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

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. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Incomparable Treasure

Value is a strange thing, isn’t it?  What some consider a treasure, others throw out as trash.  What I throw out as trash may be sold for a hundred dollars to the right person at some antique store.  And often the value of things changes from time to time, depending on the collection market, and so on. You just never know. 

I started collecting comic books when I was about 9 or 10. By the time I was in high school, I had given that up for the most part.  But in that short time, I managed to compile quit a stack of books.  Some fairly rare.  For those “in the know,” I have the “transition” issues between what was called Journey Into Mystery with the Mighty Thor, and what became known as just The Mighty Thor.  An historical moment in Marvel history, and I love having that set from 1966.  But are they valuable?  Well, to the right collector they are worth quite a bit.  To me, they are nearly priceless.

As a kid, I picked up a few “new” titles, thinking that later the #1 issue of said title might be pretty valuable.  Recently, I heard that one such title was getting popular, and that some copies of that first issue were going for over $100.  So I took my copy to a comic store, along with the next dozen issues of that same title, and they guy offered my $30 for the whole stack.  So, what is the real value?  Depends on who you talk to.

People value what they have decided to place value on.  What’s it worth to you?  Why is this rock more valuable than that other rock, just because we call one a diamond?  It’s what we have decided to consider valuable.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a couple parables about finding something valuable and deciding it’s worth selling everything else to have.  His point is to let us know how we ought to be looking at the Kingdom of God.  Christ is to be seen as an incomparable treasure.  John Piper often uses phrases like “all sufficient” or “all satisfying” treasure.  The point is that Christ and His Kingdom should be seen as something worth giving away everything else to obtain.

Sadly, I don’t think many in the church today see Jesus and His Kingdom in that light.  We value things in this world more.  Our homes, our jobs, our entertainment, our families all are more valuable to us.  We might say they aren’t, but when it comes to what we give our time to, what we spend our energy on, what we can’t wait to talk with other people about, it becomes pretty clear what we really value.

Well, here is yesterday’s message about seeing Christ and His Kingdom as an incomparable treasure.  I pray God would open our eyes to the truth of it. 

What is the greatest treasure in your life?