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

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! 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Blast From the Past: The Answering Machine

Warning: The following post is nothing but nostalgia.  It has contains no significant theological, philosophical, sociological or any other -ical meaning whatsoever and is of no interest but to myself and a very few others. But it is my blog.  So I'm posting it anyway. 

First, some context.  It's the mid to late 80s.  These are the days before cell phones, before email, before the internet even.  We're in college, and in order to communicate with my girlfriend my freshman year, we wrote letters.  Or I saved my change and went to the pay phone (google it, youngsters) in the dorm hallway and called her.  When the change ran out, we said goodbye.

So, imagine our delight and joy the next year when my roommate Bob and I moved to another dorm and had our very own phone in our room.  Our own phone, with our own number coming directly to us.  No shared hall phone.  No change for the pay phone.  And best of all, we had an answering machine!  Yes, that's right. Callers could leave messages for us when we weren't there to answer the phone ourselves.  The absolute height of technology.

We gained a little reputation for our answering machine.  People would call just to listen to our outgoing message.  I was a communication major, and liked to talk, and worked at the radio station.  Bob was a business major (accounting?) and rather quiet.  So I would put on my best radio ad man voice and rattle through these goofy spiels rather quickly, and Bob would have one word or one brief line tossed in at or near the end. 

The basic was “thanks for calling Bob and Scott's”.  We regularly changed the rest, and expanded to some ridiculous stuff. And again, people would often call when they knew we'd be gone just to hear the message.  I remember one time my mom, yes my mom, called and when I answered she said, “Oh, you're there.  Darn, I was hoping to get the answering machine.”  Thanks mom.

Anyway, thanks to some uncovered cassette tapes and some modern conversion magic, I managed to make some really grainy sounding copies of a few of these.  Below are the mp3 versions along with a transcript following each in case you can't understand or keep up. (Click the link on the title for the audio) Again, this is pure nostalgia. Just for fun.  So if you're bored, take a listen.  Or if you're an old college friend, hope this brings back some fun memories.  And if you're my mom...really, call me, we can and me....not just the kids....not just the answering machine. 

1.  The Donation Plea
Scott: Hello and thank you for calling Bob and Scott's where we're now taking applications for donations to underprivileged children, namely us. If you have any money you would like to donate to us, please stop by our office sometime and pick up an application.  Management reserves the right to accept or reject any application on the sole basis of our greed. If you do not wish to make a donation, well that's fine, too...
Bob: (Cheapskate)
Scott: ...we'll talk to you anyway.  Just leave your name, phone number and a brief message and we'll return your call as soon as we possibly can. And as always, thank you for calling. 

2.  The Unemployment Line

Scott: Hello and thank you for calling Bob and Scott's.  We are unable to answer your call at this time due to the fact that we are back in class working feverishly to obtain a degree that will take us to the same place in life as those college graduates who have gone on before us...namely the unemployment line.  So if you would be so kind as to leave your name, phone number, and a brief message, we will return your call as soon as we find our place in line. Thank you for calling.
Bob: Hey, quit pushin'!

3.  The Holidays
Scott: Hello and thank you for calling Bob and Scott's Bonanza of Bizarre, Uncanny, Eccentric and Truly Demented Decorations, Gifts and Edible Items, featuring the world's most outrageously unique holiday display of Mountain Dew cans.  Due to the Christmas holiday season we will be out of the office until January 11th, but if you would be so kind as to leave your name, phone number and a brief message, we will return you call as soon as we possibly can.  Until then, have a very Merry Christmas!
Bob: And a Happy New Year!

4. The Super Bowl
Scott: Hello and thank you for calling Bob and Scott's Bonanza of Bizarre, Uncanny, Eccentric and Truly Demented Decorations, Gifts and Edible Items, located at 403 Eaton Hall, where we are now featuring the world's most outrageously unique, and world's largest display of Mountain Dew cans; dedicated to the Denver Broncos appearance in Super Bowl XXI.  We're unable to answer your call at this time due to the fact that we aren't here.  But if you would be so kind as to leave your name, phone number and a brief message (and all wagers on Super Bowl XXI) we'll get back to you as soon as we possibly can. Thank you for calling!
Bob: I've got twenty on the Giants
Scott: Anyone else for the Giant?

BTW, the references to the Mountain Dew cans comes from a project where we drank all this Mountain Dew and started hanging the cans all over the walls and ceiling.  Here's one picture.
We ended up with all the walls covered, the ceiling covered, a nice lamp shade made out of 2 liter bottles, etc.  You could say we had a problem.  But if you listened to those messages, you knew that already.

Well, that's it for the walk down memory lane.  As always, thanks for calling!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The "Video Devotion" Experiment

Our church canceled Sunday services yesterday.  That...never happens!  We often cancel evening services when the weather is bad, but we usually have a "if you can make it, come on" approach when we have snow, etc. 

I live several miles outside the city limits on a rural highway.  It's one that takes a back seat when it comes time to plow.  So when the weather looks bad, I have on occasion spent the night in my office so I can be sure I'm there on Sunday morning. 

That's what I did this weekend.  The forecast was for 6+ inches of snow overnight, ending with freezing rain about church time. So I slipped and slid in on Saturday to spend the night.  But I watched church after church cancel services in our area, and our leadership decided it might be wise for us to join them.  So, for only the third time maybe in 11 years, we canceled a morning service. 

But here I was.  It was already after dark on Saturday.  Already several inches on the ground.  Did I mention the part about plows not getting to our house until much, much later.  So I went ahead and spent the night, figuring it would be safer in the daylight hours, and hopefully a plow might get out our way by Sunday afternoon. 

So, what to do with my time?  Well, I have this fun laptop with a camera on it.  I've only used it to Skype with my daughter in Germany.  So I decided to play around with the video camera and do a short "devotional" that I could then post on our church Facebook page.  You know, in case anyone else was snowed in, and missed church, and was really, really bored.

That's what I did.  And while it wasn't a big deal, something I just threw together and recorded, and less than 7 minutes long; still, folks were genuinely kind in their reception.  Facebook tells me it has "reached" slightly more folks than we even have on a typical Sunday morning.  I don't know what that means.  Only about half of that number shows up as "viewed", but anyway. 

I've gotten some nice comments, so I thought I'd go ahead and post it here as well.  Again, it was just a little message for our folks.  Not anything superbly profound.  But if it's an encouragement to anyone at all, well, praise God.  So here it is, the great "video devotion" experiment.  Hope the visual doesn't frighten anyone too badly!


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ordo Salutis: The Chicken or the Egg?

The old stand by conundrum is the question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  We think we're being profound.  We think we're being clever because we "know" that you can't get a chicken without and egg, and you can't get an egg without a chicken, right?  Shows how much our "knowledge" is worth.

God settles it rather handily.  He created each creature according to its kind.  He created, among others, the chicken kind.  He speaks; the chicken exists (despite what Darwinian lunatics postulate).  It's really rather simple.  The chicken was created, and the egg came as a result. 

What's the point?  We've recently been studying the book of Romans and have come to that wonderful 8th chapter.  One of my favorite chapters in the whole Bible.  It contains those fabulous words in verses 29 and 30.  You may know them, but before I get there, let me make the connection with that chicken. 

In a similar attempt at being profound and discussing a mysterious conundrum, we ask about the Ordo Salutis, the "order of salvation."  Which came first, regeneration or faith? That is, do we exercise faith which leads to our regeneration and salvation?  Or, are we regenerated and saved which produces faith?  A question men have argued about for centuries.  I mean, we all "know" that you have to have faith to be saved, so faith must come first, right?  Shows how much our "knowledge" is worth.

God settles it rather handily.  Now those verses: "For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified." Romans 8:29-30

I'm a basic kind of guy.  So I look at this text rather simply.  I want to know who it is that is saved, who gets to heaven and is "glorified."  So I look at the text and see that those who are glorified are those whom God justified.  So who does God justify?  Those whom He called.  And whom did He call?  Those whom He predestined.  And whom did He predestine?  Those whom He foreknew.

Now, just a quick note.  Some want to say that "foreknew" means God looked down in history, saw those who would have faith, and based on that "foreknowledge" decided whom He would regenerate and call and predestine.  Aside from making God a reactionary deity whose will is determined by the will of men, which is heresy; this also misses the meaning of the word "foreknew."  

We've all heard the joking, wink wink, idea of what it means to "know someone Biblically."  We're referring to the way Genesis speaks of Adam "knowing" his wife, and conceiving a child.  Knowing in that sense means intimacy.  And that's just the point.  God has an intimate knowledge of His own children.  He knows us.  He knows our hearts because He created us, and made a covenant with us, even before the foundations of the world.  He had already chosen us, chose to set His affection on us, before we were even a blip on the screen of the universe. 

So then, back to the chicken and the egg.  The Ordo Salutis is equally simple.  God settles it rather handily.  He regenerates dead, lost, sinful hearts, and salvation exists.  He regenerates, and faith comes as a result. 

I know some will choke on their coffee at that.  But it makes perfect sense.  Men are dead in their sin.  Dead.  Not just a little sick and in need of a boost.  Dead.  Without life.  Unable to act from a spiritual standpoint.  Only when God regenerates our heart, gives us a new heart, gives us life, can we then act in faith.  Don't get me wrong, faith is necessary.  But faith can only come from a heart that is awakened, and that comes from God alone.  

God creates, life results.  God recreates, new life results.  God acts, men respond.  God saves, men come in faith.  He knows us, predestines us, calls us, justifies us and glorifies us.  Notice in Paul's words to the Romans, those things are all past tense.  We are predestined, called, justified and glorified.  God even speaks of our final glorification as a past deed; a done deal.  Because He has done it.  And what God has done, no one can undo.   

This is why Romans 8 is so encouraging, and why the words that follow bring such confidence, knowing nothing can separate us from Christ.  It's because He has accomplished it, and no one can destroy it.  Soli Deo Gloria!