise God as He grows or declines the church; after all, the Church is Christ’s and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.

C.H. Spurgeon: Of all I would wish to say this is the sum: my brethren, preach CHRIST, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach him…We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through an atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.[1]

John S Hammett: …a successful church and a successful pastoral ministry is one that pleases Christ by honoring God’s Word and his design for the church…If God has given us instruction in his Word concerning his people, he is honored and a church is successful to the degree that it follows his instruction. Thus, the successful church is the faithful church.[2]

The Holy Spirit through Paul: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives growth.[3]

 

 

[1] Lectures to My Students, vol 1, 1897

[2] Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches, pg. 352-353

[3] 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, ESV

Refuge

In a fallen world, tragedy visits us all.

Tragedy may manifest itself in natural disasters, a broken home, betrayal of a friend, loss of a job, or death of a loved one. For some, the incomprehensible strikes, questions rage, doubts swirl, and we cry out to God in desperation! Our tragedy drives us to the only Refuge and He protects us within His walls and provides for us in His love. Such was the case with the passing of Job.

Job Allen Peterson, my nephew, lived an hour and twenty-four minutes on July 8, 2017. Tragedy. Death is a tragedy. It is not our friend; in fact, Paul, in 1 Corinthians 15:26, says that it is our enemy. Death is an enemy of God, the Author and Giver of life. Death, too, is an enemy of ours as it steals that which God gave the unique of all creation; namely, his breath in our lungs. But this tragedy is not like any other I’ve ever been a part of.

It was truly a day of thanksgiving when, on Thursday, November 24, my brother-in-law quietly shared with me that he was expecting his second child. I can remember the joy that filled my heart for him as we sat on the porch swing and praised God. I was like a seven-year-old boy bursting with excitement over new news when only weeks later I clued our congregation in on our upcoming blessing when I accidentally let the cat out of the bag while preaching. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Psalm 127:3-5) and our family celebrated and praised the Giver of Good Gifts.

While we, the family, were awaiting the phone call following the first sonogram, Job’s parents were receiving news that would change their lives forever. There was something wrong. There were tests and phone calls and doctor visits and more tests and waiting and waiting and waiting…praying and praying and praying.

The baby that we would come to know as Job didn’t have kidneys, a bladder, or lungs. No kidneys meant little-to-no amniotic fluid and no amniotic fluid meant his lungs wouldn’t develop. Who knew that a kidney transplant was possible on an infant or other means were possible remedy the bladder issue? But no lungs? How could this happen? Would God intervene? Certainly, He is capable. But is He willing? A miracle is what was needed. So, we prayed. We dove into the Word. We trusted. We cried. We struggled. We rested. We prayed. We praised. We cried. We trusted. We prayed. As long as he was in the womb, there was still a chance; there was still time. But that day came and Job never developed lungs.

The incomprehensible had struck but the incomprehensible wasn’t the passing of Job; it was the comfort, peace, strength, and supernatural faith that God gave his parents and the rest of Job’s family. I’ve been processing this for a while now and I’ve had to change my use of adjectives. It became clearer and clearer that my description of God’s grace as “unbelievable” was a poor representation of the God who is not unbelievable but is incomprehensible.

Let me explain.

(1) Just days before receiving the news that his baby would likely not survive, God reveals himself to my brother-in-law, graciously gives him new life in Christ and ignites a flame of passion for knowing the Lord that could not be extinguished by even this tragedy of tragedies.

(2) Amidst the struggle and the pain, Job’s parents consistently rested in the sovereignty and goodness of God and committed to praising God if He chose to save Job and to praise God if He chose not to. Which was not mere lip-service but is a reality of life for them.

(3) On Saturday, July 8, the Lord delivered Job safely into the arms of his mommy who carried him, protected him, provided for him, and nurtured him. In spite of the odds, and in spite of the doctor’s best guess that Job would not survive the delivery, our Gracious God gave Job’s mommy and daddy an hour and twenty-four minutes together.

(4) As Job passed from this life to the next, together, we praised, we prayed, we cried, we held his little hands, and stroked his beautiful hair, and we felt the presence of God like never before.

(5) As Job’s mommy held him tight to her breasts, as tears of joy and pain rolled down her cheeks from deep within, you could hear the faint sound of worship in song coming from his mother who had only minutes to share the most important message Job could ever hear; God’s glory & goodness in Jesus Christ.

(6) Four days later, we gathered around a tiny casket and praised the God who gives life. There were a few tears and our hearts were saddened but that was not the focus of that day. The “God of all comfort who comforts us in our affliction” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) was present. The God who provides “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7) was present. The God who “is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1) was present. The focus of Job’s funeral was on the supernatural comfort, peace, & strength that is promised to those who belong to Lord of Hosts and was provided by God through this storm.

Who is this God who gives such good gifts? Who is this God who strengthens the weak, comforts the afflicted, and can put a song on praise on our lips amidst the pain of such loss? He is Jehovah Jireh, the Lord who provides (Genesis 22:14). He is Jehovah Rapha, the Lord who heals (Exodus 15:26). He is God and He is Good and all that he does is good (Psalm 119:68).

“I love you, O Jehovah, my strength. Jehovah is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon Jehovah, who is worthy to praised and I am saved from my enemies” (Psalm 18:1-3).

Words are not enough. Blogs are insufficient. But it is our privilege and honor to give what we can as an offering of praise…“Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom” (Psalm 145:3).

The Downward Slide

I remember it like it was yesterday. I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old and one of my neighbor’s parents built their kids a half-pipe right next to their house. I remember it being about 1,453 feet tall from my little 65lb frame. Maybe it wasn’t 1400+ ft. but it was probably close. It was big enough that I was too afraid to take the plunge once I ascended the mountainous structure. I just remember thinking, “This is way higher than what it looked from the ground.”

So, I did what every scared 10 year old boy would do in front of his friends…I pretended my bike was messed up and sent my trusty steed down the ramp without its hero. Which, of course, left me perched at the peak of Everest with a bruised ego and a new plan. I would take the downward slide on the back-side padding the Good Lord gave me…Can you imagine where that left me? Every inch I descended, toward what I thought would be glory, fame, and fortune on the sandlots of South Roxana, left me with small splintered reminders of my downward slide.

Iain Murray reminds us of the splinters that arose in Spurgeon’s day as the Church began to ask “What gains might be made by Christianity if the church was willing to adopt a less rigid and less uncritical attitude to the contents of Scripture…”[1]. Many of The Publicans readership is familiar with the Down-Grade controversy of Spurgeon’s day and the cry of the Prince of Preachers that stands as a prophetic voice, even still today. In the September 1887 issue of The Sword and the Trowel Spurgeon wrote:

“The house is being robbed, its very walls are being digged (sic) down, but the good people who are in bed are too fond of the warmth, and too much afraid of getting broken heads, to go downstairs to meet the burglars…Inspiration and speculation cannot long abide in peace. Compromise there can be none. We cannot hold the inspiration of the Word, and yet reject it; we cannot believe in the atonement and deny it; we cannot hold the doctrine of the fall and yet talk of the evolution of spiritual life from human nature; we cannot recognize the punishment of the impenitent and yet indulge the ‘lager hope’. One way or the other we must go. Decision is the virtue of the hour.”[2]

Those words could just as easily have been written on June 2, 2017. The phrase “Down-Grade Controversy” may have been coined for Spurgeon and his battle but the American Church faces its own downward slide today. The American Culture & Faith Institute’s most recent study reveals a terrifying reality of spiritual adultery in the American Church and the virtual abandonment of a biblical worldview (https://www.culturefaith.com/groundbreaking-survey-by-acfi-reveals-how-many-american-adults-have-a-biblical-worldview/). This downward slide has generational consequences. The spiritual adultery (James 4:4) of the greater American church has left our pews virtually empty of two to three generations. What’s even worse is that this is indicative of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ; empty, void, absent.

I am on the cusp of the Gen-X and Millennial generations having been born in 1979. Regardless of where a researcher places me, my generation slides down the half-pipe on our splinter-ridden rears to an abysmal 4-7% espousal of Christian Orthodoxy and a Biblical Worldview. Take those adulterous numbers and pass that down to the Mosaic’s (18 and under, children of Millenial & Gen-X) and you’ll find that 0.5% of our latest generation see the world through biblical lenses. Spurgeon was right, “the house has been robbed.” And it’s being robbed by the very fathers and husbands who God has tasked with spiritual leadership of their homes. Abidcation is the sin and apostasy is its fruit.

Thankfully, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ will ever ring true: “…the gates of hell shall not prevail against [my Church].”[3] Take heart, brothers & sisters, everything is not lost. The Lord Jesus himself assures us that the will of the Father is that he “should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.”[4] With this confidence of assurance in Christ’s work, what then shall we do? Let us, as reformers, turn to the inspired, inerrant, authoritative, sufficient, Word of God to give us direction.

James 4:7-10—10 Realities of Repentance

Submit—Submission to God is to voluntarily place ourselves under his authoritative Word. As believers submit to God’s Word we will find that his commands are not burdensome[5] but a delight and our counselors[6]

Resist—Resistance is, as Kurt Richardson suggests, a defensive posture.[7] To actively resist the devil is to consciously secure a victory. Follow Christ’s model of resistance with God’s Word as your sword and faith as your shield.

Draw Near—Unlike the human heart, the heart of God is not repulsed by the wretchedness of man that approaches him in confession. Instead, as we actively draw near to the Throne of Grace, in repentance, the Father draws near to us as he runs toward us to welcome us home & clothes us with his ring & his robe.

Cleanse & Purify—These deliberate consecrating actions deliver the word picture to the mind of the Old Testament priests who would take intentional steps to remove the physical filth from their bodies that represented the spiritual filth of sin before they would approach God.

Wretch, Mourn, & Weep, Change from Laughter & Joy to Mourning & Weeping—A broken and contrite heart will not be despised by our Gracious God.[8] The Church needs a new relationship with sin; perhaps not a new but biblical one.

Humble—Until we are humbled, either in recognition of our sin or by God’s judgement, there will be no exaltation. For “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”[9]

May God find it in his gracious love to grant us a national, godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Without his grace, we, our children, and our children’s children will find that we have more than  plintered bottoms; our families will have an eternity separated from a loving and gracious God. Lord, let that not be found in my home.

Citations:

[1] Iain Murray: The Forgotten Spurgeon, The Banner of Truth Trust

[2] Ibid., pg 152

[3] Matthew 16:18 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[4] John 6:39 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[5] 1 John 5:2-4 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[6] Psalm 119:24 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[7] Kurt Richardson, New American Commentary. Vol 36, B & H Publishing

[8] Psalm 51:17 ESV, Crossway, 2001

[9] James 4:6 & Proverbs 3:34 ESV, Crossway, 2001

Reflections from the Major League

Encased between “the amber waves of grain” and infinite rows of corn is the small community in rural Illinois that God has called me to serve. It is by His grace and for His glory that He has called my family here to advance the Kingdom (Mt. 6:33) and we are truly blessed. Outside of millions upon millions of bushels of corn, wheat, and soybeans, there just isn’t much that is produced in the middle of fly-over country; except that one guy.

Recently, one of our high-school standouts was noticed by a Major League baseball scout and was drafted into one of their franchises. He, like so many others before him, is currently working his way through the Minors as he refines his skill-set with the hopes of one day donning the MLB logo and taking the field as a professional at the top of his game…corn, wheat, soybeans, and that one guy. I hope he makes it; what an inspiration he will be to the little leaguers who take the field that year!

Just last week, I had the blessing, and privilege, of serving on one of my best friend’s ordination council as he was commissioned and charged with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Some might conclude that he has made it to “the Majors” as a pastor who bears the glorious title of “Reverend” (please take that with all satire intended). But it was he who spoke of being “out of his league” when he stated to his assessors, “I feel as if I’m still in Tee Ball as I sit with you all who are in the Majors.” I remember that feeling well as I sat being examined by my soon-to-be colleagues. I remember thinking, “I hope they don’t see how unprepared I am; how ill-equipped I am; how inadequate I am for the task.” And yet, this is exactly where I still find myself today.

My response to my now ordained brother in Christ was, “When the tables are turned and you are examining someone else for ordination you won’t feel that way anymore.” I didn’t mean that he was now also in the Majors but that we are all still in the Minors; strike that—we are all profound sinners saved by God’s marvelous grace, called out of darkness into his marvelous light, that we might proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us (that sounds less than Tee Ball like that). There are no “Majors, Minors, or Tee Ball” in God’s economy. Our Puritan brothers, with all their faults and failures, saw themselves so clearly:

“Eternal Father,

Thou art good beyond all thought, but I am vile, wretched, miserable, blind; my lips are ready to confess, but my heart is slow to feel, and my ways reluctant to amend. I bring my soul to thee; break it, wound it, bend it, mould it. Unmask to me sin’s deformity, that I may hate it, abhor it, flee from it.My faculties have been a weapon of revolt against thee; as a rebel I have misused my strength, and served the foul adversary of thy kingdom. Give me grace to bewail my insensate folly, grant me to know that the way of transgressors is hard, that evil paths are wretched paths, that to depart from thee is to lose all good. I have seen the purity and beauty of thy perfect law…yet I daily violate and contemn in its precepts…yet I choose devises and desires to my own hurt, impiously resent, grieve, and provoke [your Spirit] to abandon me. All these sins I mourn, lament, and for them cry pardon…” (The Valley of Vision, pg. 124-125)

Does this sound like the pride of accomplishment from a “Major Leaguer?” The honest self-evaluation of the Puritans and their openness to provide, to all who would peer, a glimpse into their souls demonstrate to the world that even those who appear to “have arrived” are still a work in progress. This is why the Lord could pray, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth…I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through [the disciples] word…” (John 17:17-20). The Disciples didn’t have it all together, the Puritans didn’t have it all together, your pastor doesn’t have it all together, and I don’t have it all together.

This is, I’m certain, why my friend’s statement stung so deeply. It’s true, we ebb and flow in spiritual lives from time to time and I was definitely in an ebb; and elongated ebb…and I was likened to being in “The Majors.” You see, I knew where I was in my walk with Christ and regardless of what others may have seen, I knew I was not on the field with the pro’s; I was nursing some wounds and making my way back to the Great Physician who could heal my soul.

It has been attributed to many people throughout the years but I first heard it from a circuit speaker for Alcoholics Anonymous name Earl H. Earl said that he struggled all his life with this one thing: He was comparing his insides with other’s outsides and he was losing every time. What the recovering heroin junky and alcoholic was saying was that he knew who he really was; deep inside there was a scared, inadequate, weakling in desperate need of something greater; someone greater. And when Earl measured himself against the façade people often portray in public his fears and inadequacies were exacerbated.

But isn’t this where we should find ourselves before the cross of Christ; broken, desperate, and in need of something we cannot get anywhere else, searching for forgiveness, fulfillment and restoration? Isn’t this why the Apostle Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, cried out in anguish, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25a)

So, I can write today, pray today, read God’s Word today, praise and worship today because even though I may not be in “The Majors” I am in pursuit of that for which Christ Jesus has laid hold of me. I “press on” (Philippians 3:12, 14) as the Apostle says. God has saved me by his grace and called me to a life of Christ-likeness, yet I sin; “but he gives more grace.” (James 4:6) Aren’t those the most beautiful words for a work in progress like myself…But he gives more grace…Ahhhh; like cool drink from the Fountain of Life in the arid plains of sin and despair. And for that sweet grace I will ever proclaim his excellencies.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)