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

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Happy Constitution Day

(Yes, I recycled this post from last year.  I lack creativity!)

September 17, 1787.  A pretty good day in US history.  It was on this date that the U. S. Constitution was completed and signed.  55 men were involved altogether, including the writing and signing. (It's worth noting that nearly all were active members of Christian denominations, for those who say Christians have had nothing to offer...)   That makes today the 227th anniversary of that wonderful day.  So Happy Constitution Day.

You can celebrate in any number of ways.  You can find some of the online resources that give some basic information, fun facts, etc. about our Constitution.  (here or here for example)

You can read the Constitution.  It's one of the suggested ideas in the links above, and would be a good idea for every American.  It would be especially good for those serving in any branch of government, since so many seem to have never seen it before. 

Speaking of which, one way we could celebrate is to look back over the last few years and enumerate the various ways the Federal Government has violated the Constitution.  That would be a fun and educational experience, I'm sure. 

You could also celebrate Constitution Day by going right now and joining the Constitution Party. That way, you're already set for the next election cycle to try and restore our nation to its founding documents (a pipe dream, I know).  

Or you can simply do what the framers and signers of this grand, historical document did on a regular basis.  Get down on your knees and thank God for His generous blessings to this nation and seek His guidance for its future.  While it may be a radical concept to many today, it was common practice (and common sense) to our founding fathers. 

But however you celebrate, you should celebrate.  This document, if you are an American, is why you have the freedoms you have, including the reading of this post right now.  So remind yourself of this important part of our heritage.  Happy Constitution Day!

Monday, September 15, 2014

A Joyful Heart is Good Medicine

Tuesday evening our church has the privilege of again hosting the annual banquet for our local crisis pregnancy center.  And this year the speaker is a comedian named Gordon Douglas.  I know that some folks don’t think those two mix very well.  Abortion is a serious topic, hardly the kind of thing to joke about.  And obviously the jokes won’t be about that topic in particular.  But when done right, it can be very effective for this kind of event.

Besides, humor and laughter most certainly have a place in the life of God’s people, or at least they should.   

Proverbs 17:22  A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 15:13  A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed.

Proverbs 15:15  All the days of the afflicted are evil, but the cheerful of heart has a continual feast.

Charles Spurgeon was often criticized for his use of humor, and he often remarked on the general lack of “mirth” in some congregations.  For example, in this message:

I have noticed with pain the way in which people will get rid, if they can, of happy words out of their hymns. 
The hundredth Psalm for instance, runs thus:
     “All people that on earth do dwell,
      Sing to the Lord with cheerful voice,
      Him serve with — “

What? Well, they modernise it into-
     “Him serve with fear.”

But, as I believe, the older form is-
     “Him serve with mirth, his praise forth tell, Come ye before him and rejoice.”

I wonder some other scribe did not cut out the word “cheerful,” and put in
     “Sing to the Lord with doleful voice.”

In this way the Psalm might have been “improved” until there would not have been a grain of worship left in it. I mean to sing it. “Him serve with mirth;” and with a glad and merry heart will I praise my God.

Or how about this one?
There is no one part of a man’s constitution, which is really a part of his manhood, which should not praise God. Ay, even the sense of humor should be sanctified to the service of the Most High! Whatever faculty God has given thee, O my soul, it has its place in the choir! Summon it to praise.
 Sermon #2121

In his collection of essays on Eccentric Preachers, Spurgeon even defends another preacher known for his humorous approach, a certain Edward Taylor:

To the pure mind, none of the powers of our manhood are common or unclean. Humor can be consecrated, and should be. We grant that it is a power difficult to manage; but when it is under proper control, it more than repays for all the labor spent upon it. Children do sad damage with gunpowder; but what a force it is when a wise man directs its energy. Mr. Taylor made men laugh that they might weep. He touched one natural chord, that he might be able to touch another; whereas, some preachers are so unnatural themselves, that the human nature of their hearers refuses to subject itself to their operations. 0 ye who are evermore decorously dull, before ye judge a man whose loving ministry conducted thousands to the skies, think how immeasurably above you all he soared, and remember that with all his violations of your wretched regulations, he was one whom the Lord delighted to honor.

So, to avoid being “decorously dull”, I’m really looking forward to what Mr. Douglas has to share.  I even get the privilege of picking him up at the airport and taking him to dinner.  So maybe I can get a preview of the fun stuff we’ll get to enjoy as we address the serious business of ministering to those who might be considering the deadly serious decision of abortion.  We appreciate your prayers for this ministry.  Here’s a little sample of what we’re looking forward to.  

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We Need a Strategy

The news these days has been about our government’s plan, or lack thereof, when it comes to dealing with the growing terrorist threat, particularly from the ISIS folks.   Our president has come under fire, I think rightfully so, for not having such a strategy. 

We need a strategy to address those who come against us.  Seems like common sense.  We can’t just sit around and wait for the attack and then try to react.  We need to have a plan in place, expecting the attack, and being ready for it.  Again, common sense.  But why, then, don’t we take the same approach when it comes to dealing with the oldest “terrorist” of them all: Satan?   

We know the enemy is out there.  We know that he’s actively looking for ways to attack and destroy.  Peter tells us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)  But most of us go through life day to day with our heads up in the air as if we don’t have a care in the world.

I’m not saying we should cower and live in fear.  In fact we’re told the exact opposite.  We are not to live in a spirit of fear, we are to take heart because our God has overcome the world, etc.   But we are still to be prepared.

I think of our Lord in the Garden.  He is praying fervently because of the test in front of Him, and He asks His disciples to join Him.  Sadly, they fall asleep.  And Jesus’, knowing the temptations that are coming on them as well, encourages them with these words:  “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." (Matthew 26:41)

That is perhaps the most basic strategy of all.  Watch and pray.  Be alert, be on guard, be ready.  And be in prayer.  Sadly, as basic as this strategy is, too many of us ignore it.

Oh, we pray.  We pray for our own comfort.  We pray for our own blessings.  We may even pray with a more selfless mindset; we pray for those around us who are sick and hurting and so on.  And that’s fine and good.  But we often forget to pray as a strategy against temptation.

Odd, when you think of it.  The “Lord’s Prayer” includes the petition to “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”  God puts it front and center for us.  But still, so often we don’t think of it, don’t plan for temptation, don’t have a strategy for it.

Part of it is pride, probably.  We think we’re strong and immune from this or that temptation.  Which is no doubt why God tells us “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12)  When you think you’re strong, that’s when you need a strategy most of all.  Watch and pray.  Of course, that passage goes on to tell us that when the temptations do come, God will also provide a way out.  But even there, unless we have a plan in place, a strategy based on God’s Word, we may not recognize that provided way out.

God does provide a way out, and that’s through His promises.  So we might add to watch and pray: watch and pray and read.  Read and meditated on God’s Word, so that when the temptations come we are aware of the promises God has given us in order to stand up under them.

Isn’t this just how Jesus approached things during His temptation in the wilderness.  He had a strategy in place.  He was ready, was praying, was grounded in the promises of God’s Word, and He prevailed.

Don’t fool yourself.  The enemy is on the prowl.  Sneakier and more hate filled than any ISIS terrorist, our enemy is bent on the destruction of God’s people.  He’s looking to devour.  You need a strategy.  Don’t get caught unaware.  Watch and pray and read.  Even if you think you’re strong, especially if you think you’re strong, take heed; be prepared. 





Saturday, September 6, 2014

Homeschooler Moment #20

Been awhile.  I imagine these will get even fewer since three of the four have now graduated.  But anyway.  Our daughter posted this on facebook the other day, and it seemed like a perfect entry.  So I'll just post her post.  Enjoy your weekend. 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Osteen's False Gospel is Nothing New

Mrs. Osteen’s now famous exhortation to do good for ourselves because God just wants us to be happy is old news.  You’ve no doubt heard the clip, and also no doubt read the dozens of responses.  Along with many, the clip showing Bill Cosby’s “response” is a favorite.

But here’s the thing.  This is nothing new.  This me-istic, prosperity gospel has been around for a long, long time.  Back in the 80’s I was working in Christian radio, both at our college station and some others.  I remember some of my favorite “alternative” bands (that’s what we called it back then) like Daniel Amos and Steve Taylor doing songs about this false gospel.  Those two in particular had a fun way of doing it.

I was thinking about that because I was feeling nostalgic and listening to an old DA record called Doppelganger.  One of the songs is New Car!  It’s set as a game show conversation with the hook line actually being a sample of Johnny Jacobs shouting “A New Car!”  Here’s a bit of it:

Contestant: Well, I know what I want, I know what I need
I want a miracle, I know what I need
I know what I want, I know what I need, give me a
Johnny Jacobs: (A new car!)
Contestant: I know what I need, give me a
Johnny Jacobs: (A new car!)
Contestant: I'm one of the kings kids
Kings kids: (He wants a blessing)
Contestant: I'm one of the kings kids
Kings kids: (He wants a blessing)
Contestant: I do deserve the best
Kings kids: (Keep on confessing)
Contestant: The very, very, very, very
Kings Kids: (na-na-na-na-na) 
Contestant: Very, very best, I'm one of the king's kids
I deserve the best, I want a
Johnny Jacobs: (A new car!)

You get the idea.  DA was making fun of this same prosperity gospel thing that tells us it’s all about us, all about our own happiness, all about our own worldly wants and needs.

Steve Taylor also had several songs taking swipes at the health/wealth heresy and the self centered nature of the church.  Songs like 1985’s This Disco (Used to be a CuteCathedral), which promises a place where they “only play the stuff you’re wanting to hear.”

Then there was the later ’93 epic called Cash Cow, which actually points out my point: this is nothing new.  In that song, Taylor likens this false gospel to the same motives behind the recently freed Hebrew slaves who turned their back on God in favor of a golden calf.  God wasn’t meeting their “felt needs” so they sought out another god, a god of gold, that would make them feel better about themselves. 

Taylor reminds us that this same sinful heart resides within us all: 
Perhaps you've already been licked
I, too, was hypnotized
By those big cow eyes
The last time I uttered those three little words
"I deserve better!"

And there it is, isn’t it?  Osteen’s “do good for yourself” is the same as DA’s “I do deserve the best” and Taylor’s “I deserve better!”  Which is all the same as the complaint we read about in Exodus 16: 16:2  “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.’" Exodus 16:2-3 

So then, what are we to make of this?  One, realize that while Mrs. Osteen may have stated the heresy more plainly than some others, it’s nothing new.  And two, we should see this as a cautionary tale, a reminder to search our own hearts and see whether or not we, too, have been hypnotized by those big cow eyes thinking “I deserve better” because I’m a “King’s kid.”  

And now, for those feeling either nostalgic or adventurous, feel free to enjoy either DA's New Car, or a recent live version of Taylor's Cash Cow, or both. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Give Me The Name Naphtali

Stroke.  MS.  Cancer.  Hospitals.  Storms. Death.  Funeral.  More cancer.  More storms.  Unplanned pregnancy.  Counseling the lost, hurting and searching. 

This is the week that was for our little church family and some of the other folks I’ve been hopefully ministering to.  I keep reminding myself that I’m not the one who got the diagnosis; I’m not the one lying in the hospital bed or the coffin.  But it all does still get to me.

I struggle with the brokenness all around me, and it forces me to see the brokenness in me as well.  My own fears and anxieties like to creep up in the midst of all these other things.

And so for myself, and for all those dealing with struggles of your own, brokenness and anxiety, I simply offer this prayer.  It’s from a familiar source to anyone who’s read here before.  I’m rather fond of The Valley of Vision collection of prayers.  And this one is quite helpful for a time like this.  It’s called “Peril”, but I’m moved by one of the final lines:  “Give me the name Naphtali – ‘satisfied with favour.”  That’s the heart of my prayer.  In spite of all, make me satisfied in the favour of God!

Sovereign Commander of the Universe,
I am sadly harassed by doubts, fears, unbelief,
    in a felt spiritual darkness.
My heart is full of evil surmisings and disquietude,
    and I cannot act faith at all.
My heavenly Pilot has disappeard,
    and I have lost my hold on the Rock of Ages;
I sink in deep mire beneath storms and waves,
    in horror and distress unutterable.

Help me, O Lord,
    to throw myself absolutely and wholly on thee,
    for better, for worse, without comfort,
    and all but hopeless.
Give me peace of soul, confidence, enlargement of mind,
    morning joy that comes after night heaviness;
Water my soul with divine blessings;
Grant that I may welcome that humbling in private
    so that I might enjoy thee in public;
Give me a mountain top as high as the valley is low.
Thy grace can melt the worst sinner, and I am as vile as he;
Yet thou hast made me a monument of mercy,
    a trophy of redeeming power;
In my distress let me not forget this.

All-wise God,
Thy never-failing providence orders every event,
    sweetens every fear,
    reveals evil’s presence lurking in seeming good,
    brings real good out of seeming evil,
    makes unsatisfactory what I set my heart upon,
    to show me what a short-sighted creature I am,
    and to teach me to live by faith upon
        thy blessed self.

Out of sorrow and night
    give me the name Naphtali -
    ‘satisfied with favour’ -
    help me to love thee as thy child,
    and to walk worthy of my heavenly pedigree.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Covenant With Christ

I've always had a soft spot for things Scottish.  I mean, my name is Scott after all.  And last night I went to the theater to see the introduction of the newest Doctor Who, who happens to be Scottish (a fact which led to some great humor throughout the episode).  But I digress....

I love reading about the history of the Reformation in Scotland, and the folks known as the Scottish Covenanters.  Coming on the tail end of all that was a Scottish minister named Ebenezer Erskine.  Not the most well known preacher in history, although he does have a few statues in his honor.  However, early on in life, he wasn't much of a minister at all.  

Though he gave his life to service in the church, his own faith was dried up.  His messages were given without much conviction.  It was more of a job than a calling.  Fortunately, his wife had a different heart.  She was passionate in her relationship with Christ, and prayed for her husband.  Unfortunately, it took the near death of that fine woman to get Ebenezer's attention.

Following a severe illness which almost took her life, Ebenezer and his wife had some serious discussions about faith, and recalling some of the biblical truths that had led him as a child to seek this profession to begin with, Erskine finally came to a true and saving relationship with Christ.  In fact, it was on this date, August 26 in the year 1708 that his conversion took place.

Being Scottish and all, and coming within a few decades after those Scottish Covenanters, Erskine decided to mark his conversion with a "covenant."  These are his words: "I offer myself up, soul and body, unto God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I flee for shelter to the blood of Jesus. I will live to Him; I will die to Him. I take heaven and earth to witness that all I am and all I have are His."

Not so bad, huh? I know we have to be careful to not just parrot the words of others.  I don't want to use something like this as some do a "sinner's prayer" where if you repeat after me you will get your ticket to heaven.  And yet, I think these words would not be so bad on a plaque somewhere in my office.  Just as a reminder of what is at the core of my faith, what is at the core of my commitment, at the core of my calling.  In all, it wouldn't be bad to "sign on" to a covenant statement like this one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Slow Death of Religious Freedom

No, I'm not talking about global atrocities like those being committed at the hands of folks like ISIS in Iraq.  I'm not talking about any number of European legislatures that continue to shut the mouths of Christians in a variety of ways.  I'm not even talking about the anti-Christian administration that currently runs our nation (or is running it to the ground, some might say). 

I'm talking about right here in the heartland.  Dead in the middle of Missouri.  In the little town of Fayette.  My college roommate hails from this fine metropolis, so I naturally took notice when news came out last December about a lawsuit over religious issues in the schools there.  

It seems that two students, one of which no longer even attends Fayette schools, were cited in a lawsuit against the school district because their constitutional rights were infringed.  How?  Because the school intercom announced the activity of a Christian students club.  No, the students weren't forced to attend.  No, they didn't have to be anywhere near it when it took place.  But they had to hear the announcement.  And that infringed their Constitutional Rights.  Or so they said. 

Furthermore, a teacher, yes an actual teacher, sat in on those meetings with the students.  Imagine, a teacher sitting in on a student meeting.  But that's not all.  The teacher actually, get this, actually prayed with those students.  In a completely voluntary meeting, before classes ever began.  Oh, and worse yet, the teacher actually brought food to those students on occasion. The inhumanity!  And again, these two students felt their Constitutional rights being violated.  Hence, the lawsuit. 

Now, any rational person would see this as a frivolous law suit.  Any rational person would see that two nit-picky teenagers have absolutely no leg to stand on.  Close your ears.  Don't listen to the intercom announcement.  Stay away from that classroom.  Let others express their Constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.  But apparently the U. S. District Court lacks any rational people, since they let this case proceed.  And it turns out the school district seems to lack rational people as well.  

According to reports: "The Fayette R-III School District has agreed in federal court to change policies regarding the religious expression of teachers and school district staff."  What changes?  "...the school district has agreed not to 'promote prayer or religious activity' and will modify its Student Teacher Handbook to prohibit teachers from participating in prayer or religious activities at student meetings. The court settlement also prohibits school district employees from placing religious books, materials, or items in a place where students would be likely to see them."

And so, to placate two whiny students, the majority in the school will have to give up their own rights to free speech and religious freedom.  Teachers can't express their faith in any way, shape, or form.  I'm assuming, based on past cases, that the phrase "religious books, materials, or items" will include not only Bibles and such that a teacher might read during breaks or off hours, but also any jewelry that is "religious."  Obviously cross necklaces will be out, earrings as well.  I couldn't even wear my wedding ring if I were there, since my ring has a cross on each side. Shoot, these days a wedding ring itself is probably considered a "religious item" considering the way we see marriage. 

This isn't the East Coast or West Coast, folks.  This isn't happening in the liberal centers of the nation.  This is happening right here in the heartland, in tiny little rural schools on the edge of the Bible belt.  And we sit by and watch as our religious freedom continues to die a slow, agonizing death.  And we wonder what's wrong with this country?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Riot vs. Reason - Just my two cents

Everyone and his brother has chimed in on the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.  For the most part, I don't know that I have anything to say that hasn't been said.  But, that's never stopped me before.  I do have family in the neighboring communities, and so I have been keeping tabs pretty closely.

The truth is, we obviously don't know everything that happened that day.  The officer involved says one thing.  Self-professed witnesses say something else.  Surveliance tapes come out showing a new angle.  Now a new video shows a background conversation that seems to support the officers account.  Autopsy results are released that are interpreted differently by both sides.  The final verdict is far from in. 

But that's where the problem comes in.  We don't know all the facts of the case in question.  What we do know is that people have taken to the streets in violent ways, looting stores, throwing fire bombs at police, hurting other innocent people in the process.  The question is: how does this help?  

Even if the officer is completely off his rocker, decided to shoot the young man on a whim, the worse case scenario if you're the police; but how does rioting help?  How does hurting other innocents help?  The investigation has only started, so you can't say there is no "justice" yet.  We haven't even had time to check all the facts yet.  How does blowing up your neighbors business help find that "justice"?

That's the point, isn't it?  It doesn't help.  But for many, it doesn't matter.  This is just an excuse to blow off steam, to engage in stupid, sinful, hurtful behavior and try to feel justified by it.  There is no reason behind the riots; protests, maybe; riots; absolutely not. 

And what's worse is the church or churches in the area who invite someone like Al Sharpton to come and speak, and call it a "unity rally" when all it does is stir the pot of disunity even more.  Shame on them.  Do you really think spouting rhetoric that inflames passions is really going to help anything?  And if you are really concerned about "injustice" and innocent lives being taken, why are you not rallying/rioting on the streets of cities like Chicago and Detroit where the lives of young men and women are being snuffed out daily by thugs and drug dealers and gang bangers and so on.  Where are the protests to support those families?  Where is the outcry of injustice in those cases?

My heart goes out to the family of this young man.  I can't imagine their pain.  I can imagine some of the rest of it.  Living on a Sioux Reservation for several years I found out first hand what racism and racial profiling is all about.  Folks on the rez didn't like us because we were white and blamed me for what some other group of white folks did to their anscestors a hundred years ago.  Meanwhile, white folks in town, off the rez, didn't like me because I lived out there "with those Indians."  I had police eye my car suspiciously because it had tribal plates.  I also had threats against me and my family simply because we were white.  We got it from both sides. 

So I do have some minor understanding of the kind of thing going on.  But I also know that rioting helps no one.  Burning down and stealing is not "justice."  It's only sinful men behaving sinfully and trying to rationalize it.  I'm in no way trying to defend the officer, or defend the young man who was shot.  I don't have enough facts to do either just yet. Neither does anyone else.

I just wish that reasonable people, maybe the true Church even, could stand up and urge peace instead of pointless violence.  I wish all the outside influences that have stirred the pot even further would go home and leave the poor folks of Ferguson alone.  And I pray that somehow in the midst of this, the redeeming grace of Christ will get ahold of some folks and show them that the biggest injustice of all was when one innocent man died so that we might live.  Nothing was ever more unjust.  But trust me, I'm not going to protest or riot at all.  Because as a result of that injustice, my own sinful heart has found peace in Christ; the only true and lasting peace that can ever be found.  I pray the folks in Ferguson will find that peace as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Please Pray for Your Pastor

There are all kinds of needs in the world.  Persecution and war in the Middle East.  Riots just up the interstate here in Missouri.  People you know who are struggling with family issues, health issues, job issues.  Our prayer lists certainly have no lack for entries. 

But might I suggest that your pastor needs to be near the top.  I know that comes across very selfish, being a pastor and all.  Yet, as I see all the struggles in this world, I know that the answer for them is Christ.  And the church is tasked with telling that truth to the world.  And the pastor is tasked with leading the church.  What a responsibility!

Last December I posted some comments about pastors being "targets" for the enemy based on a book our class was reading at the time. (You can read here if you're interested).  And that is certainly true.  This is a spiritual battle, and those in leading roles on the front lines will be targeted.  But target of direct attack or not, you pastor needs your prayer.  If you don't realize that, then I don't think I can say anything that will convince you.  That's not even my point here.  For now, I just want to offer some suggestions for those who do see the need. 

It's no secret around here about my love for old hymnals.  And there are a couple of hymns I've come across that are actually prayers for pastors.  I love that.  The church at one times saw this as such a need that men wrote songs, and churches put them in their hymnals to pray for their pastors.  I just want to share a couple of these prayers/hymns to maybe prompt your own prayers as you think of your pastor.  Trust me, he'll appreciate it!

With heavenly power, O Lord, defend
Him whom we now to Thee commend
His person bless, his soul secure,
And make him to the end endure.

Gird him with all-sufficient grace;
Direct his feet in paths of peace;
Thy truth and faithfullness fulfil,
And help him to obey Thy will.

Before him Thy protection send;
Oh love him, save him to the end;
Nor let him as Thy pilgrim rove,
Without the convoy of Thy love. 

Enlarge, inflame, and fill his heart;
In him Thy mighty power exert;
That thousands yet unborn may praise
The wonders of redeeming grace.

~Rowland Hill's Collection, 1774

Father of mercies, bow Thine ear,
Attentive to our earnest prayer;
We plead for those who plead for Theee;
Successful pleaders may they be!

Clothe Thou with energy divine
Their words, and let those words be Thine;
To them Thy sacred truth reveal,
Suppress their fear, inflame their zeal.

Teach them aright to sow the seed;
Teach them Thy chosen flock to feed;
Teach them immortal souls to gain,
Nor let them labour, Lord, in vain.

Let thronging multitudes around
Hear from their lips the joyful sound,
In humble strains Thy grace adore,
And feel Thy new-creating power.

Let sinners break their massy chains,
Distressed souls forget their pains;
Let light through distant realms be spread,
Till Zion rears her drooping head. 

~Benjamin Beddome, 1818