A Climate of Safety—by Pastor Larry Hoskins

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.
CMF Board of Directors

If you were struggling with a particular sin, would you feel free to admit it, or would you be inclined to pretend that everything was okay?  Your answer to that question may have to do with how you perceive yourself. It may depend on how well we as a church live out our faith — whether we create a climate of fear or a climate of safety.

A Proper Perception of Perfection

Sometimes, in the church, there is an interesting combination of spiritual truths.  On the one hand, we are told to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no provision for the flesh in regards to its desires (Romans 13:14).  On the other, we are told to confess our sins one to another (James 5:16).  To do the latter requires that we have failed in the former, and who likes to admit failure?  The “easier” position is simply to teach and expect what is right and never admit that one has done wrong.  Such a position is often compounded by our own tendency to be prideful, to maintain “image,” and to self-righteously judge those who battle sins with which we have no problem.  Like the “Whack-a-Mole Gopher Bash,” it doesn’t take too many times of sticking one’s head up and having it whacked, if we admin our sin, before we learn to stay in the hole, remaining safely invisible, pretending to be perfect.  Before long, the people who comprise the church become a bunch of pretenders who have it all together, but worse, it creates a climate of fear — fear of judgment, fear of exposure, fear of not measuring up — that inhibits the very love that is to mark us as Jesus’ disciples to begin with. Love never requires people to pretend.  Love takes people where they are, coming along side them in committed community, while, at the same time, calling them to deepen their walk with the Lord, to shed the “old man,” and to put on the newness of life we are to have in Christ.

But what about the sins with which we do have a problem?  Confession of sin requires self-awareness of what sin is and of our failure to conform to God’s righteous standard.  It further requires a godly humility and a certain level of willing transparency.  It also requires a safe set of people who understand that godly living is the standard, that sin is not okay, and that we have to lovingly allow each other to fail in the process of pursuing becoming like Christ, while at the same time, not giving ourselves or our fellow believers permission to become comfortable sinning.  It’s not necessary that we “air our dirty laundry” before everyone, but we all need those in our lives who are committed to holding us accountable and to whom we are willing to submit ourselves out of reverence to God.  As the Apostle Paul wrote,

“Not that I already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:12-14).

The Proper Theology of Judging

Our culture is in many ways counter to creating the safe environment where mutual confession and the pursuit of holiness in loving community can be pursued. The mantra of today is pluralism, diversity, and tolerance — except for any who neglect to conform to those perceived virtues.  The philosophy of “Live and Let Live” is so in vogue that any judging of others is condemned.  Some will even quote the Scripture, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” (Matt 7:1), in support of this viewpoint.  However, a careful study of the context reveals that “not judging” is not the point at all.  The emphasis is that we are liable to be held by others to the same standard that we place upon them, so that a proper self-examination must precede an appropriate judgment of others:

“You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:5)

In fact, to fail to judge both ourselves and others in this way would be contrary to Scripture. We are called to restore others caught in trespass after looking at ourselves (Gal. 6:1), to seek to “win” a brother who has sinned by following a process of disciplined restoration (Matt. 18:15-17), and to turn back a brother who has strayed from the truth, from the error of his ways (James 5:19-20).  In fact, we are cautioned against judging the unbelieving community, yet chastised for the arrogance of tolerating sin among the believing community (1 Cor. 5:1-13).  All of these require a certain willingness to lovingly judge other believers and to be lovingly judged by that same community as they seek to restore us when we have veered off course.

A Proper Climate for Progress

When Jesus said that our loving one another as He had loved us would be the identifying characteristic of His disciples (John 13:34-35), He was not defining love as is often understood by our culture.  For many today, love means the late John Lennon’s words, “let it be.”  This type of love would never confront another.  It would never tell someone they are wrong.  It would never hold them to a higher standard.  In fact, it would be perceived by those with such an understanding of love to be unloving to break those very standards.

In the Scriptures, however, such a “love” would be anything but loving.  Love of the brethren, as defined in 1 Corinthians 13:1-4 includes not rejoicing in unrighteousness, but rejoicing with the truth — not just a body of doctrine, but a doctrine revealed from God that comes with the accompanying expectation that it be lived out (c.f., John 17:17).  This kind of love patiently calls people to the Lord and to His standards.  It is kind.  It does not act unbecomingly.  It does not seek its own.  It is not provoked. It does not take into account a wrong suffered.  It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, and never fails.  In other words, it calls fellow believers to holiness, but it doesn’t walk away when a believer is caught in sin.  It says, “I’m not going anywhere.  I’m here with you.  I’ll help you, and I need you to help me, too!”  The only exception is when a believer willfully refuses to repent and to separate sin from their lives even when so confronted.  Then, for the protection of the Body, just as we amputate a gangrenous infection, we separate ourselves from the persistently sinful believer, even then with the hope that he or she will repentantly come back to the Lord and to the church family (1 Cor. 5:11-13; Matt. 18:17; 2 Thess. 3:6,14, 15).  The thought in so doing, if we are loving each other properly, is that the pain of such separation would bring the errant brother or sister back (2 Cor. 2:5-8).

In order to reach this goal, there must be such a climate of love in the church that the issue is not fear of punishment and rejection, but a fear of disappointing the Lord and each other as we progress in our pursuit of holiness.  The Apostle John wrote of such an environment in this way in 1 John:

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.  We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.  There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. (1 John 4:15-18 NASB95)

Let us not fall prey to the temptation of pretending to be perfect or to the self-righteousness which condemns others for their struggles with sin.  Rather, let us come alongside each other, confessing our sins, with a Christ-like love, creating a climate of safety as we walk together in the process of growing into the perfection to which we are called in Christ Jesus.

Enemy at the Gates — by Pastor Larry Hoskins

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

"Don't go there," the missionary warned.  I was a youth pastor with several colleagues on reconnaissance for a potential youth missions trip to a London suburb.  Our missionary host was giving us a guided tour, and we were ambling by an ornate Hindu temple within a short distance of his home.  Walking past the temple's gilded doors, he looked at me earnestly and asked, "Are you dabbling in the occult in any way?"  "No," I replied.  "If you are," he continued, "don't go in there."  The man was not given to sensationalism, but the seriousness in his eyes and in the tone of his voice gave me a sense of foreboding.  The evil one lurked there, and while I never learned the details of the missionary's experience that led to such caution, it was clear that Satan was alive and well.  Well over twenty years later, I see his face, and his words still ring in my ear.

The Apostle Peter described the devil as our "adversary."  The Greek word means someone who has taken us to court and who is against us in a lawsuit.  Sometimes it is a synonym for an enemy.  In the West, we are less aware of the spiritual battle in which we are engaged.  We deal in "immutable facts" and "scientific proofs" and "rational arguments," but our adversary does not so easily fit into such categories.  We are so used to "natural laws" and "hard figures" and "individual accomplishment" that we rarely venture into the more elusive arena of the unseen spirit being and his minions.  Yet the fact that we rarely venture into that mental landscape does not mean that he is any less there.

Before 9/11, terrorists had long before tried to take down the World Trade Center.  American technology prevailed against that sinister attack, and we could sit smugly with a certain air of superiority, enjoying their failure.  Caution gave way to complacency which yielded to the casual comfort of everyday normalcy.  Life went on.  It seemed the enemy was gone.

But the enemy did not roll over and die.  No, he had the same goal of bringing down those gigantic towers.  He chose a different tactic.  He blended in, patiently, for years.  He held a job, paid his bills and looked like your average American.  Eventually, he went to flight training classes, bough a ticket to a destination, and boarded a plane like any other passenger.  Only he was not any other passenger, and he had others, equally "normal," with him to accomplish the same sinister plot.  This time, his plan succeeded, most victims were caught unaware, and his menacing ideologues who survived him danced in the streets.  After careful study afterwards, clues of their larger deception evidenced years of planning.  He was our adversary, and he had many names and faces.

Our adversary has many names and faces — the evil one, the accuser of the brethren, the god of this world, the one who disguises himself as an angel of light, and the serpent of old — to name a few.  Years ago, he raised a question in the heavenlies as to who had the right to rule — God or him!  Lucifer was so magnificent that one third of the angels in heaven, having seen both, opted for Satan.  And so the stage was set on earth to answer the question.  Whom will the human race follow?  When Christ was crucified, demonically inspired hoards danced in the streets at the success of their plot.  Years earlier, a satanically inspired king was moved to kill babies in Bethlehem, and like the terrorists, that first attempt failed.  But this time, success!  Or so they thought.  But the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom.  The ground trembled, and the stone rolled away, and the resurrected Messiah appeared.  The dancers, drop jawwed, stood still.  The enemy's days were numbered.  The embers are glowing in the lake fire, and a certain judgment awaited.

Still, today, the enemy lurks in the darkness, and much like Germany near the end of World War II, though his final defeat awaits him, he is still very much alive, and even more dangerous.

When I was little, I used to sing a song: "I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy, down in my heart!"  "Where?" "Down in my heart."  I've got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart.  Down in my heart to stay."  But a light-hearted, cavalier verse followed: "And if the devil doesn't like, it, he can sit on a tack!"  "Where?"  "Sit on a tack!"  "Where?" "Sit on a tack." "And if the devil doesn't like it he can sit on a tack!  Sit on a tack to stay."  As my mother learned more of God's Word, she cautioned me against singing that verse.  "Why?"  I asked.  My godly mentor pointed me to few verses in the oft-overlooked book of Jude.  It speaks of false teachers who "revile angelic majesties" (verse 8) and whose actions are sharply contrasted with those of another angel in the next verse, "But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!'"  Michael had a tremendous respect for his enemy, but a recognition of his own limitations coupled with a trust and admiration for the greater power God.  He did not treat his nemesis lightly, nor did he engage him on his own, but asked God to fight his battle for him.  Dare we fight him on our own?

Sometimes, we have conflicts with our family, our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers, and even with those in our church.  It can be incredibly painful, and often it feels deeply personal.  But remember the question of "who has the right to rule?"  We, or those closest to us, are just as susceptible to the terrorist's attacks as were the passengers of the airplanes and the mighty Twin Towers.  He may not have succeeded the first time, but he keeps trying.  If those conflicts wear my face or the face of a friend, we have to remember that ultimately, we are not each others' enemies.  Our real enemy is not those closest to us.  Our enemy is the gates, covertly vying for our allegiance, but he is unseen and consequently, often ill-considered.  That is why we so desperately need God's power and protection:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His mightPut on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places [i.e., it's against demonic forces].  Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand firm therefore, HAVING GIRDED YOUR LOINS WITH TRUTH, and HAVING PUT ON THE BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, and having shod YOUR FEET WITH THE PREPARATION OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE; in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  And take THE HELMET OF SALVATION, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the [spoken] word of God.  With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints.  (Ephesians 6:10-18 NASB)

May God grant us the grace to not succumb to the enemy in the gates, but to stand by His strength fully armed in His truth, in faithfulness, in right living by His power.

Face the Truth or Believe a Lie

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

The Fox News website (2/18/10) recently featured an audio recording by Rosie O’Donnell on a radio program in which she interviewed Janeane Garofalo who ranted against Elisabeth Hasselbeck — a talk show host who is recognized as being politically conservative and a Christian.  Janeane accused Elisabeth of being “anti-intellectual” and “not compassionate.”  She noted Elisabeth’s “ridiculous take on religion” because she was “not about being inclusive” or “not about giving of oneself.”  Instead, Janeane noted that Elisabeth “prefers a punishing God” and that “she is not a Christ-like person.”

It is not uncommon, when someone has a difference of opinion or belief with another, for that person to attack the other person rather than to discuss the belief on its own merits.  This type of argument is called an “ad hominem” argument, which is a Latin phrase that can be translated “toward the man” or “against the man.”  Wikipedia discusses the basic form of the “ad hominem” arguments as follows:

Person 1 makes claim X.

There is something objectionable about Person 1.

Therefore claim X is false.

Simply put, if one can discredit “the arguer,” then the ideas he argues for must also be discredited.  On first appearance, it seems to make sense. But a closer examination may surprise you. Let’s consider the following example:

Jack says the bank is on fire.

Jack is a liar.

Therefore, the bank is not on fire.

The statement may be true that Jack is a liar (and that he has been proven to be so many times in the past).  But the statement does not say that Jack is always a liar, so while it is possible that the bank is on not on fire, it is also possible that The Liar Jack could have told the truth and that, in fact, the bank is on fire.  To know for sure, one would have to look not at Jack, but at the bank!  Truth stands outside of those who accept or deny it.

Today an entirely different concept is widely embraced — the view that truth is within oneself; it’s in the eye of the beholder.  It is often said, “That’s your interpretation,” or “That’s true for you.”  But do we really live in that world?  If a woman’s husband is literally and tragically killed in a car wreck, and she says to the doctor who informed her, “That’s your interpretation,” or “That’s true for you, but it’s not true for me.”  Does her saying so, no matter how sincere or earnest she may be, make her husband any more alive?  Is the literal reality any less true because of claims or beliefs or wishes to the contrary?  If beliefs made something true, there would be no more disease or death; poverty and famine would be a thing of the past, beauty contestants would have to come up with a different answer than “world peace,” and everybody would live happily ever after.

Janeane prefers a non-punishing god and inclusiveness (except, of course, including “exclusive” religions).  Elisabeth believes in a punishing God and an exclusive religion (meaning all will go to hell who do not receive Christ as their Savior).  So Janeane can attack Elisabeth and vice versa all day, and at the end of the day, neither is any closer to the truth because of ad hominem arguments.  Society would tell us that each has one’s own truth, yet if this is not true in the realm of objective physical reality (i.e., the bank is either burning or it isn’t), then why does belief in relativism, diversity, and inclusiveness make those views any more true than those who reject them, in the realm of objective ideological reality?  The mantra goes, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

Logically, truth requires submissive response.  If the bank is not burning, one can relax, submitting to fact.  If the bank is burning, the responsible person takes action to extinguish the fire and to save lives, submitting to the truth and the corresponding needs of the moment.  Such a submissive response may be easy regarding a bank — especially one’s own bank. In either case, the proper submissive response benefits the responder.

What about when an individual or group does not want to give a submissive response, especially when it comes to objective ideological reality?  If there is no God, no external authority, then there is no inherent right or wrong, so an individual or group defaults to anarchy, just as the Israelites did in the days of the judges: every man did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6; 21:25).

But if there is a sovereign, all-knowing, all-powerful, and everywhere-present God, and if He reveals Himself in various means, past and present (e.g., creation, dreams, visions, theophanies, prophetic messages, the person of Jesus Christ, and in the pages of the 66 books of the Bible), then a submissive response is not optional.  It may appear to be “optional” for a time in the permitted exercise of one’s free will.  However, a submissive response is essential and ultimately will be mandatory:  “Every knee will bow ... and ... every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

There’s the rub! If all beliefs are equally “true,” then no submissive response is required, not even a change of opinion or belief; “live and let live!”  But if one embraces a belief that is contrary to what is absolutely true, then to persist in believing that which is false is lunacy or a delusion.  To insist that those who believe the truth need to be inclusive of beliefs that are absolutely false is foolishness.  If there is a punishing God as the Bible most certainly asserts — then to fail to seek how to remove oneself from such punishment and how one finds favor with that God — is a calamity of the greatest proportions!  To castigate those (who know that answer) for trying to convince others of imminent danger is at least short-sighted and ultimately eternally detrimental to the well-being of all who ignore their message.

Dr. Del Tackett in the Focus on the Family video series entitled, “The Truth Project,” notes that we came either from God or from “goo” – the primordial ooze from which we supposedly evolved.  So why do I believe in God? First, life has always come from someone living.  Each of us came from our parents who came from theirs, and so on Eventually, a first Cause that is self-existent and living must exist.  The alternative suggests that non-living “goo” became alive and evolved.  I’ve never seen something non-living come to life.  Second, personality has always come from something personal. “Goo” does not have personality.  Third, every culture, educated or primitive, has a sense of morality.  It may vary, but where does the common sense of right and wrong come from?  The Bible says that humans are created in the image of God and that God decides what is right or wrong. How does “goo” have any morality?  Fourth, the universe reflects design — look at an eyeball with an eyelid for protection, tear ducts to wash away impurities and to keep the surface of the eye moistened, a lens that focuses light, a pupil that widens and narrows to let in light, and rods and cones that translate light waves into a neurological signal that the brain can re-translate into an image — sight.  Look at our many systems: digestive, skeletal, immune, circulatory — to name a few.  “Goo” has no design and no intelligence.  When I begin to see that the universe requires a self-existent, living, personal, moral, and intelligent being, I begin to see God (with a leap of faith to be sure) but a far less leap than I would have to make for self-existent, impersonal, amoral, unintelligent “goo” to explain the universe.  As the Scripture says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Ps. 19:1).

When I begin to look at the Bible, it claims to be God’s Word (but that could be argued to be simply circular reasoning).  However, when I consider that 40 different authors, all of different backgrounds, education, social standing, and cultures, wrote over a period of 1500 years without contradiction, it is significant.  (I grant that some apparent contradictions exist, but reasonable explanations that do justice to both texts and that resolve the apparent conflict can be provided.)  Fulfilled prophecies also stand unique among other religious texts. For example, crucifixion was described in Isaiah 53 almost 700 years before the Romans even invented it.

Add to the text the impact of Jesus’ life throughout history, the empty tomb, the changed lives of His disciples who ran when He was arrested yet 50 days later, in the same city, argued before the same crowd that had crucified Christ that He had been raised from the dead — and I begin to conclude that our God and His Word have to have merit. God exists.  He reveals Himself, and He does so in the Scripture. We see the beginning of Creation, of family, of marriage, of the 7-day week, of Israel, of Messiah — all in the opening book of its pages. It’s what society has practiced for millennia.  Why would I then reject the Bible’s teachings regarding a day of accountability — the punishing God?

The next time you hear similar claims such as those brought against Elisabeth Hasselbeck, be assured that your faith is not a blind faith.  It has a reasonable basis.  It can be defended, and defended well, even to those who refuse to believe.  Some simply do not want to face the truth and prefer to believe a lie. (II Peter 3:5) 

Editor Notes:  Larry Hoskins is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and has been the Senior Pastor of Grace Church Aurora for sixteen years.  He also serves on the CMF Board of Directors.

Feeling Inadequate? You Are Not Alone!

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

He did not feel up to the task, and he is not alone! Have you ever felt that way?

Some time ago, I was visiting a men’s group at another church.  Knowing that church needed teachers (and that is not what this article is about), one of the men commented that he did not feel ready to teach because he did not know that much.  As I heard him, I reflected on my own past. I had begun teaching when I was in the eighth grade with no formal training, and now, understanding as a pastor a church’s need for more men who would lead, I asked him how long he had been attending the church.  “Five years,” he responded.  Trying to spur him forward past his reluctance, I smiled and said, “Couldn’t you teach some of what you have learned in the past five years to some of those who are just starting to come?  You’re five years ahead of them!” The meeting ended, and I do not know what he chose to do.  I do know that he felt inadequate, under-prepared.

Others have felt that same way. One good and godly man said to me recently when asked why he did not consider becoming an Elder, “I’m not sure that I know the Word good enough to be an Elder.”  He has been around the church and under the instruction of God’s Word for some time, yet he still feels inadequate.  I think most of us have felt that way at one time or another. 

In Exodus 3, after God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and told him that He wanted him to go to Pharaoh to bring the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt.  It was a monumental task, as later the nation was numbered at over two million people.  Even though he had been raised in Pharaoh’s court and had been sovereignly groomed by the Lord for the position, after being a shepherd for the past forty years, Moses repeatedly argued with God:

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Exo. 3:11)
Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’  What shall I say to them?” (Exo. 3:13)
Then Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?  For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’ ” (Exo. 4:1)
Then Moses said to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Exo. 4:10)
But he said, “Please, Lord, now send the message by whomever You will.” (Exo 4:13)

Repeatedly, Moses brought up to God his apprehensions about himself and his concerns about how the people of Israel might respond to him.  He was not considering that it was the Lord God of Israel who was speaking to him and directing him into a very specific ministry.

After all of these responses to the Lord (and in between each question, the Lord gave an answer to Moses to disarm his concerns), how did God respond to Moses’ continuing sense of inadequacy and to his refusal to do what the Lord had clearly instructed him?

Then the anger of the Lord burned against Moses, . . . . (Exodus 4:14)

Moses taxed the patience of the Lord who became offended at his repeated refusals to bow to the command of the Lord.

Another great man, Jeremiah, likewise argued with God’s calling upon him to be a prophet:

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,5“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, And before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.”  6Then I said, “Alas, Lord God! Behold, I do not know how to speak, because I am a youth.”  7But the Lord said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ Because everywhere I send you, you shall go, And all that I command you, you shall speak. (Jer 1:4-7)

Why is it that we are so prone to see our own shortcomings rather than the nature and wisdom of God who calls us to be ministers?  It was God who spoke to Jeremiah.  It was God who created him in his mother’s womb.  It was God who had an omniscient, timeless awareness of him before he was even created.  It was God who set him apart for this ministry.  It was God who sent him to the people of Judah.  It was God who directed Jeremiah to speak a very specific message to his nation.  Who was Jeremiah to argue with him?  Who are we?  Does not He know our limitations before He draws us or commands us to minister?  Why risk His anger for refusing to comply?

In a sense, we are right to consider ourselves inadequate.  Humanly speaking, we do not have near the resources to do the things that God asks us to do.  We can say with the Apostle Paul:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, . . . . (2 Cor. 3:4-5a)

God’s work had to be done in God’s way with God’s resources and in God’s timing.  All of this requires a divine empowerment.  We are not adequate in ourselves to do what God asks of us, but we are made adequate by Him, as Paul discusses when he continues the above passage:

. . . but our adequacy is from God,who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor. 3:5b-6)

The central figure in our adequacy is the Spirit of God.  Where He is actively at work, and where we are responsive to Him there is life! That is why Jesus spoke of divine empowerment when He spoke of sending the Spirit just before He ascended to heaven:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you . . . .” (Acts 1:8a).  

Has God been tugging on your heart to start or to become involved in a specific ministry?  Have you been arguing with Him because you see your own inadequacies – however real they may be?  It is okay to be aware of your own inadequacies.  We need to recognize our own weaknesses, and we need to have humble hearts.  But it is not okay to be dismissive of the Power of God present in you through the Holy Spirit as if He has the same limitations that we do.  He shares none of them.  In fact, He makes us adequate when we ourselves are inadequate, and to quote the great poet, Robert Frost, in The Road Less Traveled, “that has made all the difference.”

 

Finishing What We Started

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

What does it mean to be a “member” of something?  The word itself, member, seems almost an antiquated term.  One pastor recently told me that few people become members of churches any more.  His comment makes an interesting observation, and it is deeply rooted in our Western culture.  I am told that in the East or in the Asian part of the world a much greater sense of “community” is emphasized while in the West we emphasize a much greater sense of “the individual.”  The former value puts aside individual interest in favor of the common good, while the latter discounts the common good for the good of self. These two focal points could hardly be more divergent. There’s the rub.

Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “member” as:

  1. a body part or organ . . .
  2. one of the individuals composing a group
  3. a person baptized or enrolled in a church
  4. a constituent part of a whole . . .

Intrinsic to every one of these definitions is a connection to something greater than the member—be it the physical body, the group, the people of the church, or the whole.  One of the key questions is how vitally integrated is the member to that to which it is connected?  It is obvious that all parts of my body are vitally connected, but not all are equally vital to the body.  My little finger is as vitally connected to my body—as is heart.  Take either part out of the body, and both will cease to live and function.  But take my little finger off of my body:  it will hurt and I’ll miss it, but I probably won’t die.  On the other hand, take my heart out of my body, and I will die along with my heart!  In short, my heart is way more vital to my existence than is my little finger.  Which kind of member would you rather be, and which are you?

Allow me to tell you my story as a member of CMF, but if you read it, don’t stop in the middle; go all the way to the end.  When I was asked to join the Board of Directors of CMF, I was asked to come along in the role of a consultant.  I am a pastor by vocation.  My total direct involvement with the military was taking an initial test given by a recruiter at my college for me to be considered for a fighter pilot, being picked up by the Marine Corps and put up in a hotel overnight, going through a physical exam, and then being told that my eyes were not good enough to qualify for the job.  I had enjoyed indirect association with the military.  I had met many quality military personnel, had spoken on marriage to military families at a Cadence International Hospitality House near Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, visited the Camp Hansen Marine Base there, and had been invited to an Anniversary Ball for the Marine Corps by one of the retired Marines in my church.  But that hardly qualifies as military experience, so I was wary of being on the Board of a Mission whose primary focus was equipping those in the military to reach and disciple others within the military and encourage them to do the same.  Still, they solicited my advice. I was a pastor, seminary-trained with many years of experience in ministry; and that, I was told, was what they wanted.  So I joined the Board of CMF. I would say that my involvement was more of a “toe in the water” than that of “jumping in.”

My first impression of CMF was that it is a small mission.  At the time it had a handful of office staff along with a few Field Staff (i.e., missionaries) and a group of “local reps” who were those who had agreed to actively minister within the military as a representative of CMF.  Not a lot seemed to be happening that I could readily tell bore fruit, so I was reluctant to give financially to a ministry that I didn’t immediately see produced “results.”  In fact, I initially told our now President/CEO, Bob Flynn, to take my name off the “member” rolls on which he had kindly placed me as a Board member, because CMF asks their members to make certain commitments that I was not yet ready to make—specifically, “. . .to participate actively and prayerfully in the ministry of the Christian Military Fellowship with my time, talents, spiritual gifts and financial resources.”

The Bible says to “let your yes be yes,” and I believe in spiritual integrity. I was willing to make the first three commitments, but I needed to see that investing some of the limited financial resources God had entrusted to my family was warranted by the ministry I was seeing.  To be honest, I wasn’t so sure that was the case, and uncertainty was why I asked Bob to remove my name from the member rolls.  In fact, at one point I submitted a lengthy letter of resignation to the Board that stated my concerns as well as my sense that what the Board needed and what I could provide were not the same.

Thankfully to God, the Board reaffirmed the value of what I brought to the table and they strongly asked me to reconsider my resignation, so I continued on in that role.  Over time, I began to see much more in CMF.  I had the opportunity to meet our Field Staff and see their heart for ministry to the military, to see the significant global prayer ministry, to see the resources and books made available to the membership, and to see the Board’s efforts as well as those of our Office Staff.  Over time, other ministries became evident as well—conference ministries for those in the military and also for churches trying to minister to military families, people encouraged by the monthly newsletters, financial aid as funds have been made available to help families heavily impacted by deployments, a growing number of local reps working with chaplains and with others in the military, care packages being sent to deployed troops, and more. My reservations were eventually replaced by an earnest enthusiasm for this ministry and by the confirmed belief that God is working in a significant way through CMF and that people of integrity at every level were doing the work of the ministry.

Why did I tell my story?  I needed to gain a greater ownership of the commitments I made a few years ago, and God did a work in my heart.  I have given more of my time, talents, spiritual gifts, and yes, more of my financial resources.  I am happy to continue to do so. Last year, the CMF Board spent two-and-a-half days at a Pray and Plan retreat.  Two major goals came out of that as a consensus of our meeting – 1) that we needed to find another Board member to replace one who had moved away and 2) that we needed to help our members gain a greater ownership of their commitment as members of CMF. God gave us our Board member.  So the first goal was accomplished to His glory.  And what about the second?

Many of you, our readers, have made the voluntary commitment to be members of Christian Military Fellowship.  That membership came with commitments that are detailed on the link to CMF’s Home Page on the Web (www.cmfhq.org).  Most of you who are members of CMF are also members or have been members of the military.  All in the latter group have made commitments.  When those commitments are met, it does not guarantee the success of the mission, but the likelihood of success in the mission is significantly increased.  When the commitments are just partially met, the opposite is the case.  The same is true of CMF.  We believe that God wants to use CMF to “encourage men and women in the United States Armed Forces, and their families, to love and serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”  We ask you to do so in many different ways.  First, we ask you to pray for CMF.  Second, as primarily an indigenous ministry (i.e., one in which those within the military minister to those in the military), we ask you to become local reps who establish local ministry fellowships where you seek to reach, to disciple, and to equip those in the military to do the same.  You don’t have to know everything in the Bible, and you don’t have to have a seminary degree.  Just learn, live and teach what has been taught to you from God’s Word.  If you cannot teach in a formal setting, do it sitting across the table from someone with a cup of coffee or find someone who can, and come along side them.  (Many resources to help you may be ordered or downloaded from CMF’s website to help you to that end!)  Thirdly, we ask for your consistent financial gifts.  Did you know that if 100% of our members gave just $10 per month, CMF would fully funded to meet its current ministry need?  All of us can afford two less Starbucks per month or one less fast food meal.  In fact, I think most of us could afford more.

I am pleased to say that, even in the current struggling economy, it looks like CMF will “break even” for the current year.  But “breaking even” simply means that we have not spent more than we took in; it does not mean that our entire ministry budget was met.  Imagine what would happen if each of us gave, not just $10 per month but even more sacrificially!  How many more lives would be reached for Christ?  How many more would grow in their relationship with Christ?  How many more resources would be made available?  How many Field Staff could be hired and how many more military establishments would have a CMF presence?  I can assure you that CMF is focused on ministry and that its leadership works to maximize every dollar spent.

The Apostle Paul charged us to let our “yes” be yes! If you are a member of CMF, I also urge you, as he urged Archippus, “Fulfill your ministry!” I can’t wait to see what God is going to do!

The Forger's Fire

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Have you ever wondered why some of the things you want most in life are so difficult to attain?  The Scripture speaks of iron sharpening iron, and the imagery of the metaphor is difficult to grasp in our modern world.  Today, we think of electric grinders or a file that would sharpen a piece of iron such as a lawnmower blade.  It takes only a few minutes, and that is what we often expect in terms of human growth.  If I can just say the right word or give the right word picture, then genuine life transformation can occur — whether it be in ourselves or in someone we are trying to influence. In this “fast food” or instant society, why would we expect anything less?

Such thinking, however, runs contrary to the analogy and to life itself.  In the days when this proverb was written, they did not enjoy the luxuries of electric grinders or metal files; they had blacksmiths.  A blacksmith would heat a forge with coal, select the proper metal, and then, using a bellows, heat a portion of the metal until it was red hot, bringing it to a malleable state.  The hot metal would then be hammered on an anvil, usually 6 to 8 inches at a time, working the metal to the right thickness, length, and strength. From time to time the metal would have to be reheated to get it back to the right temperature; and it would be allowed to cool naturally while doing nothing to it, simply to help the consistency of the grain of the metal.  Somewhere along the way, it would be reheated and allowed to cool while insulated, so the cooling would be slower.  Many of these steps would be repeated several times. In short, iron sharpening iron is not an instantaneous occurrence; it is a long, slow, tedious process that requires a lot of hard, exhausting work from beginning to end, when the final product, a sword for example, is completed.

Sometimes we have difficulty making changes in our own lives, let alone the lives of those to whom we minister.  It takes time and a lot of it to develop the right thinking and the right behaviors — all impacted by the right value system as God has revealed for us in His Word.  That is why Paul described love, in 1 Corinthians 13, as being patient, and why Jesus said that all men will know that we are His disciples when we have that kind of patient love towards one another.  The Scripture says that love covers a multitude of sins.  We have to allow one another to be “in process.”
Even Jesus experienced frustration with His disciples in the iron sharpening iron process.  In Matthew 16, the Pharisees and Sadducees had come to Jesus to test Him; and He warned the disciples to beware of the “leaven” of those religious leaders.  Throughout Scripture leaven had been used as a picture of sin, but the disciples didn’t get what Jesus was talking about; they started talking about how none of them had brought any bread.  Jesus chastised them — they were able to tell the weather from common indicators in the natural realm, but they did not have the same ability from the common indicators in the spiritual realm. He says,

“You men of little faith, why do you discuss among yourselves that you have no bread?  Do you not yet understand or remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets full you picked up?  Or the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many large baskets full you picked up?  How is it that you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread?  But beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” (Matthew 16:8-11 NASB)

What was Jesus’ point?  On an earlier occasion, when a crowd of between 5,000 men and possibly as many as 10,000 more women and children were following Jesus to listen to his teaching, as the lunch hour approached, Jesus told his disciples to feed the crowd.  The disciples looked at their meager resources and said they didn’t have enough food.  After a search, they found a boy with a paltry five loaves and two fish.  But the disciples had another resource they did not see: Jesus.  He multiplied that boy’s lunch and fed the whole crowd, with twelve baskets left over.  A similar story followed an encounter with a crowd of 4,000.  Two major events provided ample opportunity for the disciples to see that they had Jesus as the most significant resource of all. Still they needed further instruction.  They had to be put back into the forge, reheated, and hammered again.

It was only after Jesus’ remarks that Matthew comments in the next verse:

Then they understood that He did not say to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:12 NASB)

How many of us as parents have experienced a multitude of disappointments along the way as we have raised our children?  But we did not quit and let the “bellows stop heating the metal in the forge.”  No, we kept heating the metal, hammering it again and again because we were working towards the final product: our child becoming a mature adult.  That is the same kind of love and patience that we are to have with one another — iron sharpening iron.

My congregation has shown great patience with me as their pastor.  I came to Grace Church Aurora eighteen years ago, as a young married man with a wife and a few children — a man who had never been a senior pastor. I  was only thirty-five years old; and I had a lot to learn about people, about life, about preaching, about ministry, and about myself.  I still have much more to learn.  They didn’t stop and throw me in the scrap heap.  They kept putting me in the fire, heating me up, shaping me with the hammer, letting me cool, and doing it all over as God has been working in my life through them. I hope I have done the same for them.

God has placed us here in each other’s lives for a purpose.  The Scripture tells us that the Spirit composes the Body just as He wills, so our presence together is no accident.  May He continually see in us the exacting process, person to person, that it takes for iron to sharpen iron as in the forger’s fire.
 

God's Purposes for Allowing Adversity in Our Lives

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Many of us have watched with interest, if not had first-hand experience with, the difficulties our nation is going through both as a whole and as individuals. We have seen the banking industry and auto manufacturers collapse and be bailed out by our government.  The Denver Post recently reported that one in seven people in our nation is living below the poverty level.  That means that a family of four is trying to live on an annual income of roughly $22,000 or less. Foreclosures are up as is unemployment.  Healthcare costs are rising, suggesting there are many more who are needing such care, as well as increased costs to insure us all.  The nation is divided along ideological grounds on topics such as the size of government, immigration, taxation, sexual orientation, the definition of marriage, and so much more.  We are constantly bombarded with the debate, and the acrimony between political parties is possibly at an all-time high.

While such issues create a certain amount of stress that we all experience, some issues hit us much more up close and personal.  Often, when that happens, the generic issues mentioned above become specific for us.  Our health is jeopardized. Our finances are depleted. Our homes are lost. Our job is looking for a job.  Our child is pregnant or got someone pregnant out of wedlock.  Our marriage is being impacted by divorce. Our children are rejecting their faith and deeply wounding us in the process.  Our spouse is in prison.  Our child or grandchild was still-born.  These types of things and many more equally or more severe have all happened in our church during my tenure.

During such times, we may question God and His goodness, we may grumble and complain, we may seek release and personal comfort, or we may seek God’s sovereign purposes in lovingly allowing us to go through these adversities or difficulties.  It is precisely at such times that we need to remind ourselves of the propositional truths from God’s Word that will renew our thinking and anchor our hearts and minds while we are in the raging sea of disappointment, hurt, and anger that would take us elsewhere.

I thought of at least six purposes found in God’s Word.  I have discovered that they help me to center my thoughts in His goodness, to be strengthened to face what He sends or allows to come my way, and to think outside of God’s dealings with just me — to what He may be doing in the lives of others or for purposes on a much larger scale.  So what does God’s Word say about His purposes for allowing adversity into our lives?

To Prepare Us for Future Ministry

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4, NASB95).

What a marvelous gift we receive in the midst of hardship — God’s comfort.  Often, in the throes of our most difficult moment, we seek God the most, we pray more earnestly, and we listen intently to His Word and to other godly counselors for the insight we so desperately crave.  We are introspective and examine our lives and our hearts and our motives, and using all of the above, God gives us insight — insight that is not only good for us (and it certainly is), but also insight that is beneficial to others traveling the same trying road. I once knew a family who lost a two-year-old daughter in a tragic swimming pool accident.  God used their experience to help them become engaged in a ministry to other bereaved parents who benefitted from His comfort passed on through that family.

To Increase Our Reliance upon God

Americans tend to be self-reliant.  It is a virtue that is often espoused: the independent spirit.  It is what enabled our great heroes to conquer the West, survive the Great Depression, and win world wars.  While a “can do” attitude has its place, it can also run counter to a mature faith.  So God sometimes sees fit to remind us of our great need for Him.  At one time, circumstances were so distressing for the Apostle Paul that he despaired even of living, and in describing this moment in his life, Paul wrote,

“Indeed, we had the sentence of death within ourselves so that we would not trust in ourselves, but in God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:9, NASB95).

Even if our life is taken, at some point we have to come to rest in God’s good and sovereign purposes in our lives. The misleading alternative is to “trust in ourselves.”  We do not know what He knows.  We do not think as He thinks. At some point we must surrender to Him all of those things beyond our control and power to change or to influence.

To Move Others Along with Us to Prayer and Thanksgiving

Paul did not die in those circumstances as he suspected he might.  God delivered him! Yet Paul and God were not the only players in that moment in his life, and Paul’s optimism was revived, for he wrote of the God,

“…who delivered us from so great a peril of death, and will deliver us, He on whom we have set our hope.  And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, so that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed on us through the prayers of many.” (2 Cor. 1:10-11, NASB95).

How many of us have seen God respond to our prayers for the deliverance of others, and as a result we have offered thanks to Him?  How many of us have been the recipients of such prayers and have thanked God for their support and encouragement and for His answers to prayer?  Those who think God is not engaged at a personal level have not seen this truth revealed in His Word.

To Mature Us

It seems counter-intuitive, but adversity can be our friend.  That same self-examination and introspection described earlier in this article can help us to grow spiritually and as people. That is why Jesus’ half-brother James wrote in his Epistle, to “count it all joy” when we encounter various trials (James 1:2). Why should we do that? James continues,

“…knowing that the testing of our faith [that’s what a trial does] produces endurance.  And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:3-4, NASB95).

If we do not have the wisdom necessary to count it all joy and to see how we grow, God says to ask Him in faith, without any doubting, and that God gives it generously and does not rebuke us for it.  Think about it for a minute.  Where have you grown through the adversity in your life?  Do you see God’s goodness to you in the process of growing spiritually?

To Move Us to Repentance through Discipline

I hesitate to include this purpose, because for some it can contribute to the false notion that God has a hammer just waiting to nail us when we are wrong.  Romans 8:1 tells us that there is no condemnation from God for those of us who are in Christ Jesus (meaning, having trusted in His death and resurrection to save us from our sin).  We have been made righteous in Christ, and we have an Advocate, Jesus Christ, the Righteous, who pleads our case before the Father.  That same Father is involved in a total transformation in which He is actively at work to increasingly shape us into the image of His Son while we live our sin-impacted lives on this planet.  That fact requires God to discipline us — to train us — along the way.  Comparing God’s training of us to that of our earthly fathers, the writer of Hebrews wrote,

“For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:10-11, NASB95).

Sometimes, when the offense is greater, the discipline is more severe, but when God does it, it is always done with loving, yet firm, restoration at heart, never with eternal condemnation. He never gives up on you!

To Give Us Opportunity to Express Community

Lastly, believers are told to

“rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” (Romans 12:15, NASB95).

A key word in that text is “with.”  We are to be in the company of those going through hard times to love and support them, to pray for them, and to encourage them.  We feel their pain, and we celebrate with them when resolution comes.  Some of my best memories are of when my closest friends stood by me in my greatest moments of pain.  How good of our God to give us visible, present reminders of His love.

Whatever trial you are facing, know that God has good purposes in mind — good for you, good for those with you, good for those watching you, and good for His eternal purposes in you, in your family, in your church, and even in your country and globally.  His ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  But one thing we can be assured of — that they are good and that they have a divinely-wrought purpose.

The Certain in God's Uncertain Plans

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Someone once said, “What you see is what you get.”  We talk about people seeing the world as a glass “half empty” or “half full.”  The Bible is full of stories that demonstrate over and over the difference one’s perspective makes.

When Job and his wife lost their ten children and all they possessed, Job’s wife questioned why he held fast to his spiritual integrity, and urged him to curse God and die.  Job, on the other hand, asked, “Shall we accept good from God and not adversity?”  He fell on his face and blessed the name of the Lord.

On another occasion, the Israelites had turned their backs on the Lord, and God had placed them under His loving, but firm, hand of discipline, yet He was about to restore them back into His good graces.  Deborah, a judge God had raised up for that moment, summoned a man named Barak and told him to take 10,000 men from two of the tribes of Israel to gain the victory.  Barak didn’t see the word of the Lord as reason enough; he wanted Deborah by his side.  As a result, God removed the honor of victory from him and gave it to a woman named Jael who drove a tent peg through the enemy’s temple.

Do you remember the story of David and Goliath?  The enemy Philistine army was on one side of a great valley, and the Israelite army was on the opposite side.  In those days, rather than fighting a whole war, sometimes a champion from each side would fight as representatives of both armies.  Goliath, that great champion of the Philistines had been taunting the Israelites for days.  He was literally a giant of a man, and his weapons were huge.  Not one seasoned Israelite soldier took up the gauntlet.  No, it was a youthful shepherd who rose to the challenge. Here are his words to the “tall tree”:

"You come to me with a sword, a spear, and a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have taunted.  "This day the LORD will deliver you up into my hands, and I will strike you down and remove your head from you.  And I will give the dead bodies of the army of the Philistines this day to the birds of the sky and the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD does not deliver by sword or by spear; for the battle is the LORD'S and He will give you into our hands." (1 Sam 17:45-47 )

The rest of the story is history.  This rookie recruit without even a suit of armor took five small stones and slung one deep into the forehead of the giant oak.  How great was its fall! How great was God’s victory!  What would have happened if any of the other Israelite soldiers had seen what David saw?  What blessings and honor they missed.

Many of us are having difficulties right now.  Some are going through job searches.  Others have lost spouses through death or divorce.  Others are going through bankruptcy.  Some of our children have made choices that deeply disappointed us; some parents have done the same.  Some of you have your own Goliaths to face—giants that none of us even know about.

In all of these circumstances, what do we see?  Do we see the circumstances and conclude that God is evil and want to curse Him like Job’s wife?  Do we desire the securing of someone else besides the Lord alongside of us, like Barak did?  Do we see the power of the enemy and of our own inability, like the Israelite army?

Or...like Job, do we see that God deserves our worship and blessing whether He gives or takes away?  Do we see that God provides opportunities for victory, like Jael?  Do we see that God is bigger than hugely opposing circumstances, like David, such that our greatest concern is for Him to get the glory and recognition that He deserves?

Whatever the darkness, be certain of this: God’s plans for His children are good and not evil.  He sees the past, the present, and the future with equal clarity, so He is not surprised by whatever we encounter—the circumstances or the emotional, spiritual, and mental struggles that may come with them.  He is present everywhere.  He knows all things. His power is limitless for His righteous purposes.

There is nothing, no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me.  If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose, which I may not understand at the moment, but as I refuse to become panicky, as I lift up my eyes to Him and accept it as coming from the throne of God for some great purpose of blessing to my own heart, no sorrow will ever disturb me, no trial will ever disarm me, no circumstance will cause me to fret, for I shall rest in the joy of what my Lord is.  That rest is the rest of victory. ─Alan Redpath

You see, we have such limited knowledge and perspective, and God’s plans, to us, have the ring of uncertainty.  That uncertainty results from our not knowing, but imagining the outcome.  It comes from not understanding God’s purposes and from the dissonance of what we are experiencing that does not coincide with our preferences or plans.  So often we want out of the trouble and back into the world of comfort rather than the growth that is part of God’s design through trials and heartache.

Whatever you are experiencing in God’s “uncertain” plans for you, may we all come to see our experiences with the right perspective, to enjoy His peace which passes all understanding, and to life in Redpath’s “rest of victory”!

“For I know the plans I have for you," says the LORD.  "They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. “ Jeremiah 29:11 NLT

Keeping Others' Interests in Mind

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Have you ever noticed how God never asks us to do something that He has not modeled for us?  We are told to pray without ceasing, and Jesus prayed so much that His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray.  We are told to assemble together, and we see Jesus with others in the Temple and in their homes.  We are told to be gracious and merciful, and anyone familiar with the Gospel would know of God’s grace and mercy to us.  We are told to give, and God gave us His Son and spiritual gifts through which we can serve Him.

In fact, God’s dealings with us form a model for how we are to deal with each other.  We clearly see this fact in Paul’s letter, from prison, to the church in Philippi:

Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2:1-5 NASB)

Christ comes alongside us in our life situations.  In love and through His Word, He whispers words of comfort and encouragement to us.  He sent His Holy Spirit who indwells our very bodies.  He could have just looked in the mirror and told Himself how great He was, but He was always ministering to others.  He made water into wine at the wedding in Cana when it had run out.  He fed the 5,000 men (some estimate that if women and children were included, that it may have been as many as 15,000) when they needed food.  He visited the unpopular tax collectors.  He raised a widow’s son from the dead, touched a leper, and wept with two grieving sisters who had lost their brother a few days earlier.  It’s almost impossible to find Jesus alone, and even then, in most cases we find Him praying for others.  The awesome God of all creation stoops to become a baby to show us, in terms that we mere mortals can grasp, what God is like.  Even as He fulfilled His mission, He prays for those who had placed a crown of thorns on His head, who had beaten Him, who had scourged and spit upon Him, and who had crucified Him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Paul’s words to us are, in short, “Do the same thing. Be like Christ.”

It’s a fairly straightforward concept to be like Christ.  If we are not this way, the causes listed in the above passage are characteristics that we all are familiar with.  We can see them in others, and if we are honest, we can see them in ourselves: selfishness, empty conceit, and a lack of humility.  We saw them in Satan when he imagined himself to be like God.  We saw them in Eve and in Adam when they imagined that God was not good and that He was holding out on them and when they acted, independent of Him, in taking and eating of the forbidden fruit.  We saw them in David’s sin with Bathsheba and in Peter’s bold claims (along with that of all the other disciples) that he would never deny Christ.  They are behind our desire to hold positions of leadership to lord it over others rather than to serve. They are imbedded in every lack of consideration for the cure seen in Christ’s example.

What is that cure? Paul said, “With humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”  In short, we are to have the attitude of Christ — the one He most graphically exemplified when He submitted to the Father to the ignominious death on the cross.

Many of you have given and labored so sacrificially — looking out for the interests of others.  You have taught, administrated, mowed lawns, cleaned, visited people in the hospital, cooked meals, led mission trips and Vacation Bible Schools, hosted a small group, ushered, and a whole host of other ministries with others in mind.

How else can we look out for the interest s of others?  First, we can let our yes be yes.  If we say we will do something, make sure we do it or take responsibility to get someone to do it for us if we cannot. Others counting on us will be encouraged rather than disappointed that we did not show up and then scrambling to fill the void.  Let us keep our commitments.  Second, show up on time.  We show up on time for work or for movies.  Let’s not shortchange the praise we give to God or offend those who have prepared to lead us in worship by showing up late for worship.  Let us not keep parents and children waiting for teachers to show up. Get up a little earlier. Plan for interruptions or “disasters” so when they come we can still be where we have said we would be when we said we would be or when we are suppose to be.  Third, volunteer.  When someone or some ministry is in need of help, whether it is mowing, cleaning, teaching, childcare or cooking a meal, think what it is like for someone trying to recruit others for a ministry.  How many calls would you like to make, and how many times would you like to be told no?  Say yes when you can, and the recruiter’s job will be a lot more enjoyable.  Fourth, share your faith?  You may be a sower, or one who waters, or one who reaps the harvest, but imagine what it will be like in heaven when someone thanks you for introducing them to our Savior.

The list could go on, but do not miss the point. Christ has done so much almost always with others in mind.  Let’s make sure that we are not looking out for our own interests, but also for the interests of others, too. May God get the glory when we do!

Judas Was A Hero?

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Treachery is a virtue.  That was a tribal worldview of certain tribes in New Guinea described by Don Richardson in his book, Peace Child.  Cannibalistic tribesmen would unwittingly visit a neighboring tribe who would, as they called it, “fatten the pig for the kill.”  The hosting tribe would repeatedly invite the tribesmen to eat with them, and it would happen so frequently that the visitor would think that he was developing good friends.  Then, after a while on one of those visits when he had become sufficiently portly, the hosting tribe would spear their guest to death and eat him.  They actually enjoyed the whole operation of making their neighbor a patsy for their betrayal.

When missionaries came to these tribes, and told them the story of Jesus, the tribesman whistled with approval as Judas betrayed Jesus.  Judas was their hero, and Jesus was a clueless mark whom Judas had played like an old violin.  When treachery is a virtue and when Judas is the champion, how does a missionary communicate that Judas was the villain and that Jesus was the hero?  God had prepared the New Guinea tribesmen for just such a reversal.

When two warring tribes wanted peace between themselves, a tribe would give one of their children to a family of the other tribe.  That child was called the “Peace Child,” and if a member of the recipient tribe killed the Peace Child, even though the tribes valued treachery, such a killing was culturally defined to be a reprehensible and ignoble act.  After a period of constant retaliatory killings had occurred between the tribes, a missionary learned that the Peace Child was the way to at least bring a temporary cease fire. And then it clicked!  Humankind was at war with God, and God sent His Peace Child to earth to bring peace between God and man, and Judas had betrayed the Peace Child and was responsible for His death.  Judas became the scoundrel, and Jesus the protagonist.  As a result of this missionary’s faithfulness, many of those New Guinea tribal peoples came to a saving faith in Christ.

The only reason so many of those individuals are now our brothers and sisters in Christ is because Don Richardson followed a principle of ministry that the Apostle Paul outlined in Romans 15:20-21 where he wrote:

And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; but as it is written, “THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.”

Through Paul’s missionary efforts and that of others like him, many all around the globe have heard the gospel and believed.  It didn’t always happen right away. In fact, Paul makes it clear that it is a process in which God is causing the ultimate outcome.

Today, we live next door to neighbors and we work in cubicles where there are many who “have not heard.”  Recently, I was at a Board meeting for a missionary organization where another Board member lamented, “The church is all talk and no action.”  He was referring to the importance of evangelism, but few actually get around to sharing their faith with another person.  How are we doing at actually sharing the good News of Jesus with others?  How are you doing at it?  Our youth just gave us a glowing report of how they were sharing Christ with others around them.  We listened to their stories and saw the joy in their faces.  We also heard of a change of heart from one of our adult leaders.  Who would deny them that privilege?  Who would deny you that blessing.

So many around us live within a stone’s throw of the gospel at a Bible-teaching church, on the airwaves, on TV, or right next door.  Yet for all the proximity to the Good News, many have “no news” and many “have not heard.” The Apostle Paul wrote to the Thessalonians:

“...we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God amid much opposition. For our exhortation does not come from error or impurity or by way of deceit; but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts. (1 Thessalonians 2:2-4 NASB)

May we put into practice the same boldness that God gave to Paul in such a way that God, who examines our hearts, is delighted.

Editor Notes:  Larry Hoskins is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and has been the Senior Pastor of Grace Church Aurora for sixteen years.  He also serves on the CMF Board of Directors.

One Key to Fruitfulness—by Pastor Larry Hoskins—CMF Board of Directors

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.
CMF Board of Directors

Paul wrote to his protégé, in Titus 3:14,

“Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.”

Guaranteed fruitfulness — now that’s a concept!  We need to reflect on several key ideas about this verse.  First, “our people” refers to the church.  It is especially the responsibility of the church to seek those we can help.  So often, people think of helping as being the “government’s job.”  After all, one might think, they tax our income, and have all this money (or at least they used to), so let them handle it.  Such a thought is further accentuated by the declining numbers and donations to churches all across the country.  While we would prefer that the government allow us to keep those tax funds and to choose where to spend them, and while we own the responsibility and privilege of helping support our local church, does that relieve us of the charge to “our people” that we must be of help?  It’s not somebody else’s responsibility, it is yours and mine!

Second, Paul says that it is something we must “learn” to do.  When we think of learning, we tend to think of classroom learning — but there is more to it than just that.  Paul wants us to appropriate for ourselves the necessary concepts both through instruction and then the ongoing experience of doing good deeds.  Over time, less and less instruction is needed, and more and more good deeds are actually accomplished.  Apparently, we either need others to set the example and to instruct us so we can learn from them and model them, or we ourselves need to learn by trial and error.  Paul’s stated need for us to learn implies that the doing of good deeds in the right way and the best way does not come naturally.

Third, Paul instructed Titus of the need for us to “engage” in these good deeds.  The Greek word for “engage” literally means “to stand before” as in “lead.”  It then came to have the metaphorical sense of showing an interest or concern for something (as a good leader would be expected to do in the arena in which he or she is leading).  One Greek dictionary mentioned the concept of “to champion.”  The picture I get is that we are not to be passive observers or disengaged participants, giving half-hearted efforts, but we are to be enthusiastically engaged in the high purpose of meeting needs.  This engagement is not a one-time event, but a way of life.

Fourth, Paul says that the church must learn to engage “in good deeds.”  Today, “good” is almost always perceived as what pleases us or society.  Ultimately, however, good is not rooted in personal opinions of an individual or group, it is rooted in God’s character and what pleases Him.  Some would say that if a man Is hungry, he needs to be fed, so feeding him would be “good.”  But sometimes a man is hungry because he will not work, and God’s Word tells us that if a man will not work, then he is not to eat.  It is implied that hunger eventually becomes an incentive to do as he ought — to work.  In that case, feeding a hungry man delays the onset of learning a critical lesson, and it would not be “good” as God defines it.  The question we must always consider is this, “What actions can I take that will best reflect God’s character and His concerns?”  The answer to that question will help us to properly engage in genuinely good deeds!

Fifth, one way that Paul defines engaging in good deeds is “to meet pressing needs.”  Pressing needs are physical and spiritual necessities, not necessarily wants or desires.  Meeting the basic needs of food, clothing, shelter, and transportation are examples of physical needs, illustrated by the Parable of the good Samaritan.  If someone is in financial need, their greatest need may not be cash but instruction and accountability in good financial principles.  Just as pain medications do not address the root issue of a broken bone, so it takes discernment to identify the difference between a symptom and the root spiritual cause.  It also takes courage and conviction to patiently and persistently address spiritual needs in this manner.  Sometimes, the felt pressing need is what the person wants to have addressed.  But while the real pressing need is valued by the discerning individual, those less spiritually mature may not even see the real need or see any value in addressing it.

Lastly, there is a larger purpose for learning to engage in good deeds that meet pressing needs — “so that they (our People, the church, we) will not be unfruitful.”  In the days of the disciples, Jesus cursed a fig tree that was not bearing fruit, and it withered.  We have been called to bear much fruit and fruit of such quality that it will remain.  When pressing needs are met, it does something to the individual whose life is so touched.  Gratitude, spiritual growth, and a sense of God’s working through His children opens the door for them to receive the Gospel message.  That openness, coupled with God’s Word, the working of the Holy Spirit, and the visible love of the church allows seeds to be planted in fertile soil, to have that seed watered, and see it germinate, mature, and bear its own fruit.  Ultimately, this brings great glory to God as Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount:

You are the light of the world.  A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16 NASB95)

We were created to engage in good works. (Ephesians 1:10).  It takes our time, talents, and treasures.  Meeting pressing needs does not always come when we feel like it or when we feel like sharing some of our abilities or treasures.  Often, a need presents itself when we have other plans for our time, other planned uses for our money, and when we want to rest.  Then, the challenge of our goals, juxtaposed against a God-provided opportunity, forces us to decide whether we will be self-focused or other-focused. John challenges us to look at and to follow the example that Jesus set for us in just such a case:

We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.  But whoever has the world’s goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?  Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:16-18)

What we choose to do in that moment says something about our love for God.  God loves the person in need, and He is dedicated to using His children to meet the needs of people.  If we love Him, we will choose to meet those needs as we are able, because we choose to love whom He loves.  If not, then we will not.
 Sometimes, we personally meet needs.  Other times, we meet needs collectively, as a church.  I have been asking myself lately, what are pressing needs that we as a church can meet?

Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has suggested helping the homeless.  Habitat For Humanity works to build homes for struggling families.  The Denver Rescue Mission helps many who are on the streets.  Students may need help at local elementary or middle schools.  I have a friend who is out of prison on parole who needs help in ways that are more than my personal resources can meet.  Maybe you are aware of someone’s pressing needs and feel a God-placed burden to try to meet them.  The needs are greater than our own resources, but they are totally within the scope of our Provider.  What a great opportunity to touch others in their moment of need!

I get excited about the prospect of “guaranteed fruitfulness.”  Please pray with me about what pressing needs God wants to meet through us as individuals and corporately.  Whose lives does He want us to touch?  The more we do what we were created to do, the more lives will be touched, the more fruit we will bear, and the more God will be glorified.  That, my brothers and sisters, is what the church is all about!

Our Passions—What God Has Put on Our Hearts to Do—by Pastor Larry Hoskins—CMF Board of Directors

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.
CMF Board of Directors

From a mere human perspective, I fell into investing my life into others quite by accident.  When I was in 8th grade, I was involved in a program our church held for young boys called Christian Service Brigade, a sort of Christian version of the Boy Scouts.  Different “military” ranks were given to each of us who participated, and my rank carried with it the responsibility of leading the squad devotions.  I found that I liked the responsibility and that I liked teaching. But I was only beginning.  Additionally, for a number of years, my parents had me going to a Christian camp, Miracle Camp it was called, that required Bible memorization.  The first year, they compelled me to go.  I did not know what camp was, but I knew that it involved leaving home, and I liked being at home.  They made me go anyway, and I discovered that I liked it.  I went back for years.  The camp staffers were called Whitefeet, and again I had the privilege of teaching a cabin full of boys a devotional each night of the four weeks that I worked as a Whitefoot.  They seemed to enjoy learning God’s Word, and I found that I enjoyed teaching and seeing them learn.

Trying to integrate my faith with my belief system, I found that I struggled with certain issues.  For example, I knew that Christians were supposed to look forward to the return of Christ, but I discovered that I didn’t want Him to return too quickly.  I wanted to get married and have children and be a grandparent.  I remember talking with a counselor at camp about it.  I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I imagine that it was something like how heaven would be so wonderful that the things we value on earth won’t matter nearly so much then.  I was beginning to get my head around how one could resolve apparent conflicts.

As I began to increasingly own my faith as my faith, not just that of my parents, I realized that I needed to explore the realm of ideas, to think through issues and their ramifications and to seek to develop an integrated faith that looked at origins, science, history, and facts to develop the questions, answers, and implications of my faith so that I could articulate it and defend it to the best of my ability.  During my college days, even though I knew much of the Scripture by then, some of the high school students in my Young Life ministry began asking me questions in my small group Bible studies for which I did not know the answer or even where to look to find it.  Even having been raised in the church and having gone to a Christian college, I knew that I needed to be better equipped.  My lack of knowledge motivated me to spend four more years in seminary. It was also during this time of high school and college that I began to share my faith more boldly.  God’s Word said that it was my responsibility and it was commanded, so I took it to heart and did it.  I don’t think I have ever felt more alive than when I am sharing my faith with someone.

Originally, I had planned on going into Christian camping as my vocation.  However, as I learned about the role of a camp director, I realized that I would be fundraising for the camp and constantly recruiting summer staff.  Additionally, the relationships would be shorter—one week for the campers, a summer for the summer staff, and some kind of annual revisit for returning campers.  I realized that I preferred long-term relationships.  Then, as I began to see seniors from my Young Life group graduating, I began to realize that they were floundering a bit after high school.  My Young Life ministry had connected some of them to Christ, but not to His church. It was then that Christ’s words to Peter rang in my ear, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church.”  The church was God’s plan for continued connection and for continued growth.  It ministered to every age group and to every level of spiritual maturity.  It had a built-in organizational structure and leadership responsible to resolve conflict and to protect from error.  I began to develop a new appreciation for the church and for what it offered.

Over time, I began to discover a love for God and His Word, a love for people, a heart to pass along what I was learning, a vision for evangelism and discipleship, and a passion for God’s church.  All the while, God had been moving in my heart and through my life circumstances to bring me to a place of surrendered and passionate service to Him.  At first I began working with youth, and I thought I would grow into an old man while continuing to work with students.  But as I grew older, had three children, and grew tired of the busyness of youth ministry, I also began to teach more substantively.  God created a restlessness in my heart that did not cease until I decided to leave the youth pastorate and pursue the solo pastorate that focused more on adult ministry.

When Nehemiah was nearing the end of the 70-year Babylonian Captivity, he heard about how Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, was in ruins and how its gates were burned.  He loved his homeland and was so distraught that he sat and mourned for days (Neh. 1:4).  He then prayed to the Lord about it, confessing his own sins and those of his nation and asking God to bless his plan.  As the cupbearer, Nehemiah made a plan to go to the reigning Persian king, Artaxerxes, and ask his permission to return to Jerusalem to rebuild it.  The King granted Nehemiah permission, safe passage, and supplies to make the necessary repairs.  Once there, Nehemiah went out to survey the damage and all that needed to be done. His account reads, “And I arose in the night, I and a few men with me.  I did not tell anyone what my God was putting into my mind to do for Jerusalem…” (Neh. 2:12).  Later he commissioned the people in Israel to rebuild. He wrote, “So we built the wall and the whole wall was joined together to half its height, for the people had a mind to work. (Neh. 4:6) when opposition arose from their enemies, they not only prayed, but they had people stand guard, “I stationed men in the lowest parts of the space behind the wall, the exposed places, and I stationed the people in families with their swords, spears and bows.” (Neh. 4:13).  Eventually the wall was completed, and Jerusalem was restored. The people of Israel repented of their sin, and they reiterated and renewed their covenant relationship with God.

Why did I tell you my story and that of Nehemiah?  In a word, they are stories about passion.  God put into Nehemiah’s heart a passion; consequently, he led the people of Israel, who themselves became passionate about rebuilding Jerusalem.  The builders were most passionate about rebuilding Jerusalem. The builders were most passionate about protecting their families whom they stood ready to defend as they rebuilt the walls.  I became passionate about investing my life in others through teaching.  It’s a passion that has directed my life, my career, and the lives of many whom I have had the privilege to teach.

One of the great things about passion is that it directs us to make important decisions and to distinguish between lesser things and even to separate from sinful things.  After the Israelites had finished taking the Promised land after well over a decade of war, the “general” who led the campaign, Joshua, laid out his passion and challenged the Israelites to follow him in it.  After recounting God’s faithfulness from the call of Abraham to the Egyptian plagues and exodus and through the taking of the land, he said, “Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.  And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:14-15)

Likewise, the Apostle Paul had a clear passion. He had been educated in the most prestigious school of his day, and mentored by one of the most well-known teachers of his day.  He had become so zealous to follow the Lord that he became a strict separatist, a Pharisee, and a strict adherent to the Law. He had all the credentials and lifestyle credibility to become a exceedingly influential religious leader. But after the Lord Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus, Paul totally changed the direction of his life.  His passions were two that I can find in Scripture:

“But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.  Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:7-14)

“For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; so that from Jerusalem and round about as far as Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ. And thus I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man's foundation; but as it is written, ‘THEY WHO HAD NO NEWS OF HIM SHALL SEE, AND THEY WHO HAVE NOT HEARD SHALL UNDERSTAND.’" (Romans 15:18-21)

Those passions eventually cost Paul his life, but what a legacy he left behind, and what a reward awaits him in heaven!

Today, so many things call for our time and attention.  In such an environment, if we are not careful, our passions, no matter how well-intentioned, may become misplaced.  For those whose passions are focused on the things of God, it becomes clear that He impassions us with the very concerns that are on His heart for each of us to accomplish.  Sometimes we are content to live an unimpassioned life—letting life just happen to us— while we ebb and flow with the currents around us. I would like to hear of your passions.  What is it that God has put into your heart to do?  You know deep inside that you must do it and are willing to sacrifice lesser things to make it happen.  Let those of us in CMF know so that we may pray and encourage you. Perhaps you’ll find others to join with you, and together, we can leave behind our own legacy, looking forward to our reward, as we live our time on this earth in the center of the abundant life our great God has laid out for us.

Perception and Reality

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

John Maxwell, a former pastor and trainer of business and church leaders has said,

“He that thinketh he leadeth and hath no one following him, only taketh a walk.”

Whenever he says it, the crowd he is addressing always laughs because of the obvious disparity between perception and reality. It reminds me of a plaque that a father of one of my students gave me once when I was a youth pastor which read,

“Which way did they go?  How many of them were there?  What did they look like?  Quick!  Tell me! I must find them.  I am their leader!!!”

Sometimes what we think is real and what is real are not remotely similar.  This is especially true when it comes to the spiritual realm.  We are born into a physical universe as people who have a physical body that the Bible describes as mortal and corruptible.  It further says of us as believers that though our “outer man” (our physical body) is decaying, yet our “inner man” (the eternal, spiritual person who is rightly related to God through Christ that resides in his or her physical body) is being renewed day by day.  Changes in our outer man are readily apparent.  If we eat a wholesome diet and exercise properly, our bodies are usually fit and look great.  If we become ill, we become weaker and often lose weight and color.  On the other hand, changes in our inner man are harder to see.  How does one see a “sinner” from physical birth become transformed into a “saint” with imputed righteousness at one’s spiritual birth?  At one minute, the person was a child of the evil one, under the wrath of God, but after trusting Christ for the forgiveness of one’s sin, that person is now a child of God for whom God has no condemnation.  Sometimes that change becomes evident in changed character or changed priorities, but often such changes are not readily apparent.

Because the physical world is so real to us and because it is our most obvious environment, many come to perceive that it is the only reality.  It is what we see when we open our eyes at the beginning of the day.  It is what clothes us. It gives us food and shelter.  It’s where we work.  We see the money that comes with working and what it buys; and the next thing we know, we are on the hamster wheel, eating to live, to work, to make money, to eat, to live, to work . . . and the cycle continues.

Many people put up with long commutes, long hours, difficult bosses, limited vacation, plus financial bondage to debtors — purchasing expensive clothes, cars, and houses to attain the American dream in the physical world. Such a life is summed up in the words, “He who dies with the most toys wins!”

Others see the excesses of such a materialistic world and retreat to a simpler lifestyle. T he Denver Post recently highlighted a man who rejected money altogether.  He lives in a cave and resorts to dumpster diving for food and clothing.  He bathes and washes his clothes in a nearby river.  If someone gives him money, he gives it away. Regardless of which way we live, we all have to live in a real physical world.

But what about the spiritual world?  The Bible tells us that we did not even begin to perceive certain things from the spiritual world until God revealed them, as Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

But we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory; but just as it is written, “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, And which have not entered the heart of man, All that God has prepared for those who love Him.”  For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. (1 Corinthians 2:7-10 NASB95)

Do you see how the lack of spiritual perception led a group of people to crucify the Lord? But if they had seen the greater spiritual reality, Paul notes that they would have never done so. Their spiritual perception of reality would have changed what they did in their physical world. What they did “made sense,” given their perception of reality, but it didn’t — if that perception were adjusted to a different set of spiritual truths.

Think about that for a moment. The Bible says a number of truths about our presently unseen future:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21 NASB95)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 NASB95)
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it.  But each man must be careful how he builds on it.  For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15 NASB95)

These verses tell us that our physical world is not the only reality.  One day, we will receive new resurrection bodies — immortal and incorruptible. We will be freed from death and from the presence of sin.  We will enjoy the presence of God in a new heaven and a new earth.  It is then that our physical reality and our spiritual reality will be most fully realized.  However, what we do now, in our mortal bodies in this fallen world, determines the quality of our inheritance in that ultimate reality.  What does that say about where and with whom we invest our time, talents, and treasures?

As we begin 2010, may each of us make the proper distinction between what is perceived and what is truly real.  May we invest ourselves in a life’s work for that which remains and for that which God rewards!

Only one life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Relationships:  Face Time

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Some time ago, I came home to find my two college-age kids another college-age friend, all sitting in the same room of the house.  All three were engaged, not with each other, but with their keyboards and computer screens. Nothing was wrong with what they were doing, yet I found it surprising, even odd, that all three were “connecting” with someone or something outside of the room rather than connecting with each other.

Today, if we are a technical initiate at all, we will become acquainted with words or phrases like Facebook — “Friends” and the “Wall,” Twitter Updates (Tweets), a Blog, a Forum, e-mail, IM’s (Instant Messages), Chat Rooms, Blackberrys, and Text Messages.  These tools or types of communications have several benefits.  They keep us a little more in touch with each other and our daily comings and goings.  They allow many people to exchange ideas.  They save time and postage, allowing rapid and immediate delivery.  Large groups can be contacted all at once.  Others can contact us or we can contact them whether we are on the road, at work, in the house or at our children’s practice field.  What a day we live in!

Without intending to minimize these benefits, there are also certain drawbacks to this age of electronic communication.  Besides the issues of distraction and personal safety, electronic communication can keep people at arm’s length.  Whatever the communication is that takes place “at a distance,” it is not the same as seeing someone or a group face to face.  Non-verbal communication is missed, as is tone of voice.  “I love you, too” can be said earnestly or sarcastically and have totally different meanings in electronic fashion, yet be readily understood person to person.  There’s less privacy, and unless we turn off our cell phones, there are more interruptions and distractions.  There’s less “alone time” and “down time” at a personal level, so our “batteries” become drained rather than recharged.  Sometimes, even the environment of face-to-face conversation and relationships, is more conducive to a more intimate level of communication.  Loving accountability, which we all need from others (and which we all need to give from time to time) can have more of an edge when done by text message rather than in the context of face-to-face relationships.  Work is required to rightly relate.

Christianity at its core is relational.  Think about it.  Terms or phrases like Father and Son, brother and sister, and “my little children” are all relational.  “God so loved the world” is relational.  In fact, the Scriptures say that it is antithetical to say we love God — but that we do not love our brother or sister.  Our horizontal relationship with each other is always a reflection of our vertical relationship with God.

Relationships have, at their core, a certain level of association.  The Bible uses terms like sheep in a flock, branches on a vine, members of a body, and people in a family to say we are individuals yet always part of a group.  These dynamics are part of God’s design.  The degree of commitment and closeness with those we relate to is supposed to mark us as incredibly distinct from the rest of the world: “By this all men will know that you are My disciples,” Jesus said, “if you have love for one another.”

Such a biblical love is not instant; it is cultivated. It’s not immediate; it is developed over time.  It’s not built in short, rapid communication, but in longer, transparent vulnerabilities conveyed in an environment of mutual trust and acceptance.  This kind of trust and acceptance shares numbing pain and difficulties with personal sin — and that receives hard, often unwanted, words because we know we need them.  Even if we don’t know we need them we trust a friend when he or she says that we do.  This kind of love is mutual, because those same levels of communication are received and given in both directions.

Such love is also patient.  This unique kind of love is not necessarily the “feel good” love that the world sells.  It’s a “do the right thing, and relate rightly” kind of love — even if it is hard and painful.  The Scriptures tell us that systemically, we are of “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  Yet if this is the case (and it is), why are believers so quick to point out our differences.  When conflict arises, why are we so quick to backbite, gossip, grumble, complain, or even break off a relationship, leaving a friend or group — rather than gently working through the conflict, no matter how long it takes, to complete resolution?  The former kind of response is not the kind of love that marks us as Jesus’ disciples.  The latter can be exhilarating or painful for all involved, but it yields a stronger bond conveying that our relationship with each other is more important than getting our way.  That particular kind of love is distinct from that of the world.

When Jesus first selected His disciples, He appointed them “so that they would be with Him” (Mark 3:14 – italics mine).  It’s not surprising that in being with Him, they noticed that He would often go off by Himself to pray and that He would pray with them.  Soon they asked Him, “Lord, teach us to pray.”  Electronic communication doesn’t teach us what we’ll gain naturally by osmosis just by being with each other — the gradual, often unconscious process of assimilation or absorption of lifestyle, character, and wisdom.  It’s hard to see tender affection, gracious hospitality, and selfless serving of one another without spending time together.  Discipleship is intensely relational in more ways than mere expression.  It is life impacting life in a more total, comprehensive way.

Biblical community is being vitally connected with “one another,” too.  We are to pray for one another (I know of a military couple who has done this via e-mail, because it was the only way they could pray together while one of them was deployed).  We are to love one another, to be devoted to one another, to give preference to one another, to be of the same mind towards one another, to accept one another, and to be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other as God in Christ has forgiven us.  In fact there are almost forty “one another’s” in the New Testament.  It is impossible to connect at the level the Scriptures call for us to connect without significant and quality face-to-face time.

In the early church, Acts 2 tells us that Christians met day by day in the temple and from house to house.  The picture I get is that they worshipped together and they were constantly in each other’s houses.  It seems more spontaneous than planned.  They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to sharing their lives, to eating together and celebrating communion together, and to prayer.  These types of relationships invite others into our lives and welcome the “intrusion” of the unplanned into the planned or better, of the friends and family into our sphere of relationship where iron truly sharpens iron, where the wounds of a friend are discovered to be faithful, and where we find encouragement and are stimulated to love and good deeds.  In short, we grow into Christ-likeness.

In an age of electronic communication that so often is “at a distance,” let us make sure that we do not have only surface-level relationships that trend towards detachment and isolation.  Real relationships move from acquaintance, to the discussion of facts, to the sharing of opinions, and to the exchange of feelings.  At the deepest levels we explore the spiritual aspects of our relationship with God and where He and His Word are making an impact on our lives, and where He helps us discover that we are falling short and need to change and to grow.  We explore serving Him together and enjoying fellowship with His people in church, in small group, and one on one.  Having “face time” with people — both with those who don’t know the Lord and with those who do — and lots of it, is the best way I know to take our relationships and our ministry with people (and theirs to and with us) to the next level.

So how are your relationships?  How is your ministry to others?  Is it “at a distance” or “face-to-face”?

What is Your Primary Identity — Sinner or Saint?

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Are you being mastered, or are you mastering?  At the beginning of human history, two brothers offered an offering to the Lord. Cain was a farmer, and he offered fruit from the ground.  Abel was a keeper of the flocks, and he offered from the firstlings of his flock.  The Scripture tells us that God had regard only for Abel’s offering, and the author of Hebrews tells us why:  “By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain,” (Hebrews11:4 – emphasis mine).  No law had been given that required a sacrifice.  For some reason, however, Cain’s offering fell short.  The implication of the text is that Cain’s act of worship was merely an act that was never connected to faith in the living God.  He was just going through ritual observance without any connection from his heart and mind to that of God.  Such a fact warrants our consideration.  How connected are our hearts and minds to the heart and mind of God?

The story continues by noting that when God did not value Cain’s offering, Can became very angry and his countenance fell.  I can just imagine him hanging his head, furrowed brows, and drooping his shoulders.  Sin was spreading its ugly tentacles, and God gives Cain the opportunity to turn in the direction of faith.  God asks him why he was angry and why his countenance had fallen.  God was giving Cain the opportunity to do some reflective self-introspection.  An opportunity for insight and for re-direction was at hand.

How do we know this? God continued by saying, “If you do well (i.e., to turn from anger and to the Lord in faith), will not your countenance be lifted up (due to a totally different perspective and relationship with God)?  And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door, and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

The picture of sin crouching is like that of a cat dropping its belly as it stealthily draws near to pounce upon its prey.  Sin wanted to dominate Cain’s thinking and actions.  The next thing we see is Cain murdering his brother – a new kind of sin that had never been done before.  Sin has mastered him, when God had told can that he must master sin. What a tragedy!

Why did Cain find himself under the dominion of sin?  The fact of the matter is that he really did not want to“do well,” as God had described it. Cain’s actions lead us to the inevitable conclusion that he liked sin and that he was more interested in pleasing himself than he was in pleasing God.  He was a sinner who liked to sin, so he presented himself to sin as his master.  I sometimes wonder what it was like for Cain to have to spend the rest of his life with the knowledge of the fact that he had killed his brother. Did he really enjoy the “benefits” of being mastered by sin?

When we trusted Christ to save us from our sin, God gave us a new identity.  I call it a “primary” identity.  Throughout the Scriptures, believers are called saints.  The moment we placed our faith in Christ, our former primary identity of sinner was changed.

Now do not misunderstand me.  In the generic sense of the term in which a “sinner” is “one who sins,” yes, we are all sinners.  The Apostle John tells us that to think otherwise is to deceive oneself.  I am not talking, though, about the “generic” sense of the word.  I am talking about the specific, life-directing sense of the word sinner – our being “in Adam,” under God’s wrath, spiritually dead, without hope, without God, even being his enemies.  If being a “sinner” is our identity, then is it any small wonder that we would find ourselves constantly giving in to sin and allowing it to master us?

A new and better identity has been provided for us.  Rather than being “in Adam,” we are now “in Christ.”  We have been given His righteousness, and thus we can truly be called “saints.”  A saint is one who has God-imputed holiness.  The righteousness we have is not of our own making.  The Scriptures clearly say that if we keep the whole law but break it in merely one point, that we are guilty of all.  They also teach that all of our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.  Whether we have done one sin or a million, we fall equally short of God’s standard of holy perfection.  The only way a “sinner” becomes a “saint” is for God to give the righteousness of Christ to the sinner, and that is only done when a sinner turns to Christ in faith – trusting Christ’s death and resurrection to save him or her from his or her sin.

So how does a “saint” master sin? Romans 6 tells us that we master sin by “considering ourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 5 tells us that we do that, not by trying harder, but by walking or living by the power of the Holy Spirit.  We do not master sin by mere human effort, by simply trying harder.  As Christians, we must make a clear distinction between our former manner of life — being “in Adam” — and our new manner of life — being “in Christ.”  When sin tries to master us by tempting us to sin, even those we have battled with for a long time, in the power of the Spirit, we must claim:

“I’m not ‘in Adam’ any more.  I’m dead to that life. My primary identity is not that I am a ‘sinner’ any longer.  My primary identity is that I am a ‘saint’ who is now ‘in Christ.’  So by the Spirit’s power, I choose to live in my new identity, and I cannot do that and sin.  By God’s strength, I will live in righteousness.”

When we think those thoughts and when we live them out in our thoughts, words, and actions, sin does not master us anymore; by God’s grace and power, we master it.

Which seems to be truer of you these days? Does sin master you, or do you master it?  Yes, we all fall from time to time, failing to live in our new identity and in the power of the Spirit.  We fall prey to those three enemies of the believer — the devil, to the world system, and to our own fleshly desires.  In that sense, we are all sinners.  But is that our primary identity?  As was the case with Cain, sin is crouching at our door, too.  It wants to master us, but we must master it.

Romans 12:2 says, “And be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Has your mind been renewed?  If so, which is your primary identity?  Sinner?  Or Saint?  Our actions may speak louder than our words.

Would She Save Her Arm, Or Loose It?

Pastor Larry Hoskins
Pastor Larry Hoskins, Th. M.

Get a fix? Or go to the hospital?  A mother of two children, she stood on the patio in her dazed stupor, trying to decide whether to go home and get a fix or to go to the hospital to lance a life-threatening infection.  Her name was Mariesol, and she was a heroin addict.

I met her on the street outside the church in Ensenada.  Her hair was disheveled; her clothes, dirty.  The top of her left arm was twice its normal size due to a growing infection, discoloring her skin with splotches of black and blue.  Some in our group wondered if she was being beaten.  Her boyfriend was also a heroin addict. In the center of her arm was a large boil-like inflammation, swollen and oozing pus.  She needed to see a doctor, she told us, but she didn’t have the $10 to pay for her visit.  Our team had those funds, so she climbed into our van with me and with our translator, Teresa.  She hit her infected arm on the mirror as she tried to get to the van, and she was in obvious pain.  The church members nearby urged us to take another man, as they were aware of Mariesol’s drug connections.  They warned us that we could find ourselves in danger.

As we drove her to the Red Cross clinic, I told her that I was safe, but that I needed her to tell us the truth.  She told us that she was a heroin addict, using about four times per day.  A worker in a Christian rehab center at our base camp told me that her addiction would cost her about $20 per day.  It almost cost this dear woman her life; it may still.

Continuing to the clinic, she said that she had fallen off a bus and injured her shoulder, which had become infected.  She denied being beaten, though that is common for those in abusive situations to protect themselves from further pain being inflicted upon them by their perpetrators.  When we arrived at the clinic, she closed her eyes as her body drifted gently in different directions due to the influence of the drug.

All the Red Cross could to was give her a pain shot.  They didn’t have the equipment or personnel to do what she needed, and they told us she needed to go to the hospital.

So there we stood, on the patio outside the Red Cross, with Mariesol trying to make up her mind.  She finally allowed us to persuade her to go to the hospital.  Outside in the parking lot where I had to stay with the van, I prayed with her for her healing.  She was moved to tears.  Her infection was so severe that the doctors said she might loose her arm and possibly her life.  We had to leave her there and return to our base camp.

Teresa and I tried to visit her the next day.  The doctors had lanced her arm and cleaned out the infection.  They wanted to keep her in the hospital for observation for 48 more hours, but she checked herself out before we got to see her.

What makes a woman unable to see that her children need her to be their mother?  What makes her unable to see that an infection could end up costing her an arm or her life?  Whatever her reason for going down the path to addiction, she had let heroin become her master.  She had bought into the deceptive lie that it could salve her pain. Instead, it compounded it by her allowing it to enslave her.

The Apostle Paul wrote,

“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12 NASB95).

Apparently, the Corinthians were using the phrase, “all things are lawful for me,” to justify their immorality.  At issue was their liberty.  In a sense, their emphasis on personal liberty was true, but they were mixing truth with falsehood.  Personal liberty was not the freedom to do whatever they wanted, but it was to limit the exercise of their freedom to what served God’s ultimate purposes for their lives.  What serves God’s purposes is “profitable” or beneficial.  It is what God honors and rewards. It has ultimate eternal significance.  Paul warned the Corinthians that personal liberty apart from that singular direction leads to slavery, or as he called it, being “mastered by” the very things they thought would set them free.  This was where Mariesol found herself.  If we are not careful, this is where we will find ourselves.

Being “mastered by” something does not always come in the form of addictions.  To be sure, many in our church, over my years of service here, have found themselves in the clutches of drugs, alcohol, pornography, sex, and the pursuit of money to the point where they were mastered by them.  I’ve come to see some great stories of redemption—of brothers and sisters being brought out of such slavery to a newfound freedom in obedience to Christ.

But being mastered by something can happen with seemingly harmless things that can take God’s rightful place in our lives.  When that occurs, on the outside, it can look noble and pristine, while on the inside it is corrupt and decaying as a white-washed tomb.

Standing on that patio outside the Red Cross, Mariesol’s indecision has moved me to ask myself a question.  Perhaps it may move you to ask yourself the same:  Is there anything in my life that is so mastering me?  Are we being dominated by some passion that exceeds our own passion for God and for His purposes for our own life?

Get a fix?  Or go to the hospital?  Mariesol’s answer was obvious to those of us with her, but she couldn’t see it.  She needed someone who would help her make the right decision.

I said to Mariesol, “Let us take you to the hospital.”  Sometimes those of us who are blinded by what we have allowed to master us need someone to give us the honest feedback and move us in the right direction, even when we are reluctant to go there.

Just like we were able to be in Ensenada for Mariesol, God has placed us in Aurora for the community around us.  Grace Church Aurora is a hospital.  God is the Great Physician.  If you find yourself mastered by something, if you find yourself addicted, go to the hospital.  If you find a friend or family member or co-worker so enslaved, ask them to let you take them to the hospital.  Sometimes, they’ll go back their old habits.  But sometimes, someone will stay and find healing and true freedom in the Lord and through the work of His children.  I’ve seen it lots of times at Grace Church Aurora.  Hopefully , by God’s doing, you will see it too!