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

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Seek First the Kingdom

 In days gone by, I used to post on this blog much more often.  And in those bygone days, I would often address political issues and even support presidential candidates.  In fact, my support of one candidate actually got the attention of a St. Louis area newspaper, and once they picked it up, it actually led to me being interviewed by the New York Times.  Ahh, the good old days when I was marginally famous for a fleeting second. 

I still feel very passionately about political issues.  I still believe that for Christian people to be good citizens of the land in which they live, in this nation anyway, means being involved in the political process.  Voting to be sure, but even campaigning, writing letters to elected officials, etc.  It's also a very practical thing. If you aren't involved, I tend to think you lose the right to complain.

In more recent times, not only has my output on this blog decreased significantly, but in these highly politicized times, I've chosen to remain silent on many of those issues.  Again, it's not that my opinions are any less fixed, or honestly, that I have less of a desire to share those opinions.  I sort of believe that everyone is entitled to my opinion.  And in the days ahead, I make no promise that I won't feel that urge to sound off about an issue or two. 

My lack of posting on those issues comes down to two basic things.  One, because everything is SO highly politicized, because people are so hyped up about so many issues (some worth the hype, some not), and because it seems people are so easily offended, I'm just trying to be a bit more careful.  Again, not that I don't think some issues are worth getting pumped up about (abortion, the LGBT agenda, free speech, to name a few).  It's just that it seems no matter what you say, you end up making a bunch of people mad. 

 Not that I mind making folks mad.  Not really.  I mean, I like being liked as much as anyone.  It's just that if I'm going to make folks mad, I want it to be for the right reasons.  Which is the other basic issue I'm dealing with.  I've become more and more convicted of the simple truth that as a Christian in general, and a pastor in particular, I need to be focused on seeking the Kingdom first. 

Now, I understand that when Jesus uses that phrase in Matthew 6 during the Sermon on the Mount, He's speaking in the context of not being anxious.  Don't worry about food and money and other worldly things, don't let those things make you anxious. Instead, Jesus says, seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the rest will be provided.  So, politics isn't in mind at all here. 

And yet, there is a principle in the idea of seeking first the Kingdom and trusting God with the rest that does apply to every area of our lives.  Especially when we remember that as followers of Christ, our citizenship is in Heaven.  Our first loyalty is to our Lord and King, Jesus Christ.  And our first priority is the Commission He gave us to go and make disciples.  To share the gospel.  To see His Kingdom grow and expand in this world, even as we look to and long for the world to come.  

Sadly, too many have equated the Kingdom with this or that earthly nation, this or that political cause.  Too many have equated being a good Christian with being a good Republican or Democrat or Libertarian, or whatever.  And don't misread this.  I think there are some political issues and policies that absolutely should be supported/opposed by biblically minded Christians. For example, I don't see how any self-professing Christian could ever support abortion or those politicians who support it.  Likewise, Scripture is clear on issues of sexuality and purity, and we ought to be clear in our stand on those issues, as well as supporting politicians and policies who are in agreement with the Scriptural view. 

 And yet, the reality is my focus needs to be on the Kingdom.  Preach the Gospel.  Make disciples.  Because only changed hearts will change the world.  Seek first the Kingdom, and let God handle the rest.  Again, I'm not advocating holing up somewhere and ignoring this world.  I still encourage folks to be involved.  I still want to fight for my rights as a citizen the way Paul did in Acts 25.  

But I choose to focus my attention first on the Kingdom.  That's my true citizenship, and deserves my attention.  This world will pass.  This nation will pass.  My hope is not in presidents and policies.  The church has endured through so much worse, and will endure regardless of godless politicians and even persecution.  

In the end, the cry of my heart is the same as the church through the ages:  "Come, Lord Jesus!"

Monday, January 18, 2021

Be Prepared

 I used to be a Boy Scout.  Way, way back in the day.  As in before Scouts simply became a political tool.  But I digress.  As most folks know, the motto of the Boy Scouts was "Be Prepared."  Not such a bad motto.

As we've moved into chapter 25 of our study of Matthew, Jesus reminds us that being prepared for His return is a rather important issue.  He tells a parable which shows that not all who claim to be ready truly are.  And for those who are found unprepared when our Lord does return, the verdict is sad indeed.

Monday, January 11, 2021

An Overview from Olivet

 Some texts are just harder than others to deal with, interpret, apply, etc.  All of Scripture is perfect, so the difficulty comes from our sinful minds, not God's delivery.  Still, when it comes to things like eschatology in general, there are so many "sides", so many competing agendas, that it's sometimes a struggle to know where to come down. 

In our study of Matthew's Gospel, I've been dreading coming to the Olivet Discourse for this very reason.  There are so many various ideas of what Jesus is talking about in various sections of the text.  Good, godly men that I respect genuinely disagree.  So what's a guy to do?  Well, you'll have to tune in to find out. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

This is For the Glory of God

For some time, the unofficial "theme verse" for our church family has been 1 Corinthians 10:31, which tells us to do all things for the glory of God.  As we approach a new year, with all the uncertainty that it holds, I wanted to challenge us to keep that thought consciously before us.  No matter what the new year brings, good or bad, it is out of our control.  But it is ultimately in God's control, and we need to focus on seeking His will for His glory in all things.  Here is Sunday's message if you want the longer version of that basic idea 😉.


Thursday, December 24, 2020

Have A Mary Merry Christmas (again)

 This is a re-post of a blog article I wrote on Christmas Eve, 2013.  In thinking about a "Merry Christmas post" for this year, I read this again, and decided to simply share it again in its entirety. 

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Believe it or not, Charles Spurgeon, the Prince of Preachers, was not a fan of Christmas.  He once said in an early sermon “I hold it to be one of the greatest absurdities under heaven to think that there is any religion in keeping Christmas-day. There are no probabilities whatever that our Savior Jesus Christ was born on that day and the observance of it is purely of Popish origin; doubtless those who are Catholics have a right to hallow it, but I do not see how consistent Protestants can account it in the least sacred.” (#57, December 23, 1855)

However, he did go on to say that the recognition of our Lord’s Birth was certainly a worthwhile exercise.  And nearly a decade later he issued a call for the church to enter this season with a “merriness” that imitates that of Mary.  Here are his words preaching on the text from Luke 1:46-47, on December 25th, 1864

Observe…the sacred joy of Mary that you may imitate it. This is a season when all men expect us to be joyous. We compliment each other with the desire that we may have a “Merry Christmas.” Some Christians who are a little squeamish, do not like the word “merry.” It is a right good old Saxon word, having the joy of childhood and the mirth of manhood in it, it brings before one’s mind the old song of the waits, and the midnight peal of bells, the holly and the blazing log. I love it for its place in that most tender of all parables, where it is written, that, when the long-lost prodigal returned to his father safe and sound, “They began to be merry.” This is the season when we are expected to be happy; and my heart’s desire is, that in the highest and best sense, you who are believers may be “merry.”

Mary’s heart was merry within her; but here was the mark of her joy, it was all holy merriment, it was every drop of it sacred mirth. It was not such merriment as worldlings will revel in to-day and to-morrow, but such merriment as the angels have around the throne, where they sing, “Glory to God in the highest,” while we sing “On earth peace, goodwill towards men.” Such merry hearts have a continual feast. I want you, ye children of the bride-chamber, to possess to-day and to-morrow, yea, all your days, the high and consecrated bliss of Mary, that you may not only read her words, but use them for yourselves, ever experiencing their meaning: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.”

And, yet, Spurgeon revealed his fear that many would not be focusing on this true joy during the holidays, and ends with a plea for God’s people to join Mary in her merry song.

There will be much music to-morrow which would not chime in with hers. There will be much mirth to-morrow, and much laughter, but I am afraid the most of it would not accord with Mary’s song. It will not be, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” We would not stop the play of the animal spirits in young or old; we would not abate one jot of your relish of the mercies of God, so long ‘as ye break not his command by wantonness, or drunkenness, or excess: but still, when you have had the most of this bodily exercise, it profiteth little, it is only the joy of the fleeting hour, and not the happiness of the spirit which abideth; and therefore Mary must sing alone, as far as you are concerned. The joy of the table is too low for Mary; the joy of the feast and the family grovels when compared with hers, But shall she sing alone? Certainly not, if this day any of us by simple trust in Jesus can take Christ to be our own. Does the Spirit of God this day lead thee to say, “I trust my soul on Jesus?”

My dear friend, then thou hast conceived Christ: after the mystical and best sense of that word, Christ Jesus is conceived in thy soul. Dost thou understand him as the sin-bearer, taking away transgression? Canst thou see him bleeding as the substitute for men? Dost thou accept him as such? Does thy faith put all her dependence upon what he did, upon what he is, upon what he does? Then Christ is conceived in thee, and thou mayest go thy way with all the joy that Mary knew; and I was half ready to say, with something more; for the natural conception of the Savior’s holy body was not one-tenth so meet a theme for congratulation as the spiritual conception of the holy Jesus within your heart when he shall be in you the hope of glory.

My dear friend, if Christ be thine, there is no song on earth too high, too holy for thee to sing; nay, there is no song which thrills from angelic lips, no note which thrills Archangel’s tongue in which thou mayest not join. Even this day, the holiest, the happiest, the most glorious of words, and thoughts, and emotions belong to thee. Use them! God help thee to enjoy them; and his be the praise, while thine is the comfort evermore. Amen.  (#606

And Amen.  May you like Mary, enjoy a truly Merry Christmas.


Wednesday, December 23, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 12

 Well, here we are.  As I said in the last post, as far as my wife is concerned, there are only two versions of this song that even matter; these last two.  And this one is unparalleled. 

After Petra, the first band I latched on to after becoming a Christian was White Heart.  I bought their debut record, then saw them on the Vital Signs tour in '84, and the fandom was on.  I think they really hit their "groove" once Rick Florian came onboard as lead singer, but I enjoy all the various lineups.  I love the layered vocal style and their classic 80s/90s rock sound. 

In 1988, Sparrow Records put out a Christmas compilation record with their "stars" of the day.  Some are names folks would still recognize today, a couple, not so much.  If you really want something different check out Steve Taylor's mariachi band arrangement of "Winter Wonderland". 

But on that release, the White Heart rendition of Little Drummer Boy was destined for greatness.  I played that song over and over, and still do.  Even our kids pretty much don't think it's really Christmas until we've heard White Heart's Drummer Boy.  

So, if you actually followed this entire 12 post series, congratulations. (And, honestly, maybe you need to get a hobby or something).  But here is your reward.  The greatest version of this song ever.  The chord they hit at about 3:06 still gives me chills.  In fact, those layered vocals I mentioned from about 2:13 on are just amazing.  As an added bonus, the video here is one posted by Saxon Lights who do those fun Christmas light shows to songs.  Enjoy. And Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 11

When I started this little 12 day project, I confessed that I actually have a play list with nothing but various arrangements of Little Drummer Boy.  Yes, I know that seems obsessive.  But if you've been following along, you will admit that many of these arrangements are so different, that it's not really like listening to the same song.  Anyway...

When I shared my playlist with my wife, her only response was to say, "There only needs to be two songs on it."  And when I showed her these posts, she kept saying "there only needs to be two songs and you haven't done either of them."  I kept telling her to be patient, because we would eventually get there. 

In truth, it's easy for me to decide which two arrangements of this song should be at the top.  These last two, are in my opinion, by far the best.  Number one is far and away the best.  But first, the runner up. 

Some years ago we attended WinterJam (a amazing conglomeration of a wide variety of Christian bands/artists on tour together, though I admit the older tours were better) and one of the "opening acts" was a relatively little known band fronted by two brothers.  In fact, they were the little brothers of one of our daughter's favorite artists, Rebecca St. James.  Little did we know at the time what For King and Country would become. 

Fast forward several years and FK&C is a huge success, and they put out this live Christmas record which is just amazing.   If you have ever seen this band in concert, you know how appropriate it is for them to do Drummer Boy, and this immediately became a favorite.

Let me specify, though, that this is the live version.  Just this year the band put out a studio Christmas project with many of the same songs, and while they are mostly the same arrangements, I'm just not as "moved" but it.  Drummer Boy, in particular, lacks the "umph" of the live version.

So, here at last is one of the two versions approved by my wife.  Check back tomorrow for the all time greatest version.  

Monday, December 21, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 10

 Most of the arrangements of the song on this favorites list of mine have been around awhile.  Some dating back to that ancient decade (according to my kids) of the 80s!   This one just came out a month or so ago. 

One of the bands I have recently discovered is a newer, somewhat lesser known band called Bayless.  Fronted by a husband and wife team, I have really been enjoying the unique sounds of this hard rock band.  They are quickly getting some notice, with a couple singles starting to move up "the charts."  When I first heard it, I couldn't stop listening to "No More Suffering", but the whole "Ready. Aim." EP is worth the time to check out.   

When they released a four song Christmas EP I was pretty excited, and when I heard this arrangement of Drummer Boy, I knew it would move on to my all time favorite list.  This is probably the most unique arrangement on my list, sounding more like another single in the unique style of the band instead of the old Christmas standard.  But I hope someone else out there might enjoy it as much as me.  

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Advent Message #4

 Christmas, for most of us, is a family time.  I was grateful to have most of our kids with us in church this morning, some even participating in the service with songs. 

So it's appropriate, I think, that this would be a time to focus on the family aspect of Christ's work; namely, the doctrine of adoption.  As we finish up this little series on Galatians 4:4-5, I tossed in verses 6 and 7 as well, which remind us of this amazing blessing God has given, to be adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God.  May we never take this privilege for granted.

Friday, December 18, 2020

12 Days of Drummer Boy - Day 9

 And now for something a little bit different.  

Several years ago I walked into a meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention, and heard the most amazing sounds coming from the auditorium.  In high school, and some in college, I played in jazz band and I absolutely loved it.  And here at this not-always-exciting meeting, I'm hearing some very exciting music.  Because this year, the convention had enlisted the services of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra to provide some of the "pre-session music."  

This "Nashville based horn band" first got national attention by making it the finals of a FOX contest show called The Next Great American Band. From there they went on to produce a dozen or so projects, my favorite of which is a collection of big band arrangements of hymns; appropriately titled Mile High Hymns

They also put together two different Christmas projects, a mix of their own arrangements of standards and some originals.  If you really want to have some fun, check out "Frosty the Bluesman", as well as DMHO's version of the song "You Ain't Gettin' Didly Squat" by Heywood Banks

But for now, sit back and enjoy the big band sounds of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra performing The Little Drummer Boy.