Friday, June 15, 2012

John Wycliffe—A man who struggled with anger

This blog post is for everyone, because everyone gets angry, even the great John Wycliffe. 

His biographer states, 
“Wycliffe found no rest at Lutterworth (where he stayed during the last two years of his life) and perhaps he did not really seek it. There was in every sense too much unfinished business, both positive and negative. He was full of anger and resentment. His language breaks into violence in sermon after sermon. It is hard to escape the impression that he had more enemies than close friends.”
Anger and resentment. Yeah....I hear you. 

Here are 4 things I try to remind myself about anger:

#1--Anger is a serious sin.

Don’t minimize it. Don’t rename It. (This is when we say things like, “I am frustrated” or “I am just working through some stuff” or “I am just processing”, etc.). Let us not forget that Jesus makes it clear that God takes anger very seriously.

Matthew 5:21-22 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER ' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

I am often humbling by the words of Christ because I am reminded that it is my heart that God sees. It is my heart by which I am judged. Am I really better than the abuser down the street if our hearts are the same?

#2--Righteous anger is rare.

I have heard it said many times by certain Christians, "There  is an anger that is appropriate and biblical."  

These individuals usually refer to this verse. 

Ephesians 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

To be clear, this verse does not command that a Christian must get angry, but instead, if anger arises, then it must be exhibited without sin.

Matthew Henry explains,
"If you have a just occasion to be angry at any time, see that it be without sin; and therefore take heed of excess in your anger." Furthermore, If we would be angry and not sin, we must be angry at nothing but sin; and we should be more jealous for the glory of God than for any interest or reputation of our own.
I have often wondered, “Is this type of anger even possible?” I think it is. But again, I believe it is rare.

Furthermore, if Henry is right, this disqualifies most (if not all) of my moments of anger. A good question to ask yourself is this: “Does this outburst of anger qualify?" or "Are my thoughts at this moment more about God's glory and His name or my name, my reputation and my desires?" 

#3--Anger is a emotional rejection of the sovereignty (and goodness) of God.

Normally, we become angry when we don’t get what we want or in a time frame that we want it. Our anger is basically a “shake your fist at God moment”, because He is getting in the way.

And yet most people, even in their anger, would claim they believe in the sovereignty of God. They would affirm that God is in control, that He knows the future and some would even say He had ordained every moment of every human’s life.

Then why get angry? Why shake your fist at God? I think the main reason is that we reject the goodness of God in some sovereign acts. In those angry moments, God is not good; rather He is insensitive, aloof and indifferent to my daily struggles. He only cares about His plan and His glory, which somehow doesn’t really integrate the promise below. 

Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

Someone may ask, "Is it good for God or good for us?" Isn’t it both? One without the other would make God a fickle deity. Fickleness is not in the character of a good God.

#4--Anger is always connected to idolatry.

Someone once told me that when we respond in a fit of anger, it is very likely that you care too much about that “thing”.

What is that “thing”? It could be anything. Hobbies, sex, structure, respect, happiness, comfortability, etc. But aren’t all of these “things” are appropriate to pursue or enjoy? You bet they are…..assuming that these specific “things” never become more important to you that pleasing God and living according to His will.

How do you know when one of these “things” becomes an idol? Well… you get angry when your schedule gets thrown off? Do you get angry when your wife respectfully challenges the amount of time you spend on your hobby? Do you get angry when you are overlooked for a raise or a promotion? If you do, then the questions you ought to be asking yourself are, “Where is God in this situation?” or “Do I really believe that God is in control?” or finally “Is He really good and if so, then what is the Romans 8:28 principle I need to apply to my situation?”

Sadly, I still fall so short of God’s command in James 1:19-20.

James 1:19 This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Don’t lose heart, though. God’s parental forgiveness is just a genuine confession away (I John 1:9).

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

John Wycliffe—A man who believed the Pope was unnecessary and unbiblical

This was no small complaint by the Oxford scholar. This would be similar to mentioning "a bomb" at any U.S. airport.

Wycliffe's biographer states, 
“Wycliffe is no longer in favor of bishops. He thinks that the only orders of ministry ought to be those of priest and deacon, since, although the vocabulary of the New Testament is hard to interpret, it does seem to be consistent in referring to only two orders, deacons and presbyter-bishops (elders). Wycliffe lays down the important principle that a distinction of duties or office does not necessarily require a difference in order. ‘For as far as the power of the order is concerned all priests are equal in power’. The simple priest has as much ‘plentitude of power’ as the Pope.”
Well….that will do it. Tell everyone the Pope’s authority is invalid and your common priest is just as powerful as the Holy Vicar of Rome. This will put you on Rome’s most wanted list.

Here are a couple questions for the Christian today: Is church polity (i.e. church government) even necessary in the local church? Should church polity influence the Christian as they look for a place to worship?

The local church needs leaders and structure.

The anti-authority people in the church are often the first to disregard or demean the need for leaders. For them, leaders and structure means “control” and “oppression”. Their skepticism is often based in poor examples in the past or disqualified leaders in the present. Sadly, their cynicism is understandable, though it is harmful to their spiritual growth.

The reality is God creates and calls human leaders to shepherd His flock.

Acts 14:23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.

1 Peter 5:1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.

So, according to scripture, the local church needs leaders, but leaders can’t lead without implementing structure.

1 Corinthians 14:40 But all things must be done properly and in an orderly manner.

Though I believe some churches take this verse too far, out of context or apply too broadly, this is a necessary principle for the local church.

Wasn't this simply said by the apostle Paul to prevent excesses in the local church? Well….yes, but it is more than that. Structure is meant to enhance our worship of God, not hinder it. For many churches, structure means squelching the Spirit, inhibiting the “fresh” experience of the presence of God. Yet the reality  is, especially outlined in the OT, God cares about the way He is worshiped. Some worship exalts Him, other forms of worship exalts the program, the people or the experience. 

The congregation must have some influence in church polity.

Is this because America is a democratic society? No, it is because the church is the body of Christ, not the leaders of the body of Christ.

Here are a few verses where we see congregational influence:

Acts 6:3-5a Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering…”

Acts 16:1-3 Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.

So obviously, there is biblical data that assumes the congregation has a part in electing and/or commissioning their leaders. In other words, the congregation has influence in the decision-making of the local church.

How much influence? Hard to say….since scripture doesn’t give us specifics. If you are a Baptist, you will say a lot. If you are an elder-led church, you will say not very much.

I guess the main thing is that if the leaders are striving to be biblical, communicate, encourage, serve and protect, then the congregation will find it easier to respect, submit, pray and encourage their leaders.

Numbers of leaders are not as important as the maturity of leaders.

A church should never feel pressure to fill the gaps with spiritually immature leaders. Ultimately, ministries created and led by these premature leaders will likely produce the façade of stability, but the ground is nothing more than shifting sand.

This is not to say that every leader has to be at an official level of spirituality. Obviously, Paul took Timothy with him because he (and others) saw great potential within him. This is why if the local church is a disciple-making church, then leaders are constantly being groomed and their spiritual growth monitored by the mature Saints of Christian faith.

Need more leaders? Pray and disciple those in your midst. Programs can wait, because a program without mature leaders is like a model home; it is enticing to seekers, it may even look real, but in the end… is just a show.

The type of church polity is important, but not a primary issue.

This has taken me a while to embrace. The pride of my youth drove me to dogmatism with regards to issues that are not primary.

If a local church has a church polity that elects qualified elders and deacons and involves the congregation (to some degree), this is a New Testament church that pleases its Head, Jesus Christ.

Methodology is liquid.

Liquid can be put in any container. Some like the gallon jug. Some prefer the square carton. Some like the 20 oz bottle and others prefer the carafe. In a similar way, every local church does church polity different. Some churches need the approval of 3/4 of the congregation. Some need just 2/3. Some churches do not involve the congregation in everyday decisions, some do. Some churches have terms for their leaders and some have indefinite terms of service. Which one is right? Which one is wrong? Hard to say. Are some methods that are unwise or cultivate cliques, rather than unity? I think so. But again, since the NT does not give specifics, the Christian should be concerned more about the maturity of the leaders themselves, rather than the mechanism of church polity itself.

Church polity is not a cardinal doctrine of the Christian let's not treat it as such.

The local church must have godly leaders and structure. If we do that, our churches will be healthier and more effective for the gospel.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

John Wycliffe—A man who wanted all Christians to read the Bible

John Wycliffe’s last work was called Gospel Work. His latest biographer assessment of it is interesting.

She states,
“The drift of this last book on Scripture seems clear. There are no automatic, special, divine preferences for any particular class of Christian, priest or monk or friar; it is personal virtue which counts. The Bible is not reserved for the educated or the ordained. The Bible is for all the people of God.”
History states that the heart of Wycliffe was for the laity, so that they could own and read the scriptures for themselves.

Because of his passion for God’s word, millions of Christians have multiple bibles in their homes. And yet many Christians often lament that they themselves, though they own a bible, are unable to understand the Bible.

Here are 6 main reasons Christians struggle to understand the Bible.

***Please understand when I write “you”, I mean you, me…any Christian who struggles with this.

Reason #1—You do not ask for Divine help.

How often do you pray as you begin your time with God? How often do you stop and pray for the illumination of the Holy Spirit? Without His help, the Christian’s time will be stale.
1 Corinthians 2:12-13 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.
We need God to help us, to enlighten our minds, to chase out the corrupting influences of sin. For myself, if I am honest, the struggle is unleashing a prayer of faith, a prayer of expectation.

Or to say it another way, “Do I really believe in the promise of Isaiah 55?”
Isaiah 55:10-11 "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, And do not return there without watering the earth And making it bear and sprout, And furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; 11 So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

Reason #2—You are lazy.

I remember in college hearing a pastor say, “Just start by giving God 1% of your day!” He went on to clarify for the mathematically-challenged in the group…this equals roughly 15 minutes each day. Now I am not criticizing this pastor or his challenge, but this is not enough. Baby Christians are capable of more than this. The 20 year veteran of the Christian faith is without excuse. And I can’t believe I going to say this (because it is what my 88-year old Grandpa always says), but “this generation doesn’t like hard work”.

I think my Grandpa is right.

Scripture is clear that the diligent student of His word finds a great treasure.
2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.
Notice the key words: diligent, workman, accurate. This last phrase has always impacted me, “accurately handling the word of truth”. The word of God must be handled a certain way. Not flippantly or carelessly.

Let us not forget it takes time to be skilled in biblical interpretation. Does it not take a gymnast years to perfect a floor routine? Or years for a platform diver to enter the water with minimal splash? Does the Christian think that the Pilgrim’s journey to the Celestial City deserves less discipline than the temporal engagements of this present world, especially since the payoff has eternal implications?

So take the time to look up the definition of a word. Let’s be humble enough to ask for help for those who are farther in their journey. Let us not be content with skimming rather than the joys of absorbing.

Reason #3—You need to go buy some key resources.

There is really no excuse for the 21st century Christian, especially since there is an endless supply of great resources to be accessed with a simple touch of a computer key.

As an example, you may hear a Christian say, “I don’t get what is happening in Isaiah!” Well, get on Amazon and go buy a commentary on Isaiah or an Introduction to the Old Testament.

Even internet resources can be helpful, but the baby Christian should probably avoid using this tool. Rather, it safer to ask your pastor for the best (one or two) resources on that topic.

Reason #4—You do not have a reading plan

Is this vital for every Christian? I believe so.

Here is the sad reality for many Christians: No plan. No goals. No renewal of your mind. No maturity. 

Now I am not just saying you need a fancy reading plan (i.e. chapter of OT, chapter of NT, chapter of Psalms, etc.), but also using practical methods to help the Christian to engage the text. For example, having a journal for observations, reading the same shorter epistle every day for a month (i.e. Colossians, Philippians, I Peter, etc.) or maybe engaging in an important focused study of a particular word or theme of scripture.

I truly believe God is pleased when His children take the time to consider how to pursue Him.

Reason #5—You have forgotten the basics of biblical interpretation.

This is easy to remember. My seminary professor repeated this all the time. Context, context, context. When the reader understands the context, interpretation is easier to attain and therefore, application can be enjoyed.

Oh, by the way, finding the context requires the reader to pinpoint the “intent of the original author”. In other words, ask these questions.

What is the reason the author wrote this psalm, epistle or gospel?
What is happening in the narrow context?
What is happening in the broad context?

As I said before, this takes work but the payoff is worth the toil.

Reason #6—You are not meditating.

Biblical meditation is NOT eastern meditation. Eastern meditation seeks to “clear” the mind, therefore, encouraging the opposite of biblical meditation, which is focusing your mind on “things that are good” (Phil. 4:8), “things above” (Col. 3:1-2), actively setting your mind to percolate on the truths of God, which are found in His word.

Why is this so important? First, because meditation assumes a mental posture of prayer. Quiet, isolated, communicative silence with the God of the Universe. Second, it often promotes opportunities to listen and hear the voice of God (i.e. the inner prompting of the Holy Spirit, not an audible voice). Listening requires waiting and waiting requires trusting.  

How does this work? George Müller and George Whitefield are known as the examples par excellence.
“The passion of George Müller’s soul was to know fully the secrets of prevailing with God and with man. George Whitefield’s life drove home the truth that God alone could create in him a holy earnestness to win souls and qualify him for such divine work by imparting a compassion for the lost that should become an absorbing passion for their salvation. And—let this be carefully marked as another secret of this life of service—he now began himself to read the word of God upon his knees, and often found for hours great blessing in such meditation and prayer over a single psalm or chapter.” (p. 138-139)
So go spend some time with God today. I will join you.