Wes White http://www.weswhite.net A Tennessee Pastor's Blog Tue, 23 May 2017 19:53:18 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.5 http://www.weswhite.net/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/cropped-Wes-White-2-1-32x32.png Wes White http://www.weswhite.net 32 32 17757251 Would You Prefer to Die? http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/would-you-prefer-to-die/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/would-you-prefer-to-die/#respond Wed, 17 May 2017 11:46:12 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12786 Continue reading "Would You Prefer to Die?"

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“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Rather shocking words. Death, according to the apostle Paul, could actually be a good thing.

Some people feel this way because life is so bad that they want escape from it, but that’s not what Paul was thinking at all.

He was not tired of life, and he had no morbid fascination of death. Instead, his desire for death was based in his firm belief that death would bring him closer to Jesus. He loved Jesus so much that he could say that being closer to Him would be “better by far” (1:23).

Paul’s thinking may seem rather strange to you. Why would anyone think this way?

In order to understand his thinking, let’s ask this question: what makes life worth living at all?

Let me suggest that it is primarily one thing: relationships. Whatever else we may enjoy, without relationships, they are pretty much worthless. We desperately need people.

However, people can never satisfy us. Even at their best, they cannot supply the love we truly need. This points us to a more fulfilling relationship with our Creator.

Jesus Christ is a human being, born 2,000 years ago, but He also claimed to be the eternal God and proved it by His resurrection from the dead.

Because Jesus is no mere man, we are not talking merely about devotion to an historical person. We are talking about a human who is also God. This is the basic claim of the Christian religion.

In light of that, here are a few reasons why someone might consider death “gain” to be closer to Jesus.

  • He is our Creator. He made us and wants to have a relationship with us.
  • He is the ruler of the universe. There is no one who can do more for us than Jesus Christ to whom “all authority and power in heaven and earth” have been given.
  • He loves us more than anyone else could. Every other love is finite. His love is infinite, fully able to satisfy all our needs.
  • He cares for us more than anyone else. When we had no interest in Him, He came into this world and suffered on the cross for our sins so that we might be brought back to God (1 Pet. 3:18).
  • He understands us better than anyone else can. Everyone else knows us a little bit. He knows us every thought and intention of our hearts. Amazingly, He loves us more than anyone else does in spite of that.

These are just some of the reasons why someone would say being closer to Christ would be better than anything this world has to offer.

I am one who believes this in my heart. But I have to admit: I have a hard time saying that dying would be better than living in this world.

Why is that? I don’t think it’s just because I’m an unsanctified Christian (though I’m sure that has something to do with it). Rather, I like the connections I have down here. I want to be with my children, wife, and friends, help them, and experience my children growing up and learning to do significant things in this world.

Perhaps this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote to the Corinthians, “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:32–34).

And you know what? Even though Paul was probably single, he still had a similar struggle. He wanted to be with Christ, but he also loved the churches that God had used him to establish.

He writes: “I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body” (1:23–24).

Staying on earth meant that he could have “fruitful labor” among the people whom he loved.

From Paul’s meditation on the meaning of death and the meaning of life, let me encourage you to consider three things.

First, each one of us should prepare more thoroughly for death than we do. One day we will leave this world. Do we think about that? Do we meditate on being with Christ? This should be a regular practice.

Second, one day we will have to leave those whom we love and commit them to the Lord. They belong first and foremost to Him. Our mortality reminds us of this important truth. This is a crucial perspective in all our interactions with people.

Third, while we are here, let us make every effort to do all the good we can to those whom God has committed to our care. If leaving people behind bothers us, let us do good while have the opportunity. Let’s cut out the distractions that keep us from giving our attention to those whom God has called us to love.

I know that each of us needs rest and investments in ourselves in order to have something to give unto others, but we should always make those investments and take that rest with an eye to blessing others.

Why are we here, after all? Dying may be gain, but we are here. So, while we have the opportunity, let’s do our best to fill our time with with “fruitful labor” that glorifies Christ by investing in others (Phil. 1:22).

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Custer State Park http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/custer-state-park/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/custer-state-park/#comments Tue, 16 May 2017 11:04:15 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=9109 Note: Originally posted in November 2011, and these photos were not taken with a telescopic lens.

If you are ever in Western South Dakota, I would highly recommend visiting Custer State Park. Here are a few pictures from our visit there yesterday:

















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What Really Matters http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/what-really-matters/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/what-really-matters/#comments Wed, 10 May 2017 12:25:54 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12762 Continue reading "What Really Matters"

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What really matters to you? And is your life aligned around it?

Two crucial questions that have the power to re-shape our lives.

For many of us, our life is cluttered with things that are not really that important.

Living a fulfilled life is about learning to clean out the clutter and focus on what really matters.

There are two types of things that really matter to us. The first category consists of things that make us personally feel good and whole. These include economic security, intellectual stimulation, rewarding work, mutually beneficial relationships, and physical health.

But there is another category. You find this category by asking the following question (read it slowly):

What is the thing that could cause you to have joy, even if things don’t go well for you personally?

When you answer this question, you will probably discover your deepest passion.

This is what the Apostle Paul had found as he wrote from prison: “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:18).

For Paul, it was Christ and His kingdom. That was the thing in which he could rejoice, even if things didn’t go well for him personally.

What is that thing for you? There’s a lot of things that I would like to say are the thing, but life is pretty good for me. What would I really rejoice in if my life started to unravel?

I don’t think that we can answer that question easily.

That’s what Søren Kierkegaard found when he said: “The [goal] is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do . . . to find the idea for which I can live and die.”

How do we develop a passion so deep that we can rejoice in it, even if things don’t go well for us personally? Through long, hard meditation.

When I think of people who can rejoice in other people, even when things don’t go well for them personally, I think of mothers. Not all mothers are this way, but mothers do provide some of the best examples of selfless devotion to a cause bigger than themselves, namely, their family and children.

But how does this come about? It’s not by merely having a child. It’s not merely chemical bonding. It is a long communion in their hearts and minds with the idea of having a child and what that means to them.

It often starts long before the child is born, maybe in their childhood, as they think about what it means to be a mother. Then, when they are pregnant, the meditation and thinking about a child becomes much more intensive. After she is born, they watch the child growing and dream and think of what this means to them and what she will be.

People from a surprising number of perspectives agree that it is thinking on something for a long time that will change the way we feel and thus the way we act (see footnote below).**

If we desire Christ and His kingdom to be the thing that drives us, we will have to meditate on it. I will not come easily. The Spirit of God will have to overcome a lot of resistance and bad habits, and faith will have to fire our imagination. That’s why the Apostle Paul began his discussion of how we change in his letter to the Colossians with the commendation to “set our hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (3:1).

The Apostle Paul himself is a good example. He had an amazing personal encounter with the living Christ on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9). But by the time he wrote from prison to the church in Philippi, he had been meditating on what Christ meant to him for a very long time (see Galatians 1:17–24).

To really think through what our passion is and what is driving us, we need something that is in short supply in our society: quiet, distraction-less meditation. It won’t happen easily, but as we meditate by faith in the Word of God, the Spirit will re-shape our thoughts and hearts to be ready to live and die for what really matters.

Once we know what this, we should do our best to align everything we do around what really matters.

____________

Note

** All change begins with the way we view things. It is surprising the uniformity on this point in a variety of theologians and scholars from a variety of backgrounds. Dabney writes: “Man feels as he sees, and acts as he feels. A great purpose is only formed when a great idea is kept in contact with the soul, by prolonged communion with it in the depths of its own conception” (Discussions, Vol. 1 [Reprint, Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications, 1982] p. 650). Covey’s second habit is “Begin with the end in mind” (7 Habits, 95–144). Tim Chester says: “The root of all our behavior is the heart—what it trusts and what it treasures” (You Can Change, [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010] p. 73, see also pp. 73 – 93). See also Dallas Willard, Renovation of the Heart: Putting on the Character of Christ (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), pp. 95–139. See also Daniel Coleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence (Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002), pp. 102–112.

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Living by Grace http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/living-by-grace/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/living-by-grace/#respond Sat, 06 May 2017 19:33:24 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12738 Continue reading "Living by Grace"

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In Philippians 1, the Apostle Paul tells the Philippians that he prays to God that their love would increase (v. 9). This indicates that love is the result of God’s grace in us.

This is further confirmed by what Paul says at the end of the prayer. The fruit of righteousness “comes through Jesus Christ–to the praise and glory of God” (1:11).

In addition, they can be assured of the grace of God because “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (1:11).

This is more controversial than it should be among Christians. One reason for this, I believe, is that people take these truths out of the broader context of Scripture.

So, Christian A will say, “Did you work out your own salvation with fear in trembling, or was it God who was working in you?”

Christian B responds, “I worked. Christianity has not been easy.”

Christian A responds, “No, it was God working in you.” And the conversation devolves from there.

The Bible is much more balanced. In Philippians 2, God tells the church, “Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (12–13). A fabulous statement of human responsibility and God’s grace. If either side makes you uncomfortable, then . . .

Recently, I heard a Pastor talk about his conversion. He said, “By an act of my God-given will, I put my faith in Christ.”

I was rather taken aback. It seemed to miss the grace of God. However, as he continued, he went on to say, “And I didn’t realize this at the time, but all of this was God’s work.”

It turned out that in the totality of his message, he captured both sides of the biblical balance.

Is it enough, then, for people to just work hard and then recognize later that it was the grace of God?

I would suggest that the fact that our work is God’s grace in us affects not only who gets ultimate credit and thanks for the work but also how we work.

Here are four ways in which I believe that we will work, if we believe that all that we do is the gift of God’s grace:

  1. We will maintain an attitude of humble dependence on God for anything we do.
  2. We will maintain a life of prayer. If we believe God’s grace is the source of any good in us, let us ask for it!
  3. We will maintain communion with Christ. “Neither can you bear fruit unless your remain in me” (Jn. 15:4).
  4. We will maintain an openness to the help of others. If we need Jesus, we should also confess we need His body (1 Cor. 12:12–31).

Grace is more than just a theological concept. It is a way of living in dependence on God. We all need to learn it more and truly sing from the heart, “‘Tis grace hath bro’t me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”

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Love Needs Wisdom http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/love-needs-wisdom/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/05/love-needs-wisdom/#comments Wed, 03 May 2017 11:05:31 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12722 Continue reading "Love Needs Wisdom"

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Wisdom without love is worthless. Love without wisdom is not quite worthless, but it may be fruitless.

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian Christians, he told them that he prayed “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight” (1:9).

You often hear, just love people, and that’s all you need.

But that’s not all you need.

Sometimes people with the biggest heart are not as effective as they could be because they just move on emotions rather than thinking through what would be best.

That’s why Paul wanted to them to have wisdom “so that you may discern what is best” (1:10) and “be filled with the fruit of righteousness” (1:11).

Let me give a few examples of the type of wisdom that helps love.

  • If we just move on what we see, we may miss people who need our attention but are not clamoring for it. We need to step back and ask, who has God put in my life that I need to pray for and minister to? The urgent easily crowds out the important.
  • My experience is that the important things in life rarely get attention unless you plan for them. You won’t accidentally plan times for rest or activities with your children. The first thing you schedule in your week should be a time to plan and think through your week.
  • One important thing to plan is rest. For those who work and have children, this can be very difficult. There is an endless demand to do more work and activities with your kids. But you won’t be as effective in any area, if you don’t schedule time to rest.
  • As a side note, let me warn against the opposite error. Some people are so scheduled that they miss the real opportunities to do good. Remember: Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken. This also takes wisdom.
  • Another example is that all relationships need a balance of togetherness and separateness. I have seen this in some marriages. People never have a chance to miss each other. I have found that a surprising amount of relationship problems can be solved by recognizing this principle.
  • If we are going to help people move forward, we need to show them affection, and we need to understand where they really are. For example, people in your church may say they want to attend a Sunday School class. Then, you have the class, and no one attends. They are telling you that they want something different. Some of those same people may attend a small group during the week.
  • Those quickest to volunteer are not always the people you need in a position. Some people just want to do everything, but no one can. Some people won’t volunteer unless they are invited. You just have to pay attention to where people are. This takes wisdom.

Let me add here that I have learned and continue to learn this from the multiple times that I have tried to lead people and to my dismay find that no one is following me. Wisdom is a constant learning process.

How can we develop wisdom? The book of Proverbs is a good place to start. It says: “Get wisdom. Though it cost you all you have, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7).

The book of Proverbs is a book that is surprisingly earthy. It tells us to listen to people, to be patient, not to praise our neighbor with a bull horn at 4:00 in the morning, to be careful about accepting gifts from the rich, to be friendly so we can have friends, and so on.

Some people are offended by its homey practicality, but you just can’t get around it. It is creational wisdom, and the wisdom of the book of Proverbs has a lot of similarities with the wisdom that you can find in a variety of religions and cultures.

So, in regards to wisdom, get it wherever you can. Personally, I have found that the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is a great summary of creational wisdom. I go back to it again and again.

Listen to a variety of people. Almost everybody has something that they can teach you. Have the attitude of the Apostle Paul (Romans 1:11–12).

Pray for wisdom. God has made a promise that He will give wisdom to whomever asks in faith: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

Remember, this will be a lifelong process of trial and error and continual learning, but it’s worth it. Love taught by wisdom will help us do what is best, be blameless on the day of Christ’s coming, and bear the fruit of righteousness.

One final point: wisdom needs love. Wisdom can easily lead to pride. Heavenly wisdom is first pure and then humble. We may have insight, but we always, always, always need to maintain an attitude of prayer and dependence on God recognizing that our fruitfulness “comes through Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:11).

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What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/what-the-church-can-learn-from-the-antichrist/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/what-the-church-can-learn-from-the-antichrist/#respond Thu, 27 Apr 2017 00:10:41 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12713 Continue reading "What the Church Can Learn from the Antichrist"

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In my previous post on the “end times,” I suggested that the church is going to make progress throughout history. This should provide some optimism about the possibilities for good in history.

However, this opinion needs to be balanced with a consideration of the possibilities of evil in history. This is what we can learn from the appearance of the Antichrist at the end of history.

Why is this so significant to the church? Because the power of antichrist is already at work (2 Thessalonians 2:7).

I believe there will be a final manifestation of evil in history, the Antichrist, but I also believe that the spirit of antichrist is already present in history and relevant to each one of us. Understand that the Antichrist takes something that is good and makes it evil. When you realize that this evil is primarily about exalting self, then you realize that the spirit of antichrist is not nearly as far from us as we’d like to think.

When we think about getting political power or gaining wealth or growing spiritually, we think of these things as good things. In and of themselves, they are. However, each new attainment also presents new opportunities for temptation and evil. That is the lesson of the Antichrist.

The book of Revelation presents the power of the Antichrist in three ways. The first two are economic and political (Revelation 13:1–10 and 17–18).

Everyone knows the danger of political power, especially in the political party opposing your own party. Power tends to corrupt. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, as Lord Acton noted.

Economic achievement can be a blessing and enable people to enjoy greater comforts, opportunities, and blessings. However, there is also the danger that economic power can become an idol and be used or obtained at the expense of other human beings, such as in the slavery system of the South.

But what is most relevant to the church is that the power of the Antichrist is also religious (see 2 Thess. 2:4 and Rev. 13:11–18). Thus, we should not see religion as an unalloyed good. Religion can easily become a tool of our pride, antichrist rather than pro-Christ.

When we think of Christianity, we can easily provide examples of religion going awry. In the Middle Ages, the papacy set itself up as supreme, and the Roman Catholic Church persecuted anyone who would not submit. Protestants have continually fallen into the same temptation. The Puritans set up a commonwealth in New England that established an official church and persecuted dissenters such as Roger Williams.

In our own hearts, we know that our religious attainments can often lead us to feel pride and to look down on others rather than to humility.

This is especially ironic because the goal of Christianity is to humble humans before God and show them their need for His grace, but even that can become a tool of human pride. As American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr put it:

The worst form of self-assertion is religious self-assertion in which under the guise of contrition before God, He is claimed as the exclusive ally of our contingent self. . . . Christianity rightly regards itself as a religion, not so much of man’s search for God . . . but as a religion of revelation in which a holy and loving God is revealed to man as the source and end of all finite existence against whom the self-will of man is shattered and his pride abased. But as soon as the Christian assumes that he is, by virtue of possessing this revelation, more righteous, because more contrite, than other men, he increases the sin of self-righteousness and makes the forms of a religion of contrition the tool of his pride (The Nature and Destiny of Man, Vol. 1, 201).

So, what is the lesson that we need to learn from the Antichrist? Every bit of progress and every new attainment contains a new temptation to pride.

This problem and dynamic will never be eliminated in history. The end of Antichrist is not by man’s efforts but by another appearing: “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming” (2 Thessalonians 2:8).

However much progress we make in history or in our individual lives, there will always be a part of us that says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me” (Romans 7:22–23). As long as this is true, there will be a temptation to misuse political, economic, and religious power and attainments.

For many people, the Antichrist is a scary idea that seems very enigmatic. To a degree, it is. However, considered this way, I find the truth revealed in the appearing of Antichrist a very practical and important one for the church to consider.

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The Anxiety Cure http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/the-anxiety-cure/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/the-anxiety-cure/#comments Mon, 24 Apr 2017 09:55:11 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12709 Continue reading "The Anxiety Cure"

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“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” — Philippians 4:6–7

Sometimes the things I need to learn are the most basic things.

This week, I attended a conference in Mississippi. I believe I went with an open heart to see what the Lord would teach me and what He would do through relationships.

What the Lord showed me was that there are many places in my life where I let frustrations or anxieties just sit there. In virtually every area of my life, there are low-grade frustrations. I don’t think I’m particularly weird because of that. Most of us have them.

But what had I been doing with those frustrations? Nothing. In some cases, they would build up with unpleasant results.

God reminded me this week that there is a cure to my anxieties and frustrations: prayer. God was inviting me to let go of my frustrations and seek Him in prayer through passages like Phil. 4:6–7.

So, I resolved by God’s grace that instead of letting frustrations sit there, I would bring them before the Lord. All throughout the week, I used frustration and anxiety as a signal to send me to prayer.

The results were remarkable, not in the people or circumstances I was praying about, but in myself. I felt more peace than I had felt in a long time. But that’s what God promised: “the peace of God, which transcends understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Lord, help me to remember to use my frustrations and anxieties as signals that point me to You.

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The Progress of the Church in History http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/progress-church-history/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/progress-church-history/#comments Mon, 17 Apr 2017 11:06:11 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12700 Continue reading "The Progress of the Church in History"

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What progress can the church expect to make in history? What are the prospects of the church before Christ returns?

There are several places in Scripture that indicate a progressive growth in the kingdom of God before Christ’s return. For example, Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: “Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches” (Mt. 13:32).

Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel envisions a kingdom that breaks all other kingdoms. It “became a huge mountain and filled the whole earth” (2:35).

I believe that it is very hazardous to predict the future, even with the images that the Bible gives us of the future. Most who have tried to do it in any detail have been totally wrong. It is not for us to know the times and the seasons.

That being said, I predict that Jesus will return on October 25, 2134. Just kidding. Not going to make that sort of prediction.

However, I do think that history has shown us enough for us to believe that these images of progressive progress do tell us something about the direction of history. The movement of history seems also to teach that the kingdom will continue to make progress throughout history before the consummation.

Consider the early church. It grew from a small group in Jerusalem to a multitude of congregations throughout the world.

From there, the church continued to grow until it overran the Roman Empire and displaced the pagan religions there.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Christian missionaries went out and brought the Gospel to those who had overran the Empire. The conversion of “barbarian” tribes continued throughout the Middle Ages.

Once Europe became free of the Arab monopoly on Eastern trade by using the sea, Christianity began to spread throughout the globe.

Finally, in our own day, Christianity has grown dramatically as the seeds planted by Western missionaries have begun to flower. Even in places like China that became completely closed to Christianity, the Gospel has gone forth.

This progress ought to give us significant hope as we endeavor to minister to our communities and make Christ known to the nations.

When we look at micro-trends that look bad for the church, we need to keep our eyes on the macro-trends so that we do not despair. A bigger picture should encourage us.

It is amazing how Western Christians despair about the prospects of the church at a time when the church is growing like never before. Richard Lovelace was so astonished by this phenomenon that he suggested that it is a “satanically re-enforced ignorance of the church’s vigor abroad” (Dynamics of Spiritual Life [Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979], 150).

There is an important qualification to this positive perspective. This age is an age of the progress of the church, but it is also an age of persecution. “[E]everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). There will be progress, but we should not expect it to come easy.

But we should be encouraged. The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power (1 Cor. 4:20). When we have a vision for doing something significant for the kingdom of God, we can have good hopes that we will see success and blessing on the work.

What we need is a vision for what God wants us to do. The power of the Holy Spirit is certainly available.

This brings us to the question, how far will the kingdom progress before the Second Coming? I will try to give some direction on this in my next post.

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Easter: Think Bigger! http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/easter-think-bigger/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/easter-think-bigger/#respond Thu, 13 Apr 2017 18:25:14 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12691 Continue reading "Easter: Think Bigger!"

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The are several problems with the common perception of life after death. Here’s what people think: when we die, our souls go to heaven to float around there forever. This is only partially true.

When we die, our souls do continue to exist (Phil. 1:21), but our ultimate hope is in the resurrection of our bodies. Our hope is that Christ “will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). With the ancient church, “we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come” (The Nicene Creed).

A second problem is that people think it is only our individual bodies and not the whole creation that will be redeemed. But the vision of our destiny in the Scriptures is one of a redeemed world (e.g., Is. 65:17–25). As the Apostle Paul says, “the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay” (Rom. 8:21).

Lutheran commentator R.C.H. Lenski argues renewal of creation against the idea that there will be an altogether new creation:

. . . man is the creature for whom the first heaven and the first earth were created, and if he is made new by creative acts without first having been annihilated, he the head of all this creation, shall God annihilate heaven and earth and create ex nihilo another heaven and earth? Combine what is here said with Rom. 8, and the answer is plain (Commentary on the New Testament: The Interpretation of John’s Revelation [Augsburg Publishers, 1943 and 1963; repr., Hendricksen Publishers, no date], 615).

Jesus’ resurrection is not merely a pattern of what God will do for us as individuals. It is the beginning of a new creation. We need to think bigger.

A third problem is that our view of transformation is overly individualistic. If Jesus is making all things new, then this speaks not only to our individual life but also to our social and communal life.

National and individual life both reverberate through the resurrection. The description of the new heavens and the new earth speaks of nations and their glory being brought into the new heavens and the new earth (Rev. 21:22–25). This indicates that communal actions and struggles have eternal significance.

You can see this same idea in Colossians. The Apostle Paul tells slaves that their work is not in vain and that they will be rewarded (Col. 3:22–25). The work that seems to be lowliest of all actually has eternal significance. The significance of work is rooted in the first creation (Gen. 1:26–28) and will have an effect in the renewed creation.

Of course, people may object to the idea that social and communal action has effects in the resurrection.

  1. For example, it is hard to say what the relationship between social action and the resurrection would be. Answer: it is also hard to say what the precise relation of our struggles against idolatry, lust, drunkenness, and temper would be to the resurrection, but that does not make it less significant (see Rom. 6:22).
  2. Objection: God is concerned about saving people, not society and the natural world. Answer: false dichotomy. God is interested in the natural world, society, and the salvation of individuals (see Gen. 9:1–11, cf. Jonah 4:11).
  3. Objection: We shouldn’t get entangled in this world, since it is not our home. Answer: this does not mean that we should not be involved in this life. We just shouldn’t make anything in this life absolute. By way of analogy, we should not make food an idol, but God has given it to us to enjoy (1 Tim. 6:18). There is no completion in this life, but that doesn’t mean it is not important (see my post on this here).
  4. Objection: social transformation is hard. Answer: yes it is. That does not mean that it should not be attempted. In addition, we have the power and resources of Christ’s resurrection.
  5. So, what’s the payoff? We should think bigger.

    We are all busy with our daily lives, work, and family, but God calls us to look out not only for own interests but also the interests of others.

    We may think only of our own home, but God takes an interest in our neighborhoods. We may think of our children getting good grades, but God cares about our whole school. God always has a bigger interest.

    And when we work to transform society and make families, neighborhoods, businesses, and other societal organizations better, God stands behind it. God wants us to think bigger. He is making all things new.

    Where could God be calling you into something bigger?

    It’s easy to see the institutions and big projects around us and think that these are out of your reach. But can you get your neighbors together? Can you attend a community event? Can you get involved in little league? Can you start a business? Can you help out an elderly person or young mother who is struggling? Can you start a small group at your church? Can you take a step to reconcile with a family member from whom you have been estranged? All these things are steps that bring us closer to the new heavens and new earth that Christ will bring in fully when He comes again.

    ]]> http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/easter-think-bigger/feed/ 0 12691 Comfort in Loss and Struggle http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/comfort-in-loss-and-struggle/ http://www.weswhite.net/2017/04/comfort-in-loss-and-struggle/#comments Mon, 10 Apr 2017 14:35:42 +0000 http://www.weswhite.net/?p=12678 Continue reading "Comfort in Loss and Struggle"

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    “But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus . . .” (2 Cor. 7:6)

    Last week, I had the privilege to officiate at a funeral for one of our members, Ed Sumner. During the funeral, I shared some thoughts on his situation based on 2 Corinthians 7:6.

    The Apostle Paul, who penned these words, knew the Word and promises of God well, but he still needed comfort. He was downcast, and God gave him the comfort he needed. How? “By the coming of Titus.”

    Ed was also one who knew theology. He was steeped in the Bible. He had shelves full of books.

    But Ed was often angry and downcast. He was lonely. He was an only child. He had no relatives. Relationships had not worked out well for him.

    One day, Ed showed up at our church. He attended, and he kept coming back.

    A few weeks later, he joined our church and stood to profess his faith along with two young girls who were doing the same that day. It was a beautiful picture of the body of Christ in its diversity.

    A few months later, Ed’s sickness got worse. He had nobody to care for him. He called on his church body.

    A multitude of people stepped up, helped him, and visited him in the hospital. When he needed money to get into rehab, the church came through for him and then visited him while he was there.

    Eventually, Ed got out of rehab and seemed on the path to a more normal life. During this time, I would often invite Ed to our house for football parties or other gatherings.

    I began to notice something. Ed was not angry anymore. He was much happier. He didn’t seem so downcast.

    What happened? God had comforted him through the coming of Evergreen Church.

    And we were comforted by his coming as well. Sometimes, we were perplexed in figuring out how to help him, but we were thankful that Ed had come and wanted to be a part of us and be loved by the church.

    Ed was deeply interested in the church, and he often would call me to ask how he could pray for the church. I miss that, and I miss being able to invite him over to our gatherings.

    This experience reinforced an important point that has been percolating in my head for a long time. God comforts us, but He generally does it through people. We need people. It’s not good for a man to be alone.

    As I write this, I know that I need to continually encourage myself to make known my hurts and needs to people. I need to put myself in the path of those whom I know will love and care for me. When I get stuck, I need the Word of God, but I need people who will make it real to me through voices, facial expressions, and a kind touch.

    That’s what we all need. God comforts the downcast, but He does it through people, just as He did for the Apostle Paul and Ed Sumner and does for me.

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