Filling the Storehouse

We are being bombarded by media. Everywhere you turn, brightly colored amusement and entertainment compete for our attention. It’s on our televisions, our movie screens, our radios, our computers, our cell phones, in our cars and now displayed on billboards. In every place and situation there is something or someone “hawking their wares,” announcing the latest and greatest must-have item or dazzling us with storylines that go beyond acceptable limits of morality and decency; people and machines talking at us in decibels too loud for our own good.

In the midst of the din, most of us sit mesmerized and glassy-eyed while our mind drinks it all in; recording it all in a brain that will never forget what we see and hear. On our televisions, blood, guts, gore, war, crime and chaos swirl before our eyes for hours at a time. Inappropriate slang, swear words and useless conversation is being recorded in our mind, only to be recalled at any given moment in our future. We call it something cute like “couch potato” or “vegging out.” In reality our lifestyles have become lethargic and we are alarmingly lax in setting boundaries for what we allow in our homes, hearts and minds.

Probably the greatest casualty in all of this is the collective loss of social skill and the ability to meaningfully converse with others. Gone are the days when neighbors chatted across the back fence or piled the family in the car for Sunday afternoon drives to “drop-in” and visit grand-parents, aunts, uncles and friends. Seldom do we see children outside playing with friends and neighbors until the street lights come on or Dad gives the “time for dinner” whistle. Porch swings and chairs are now simply decorations rarely occupied by chatting men and women in the cool of the evening. What we are left with are the hurting, broken lives of those who are talked “at” but never talked “with.” We are left with people who are hungry for an encouraging word, a listening ear and to know that someone cares for them.

This social deficiency is most tragic among those of us who know the Lord and are commanded to spread His gospel. Now, more than ever, it is important that we guard our hearts and minds and that we judge the things we see and hear by Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things:” or Psalm 19:14, ” Let the…meditations of my heart be acceptable in thy sight O Lord…” or Psalm 101:3, “I will set no wicked (vile) thing before my eyes…” It is even more important that we spend time with our heavenly Father; to abide in His word and talk with Him each day. Then, when we are called upon to share the gospel, we can do so from the beauty of the excellent and praiseworthy things our mind has recorded, instead of the junk we’ve ingested from the media.

I heard the testimony recently of a young woman who had tried every religion known, looking for something to give her life meaning. When asked why she never tried God, her answer was that she didn’t know who He was or that He existed. I watched a talk show host interview people on the street and ask them if they recognized the name of a very well-known Bible character. Of all the people he asked, no one had ever heard the story of Jonah. No one had ever told them! You may be the only person to show Christ to your neighbor, co-worker, the cashier at the grocer or the waitress at your favorite restaurant. You may be the only person to ever share an encouraging and uplifting word with them. And, in providing that word, you have opened the door to a much greater conversation about their need for Jesus. A conversation they may have with you at that moment or with someone else at a later time. You may be the only person to ever share the Gospel with them.

I encourage you during this next week to be aware of what information you allow to be recorded in your mind and heart – your inner man. How much time do you spend viewing Satan’s realm of chaos, murder, violence and mayhem through news channels, television and the internet? How much time do you spend taking in the Word and things of Philippians 4:8? You will only give out (speak) what you’ve taken into your heart. Luke 6:45 states it like this in the Amplified version of the Bible, “The upright (honorable, intrinsically good) man out of the good treasure [stored] in his heart produces what is upright (honorable and intrinsically good), and the evil man out of the evil storehouse brings forth that which is depraved (wicked and intrinsically evil); for out of the abundance (overflow) of the heart his mouth speaks.” If what we take in from the Word measures less than what we take in from anywhere else, we may think we are speaking and giving out good things but the truth is we have no idea what God could use and give out through us if we got rid of the trash and filled the storehouse of our inner man with His Word.

Push away from the desk and turn off the computer. Get up from the couch and turn off the television. Pick up your Bible. Fill your storehouse with the treasure of His Word. Be aware of the people you meet. Strike up a conversation, give them an encouraging word and share Jesus with them out of the overflow of your heart!

The world is full of hurting people and we have the answer they are looking for. Talk with them, socialize and share HIS wonderfully life-changing, love and grace! Because, “…how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone (telling) them? …faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:14, 17).

Advertisements

5 Lessons on Mentorship from the Middle Ages

A few weeks ago, on October 31, we celebrated a holiday. And no – I’m not talking about Halloween. While it is often forgotten about, Reformation Day marks an important date in the life of Protestants. Now for those of you who might have slept through your world history classes in high school, let’s refresh:

For much of the middle ages (500 A.D. to 1500 A.D.), the Catholic Church dominated both the religious and political life in Europe. It wielded incredible amounts of power, money, and influence, and as what often happens with unchecked power, corruption set in. Eventually, the church turned to selling indulgences (pieces of paper promising that your loved one would be guaranteed entrance to heaven) as a sort of fundraising racket. On October 31, 1517, an incensed German monk named Martin Luther responded by nailing 95 objections to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany in an attempt to reform the corrupt practices and doctrines that had become prevalent in the Catholic Church.

What’s important about Reformation Day is not the man, or the fact that his actions were instrumental in spawning the Protestant faith. What matters is that God used Martin Luther in incredible ways to help His people rediscover His Word, and to help His church return to true, biblical Christianity. However, it is not Reformation Day (or even Martin Luther for that matter) that I want to focus on, but Luther’s lesser known mentor, Johann von Staupitz. 

Martin was born to Hans and Margaret Luther in 1483. Hans was a miner by trade and, wanting to spare his son of the same life, encouraged Martin to enter law school. By all accounts, Martin disliked law school and had a natural bent for theology and philosophy, but he nevertheless obliged his father. One day, while on a trip back home, the young Martin was caught in a thunderstorm and was nearly struck by lightning. Terrified that he might die and go to hell, he made a promise that he would become a monk. So in 1505, Martin left everything behind and went to a monastery in Erfurt, Germany to do just that.

It was in Erfurt where Martin Luther met one of the most influential persons of his life – his mentor Johann von Staupitz. Not much is known about Staupitz, but he served as an overseer and superior to young, aspiring monks – including the young Martin Luther. Even though Martin was going through the process to become a monk, it is clear from his own admission that he was still unconverted when he first came to the monastery. Martin was constantly plagued by a guilty conscience and fear of hell. To alleviate his conscience, he frequently made pilgrimages, fasted, prayed, and spent hours in confession.

“If ever a monk could get to heaven through monastic discipline, I was that monk. And yet my conscience would not give me certainty, but I always doubted and said, ‘You didn’t do that right. You weren’t contrite enough. You left that out of your confession.’ The more I tried to remedy an uncertain, weak, and troubled conscience with human traditions, the more I daily found it more uncertain, weaker, and more troubled.” -Martin Luther

For much of Luther’s time in “seminary”, Staupitz faithfully mentored and counseled the troubled young man. Seeing Luther’s obsession with his own sin, Staupitz frequently counseled him to look away from his own sin, and towards Christ who was able to forgive sin and grant a change of heart. It was because of Staupitz’s advice, as well as being washed by the scripture, that Martin Luther was finally converted and tasted grace.

Luther had a great respect and fondness for his mentor. By his own admission, Luther said of Staupitz: “If it had not been for him, I should have sunk in hell.”  It was nothing other than the stirring of the Holy Spirit that saved Martin Luther. Nevertheless, Staupitz’s godly advice, mentorship, and personal investment into a young troubled soul made a critical difference – not only for Martin, but eventually for all of Christendom. Even though history remembers Martin Luther, let us not forget that we are benefactors of Staupitz’s faithful, behind-the-scenes mentorship. That said, what can we take away from their examples?

1. Awareness of our sin is a gift of God

Ephesians clearly states our salvation is a gift from God, and that no one has any grounds to boast. Likewise, an awareness of sin – which is necessary for repentance that leads to salvation – is also a gift of God. Luther, for much of his life, saw the deadly reality of his own sin, but he didn’t know what to do with it. He, like many still do today, turned to doing religious things in order to gain favor with God. But, as Ephesians says, there is no way that man can gain favor with God by doing good things. We must be aware of our sins, repent of them, trust that Christ’s death is the only means for God’s forgiveness, and subsequently lead a life of submitting to the Holy Spirit.

What should I do if – like Luther – I am suffering from conviction and an awareness of my sins? First, recognize that God is showing you mercy. God is opening your eyes and ears and granting you godly sorrow that leads to repentance. Secondly, know that although sorrow and fear from conviction are necessary, they do not comprise repentance and faith. As Jesus said to a number of would-be disciples, you are close to the Kingdom of Heaven, but you have not found it yet. Thirdly, and most importantly, because God is convicting you He is giving you the opportunity to repent and believe. Therefore, in light of His mercy, use the opportunity he is giving you to repent and trust in Christ’s death as the atonement for your sins.(After all, there is no guarantee that you’ll get another such opportunity. Only by repenting and trusting Christ do you find the Kingdom of Heaven.)

2. Wallowing in conviction can become an idol

As I said before, Luther was clearly under conviction of his sin for many years of his life.

Instead of turning to Christ, Luther turned to doing empty (albeit good) religious things such as making pilgrimages, fasting, praying, and confessing as a tool to gain favor with God and make atonement for his own sins – an impossible task.

Religious activity is good. God indeed wants us to pray, to confess, to seek Him, and to do good works. However, when they are used as tools to tray to gain favor with God – without trusting and valuing Christ – they too become empty human traditions.

Therefore, don’t repeat Luther’s mistakes. Do not let wallowing in your despair and punishing yourself become an idol to you. Don’t focus so intently on your own faults and sins that they become an insurmountable burden. Don’t try to make atonement for your own sins. Your sins are indeed grievous to a holy God. However, He is also loving and desires to give you only what He can give you: repentance and a new heart that values Him above all else.

3. Being religious is not the same as being converted

A problem that affects every human heart is that we want to be made much of. For many, that involves giving others the illusion that we are more spiritual and  religious than we actually are. We may even genuinely do religious things, like what I have listed previously. However, such “worship” does not honor God. God frequently addresses humanity’s false religiosity. It is a stench to Him. In Isaiah He says that, “they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Likewise, Jesus frequently rebuked the Pharisees (religious leaders of the Israelites) for being “white washed tombs” – having the appearance of being religious on the outside, but on the inside they are spiritually dead.

What is more important than attending church and fasting and praying is having a converted heart that now values God above everything else, and that trusts in Christ’s death as the appeasement for its sins. And as far as doing religious things? “You should have practiced the latter [religious actions], without neglecting the former [conversion].” (Matt. 23:23)

4. Mentorship matters

People often like to make separate little boxes. One for evangelism, one for discipleship, one for mentorship, and so on. The truth is, regardless of what you call it, they are all part of the same scale. The activity and the end-goal is one in the same: to get people to become more like Christ. And so, if the person you are mentoring is unconverted – we happen to call it evangelism. If the person you are mentoring is saved – we happen to call it discipleship.

Mentorship is incredibly important work. The stakes are high, as it is the difference between eternal life and eternal death. We must be serious about grabbing as many lives as we can – unconverted and saved alike – and faithfully help them to treasure Christ. As you mentor people, you are not affecting just one life, but the thousands and millions of lives that would have been touched by that one life. Little did Staupitz know the effect he would eventually have on the course of history by mentoring that young, nervous, German monk.

5. Behind-the-scenes ministry is not meaningless

Generally speaking, mentoring is a ministry that often goes unnoticed and unthanked. There is no spotlight or adoring audiences – as you might find with the preaching and teaching ministries. Instead, it is often a day-to-day, one-on-one kind of work. But just because there isn’t a spotlight, doesn’t mean that there isn’t joy in it or that the work is meaningless.

Not all ministries and gifts are the same. But all are useful for building up the body. So regardless of what ministry you are involved with – please know that your work is not meaningless. 

A Fast Changing World: An Answer to Prayer

We are living in an unusual period of rapid, radical change throughout the world, especially in the West. We dare not ignore what God is doing in the world around us.
Islamic people groups are surging out of their countries into Europe and other western nations–nations formerly shaped by the Gospel of Jesus, but now adrift in post-Christian decadence. In the US, peoples from around the world are streaming into our land. Whether their entry is through legal or illegal means is not the primary concern for the follower of Christ. This global seismic shift of people offers an unprecedented opportunity for God’s people to “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.” We must be careful and diligent to think like God’s redeemed people–ambassadors–who are joyfully responsible for making known the glories of the Lord Jesus, and calling all people to repentance and faith in Christ. As pilgrims who are passing through a passing nation, our first assignment is to our eternal King. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. Our first and most passionate loyalties are to our Savior, alone. Any goal other than seeing his Kingdom come is idolatry.
In response to this seismic shift of people and cultures, at least two very different views can be taken:

1. A political view as a citizen of a passing nation who places preeminent value on maintaining cultural heritage and comforts, and,

2. A spiritual view as a pilgrim passing through a world that is not home, placing ultimate value in making Jesus known for the joy of all people.
God, who has “made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him,” has assigned us this time, and this watch. We are to abide in him and be responsive and obedient to him in a hostile, transient world. It has always been thus, and it is certainly no less now. There is a place for politicians and governments to establish and enforce order for the good and flourishing of humankind. God sovereignly sets up and brings down governments and rulers as it suits his purposes in accomplishing the flourishing of humankind. But political positions are rooted in a decaying world, making them intrinsically inferior to eternal spiritual values.
We must set our hearts to seek the Lord and feel what he feels for the nations.
We must pray for spiritual power and stamina to first serve our King.
We must place our minds under the authority of Scripture to be transformed by God’s wisdom, understanding the weight of glory and the surpassing joy of seeing Jesus worshipped by every tribe, language, people and nation.
We have routinely prayed that the nations may come to know Christ. We give money to send the Gospel via missionaries to difficult places in the world who need to know Christ. Now the difficult places are coming here. The unreached are arriving at places where they can be reached. The unengaged are coming to the lands of God’s people where we can engage them. Is this one way God has answered our prayer for the nations? His thoughts are not our thoughts, nor our ways his ways. We dare not ignore what God is doing.

Sources:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/world/europe/a-mass-migration-crisis-and-it-may-yet-get-worse.html?_r=0
Psalm 96

2 Corinthians 5:20

Philippians 3:20

Acts 17:26-31

Romans 13

Revelation 5

Is