Sunday, November 26, 2017
Angel Trees will be set up in multiple locations around the church. Make sure to stop by one to pick up a tag in order to help a child in need this Christmas. Presents...
After spending almost an entire letter focusing on “good works” in the life of the church, Paul closes Titus by saying “and let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful” (3:14). The sense of the word translated “urgent” is something that is necessary. It’s a situation desperate or dire enough, where something just has to be done. This is why believers should be ready for and devoted to good works—to be the ones who help for the glory of God.
I read an article last week that said that the number of foster homes needed in South Carolina has doubled since last year: there are now 1300 children in our state who have no home because their parents cannot legally care for them and there are no more willing foster parents. This is a clear case of urgent need—can you think of a local need more urgent? 1300 children in our state in a circumstance we would weep over if any child we knew were in.
This is a rare urgent need with a simple solution. There are no moral quandaries in fostering a child like one may have in giving money to a homeless person who may or may not use it well. It’s not nearly as complicated as the other issues in the world, like poverty in India, racial tension in America, or the Syrian refugee crisis. The need is amazingly simple and uncomplicated: South Carolina needs more families and singles to be foster parents.
Additionally, relative to helping the other urgent needs of the world, the sacrifices of fostering are minimal and the resources for fostering are significant. To be a foster parent, you don’t need to leave America, give up
All of this is to say that it’s like the red carpet is rolled out for Christians in South Carolina to step up, sacrifice their neat family lives and love the practical orphans of South Carolina in the name of Jesus. There is not a single urgent need in the world so close to home and so simple to meet. It just requires willing people. According to Titus 3:14, Christians, adopted by God, full of His Spirit, equipped for every good work with communities around them willing to help, should devote themselves to this good work to help this case of urgent need.
So why aren’t Christians lining up to devote themselves to this urgent need? This may sound offensive (and two or three years ago I would have bristled if someone had said this to me) but I think many of us simply do not want to sacrifice our neat family lives, the freedom and sovereignty we have over our schedules, and our love of ease, comfort, and the known. As a result, many have embraced cop-outs against God’s call on all of us to help the afflicted and orphaned. The dictionary defines a cop-out as “an excuse for inaction or evasion”. Here are some of the most common “cop-outs” for not fostering:
First, “I love that other people are foster parents, it’s such a wonderful thing, but I personally am not called to be a foster parent”. This objection is based on the false assumption that God only calls us to do things that appeal to us and that God calls his people to obedience through emotional experiences or personal assurances that something is God’s will. That may be some people’s experience and God certainly works through our desires, but first and foremost He calls us to obedience through his Word. Taking up one’s cross certainly does not sound pleasant but it is commanded in the Gospels. The Word commands believers to care for orphans in their affliction (James 1:27) and to devote themselves to the good work of helping in cases of urgent need (Titus 3:14). So God’s Word is already objectively calling God’s people in our state to meet this urgent need.
Related to the “I’m not called” objection is the “I’m not gifted” objection. It goes something like this: “I can barely parent my own kids” or “I have no experience or giftedness with kids” or “I couldn’t handle letting a child whom I have loved go”. My first response to this is that the 1300 practical orphans of SC do not need exceptional/gifted parents or even excellent parents—they just need parents. If you can meet their basic needs and give them any kind of nurturing and consistent environment, you can radically improve their current circumstances.
Secondly, one of the great myths about fostering is that foster parents are special people: that they are these gifted people who have a knack for kids from hard places, that they miraculously handle the pain of letting a child go, and that they have more backbone for the craziness and lack of margin that fostering brings. Ask any foster parent you know—these are lies. Any “giftedness” I may have with kids has come through experience, either through training or mistakes. All the foster parents I know are extremely busy and just making it happen. Every foster parent is as sad as a normal person would be when a child they love leaves their home. But “God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having sufficiency at all times and in all ways, you may abound in every good work” (2 Corinthians 9:8). Ask a Christian foster parent—they are not special, God has just given them grace for their circumstances and grace to do the good works to which He has called them—and He would do the same for you.
A third objection: “Surely you don’t think every Christian should be a foster parent? Don’t put your personal convictions and calling on me. We all have different gifts and callings.” In a sense, I absolutely agree with this statement. I surely don’t mean that every Christian should be a foster parent—because then who would adopt, who would support adoptive and foster parents, who would serve the poor, who would have time to devote themselves wholeheartedly to other wonderful ministries in the church, who would become cross-cultural missionaries? There is certainly a place to say no to one good work for the sake of another. But many
Furthermore, at some point, the urgent nature of the crisis rises to the level where, if others won’t act you must act even in spite of your lack of giftedness. Imagine you’re driving through your neighborhood on your way to a very important Christian activity and on the side of the road, a barefoot two-year-old with only a diaper on is wandering the streets. You stop your car and watch just to make sure mom or dad isn’t close. You notice that others (also on their way to other good activities they are gifted at) are just driving by ignoring the child. You’re running late. No one stops to help, the child is clearly in distress, there is no one else who will care for them. What do you do? Surely if you love Christ you disrupt your day and plans, as good as they are, and you help this case of urgent need. Many now are driving by the foster children of South Carolina in the name of other good endeavors. Someone has to stop.
Finally, the objection I have heard the most because I’m a pastor—“doesn’t fostering hinder your margin for ministry?” I have found the opposite to be true—fostering fills my life with opportunities for Gospel ministry. I am welcoming young, spiritually open unbelievers into my home and life, where I can talk about Christ on my own terms. I am now suddenly and regularly surrounded by all sorts of people, many of whom are unchurched—birth parents, case workers, etc. Suddenly, the people around me (neighbors, family members, random people at the grocery store) are questioning my life. “Why are you fostering?” and “I can’t believe you’re doing this”
So, in light of the urgent need, and the possibility that the objections you have rested upon may not be valid, consider today that God may be calling you personally to be a foster parent or to join the struggle for these children in another significant way. Especially consider that you do not need a sign from Heaven to devote yourself to a good work such as this, you only need Titus 3:14, which says “and let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help in cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful”.
This month commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. While what is referred to as the Reformation happened over the course of 100+ years (1517-1648), the date being celebrated marks 500 years since the then unknown monk, Martin Luther, nailed the Ninety-Five Theses against the door of the All Saints’ Church in the small town of Wittenberg, Germany. At the time, Luther simply hoped to raise his complaints in order to debate and correct the issues with other scholars (which is why he had written them in Latin). But within a few months, Luther’s words had been translated into German and distributed throughout Europe, eventually reaching the hands of Pope Leo X. Although Luther could have never envisioned this, his words would change the landscape of Europe and have an effect on the church that can still be felt to this day.
For the month of October, Desiring God is releasing an episode a day on their Reformation-themed podcast, Here We Stand. Each episode is about 6-8 minutes long and gives a short but insightful overview on the life of a historical figure that helped to shape and influence the Reformation. You will hear about John Wycliffe, the Morning Star of the Reformation, and John Hus, who reportedly said at the time of his execution, “You can cook this goose [Hus was Czech for goose] but within a century a swan shall arise who will prevail.” That swan would turn out to be Martin Luther, who will show up in a later episode along with the likes of guys like John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.
This podcast is a great and easy way to learn more about the significance of the Reformation and to grow in your understanding of what it means when we say we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The stories told in this podcast are about people who were willing to lay down their lives for the fidelity of the gospel and hearing about them should give us joy and encouragement in our walk with the Lord.
If 6-8 minutes of Reformation-era stories leaves you looking for more, another great resource is the book Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation by Erwin Lutzer. This is an easy read because Lutzer writes in an entertaining and conversational tone that makes the story of the Reformers come alive. It also helps that the chapters are short and there are pictures!
Also, while we are on the subject of podcasts, here are a few more that some of the pastors here at ECBC regularly listen to. Enjoy!
The Briefing - Al Mohler’s The Briefing is a daily analysis of news and events from the Christian worldview. Each episode is just under 20 minutes and will keep you up to speed with the ever-changing news cycle.
The Gospel Coalition - TGC is a fellowship of evangelical churches deeply committed to renewing our faith in the gospel of Christ and to reforming our ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures. Episodes cover a variety of topics (theology, parenting, cultural issues) and are presented in a variety of formats (i.e. interviews, sermons, panel discussions).
Pass the Mic - Pass the Mic is the premier podcast of the Reformed African American Network. Each week consists of engaging discussions and interviews that are beneficial in thinking through issues of race, culture, and biblical worldview.
ERLC - The ERLC (Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission) podcast provides insights into the moral, cultural, and ethical issues of our day. Episodes usually feature informed and relevant guests covering topics like abortion, marriage, and politics.
ECBC Sermons - If you ever miss a Sunday or would like to go back and review one of our church’s sermons, here’s the place to do it!
Mount Pleasant just narrowly dodged a direct impact by a major hurricane. Texas, Florida and the Caribbean were not so lucky. For the next few weeks the images of devastation and destruction will pour in, many of us will give to the disaster relief efforts, and people in our culture will obsess and argue over the why of these intense hurricanes.
But a more important why question to answer is one that almost all humans will ask when faced with devastation, a question that we Christians particularly must face—how can a God whom we claim is 100% good and 100% able to prevent things like this from happening allow such suffering and devastation to happen to His creatures? And why is the destruction so seemingly senseless, blind, and unrelated to the moral lives of those who suffer so much through these events? In other words, how should a Christian understand and speak about a Category 5 hurricane devastating entire islands, causing unspeakable human suffering and loss, and doing so without any regard for the righteous and the unrighteous?
Before we answer the question “Why does God allow these things to happen?” we must carefully define what “these things” are. Hurricanes (along with all other natural disasters, diseases, accidents, etc.) are what theologians and philosophers have traditionally called natural evils—evils that are unrelated to the direct actions of moral beings. Moral evils, on the other hand, are ones done by humans (war, murder, slander etc.) Natural evils are natural phenomena, ones that, as far as we know, are not caused by specific human action, ones that cause human suffering, and ones that God could have miraculously prevented if He so chose.
Where did natural evils come from? They were a result of Adam and Eve’s sin. God created the world with none of these evils and with complete comfort and safety and eternal life for human beings. Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and make themselves their own lords, disobeying God’s one commandment and choosing life apart from Him. In response, God cursed the life apart from Him that his people chose, telling Adam that the creation would no longer serve him, but bear thistles and be difficult to live in. The rest of Genesis shows us just how pervasive this curse was, with its constant famines, competition for resources, and even infertility.
Romans 8:20 says this clearly: “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it”. God subjected the world to futility, to physical breakdown, to natural disasters, to the “natural” processes that lead to human death and to every instance of natural evil from the inconvenient to the catastrophic—all in response to Adam and Eve’s sin.
One important side note before we move on to the most important question of “why?” is this: If all the natural evil we see in the world is judgment for Adam and Eve’s sin then individual instances of natural evil are not necessarily judgment for an individual’s sin. In other words, if you wake up with a terminal disease tomorrow or if a tornado from Irma’s aftermath destroyed your house and left all of your unrighteous neighbors safe and intact that does not mean that the Lord is punishing or judging you. More often than not, natural evil just happens because we live in a fallen world, under the curse and judgment of Adam and Eve’s sin.
So why hurricanes? Why so much natural evil and the suffering that comes from it? The first reason is simple: God cannot lie about the consequences of choosing life apart from Him. If God is to be true and not a liar, human beings who are sinners must live in a dangerous world where devastating things can happen to them at any time. Consider what would have happened if God had allowed Adam and Eve to sin and yet allowed the world to be perfect and not futile or dangerous. Would they have returned to Him, or ever sought Him? No. God would have been allowing them to go to eternal judgment comfortably if he had allowed life apart from Him to be easy and without danger. Peter Van Inwagen says that if God always miraculously protected people from natural disasters “He would be a deceiver…he would engender an illusion… [that] human beings can live successfully in separation from God”.
So natural evil is first a result of the fact that God must speak truth to humanity—that he must allow something as horrible as human sin to have the continuous horrible consequence of natural evil in the world. But Romans 8:20 also shows God’s mercy in this: God subjected creation to futility “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God”. God’s purpose is the return of God’s highest creation, mankind, to Him, to obtain the glory of the sons of God. The purpose of natural evils, as terrible as they can be, is to bring us into eternal life by being living parables—pictures of our danger as sinners and of the horribleness of human sin. The prodigal son did not “come to his senses” until he was knee deep in a pig trough suffering from hunger. The story almost seems to say—he looked around at the muck and felt the pain in his belly and said “I’ve done this to myself. In fact, this muck is me; it’s my disobedience and stupidity”. So too the natural evils in the world speak to us.
Natural evils are parables with a purpose, severe signposts to lead us back to the Lord. They are living and breathing pictures of the horror of sin and the devastating consequences of life apart from God. They are a severe mercy—a difficult but necessary object lesson about the immense danger and difficulty of life apart from God. Children don’t really understand the stovetop is dangerous until they touch it. Similarly, sinners won’t really understand how horrible sin is until they, with the Spirit’s help, see its horrible consequences played out before them in all of the natural evils in the world.
In this way, natural evils actually function like natural glories. The good wonders of creation speak to us of God’s reality and glory (Psalm 19:1, Romans 1:20), and the good gifts and provisions of life teach us of God’s steadfast love (Psalm 36:7-8). The same way that a glorious sunset, a good cup of coffee or a friendship that lasts decades give us a living glimpse of the goodness and glory of God, so a catastrophic hurricane, debilitating disease or senseless and random accident teaches us of the horrible nature and dreadful consequences of sin.
I participated gladly in Charleston’s collective sigh of relief when the “cone of uncertainty” turned west and the worst of Hurricane Irma missed us (and I was shocked at how bad the storm and flooding still was for parts of the city!). But in the last few days it has been incredible to me how quickly we can go from collective panic to life as usual. So here’s my encouragement to you after all of this: don’t let this near disaster be lost on your soul. Don’t let the storm pass with only a sigh of relief.
After you’ve done the obvious and necessary things like praying for people who’ve been devastated and giving money or even our time for relief, sit at the feet of our Lord and take up this severe lesson for your soul. Think about how you felt when Irma was poised for a direct hit on Charleston as a Category 3 or 4 (the nervousness, the obsession with being prepared, the desire to escape Charleston five days before landfall just to be sure) and ask yourself—“have I taken half as much care for my soul or the souls of others when I know full well there is a day coming that will make the worst devastation from the worst hurricane look like nothing for those who don’t know Jesus?” When you see those tragic pictures of people next to the rubble that used to be their lives, first pray for them, then consider giving to help them, but then say to yourself “this is just a tiny parable of the loss and devastation my sin deserves. Praise God I will escape it through Jesus”.
This is a difficult teaching, a mercy very severe. But the glory of the Gospel is that our God isn’t just up in Heaven dictating these consequences to us and speaking so painfully to us, He is with us in our pain, He subjected Himself to the consequences of sin in Jesus, out of love for us; to one day free us forever from them. We can seek to understand the evil of the world as people who will be one day forever free from it.
About a year ago our Young Adults Pastor, Leland Brown, wrote a great article titled “8 Reasons to Start Memorizing Scripture Today.” This past Sunday, Buster challenged our church to memorize several verses between now and the end of the year. Additionally, if you've read the Bible for any length of time you've probably encountered verses that allude to the value of memorizing God’s Word. Joshua 1:8 tells us to meditate on Scripture day and night. The Psalms begin by pointing out that the man who delights and meditates on the law of the Lord is blessed. In Psalm 119 (which is a sort of homage to God’s Word), the psalmist explains “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (v.11). In 2 Timothy 3:16 we’re told that Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
Hopefully by this point you don't need any convincing that memorizing Scripture is a worthwhile endeavor. Hopefully by now you get that being able to recall verses from memory would be helpful to your walk with the Lord. But maybe you’re still wondering how to best go about it. Tony Reinke said that our smartphones are “windows into the worthless and the worthy, the artificial and the authentic.” A way to leverage your smartphone’s technology in a way that is worthy and authentic is to use it to memorize Scripture. Here are a few good options…
Fighter Verse originated out of Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis, MN during a church-wide Scripture memory emphasis. The app provides a collection of Fighter Verses that are broken into five sets. Each set has 52 verses so (in theory) you can follow along and memorize a verse a week. There is also a collection of Foundational Verses for Kids that are accompanied by some helpful audio and visuals. Some other great features include being able review verses by playing some fill in the blank and matching type quizzes as well as being able to search and save verses by topic and reference. Fighter Verse is available for both Android and Apple devices for $2.99.
A ministry that has been historically known for their emphasis on Scripture memory is the Navigators. To help believers memorize key verses, they developed the Topical Memory System (TMS). For years the TMS has been available in a physical format (containing dozens of verses on small cards that could be carried around in a provided vinyl wallet) but has recently become available in an app format. The TMS app arranges verses by topics such as “Live the New Life” and “Growing in Christlikness” and provides different activities to help you memorize. Although you can’t add additional verses, the TMS provides a treasure trove of verses worth memorizing. The NavsTMS app is available for $4.99 in the Apple App Store.
Although this app isn’t primarily intended for Scripture memory, I like it for a couple of reasons. Flashcards is completely customizable so you can type in whichever verses you like in whatever format you like. One method that has been very helpful for me is to have the verse I'm trying to memorize on one side with the initials of each word on the other. So for example, if I was trying to memorize Ephesians 2:8, the front side of my flashcard would say “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God” and the back would say “F B G Y H B S T F A T I N Y O D I I T G O G.” Flashcards definitely requires more work to set up but I enjoy being able to personalize what I'm memorizing. The app also allows you to send and share your sets of cards with friends.The app is available for free on both Apple and Android devices. You can also click here to download the verses Buster has challenged us to memorize between now and December.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter what app you download. It doesn't matter what method you choose. What does matter is figuring out what works for you. And when you do figure out how you best memorize Scripture, remember one more thing: “The goal is not to see how many verses we can memorize, the goal is Godliness. The goal is to memorize the Word of God so that it can transform our minds and our lives.”1
1 Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (p. 47)
Dear Church Family,
This week the Nashville Statement was released regarding a biblical view of sexuality. The statement was well crafted, biblical, and irenic. I would ask you to read it and pray, that we would stand with grace, dignity, and love during this time, when to quote the preamble of the Nashville Statement, “evangelicals find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being...” May we affirm the wonder and glory of being made in the image of God and understand that being a male or female is part of the goodness of God’s creation.
Thank you for your kindness and fidelity to the standards of Christ.
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