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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Only Jesus - One Wife's Wise Words

I've known for years that my dear wife is a wise woman (the fact that she married me not withstanding). Having been raised in a godly home, she has always been one step ahead of her later-saved husband. And it seems I'm not the only one blessed with a wife of wisdom.

My friend Scott Lee shares a post in which he includes the mere doodle-thoughts of his wife which she jotted down during church (not that I encourage others to doodle or jot during church, of course!). These are wonderful words and I urge you to "click" over and read them here.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Belief Is Not Enough

Each year our family counts down the days to Christmas using an “Advent chain.” It’s just a little paper-link chain numbered 1-25. Each link has either a short Scripture reading or a Christmas hymn. Starting on December 1st, during our family worship time we take one of the links off, read or sing what is listed there, and let that be the “prompt” for any discussion, etc. It helps the kids watch the days swindle down to Christmas, but also keeps us focused on what’s truly important. So why am I sharing this?

The other night, we read about the “wise men” who came seeking the newborn king and their run-in with King Herod. You’ll remember that Herod then sent for his scholars to review the Messianic prophecies concerning where the Christ would be born. After reading that passage, my oldest son made the profound observation that Herod “believed” the Christ was born, even when so many others didn’t recognize who Jesus was.

That’s right. Herod, the bad guy, demonstrates more “faith” and “belief” than so many others. Yet, we know his heart and his demise, don’t we?

How ironic that Dan Phillips over at the Pyromaniacs chose to address this very same issue in today’s post. I encourage you to go and read that article because he addresses the issue so much more profoundly than I could. Here’s the link:

King Herod, the believer

It is a good reminder that “belief” isn’t always enough. We can believe the facts, even act on the facts, and still not embrace the truth they represent. Phillips does a wonderful job of pointing out how this applies to our understanding of what saving faith is. It’s not just belief, or action, or even understanding. There is still more.

During this season, many will admit to the “facts” of Christmas, or the “history” of the celebration, or whatever. Let’s be sure we are faithfully proclaiming the whole counsel of God’s Word so that we are leading folks to a true and genuine saving faith, not mere consent to “belief” in the facts.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Does Church Membership Mean Anything Anymore?

Does church membership mean anything anymore? Good question. This past summer, the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a Resolution on Regenerate Church Membership which suggests that our church actually focus on our members truly being saved (imagine that!). Sad that a denominational resolution is needed to encourage that, but such is the state of affairs in the 21st Century church.

Part of that resolution also focuses on the need to practice church discipline. One of the “Whereas” and three of the “Resolved” statements touch on the idea:

WHEREAS, The Scriptures admonish us to exercise church discipline as we seek to restore any professed brother or sister in Christ who has strayed from the truth and is in sin (Matthew 18:15-35; Galatians 6:1);

RESOLVED, That we urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership and any failure to obey Jesus Christ in the practice of lovingly correcting wayward church members (Matthew 18:15-18); and be it further

RESOLVED, That we humbly encourage denominational servants to support and encourage churches that seek to recover and implement our Savior’s teachings on church discipline, even if such efforts result in the reduction in the number of members that are reported in those churches, and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we humbly urge the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention and their pastors to implement a plan to minister to, counsel, and restore wayward church members based upon the commands and principles given in Scripture (Matthew 18:15-35; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15; Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20).

However, we find ourselves in the situation where we have neglected these concepts for so long that those who do try to live faithful to them find themselves in a tough spot.

Most recently, there is the story of a woman in Jacksonville, FL who is upset that her church, Grace Community, would dare to confront her over regularly engaging in sexual relations with her boyfriend. (Check out this excellent post from Dan Phillips of the Pyromaniacs). She says she’s worried that the public dealing with her sin will have a negative effect on her 18-20 year old daughters. Apparently she isn’t worried about how her unrepentant sin will affect them, only the church’s dealing with it.

Several years ago there was the story of a Dallas church being sued for addressing a situation of adultery within its ranks. The lawsuit stated the church was “invading the privacy” of those involved. I guess they could argue the same thing regarding the issue of “regenerate membership.” After all, it’s nobody’s business if I’m truly saved, right?

Before I arrived at our present church, the former pastor tried to work with a family considering a divorce, and it wasn’t well received. In fact, when I came, one of the first comments from an “outsider” about our church was, “Oh, you’re the church that hates divorced people.” How outrageous.

Oh, how far we’ve come. The great Reformers of days gone by once focused on three "marks by which the true church is known": the preaching of the pure doctrine of the gospel, the pure administration of the sacraments, and the exercise of church discipline to correct faults. At one time, the church knew that membership meant something. We were voluntarily submitting ourselves to one another in love. Because of that love, we held one another accountable regarding salvation as well as lives of holiness, etc. (Exactly as Scripture admonishes us to, I might add).

There are some encouraging signs. Mark Dever and the folks at 9Marks Ministries have done a good job of reminding us that discipline in the church is one of the essential ingredients for church health. And the SBC resolution is certainly a step in the right direction. But we have along way to go.

Here’s hoping and praying that the church will one day hold up membership to be something of value; that we will strive to maintain a truly regenerate membership; and that discipline will once again be seen as the loving way to reclaim a brother and not merely the “invasion of privacy.”

BTW: For a couple more good articles on the subject of discipline, read here and here.

Review: Word of Promise Next Generation - New Testament

After reviewing one fiction and one non-fiction book for Thomas Nelson, and criticizing both for not being more “Christian” in nature, I thought I could avoid that problem by looking at this audio Bible. I mean, you can’t say that the Bible is not Christian enough, right? And for the most part, I made the right decision.

The Word of Promise Next Generation - New Testament MP3 set is a “dramatized” audio Bible, which simply means that instead of one person reading the text, you have a variety of actors reading different parts, complete with musical accompaniment in the background. This particular project is meant as a children’s version of the previously released Word of Promise New Testament aimed at the adult crowd.

Since younger folks are the target, I had three of our children listen to portions as well. They are huge fans of radio dramas and dramatized readings, including Adventures in Odyssey and the dramatized versions of the Narnia books and Pilgrim’s Progress. I figured their input would be helpful.

In all, our evaluations were pretty much the same. The translation itself (I think the International Children’s Bible?) is a little over-simplified in places. I think people assume it’s easier to give a less than precise rendering of a word like “repentance” than to ask parents to sit and talk with their children about what those words truly mean. Anyway, that’s hardly the fault of this production team, so we overlooked that.

The quality of the production itself was very good. Most of the “teen idol” crowd picked to do the dramatization did a commendable job; and according the accompanying DVD interviews, most of them took the project very seriously. For children I’m sure that the various voices and music/limited sound effects would make this more “entertaining” to listen to. And after all, there are worse things that finding a way to have your children sit in their rooms listening to God’s Word.

The format might be a drawback for some. In an effort to make it less bulky and more affordable, there are three MP3 cd’s here (instead of the 20 or so regular cd’s it would have taken). This does reduce size and cost, but anyone with only a regular cd player (like our kids) would have to load them on the ol’ PC and then burn the aforementioned 20 or so cd’s. Not a big problem, though.

My biggest problem was the young man who recorded the part of Jesus. I know nothing of his acting resume, and it appears he was making his best effort to play this part with reverence. But like so many, he seems to think that to make Jesus come across as loving and kind, we have to make him sappy. He almost whispers most lines, even during confrontations with Pharisees and during His trial and crucifixion. Again, I’m sure his motive was to portray Christ with respect and honor, but meekness doesn’t mean mealy-mouthed. One can be loving and strong at the same time (which God is, and is in Christ as well).

The only other note I would make is that I would have preferred a little more “drama” in some of the dramatization as far as music and sound effects. What was there was great, but some places could have used more. Paul’s shipwreck in Acts, for example, had some wind and such in the background, but more could have been done with those kinds of things.

All in all, though, this is a good resource for younger children (if you don’t mind the translation weaknesses), and it’s obvious that all those involved were truly seeking to honor God with this project. In an age where kids are being dealt a heavy dose of garbage earlier and earlier, this certainly makes a fresh and beneficial alternative.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Still Kickin'

I know it’s been almost two weeks. No, I didn’t have another kidney stone episode that completely incapacitated me! No, I wasn’t abducted by aliens. And no, I haven’t been laid up due to illness or just plain laziness. I’ve just been busy like everyone else at this time of year; and quite frankly, my brain is so numb that I haven’t had much to say (I know, very hard to believe).

But just so the two faithful followers of this blog will know that I’m still kickin’ I thought I would just give you a few links to some of the more interesting things I’ve read from others in the last couple weeks (at least they were interesting to me). Enjoy.

Saved by Him, and from Him

Sermon preparation of lesser and greater luminaries

Beware of Study Bibles

Reading the Bible in 2009

Should Conservatives Boycott Fox News? (Warning! Some graphic descriptions here)

End of an Era (the end of “conservative” Reagan-esque government)

Christmas Giveaway

Friday, December 5, 2008

Book Review: The Unseen (a novel)

First, a confession. I read novels. I know it’s a waste of time. I know I should spend my time reading more theology books, more great classics, more “useful” stuff. But I enjoy getting lost in a really good story. Helps take my mind of the stresses and strains of day to day life, ministry, etc.

And while I’ve read the odd “secular” book here and there, for the most part I’ve limited myself to the “Christian market.” Maybe it helps me feel less guilty to say I’m reading a “Christian” novel. Maybe it’s just because I can’t stand the garbage that’s usually added into the non-Christian stuff.

Anyway, I jumped at the chance to make my second review for Thomas Nelson a fiction review. After my less than glowing comments about the first book I looked at, I was hoping this would be a nice change. Well, I have some good news and some bad news.

First, the good news. T. L. Hines’ The Unseen is a good read. Hines’ self-described “noire bizarre” has already found success in two previous novels, and I think I enjoyed this one better than those first two (especially once you get past the “bizarre” part). In spite of his obvious flaws, I found myself sympathetic to the main character, Lucas. Many of his inner struggles are common to us all, and there is some good insight into the nature of temptation and the “Dark Vibrations” that pulsate within us.

At some points, the many twists and turns of the story get a little hard to follow; and one or two twists seem a bit too random. But for the most part things are tied up well in the end. As a lover of mystery/suspense, I can say that my interest was definitely held and it kept me turning the pages at a pretty quick pace. All in all, as I said, a good read.

Now for the bad. I’m drawn again to the question I had in reviewing The Truth About You. What is it that makes this a “Christian” book? There is the aforementioned delving into the depraved temptations we face, but there is no solution offered. There is nothing distinctly “Christian” about this book. There is a brief mention of Lucas being in danger of losing his soul, but again, there is no solution given. He seems to come back from that precipice, but there is no Christ, no God, no biblical means for him to do so. Maybe it’s just a little too subtle for me. Maybe it’s just about God fixing our “brokenness.” But it would have been nice to see that made more plain.

Again, I enjoyed the book. It was a good story, well written, well-crafted. And not everything under a “Christian” label has to be an in-your-face Evangelistic Tract. But if we feel the need to have Christian Publishers, it seems that the things produced there should have a more Christian flare. This book could just as easily have been published by any secular label.

So if you’re just looking for a good suspense novel, with a few very odd twists, grab up The Unseen and “waste” a few enjoyable hours. But if you’re hoping to find some real biblical hope in the midst of the “noire,” then you will be disappointed.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Seeking A Sign

By now you may have heard the story out of Bakersfield, California about a woman who was making salsa in her blender when some splashed out onto her wall and dripped into an image of the Virgin Mary. I’m not making this up, though I wish I were.

Of course, it’s not just that this salsa stain supposedly looks like Mary, it’s the “message” we are to receive. According to the stain maker, it’s supposed to be a sign that "people need to start being good toward one another." (Oh, and her house smells like roses now too, whatever that's supposed to mean).

Now, I’m all for being kind to one another. But why do we need divine dip-art to tell us that? Scripture has clearly revealed the truth that we are love one another. And Scripture is sufficient. Not that we always listen to the Word of God as given to us; but there is no need for another source to add to that Word.

I’m reminded of a story Jesus shared in which a certain man was begging from the pit of hell for God to send someone back from the dead to warn his family of their pending doom. God’s response: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” In fact, God goes on to say (speaking through Abraham, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (read Luke 16:19-31)

So why this constant search for signs. Why do we need visions of the Virgin Mary in salsa, or grilled cheese, or pancakes, or any of the other places she’s been reported to have shown up. Why do we think salsa speaks louder than Scripture? (Never mind the BIG question: how does a salsa stain mean we’re supposed to be nice to each other to begin with? I must need to buy a copy of the “Message in Your Meal Handbook.”)

The problem is really this. The enemy loves this sort of thing. On the one hand, for those who buy into it, he is able to lead them along with these ridiculous pseudo-spiritual, superstitious “signs” and keep them from seeking the greater truth of God in Christ as revealed in the Word. And on the other hand, this just gives folks another reason to laugh at “those Christians;” keeping them from any desire to seek Christ as well. (You should have heard all the snickering and mocking comments coming from our local news team as they reported the story). The enemy wins on both sides.

God has spoken: In various ways and at various times and finally through His Son (Hebrews 1). And it’s all recorded in His Divine Book. We need to preach that Word He has given. It is the power of the Word that will change hearts, thus leading to us “being kind” to one another. Here's all the "sign" you need: Jesus came, died as a substitutionary sacrifice for sin, and rose again to defeat death and hell forever.

So a little advice. Next time you make a mess in your kitchen, just get a wet rag, clean it up, eat your salsa, and then go READ YOUR BIBLE.