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

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Greatest Commandment

As we continue through Matthew's gospel at Faith Southern Baptist, we found ourselves dealing with Jesus' response to the question regarding the greatest commandment.  Most folks are very familiar with this text, as well as the text in Deuteronomy 6 which Jesus quotes in that response.  So, as I said in the message, I know I have nothing really new to offer. 

But I hope that God would remind His church of our need to not only be familiar with this, but to be obedient to it.  To seek to love our God with all that is within us, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Not only is that the foundation of the Law and Prophets, but if we would do this, it would serve to solve so many other issues.

Here is Sunday's Message:



Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Is There No Truth In Beauty?

 If anyone clicked on this title expecting me to be writing about an episode of Star Trek, you’ll be disappointed.  While I am indeed a Trek fan (Trekkie? Trekker?), and I do enjoy the particular episode which shares this title, that’s not what this is about.

The phrase is from a poem by George Herbert called Jordan I.  It’s basically a poem about poetry, asking why poems need to focus only on fantasy/fiction, and why we can’t also find beauty in the real/true aspects of life.  Good question?

I recently thought about this line while listening to an address from Steve Taylor.  The often controversial musician and film maker is now a college professor, believe it or not, teaching film studies.  His address was a challenge for artists of all kinds (musicians, painters, writers, etc) to not be afraid to make art that challenges, to address the “real life” struggles we all face with honesty, to pursue truth.  It was in many ways a critique of much Christian artistry which looks at the world with those famous rose colored glasses, and never really gets down to the nitty gritty reality of life.

I appreciate what he was saying.  I even agree with it, for the most part.  However, I had one little quibble with an illustration he used.  He compares Thomas Kinkade with Pablo Picasso.  Strange comparison, but hang in there for a second.

He shows us a Kinkade painting, a church scene with all the artist’s typical light and color and brightness.  He looks at the painting, and after stating that Kinkade claims to paint for the glory of God, he asks, “But does this really glorify God?  I would say no, it doesn’t.  Because it’s a lie.”  He laughs at the purple trees, and the brightness of the light in the church windows which could only be possible if the sanctuary was on fire, and the lack of a path to the church which means the only way you could get there was to parachute in.  Likewise, the light and color are all lies because life isn’t like that, Taylor says.  So it’s not true, therefore not glorifying to God.

Switch to the Picasso.  This is the artist’s well known anti-war painting called ‘Guernica’.  We are told that Picasso certainly never claimed to paint for God’s glory, but does this painting glorify God?  Taylor says yes, it does because it shows truth.  It represents the darkness and suffering of war and sin, the realities of life we all face.  This is true, so it glorifies God. 

I hear what Taylor is saying.  And I agree.  To a point.  Life is full of sin and suffering, and we should not deny that, ignore it, etc.  But Taylor applies the standard of truth differently in the two paintings.  In the first, he says it’s not true because it’s not literal in its depiction.  Whereas in the second, it’s true because of what it represents.  No one would argue that Picasso’s oddball renditions of people and animals are “true” in the sense of accurate depictions of those things.  It’s what they represent that we are called to observer.  Likewise, the Kinkade painting may have some inconsistencies with the way life really works, but we are supposed to be drawn to what it represents.  In spite of the darkness of life, there is light.  There is beauty. 

I would ask Herbert’s question slightly differently.  Is there no truth in beauty?  That is, can we not also find truth in the beautiful things of God’s world.  The psalmist often looks to the created order as a display of God’s glory.  To see the beauty of it and be in awe.  The apostle Paul tells us to set our minds on the things that are true AND beautiful.  Philippians 4:8 says, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (ESV)

So can’t we say that in Taylor’s example, both paintings bring glory to God?  Neither is an “accurate” portrait of the things they represent, and yet both accurately portray aspects of life in this world.  Suffering is real.  Light is real.  We can find truth in both. In fact, only by knowing the truth of the Light can we even deal with the truth of the darkness around us.

I’ve been a fan of Steve Taylor since I discovered his music in the 80’s. I’ve always loved his ability to push the envelope and cause us to think; to get outside our comfort zones and deal with real life.  Yet, on this point I have to disagree.  There is truth in beauty.  Not to ignore or deny the “realities” of life, but to draw our attention the beauty of this world, even in its fallen state, is still glorifying to God. 

(Now for you Star Trek fans who know the plot line of the episode by this title, I would say that this means even Kollos could be said to be beautiful, and glorifying to God, in his own way. But that’s a whole different story)


Monday, October 12, 2020

Hi There, Remember Me?

 Start and stop.  Start and stop.  After years of faithful writing on this blog, I fell into a horrible rut of not writing for long periods of time, only to try and get it going again, only to fall of the face of the earth again. 

Recently, I was given the opportunity to read a pre-release copy of a book by John Beeson and Benjamin Vrbicek called Blogging for God's Glory in a Clickbait World.  It will be out in a few weeks, and I'd encourage folks to get a copy.  Blogging folks, that is.

Anyway, reading that book encouraged me to give this another go.  Awhile back I said I was going to use Mondays to post Sunday's message from our church.  Audio files became an issue when our church page began having trouble.  Then Covid hit, and we started doing live streams.  So now, I have videos available.  I will begin, then, by sharing yesterday's message. 

 As we continue to go through Matthew's Gospel, we found ourselves reading the account of Jesus being tested by some Sadducees regarding the outlandish example of seven brothers all marrying the same woman, one by one, after the previous brother dies; and in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?  Wow.  What's that all about?  Well, if you really want to know, here's the video.  And check back here soon for some "original" content.  In fact, the next article is already written entitled Is There No Truth In Beauty?  

Now for Sunday's Message:

Monday, January 27, 2020

Catching Up

In trying to get this thing going again, I had said that I was going to post on each Monday with a link to Sunday's message.  Obviously that hasn't been done lately.  But in my defense, it's not entirely my fault. 

We've had some issues with the Wordpress site where we host our church page and sermons.  I haven't been able to upload for well over a month.  That issue is now resolved and I'll try to get back to the Monday messages, as well as getting some other content going again.  (I know there are at least 2 people out there who care one way or the other.  Thanks, mom).

So, as a little catch up, here are links to the January messages (we missed one week due to weather)

200105a- The Son of God; Matthew 14:22-33

200119a- Seeking and Sharing Christ; Matthew 14:34-36

200126a- The Problem of the Heart; Matthew 15:1-20

Hopefully more to come...

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Leaving a Legacy

I spent part of my morning attending the funeral service for one of the leading pastors in our community. Not my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, but I’m glad I was there.

A lot of things about this brother’s sudden passing have affected me.  He was only a couple years older than me, which always causes one to pause and consider your own mortality.  Also, I regret not having gone out of my way to be a better friend to my brother.  We got along fine; served our local Baptist Association together; I even joined him for a time together with a group of pastors who would pray together.  Yet, I never went out of my way to just call and ask him to grab some coffee, or whatever.  I regret that.
There have been a few other thoughts and feelings that have come to me since hearing of his sudden departure from this life. But as I sat through the service this morning, the one thing that stood out was the impact he has had on our community.  Lives touched for the Kingdom of God and His glory.  I may not have always agreed with my brother on every little doctrinal detail and method of ministry.  But there was never any doubt that he loved Jesus and wanted to see Him exalted.  

The results of that love could be seen by the hundreds of people who came today.  The church sanctuary was filled, and overflow seating was set up in the gym/fellowship area to watch on a live stream.  Truly this brother had an impact for the Kingdom.

I left this morning with a lot of questions.  Foremost among them: am I having any impact for the Kingdom?  What will my legacy be?  When the day comes, and it will surely come, when my family gathers to say an earthly farewell to me, who else will be with them?  Not that I’ve ever felt drawing a crowd is the point.  I don’t feel that way about ministry now, so I certainly don’t feel that way about a funeral.  And yet, again, what is my legacy?  

I’ve conducted enough funerals myself to know that these are emotional times.  People are led to do a lot of reflecting, which is a good thing.  It’s good to think about our own mortality.  It’s good, especially, to think about that in terms of whether or not we are prepared for eternity.  Which is why I always want to make the Gospel a focus during funeral services.  But it’s not just about the emotional reactions.

What is the legacy I will leave behind?  Does my life reflect Christ in the way it should?  Am I being a blessing to those around me, especially to my family?  Am I leading them by example, not just by words, to seek after Christ? Am I being an encouragement to my fellow servants in the Kingdom, faithfully praying for them and standing with them as we seek His glory together?  Most importantly, how will I change from this day forward to seek to improve in these areas.  It does no good to reflect and question, if I’m not willing to make changes, right?

This is just a ramble, I know.  Just a few thoughts I needed to write down for my own sake, to help organize my own thoughts.  Still, I hope that anyone who might somehow get lost on the internet and stumble on to these words, that you might be led to consider your own legacy.  Are you prepared for eternity yourself; by grace through faith in Christ alone; and are you leading those around you to seek Christ and His glory as well? 

Every one of us will face this moment when we’re not just attending a funeral, but we are the guest of honor.  How are we preparing for that day?  What will be our legacy?  And will Christ be exalted by our death as much as our life? More than anything, my greatest desire, is that on that day I will hear from my King, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Gospel Net

Continuing with my newly stated goal of using Mondays to share Sunday's message, well, here it is. 

But to share more fully, some of the issues in this message go along with two posts I made several years back.  One, a looooong time ago, had to do with the "bait and switch" tactics used in the church.  The misunderstanding that some have about what it means to be "fishers of men." We think of modern fishing practices, using the right lure to catch the right kind of fish, etc.  Whereas Jesus' call to be fishers of men has much more to do with the idea of casting a net and seeing what mind find its way into that net.  In other words, casting the net of the Gospel and trusting God to fill the net as He sees fit. 

The other article, almost as looong ago, has to do with the sad practice of "specialty churches."  The goal here is to target some sub group of the culture and make a church just to attract that group (i.e. Cowboy Church, Biker Church, etc.).  This is an obvious violation of so many biblical principles.  Primarily the issue of proclaiming the Gospel to all men, all kinds of men; and the principle of unity in the church that tears down dividing walls. 

You can follow the links in those paragraphs above to read those posts, if you're bored, or if you're having trouble sleeping, or whatever.  But as we looked at the "Parable of the Net" Jesus gives in Matthew 13, those kinds of issues surface again.

In the end, the basic idea is that the Church is to be about the business of casting the net of the Gospel, knowing that a great "separation" is coming at the Day of Judgment, and that until that day we need to keep casting and trust God to fill the net as He chooses.  I pray the message (should you choose to listen) will be a challenge and a blessing. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Fake News and The Gospel

Without a doubt you’ve heard about the recent kerfuffle regarding ABC News reporting on attacks in Syria and using video footage that seems to show a great onslaught, only to find out that said footage was actually from a nighttime artillery demonstration at a range in Kentucky.   Cries of “fake news” come ringing in, and rightly so.  News folks take a piece of video and build a narrative around it, whether it’s accurate or not. 

Actually, seeing the video footage in its entirety destroys the narrative. The ABC footage is grainy and zoomed in.  Once you zoom out, the shot clears up, and not only do you see the impressive streaks of artillery fire scorching the night, you also see the large crowd gathered to observe.  I can’t help but think that if the folks at ABC had seen the whole video in context (I’m assuming for their sake that they had not), that they would have known right away this was not an attack in Syria, or anywhere else.  Context helps immensely.  

What’s true of video footage, is also true of still photographs.  Maybe even more so.  One photo, taken out of context, can transmit all sorts of false narratives.  One that comes to mind has made its way around the social web the last couple years.  The picture is of a group of young students sitting in front of Rembrandt’s famous ‘The Night Watch’ at the Louvre.  But instead of appreciating the masterpiece, they all have their heads down, glued to their mobile devices.  Sad, right?

The photo is passed around as evidence of the ignorance of today’s youth, the destruction of their minds by technology, etc.  How can they sit there on Twitter and ignore such amazing art?  Or so it seems.  I’ve read that this might not quite be the case.  Apparently, they were on a class trip to the museum, and at some point their devices were being used to access the museum’s media app.  Indeed, there is another picture of the same group of kids “totally mesmerized” by one of the artist’s paintings.  Context helps immensely.

Here’s my point (other than the simple point of being careful not to jump to conclusions just because you saw a photo of a video online somewhere).  This idea of taking things out of context to create a false narrative isn’t restricted to news and social media.  If we’re not careful, we can do the same with Scripture and our presentation of the gospel.

Numerous examples can be offered of popular Bible verses that are ripped out of context.  The one that comes to mind personally is a verse from Genesis 31.  When my wife and I were dating, way back when, there were these little heart pendants that were quite popular.  The heart had this verse engraved on it, and then the heart was separated, and each person wore half of the heart.  The verse is Genesis 31:49: “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”  Romantic, huh?  We thought so. 

Then I read the verse in context.  Jacob is leaving his uncle Laban, who is pursuing him.  The two don’t trust each other at all.  But they make an agreement, and to seal the agreement they build a pillar of stones as a monument, invoking the name of God to watch over them and keep them honest.  So the verse is not about romantic feelings at all, but a call for God to watch over the promises of these two untrustworthy fellows.  Context matters.

We do the same with all kinds of verses; sadly, too many to list here.  While all those are important, the one place we have to be so very careful is in sharing the Gospel with folks.  Too often we take the “good news” out of context and make the work of Christ all about “God loves you and wants you to be happy.”  While there may be a grain of truth there, it’s not the whole picture. 

We tell people God loves then and Jesus died for them, and in context the question should be “what does God’s love have to do with Jesus dying?”  Why did He have to die?  He had to die because God is so holy, and sin is so abhorrent, and the penalty for sin is so beyond what we can pay, that in order for God’s justice and mercy to both be satisfied, the Son of God Himself had to suffer.  The “good news” has to be set against the “bad news” of sin and judgment in order for it to be understood in its proper context.  Just one part of the picture doesn’t tell the whole story.

So, this is just a long, roundabout way of saying this:  Preach the Gospel; the whole Gospel; and nothing but the Gospel.  Don’t let laziness or a fear of “offending” folks turn the Good News into fake news.  Context matters.  And the effects are eternal.