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

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The World is Broken...and So Are You

How can ______________________? (fill in the blank)

How can those ISIS monsters do what they do?

How can rioters cause so much destruction and think it's helpful?

How can Bruce Jenner think mutilating himself is going to help anything?

How can people blame the police for everything, including biker fights?

How can people continue to slaughter babies in the name of convenience?

How can my good friend buy into every conspiracy theory, including his latest "flat earth" kick?

How can we keep electing the politicians we do?  Can't people see who they really are?

How can...

The answer to all these questions is really simple.  The World is Broken.  Have you read the first few chapters of Genesis?  God created and it was good.  Man sinned, and it was broken.  We are in a state of brokenness that will continue until Christ returns and the New Heavens and the New Earth become a present reality.  

And that means that until then, people will continue to do broken things.  Horrible things.  Things that confuse some of us, and defy logic, and make you shake your head.  It's a broken world, with broken people.

But here's the thing.  You're one of 'em, and so am I.  We're all broken.  Have your read the first few chapters of Romans?  All of us, every one of us, is broken.  We all seek our own selfish desires.  Some of us are bound by cultural restraints, legal restraints, our idea of moral restraints.  But in the end, we all like sheep have gone astray, none seeks God, none seeks right.  We are all broken. 

I hear the arguments:  But I would never do that!  But I could never possibly...!  But!  As I once heard it put, the world is sliding to hell on their "buts."  We may not all act in the most sinful way possible, but we are all equally depraved.  The heart that murders is born in the heart that feels anger, Jesus said.  The heart that commits adultery is born in the heart that looks with lust, He said.  The heart is a deceitful thing, full of all kinds of wickedness, Jeremiah told us. 

Here's another "how can..." question.  How can a holy and perfect God, one who is perfect is righteousness and judgment, how can He know what you did/thought/said this week and still let you draw breath and escape His wrath?  How can God not just shake his head at our stupidity and wipe us all out right now?

Because while the world is broken, God is in the business of fixing things.  Jesus came to take the wrath we deserve, so that we might have forgiveness.  It's an act of pure grace.  And it's only His grace that separates me from that ISIS soldier, that rioter, that murderer, that...whatever.  It's grace. I don't pretend to understand it.  His thoughts are not like mine, His ways infinitely higher, Isaiah says.

All will one day stand before Him.  The whole broken world. All will be judged.  Only those in Christ will escape the flames.  Pray you receive His mercy now and don't find yourself surprised to be in "that" crowd on that final day.

And for those who do know Christ, know His mercy and forgiveness: the next time you're tempted to look down your nose and shake your head at the sin of others, take a good look at your own heart, and thank God for the mercy He's shown you.  You were born just as broken.  God's grace has fixed you.  How can He be so gracious as to save a sinner like me?  His thoughts are not like mine, His ways infinitely higher, and I'm so glad they are!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can We "Overdo" Grace?

As you can tell by the title of this little blog, I kind of like the idea of grace.  I mean, apart from grace we have nothing.  Apart from grace we are nothing but a bunch of rebellious, hell-bound, wrath-deserving... well, you get the idea.  Grace is amazing.  I think someone even wrote a song about that. 

So, I'm reading through our daily reading plan at church, looking for Sunday night's message.  I preach through books on Sunday mornings (we're in John at the moment) and then for Sunday evenings, I take a text from that week's readings.  Anyway, I'm reading through this week, and I come to Isaiah 55. 

Now, let me say something. One of the reasons I think preaching through a book on Sunday morning is a good idea is because it forces me to address the topics as God's Word brings them up.  I don't get to pick and choose. I don't get to skip over things, or just dwell on my favorite texts and topics, etc.  I think that's a wise approach to get to the "whole counsel" of God's Word. 

And as I'm reading here in Isaiah 55 I'm reminded why this is a good practice.  Because I LOVE this chapter.  I'd probably come here way too often.  53 is obviously an amazing text, one I could meditate on forever.  But I love 55 as well.  What a great chapter.  And it's all about grace. 

Granted, the word isn't used there at all.  But the concept...  "He who has no money, come, buy and eat!"  Come and find God's salvation, you who have nothing to offer, no means of getting it!  That's grace.  "Let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon."  Grace, grace, grace!

Anyway, I'm reading this chapter, and looking for all the things grace is to fill in the outline, and before I know it, I have it "narrowed down" to EIGHT points.  That's right, an 8 point sermon. And that really was narrowing it down, I think.  Because grace is so...well, amazing!

And then I think, "Am I overdoing this?"  I'm I overemphasizing this thing called grace?  Can we "overdo" grace? I mean, if I talk about grace too much, does that lessen the reality of sin?  Does it make it seem like our sin isn't that big a deal?   

C. H. Surgeon once said:  "We think that we are honoring God when we think great thoughts of our sin. Let us recollect, that while we ought to think very greatly of our own sin, we dishonor God if we think our sin greater than his grace. God’s grace is infinitely greater than the greatest of our crimes."

Infinitely greater than the greatest of our crimes.  So, can we really overdo grace?  Well....  I think sometimes grace can be misunderstood and misapplied.  Paul even addresses some of those potential problems in Romans 6.  But in the end, true grace, truly understood, can never be "overdone" or "over emphasized."  

Truly, apart from grace, we have nothing.  No hope.  No life.  No...anything.  I'm no John Newton, but I even penned a little hymn/ditty about this glorious grace not too long ago.  I can't help it.  I think about grace all the time.  I love to preach it, because I know I so desperately need it.  And you do, too.  

I hope I don't scare any of our folks away who might read this and think, "An EIGHT point sermon on Sunday night!"  I'll try to keep 'em relatively brief.  But oh my!  Grace!  It's the theme of the song we'll sing for all eternity.  We're just getting warmed up....

"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you."

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

No One Takes Our Joy!

I hate watching the news.  Most of the time.  I like the weather and the sports sections.  But otherwise, it's just, well, so depressing.  Local news seems to focus on local disasters: fires, murders, controversy.  National news, the same on a bigger scale:  regional disasters, global economic scares, this and that threat to world peace.  On and on. 

It's not just the frustration of the mainstream media always putting their spin on things.  Every story has an "angle" and the media wants to take whatever angle they can to promote their agenda.  They don't even hide that fact any more.  But I digress.  This isn't about the media's liberal bias. 

No, it's just the news in general always seems so negative.  And it has a tendency to pull you down if you spend too much time with it.  There are only so many times you can groan and moan and growl.  

But here's the deal.  No matter what the news says, no matter how bleak things get, no matter how many dangers are coming our way, no matter how much ISIS grows, and the homosexual agenda proceeds, and the America-haters use their American freedom to bash America, no matter what the complaint may be: No One Takes Our Joy!
As followers of Christ, our joy doesn't come from this world, so the world can't take it from us.  In John 16, Jesus speaks of His leaving "for a little while" and then the disciples seeing Him again "in a little while."  Obviously, the immediate context speaks of His arrest and crucifixion, followed by His resurrection.  And the ultimate context speaks of His ascension, followed by His Second Coming.  But there is an "in between" understanding as well. 

In this world, we can still "see" Jesus.  As the Holy Spirit comes and convicts of sin, and regenerates our hearts, and leads us to repentance, we come to "see" Jesus.  He is with us, present with us by grace through faith.  And the promise He makes, in verse 22 of that passage, is "I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you."  No one will take our joy. 

Think of the lives of those disciples as they went on from there.  Arrests and persecution and famine and martyrdom.  Did Jesus not see those things coming?  Was this promise of joy made in ignorance, thinking things would work out a little better for those guys?  Of course not.  

In fact, in the preceding verses, Jesus promised them that the world would hate them!  The world would persecute them for His name's sake.  He knew full well what was ahead.  And yet, He still promises that "no one will take your joy from you."  The joy of seeing Jesus, the joy of knowing Him by faith, the joy of being filled with His Spirit; nothing can ever take that from us!

This isn't in any way making light of the difficulties we face.  And the way things are going in this world, those difficulties may grow at an alarming rate.  I'm not personally looking forward to any of that.  I'm not making light of the real, grief producing things of this life: disasters and terrorism and persecution.  Many still weep and wail and mourn, and we all experience that to varying degrees.  But even then, our true joy can never be taken from us. 

In my previous post I reminded us that this world is not our home.  It just naturally follows that if our identity is not wrapped up in this world, then our joy isn't either.  So bring it on!  I may not always do a good job of living up to my theology.  I may crumble outwardly when the grief comes.  But even then, I know that my true joy is in Christ, and nothing, no one, no how can take that away!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Not of This World

I mentioned earlier the recent conference at Rockport Baptist Church, the theme of which focused on the reality that Christians are aliens and strangers in this alien and strange world.  As the U. S. Supreme Court hears arguments on same sex marriage, as ISIS continues its rampage against all things of Christ, as more and more people are finding it hard to stand for truth (emotionally, physically, and even now legally), I am reminded more and more of this truth.  This World Is Not Our Home. 

Ever since the conference, there is one song in particular that I just can't get out of my head.  An old song from the classic Christian rock band Petra (don't worry, it's a "slow" one!).  In 1983, the release an album titled "Not of This World."  A great record by the way, but I digress.  The title song reminds us of these truths:

We are pilgrims in a strange land
We are so far from our homeland
With each passing day it seems so clear
This world will never want us here
We're not welcome in this world of wrong
We are foreigners who don't belong

We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world

We are envoys, we must tarry
With this message we must carry
There's so much to do before we leave
With so many more who may believe
Our mission here can never fail
And the gates of hell will not prevail

 We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world  

Jesus told us men would hate us
But we must be of good cheer
He has overcome this world of darkness
And soon we will depart from here

We are strangers, we are aliens
We are not of this world

This world doesn't want us here.  We are not welcome.  Jesus told us men would hate us.  What great reminders.  For too long we've lived as if we belong here, and we're offended when folks don't like us, when our "rights" are violated, etc.  But this is not our home!  We don't belong.  We are not of this world.  

Don't get me wrong, as an American citizen I get as upset as anyone when our rights and freedoms, so hard fought for, are stripped away. I've ranted here many times about that.  But that's my American citizenship flaring up.  My Kingdom citizenship reminds me that the other is only temporary, and that regardless of what the Supreme Court decides, regardless of what ISIS does, regardless of what this ever increasing pagan world throws at us; we are not of this world. One day, our King is coming.  One day, the Supreme Court will answer to the Supreme Judge.  One day, ISIS will stand before a holy God and answer for their hatred of Him.  One day, the King will return and establish His Kingdom, and then, and only then, will all things be made right. 

Until then, we are envoys and we must tarry, with this message we must carry.  The message:  Christ is King.  Men are lost and dead in Sin.  Jesus died to pay for sin and rose to show us the way home.  Repent and believe.  Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through Him.  And He is coming!  Amen, come quickly, Lord Jesus!

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I'm A Lousy Redneck

(warning, semi-pointless rant to follow)

Please don't misunderstand this title.  I'm not using "redneck" as an insult, as in "you lousy redneck!"  I'm saying I'm lousy at being a redneck.  I know the definition of this term is subject to interpretation.  Some see it as a derogatory term for poor white southerners, especially the brutish kind.  For many, it's simply an identification of rural folk in general, and all the stuff that goes with it.  I'm thinking more along the lines of the latter.

Case in point.  My oldest son and I love hunting and fishing.  Love them.  But we stink at them both!  In the last several days, I've had a little time off and we've done both.  Traveled a ways to a "better" lake so we'd have better luck.  My son caught one large mouth bass.  That was our total haul.  For the last two days, we've been out turkey hunting.  Some of you may remember me lamenting this particular endeavor in years past. And again this year, so far, no luck. I mean none!  Barely heard anything, and only saw one hen both days.  I want to be a hunting and fishing kind of redneck.  But we really stink at this.  I'm a lousy redneck.

Rednecks, in the stereotype, have trucks, right?  Pickup trucks.  Well, I have one.  Kind of.  It's a little Chevy S-10.  Actually, it's a "super crew" which sounds really cool, but just means it has a back seat, which makes the bed of the truck really small, which means you can't use it for what pickups are supposed to be used for.  I'm a lousy redneck.

I do love NASCAR, as I've often discussed here as well.  But we did away with our satellite awhile back, so I haven't actually seen a race in quite awhile.  I must be a lousy redneck.

Even with the "negative" side of the stereotype, I fall short.  I mean, I actually use complete sentences and proper grammar and all. (It's a joke people!) I do have a "beer belly", but it comes from too much pizza, not too much drinking. Oh, and I really hate country music.  I'm a lousy redneck.

Actually, I did just recently finally get a John Deere tractor!  Well, it's a John Deere riding lawn mower, but hey.  On my budget, that's pretty good.  But still, I'm a lousy redneck.

So what's the point?  Well, for one thing, it's just a reminder that in life we often fall short of our goals (even if our goals are a little odd).  It's a reminder that we need to be thankful for who we are and what we are and what we have, not always wanting more, etc.  (I'll keep telling myself this on those failed hunting and fishing trips!)

When it comes to our life of faith, it reminds me that I will always fall short of who and what I want to be, but that's why grace is so important.  It's not about my efforts, but Christ's effort on my behalf.  It's not about my skills, or lack thereof, it's about His finished work on the cross.  Not that we don't strive for more, seek greater sanctification, etc.  But in the end, we rest in grace.  We trust God's plan, whether it always lines up with ours or not.  I may be lousy at a lot of things, but God's love and mercy and grace are never in question, never lacking, never less than exactly what God wants them to be in my life.  For that, I'm very grateful.

And as long as I'm just rambling anyway, here's a little interesting fact.  The term "redneck" actually has a theological significance.  One I would be proud to embrace.  During the 17th Century in Scotland, those who rebelled against the state church, those who stood for the Doctrines of Grace and the freedom to proclaim God's Word, were called The Covenanters.  Mostly Presbyterian, they were called that because they signed a Covenant stating that they rejected British rule in the Church, and the Church of England rule as well.  

Many of the Covenanters signed in blood, and proudly identified themselves with that Covenant by wearing a red scarf to show that blood oath.  "Red neck" came to be a Scottish term for "dissenter."  Later it came to refer to Presbyterians in general, especially among those who later settled in the southern part of America.  So the association of "redneck" with folks in the South isn't just about rural, huntin' and fishin', truck drivin', and so on.  It's a proud heritage of doctrinal commitment and a "free church".  On that note, I'd be proud to be a redneck, and actually, maybe wouldn't be so lousy at it.  

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Message on Racial Reconciliation...Through the Gospel

I was blessed to be able to attend the Grace Bible Conference at Rockport Baptist Church in Arnold, MO this past weekend.  The theme was on "Living as Christians and Proclaiming Christ in an Increasingly Alien World", based on 1 Peter 2:9-12.  If you're interested, you can find the messages here (I benefited greatly from the messages by Mike Morrow and Pastor Scott Lee).

While the whole weekend was great, the highlight for me was a message from Kenny Petty.  Kenny grew up in North St. Louis, lived the "thug life", was radically saved in jail, and is now the pastor of The Gate Church in University City (St. Louis).

Given his background and experience, Kenny is especially qualified to address the issue of racial reconciliation.  He made me stop and rethink some things about issues like the Ferguson situation.  While I'm not sure I would change anything I've posted here about that, his take on it has caused me to do some re-evaluating of my core motivations about it all.  And in the end, he gives the best answer for the whole thing that anyone can give: The Gospel.

This is an amazing message called Reconciling Racial Disharmony.  I highly recommend it to anyone and everyone.  It is well worth your time to listen.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Joyful Heart

Apparently, today is International Moment of Laughter Day.  I know that folks have come up with a holiday for just about anything and everything.  But I have to say, I'm all in favor of this one.

I'm sure you've heard Proverbs 17:22 quoted often in this context: “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (ESV)  Some have paraphrased it to mean say that “laughter is good medicine” or “the best medicine.”  I don't think that is necessarily a one to one correlation.  After all, some laughter comes from less than wholesome means, but over all, laughter is good medicine.

Speaking of that verse, John Gill wrote of the “merry heart”:  It “does the body good, makes it healthful and vigorous. Cheerfulness of spirit has a great influence upon the body, and much contributes to the health and welfare of it.”  I know that a good laugh can alter my mood; can literally make me feel physically better.  It's good stuff.

Again, I know that the world is full of unwholesome laughter.  People laugh at the most vulgar things sometimes.  Just look at what some of your friends post on facebook with a “lol.”  But that doesn't change the fact that good, wholesome joy and laughter is good for you.

So, in honor of the day, here are a few clips of some of my favorite Christian funny guys.  Everyone's sense of humor is a bit different, so these may not be as fun for you as they are for me.  But even they even provide one brief “moment of laughter”, well then the celebration of the day has been successful.  Laugh it up!  (for my fellow Star Wars geeks, it's hard to even type that last phrase without adding “...Fuzz ball!”  but oh, well.  That's an entirely different moment of laughter.)

One one more Tim Hawkins, just because...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Just Because...

Helllloooooooo......     (echo......echo.......echo)
Anybody out there?   (crickets chirping)

I know I've been absent from this page for a week, or two, or something.  It's not that I have nothing to say.  My family will tell you I always have something to say.  It's more like, I have too much to say and not sure how to say it. 

ISIS brutality and persecuted Christians.  But our media instead likes to focus on idiotic protests over religious freedom laws, focusing on Christians who don't want to provide cakes for "gay" weddings. Meanwhile, Muslim bakeries deny gay wedding cakes all the protests. (see here) Ahhh!!

Here in our own area, the issue is over "special protection" for sodomites and perverts...oh, I'm sorry....LGBT folks.  Meanwhile, Christian rights to free speech and free exercise go out the window. 
And don't get me started on politics and politicians. 

So much serious stuff going on.  And as you can see, my "filter" isn't letting me deal with it in as kind and compassionate way as I probably should.  Hence my silence. 

So, instead, let's just have a little fun.  From the folks who brought you St. Patrick's Bad Analogies, comes a wonderful meeting of these two Celtic comedians, Donall and Conall, with famed atheist Richard Dawkins. Serious topics, fun approach.  That's what I need.  So enjoy this for now, and if anyone is still around in a week or so I'll try to get back to my world famous insights. (well, of course, I never had those, so it wouldn't really be getting back to them, but....anyway)

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Grace, Glorious Grace

Haven't posted anything in a bit.  Also, haven't been writing as much as I used to.  I've mentioned before that I have tried my hand at song writing a time or two.  Just found an old tape of a couple songs I wrote for my then fiancee, which a friend sat down and recorded with piano for me (since I don't sing and have very, very, very limited piano skills!)  That got me to thinking about writing again.

Anyway, to kill two birds with one stone as it were, I'll post a recent hymn attempt. (you can read others here, here, and here)  In preparing for messages leading up to the celebration of the Resurrection, I've been moved again by the power of God's grace. Grace is everything.  Without it, we have no hope, no life, no anything.  So I jotted down a few lines about that glorious grace.  

Grace, Glorious Grace

Grace, grace, what a glorious sound
From sin set free, from death unbound
Those that were lost, have now been found
All by His grace, glorious grace

Grace, grace, a gift given so free
No cost to you, no work from me
Christ paid our debt upon that tree
And gives us grace, glorious grace

Grace, grace, gives us strength for each day
We live, we love, we serve, we pray
All that we have, all that we say
It comes by grace, glorious grace

Grace, grace, in this hope we can rest
God is our rock, He seeks our best
He holds our hand through every test
We stand in grace, glorious grace

Grace, grace, brings us to His Bright Land
No foe can rend us from His hand,
His Word is true, His promise stands
We're His by grace, glorious grace

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

You Are What You Eat...and Read, and Watch, and...

So I'm scrolling through some Twitter stuff, when I see a link for this story on our local news station. 
It's a heart breaking story about the damage done by Tropical Cyclone Pam as that storm worked its way through the South Pacific.  No laughing matter at all.  And yet, when I first saw the headline on Twitter, I had to do a double take.  Because what my sci-fi degraded mind saw at first was something about a "Cylon-hit hospital," and I thought, 'Oh my goodness, they've finally arrived and are attacking!'

For those who might be unaware, there was an old TV show called Battlestar Galactica.  I understand there was a modern remake, but being cable/satellite deprived, I didn't see that (though I've heard maybe it's good that I didn't).  Anyway, the "bad guys" in this particular sci-fi adventure were a bunch of cyborg/robot like creatures called Cylons. (I'm sure influenced by Doctor Who's Cybermen, and a precursor to Star Trek's Borg, further proof of my geekiness) I watched that show a lot when I was younger.  And it stuck.

So that's the way my brain is trained, and when I read the headline, the background wiring took over.  Now, in my defense I was reading this on my phone.  Small screen.  Small, cracked screen.  Coupled with bad eyesight.  Legitimate, degenerative eye condition along with age-related-reading-glasses-required kind of stuff.  And hey, we all misread stuff sometimes, right?

But it got me to thinking about the old idea of "garbage on-garbage out" with computers.  The old "you are what you eat" mentality.  And it reminded me that we are not only what we eat, but what we read and watch and listen to and participate it and so on.  What comes out is what we spend the most time filling ourselves with. 

Jesus told us on a couple of occasions that what comes out is what we've already put in.  Matthew 12:34, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."  And Matthew 15:18  "But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart..."  I recently heard someone share an article that was tying this in with some science report suggesting that our heart muscle actually has a brain of its own and does its own "thinking."  I don't think that's the point.  Jesus is obviously referring to our heart in terms of our inner being, our soul, our essence, etc.  And the point is, that which we spend our time reading, seeing, hearing, focusing on; that's what will come out of us. 

Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying.  I'm not going on a "you can't watch TV, or listen to that evil music" kick.  I am saying that we need to be aware that what we choose to spend our time "ingesting" will have an influence on us.  Especially in the "unconscious response" category.  Our default setting if you will.  It's influenced heavily by what we choose to "program" our heart/mind/soul with.  

Maybe that's why Paul encouraged us to "Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." (Colossians 3:2)  Maybe if I spent more time in the Word and less time with worldly entertainments, my first response to an article like the one I mentioned would be compassion and prayer for hurting people rather than a geeky old TV reference.  

I know this is a cheesy example.  A misread word.  No big deal.  But it does bring up a bigger issue. Just a reminder to be aware, be cautious, and not take up all that brain programming space with junk!