May 4, 2017

Uncle Keith

I was young in my faith, new on campus, and four hours from home. I had a couple of local connections … but did not know a single fellow student. It’s daunting to think what may have become of me had a man in my home church (an alumnus of the same university) not said to me: ‘When you get to Ole Miss, don’t bother with joining a fraternity, go to the Baptist Student Union.’ And then one day, before classes had even begun, came a knock on my dorm room door, inviting me to – guess where – the Baptist Student Union (or BSU as we called it)! And so I went. And I saw lots of other students committed to this ministry, and to Christ. And I saw, on a video, a pretty young lass from Louisiana, inviting people to be a part of a prayer ministry. And I even signed up to be a part of a guys’ discipleship group!

Soon afterward, the BSU director, Keith Cating – a tall and rather imposing figure (with a head shaved completely bald!) – walked up to me, handed me a slip of paper with a Bible verse or two written on it, and said: ‘Memorize these verses for our meeting next week.’ And when you’re nineteen, and a big, strong man walks up to you and says such a thing … well, I guess you do it! And so I did! I learned the verses, and I showed up to the meeting along with three other guys my age. And, over the weeks, we memorized more scripture. And we talked about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. And, rather important among it all, we simply had an older man, a more mature Christian, spending time with and taking an interest in us concerning the things of God.

'Discipleship.'  This is Keith's watchword.  Making and shaping followers of Jesus.  And this was what Keith was doing with me and these other young men (and so many more through the years) - discipleship!

And so, thank God for Keith Cating! He was crucial at that stage of my life – surrounded as I was by collegiate temptations, potentially very lonely had God not provided this fellowship, and (little did I know it) being prepared by the Lord for a calling to gospel ministry (part of which has included my own opportunities to be the older man, spending time with and taking an interest in younger men concerning the things of God).  

Eventually Keith became ‘Uncle Keith’ (by means of his niece, the pretty young lass from Louisiana!) … and I am so thankful for him as an uncle! But I first knew him as the man who discipled me; who walked beside me, and showed me how to walk with the Lord.  Where might I now be without such a helper sent from the Lord?

And, as I think about his impact upon me, it occurs to me that, in some way or other, we should all grow up to be a Keith Cating for someone; a Paul for some Timothy. Because of his calling to campus ministry, Keith had a chance to disciple many, many people. And, though we may not all have quite the same volume of opportunities, yet as we mature in Christ ourselves, surely each of us can, in our own measures, be that older man or woman – working through the scriptures with some younger believer; teaching them how to walk with the Lord; and just walking with the Lord with them, and before them.

This week, after 36 years of ministering to college students like me, ‘Uncle Keith’ retired. And I salute him, thank him, and wish him all the Lord’s best in this next stage of his life. And I hope this little tribute to him will commend his disciple-making example to those who read it. It was worth it, Keith! And it will be worth it for all of us who make the same investment!

April 25, 2017

Upheld Hands

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. Exodus 17:8-13

It’s an interesting thing, the way the ups and downs of this battle followed the ups and downs of Moses’ hands. The key, I think, is that in those hands was “the staff of God” – the same staff which, in Moses’ hand, had been part and parcel of God’s mighty working several times in Israel’s recent history (in the bringing of some of the plagues, in the parting of the Red Sea, and in bringing water from a rock earlier in Exodus 17). The staff was not magical or powerful itself, but the way God had used it in Moses’ hands seems to have made it emblematic of His power! And thus it was on this particular day! God evidently wanted this staff – this emblem of His mighty acts on behalf of His people – held aloft as a reminder that the battle was His, and that it was His power that would win the day. “Apart from” Him, as Jesus reminds us in John 15, we “can do nothing.” And so, when the reminder of God’s power was held high, God’s people prevailed in His strength.

But then there is something else to notice in this battle with the Amalekites. And that is that, while “the staff of God” needed to be held high in this fight, Moses couldn’t do it alone. After a period of time, “Moses’ hands were heavy” … his arms grew tired, as we can imagine they would! And so thank God for Aaron and Hur, who “supported his hands”! And thank God for those who perform a similar ministry, today, on behalf of the leaders of God’s people! For, by their preaching of the word, God’s ministers today are continually holding God and His power aloft before His people, so that the people come under the influence of that power, and go out and “fight the good fight” in His strength. And, by their prayers for the flock, these same ministers are calling down that power from on high. It’s not exactly the same as Moses’ uplifting of the staff (for the word of God is far more than an emblem of God’s power!), but there are parallels, are there not? And one parallel is that, like Moses, the minister’s arms and hands can grow tired and heavy, too! And blessed are the Aarons and Hurs who uphold their minister’s arms in prayer! Blessed are those who pray for their pastors and elders! Make sure you do that – praying for their teaching and preaching, for their counseling and evangelism, for their family life, and for them to have the energy and wherewithal to keep going, holding the word aloft before the people. God’s people prevail when the word is constantly held up in the midst of the battle-field of this world. So please do lift the arms; please do pray for those who hold it aloft in your midst!

April 18, 2017

Weddings and Babies!

This spring and summer is shaping up to be the season of weddings and babies! There is a lot to look forward to! And it occurs to me to write a few lines to help us make the most of these days of blessing. May I suggest four activities that we, as a church family, take up during this season (and whenever there is a birth or a wedding amongst us)?

1. Rejoice. “Rejoice with those who rejoice” says Paul in Romans 12:15. And there are few occasions for rejoicing that are on par with a wedding or a birth! And so let’s make sure we are a part of the enjoyment, both in our own hearts, and as we participate publicly in various celebrations. Let’s enjoy these moments!

2. Pray. Joyful as weddings and births are, they are also the launch points for tremendous responsibility! It is no small thing to enter into a relationship in which the goal is to be a living, breathing reminder of the relationship between Christ and His bride! Nor is it a light thing to raise children, and to do so “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). And so these couples need the support of our prayers!  And, not only do marriage and children come with significant responsibility, but they are sometimes just plain hard, too. Marriage is not all roses and beautiful music! And child rearing, we soon realize, can be exhausting. Both are worth it! Both are definitely worth it! But both require great help from the Lord, do they not? And so let’s make sure we pray for these soon-to-be newlyweds! Let’s pray for these moms and dads! And then let’s pray, too, for the health – physical and spiritual – of the newborn children themselves. And let’s pray for all the marriages, all the parents, and all the children here at Pleasant Ridge!

3. Serve. Since these are tall tasks these couples are entering into (marriage and child-rearing), let’s make sure we give them all the hands on help we can, too! Wise counsel and godly example to fledgling couples. Gifts that will help them (newlyweds and parents) get started along their way. Meals after childbirth. Offers to help with laundry, and housework, and other children while mommy re-acclimates to the care of a newborn. And so on!

4. Reflect. Weddings, marriage, childbirth, and children – all of these things are fraught with gospel reminders. God’s eternal kingdom will be a wedding feast – “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9); the celebration of Christ having His bride at His side! Think of that as you enjoy these upcoming weddings and receptions! They are a little portrait of the heavenly glory! And the marriages that are being formed are, themselves, portraits of the ongoing relationship between Christ and His church. A husband giving himself for his wife, as Christ has done for the church; and the wife submitting to and following her husband, as the church does to Christ (Ephesians 5:22-32)! Think of these things as you ponder the marriages soon to be formed (and as as you ponder other marriages, too)! And when the children are born, realize that this first birth teaches us something about the second birth! As our parents have brought us into the world by physical conception and birth, so we need God to bring us to life spiritually through a new birth (John 3:1-8)! And when we think of children, in general – and of how much we parents love them – we should reflect on God’s great love for us who, in Christ, are His children (Psalm 103:13)!

So then, four good ways to spend your time this spring and summer – “rejoic[ing] with those who rejoice”; praying for husbands, wives, moms, dads, and babies; serving them; and reflecting on how these various blessings of marriage and family point us to the even higher covenant blessings that are ours in Christ!

April 10, 2017

Christ’s Resurrection … and Ours

Here is one of the great blessings of Christianity: “newness of life” (Romans 6:4). A Christian is a person who has been changed; made new; “born again” the Bible calls it. He has been given a new heart of love toward God and man. Her eyes have been opened to God, and to His Son, and to His truth. His mind has been changed about sin, and about righteousness, and about the remedy for our fallenness. Her life has taken on a whole new dimension, and direction, and set of desires. He or she has become a new person, spiritually and morally! Christianity brings “newness of life”!

And all of this newness ties back to that first Easter morning! We who are united to Jesus have “newness of life” because Jesus Himself has “newness of life”! “As Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Our new life is bound up in His new life! Our resurrection (spiritually and morally, in the new birth) is tied to His resurrection. He is our trailblazer … such that, because He died for our sins, we die to them, too; and such that, just as He rose from the dead, “we too might walk in newness of life” (emphasis mine).

Do you want to be a new person – spiritually and morally – today?  Such a change comes to those who are united to Christ!  "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  May that happen for some of us, even today!

Or, if you have been made new in Christ, do you want to "walk", all the more, in that “newness of life”? Well then the resurrection of Jesus is good news! For, if you belong to Him; if you are united to Him, then you are new, and you may walk in that newness, too (Romans 6:4). You don’t have to keep sinning in the same old ways, with no recourse! 

But then let me ask you, also: Do you want, at the end of this age, to have a new body and to walk with new physical life in a new and perfected planet earth? This, too, is tied back to that first Easter morning! Christ is called “the first fruits” of the bodily resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:20). And if there is a first fruits, then there will also be other fruits as well, reaped from the earth where they were once buried like seeds. So that, first of all, Christ is risen, bodily, from the dead … and then His people are also given new, bodily, life as well!

And all of this makes Easter, and the fact of Christ’s resurrection, very personal, does it not? Or resurrection – both morally and spiritually (in the new birth), and physically (when Christ comes again) – are inextricably tied to the empty tomb, and to the literal, bodily resurrection of Jesus on that first Easter Sunday morning! And that is reason, among others, to celebrate this Easter Sunday (and every Sunday) the risen Savior!

April 5, 2017

The Remedy for Anxiety

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

Here is a set of instructions, for me at least, which is easier to write about than to actually put into practice. Usually, when I am anxious, what I want to do is to fix whatever is causing my anxiety … and not to cease from my fixing in order to pray! Sometimes I even tell myself that I need to stop and pray (as soon, mind you, as I finish doing some last minute tweaking on whatever my problem happens to be!) … but I often end up just carrying on with the tweaking. So I write as one who needs to grow in practicing what I’m about to preach. But I write nonetheless. And I point our four simple truths from the wonderful remedy for anxiety that Paul sets down in Philippians 4.

1. Don’t be anxious! Easier said than done, I know! And yet it is a command, is it not? “Be anxious for nothing.” That is not just a suggestion, but an imperative! We must not be anxious! But then also, by extension, if Paul (and the Holy Spirit through Paul) commands us not to be anxious, then that means that, with God’s help, it really is possible not to be anxious! And that is hope giving, isn’t it? If we are commanded not to be anxious, and if it must therefore be possible (with God) not to be anxious … well then that means that, with God, nervous personality though I may be, anxiety is not inevitable! With God’s help, I’m not stuck with an irremediable problem! Not only must I not be anxious, but, by God’s grace, I don’t have to be anxious! That’s what Philippians 4 tells me, in a roundabout way! And not only does it tell me that I don’t have to be anxious, it also tells me how. Don’t be anxious, but …

2. Pray instead! Notice the important word “but” in v.6! It introduces an alternative to what has gone before it! “Be anxious for nothing, but…”. And what follows the “but” is Paul’s alternative to (and remedy for) anxiety! Don’t be anxious, but pray instead! “By prayer and supplication … let your requests” – about the anxiety itself, and about whatever may be the trigger for it, and about “everything” else – let all these “requests be made known to God.” Pray instead of worrying! Pray instead of brooding! Pray instead of nervously tweaking. Don’t be anxious! Pray instead!

3. And give thanks! It is “with thanksgiving” that we must present our requests. In other words, when you pray, don’t just come with your wish lists, but also with your thank-you-notes, so to speak! Be thankful for past answers to prayer. Be thankful, in advance, for how God will answer this prayer. Be thankful for how God is always watching out for you even when you don’t pray. Be thankful for how often He has blessed you with good things for which you never thought pray. And be thankful, especially, for His gift of His Son! God richly deserves the praise for all these things! And offering such praise will also have the effect of strengthening your faith to pray that God, who has blessed you so much already, will do so again! Thanksgiving, so often, can be the missing ingredient in our prayer lives (or at least in mine). Let it not be so in yours! Don’t be anxious! Pray instead! And give thanks!

4. And God will give you peace. When you pray, God may or may not immediately take away the circumstances that tempt you to anxiety. Praise God when He does! And praise God that, in the last day, He will change our circumstances forever! But in the meantime, Philippians 4:7 promises that, even if the difficult circumstances remain, God will give the thankful petitioner peace in the midst of them; peace in the midst of the storm! “The peace of God … will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Whether or not God immediately calms the storm, He will calm you, if you pray as Paul urges! And so I urge you to do so! Don’t be anxious! Pray instead! And give thanks! And God will give you peace.