Here is part three of our Lenten lunch devotions.  We will conclude next week so please if you are in the area come and join us from 12-2 for great food and fellowship.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

We arrive today at Paul’s third dimension of God’s love, height.  I believe this is the hardest dimension of the four to fathom.  I can use what I have previously experienced and enlarge it to comprehend the width and the length and even the depth of God’s love.  I have never though stood at the base of something and knew that regardless of how hard I tried, it’s peak would remain unseen and inaccessible to me.  Yet, that is exactly the way the Scriptures describe the height of God’s love.  The psalmist prays to God in Psalm 108 and says “for your steadfast love is great above the heavens.”  In other words, there is nothing that will ever be able to stand above God’s love.  What a wonderful truth to let slip into our souls.  Yes, we may sin grievously, but God’s love is such that His forgiveness will still stamp it down if we but ask.  Yet, it goes farther than this.  I do not know about you, but I am often intimidated by things taller than I am.  I get nervous when I have to get something off the cabinet’s top shelf because I generally have to stand on something to reach it and I am always afraid of falling.  I fell down a flight of stairs once and have been hesitant of going down stairs ever since.  I get really nervous driving across most bridges, particularly the high ones.  After all, it is a long way down.  Indeed, when I have something to do that I am dreading, my mind will often endow the task with proportions that often make it much bigger than it actually is.  What a comfort to know then, that I can stare directly at the things I fear the most and see the height of God’s love towering above it.  Paul prayed that we know  the height of God’s love because he had experienced it first hand.  He had stared down everything from angry mobs to ultimately the Roman emperor through the power of it’s height.  He even gazed into Death’s cold, dark glare and said with unbending resolve “O death, where is your victory, where is your sting” for He knew the height of God’s love could overcome even that which we consider to be final.  I do not know what you are going through today, but I pray that you will see that God’s love towers above it, ready to slip between you and your burden and lift it to heights unknown to allow you to walk free.  I pray that this freedom will enable you to face down every fear and sin that so easily besets us and that you may know that God is still in control.

Peace be with you.

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There is no one, and that includes Glenn Beck despite my respect for him, who will ever convince me that Jesus’ call to radical discipleship omits advocating for social and economic justice in the world.  However, I will admit that I am greatly troubled by those who think that it is the sole component of following in the Nazarene’s steps.  We lose sight of the fact that humanity’s physical needs are for a corruptible body which will one day molder in the ground when we focus solely on Jesus’ admonition to meet the physical needs of our fellow-man.   When Jesus calls us to promote justice, and yes I know that phrase is not explicit in the Gospels, He does so as a means to evangelism.  Let us be honest, people will be more likely to hear the Gospel call if they first see that we care about them and are not simply trying to get them in our churches and get their money.  Accordingly, churches should be prepared to spend money without expecting an immediate return as building this amount of trust takes time, but is not seeing even one soul come to redeeming faith worth every dime we might spend?  It is this soul saving aspect that fires my passion for social justice.  After all, the story of Good Friday and Easter morning is the story of God providing a means for saving the lost.  So, when I read yesterday an article promoting “Barefoot Sunday” on Easter Sunday I was appalled.  Easter is the pinnacle of the church year.  It is why we mark Christ’s coming at Advent, why we spend Lent’s 40 days preparing our hearts for the glory of Easter, and why we spend the remaining period of Pentecost continually being reminded that as the blood bought children of God we are to fight against sin and live in what Paul called “the power of the His (Christ’s) resurrection.”   Dr. Bart Ehrman said it best when he told our New Testament class at Carolina that without Easter there is no Christianity.  I do not believe anything should compete with preaching the hope of Easter to our fallen world and I find it mind-boggling that Christians are promoting such a cause that day.  The only feet we should be drawing attention to are the nail scarred feet of Jesus and there to offer our grateful obeisance for the gift of salvation.  Please, let me be clear, I think that the Samaritan’s Feet program is wonderful program that should be supported.  I believe that using the anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination to remind the world of his call to fight injustice is normally a proper tribute to his life.  However, April 4th commemorates something far bigger than the plight of the world’s shoeless and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., though he gave his life for the cause of justice, combined.  The whole of humanity’s hopes, dreams, and eternal destiny hang  on hearing the glorious news that the God-Man, Jesus Christ, arose from Joseph’s cold, dark tomb.  Indeed, as Robert Lowry penned so perfectly, “He arose with a mighty triumph o’er His foes.”   If we could let the world hear that oppression and enmity have already been defeated, that we do not have to search aimlessly for new solutions, we just have to fix our gaze on the resurrected Lord, then things will start to change in our world.  If we lose sight of this great truth, we can have barefoot Sunday every week while sitting the dark because we have given every dime we have to the poor and the world will still be going to Hell.  Let us rally around the cry, “Christ Above All” and see our world change.

Peace be with you.

My fellow bibliophile Allen Williams suggested that I read John Piper’s “This Momentary Marriage” after he studied it last spring in preparation for our wedding sermon.  I listen to Piper preach regularly and while I do not always agree with him, I find his insights to be Biblically based and thought provoking.  “This Momentary Marriage” is so thought provoking I finished the book in shock.  Piper dives deep into the Biblical concept of marriage and reminds the reader that covenant marriage is to be a reflection of God’s covenant love for us.  I believe that our not proclaiming this simple truth from our pulpits more often is the reason why so many Christian marriages are failing apart and our society’s moral fabric is being shredded.   Piper writes, while speaking of covenant grace, that “a profound understanding and fear of God’s wrath is exactly what many marriages need, because without it, the gospel is diluted down to mere human relations and loses its biblical glory.  Without a biblical view of God’s wrath, you will be tempted to think that your wrath–your anger–against your spouse is simply too big to overcome, because you have never really tasted what it is like to see an infinitely greater wrath overcome by grace, namely, God’s wrath against you.”    Oh how I wish everyone who was signing up for a “no-fault” divorce would let those words sink deep into their spirits.  Piper spends a considerable amount of time exegeting Ephesians 5 on the nature of marriage.  Southern Baptists have often been skewered because of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message’s statement on marriage and the inclusion of the Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 admonition of wives submitting graciously to their husbands.  I will readily admit that the statement has often heightened my discomfort level because of the immediate negative connotations the word “submission” conjures to mind.  Furthermore, I have seen the use of Paul’s statement abused by husbands, a number of whom are sadly pastors, to the point that it has caused me to think twice about teaching from the text for fear of it being misused.  Piper takes on the subject head-on and paints a picture of submission that is hard to refute.  He uses 1 Peter 3 as his proof text and strongly argues 6 points of what submission is not.  I found it reassuring to see Piper include that “submission does not mean leaving your brain or your will at the wedding altar,”  “submission does not mean that a wife is to act of fear,” and “submission does not mean agreeing with everything your husband says.”   Piper spends considerably more time in the book dealing with a husband’s marital duties including placing  sole responsibility for resolving marital disputes on the husband.  Piper asserts that as the husband is the Christ figure in the marriage, he is the one who is to go to his wife and seek reconciliation, just as Christ came to His bride, the Church, to seek reconciliation.  I will say that I have been convicted repeatedly by this after more than one disagreement with Eliza and I am still working to fully implement it.  A significant reason why I left the book shocked is that Piper leaves no stone unturned as it relates to marriage, including intercourse and whether to have children.  My shock though stemmed from my own wonder in why I had failed to grasp the concepts in the light that Piper shined on them and not from any unbiblical assertions.  While there were issues that I simply disagreed with Piper on because of my personal theological proclivities, they failed to warrant enough disagreement for me not to recommend it for every married couple I know.  In fact, should I ever do a marriage retreat, I will probably base it in part on “This Momentary Marriage.” I hope you will check it out and see how best to strengthen your marriage.

Peace be with you.

We continued our Lenten lunches yesterday and moved on to Paul’s second dimension–length.  I hope you enjoy it and if you are in the area next Thursday will make plans to join us for lunch.  We serve sumptuous soup and delectable sandwiches from 12-2.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

Last week we discussed the awesome width of God’s love and how it will over wash us if we would but allow it.  Today, we hear Paul pray that we know the length of God’s love.  Length is generally defined as the measure of something at it’s greatest dimension.  Thus, when we describe someone who has robbed a store we do not say that they were two feet wide, we say they are 6 feet tall.  It is this point of greatest dimension that so often arrests our attention first.  How striking it is then that Paul speaks about the length of Christ’s love for I’ll admit that if you are like me, you rarely think of it in those terms.  Yet, it is the length of God’s love that should stir our hearts more than any other descriptor, for it details the full extent that God went to reach us.  Abraham Lincoln stated in the Gettysburg Address that those killed in battle did so as the “last full measure of devotion” to their country.  In other words, they went to the farthest length possible for the cause of liberty.   The Scriptures describe Jesus’ life in similar terms.  Jesus left the eternal splendor of Heaven to come and live amongst the muck of humanity.  The all-powerful, ever-present Son of God clothed Himself in the limiting and powerless attire of human flesh.  Ultimately, this Prince of Glory who had never been apart from the sweet communion of God’s presence would cry out in unimaginable agony from Calvary’s cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” as He gave the last full measure of devotion for us.  He forsook the glory of eternity to die for you and me.  Let us not rest simply in this knowledge, but understand that He is still striving to show His love to us.  He still reaches across eternity with outstretched hand and pleads with us to glance up and take it and be lifted from the muck and mire that He died and rose again to free us from.  Christ’s love extends to the farthest extent imaginable because He knows that our unrighteousness has limited the length of our ability to reach Him to simply gazing up.  How then can we refuse such love?   Furthermore, how can we continue to limit the length of our love to Him when faced with the extent of His love to us.   I pray today that if you have never gazed into the loving face of the Saviour that you would do so and experience firsthand the length of God’s love.  And if you have already fixed your eyes on Jesus, I pray you would measure and see how long your love for God is and seek to extend it.

Peace be with you.

Our nation has waged war in Afghanistan for the last 9 years, longer than the time we spent fighting the Civil War and both world wars combined.  Yet, I feel confident in asserting that the average American knows little if anything about the history of our enemy.  Our ignorance creates a soulless, faceless combatant that we cannot even feel enmity toward, let alone the compassion that Jesus calls us to feel toward our enemies.  Khaled Hosseini’s “The Kite Runner” peels back the curtain shielding the Afghan people and reveals a thriving society that has suffered under almost 40 years of continuous war and destruction.  The narrative is woven around the friendship between Amir and Hassan.  Amir’s father is a rich businessman in the days before the Soviet invasion who will eventually flee to America with Amir after the Soviet’s arrival.  Hassan, a member of the Hazara ethnic minority, is the son of their servant and the same age as Amir.  The first third of the book details the highs and lows of a typical childhood friendship and explains the vicious secret why the friendship ultimately dissolved and how Hassan and his father felt compelled to leave.  The story then moves to America and chronicles Amir and his father’s life in Southern California as members of  the Afghan expatriate community.  The final third of the book focuses on Amir’s quest to bring Hassan’s young son, Sohrab, back to the United States during the Taliban’s final days and his acclimation to American society.  Most would point to the need for redemption that Amir feels as the driving force of the book and certainly that figures prominently.  Yet, I found Amir’s redemption to be half achieved for even after he brings Sohrab to the United States the situation remains tenuous.  I would argue that because Hosseini’s work so perfectly captures the human experience he is simply pointing to the fact that we cannot achieve true redemption apart from Jesus Christ.  I recognize that Hosseini never intended that picture to be painted, but I have to allow a book to speak to me and shape me.  I find little value in reading if the book does not shape me in some way.  Hence, while I was on an emotional roller coaster throughout the book, it was the middle narrative that chipped away at my heart.  Let me establish from the start that I believe part of America’s greatness is found in our population’s diversity.  Eliza and I are proud of our German heritage and have been shaped by it.  However, I have intense difficulty in understanding why current immigrants disregard adopting American culture and hold so strongly to their own.  It seems to me that they should have stayed where they were if their love was so great.  “The Kite Runner” helped me better understand why this occurs.  Amir and his father never desired to leave Afghanistan, but were forced to due to circumstances beyond their control.  Thus, when they come to America and join with others in the Afghan community to celebrate Afghan customs and celebrations, it seems perfectly natural because it is how they maintain some small part of the home from which they have been torn.  I know full well that if I were ever forced from American soil, I would certainly carry out some of the traditions that form our culture.  It occurs to me, however, that I am already an alien in a foreign land.  1 Peter urges Christians “as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul.”   Christians today spend a lot of time trying to look like the pagans around them.  We have created church models that better resemble corporations than the book of Acts.  Our models of success are copied straight out of leading business strategies and so cause us to miss the level of success God commands.  We are not faithful to our Christ due to exorbitant baptism statistics, we are faithful when we grow more in His image each day.  A strange thing happened to me as I read “The Kite Runner.”  I suddenly desired to learn more about Afghan culture.  I have purchased and read several books on the country and the people since completing Hosseini’s work.  I have even found a restaurant in Raleigh that serves strictly Afghan food and am anxious for us to go and try it out.  In other words, Marc, the outsider, has looked at the Afghan community and desired to know more about it.  Can you imagine what would happen if the Church realized it’s alien status and started acting more like it?  I doubt we would have as much trouble as we currently do attracting people to the Gospel and our Christ.  “The Kite Runner” is a beautiful story and I highly recommend it, but only read it if you are willing to let it shape you.

Peace be with you.

We are trying a new outreach effort starting today at EBC.  We are hosting for the remaining Thursdays in Lent a free soup and sandwich lunch.  Our hope is to attract folks who work in town to join us for lunch and hear a short devotion.  I am focusing on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 3 throughout this time.  I thought I’d share today’s devotion.  I find my writing for things that I will speak is different from my normal writing style.  If you are in the area we’d encourage you to drop.  We will be serving from 12-2.

That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,
that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Ephesians 3:17b-19

We do not use the word “breadth” very often these days.  It’s a rather arcane term that signifies width.  I find it fascinating that Paul’s list to the Ephesian church begins with width.  We live in an age that is more expansive than ever before.  We speak today in terms of a global economy in which the economic condition of China is a determining factor in Enfield’s gas prices.  When we need to find something out, we hop on the world wide web and instantly thousands of sources are at our finger tips.  Yet, though we are constantly bombarded with an awe inspiring sense of “wideness” most of us, if we were honest, would say that we are narrow.  We are hemmed in by our own personal experiences and the mundane circumstances of our lives.  Our ability to conceive is constrained by what we know and we have great difficulty reaching beyond that point.  And so, we find it incomprehensible when faced with the unimaginable magnitude of God’s love, a love which sent His only Son to a cruel death on the Cross in our place, to believe that He can love us unconditionally.  We, who can readily remember our worst deeds, find it unbelievable that God can wash away the foulest things we have done and make it as if it never happened.  Hence, Paul prays first that we understand that God’s love and mercy is unimaginably wide.  Indeed, the Scriptures tell us that “For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.”  Beloved, there is absolutely nothing we can do which the wide expanse of God’s love and mercy would leave uncoverable if we would but look to God for grace.  The beauty of the Cross is that Jesus took upon Himself all our sins and forever canceled their penalty for anyone who would believe in Him.  When I was child, playing hide and seek in my grandmother’s back yard was something.  It was the largest yard on our block and there were unimaginable hiding places.  Furthermore, if you did find the person hiding, they had a vast expanse in which to run from you.  The simplicity of the breadth of God’s love is that we do not have to search endlessly for it, we do not have to go chasing after it.  It is readily accessible to us for it laps like the gentle sea on the shores of our soul ready to wash over us if we would but ask God to do it.  I pray today that if you have never done that you would do so now.  And if you have already the width of God’s love wash over you, that you would ask Him to experience it afresh today.   Paul is quite clear that only by doing this will we ever be filled with “all the fullness of God.”  I am convinced that God desires to break down the narrow parameters in which we operate in order to let His love flow out of us into a world that feels unloved and unwanted.  Would you let Him start with you today?

Peace be with you.

I have a lot of interaction with pastors, probably more than I need to sometimes.  The idea behind “networking” is not a new concept, it’s just finally found a title.  It is simple human nature to surround yourself with people who share similar circumstances as you for encouragement and strength.  It is in my interaction with pastors that I have recently seen a very troubling move within Baptist life in how we view the role of the congregation.  I am a firm and absolute devotee in the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer.  It is a fundamental tenant of our polity that we make decisions from the bottom up and not vice versa.  In other words, Baptist churches are strong because they reach decisions together through the long-established democratic principle of the “consent of the governed.”   The problem with a growing number of pastors today is that they are not operating under this principle.  I will readily recognize that the pastor is the God ordained head of the local congregation and that it is a local congregation’s obligation to treat their pastor with due respect and submit to their leadership.  I also acknowledge that far too many congregations fail in meeting that obligation.  I know quite a few pastors who are treated as little more than “hired help” and are in no way compensated as they should.  However, there are as many if not more pastors who shepherd their flock as domineering CEOs and not in the way that Peter instructs in his first epistle.   We are to gently lead God’s flock into greener pastures and trying to beat them about the head to get them there will not work.  We need to build consensus from the bottom up and by doing so we can trigger momentum and possibly even a stampede toward the place we are trying to reach.  The reason why people do not follow in the way that we believe they should is that they have not bought into the idea initially.  Our churches will never become healthy as long as we continue to focus our attention on winning over the hearts of pastors and not the people.  John Adams wrote while speaking of the American Revolution that “the Revolution was effected before the War commenced.  The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.  This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”  A fundamental shift in how our churches operate is required if we are to ever reach our changing world with the Gospel.  It will require a thought shift similar to the one that resulted in the American Revolution.  Our Founding Fathers leadership would have been insufficient to such a momentous task if the American people were not with them.  Our conventions must understand that the hearts and minds of our people must be captured in ways never before realized if we will achieve what they desire us to do.  The CEO mentality of our pastors must be destroyed and the priesthood once more empowered to achieve Kingdom work.  I have often thought that the chief problem with today’s congregations is apathy.  I am beginning to question whether it’s really that the Church has failed to motivate their hearts because they certainly seem motivated to do a host of other things.  I think it’s time to quit asking we pastors what we think and start asking our people what they need and want.  I do not mean we turn our churches into theological Burger Kings, but that we hear the cry of their hearts and we engage them.  Then, and possibly only then, will they start listening to us and have their hearts moved to embrace Kingdom work.

Peace be with you.