Monday, August 14, 2017

Work out, not for, your own salvation

Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. This command in Paul’s letter to the Philippians has caused many to stumble, to make an argument for works-righteousness, and even to believe that what Jesus did was not enough. That he needs my help to save me. We know that’s nonsense, and the plain meaning of this text makes perfect sense. Paul says work out your salvation. He doesn’t say work in your salvation. Or work up your salvation. Or work for your salvation! No, we are to work it out. In other words, what God has secured in you through His grace given on the basis of Jesus’ sacrifice, work it out in every way and on every day. It’s what we do in our marriages, right? Were you done when you said, “I do”? No, you were just getting started. And for the rest of your life, you are working out your marriage in fear. And sometimes with trembling!

If you are working out your salvation as a father, it means you are learning to bring up your children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. You cannot learn that without starting to do it badly. But you have to start. When my children were very young, they each had trouble learning to ride a bike. They fell. They scraped their knees. They cried. But they kept getting back on the bike until it became second nature to them. Get back on the bike, Dad, and lead your family in the things that are most important. If you are working out your salvation as a student, it means you study. You work hard. If you are working out your salvation as a brother or sister in Christ in your church family, it means that when you are offended, you don’t hold onto that. You let it go quickly, and if you can’t let it go, you go to the one who offended you and you work it out. And yes, it will require work, sacrifice, and discipline. Tim Challies had a good word on this recently:

“I want to have 10 percent body fat. I set that goal a while ago and even managed to get really close to reaching it. But eventually I found out that I want to have 10 percent body fat just a bit less than I want to have 13 percent. There’s a key difference between the two: While 13 percent requires moderate effort to gain and retain, 10 percent requires strict discipline. I soon learned I just didn’t want the goal enough to put in the effort to achieve it. I didn’t meet my desire with discipline.” Then he adds, “I often consider the people I’ve known who set an example of unusual godliness. I think of well-known Christian men who lived godly lives in the public eye and who carried out unblemished ministries. I think of unknown and unnoticed women who lived equally godly lives far outside the public eye. What did they have in common? What was the key to their holiness? I believe it was their discipline. They disciplined themselves for the highest godliness. They were spiritual athletes who ensured their highest desires supplanted their baser desires. They achieved godliness because they aimed at godliness.”

We all have work to do if we are to aim at God’s best for us. Thankfully, we are never alone. Paul adds, “for it is God who works in us both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” That is the gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Moldova, men and ministry

You can find an article online that was published last year in The Telegraph entitled, “25 amazing things you probably didn’t know about Moldova.” It’s a good read, and though I have been to the tiny country in Eastern Europe twice, I learned a lot from the article. That being said, my oldest son and I didn’t go there because it is the least visited country in Europe. Or because they have great wine. Or because the people speak two and sometimes three languages. We went because we were invited by World Team Moldova, a missions organization committed to coming alongside churches and their leaders to encourage and equip them.

Micah and I had a great time in Chisinau, the capital city, as we spent five days on the ground meeting with men who were invited to hear us address two topics with them. Our first mission was to encourage men to take up the mantle of spiritual leadership in their homes. In Moldova, as in many other places in the world, men mostly take a passive role in the home. If they lead at all, it is often tyrannical, and sometimes abusive. Micah and I shared from the Scriptures and from personal experience how they could lead in a different way, through love and through service. We encouraged them to study the Bible and to teach their families what they are learning. We challenged them to pray with and for their wives. We pleaded with them to demonstrate in word and deed how much they love their wives and their children. We prodded them to protect their families from false doctrine.

We exhorted them to provide for their families, not just financially, but by preparing their children to be adults. “You are not raising children,” we said to the men, “you are raising adults. More than that, you are raising parents, who will, like you, invest in the next generation. Prepare them well, for the sake of their children, and for the sake of Moldova.” In each session, we had to work through a translator. I was telling the story of a young man in England who years ago wrote in his diary, “Went fishing with my father. Best day of my life.” The man translating into Russian misunderstood diary, and said that the young man had diarrhea. He was quickly corrected by three others in the room who understood English, but it was a reminder that when you don’t know the language, you are absolutely at the mercy of your interpreter. In this case, it ended well and gave us a lighter moment. By the way, the point of the story was that this young man’s father was a diplomat and historians found his diary to see what he had written on that day. It was this: “Went fishing with my son. A day wasted.”

Our second mission was to encourage church leaders and pastors to look again at what the New Testament says about the importance of a plurality of elders in the church. The model in Moldova for church leadership, as in much of the world, is a solo pastor at the top, and a board of people under him who assist in the ministry. We spent time looking at a different way, which is on display clearly in the book of Acts and in the letters Paul, Peter, and others wrote to the churches.

We have been invited back to Moldova, and I look forward to continuing our relationship with the people in this beautiful country.