Drawing Near

A Pastoral Perspective on Biblical, Theological, & Cultural Issues | The Personal Website of James B. Law, Ph.D.

Thursday

25

April 2019

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COMMENTS

Resurrection Life

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easter-3096212__480We are nearly a week removed from Resurrection Sunday, and my thoughts have gravitated to the first disciples who needed time to reflect and process. Much had happened in the final week of Jesus’ life as they considered what was accomplished on the cross and the subsequent resurrection of their Savior. When the women heard the angelic declaration, “He is not here, for He has risen,” (Matthew 28:6) Friday’s horror was overcome by Sunday’s victory.

The gospel accounts of Jesus’ final week are compelling.  The biblical account reveals that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promises given through the years of the coming Messiah who would give His life as a ransom for many. Jesus resolutely set His face to Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51), and He referenced His death to the disciples on several occasions.  However, Jesus’ comments about His death went over their heads, and they were unable to comprehend what Christ was saying.

In Matthew 16:21, for instances, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” Peter responded by taking Jesus aside and rebuking Him for such a statement. Talk about a “Type A” personality!

Jesus rebuked Peter by saying to him, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me.”(Matthew 16:23) In essence, Jesus was saying to Peter, “You sound just like the devil to take me off mission. You don’t understand that I have an appointment in Jerusalem.” (more…)

Thursday

21

March 2019

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COMMENTS

Your Cell Phone and the Christian Life, Part 2

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91w90PXCE+L._AC_UL872_QL65_This is the second post considering the impact of the cell phone on the Christian life.  Tony Reinke’s insightful book, 12 Ways Your Phone Is Changing You, has stirred my thoughts on how the advent of the cell phone has changed life as we know it, and much of the change is not good to nurturing a heart of worship.

This past week, I came across an article by Ben Renner entitled, “3 In 5 Millennials Say Life Is More Stressful Now Than Ever Before.”  Renner presented research that many of the stressors are directly related to cell phones, “from slow WiFi, to broken phone screens, to zero ‘likes’ on social media.”  Other included loss of phone, dying battery, and forgetting phone charger. Renner noted that researchers have discovered that these fixations brought substantial disruption to sleep patterns.

I think it is important to note that millennials are not the only segment of our culture who have increased stress because of cell phones.  The pervasive and invasive thrust of these devices has changed life for everyone of us who uses them (and even for the few who don’t). But, as we mentioned in the last post, the benefit of Reinke’s work is that it is not a pharisaical treatment of technology, but a genuine challenge for healthy engagement with technology.

In this post, I would like to offer a couple more “take-aways” from Reinke’s book to build on the three offered last time. (more…)

Friday

8

March 2019

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COMMENTS

Your Cell Phone and the Christian Life

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91w90PXCE+L._AC_UL872_QL65_Through the years I have really enjoyed reading books together with my fellow Elders and Pastoral Staff at FBCG.  We try to do this together twice a year with an extended staff meeting which includes a detailed discussion of the book followed by lunch. These times have brought about good connections and conversations for life and ministry. Recently, we read together, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You (Crossway, 2017) by Tony Reinke, and I was really challenged by the message of this book and want to share some insights in the next few posts.

Reinke provides a theological and practical analyses of what the editors of Time magazine have called the most influential gadget in human history, the smartphone. For this blog series, I would like to share some “take-aways” from Reinke’s efforts that may be helpful in how you relate to your smartphone.

#1- This is not a Pharisaical treatment of smartphone ownership. Reinke does not imply with legalistic snobbery that if you were spiritual you wouldn’t even own a smartphone. He argues persuasively that technology is no cosmic accident as the Creator sovereignly guides history.  Reinke asks deeper questions that go to the heart of how we use our devices.

For instance, he poses the question, “Should I ditch my smartphone?” followed by twelve thoughtful questions that lead to considerations like cost, necessity of certain phone features, unhealthy fixation on the phone, and effects on family time and relationships.

John Piper who wrote the forward of the book identifies the key for the Christian in any generation, “If you live long enough, pray earnestly, and keep your focus on the imperishable Word of God, you can be spared the slavery to newness.” Reinke points believers to the need for “new life disciplines birthed from a new set of life priorities and empowered by our new life freedom in Jesus Christ.”  I appreciated this approach to decision-making in the Christian life which I believe is helpful with many other applications on what I should do and not do, go or not go, own or not own.

#2- Reinke brings helpful research revealing how invasive smartphone use has become.I know we probably do not need research to confirm what is self-evident by causal cultural observance. We are a culture consumed by cellphone usage. Reinke notes that we check our smartphones about 81,500 times each year, which works out to about every 4.3 minutes of our waking lives, which means you will be tempted to check your phone at least once before finishing this blog post.

His discussion on digital distractions was convicting as many of us push away work and responsibility with online drifting that takes us off task. The average American college student wastes 20 percent of class time tinkering on a digital device, doing things unrelated to class. This applies across the business sector as well. He quoted historian Bruce Hindmarsh who said,

“Our spiritual condition today is one of spiritual ADD.” Reinke argues that this unchecked distraction is not harmless as it blinds the soul from God; closes off communion with God; and mutes urgency of God in our lives. Therefore, believers need to learn to be efficient in distraction management for the sake of the spiritual health.

#3-  Texting and driving is not loving your neighbor as Scripture commands.  With great insight, he makes the case for how fixation on our cellphones creates neglect of flesh and blood. With regard to phone use and driving, he points out, “Talking on the phone while driving a vehicle makes you four times more likely to get into an accident, but texting  while driving makes your chance of a crash twenty-three times more likely. Assuming a driver never looks up in the average time it takes to send a text (4.6 seconds), at fifty-five miles per hour, he drives blindly the length of a football field.”Wow and ouch!

Texting while driving is insane as it expresses disregard for our neighbor. We are saying that we really don’t need our hands and concentration to operate our vehicles safely. Texting while driving is reckless behavior that puts others in danger, and thereby we are not obeying a basic commandment of Scripture to love our neighbor as ourselves. Therefore, Reinke concludes, “We sin with our phones when we ignore our street neighborhood strangers who share with us the same track of pavement.”

Hope this was a helpful challenge that would urge you to read the book.  More to come in the coming weeks.  Running the race with you, Hebrews 12:1-3.

Friday

22

February 2019

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COMMENTS

The Gates of Hell Will Not Prevail

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Gates of Hell will not prevail-14When our church celebrated our 100thyear anniversary, I discovered that we were constituted around the same time as Harley Davidson, United Parcel Service (UPS), Blue Bell, Walgreens, and Kelloggs. In thinking about our local congregation compared to these corporate giants, I was taken by the contrast in purpose.

Jesus Christ commended Peter when he made the great confession in Matthew 16. On that occasion Peter declared to Jesus, You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  In turn, Jesus said, Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”(Matthew 16:17,18)

Jesus pledged to build His church in this world, and that it would be indestructible. The Apostle Paul spoke of the church as “the pillar and support of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:14,15)  In fact, in reference to the church, the language of the New Testament is exalted with regard to its purpose and role within God’s plan for the ages. (Ephesians 1-3)

However, this is not the view many possess of the church. A local church is often portrayed as a lethargic, pathetic gathering which is relegated in the minds of many to be a place where you might get married or buried. It’s a place for old people to gather, and they do so out of a duty-bound allegiance to keep the club going. From this perspective, thoughts of church life exploding your soul or changing your life are slim indeed.

Reading the New Testament offers a much different view. I would contend that the church is the only institution called into existence to deal with the ultimate issues: life and death, forgiveness, reconciliation, heaven and hell, relationships, purpose in living, and true community.

On our church’s centennial celebration, I thought of our local Body compared to the corporate giants mentioned above. Interaction with these companies would be much different than a fellowship connection with a local church. For example, you wouldn’t walk into a Harley Davidson dealership and say to the salesman, “I’ve got cancer and the doctor says that I only have a few months to live, would you have the company pray for me?” (more…)

Thursday

31

January 2019

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COMMENTS

He is Able

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One of the recurring themes of the Bible is that no matter how great the trial, the shame, or the pain, God is greater still. He delights to guide those who seek Him through any storm, sorrow, or setback.

In the context of fleeing from his son Absalom, King David wrote, “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.” (Psalm 3:3)  David was experiencing great pain and humiliation over the downturn of his family and kingdom, but this tattered man found comfort in the Lord.  David, perhaps more than any biblical writer, allows us to see into his heart through the experiences of his life and his record of worship found in the Psalms.

In another harrowing event in David’s life found in I Samuel 30:1-6, prior to becoming king, his family was taken captive by a rugged band of marauders.  When David and his men came to the city, “they found it burned with fire, and their wives and sons and daughters taken captive.” The text says that David and the people “raised their voices and wept until they had no more strength to weep.” And in addition to his grief, the people spoke of stoning David. That is what you would call a really bad day! (I Samuel 30:1-6) (more…)

Thursday

10

January 2019

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COMMENTS

This Much O Lord I Want You!

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fasting-1In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ included fasting as a spiritual commitment for those who would follow Him. Jesus gave instruction on how we are to live as Kingdom citizens, and in   Matthew 6 He taught that giving, praying, and fasting were to be a part of a believer’s life:

“When you give (v. 2)…,

“When you pray (v. 5)…, and

“When you fast (v. 16)…”

In this brief post, I want to focus on the spiritual discipline of prayer and fasting.  Early in my ministry, I received teaching from several sources in this area, and consequently have embraced fasting in my life and ministry. I have fasted every Wednesday for some years now, and have set aside specific time on these days to seek the Lord in prayer for personal revival, spiritual needs in my church family, awakening in my community, and the cause of Christ globally.

Alan Redpath once said, “Never undertake more Christian service than you can cover by believing prayer.”  This is a great challenge in our generation that is bombarded with distraction. Prayer and fasting helps us to focus on what is truly important in this world, namely our relationship with God. In seeking the Lord in this way, we discover that prayer and fasting is the prescription and pathway for God’s supernatural power to be unleashed in our lives and in His church. (more…)

Friday

21

December 2018

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COMMENTS

When Darkness Seems to Hide His Face

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Solar EclipseOne of the great truths of the Bible is that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. With the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Magi followed the light of the star that placed them with GPS precision at the location of the infant Jesus.  These wise men had been compelled to leave their distant land in pursuit of the new born king.

This star was created by God for the purpose of leading the Wise Men to the baby Jesus, and so being led by the star the Wise Men made a long and difficult journey over treacherous terrain. They were in danger of robbers and at the mercy of the elements.  When we think about their experience, there is something refreshing about the intensity of their pursuit when compared to many who can’t seem to go a few blocks to worship Christ. They were led by the star to the Light of the world.

Phillips Brooks eloquently described the dark pathways of Bethlehem years ago,“Yet in thy dark streets shineth; The everlasting Light; The hopes and fears of all the years Are met in thee tonight.” (more…)

Thursday

29

November 2018

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COMMENTS

Yes It Is! The Local Church is the Epicenter of God’s Kingdom Purposes in This World

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When I was a freshman in high school, I had a football coach who was intense. Really intense. He had a mustache that resembled the look of a proverbial Viking which made him all the more intimidating. He was the kind of man who during his tour-of-duty in Vietnam spent his free time killing water buffalos with his 50 caliber machine gun.

In the strangest of contrasts, school administrators assigned him to teach driver’s education.  I will always remember how he greeted the class as he looked out at us on that first day, “Well,” he scoffed, “This isn’t the freshman class at Harvard.”

I remember his greeting every time I read the Apostle Paul’s assessment of the Corinthian church, “For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (I Corinthians 1:26-29)

Paul was saying to the Corinthians, “Notice, your gathering is not made up of the ‘movers and shakers’ of the culture. Your curriculum vitae is not very impressive in the world’s eyes, but that’s okay. It’s okay because the church is not about you. The church is about showcasing God’s grace and glory through the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.” (more…)

Thursday

15

November 2018

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COMMENTS

Always We Begin Again

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It has been said that nothing drags more stubbornly than a sack of failures. Every one of us who has breathed the air of this world knows what failure is like in one form or another. Whether it is a missed free throw, a failed relationship, a business that went south, or a devastating moral disaster that has caused deep sorrow and collateral damage, the pain from failure and loss can cut deep into the heart.

For the believer in Jesus Christ, His victory over sin, death, and the grave gives to us a living hope and becomes the foundation for our worldview. With an empty tomb, there will always be hope through the Risen One. With every failure and setback we experience, the Lord gives hope and grace to begin again.

In the loving discipline of God, trials come into our lives for the purpose of conforming us to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29). The Lord’s discipline is multi-faceted and masterfully applied.  For instance, God brought corrective discipline into the life of David; preventive discipline in the life of Paul; and educational discipline in the life of Job. (more…)

Thursday

1

November 2018

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COMMENTS

His Commandments Are Not Burdensome

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Some years ago media mogul Ted Turner suggested that we ditch the Ten Commandments and hold a contest on who could come up with a better set of guidelines. To put forward the idea of replacing God’s standard of righteousness, and the foundation of jurisprudence, with pithy progressive ideas is the epitome of what C.S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.” Lewis was referring to the danger of saying that things are better because they are new, and deficient because they are dated.

Ted Turner is not the only one who advocates jettisoning the Ten Commandments. Pastor Andy Stanley in his recent book, Irresistible, writes,“The Ten Commandments have no authority over you. None. To be clear: Thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments.”

Stanley sought to establish that any contamination of the old covenant commands upon the new covenant life found in the grace of Jesus Christ would be a corruption of the whole relationship. However, Stanley ignores that the Old Testament is full of examples of God’s grace and compassion for His wayward people. (Exodus 34:1-6; Psalm 103)

When Moses received the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, Israel was below breaking covenant with the golden calf. Upon seeing this Moses shattered the stone tablets. (Exodus 32:19) However, God’s grace is on display when He commands Moses to cut two new tablets, and again He would write these wonderful words of life for His wayward people.

In Exodus 34, this is how Yahweh, the Lord God, is described and revealed, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6-7)

Stanley’s view of the Old Testament directly contradicts the teaching of Jesus Christ who never once questioned the authority and trustworthiness of the Old Testament. The commandments that Stanley calls his readers to not obey are all affirmed and commanded in the New Testament. The exception would be the Sabbath command which is presented as fulfilled in the rest found in Christ. (Hebrews 4:1-11) (more…)