For it is by grace you have been saved...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Short Note on Sermon Preparation

This is NOT how to do sermon preparation:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Stuff!!

That got you attention, didn't it?  Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love free stuff, especially books.  I enter contests to win free books.  I follow several "resource" pages on facebook in order to get free books for my Kindle.  In fact, 99.5 of the 700+ books on my Kindle were free!  I love free.

But here's the thing.  Free stuff isn't really free is it?  I mean, when a publisher makes a new book free to download as a promotional thing, or whatever, it doesn't cost me personally to download it.  But it isn't really free in the sense that it cost no one anything.  The writer has a lot of time and effort and maybe even money invested.  The publisher may have some tied up in it as well, but they offer the free download in hopes that you will buy some other stuff. The point is, it cost someone something to produce that "free" item. 

Likewise, when I win the free books (which I actually have once or twice), it's not that the books magically appear out of nowhere.  Again, the writer and publisher have time and money invested in producing that book, the person running the giveaway pays postage in order for me to receive them.  It cost someone something in order for me to get if for "free."

Now, we can apply that to politics and really start an argument.  The government is always offering this or that "free" program.  Free lunches and free tuition and free housing and free this or that.  But it's not free, is it?  You and I, the average tax payer, we pay for that "free" stuff.  That's a frustration for lots and lots of folks as they watch others take advantage of those things, often even illegally, that our government "hands out."  We know we worked hard to earn a paycheck, and the government took part of that hard earned money, and they pass it out (often willy nilly) to folks who may or may not truly need the "assistance."  The point is, nothing is free.  Someone paid for it. 

Similarly, our church has a benevolent ministry in which we help folks in the community who are in need.  Help with a light bill, or a gas bill, or some groceries.  Sure those folks get it for free.  But it came at the expense of the pocket books of some very generous folks in our church.  We're glad to do it.  But it can be frustrating when folks don't appreciate it, or act like we "owe" it to them.  Because it does cost someone something. 

I really didn't want to just make this about politics.  What I eventually want to get around to is the theological implications of this.  We talk often of free grace; the free gift of salvation.  And it is.  It doesn't cost us a thing.  Salvation is the gift of God; His grace is free to those whom He chooses to give it.  But we need to remember that this free gift did indeed cost someone something.

Salvation is not God looking the other way and just ignoring our sin.  Grace is not God saying "Aw shucks, I guess sin isn't that big of a deal after all, let's just forget it."  The truth is, our sin demands justice.  Our sin demands a price be paid.  Because God is pure and holy and true and righteous and just, He absolutely must punish sin.  It can't be ignored.  It can't be overlooked.  To do so would violate the very nature and character of God. However...

What a great word: however...  However, God in His amazing mercy, chose to send His perfect Son to live and die in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment our sin deserves.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  A real transaction took place on the cross of Calvary.  Your sin was heaped on the perfect Son of God, and the righteousness of the perfect Son of God was imputed to you.  Wow!  What a price God pays for us to receive His free grace.

Here's the thing.  All that annoyance we might feel about others taking advantage of free stuff, acting like we're owed something for nothing, not appreciating a free gift when given...magnify that to infinity and imagine what God must think when we act like our salvation is a freebie we can take or leave, or something we're owed, or something we don't truly appreciate.  God paid a price higher than we can even imagine in order to give us this free gift.  It most certainly cost Someone something very valuable indeed.

So please, if you haven't, consider God's free gift of salvation in Christ.  It truly is free.  You don't deserve it, and you certainly can't earn it, but God has paid the price in Jesus.  Receive His offer of free grace.  But please, never forget the price that was paid.  

Those who know this gift already, please, don't take it for granted, don't take it lightly.  Thank God daily for the amazing gift that it is.  Rejoice in His grace, revel in the free nature of it, jump up and down at the riches of His infinite Grace.  But please, please, never forget that this glorious gift cost Someone something precious.  And thank Him for that, too.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Letting Go Stinks...but maybe it's time

Time to take my own advice I guess.  I just hate when that happens.  I recently posted about our family portraits for the church directory, and I said all kinds of high falutin' stuff about growing and maturing and moving on; and how it's good and right and natural to do that; about not holding on to the past, etc.  What was I thinking?

Yesterday morning, we took our oldest daughter to the airport in St. Louis.  From there she was flying to Newark, NJ, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany where she will spend the next year.  Obviously, she was quite excited.
Of course, Dad was much less so; Mom was the same.  Little sister had the world's mopiest look and even her brothers weren't that thrilled.  But here's the thing...

When I was her age, I was newly married and moving to Texas for seminary.  I had already spent 3 months in North Dakota serving on a Sioux Reservation, a place I would take my wife and brand new baby just a couple years later.  We stayed there for three years. 

Now, granted, Texas and North Dakota are both within driving distance from where I grew up; only a couple days.  Germany is nearly 5,000 miles away, across an ocean, etc.  But still, we've arrived at that time of life when letting go is a natural part of the growing process. 

And at least she is going to Germany for a "fun" thing, to serve as an aupair for a very nice German family, with their two adorable little children.  I spent some time visiting on Sunday with a young lady in our church who served in the military for 8 years, and was deployed in Iraq for over a year.  I can only imagine what her parents went through! 

Still, this was the last thing I saw of my baby, and the last I will see for over a year.
I confess I teared up a bit walking away.  Only ticketed passengers past the security check these days, so we had to just let her go, let her wander off to find her gate and then sit and wait almost two hours for her flight (it was delayed, of course).  Tough for a parent to do.  I know the goodbye is really only "see ya later."  She does plan to come back in a year "or so" and work on her master's degree, and a few other plans.  But it's time to let go.  And it's a good thing.

So instead of remembering that last picture, and the sadness it provokes, maybe I'll try to focus on that other picture above.  Remember how excited she is about this new experience.  Focus on how this is going to be a wonderful growing experience for her and for me and for our family.  And then, focus on thanking God for the 22 years (minus four at college of course) that we had with her nearby, and trusting that God has plans for her which He has been moving toward since the beginning.  She's in His hands, where she's always been.  And that's exactly where she needs to be.  

Ich Leibe Dich, Sonnenschein!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Forgotten Heritage

I posted online a couple of days ago what I see as the irony of the 4th of July: that our forefathers fought for independence from a tyrannical government in order to freely serve God; an event celebrated today by a people fighting for independence from God while submitting to an increasingly tyrannical government. Sort of makes you wonder what those founders would think of things today. 

Regardless, we do have a memorable and, for the most part, godly heritage in this country.  As much as we have distanced ourselves from that, as much as some want to deny it, we have a solid Christian heritage in this nation.  Not that we ever were truly a completely Christian nation; not that we have ever had some corner on the market as the unique people of God as a nation.  But we do have a rich heritage that we as Christians can celebrate.

For example, in 1802 a Massachusetts Grand Jury was appointed by Judge Nathaniel Freeman.  In his instructions to that jury, Judge Freeman stated: “The laws of the Christian system, as embraced by the Bible, must be respected as of high authority in all our courts and it cannot be thought improper for the officers of such government to acknowledge their obligation to be governed by its rule…  He said, “[Our government] originating in the voluntary compact of a people who in that very instrument profess the Christian religion, it may be considered, not as republic Rome was, a Pagan; but a Christian republic.”  Imagine a judge saying something like that today.  

Or how about this one.  Henry Wilson, who served both as a US Senator and as Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant, said this:  "Men who see not God in our history have surely lost sight of the fact that, from the landing of the Mayflower to this hour, the great men whose names are indissolubly associated with the colonization, rise, and progress of the Republic have borne testimony to the vital truths of Christianity."  Haven't seen that in a text book lately, have you? 

Of course, then there are the more well known quotes by the more well know founders.  Washington's declaration that "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."  In fact, William Federer's book America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations (where all the above can be found) actually contains 30 pages of words from our first President which show his belief that this national experiment was founded on biblical principles.  

But most folks know about Washington and company.  I wanted to add a couple of lesser known quotes from maybe lesser known individuals to remind us that the majority of leaders in our nation's early history felt this way.  Not all.  And not all were perfect examples of Christian ideals.  But by and large folks at one time recognized the spiritual heritage of our nation.  It's so sad to see that slipping away. 

Again, I'm not one of those guys who equates America with "God's Chosen People."  There is a distinct difference between this nation and the Kingdom of God.  I am happy to be a citizen of both, but I know my citizen in the Kingdom takes precedence, and is mine regardless of what happens in this country. 

Still, it's sad to see a nation so richly blessed by God, to be given such a wonderful Christian heritage, and we just trample it under foot.  To enjoy so many rich freedoms, purchased by the blood of men and the grace of God, and we ignore both.  

All that is simply to say this.  On this Independence Day, may we truly appreciate what all went into finding that independence.  May we thank God for His grace.  May we honor the faith principles of the men and women who fought for that independence.  Regardless of where we are now and where we may end up in the years ahead, may we ever be thankful for the hand of God at work in the lives of those American heroes who truly believed in God and Country; beliefs which are the foundation of who we are, like it or not.  

Happy Fourth of July everyone.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Supreme Court's Handslap - Will it be enough?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  This little doosey has been making its way around the internet and it's truly filled with a myriad of meaning. 
This shot of the President reaching over the sneeze guard encapsulates his and his administration's basic approach to life:  "Boundaries are for other people, not me."  Time and again we have seen this administration over-reaching into nearly every area of public life.  One of the most well known recently came to a head with a decision handed down by the US Supreme Court. 

As you are well aware, the Obama Administration's Health Care Act demanded that all businesses provide contraceptives to their female employees at no cost to the employee.  Free birth control.  Even if the owners of the business found a moral/ethical/religious objection to such a practice.  Famously, Hobby Lobby, a privately owned business, challenged that little detail.  And thanks to the US Supreme Court, religious liberty has won a major victory.  Which brings to mind another fun little photo on the net. 
I wanted to post an insightful, wonderful response to that recent decision, but I'm not smart enough to read through all the legalize. Fortunately, folks like Al Mohler have given us a wonderful summary of this recent decision and the impact it will have on our nation.  He also points out some other interesting messages that come from this decision.  I encourage you to read that article

But here's the question I have.  While this little hand-slap-heard-round-the-world has sounded a great victory for religious freedom, is it enough?  Will the same arguments here about the religious liberties of privately held companies also apply to those photographers and bakers who are being forced by government courts to provide services for gay weddings which these businesses have moral/ethical/religious objections to?  Will this decision be enough to head off the impending forcing of churches to perform gay weddings which I recently wrote about?  

I guess it remains to be seen.  But at this point, there's almost enough room for real hope.  Though it was a truly divided court decision on this case, other issues (as Mohler points out) gave the administration a unanimous hand slap.  Reason for hope indeed.  Yet, I hope we don't use this as an excuse to let our guard down.  As the President has shown, he doesn't mind reaching over those guards, so we need to keep them up and remain vigilant. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Family Portraits

Our church is in the middle of doing a "church directory."  And we all know what that means.  Family portraits.  Now, let me be completely honest.  I hate getting pictures taken.  I hate the posing, the "turn your head a little to the right, now lean forward, now move your shoulders this way, now stand on your head and count to twelve."  Yuck.   Plus, for some reason, the pictures always end up looking just like me.  Who wants that?!

Afterward, of course, I'm always a bit more positive.  After all that yuck, we end up with a nice portrait of the family that we will proudly hang on the wall for the next few decades, and I'll walk by and give a big sigh and think "oh, I remember those days, I wish we could go back..."

Family portraits are a good thing.  I've come to realize that even more as I discover that this might be our last chance to have the whole family together like this.  At least for awhile. The oldest is leaving for Germany for a year (if not more), the next two have both graduated high school and who knows where they'll be in a year.   So it's nice to have them all together, and to capture this moment. (For the record, we're still waiting for the newest photo, so the one here is our previous family photo; as if anyone cares...)

But there are drawbacks, as well.  While I would love to freeze time and keep things just like this, while I still walk by and look at those older portraits and think "Oh, how wonderful those times were," the truth is, it would be unnatural for things to stay like that. 

Life is meant to progress.  We are meant to grow and mature.  As much as I don't like it, our children are meant to grow up and move on and begin lives of their own.  It's the way God intended it.

The same is true of our spiritual lives, of course.  We are meant to progress, to grow and mature.  If we stayed the same, if we could take a spiritual picture today and saw no change a year from now, that would be unhealthy.  

And the same is true for a church. The temptation is to look back at the life of the church and see it like the church directory.  That moment frozen in time.  When everything was like this, and the people were like that, and "oh, wasn't it wonderful."  But we are to be growing and maturing and progressing.  People come and go, families change and grow, ministries ebb and flow.   And that's a good thing.  Things may be different now than ten years ago, and will be different ten years from now, but that's as it should be.  Hopefully those changes are the result of growth and maturity and becoming more Christ-like and Christ-centered in all we do. 

So I'm thankful for the family portraits to hang on to.  I'm even thankful for the church directory that will capture this moment in time.  But hopefully it's not a case of trying to permanently frame where we are, and we stop moving toward where God wants us to be.  It will be great to look back in years to come and say, "Oh, I remember those times."  But while we may do that with fond memories, may it never detract from the joy of where God has brought us, and the delight of where we are now in our service to the Kingdom.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Silver Celebration

That's right!  25 years. Since 1989. 25 years of excellence. Celebrating our 25th year.

No, not a business.  Not a church celebration. Cheryl and I are celebrating 25 years of marriage.  Unbelievable!  How could any woman put up with me that long??  What a testimony to the grace of God!

Well, 5 years ago on our 20th, I posted a corny little poem I wrote for the occasion.  I thought about doing something like that again.  But the internet can only handle so much romantic excellence, so I decided not to be the cause of any overload.

What I will do is publicly and loudly declare here for the world to see my unending gratitude to God for blessing me with such an amazing woman.  I can't imagine my life without her.  I can't imagine a better wife, a better friend, a better mother, a better servant, a better anything than this beautiful woman I get to go home to every night. 

I read somewhere that the average marriage in the US lasts about 8 years.  How very sad.  Had I lost Cheryl after only 8 years of marriage, my life would be missing so many amazing blessings.  I seriously can not imagine where I would be right now without her.  God has used her so wonderfully in my life.  She is my encouragement, my balance, my comforter, my.... I can't even explain all she is to me.  (And without giving away too much information, she still is my passionate love; I still get distracted thinking about her!)

And to think that she has tolerated me for 25 years....amazing.  God is so good! 

So thank you, God.  And thank you Cheryl for agreeing to walk with me in this life.  I know the calling God has placed on our lives has had it's bumps now and then, but I can't think of anyone I'd rather have beside me.  Looking forward to the next 25!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

On the Road Again

Not me.  These guys!

I know many don't know who Whiteheart is, and don't care.  But this has always been one of my favorite Christian bands.  And I'm so excited to know they're hitting the road again.  So I just had to share.  There.  You can go back to your life now.  Well...after you watch this brief teaser video.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Government Bullies Defeated...for now

Most everyone has heard Justina Pelletier's story.  Taken from her family because they disagreed with one group of doctors and wanted to stay with another group of doctors.  Then power mad government agencies step in and a 16 year old is kidnapped from her family for 16 months.  

The good news is that for now at least, justice has prevailed.  Justina is going home.  And while that is truly great news, don't let it fool you into thinking this sort of thing is going away.  Let me tell you our own little run in with government bullies.

10 years ago, when our youngest was born, we were thrilled.  After having lost two children following our third baby, we thought we were done with having children.  But 8 years later, along comes this little guy.  What a joy. 

However, after a few weeks we noticed things weren't going so well.  He seemed to be losing weight instead of gaining, and just didn't look good.  He acted fine, ate fine, etc.  We called his doctor's office and were told that as long as he was eating and filling diapers, he was fine.  A week or so later, we were still concerned and asked the doctor to please look at him.

Once the doctor finally saw him, he decided that maybe he wasn't getting the nutrition he needed from mom's breast milk, and told us that we needed to start a formula regimen.  That was a Friday.  The doctor said that we should come back on Monday, and if there was no imporovement, our son would be hospitalized.  Mom didn't want to give up breastfeeding, but knew we needed to do what was best for him.

So we started the formula, but even moreso, we started praying.  Our church prayed, our family prayed, our friends prayed.  And when we took him back on Monday, he had gained like 12 ounces!  That's just unheard of.  The doctor was amazed.  He couldn't believe the turnaround.  He credited the formula, but we credited God.  Either way, things were good and no hospital stay was required.  We thought things were good.  Well...

A week or so later we come home from church one Wednesday and there is a card on our door from a DFS worker.  Not even thinking about our little boy, we assumed someone must have questioned our kids being at home during the day, and not liking homeschoolers or something, they reported us.  To be on the safe side, we contacted Homeschool Legal Defense Association, whom we have a membership with, and they agreed to make a call or two for us.

Turns out, someone from the doctors office called DFS claiming they have to report all cases of "failure to thrive" in babies.  No one told us that, but there it is.  We told the DFS worker that we appreciated the concern, but we took our son to the doctor on our own, he was under a doctor's care and doing fine, and we would gladly give them the medical records to prove it.  Apparently that's not enough. 

The DFS worker told us that they needed to have a home visit with us to make sure our other children were being fed properly.  I was astounded.  This one issue with our baby, one that we had to plead with the doctor to address in the first place, and now they were suggesting that we weren't caring for our other 3 kids.  

We refused their "offer" of a home visit, and the next Wednesday after church we came home to find the card of a county sheriff's deputy on our door.  I called the number immediately and asked what the problem was and was told the the DFS supervisor had sent them to our house to force a home visit.  Force!  For no reason at all. When I called the DFS supervisor, she threatened to remove all our children unless we complied.

Now, the HSLDA told us that since this wasn't technically a homeschool issue they couldn't get fully invovled, but they did offer advice, and even wrote some official sounding letters to the DFS telling them to cease and desist (what a blessing they are!)  We arranged for the DFS worker to "view" our other children on a neutral site (my church office) and also had several church members present who all reported that they had been in our home, witnessed our parenting, etc. and that all was well.  

Remember, we had done nothing wrong.  Our baby wasn't doing well, which we went to the doctor about.  He was currently under that doctor's care, was doing remarkably well, and needed no further treatment.  But we were still treated like criminals, to the extent that I was told my "record" would show an "accusation" of "child neglect" for the next five years!  

In spite of all our accommodating to the DFS folks, even though the worker was apologetic and told me she didn't think any of this was necessary, the supervisor still tried to keep pushing things, harassing us.  I finally had to call our state representative, who contacted the state DFS office, who eventually told this bully thug to back off.  They finally did back off, but again, our family went through the terrifying ordeal of having state workers trying to force their way into our home, threatening to remove our children, sending police to our home...all in spite of the fact that we had medical records proving that there was no problem at all; that our son was doing just fine.

I share all this simply because folks need to know that the Pellettier's case is not isolated.  Their ordeal makes our look like a picnic, but the fact is, government bullies are routinely harassing American citizens.  And this kind of thing is only going to get worse unless the people of this nation stand up and start holding our government accountable.  That means at the polls.  That means at the grass roots level.  That means getting our head out of the sand (as mentioned in my last post) and putting a stop to an over-reaching government before Orwell's vision comes true.  

PS - I let you know if Big Brother starts in on us again for posting our story online! (yeah, I'm kind of that paranoid sometimes!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark

A few weeks back I posted about the direction our nation is headed with regard to the homosexual agenda and its effect on the church.  I said that:

Call it alarmist.  Call it radical.  Call it what you will.  The Church needs to wake up and prepare itself for how we will deal with these issues.  At the present rate, the day will come when pastors will face legal battles if they stand for truth and refuse to perform gay marriages.  Churches will likewise face sanctions if they refuse to host said "weddings." 

Little did I realize that on the global scene, we would see this play out so quickly.  Denmark has recently declared that the church MUST perform gay weddings.  Even if the local priest/pastor refuses, it's up to the bishop/leader of the area to replace him with someone who will perform the wedding.  In simple, the state is forcing the church to act against its conscience.  How well Shakespeare prophesied: "Something is rotten in the state of Denmark."

And that rot which erodes the free speech and freedom of religion for individuals and churches will be making its way across the waves sooner than we might think.  I know what the head-in-sand types will say.  "Oh, that's Denmark.  Things are different here."  The only differnce is timing.  Denmark led the way over 20 years ago in legalizing same sex unions.  We eventually caught up.  There is little doubt we will eventually follow this latest lead as well. 

Don't misunderstand my intent.  I'm not promoting "hate", as anyone who disagrees with a liberal is accused of doing.  And I'm not advocating that the church go on a crusade regarding this one issue.  As Mojo & October Light put it: "is the church's job to stop homosexuals? No, it's to bring good news to dead souls."  Good words.

My point is simply that the church is facing a day and time when our freedom to proclaim that good news will be hindered, even refused altogether unless we play along with the state.  In the meantime, we can, and should, stay involved in the political process as good citizens, and work to prevent such a day.  Something is indeed rotten in Denmark.  And if we're not vigilent, it will spread to our great land as well. 

But even more, we need to be sure that our courage is firmly in place, that our stand is firmly on the Word of God, and we are prepared to face the consequences when this day arrives. The church down through the years has faced such manhandling at the hands of the state.  We've been blessed in this nation to avoid such.  But we must be strong and ready in case those blessings come to an end.