February, 2008

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Ps. 51:10 17 Clean Heart, Contrite Heart

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

For the next few months I will focus on passages for my Bible study blogs that use the word heart in them. My motivations include the fact that I recently had a pacemaker installed, the many passages that use this word, and my sense that the teachings related to the heart are very important to our understanding of the purpose of life. . My electronic concordance found nearly 1,000 usages of heart by the NKJV translators. I hope to identify many of the basic truths about the heart found in these passages as I prepare these blogs.

I am beginning with one of the most familiar and significant of the heart passages, one found in the Psalm attributed to David as a response to the prophet Nathan\’s challenge to him regarding his adultery with Bathsheba.

The Hebrews identified the heart, not only as the pump for blood circulating through the body, but also as the seat of emotions. David realized that he had allowed his emotions to lead him into violating a basic law of God. He senses both his filth and his guilt. He also realizes that God is the one who can do the cleaning of his heart. To my mind this is the proper way of dealing with sin. Often we try to explain away or justify our sin. We declare that in our situation, or our case, this was the lesser evil, or this was what needed to be done. Other times, we will boldly, and foolishly, deny the authority or the existence of God. And on still other occasions we may try to bribe God and offer him some payment for his forgiveness of our sins. History is littered with examples of these three erroneous efforts at dealing with guilt. David simply asks for God\’s forgiveness. So, should we whenever we sin.

The ground of his request for forgiveness is identified as a “contrite” heart. I take this to mean that he is honestly acknowledging his sinfulness. No effort to excuse it; no offer to pay for it; no argument that God has no authority in such matters. He just requests that God forgive him. Again, history is full of other sinners who have tried one of the other three responses. They fail.

In both verses David links his concern about his heart with a reference to the human spirit. Fifty years ago in my college days and early days as a teacher, it was common for intellectuals to either deny or ignore that spiritual side of life. While the spirit is back in vogue, it is often misunderstood. God is lord of the spiritual dimension of life as surely as he is the creator of the material side. God is spirit, we are told. His Holy Spirit takes up residence in the hearts of those who acknowledge his son Jesus as Savior and as Lord. I believe that the “right” spirit is one of submission to the authority of God over me. And over you. And over everything.

Wise builders. Mt. 7:24-28

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

With this blog I will be concluding the series on the Sermon on the Mount as part of a series on Matthew’s Gospel. I will be generating a series of blogs related to the heart as discussed throughout the Bible. My motivation is that I have been enjoying a pacemaker for nearly two years. So, the health of the heart is a concern of mine. I found that there are hundreds of references to the heart in the Bible. I have read them and marked many for further study and reflection.

But let me focus on the last lines of the Sermon on the Mount today. In thinking about the concluding comments of the Sermon where Jesus contrast wise and foolish builders, I got to reflecting about the years that Jesus spent in the carpenter\’s shop in Nazareth.

If his shop was like the small town craftsmen shops that I am familiar with, on rainy days, the workers would have gathered at the shop to wait for the weather to clear. A variety of topics would have been discussed. Among them from time to time would have been accounts of disasters similar to the one in the story about the foolish and the wise builders.

My thought is that there was an historical event, or events, behind this story, as there was behind many of the other stories that Jesus told to illustrate great spiritual truths. Here, Jesus is saying that if one wants to have a solid life, then one should build his life upon the solid rock of the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.

  • The blessed life is one that begins with the realization that it needs God. The positive consequence is a life that is sensitive to the needs of others and ministers to them. The negative consequence is persecution.
  • Those who build their lives on this will find that they function as salt and light for the world.
  • The law of God functions for these people as a wake-up call. They realize that they are sinful and in need of forgiveness. They see that God expects total obedience, not technical compliance. Perfection is the expectation. This is both humbling and a continuing goal which does not allow for easy satisfaction with one\’s achievements.
  • The spiritual disciplines of alms giving, prayer, and fasting are expected activities. The Kingdom of God is to be the focus and the goal of everyday life and of the future.
  • We are not to condemn others.
  • We are depend upon God.
  • We are to be alert to evil.
  • We are to live fruitful lives.
  • Everything is built upon this rock as a foundation.

Thank you Jesus for the Sermon on the Mount. Help me to live according to its teachings. Thank you for saving me in spite of my failures.

The Rechurching of Rural America

Sunday, February 24th, 2008

Over the next several weeks the chapters of an unpublished report of the most recent restudy of rural churches in Missouri will be posted on this site. This study was done back around 2000, but for several reasons was never fully completed and edited. However, I feel that there is much of value in the study and believe that I must move forward and share the findings with others who are interested in the churches of rural America. It is unique in that it reports finding from a constant set of townships and their churches over a nearly 50 year period. This is the most scientific study of rural churches that has been done which a longitudinal component.

On February 16, 2008, I will be addressing some of the material in a conference for the General Baptists in Malden, Missouri. It is at their First Baptist Church there. Our focus there will be on sustainability. I will present my thoughts related to the Divine-Human nature of the local church. This is that it has both a sociological and and a spiritual side. Neither can be neglected.\

I hope that as the chapters are put on this site, that they will generate questions and comments. Note that there is a page on this site with some of the studies that supported the larger study posted. These provide some valuable background for looking at the study. Ultimately the dozen or so chapters of the study will all be located there.

Along the way, I will continue the current set of blogs which are dealing with the Sermon on the Mount.

The Productive Plant. Matt. 7:15-20

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

The concept here is that in addition to making a journey down the right, the narrow path, we need to be productive. Jesus returns to this theme in several of his parables. He draws upon it in his teaching to the disciples found in John 15. And Paul uses it in his letter to the Galatians where he teaches about fruit bearing. Further, the first Psalm draws upon this same image.

The product is not uniform in these teachings–virtues, good works, and new believers–may be the referent from place to place. It seems to me that the common theme is that being a Christian is far more than escaping Hell.

Again, all too often we run into church members who declare that they “believe in Jesus” which they may do in an intellectual, or mental way. But there is precious little evidence of fruit production in any of the three ways mentioned above.

Productivity is pictured as the result of being saved, not a means for salvation. I am to do good works because I am a follower of the Christ who went about doing good. I am to witness to others because I love them and want them to have the joy which I have. I am to be a loving virtuous person because the Holy Spirit has produced these virtues in me.

Again, this is to be understood in light of the work of the cross. Jesus provided for our forgiveness, our salvation. Our joy and and gratitude motivates us to be productive in loving folk, in being good persons, and in sharing with others how one can have peace with God.

The Narrow Gate and Way. Matt. 7:13-14

Tuesday, February 19th, 2008

The Sermon on the Mount concludes with a set of examples regarding the activities of persons who are followers of Jesus–a trip, a productive tree, and a house builder. These capture three of the dimensions of the Christian life. The first two are repeated in other settings.

Jesus declares that the requirements for being a Christian are very specific. A few lines later (Matt. 7:21-23) Jesus continues that a good many people will think that they are fine with God, but are not. This error continues to be common, I fear. Often, we hear folks declare that they are pretty good and that they do not think God would send them to Hell. From the perspective of an evangelical Christian reading of the Bible, this is a tragic error.

If one looks back over the Sermon on the Mount, it is obvious that indeed the demands for the Christian life are rigorous. It is pictured as a hard way, a way that most will not want to travel. The Christian classic, PILGRIM\’S PROGRESS, builds off of and illustrates this statement.

Unfortunately, the term “narrow” has been misused and has come to be associated with narrow mindedness. This is a perversion of the Christian stance. We are to love sinners. We are to desire that they come to Jesus and accept him as their savior. We are to seek their salvation.

The story of the first sin focuses upon the rebellious desire of our first parents to define right and wrong for themselves. We continue to repeat this sin. We want a wide way and a wide gate for our trip to heaven. Something that we construct, or define, according to our liking. We want to be in charge. But if this be the case, then we are gods, not God.

Jesus’s way is different. Note how he raises the bar by internalizing the commandments of God. Right conduct is not enough if it is not accompanied by right motives. We need to come to see this narrowness as in our best interests both in this world and in the world to come, eternity.

Ultimately, reflecting upon this teaching will drive us to our knees. We realize that we cannot made the trip on the narrow way by ourselves. We are driven to the cross. We realize that we cannot secure our own salvation, but rather we much trust what Jesus did on the cross to atone for our sins. Salvation is in Jesus, not in us.

General Baptist Rural Church Conference

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

I spent Februrary 16 with about 125 members of churches in the MoArk Association of General Baptists in Malden Missouri. The topic was the up-to-date rural church. I had a great time. I encouraged them to make use of the materials under Practical Helps to study what their churches are currently doing and to consider changes. I also called their attention to the fact that the first four chapters of the report of the most recent Missouri Rural Church Study are now posted on the site. I hope that we can add a chapter each week until all 12 are up.

General Baptists are a Baptist “sub-denomination” with churches in the midwest, mostly. Their national offices are in Popular Bluff, Missouri.

On Sunday, February 24th, the Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church near Boligee, Alabama will be dedicating their new building. It replaces the one that was burned by arsonists just over two years ago. It should be a blessed event. We will be taking about 1,000 children’s book which have come to us to pass along to this church. In planning their new building the ministry of a library of the children of the community was identified.

Hispanic Church Growth

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

During the recent primary elections there has been a good bit of discussion about immigration. Certainly it is a complicated issue. What follows is only tangentially related to this, but it presents another facet of what is happening with the influx of Hispanics into America.

Several Spanish-speaking congregations have been planted in our area during the past decade. They have formed an “association” which transcends denominational labels. They are working together to hold weekend revivals in communities where Hispanics live. They share their gifts and graces. \

Recently about 50 persons from five of these congregations met in our building on a Friday evening for a time of worship and fellowship. They called it a reunion. I served as the host. Things got started about 9pm. Things went on until almost dawn. Singing. Praying. Preaching. Worshiping. Feasting.

What smiling, happy faces. What love for one another. What acceptance. People in a strange land. People who know that many of the natives do not want them here. People, many of whom, experienced salvation here.

During the evening I felt as though I was witnessing another chapter for the book of The Acts. God is planting and nurturing a new church planting movement here and across the nation. What a joy to witness it.

Depending on God. Mt. 7:6-11

Sunday, February 17th, 2008

An early missionary to the Native Americans, Isaac McCoy, seems to have modeled this style of life as well as about anyone about whom I have learned. He worked with the tribes in Michigan, Indiana and Illinois early in his career which began in 1817.

He found them being exploited by greedy traders. He established boarding schools for the children, trained persons as farmers and blacksmiths, and advocated for the rights of Indians. Food and funds are always hard to obtain. He faced oppositions from many sources.

He faithfully, and ultimately successfully, advocated for the Indians to have a state of their own, out in Kansas and Oklahoma. This involved the removal of over 100,000 Native Americans from the east to the west.

McCoy came to be recognized as a leading expert on the life of Native Americans. He was offered, on several occasions, positions with the government which would have allowed him a very good wage and the opportunity to live in a city. He refused. He stayed focused on what he felt God had called him to do. His autobiography contains many stories about how God had provided for himself, his family and his ministry. This did not mean that he never had any problems. He suffered a lot. But he always testified to the greatness and the goodness of God.

The lesson of this passage is neglected by many of us. We depend on other power sources.

The Golden Rule Matt. 7:12

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

This command of Jesus can and should be supportive of the earlier commands of seeking first the Kingdom of God, the command to not judge others critically, and to depend upon God, wholly. Consider for a while how they support one another, like the four legs of a stool. Together the four support a life of cooperation, connectedness and peace.

In college I was troubled by an agnostic professor who declared that to provide for another what you might want for yourself might be totally inappropriate. This was his critical analysis of the Golden Rule. But as I have thought about this over the years, I have come to realize that he missed the point. Jesus is not talking about stuff provided for another, but rather a sensitive to another. Martin Buber dealt with this many years ago when he contrast “I-IT” with “I-THOU” relationships.

The point Jesus is making is that just as we do not want to be treated as a thing, we must not treat others as an object that we can manipulate. As I think about the Golden Rule, it appears to me that the expression of it would do much to provide for a peaceful community. We need to try it.

Commemorating February 7th

Friday, February 15th, 2008

This past Thursday several persons gathered for a candlelight vigil at the Galilee Baptist Church in Panola, Alabama. The common bond was remembering about the tragedy of two years ago when four rural churches here in West Alabama were set on fire. Two burned to the ground and a third was badly damaged. We talked about what we had learned from God during the past two years.

Pastor Hawkins of Dancy Baptist Church was there and so was Pastor Foy of Spring Valley. Pastor Little of Galilee led the service. Morning Star which will host a dedication of its new building on February 24th, was not represented.

We spoke about our anger, our fear, our hurt, and our bewilderment on the 7th of February, 2006. We also spoke of the affirmation of the teaching of Jesus about forgiving enemies, even in that very difficult time.

The churches have repaired or new and larger facilities in three cases. New pastors serve two churches. New friendships have been forged. Help has come from all around. Many Christian friends have come and helped with the rebuilding. The arsonists are now in prison. The churches pray for them and rejoice about spiritual victories in the lives of the boys. All look forward to a time when the arsonists can come to the churches, worship, be publicly forgiven and express their sorrow.

The churches have been affirmed. Old racial barriers have been bridged. Vision and hopes for the future fuel the congregations. A repeated insight that God has brought good from evil is roundly affirmed. Much work lays before each of the congregations. But they are confident that the God who brought them through this tragedy will be with them in the years to come, whatever comes.