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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Your Greatest Need

Just a short excerpt from a recent sermon reminding you of your greatest need.  All you need to know in less than one minute.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Watching “The Shack” and Eating Doggie Doo

Sorry for the strong language there.  Doggie doo isn't something I normally talk about in public.  But I can't help but think of the analogy when I hear so many well meaning Christians talk about wanting to see The Shack movie, recommending it to friends, etc.  They say it's a “beautiful story of forgiveness”, and we can overlook any shortcomings it may have when it comes to what it says about God, because it is after all, just fiction.   Well...

I'm not going to give a lengthy critique of the book/movie and what it teaches.  For a lengthy treatment on that, I recommend Tim Challies wonderful review of the book (here as a pdf file).  I think most folks have heard the debate.  Most are aware of the issues involving the author's portrayal of the Trinity, the nature of God's Sovereignty, the nature of salvation, etc.  All of those are presented in non-biblical, and even anti-biblical ways.  

My point here is to simply address the argument that we can overlook these things in light of what a “good story” this is.  The emotional part, the feel good part, outweighs the poor theological part, right?  Well, that's where the doggie doo comes in.

There's a great old sermon illustration about a father trying to teach his children about what should be acceptable for them in terms of entertainment.  Games, books, movies, etc.  His kids had been trying to convince him of why they should be able to see one movie in particular.   It had their favorite actors.  Everyone said it was great, even some Christian friends.  It only had minor sexually suggestive material, only some profane language, and only three times where the Lord's name was taken in vain.  Otherwise, it was a fantastic movie with great effects, etc. But the father wouldn't give in. 

Later that evening, the dad asked his kids if they'd like to have some brownies he just baked.  He said he used the families favorite recipe, used all the best ingredients, gourmet quality in fact.  He baked it at just the right temperature for just the right amount of time.  However, he added one little special ingredient...that's right...the doggie doo. 

Of course, the kids were horrified and disgusted. No way were they eating that.  Dad tried to remind them of how good all the rest of the ingredients were, and told them that it was only a little bit of doggie doo.  They would hardly even notice it.  But as you can imagine, the kids still refused to eat the special brownies.

Now, I'm sure you can see the application of that story for what we read and watch and entertain ourselves with on a regular basis.  And I admit that when it comes to my favorite action films, I may have choked down a bit of doggie doo on occasion and tried to justify it.  Judge me if you will.  But here's where The Shack, for me, is a bit different.

In the case of this book, this movie, the doggie doo is about God!  The story may be great.  The lessons on forgiveness may be great.  The emotional appeal may hit all the right buttons.  But the one doggie doo element, the objectionable part, is about our God.  Do you see the problem here?  What we're saying in defending this movie is that it's ok to teach people doggie doo about God as long as the story is good, the emotions get tugged, etc.

But, again, people will say: It's only fiction.  Well, two responses to that; maybe three. 
1) The author never intended it to be “just” fiction.  He intends to teach spiritual truth, which is why the book is more dialogue than action.  It's didactic; intended to teach.  For him the theology is central. 
2) Non-Christians will come to see this film, and since Christians are talking it up as a wonderful “Christian” film, they will walk out assuming that what it teaches about God, His nature, salvation, etc. is all true.  Is this what we want to teach them?  And..
3) Fiction is no excuse for heresy.  It's still doggie doo.  Regardless of the “vehicle”, books or movies or whatever, to present God in any way other than how He has revealed Himself in Scripture is dangerous and unwise.

So, I probably won't change anyone's mind about going to see this movie.  And in the end, a Christian won't lose their salvation if they do, unwise though it may be.  I'll just lift my glass in a toast to you and hope you enjoy eating your doggie doo. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Turning 50...

When my biggest spiritual hero, Charles Spurgeon, turned 50, there was a great celebration.  The church he had pastored since he was 19 held special services.  Friends and dignitaries alike spoke, wrote letters of congratulations, etc.  As part of the service a listing was read of the many ministries Pastor Spurgeon was instrumental in starting.  All in all it was a fantastic tribute to this man whom God had used in mighty ways, a reflection on the thousands and thousands he had preached to and touched in his ministry.

Turning 50 today, I'm not looking at that kind of fanfare.  We did have a little cake and ice cream at church last Sunday night.  But rather than thousands, we're blessed to have 100 on any given Sunday morning.  I appreciate each person in our fellowship, and feel blessed to serve them.  Yet, over the years I've buried more people than I've baptized.  As for a listing of accomplishments, all I can claim is an unfinished doctoral degree and this blog I can't seem to keep alive. 

On the personal side, I have been extraordinarily blessed with my family.  I have an amazing wife of 28+ years, whom I grow to love more each day.  She has been a faithful partner in ministry and an incredible encouragement to me.  We are blessed with four fantastic children, the older three who have grown into outstanding, godly adults of whom I couldn't be more proud.  I'm truly a blessed man.

But as I look back on a half century, I'm not sure I've made the best use of those years.  I'd like to say I've always given my best effort, but quite frankly, I'm not sure I have.  Not because I can't compare to Spurgeon; not many can.  But there are too many failings, one of which is apparently self-pity.  And yet, I also know that God's grace is greater than my shortcomings.

My ministry is never meant to be compared to Spurgeon or anyone else.  God calls and gifts each of us in various ways, according to His plans and purposes, for His glory.  And while I haven't always given my best efforts, I hope that I'm giving more and more each day as I grow in His grace, seeking that purpose and glory.

I could go on introspecting all day, but I'll stop.  And I'll just say this.  While I may never live up to the Spurgeon's of the world, I hope that in the end I can at least say I emulated him in this.  As he addressed his congregation on that “jubilee” celebration, he began with words that reminded his people of two major things.  Their indebtedness to the work of God's Spirit and to the power and centrality of the Gospel.  I pray that if anything, I can say that I've tried to focus on these two things as well.  We are totally dependent on His grace and His power, and the Gospel is at the center of that.  Every time I preach, I want to focus on His grace, His saving power, and His glory.  If nothing else can ever be said of me or my ministry, I pray this is it: I pointed people to Jesus.  That would be a fine legacy indeed.

Just for fun, and in case anyone is interested, here are some of Spurgeon's opening remarks as he celebrated that 50th birthday with his church, words I wholeheartedly agree with: 

“The blessing which I have had here, for many years, must be entirely attributed to the grace of God, and to the working of God’s Holy Spirit among us. Let that stand as a matter, not only taken for granted, but as, a fact distinctly recognized among us. I hope, brethren, that none of you will say that I have kept back the glorious work of the Holy Spirit. I have tried to remind you of it, whenever I have read a chapter, by praying’ that God the Holy Spirit would open that chapter to our minds. I hope I have never preached without an entire dependence on the Holy Ghost. Our reliance upon prayer has been very conspicuous; at least, I think so. We have not begun, we have not continued, we have not ended anything’ without prayer. We have been plunged into it up to the hilt. We have not prayed as we should; but, still, we have so prayed as to prevail; and we wish it to be on record that we owe our success, as a, church, to the work of the Holy Spirit, principally through its leading us to pray. Neither, as a church, have we been without a full conviction that, if we are honest in our asking, we must be earnest in acting. It is no use asking God to give us a blessing if we do not mean it; and if we mean it, we shall use all the means appointed for’ the gaining of that boon; and that we have done.

“Next to that, it behooves me to say that I owe the prosperity I have had in preaching the gospel to the gospel which I have preached... I have tried, and I think successfully, to saturate our dear friends with the doctrines of grace. I defy the devil himself ever to get that truth out of you if God the Holy Spirit once puts it into you. That grand doctrine of substitution, which is at the root of every other, — you have heard it over and over and over and over again, and you have taken a sure grip of it. Never let it go. And I say to all preachers who fail in this matter, that I wish they would preach more of Christ, and try to preach more plainly. Death to fine preaching’ There is no good in it. All the glory of words and the wisdom of men will certainly come to naught; but the simple testimony of the goodwill of God to men, and of His sovereign choice of His own people, will stand the test, not only of the few years during which I have preached it, but of all the ages of this world till Christ shall come. I thank you, dear friends, for all your love and your kindness to me, but I do attribute even that, in great measure, to the fact that you have been fed with the pure gospel of the grace of God. I do not believe that the dry, dead doctrine of some men could ever have evoked such sympathy in people’s hearts as my gospel has aroused in yours. I cannot see any reason in myself why you should love me. I confess that I would not go across the street to hear myself preach; but I dare not say more upon that matter, because my wife is here. It is the only point upon which we decidedly differ; I differ in toto from her estimate of me, and from your estimate of me, too; but yet I do not wish you to alter it.”

Friday, December 30, 2016

Of Endings... and Beginnings

I don't know that I've written about it here that much, but I've also made no secret of the fact that I'm a pretty big fan of the BBC SciFi show Doctor Who.  If you haven't seen it, I can't explain it here, just go with me.  I'm old enough to have watched the Fourth Doctor back in the day, the guy with the big hair, big grin, big scarf.  He's my favorite.  In fact, last Christmas my oldest daughter sent off to get me a personalized Christmas card from Tom Baker himself, the actor who played the Fourth Doctor. 

Anyway, we're on Doctor number Twelve now, and I love him as well. But due to the inner workings of the BBC, there was no series this year (just one more reason to hate 2016), but we finally got to see the Doctor back on the screen with this year's Christmas special.  Again, if you haven't seen it, can't explain it, just keep reading.

Near the end of episode, the Doctor is reflecting on past events, specifically the loss of the love of his life (which we saw in last year's Christmas special...sort of...).  And in a very melancholy mood, he says something very profound.  He says, “Things end. That's all. Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's always happy. Be happy.”

He's talking about his relationship with River Song, but could also be hinting at the fact that this next series will be marking some endings for this show; possibly even this actor's run in the role (though I hope not!).  But he's also making a pretty good observation on life in general.

As we come to the end of another year, we mark lots of endings.  Some of them not so sad at all.  Lots of folks are happy to see this year end.  But still, in our individual lives, there are endings that are not so happy.  We've lost loved ones.  Family has moved on.  We're all another year older.  The end of the year makes most folks a bit reflective, even melancholy. 

And yet, the end of this year is also just the beginning of the next. And it's not for nothin' that we all scream, “Happy New Year!”  It's a time for new beginnings, new hopes, new goals, new dreams.  Everything ends, but everything begins again, too.

After all, as Christian people, this defines our entire existence.  Scripture tells us that those in Christ are new creations, the old is gone, the new has come.  It's all about forgetting the past, and moving toward the future.  And that's happy, because we know Whose hands that future is in.  As John Newton wrote:  “Help us to praise Thee for the past, and trust Thee for the rest.” 

In the long run, we are looking for the ultimate ending/beginning.  We anxiously await our Savior's return, marking an end to this world, and a beginning to the Kingdom Eternal.  And even there there is a mixture of sadness and joy.  He's coming will mark the coming of judgment as well.  That ending will be a sad one for many, those who don't now Christ, who haven't come to Him in faith, trusting in His finished work on the cross as the atoning sacrifice for their sin. A sad end indeed for those who will spend eternity separated from our King in the torments of hell.  And even sad for those of us in Christ, at least now as we think about it.  (Which should also be a motivation for us sharing the gospel, but that's a whole other post).
Yet, the ending is also a beginning.  And in that, there will be great joy.  In the revelation our Lord gave to the apostle John we are told, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."' (Revelation 21:3-5)

What joy awaits in that new beginning.  A joy we begin to experience with the new birth, coming to Christ in faith.  A joy we even get a glimpse of each new year that rolls around.  The old has gone, the new has come.  Everything ends, and it's always sad. But everything begins again too, and that's always happy. Be happy.

I pray you have a happy new year. And even more, I pray you have the true joy of new life in Christ, and are looking forward with me to that greatest of all new beginnings.  Amen, come, Lord Jesus!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Theological Reflections On My First 5K Runs

OK.  First off.  Serious runner types can skip over the details of my running ability here.  I'm a guy who 6 months ago was 60 pounds heavier and couldn't walk to the track from the parking lot without getting winded.  It's the principles here.  So, that being said...

I wrote here before about my little effort to lose weight.  And I even mentioned the idea of “laying aside every weight” as mentioned in Hebrews 12:1.  But as I moved from just losing weight to actually running, and then to attempting to run a 5K race, the thoughts of Hebrews 12 just kept coming to mind.  Especially as they apply to our spiritual race.  And so, having now run two 5Ks, I thought I'd reflect a bit again on the ideas of this text and four particular lessons I've been reminded of lately. 

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

1. The Matter of Witnesses.  When I first started the weight loss thing, I mentioned I publicly so that I would have a bit of accountability.  Still, when I first started walking for exercise, I did it in the privacy of the church gym because I didn't want people to see me.  I was very self conscious.  

Later, as I realized that the gym floor isn't the best on my joints, I moved it outside out of necessity.  Then, as I started to actually run, there were only a couple other folks out there, so no biggie.  But when I showed up for my first 5K....all those people!!  But while still being self conscious about the whole thing, I realized two truths.  One, the other folks out there were just trying to run their race as well; they weren't there to judge me.  And two, those who did care about me out there were cheering me on. They wanted the best for my health.

In our spiritual race, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  For some, that might make you a bit self conscious.  In some sense, it should.  We should be concerned about the witness our own life is in front of others.  But as for those around us each day, remember that those other folks are just out there trying to do their best as well.  We're fellow runners in this thing.  And in the end, those who care most about you are cheering you on.  We want the best in each others' spiritual lives.

2. The Matter of Weight.  As I said, I already wrote about the issue of laying aside weight.  And the obvious goal was originally to lose weight.  But moving on to the 5K thing I realized that weight is an issue in more than one sense.  Losing weight in general made the running easier.  But even from day to day, the clothes that I wear while running, even the little weight difference can matter.

When I started this thing, the weather allowed for shorts and a t-shirt.  Now, of course, it requires a couple layers, sweats, hoodies, gloves, etc.  And I've noticed that these layers make a difference.  It seems minor, but wearing a heavy sweatshirt and gloves slows me down a bit.  It's actually harder over the longer distance than it was when I carries less weight. My 5K times would only be a minute or less more than before.  Most wouldn't notice, but I did. Minor differences, but still differences.

In our spiritual lives, it's not always just about the “big sins.”  Sure we need to toss those.  But at times there are just little things, things other people would hardly even notice, but if we're honest, they slow us down.  They make it just a little harder.  Which is why Hebrews tells us to rid ourselves of those things that entangle and weigh us down.

3. The Matter of Endurance.  I know this is obvious, folks. I never claimed to be a genius or anything.  But running a 5K takes endurance, especially for those of us just starting.  I know some of these guys go running by me and finish in half the time I do.  But the goal is to make it to the finish line.  Keep pressing on.

And it's not always easy. You'd think after time it would get easier, and in some sense it does.  But circumstances change.  My first official run was a morning run, which is when I was used to running.  I actually did ok.  The second run a week later, was a night run.  It had been a long day. I wasn't used to doing night runs.  And my time was 30 seconds slower.  It even felt harder.  I struggled more in the second run than the first.  Different circumstances.  But I had to keep pressing on, it takes endurance.

Our spiritual life does get easier in some senses.  As we walk with Christ, as we grow closer to Him, many things get easier about that relationship. But circumstances change.  We may find ourselves in situations we're not used to.  We may struggle more at times.  But we keep pressing on.  It's about finishing the race.  It takes endurance.  It takes commitment and effort.  Keep running.

4.  The Matter of Goals.  My original goal was weight loss.  When I reached that, I added more weight loss.  Then it was to move from walking to running.  Then it was to run an actual 5K race.  Then it's to keep finishing those races.  I know I'm not going to “win” those things.  That's not my goal.  I know others are in it for the medal, coming in first, whatever.  My goal is to finish.  To keep running, and to finish. If I take my eye off that goal, if I try to run to compete with those who are just plain better at this, then I probably wont' have the “gas” to make it to the end.  Remember the goal.  Keep running to the finish.

In our spiritual life, we are told to keep our eyes on Jesus.  He is the author and finisher of our faith.  He is our goal.  Other people might run in life to get trophies, but we just look to finish.  We look to Him, and long to hear Him say, “well done, my good and faithful servant.” We just want to finish well.  If we take our eyes off that goal, it may cause us to become weaker, and feel as if we're “running out of gas.”  Keep your eyes on Jesus.  He's the goal.  Run to the finish.

I know this isn't anything earth shaking.  (It all sounded a bit more profound in my head while running this morning!) It's just really been on my mind.  I'm so thankful to have made it to the point of being able to actually finish two 5ks now.  I loved running the second with my brother-in-law, even if he did finish more than 5 minutes ahead of me.  (He is 9 years younger after all!).  It's been a fun journey for me.  I hope to keep it up. 

But more than that, it's reminded me of some serious issues about this race of faith.  I'm hitting middle age hard.  Coming up on 50 years.  More than 30 of those walking with Christ.  I need to be reminded to keep running.  Keep pressing on.  Keep my eyes on the goal.  Keep laying aside the weight.  Thank God for those around me who encourage me. And just keep running. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Reflections on a Personal Silver Anniversary

25 years ago today was a pretty special day for me.  It wasn't my wedding, since that was over 27 years and counting.  Not the birth of our first child, though she did turn 25 just a couple months ago.  And I would not rank this above either of those, or any of our any other children's birth.

Perhaps the most significant event in my life, my salvation by God's grace, was over 33 years ago.  Actually, now that I'm looking at all these numbers, I'm beginning to feel a bit old.  But I digress....  So what is this silver anniversary?

25 years ago today I was ordained to the Gospel ministry by my home church.  I had already served as a youth pastor for a time, as well as worked in Christian radio, lived with a homeless ministry, and various other ministry endeavors.  In fact, I had even started pastoring my first church in those seminary days.  But the church where my wife grew up, where I came to know Christ, where I was baptized and married, seemed like the right group of folks for this particular event.

So while I've been “in ministry” longer, the date of my ordination has always been a significant one to me.  It was a very intense time of being examined in my faith.  It was a very humbling experience as men I had come to love and respect and look up to in the faith, laid their hands on me and prayed very personal prayers of dedication over me, affirming my calling to this service in the Kingdom.

So, 25 years.  What do I have to show for it?  I could look at the little “ministry log” I was encouraged to keep all those years ago, which records the dozens and dozens of baptisms, weddings and funerals I've done in those 25 years.  I do occasionally look through those lists, remembering those people, those events.  Wondering about the people and families the represent that I've lost touch with. Thanking God for the privilege of serving them during those significant times in their lives.  But is it really just about those lists? Is it just about "the numbers?"

I could look at the literally thousands of sermons and Bible studies I've prepared and delivered in 25 years.  And since I'm a bit OCD I have files recording them all, and in fact have paper copies of the notes/manuscripts of most of them.  Occasionally I've gone up to the sound booth at our current church, where we've served over 13 years, and look at the boxes of recorded sermons (yes we still have tapes; we do digital as well, but...).  I'm somewhat intimated by those boxes, especially when I consider those are only about half of the total over these 25 years.  Is this how I'm to be judged?

Sometimes I get overwhelmed by it all.  25 years of trying to share the Gospel, trying to encourage the saints; or as someone once said, “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”  Each time I step into the pulpit, I feel woefully incompetent.  And I'm sure there are many who would agree with that assessment.  But is that all these 25 years have been about?

In the end, as I reflect on this very personal silver anniversary, the one thing that stands out above all is this:  Grace!  The grace that God gave me in Christ to save a worthless worm like me.  The grace that God gave me in allowing me the privilege of speaking His Word even once to a congregation of His people, let alone for 25 years. The grace God gives me each and every day, not just to wake up and breathe and eat and walk; but the grace to study His Word, to share His Word, to represent His Son. I am so not worthy of that privilege.  And I fail time and again.  But His grace is always there.  Chances are I will fail today.  But I know I'll still have His grace tomorrow. 

25 years ago I was young, and a bit cocky, thinking I had the answers and could change the world.  Today, I know who the Answer is, and know He can change the world.  But first I want Him to keep changing me.  I want to keep growing in that grace, and just pray He let's me keep sharing that grace from the overflow, maybe touching a life here or there for the Kingdom along the way. 

Maybe it will be another 25 years.  Maybe He'll call me home in the next 25 minutes.  Either way, all I want is to stand before Him and hear 7 little words:  “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  May He give me the grace to achieve that goal.

Happy Anniversary to me!

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

As You Vote

Unless you just landed here from a distant planet, or just woke from a 20 year coma, then you are painfully aware that today is election day in these great United States.  This isn't another piece about the candidates, or the parties, or who you should vote for. If you really care what I think about that, you can read here.  This is just a simply reminder of a few things to remember as you go to exercise your right to vote today. 

1. This is an Amazing Opportunity.  As you walk around with your “I Voted” sticker on, stop and consider how many millions would give almost anything to have that cheap piece of paper.  Consider the thousands of men and women who have fought and died over the years to give us this remarkable freedom.  Consider the historical glory of having a peaceful transfer of power every four years, and that you and I have some say in that process.  We are indeed, so incredibly blessed.  Don't forget that.

2. This is an Amazing Responsibility.  As you step into that booth to exercise this remarkable freedom, remember that this is a grave thing indeed.  This isn't just about personalities and sound bites.  Too many Americans vote based on emotion rather than a serious look at policy and posterity.  What we do now will have lasting effects on our children and grandchildren.  Furthermore, as a Christian voter, you also have the responsibility to vote in such a way that honors your God and gives good testimony to His people.  Don't forget that.

3. This is Amazingly Unimportant.  Seems like I'm contradicting what I just said, but hear me out.  John MacArthur addressed his congregation on Sunday with an amazing reminder to not overestimate the significance of this election.  People are calling it “historic” and all, but in the overall scheme of God's grand design, this is relatively insignificant.  Like it or not, America is not the center of God's plan for the ages.  Jesus Christ is.  America is not the answer to the world's problems.  Jesus Christ is.  America is not where our hope lies.  Jesus Christ is.  As His people, we are to be more concerned about our true citizenship in heaven, about being the people of God following the will of God for the glory of God, than about presidents and princes who come and go like a “drop in a bucket” Scripture says.  So while this whole thing is a great joy and great duty, it's nothing compared to serving the great King of the universe and knowing that His plans will stand, His purposes will be fulfilled, and His people will be victorious.  Don't forget that.

Recently, there have been two fantastic songs released that reflect this last truth.  One is by Ross King and more recently one by Steven Curtis Chapman.  I'd encourage you to listen to both and remember the truth they speak as you vote today.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Singing in the Choir

As Americans, we don't like singing in the choir.  By that, I mean that for the most part, we're usually so enamored with ourselves, that we'd rather be the soloist out front, getting all the attention, rather than be content to sing in the “background.”

I confess that I like to watch some of the “talent shows” on television these days.  And one of the recurring stories you hear about singers is that they've been singing backups for this or that artist, and now they want their turn in the spotlight.  Or they've been with a band for some time, but now they want to be on their own. 

Don't get me wrong, I don't want to condemn folks for wanting to “better their career” and so on.  Some of these folks are amazing talents, and I love hearing them sing.  But it's the attitude behind it all that sometimes reflects the very self-centered, individualistic epidemic in our country.

This is why social media is such a big deal.  Trying to get our voice out there, hear our opinions above all the others.  Drawing attention to ourselves.  I realize the hypocrisy of writing about this on a blog that I plan to then share on social media, but we'll just try to ignore that for the moment.  (insert smiley face)

Another confession, I found myself doing something very similar recently.  I'm no singer, but I had the wonderful opportunity to contribute to this amazing song.  Ross King is an amazing song writer.  He is the author of Hallelujah for the Cross, recorded by several artists; Clear the Stage, popularized by Jimmy Needham; More Now, recorded by Carrollton; and dozens of his own amazing recordings.  Recently he began work on a new record to be “crowd funded” at Kickstarter.  Being a fan, I chipped in.

That's where the fun started.  He sent out a note to backers of the project that if we wanted to record a short vocal part, he would add it to the “choir” portion on one song.  Again, I'm not a singer, but this sounded too fun to pass up.  So Mr. King sent me a recording of the part, I recorded me singing it, sent it off, and he added me to the roughly 50 voice choir made up of others who did the same thing.  Fun, right? 
Well, the big day arrives when he sends out an advance copy of the song, which is an amazing song.  You can get it here on Amazon.  Or you can look up an illegal copy on Youtube, probably.  But, seriously, go buy it.  It's so worth the 99 cents.  But here's the deal.  When I listened to it at first, I wasn't listening to how great the song was.  I was listening for the “choir.”  And even though I knew there was no way I would hear myself, I tried anyway.  I evenly selfishly thought, “Ooh, I think I hear me!”  Stupid, right?

After doing that a couple times, conviction set in, and I realized how dumb that was.  First of all, no one is going to ruin a perfectly good song by allowing my voice to stand out.  Second, this isn't my song.  This is Ross King's song.  He has something to say, and he's the one saying it.  I just got to be in the background.  For fun.  For his purposes.  It's about Ross and about his song.

And by the way, it's an amazing song with an amazing message.  It's a great word of encouragement to those struggling in life, reminding us that “in the darkness, you are not alone; There is a presence that will not let you go; Every tear that you have cried, every trial you known, He's known it're in good company.”  What an incredible reminder of the grace of God.  And how foolish of me to try and make it about me.

Wow.  I suddenly realized just how much this all applies to our spiritual life.  American Christianity is really focused on hearing our own voice.  We want church to be about us, about our likes and dislikes, about what makes us happy.  We want the spotlight on us.  Even in our teaching of the Word of God, we want to be sure that it says what I want, and if it says something different, well, we all know what needs to change.

The world around us wants the same thing.  They don't want to hear the truth of God's Word.  If they hear the Bible at all, they want to hear a reflection of their own voice, not the voice of God speaking to their true need.  But that's not how it works.

Folks, Scripture is the voice of God.  It's His song.  It's His message.  We just get sing background.  For His purposes.  It's about Jesus and His song, His Word, His will and way, for His glory.  It's about a God of perfection who is rightly offended by our sin, and in His perfection He must punish that sin.  But also about a God of grace who sends His own Son to suffer that punishment in our place.  His message is a call to repentance, a call to surrender, a call to salvation and eternal life and holiness.  How foolish of me to try and make it about me.

Oh, we need to be reminded of this often.  We get so caught up in hearing our voice, wanting to be at the center of attention, that we forget we're just the “choir” in the background of the song of the ages. We need to be listening for His voice, and stop trying to hear our own!

So, Mr. King, thank you for this beautiful song, and forgive me for trying to think of myself instead of the beauty of your message.  And, Lord, thank You for Your glorious message of Grace, help me to proclaim the truth of it faithfully, and forgive me for ever thinking of myself instead of the beauty of Your message. 

Update:  Ross King officially released a lyric video of the song, so now you can listen "legally" on youtube.  Here it is.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Laying Aside Every Weight

“...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us...”  (Hebrews 12:1)

Weight has been on my mind a lot lately.  With my 50th birthday looming in February of next year, I realized that it was time to do something about my seriously overweight problem.  With 40 weeks to go before that deadline, I decided on what I considered a moderate goal of one pound per week.  I didn't want to do a fad diet, but make healthy changes that would be easier to keep up with.  So the 40x50 program was born.

Amazingly, with smarter choices, smaller portions, and lots more exercise, I manged to reach my 40 pound goal in just over three months.  I decided to add another 10 (or would that be take off another 10?  Anyway...), and I've been able to reach that goal as well.  OK, so as of today it's only 49.9 pounds, but still...

In the process of doing this, I learned some things.  Like, this takes discipline!  And like, sometimes it's not just the things you eat, but the amount.  A lot of my problem wasn't just eating bad stuff, it was just plain too much stuff.  Hopefully these lessons will stick with me, and the weight won't!

It just so happens that I've been preaching through Hebrews over the last year or so.  And we've come to this well known verse at the beginning of chapter 12.  In my mind, the admonitions to “lay aside every weight and the sin which clings so closely” were basically the same thing.  Get rid of sin!  And while that's a good idea, and certainly at the center of the second part, I've come to realize that the first part is a bit different.

Sometimes, in our effort to “run the race” it's not just the “bad stuff” we need to get rid of.  The junk food, so to speak.  Sometimes, we also have to be careful about things that aren't necessarily bad, we just have too much of it.  Laying aside every weight has more to do with ridding ourselves of our attachment to things which slow us down in our pursuit of Christ, even if they aren't necessarily bad things.  Like my effort at portion control.  The food wasn't necessarily all that bad, I just ate too much of it.

As providence would have it, Tim Challies wrote a nice little article about that this week using the illustration of passengers on planes in emergency situations stopping to get their luggage on the way out.  Their luggage was “good stuff,” passports and wallets and important things.  But in the midst of the crisis, those things were “weighing them down” and causing not only a danger to themselves, but to others who were being blocked by their delay.  Good illustration of what Hebrews is talking about.

Losing weight, or laying aside the weight, took a lot of effort and discipline. It took some reexamining of priorities, changing some habits, and keeping an eye on the progress.  Laying aside the weight in our spiritual lives is no different.  It requires not only dumping the sin, the junk food; but being careful that we don't let even the good things become too much; letting other things in life get in the way of our pursuit of Christ and His will and His way for His glory.  Anything that takes up more of our time and attention, and keeps us from that pursuit of Christ, needs to be laid aside no matter how “good” it might seem.

And one more lesson I've learned.  This weight loss thing did require a lot of effort and focus.  I had to think about what I was doing, about what I was eating, etc.  If I can be that focused and “passionate” about my physical health, why am I not equally passionate about my spiritual health?  Why am I not constantly thinking about how everything I'm taking in will affect my growth?  Why am I not trying to focus intentionally, daily, eagerly on laying aside every weight and sin, the way I focus on my diet and exercise?

When I started my original 40x50 goal, my good friend and old college radio partner David King jokingly said if I made my goal, he'd have to write me a song.  So when I hit that first goal, I sent him a message to let him know I was expecting that song.  And he delivered!  He wrote and recorded this fun, funny, song about my weight loss with the repeated refrain “well done, Scott.”  It's just a play on my name: Scott Weldon – Well Done, Scott.  See what he did there?

But as I'm listening to that “ear worm” of a refrain, I suddenly realized that as much fun as I was having hearing my old friend sing “well done,” shouldn't I be so much more concerned about hearing my Lord say “Well done, my good and faithful servant”?  Shouldn't that be the goal?  Oh, I pray that my heart would be set on that day by day, more and more.  And that I'm willing to lay aside any and all weight in my life that would keep me from it. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

“Lesser of Two Evils” and Other Fallacies

Since I decided to try and get this thing going again, I might as well jump right in to this election thing.  Actually, at one time, many, many years ago, my opinion of presidential politics actually garnered some national attention. I was interviewed and quoted by both the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the New York Times! (as always, I'm living off the past!)

Anyway, for the last several election cycles I've been supporting the Constitution Party.  And, just like this year, I've been harassed for not supporting one of the two major party candidates.  The candidates have changed, but the arguments about why I should support them have not.  And so I'll give a relatively brief rundown of these arguments and show why they don't hold water.

The Lesser of Two Evils
The biggest argument is that while neither of the two parties have given us a decent candidate, the one is better than the other, so we have to go with the lesser of two evils.  Personally, I think this is a lazy attitude.

Who says we only have two choices.  Yes, I know the third party candidates don't have much of a chance, but it has to start somewhere.  The GOP started as a third party.  Someone took the time and effort to support them, and now they are one of the “big two.”  It can, and I think should happen again.  Nowhere in our Constitution are we limited to two parties.  These two are broken, and need to go.

Furthermore, I think of Jesus when confronted by the two “parties” of his day, forced into a choice of supporting one of them.  Should He pay taxes, and support the pro-Roman party.  Or should He resist, breaking the law, but supporting the traditionalist Pharisee party.  Instead of giving in to a clear “lesser of two evils,” Jesus showed a third option.  Give to Caesar what is his and give to God what is His.  Yes that meant paying the tax, but not in support of the Romans; still showing allegiance to God. 

In my case, I'll give to Caesar what I owe him, which as a good citizen is my vote.  But I'll give to God what I owe Him, which is my allegiance and my conscience, which doesn't allow me to support either of the major party candidates.  And of course as Spurgeon famously said, “of two evils, choose neither.”

You're Wasting Your Vote
The other “big” argument is that if I vote third party, I'm wasting my vote.  Worse yet, my GOP friends tell me, by voting for a third party, I'm actually voting for the Democrats.  Other than the ridiculous logic of that (a vote is a vote, folks.  My vote for Castle doesn't add a vote for either Clinton or Trump, period); there is also the issue of the electoral college.

We act like we're a majority rules democracy, when in actuality we are a representative republic.  Part of that is this silly electoral college system where my state of Missouri gets only 10 votes, whereas California gets 55.  I understand the whole population thing, with more populace areas getting more electoral votes, but the system is outdated and currently stacked firmly against the middle part of the country.  But I digress.

The point is, in the last two presidential elections I voted third party.  The GOP candidate still won Missouri and its 10 votes.  But those pitiful votes, along with most of the middle of the nation, weren't enough to compensate for the massive numbers on the coasts.  So my vote did not cause Obama to win.  The electoral college system did.  And it wasn't a “wasted” vote, because more and more people are starting to stand up and take notice of the Constitution Party and others, which may still one day, make a real change.  (Hey, a guy can hope, right?)

The Supreme Court is the Biggest Issue
This is the biggie this time around.  We know, or think we know, that the next president will have the chance to appoint more than one Supreme Court justice.  And as we all know, they rule the country.

Several problems.  Number one, the fact that we give so much weight to these justices shows how bankrupt our government is.  These guys are not supposed to be making legislation, only enforcing it.  The Congress is supposed to be making the laws.  Why aren't we focused on the senatorial and representative races, then?  Because we know that our broken system has allowed a runaway judiciary to pull all the strings.  That needs to change, folks.

Number two, we are not God, and we don't know the future.  We don't know how many of these justices will be retiring/dying in the coming years.  We can make educated guesses, but we don't know. 

Number three, we also don't know with any certainty that Trump will nominate better justices than Clinton.  It seems that way now, but Trump has a long history of changing on the issues, so how do we know he won't do so again, especially if it's politically expedient for him?  I can't trust him, honestly, so I'm not going to let this issue sway me.

And number four, quite simply, this is not the biggest issue.  The biggest issue has always been and always will be the Gospel.  The Gospel has survived worse governments than either of these two will give us, and it will continue to survive.  This is where my commitment lies, and I will not compromise the Gospel for political pragmatism.

God May Be Raising Trump Up
This is really, really weak.  Not that God may not be doing that.  But the truth is, He may be raising up Hillary as well.  Look at Israel's history.  God gave them a few good kings, but He also raised up plenty of vicious, evil kings because of their rebellion as well.  So don't try to be a prophet and say Trump is God's man just because you don't like Hillary.  

It boils down, for me, to two things.
1) God is Sovereign.  He has already determined who our next president will be.  He will give us the leader we deserve, the one he has determined for His purposes to either bless or curse this nation.  That being the case...

2) My Allegiance is to Christ.  Since He will determine the outcome, my job is to be obedient and honor Him.  I can't do that by supporting Clinton.  She is a lying, cheating, supporter of baby killing; and those are some of her better qualities.  I also cannot honor God by supporting Trump.  He is arrogant, intolerant, unrepentant; and again, those are some of the lesser “evils.”  His recent comments are akin to the same attitudes and actions of Mr. Bill Clinton when he was in office, and I remember “evangelicals” calling for his removal from office and chanting things about “character counts.”  (Consider this SBC resolution).  Why does character not count now that it's “our” guy who is being called out.  We need to be consistent. I don't think I can “honor” Christ by actively supporting either of these.