Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Injustice of the Lord’s Controversy

Micah 2

6.1 Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.
2 Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD’S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.

Welcome to our discussion of the little known and studied book of Micah. Last time we saw the theme of the book is that the Lord has a controversy with His people. In today's post we will clearly see the injustice of the Lord's controversy. I do not mean by that statement that God was unjust or unfair to Israel in having a controversy with them, but rather that Israel was unjust to God in causing Him to need to have a controversy with them.

Let me reach into my own life for an illustration of what I mean. Seventeen years ago Mandy took my hand and we entered life together as husband and wife. The truth is she loved me before I loved her. She gave up her name and her life, essentially, to take mine. She accepted my offer of marriage when I was living in the office at church, pastoring fifteen people, and driving a car that was four different colors. She has born me four children. The first five years we moved repeatedly with nary a word of complaint from her, including to the inner-city here thirteen years ago. For all these years she has washed my clothes, cleaned my house, cooked my meals, nursed me in sickness, and partnered with me in ministry. In short, she has been good to me. It would be a grave injustice for me to run off with the piano player. Well, she is the piano player, but you get my drift surely. I should give her no cause to have a great controversy with me. She has showered me with blessings, and consequently she ought to be immune from me causing her grief.

This is exactly God's thinking in relation to Israel.

6.3 O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.

Has God done anything to cause Israel harm? Has He been unjust or cruel or even mean to them? Has He wronged them in any way? Of course He has not.

6.4 For I brought thee up out of the land of Egypt, and redeemed thee out of the house of servants; and I sent before thee Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.

Micah preached in 800 BC, over three hundred years before Israel's deliverance from the Babylonian Captivity. This mention of deliverance is in reference to the events of the Exodus six centuries before. The fact of the Exodus and the method of it are eternal proofs of God's design to be good to His people. Not only that, but He gifted them with Moses et al, who was perhaps the greatest leader in all of human history.

6.5 O my people, remember now what Balak king of Moab consulted, and what Balaam the son of Beor answered him from Shittim unto Gilgal; that ye may know the righteousness of the LORD.

God through Micah is referencing the story of Balaam found in the Torah.

Numbers 22.4 And Moab said unto the elders of Midian, Now shall this company lick up all that are round about us, as the ox licketh up the grass of the field. And Balak the son of Zippor was king of the Moabites at that time.
5 He sent messengers therefore unto Balaam the son of Beor to Pethor, which is by the river of the land of the children of his people, to call him, saying, Behold, there is a people come out from Egypt: behold, they cover the face of the earth, and they abide over against me:
6 Come now therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me: peradventure I shall prevail, that we may smite them, and that I may drive them out of the land: for I wot that he whom thou blessest is blessed, and he whom thou cursest is cursed.

Balaam was not a Jew but he was nevertheless a prophet of God. The king of Moab was concerned about all the immigration <ahem> into his area via an Israel escaping Egypt. Knowing Balaam's words had power he sought to persuade Balaam to curse Israel. Balaam asks God if he can go and God says no. (Numbers 22.12) Undeterred, the king of Moab raises his offer to Balaam and thus seduces God's prophet. Happily, God prevents Balaam from pronouncing curses on Israel and instead places words of blessing into Balaam's mouth. The king of Moab, sputtering with anger, responds, What hast thou done unto me? I took thee to curse mine enemies, and, behold, thou hast blessed them altogether. (Numbers 23.11)

God's point here, via Micah, is that the interaction of Balak and Balaam proves His everlasting intention of pouring out on Israel numerous blessings. Like Mandy with me, God had a track record of blessing His people. Furthermore, He had promised them that He would continue to bless them. Why in the world, then, were they living contrary to Him like they were? It was unjust of them to put God in the position of needing to have a controversy with them. It was not fair. It was not just. It was not right.

What is the application for us today? Has not God been as good to you and I, as His people, as He was to Israel? Has He not promised us perpetual blessings, as His people, like He promised them? Then why in the world do we give Him cause for controversy with us? It is unjust. It is unfair. It is not right.

I think of this in relation to some preachers I have known. God blessed them richly. He let them be born in America. He drew them to Himself as Christians. He gifted them with lovely wives, precious families, and thriving ministries. And then they throw it all away in pride, in lust, or in greed. Now God has a controversy with them, and it is not fair.

I think of this in relation to some young people I have known. God blessed them richly. He let them be born in America. He drew them to Himself as Christians. He gifted them with a godly heritage, a loving church, and with all the health and strength and energy of youth. And then they spit in His face and walk away from all they have been given. Now God has a controversy with them, and it is not right.

I think of this in relation to some spouses I have known. God blessed them richly. He let them be born in America. He drew them to Himself as Christians. He gave them a good church, a measure of health, and a precious, unselfish, loving, caring, dedicated, faithful spouse. And they turn up their nose at God's gracious marital provision, abandon their family, and lose themselves in selfishness. Now God has a controversy with them, and it is not just.

I think of this in relation to some church members I have known. God blessed them richly. He let them be born in America or emigrate here. He drew them to Himself as Christians. He placed them in a good church, one with correct doctrine, the right spirit, affection for one another, and a culture of pursuing both God and sinners. Yet someone or something in the assembly gets in their craw and they walk out on God and on church for the rest of their life. Now God has a controversy with them, and it is not warranted.

The simple truth is God has been, is being, and will continue to be an incredibly good God to us, and this ought to drive us to Him in humble adoration rather than away from Him in stubborn self-will.

Eight centuries after Micah Paul expressed it this way:

Romans 2.3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God;
6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile;
10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile:

It was not fair of the Israel of Micah's day to cause God to have a controversy with her. After centuries of God's blessing, it was unjust for her to give Him cause for grief.

…and it is not fair of us either.

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Lord’s Controversy

Micah 1

One of my frustrations with so much that passes for good writing in the Christian blogosphere is that it is dedicated to simply reacting to the issues of the day. Look! Starbucks is attacking Christmas! I must respond! Look! Target is attacking my daughter! I must respond! Look! The Democrats are attacking prayer! I must respond! Such blogging satisfies a temporary emotional urge to vent, and gets attention if it is inflammatory enough and I understand that, but I desire to be different. I want to write something worth reading (whether anyone bothers to read it or not) and I want it to still be worth reading twenty years from now.

Because of this I tend to write connected series. I want to explore issues and topics in some depth. That is usually best done in a book but it can be done (carefully) in a blog as well. Further, in a blog it is free to one and all; books are not. Thus it is that I have written series on music, alcohol, urban ministry, soul winning, how to respond to hypocrisy in leadership, worship, how to pay a pastor, etc. as well as the gigantic series on the life of Christ that birthed this blog.

In this vein I begin a new series today, yet one that is different too. For the next three or four months on this blog I am going to walk you through a small, rather obscure book of the Bible. In a sense this will be like my first book, though substantially shorter. It will not be controversial. It will not be inflammatory. It might not even be interesting, frankly. What it will be is scriptural and helpful, if you care to read it. It will also give you a much better understanding of one of the books of the Bible that you probably don't have a clue about. Thus it is that I invite you to join me for a while as we explore the book of Micah together.

The foundational thought establishing Micah is that God has a problem with His people, Israel.

6.1 Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.
2 Hear ye, O mountains, the LORD’S controversy, and ye strong foundations of the earth: for the LORD hath a controversy with his people, and he will plead with Israel.

In this we notice two things. First, we see the depth of the problem that God had with them. The dictionary defines "controversy" as a prolonged and public contention. The original language has ideas behind it such as strife, quarrel, and legal dispute. This is not a light word. It is not a simple disagreement over something relatively minor. Additionally, God uses this strong word not once, but twice. In essence, then, we see that God has a big problem with the behavior of His people.

Understand this – that the Lord has a controversy with Israel, and that Micah is God's messenger attempting to deal with it – and you understand Micah. Over the course of 105 verses Micah will logically explain that there is a controversy, Who it is that has the controversy with them, why they cannot counter-claim against Him, what exactly the controversy consists of, who God blames for the problem, what will happen if they do not fix it, how they can fix it, and how God will ultimately deal with His people.

The second thing we notice immediately is Who exactly has this controversy with them. This is not just some quarrel between women at the market, or even between Israel and some neighboring political power. It is the Lord Himself who has a problem with their action.

1.1 The word of the LORD that came to Micah the Morasthite in the days of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah, which he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.
2 Hear, all ye people; hearken, O earth, and all that therein is: and let the Lord GOD be witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple.
3 For, behold, the LORD cometh forth out of his place, and will come down, and tread upon the high places of the earth.
4 And the mountains shall be molten under him, and the valleys shall be cleft, as wax before the fire, and as the waters that are poured down a steep place.

The Lord GOD is Jehovah Elohim, the incredibly all-powerful and completely righteous and holy God that has a problem with them. And whatever they thought was going to protect them from such a one as Him was not going to stand a chance.

Does this not, then, reveal something to us that is critical to understand about God? Does not this, then, have some bearing on our lives nearly three millennia later? It must, beloved, and for me it is this: our God is a demanding God. If He gives us a set of directions or commands He expects to be obeyed. In the fullness of time He will not let the world get away with any sin, but beyond that, He will not even let His own slide. He is too good a parent for that. What He requires of His people will be required, not ignored. He will call us to account for our actions. We will not get away with it.

The Lord has a controversy with His people now and again. Wise would we be to heed it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

What is Love?

Poetry 3

I do not speak about this publicly very often but I went through a lengthy period of depression as a young person. In retrospect it was actually good for me for a number of different reasons. One of those reasons is that it developed in me an appreciation for poetry. Out of that appreciation grew a desire to write some of my own. From time to time in this blog I will bring you one or two of those. Today is one of those times. 

What is Love?

What is love? 
Love is not like. 
Love is not lust. 
Love is not infatuation. 
Love is not passion. 
Love is not a feeling. 
Love is an attitude.

Love goes deeper than lust, passion, like, or infatuation. 
Love is an attitude.

I work on a bus route. 
I love my bus kids. 
That doesn't mean that I always like my bus kids. 
That doesn't mean I always feel love for them, but I love them.
Love is an attitude.

Why isn't love a feeling?
Because feelings come and go.
Love isn't a feeling but love has feeling. 
People confuse the feelings of love for love itself.
There are times when feelings of love will leave, but if it's true love the love remains.
Love is an attitude.

-Tom Brennan, A Teenager's Heart
December 14, 1988

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Five Limitations of Personal Evangelism

A Philosophy of Personal Evangelism 9

I am for every kind of scripturally appropriate evangelism. I wish there were more of it, not less. But I also believe that the only kind of evangelism that has the potential to reach the entire world is personal evangelism. That last sentence is the the philosophical heart of this blog series but I would remiss if I did not admit that personal evangelism has its own challenges. Personal evangelism has the most potential usefulness for the cause of Christ but there are a number of things that limit that potential. Understanding those limitations I think can help us to minimize them, and thus maximize our application of confrontational soul winning.

The first limitation is simply this: not enough Christians do it. I pastor an average sized
church with an above average number of soul winners. I would estimate that 30-40% of our average attendance personally witnesses at least once a month. But, transparently, I have had to fight and claw and scratch and bleed and pray and beg and preach myself half to death in these thirteen years to get those percentages that high - and they still are not a majority. Additionally, I recognize that the average church is in worse shape than mine. Various studies I have seen assert that in the typical Gospel preaching American church of all kinds less than 20% of the people attending ever personally witness.
What does that mean? Well, in practical terms, in a city the size of Chicago, if there are 250,000 people attending a Gospel preaching church (generous numbers here, too) that means less than 50,000 people will be personally confronted with their need of Christ this year – in a city of 2.7 million! We can shade those numbers a dozen different ways for better or worse but the stubborn truth is clear: personal evangelism is hamstrung because the vast majority of American Christians refuse to do it.

Secondly, personal evangelism is limited because many Christians have the wrong concept of what it is. Inviting your neighbor to church is good but that is not personal evangelism. Putting a tract in with your check when you pay your electric bill is good but it is not personal evangelism. The biblical illustrations of personal evangelism – Jesus with the woman at the well, Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, Paul and Silas with the Philippian jailer, etc. – all involved one person talking to another person about his need for Christ with the view of bringing him to an immediate decision. In the book of Acts the early church went house to house seeking to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. 
This limits personal evangelism because many a Christian has silenced their conscience by convincing themselves they are being evangelistic when in fact they are not. They have not clearly presented the Gospel. They have not engaged anyone in a conversational give-and-take to assure understanding. They have not pressed any individual to the point of decision.

Third, personal evangelism is limited when we motivate Christians to win souls on the basis of results rather than the basis of obedience. And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. (Mark 16.15) That verse does not say "…and win them to Christ." That verse does not say, "…and build a big church." It says go and it says preach.
When we motivate people to be soul winners so that we can see or experience a good result they will stop if and when those good results stop. I went to a Bible college that emphasized personal evangelism to the max. In its forty year history it has matriculated thousands of soul winners who long since gave up the practice because it did so largely on the basis of results. Those results dried up so the soul winning inevitably dried up too. Soul winning is not a church growth method; soul winning is being obedient to the command of God to take the Gospel to every creature.

Fourth, personal evangelism is limited because some soul winners sell Jesus rather than offer Him.
When your motivation is results oriented you will automatically place pressure on people to produce those results. That pressure at some point always causes an appropriation of worldly methods of getting someone to say "yes" when what they really want is to say "no." At this point, soul winning has become salesmanship rather than a Gospel presentation.
For years I made my living as a salesman. I have sat through dozens of hours of sales training and application. I am more than familiar with phrases such as it's a numbers a game, "no" just means I need more information, abc – always be closing, somebody is selling somebody in every conversation, don't be an order taker, make them feel bad about theirs, and what is there to think about. I have used the Socratic method and the power of positive thinking. I extensively developed my product knowledge. Etc. etc. etc.
I was good at what I did, and the things I learned transferred across industries because the principles work. Sales is push, push, push. It is out thinking the customer, and in a sense manipulating their mental outlook into spending more than they want on things they do not really need sooner than they think feasible.
For me, selling was a selfish thing. I got a commission, and the more I sold the more commission I made. Soul winners who sell Jesus are no different. I get a number, I get a result, and I get to feel good about myself as a soul winner. This only comes through results so I am motivated to push the envelope in order to obtain those results.
Beloved, motivation is just as important to God as the outcome is. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force to make him a king, he departed into a mountain himself alone. (John 6.15) The people had the wrong motivation in offering Him the crown and so He wisely refused it.
We cannot justifiably manipulate someone into Heaven. Likewise, it is unscriptural to browbeat or intimidate a person into making a decision for Christ. In such cases all we really do is manipulate someone into praying a prayer and that does not accomplish anything. Manipulation produces no understanding. Manipulation produces no conviction. Selling Jesus produces statistics that please the soul winner and his peers but it does nothing to advance the cause of Christ.

Fifth, personal evangelism is limited because oftentimes the training is suspect. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work. (II Timothy 2.21) Good works require training and preparation, and there is no work better than the work of saving souls.
In some cases there is no training whatsoever. "Here is a New Testament. Here is a fistful of tracts. Now go get 'em, tiger." What is the result of such foolishness? There is rightly little boldness in such a person's witness for they have none of the knowledge necessary to inspire confidence. There is little clarity in such a person's witness because there is no carefully prepared plan to put into execution. There is little personalization of in such a person's witness because the best they can do is read a tract.
In more cases there is bad training. Let me reach to my wife by way of example. For more than 15 years she has taught piano to numbers of people. Those lessons have always been conducted one-on-one. On the other hand, there is a piano store in our area that conducts free lessons for everyone who purchases an instrument. But those lessons are done in lecture style to a group. Guess which approach actually develops effective musicians?
In my twenty years as a pastor I have spent hundreds of hours conducting one-on-one personal evangelism training. I want to develop a church that believes deeply in soul winning but that does so in a careful, thorough, scriptural manner. Anything less fails over the long term and is an injustice to the cause of Christ.

It is fairly common for the average Christian to believe at a higher level
than his practice. He readily admits he should read his Bible but he often fails. He knows he needs to pray but neglects his spiritual duty here too. In the abstract he is for a vigorous church attendance; in the concrete he finds all manner of other things pressing upon his time. The same is true in relation to witnessing. Nearly all genuine Christians freely confess their responsibility to share Christ with the lost yet the vast majority of them never do.
I think perhaps an argument could be made that the last example is worse than all the rest. If I fail to read my Bible, or to pray, or to attend church I hurt myself; if I fail to witness I hurt the entire world.
Jesus died for that world. He died for you and me. The least we can do is open our mouths and speak a word for Him.