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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's About Time

Time is the subject of so many little proverbs, sayings and catch phrases:
A stitch in time saves nine.
Once upon a time.
It's only a matter of time.
Time waits for no man.
I don't have the time.
Time heals all wounds.
Time marches on.
Time flies.
Time's up.
For the one generation, It's Howdy Doody Time.
Or for another generation, the old Steve Miller Band song, "Time keeps on tickin', tickin', tickin', into the future."

Our daughter even made an interesting observation about time a few years back. We were talking about the schedule of the church we served at the time, and she asked, "Why do we have an early service and a late service, but we don't have a service that starts right on time?" Never thought of it that way before.

Just a couple of weeks ago I did a bit of reflecting on the issue of time. But as we draw near to the end of another year, the issue just won’t get out of my mind. Even though in reality Friday night will pass into the next tomorrow in the very same way that hundreds of other days have passed into a hundred tomorrows, we tend to think of this day as different. It's about time. Time truly does march on. Time really does fly. It marks the passing of one year into the next. It causes us to consider the last 365 days and do a little evaluating.

And for each of us this realization can bring on different reactions. Our evaluation of the time we spent this year may bring us to different conclusions. But no matter what kind of year we had, there is at least one thing all of us have in common: As I said in that last time reflection, we all had the same amount of time in the last year.

We each have 365 days with 24 hours each. Each hour has 60 minutes. Each minute has 60 seconds. Have you ever stopped to figure that out? That means that in the last year we each had 8,760 hours; 525,000 minutes; 31,536,000 seconds in which to live and serve God. The question is how have we made use of those opportunities? One of the hardest things we need to do each day is to use God's gift of time wisely. Here are three simple suggestions.

I. RECOGNIZE THE TIME. Scripture tells us in Psalm 90 that the average life span is 70 - 80 years. I'm not trying to scare those of you in your 60s or 70s and tell you that you have less than 10 years to live. That's not the point. The point Moses is making in that Psalm is that no matter how long we live it is not long at all, and our time will be up. We were not designed primarily for this world, we were designed for eternity, and we need to view this life in light of that fact.

I think is this age of modern science and medicine we spend so much time trying to cheat death that we fail to recognize the time. We don't want to admit that our life in this world is extremely limited in its length. We don't like to think about it, we don't like to talk about it, we don't like to have anyone else talk about it. It hasn't always been like that though. I think past generations were more aware of life's brevity in this world.

Some of the old hymn books in my collection have lines like: "Time once gone is gone forever, Fast the minutes hasten by." (From Hymns for Sunday Schools, 1857, #249) Another says, "Time is winging us away to our eternal home; Life is but a winter's day, a journey to the tomb; Youth and vigor soon will flee, blooming beauty lose it's charms; All that's mortal soon shall be enclosed in death's cold arms." (Time is Winging Away by John Burton. From Songs of Praise, Baptist Edition, 1890)

Some might think that sounds morbid, especially for a church hymn. But I don't think it's morbid; it's just honest. It recognizes the time. Scripture says there is appointed a time for each of us to leave this world; our days are numbered, so to speak. We need to recognize that. And realizing that leads us to the second suggestion.

II. We need to REDEEM THE TIME. Again, I mentioned this before, but the idea is that once we recognize the brevity of time we'll understand the need to use that time wisely. Recognizing how short life is, we need to be sure that we are making the most of every opportunity God blesses us with to please Him. The single most important thing we can do with our time, bar none, is please God. How have we done this year? How much time have we wasted?

Someone once sat down and added up all the minutes and hours the average person does average things over the course of a lifetime. The study revealed that an average seventy year old man has spent the equivalent of 24 years sleeping, 14 years working, 8 years in amusements, 6 years at the diner table, 5 years in transportation, 4 years in conversation, 3 years in education, and 2 years in studying and reading.

His other four years were spent on miscellaneous things such as Six months siting at stoplights, Eight months opening junk mail, and One year looking for misplaced objects. Of those four years, he spent 45 minutes in church on Sundays, and five minutes were devoted to prayer each day. That adds up to a not very impressive total of five months that he gave to God over the seventy years of his life.

Even if this man had been a faithful churchgoer who attended Sunday school and three one-hour services per week, he would have spent only one year and nine months in church. If you question the arithmetic, sit down and figure out how you have been using your time. How large a portion of it is for the things related to God?

70 years may be too much to try and figure out, so start small. How many of the just over 10,000 minutes God gave you this week did you spend pleasing Him versus how many you spent pleasing yourself? Even smaller, on any given day, how many of the 1,400 minutes you had were spent in God honoring ways?

It doesn't matter who you are, what kind of job you have, whatever; we each have the same number of minutes and hours every day to work with. And it's up to us to choose whether we will redeem that time and gain a heart of wisdom, or whether we will waste those opportunities forever.

III. Suggestion three is simply that we REJOICE THROUGH TIME. Scripture tells us to sing for joy all our days. Stop for a second and consider God's unfailing love. Think of the words of Romans chapter 8 where Paul says, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?...No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

Satisfy yourself with that thought every morning, and I can guarantee you'll end up singing for joy all your days. The point being that regardless of the days we have, regardless of the time we spend in this world, the more we satisfy ourselves with the mercy of God in Christ, the happier we will be.

This is the day that the Lord has made. I will rejoice and be glad in it. That's the attitude we should great each day with. Whether we're at home, at work, at school, wherever, our desire should be to live in such a way that pleases God and allows us to rejoice in Him. Every moment of every day. We don't have to be at church to praise God. We don't have to be in a particular building to serve Him. We should recognize the time we have, redeem it in a way pleasing to God, and rejoice in Him all the while.

Given that measuring stick, how was the year 2010? How much of your time was spent serving God and praising Him. The year is gone. The days will never be reclaimed. Were they put to good use, or were they wasted. I invite you today to commit to making 2011 even better. Understand now that the coming year will be gone before you know it as well. Commit with me today to make the most of every opportunity in the coming year. Let's decide today to commit this year more fully to the Lord and to His will, and to rejoicing in Him.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Wish

As we celebrate this joyous day, I simply want to wish you a very Merry Christmas. And I wish for you the joy of knowing the precious truth of the One who was born, and died, for you. To aid your thoughts in that direction, please consider these wonderful words from Pastor Charles Spurgeon, from the end of a sermon preached on Christmas day 1859:

Hark, yonder! What means the firing of the Tower guns? Why all this ringing of bells in the church steeples, as if all London were mad with joy? There is a prince born; therefore there is this salute, and therefore are the bells ringing. Ah, Christians, ring the bells of your hearts, tire the salute of your most joyous songs, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.” Dance, O my heart, and ring out peals of gladness! Ye drops of blood within my veins dance every one of you! Oh! all my nerves become harp strings, and let gratitude touch you with angelic fingers! And thou, my tongue, shout — shout to his praise who hath said to thee — “Unto thee a child is born, unto thee a Son is given.” Wipe that tear away! Come, stop that sighing! Hush yon murmuring. What matters your poverty? “Unto you a child is born.” What matters your sickness? “Unto you a Son is given.”What matters your sin? For this child shall take the sin away, and this Son shall wash and make you fit for heaven. I say, if it be so,
“Lift up the heart, lift up the voice,
Rejoice aloud! ye saints rejoice!”

But, once more, if it be so, what then? Why are our hearts so cold? And why is it that we do so little for him who has done so much for us? Jesus, art thou mine? Am I saved? How is it that I love thee so little? Why is it that when I preach I am not more in earnest, and when I pray I am not more intensely fervent? How is it that we give so little to Christ who gave himself for us? How is it that we serve him so sadly who served us so perfectly? He consecrated himself wholly; how is it that our consecration is marred and partial? We are continually sacrificing to self and not to him?

O beloved brethren, yield yourselves up this morning. What have you got in the world? “Oh,” saith one, “I have nothing; I am poor and penniless, and all but homeless.” Give thyself to Christ…

Oh! Master, help me to speak a word in season, now. I beseech thee, my hearer, if Christ is not thine this morning, may God the Spirit help thee to do what I now command thee to do.

First of all, confess thy sins; not into my ear, nor into the ear of any living man. Go to thy chamber and confess that thou art vile. Tell him thou art a wretch undone without his sovereign grace…

But next, when you have made a confession, I beseech you renounce yourself. You have been resting perhaps in some hope that you would make yourself better, and so save yourself. Give up that delusive fancy. You can do nothing by your best prayers, your best tears, or your best works, to merit eternal life…

Then, lastly, and I pray God help you here my dear hearers, when thou hast confessed thy sin and given up all hope of self-salvation, go to the place where Jesus died in agony. Go then in meditation to Calvary. There he hangs. It is the middle cross of these three. Methinks I see him now. I see his poor face emaciated, and his visage more marred than that of any man…

At last, hear him, sinner, for here is your hope. I see him bow his awful head. The King of heaven dies. The God who made the earth has become a man, and the man is about to expire. Hear him! He cries, “It is finished!” and he gives up the ghost. The atonement is finished, the price is paid, the bloody ransom counted down, the sacrifice is accepted. “It is finished!” Sinner, believe in Christ. Cast thyself on him. Sink or swim, take him to be thy all in all. Throw now thy trembling arms around that bleeding body. Sit now at the feet of that cross, and feel the dropping of the precious blood. And as you go out each one of you say in your hearts,
“A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Christ’s kind arms I fall,
He is my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.”

God grant you grace to do so for Jesus Christ’s sake. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with you all, for ever and ever. Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Coming Persecution?

At this time of year there are always those fights going on between those who say Merry Christmas and those who don’t; or rather those who forbid it. For years we’ve wrestled with the Christian celebration vs. the Secular. School districts have disallowed Christmas parties in favor of Winter Festivals, etc.

I’ve never gotten overly excited about that. It’s ridiculous in a land built on the ideas of free speech and religious freedom for Christian expressions to be so blatantly banned, but what do you expect out of an un-redeemed populace. They are entitled to their opinions and beliefs as well, I suppose.

In fact, although I find it repulsive, even this atheist billboard has a legal right to exist. However, this land of “tolerance” is becoming increasingly less so. Not to other faiths, or to secular humanism, or to atheism in general. Only to Christians. Think of that billboard… can you imagine the outcry if our church put up a billboard saying that Mohammed was a liar and Islam was a lie? Hmmm….

Mike Farris from the Home School Legal Defense Association recently presented a speech that was then printed in their periodical magazine. Being radical wacko conservative homeschoolers, our family is of course a member of the HSLDA and regularly reads their magazine. This latest one truly scares me.

I know this is addressed to homeschoolers. And in one sense, it doesn’t surprise or bother me. We’ve fought battles for years, as Farris points out, over a variety of issues brought up by those who oppose homeschooling. The liberal establishment has made no secret about their desire to control our lives and particularly the lives and education of our children. They know that the way to usher in their worldview is to teach that worldview to our children early and often.

However, the things said by those educators and legal “professionals” which Farris quotes in this article ought to send chills down the spine of every parent in America, and every Christian as well. Stop and consider the implications of statements like this:

“If a parent subscribes to an absolutist belief system premised on the notion that it was handed down by a creator, that it (like the Ten Commandments) is etched in stone and that all other systems are wrong, the essential lessons of a civic education (i.e., tolerance and mutual respect) often seem deeply challenging and suspect. If the core principle in a parent’s belief system is that there is only one immutable truth that cannot be questioned, many educational topics will be off limits. Such “private truths” have no place in the public arena, including the public schools.” ~Catherine Ross, a law professor from George Washington Law School

Do you get the meaning here? Again, her arguments are directed against homeschoolers who teach moral and biblical truth to their children, but do you understand the implication. Anyone who believes in absolute truth, such as…I don’t know…salvation is Christ alone…should not have the right to share those truths with their children, or even have them shared in the “public arena.”

She goes on to say that teaching such truths leads to intolerant attitudes and threatens the society at large. She says, “there are limits to tolerance. In order for the norm of tolerance to survive across generations, society need not and should not tolerate the inculcation of absolutist views that undermine toleration of difference.” In other words, we should only tolerate those who are open minded and will accept the post-modern idiocy of multiple truths all being true, not those who teach that one truth is actually true. (Interesting that she targets Christian homeschoolers and not those wonderfully tolerant Muslims who are slowly gaining control of the nation!)

Again, do you see the implications? This isn’t just about homeschooling. This is about Christianity in general. It’s about the freedom to declare the truth of Scripture. It’s about free speech for everyone except Christians. We must tolerate them, but they don’t have to tolerate us. This is scary.

Even for those who aren’t Christian, this should be frightening. It’s an attitude that suggests that parents don’t know what’s best for their own children. The state should decide what’s best. This is socialism at its finest, the end result of the “it takes a village to raise a child” mentality. And lest you think I’m overstating it, listen to this from Kimberly A. Yuracko, a professor from Northwestern University School of Law.

“Parental control over children’s basic education flows from the state (rather than vice versa). States delegate power over children’s basic education to parents.”

Do you see that? The state gives us the right to raise and educate our children? Really? How did they get the right and power over our children to begin with, in order to delegate that right then to us? This is frightening logic, but is becoming increasingly common and accepted.

I’m not an alarmist (for the most part!). But Christians everywhere need to wake up and start paying attention. Our freedoms may be on the line here. At the very least we need to get informed about issues like these and be vigilant.

Parents, I encourage you to read the HSLDA article in full. Get informed about the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child and the threat it poses to parents worldwide. Furthermore, get informed about the proposed Parental Rights Amendment and urge your legislative representatives to support it.

And, Christians. Pay attention. Again, this isn’t an alarmist sort of thing. Not yet, anyway. But stay awake. Take notice. We’ve been blessed in this nation to the point of being spoiled. And if we’re not careful, those days may be on the way out. Persecution may come to this great land.

And if you are afraid to take a stand now, how will you stand when things really get difficult?

Monday, December 20, 2010

A Biblical Celebration of Christmas?

One of my pet peeves has always been the presence of the “wise men” in various Nativity scenes this time of year. There are many reasons. One, there always seem to be three of them, and though the Bible mentions three kinds of gifts, there is never a reference to their number. Two, they always appear royal, as in “We Three Kings”, but again the Biblical record never indicates any royalty. And of course, number three, THEY WEREN’T PRESENT AT THE BIRTH!

Sorry for shouting. I get a little worked up. Matthew chapter 2 clearly states that these magi, wise men, saw the star when Jesus was born, started off on a long journey to find him, and arrived to find the child and his mother in a “house.” Obviously some time had passed, the child is now older, they are in a house, etc.

Furthermore, based on their information, King Herod sets out to kill this newborn king, and since he doesn’t know the exact time, he kills all male children under two years old. Why two years if the wise men arrived immediately after the birth.

So anyway, this one little Biblical issue has always been a sore spot for me. Recently, however, I read a reposting of a satirical piece over at the Sacred Sandwich (it’s a great article, you need to read it; go here). It mentions all those other non-biblical fixtures of the holiday season, and set me to thinking about what it means to have a biblical celebration of Christmas.

Here’s the problem. Celebrating Christmas isn’t biblical. Now before you go crazy on me, stop and consider this from a reasonable, non-emotional perspective. I love Christmas. I love the trees and lights and presents and snow. I confessed to our church yesterday that I even love some of the totally non-Christian elements, many of the traditional movies, songs, etc. So I’m not trying to be a Scrooge or anything.

But here’s the truth of it. God never implies in Scripture that we are to celebrate the birth of Christ. In fact, the timing of the whole event is noticeably vague. We don’t know for sure when Christ was born; although it almost certainly wasn’t December 25th. I’ll spare you the arguments; you can google it and do the research yourself if you want.

Contrast that with the celebration of the Resurrection. We have more specific details of the timing of it all, in relation to Passover, etc. And we are told specifically in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians that we are to commemorate that event through the celebration of Communion, the Lord’s Supper, if not necessarily with the setting aside of a specific day.

The early church didn’t celebrate Christ’s birth. It wasn’t until over 100 years later when the Pope decided it should be an official observance. In fact, the whole idea of a Christ-Mass drips with Catholic theology and imagery that should really raise some red flags for us Protestant types. (read a wonderful take on this over at the Gospel Driven Disciples site. It’s worth your time).

And as most of you know, many, if not most, of the traditional aspects of our Christmas holiday derive more from pagan sources than any sort of Biblical ones. Again, I’ll spare you the long drawn out details, but surely you know of the pagan “yule” celebrations, Santa Claus (despite the Christian saint at the heart of some of it), etc.

So, I’m left with the question again: Is there a “Biblical” celebration of Christmas? Well, maybe we can answer both “yes” and “no.” No, there are no Biblical mandates to celebrate Christ’s birth. No, much of our tradition has little if any Biblical basis at all. And yet…

Our primary task in this world, in seeking His will and glory, is to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom. And that good news includes this wonderful thing we call the Incarnation; God becoming man; the Word made flesh. Oh what mind-blowing truth is caught up in that; truth which should drive us to our knees in worship and adoration of our great God of grace.

Understanding the need for the Incarnation; our sin. Understanding the purpose of the Incarnation; to accomplish atonement for our sin. Understanding the plan for the Incarnation; God’s eternal plan to save a people for Himself for His own glory. All of these things make this an event worth celebrating. And December 25th is just as good a day as any other.

So are Santa and reindeer Biblical? No. Are wise men in the manger scene Biblical? No. Are manger scenes in general mandated in Scripture? No. Is the very idea behind the word Christ-mas even Biblical? No.

However, is it Biblical to worship and adore our mighty God for sending His Son, for taking on flesh, for coming to die as a substitute for our sin? I would say Yes. So please, enjoy your Christmas. Enjoy your traditions (except maybe the wise men in the manger scene!). Enjoy the fun and family aspects of this season.

But as we’ve heard countless times before, let’s be sure that at the center of it all is the truth of the Incarnation and the reasons for it. I can guarantee that those who know Christ and His grace and mercy and forgiveness have more reason to celebrate than anyone else. Let’s be sure we use this opportunity to share that reality with those around us. And to God be the Glory.

Monday, December 13, 2010

On Finals and Final Days

Our oldest daughter is in the midst of experiencing her first “finals week.” College of the Ozarks does it a little differently than I remember college finals. They had a “dead day” last Friday (no classes) and then started finals on Saturday. LoriAnn’s introduction to college final exams came at 8am on a Saturday morning; and it happened to be her worst/toughest class. Almost seems cruel (and I almost feel guilty about giggling when I first heard!)

She’s a good student. Her momma trained her well. I know she works hard and will do well. But it is a bit traumatic the first time. It brings back a lot of memories; some good, some bad. Like the time in seminary where I walk into the classroom all prepared for my 1:00 final and find an empty room. I ran to the prof’s office to see which classroom the final had been moved to, and the kind lady in his office said, “Oh, that final was at 11:00 this morning.” Aahhhh! But I digress…

Thinking of final exams, along with the approaching end to another year, has caused me to be a bit reflective about endings in general. As in “end of the world” kind of stuff. No, I’m not going to tell you that the Mayan’s are right and it’s all ending a year from now, 12-21-2012. I actually just read of another group, I forget the name, that is shooting for next Spring some time. I remember the lengthy explanation one guy gave years ago regarding 88 reasons the world would end in ’88. Guess we missed that one.

No, I’m not really into the date setting crowd (although when you think about it; even though Jesus said no man would know the day or hour, with all this speculation out there, everyone picking this or that date, you figure someone might actually get lucky. Who knows?). I’m not overly concerned about exact timing (as my seminary final story should reveal!). We serve a Sovereign God who makes know the end from the beginning, who holds all things in His hand, who marks out the days and seasons, and will bring His plan to completion exactly as He has designed, in the time He has set. So it’s all good.

The issue is being prepared. That’s where thinking of LoriAnn’s finals got me to seeing some of the parallels. Let me just share a couple.

1. You know it’s coming. In college, they do give you a specific time and place (although I swear Dr. MacGorman said 1:00!) so you know the time and place. There is no excuse. You’ve known all semester long that this day would come.

God hasn’t given us the specifics in that regard, despite what the gloom and doom preachers tell you. He has given us “signs”, but someone as spiritually in tune as the Apostle Paul himself seemed convinced early on that it would be in his own lifetime.

I think God purposely built in that sense of uncertainty to keep us from being too complacent. Imagine if we all knew absolutely for sure, without a doubt that this or that date was “the day.” What if was a hundred years away? What would that do for our urgency in reaching the lost, pursuing holiness in hopes of His coming, etc? Uncertainty in that sense may be a good thing.

But of this we are certain. The end is near (I’ve always wanted to say that). Jesus is returning. He is coming in glory to establish His eternal kingdom. There are few things in the Biblical record that are presented with more certainty. He is coming; He is coming soon. All the earth will bow down before their Maker and exalt the name of Jesus; some to their joy; some to their judgment. No excuse, you know it’s coming.

2. The material has been presented. Again, in college, this is a “no excuse” kind of thing. Some prof’s are more lenient than others, but even the tough, impossible guys could at least say: hey, look, you had the material in front of you.

I remember one Church History guy who only gave one exam all semester: the final. Everything was on that one test: names, dates, events, etc. We would put together huge timelines to study. But as hard as that was, and as much as we complained, the truth was: the material was all right there. We knew what the test covered.

God has given us “the material.” He has preserved for us His perfect Word. He has spoken down through the years through His prophets and apostles, and most clearly through His Son. What a blessing.

I don’t think we appreciate the reality of this as much as we should. While millions of people over thousands of years have gone through all sorts of things trying to “discover” their god and their god’s will, our God has come to us; revealed Himself to us. What an amazing thing, to hold the very Word of God in our hand.

In His Word He has told us what is on the final, so to speak. He has told us that our sin will keep us from Him, but that in grace He sent His Son to solve that sin problem. Jesus died as a substitute, taking the sins of His people on Himself, suffering the penalty in our place, and offering us His righteousness instead. Only through Christ will we find salvation and eternal life. It’s all right there in the book. We have no excuse.

3. We need to be prepared. Again, knowing the final is coming, knowing the material is there, all any student has to do is just make a conscious effort to be prepared. Wasting the semester away and acting as if the final won’t happen doesn’t change the reality. It will come, whether you are ready or not.

Likewise, ignoring the reality of Christ’s return doesn’t change the reality of it. Deny all you want. Christ is coming. We will stand before His throne. He will render judgment on all the earth.
Here’s where the analogy of the college final takes a radical detour. In college, if you work hard, study hard, you can earn your grade on that final. In life, though we ought to work and study hard, ultimately it’s not our effort that prepares us. It’s the effort of Christ on the cross. It’s His work that saves us; for by grace you have been saved!

Being prepared isn’t about how hard we work, it’s about trusting in His work. It’s all about Who you know, as they say. But you must know Him. You must trust Him. If you don’t, I urge you to read or re-read the “material”, God’s Holy Word. Look again into the glorious truth of the Gospel. See your own sinful heart and your inability to do anything about it. Then turn to Christ in faith and repentance and begin serving for His glory in all things. Then you will be able to face that “final” with confidence, knowing you are prepared because Christ has prepared you by His blood.

I really hope LoriAnn does well this week. I hope she’s studied well, gotten plenty of rest, and double checked the schedule so she makes it there on time! (Hope you’re reading this, Sunshine!).

But more than that, I hope that you, dear reader, “do well” when the Day comes. You know it’s coming. You know the material. You must be prepared. Ready or not, here He comes!

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Theology of Perspective

I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital over the last 20+ years. Not for myself. I’ve been blessed as far as my personal health goes. But as a pastor, I’ve spent a lot of time in those places, under almost every imaginable situation. I make an effort to be there any time one of our church folks goes in, even if it’s for a “minor” procedure, just to pray with them beforehand and maybe keep a family member company while they wait. Sometimes schedules conflict, but I try.

Most of the time I pray together with the patient and the family in the room, or maybe even at the door to the surgery area, and then the magic doors open and off they wheel the patient into the land beyond (maybe land beyond isn’t a good phrase to use in this situation, but anyway). We then usually see the patient in their room afterward.

Last Friday, however, I got a little different view of those magic doors and the land beyond. The last time I was in the hospital for myself was when I was about 12 and had my tonsils out. Not much to remember. But recently I’ve had some issues with a kidney stone (you can read my thoughts about my first encounter with this little visitor here). Doc said that because of where it was lodged, he’d like to do a little “procedure” to take care of it. I’m not sure of the details, but it seems to involve large cables with laser canons and grappling hooks inserted into sensitive areas of my body. (I know that’s way too much information for some, but…)

So, anyway, now instead of stopping at the magic doors when they open, I have the opportunity to be wheeled through them. (For some reason the thought “walk toward the light!” kept coming into my mind). I now have a new understanding of the whole surgical process: the lying there in the “holding tank” with a dozen other folks, assembly line fashion, while they ask you the same questions you’ve already been asked a dozen times; getting the pre-op meds started; etc. Of course, thanks the miracle of modern medicine, whatever it is they gave me blocked out my memory of most everything after they started me down the hall to the actual surgery area, but still, these are all new experiences.

I’ll spare you the details of the suffering I experienced post-op (let’s just say I’m a big wimp and am very thankful for the invention of narcotics!), but again, this is my first time on “this side” of the bed rail, so to speak. And it gives me a whole new perspective on things. I now know, at least to some degree, how folks on the patient end of things are feeling/thinking during the process. And I’m hoping it will help me to be a bit more effective in my hospital visiting ministry in the future. Maybe make me more empathetic, knowing what they’re going through.

Now, there is point to all of this. I couldn’t help but think about all of this in relationship to the season we now find ourselves in. At Christmas we celebrate the grand miracle of God becoming flesh; the Incarnation. Now, let me be very careful to say that I’m not at all suggesting that God somehow needed a better perspective on things. Being God, being omniscient, He is fully aware of all things. But still, think of the magnitude of this. The omnipotent God of the universe, now seeing through the eyes of an infant as his mother feeds him and rocks him to sleep. To experience in his flesh the growing and expanding of his bones and sinews as he ages to adulthood.

The point is, this makes Jesus the perfect one to minister to us in every way. Jesus knows what it’s like. He knows what we’re going through. He’s been on this side of the bed rail. In fact, he’s gone beyond us in experience, having even tasted death. And He did it for us, so that we might have life.

I wish sometimes that I could trade places with that patient on the gurney, that I could take away their pain, but I can’t. Jesus can. He, in essence, took our place on the gurney and went through those doors in our place, suffered in our place in the ultimate surgery, the removal of our sin’s debt.

That’s the essence of the gospel. You and I are diseased with sin. Even more to the point, Scripture says we are dead in our sins. Yet, in His love and mercy and grace, God sent His Son to take on the penalty of our sins, to die in our place, to suffer wrath in our place, that we might have life and peace instead. This is, after all, what Christmas is all about. God becoming man, to live and die for our sin, to accomplish God’s eternal plan of salvation. My recent experience has given me a little more perspective on that.

And speaking of perspective, the angels in heaven who praise God continually, who announce His good news to man, who serve and glorify Him and His people as He works out this grand plan; they have no idea what this salvation is like from an experiential perspective. Having no need of salvation, they don’t know what it’s like to experience new life in Christ. And yet they sing about it, rejoice in it, and declare it at the top of their angelic lungs.

What about us? Having experienced it, having had our sins cleansed and our eternal salvation secured, how can we not sing even louder, rejoice even greater and declare it more enthusiastically? We’ve been there. We know what it’s like. We have a better perspective, in a sense. How can we not make it known with every ounce of our being?

This is all probably pretty much just a random rambling of ideas. (Maybe it’s still the lingering effects of the pain meds, who knows?) But I hope I’m making a point. Having experienced this little adventure, I’m hoping I will be more caring and sympathetic to others going through it; more effective in ministering to them.

And knowing that Christ has already endured all things on my behalf, I’m hoping that I will be more trusting in His plan and purposes for my life; knowing that He knows better than I do what it’s all about. I pray He gives me eyes of faith to see things as He would have me, from His perspective. His perspective is the clearest and best. And as we celebrate this Christmas season, I pray you find peace and hope in Christ as well.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reflections on Time

It’s the holiday season. The number one phrase I hear these days is “not enough time.” There’s not enough time to do all the Christmas shopping. There’s not enough time to get in all the holiday events. Even at church, we just don’t have time: the choir needs more time for practice, we need more time to schedule events, we need more time…

Thinking of writing for my blog this week, my first thought was, I just don’t have the time. I’ve got three services to study and plan for; taking the kids to a concert on Thursday; having a little “procedure” for a kidney stone on Friday; the kid’s orchestra concert on Saturday…. Just not enough time.

What a foolish thought. As if we could somehow manipulate the space-time continuum to meet our own selfish needs. Each and every one of us has the same number of minutes and hours in every day. Each week still has seven days. Each year has the same number of weeks. We’ve known all along that this season would come, that these events would need to be planned for, etc. It’s not a matter of enough time, it’s a matter of what we’ve done with the time God has given us up to this point.

And there is the point. Each moment is a gift from God. Every day, every hour, every minute, every second, every breath, every heartbeat; each one is a gift from the hand of a gracious God. And you’re not even promised one more of any of those.

James tells us that we should consider the fact that our life is merely “a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). We don’t know what tomorrow will bring, but we know that we have right now, this moment to decide what we will do with this gift God has given us. Our job is to consider how this moment, this breath, might be used for His honor and glory.

Paul writes in Ephesians 5 that we should "Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). Some translations say to “redeem the time.” John Gill writes of that verse:

“It denotes a careful and diligent use of it, an improvement of it to the best advantage; and shows that it is valuable and precious, and is not to be trifled with, and squandered away, and be lost, as it may be; for it can neither be recalled nor prolonged: and taking it for an opportunity of doing good to ourselves or others, it signifies that no opportunity of discharging our duty to God and man, of attending on the word and ordinances of the Gospel, and to the private and public exercises of religion, of gaining advantage to our own souls, or of gaining the souls of others, and of doing good either to the bodies or souls of men, should be neglected; but even all risks should be run, and means used to enjoy it.”

So it’s not that we don’t have enough time. God has given us exactly the amount of time He intends for each of us to have. You may have more days in this world than me, or vice versa, but while we’re here we each have the same number of minutes and hours to seek His glory each day.

Maybe, it’s not so much about how much time we have, but how we use it. I was once given some very sage advice, which I’m sure you’ve heard as well: We find time for those things that are important. So we just need to ask ourselves some questions.

Is the Christmas shopping really the most important thing in my life and the life of my family? Is attending every event that every group has scheduled for the holidays the priority? Even in the church, are we more concerned about putting things on the calendar just because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or are we making the wisest use of the time God has given us?

Hopefully, I used the last few minutes of your time wisely; and they were not wasted. I pray that during this “holiday rush” you remember that God has given you this moment, this breath to be used for His glory. Make the most of it. Redeem it for His honor. Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all for the glory of God.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Reasons to Be Thankful

This is of course the time of year we set aside for an official recognition of our need to give thanks. Our founding fathers recognized this need; repeatedly stated this need; and regularly set aside days for us to gather in the presence of God and fulfill this need. It’s a day to thank God. Not just general thanks. After all, who or what are we expressing thanks to apart from our Sovereign King?

So what is there to be thankful for? The economy stinks; the government is out of control; etc, etc. Personally, I can think of many things to be thankful for in spite of all that.

I am thankful most of all for the grace God has poured out into my life. None of us deserve His mercy and love, but there are many times when I think I’m even less deserving than most. Giving His Son for me seems like such a foolish exchange, but just goes to prove the extravagance of His love and grace. If I had nothing else, I would be thankful.

But above that, God has given me a beautiful, godly wife; a faithful partner in life and ministry; someone who loves me, supports me, encourages me, and generally puts up with my whiny nature much more often than she should.

He has blessed us with four wonderful children, in each of whom we see the hand of God at work. I couldn’t be more proud to be related to any four people in the universe.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to serve Him; for the church family He has blessed us with; and for reminding us of His grace as a body on a regular basis.

God has given me parents who love me (most of the time) and have been more than gracious to me despite the many trials I’ve put them through.

Our family has a roof over our head, food in our ample bellies (well, mine is ample anyway!), and more than we need or deserve in this life.

So what’s not to be thankful for?

Here are some fine words from the greatest preacher of all time, C. H. Spurgeon. In September of 1863 he delivered these words at London’s Metropolitan Tabernacle on a day set aside for giving thanks. Consider these wise words based on a message from Psalm 65:11 - “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness; and thy paths drop fatness.”

All the year round, every hour of every day, God is richly blessing us; both when we sleep and when we wake, his mercy waits upon us. The sun may leave off shining, but our God will never cease to cheer his children with his love. Like a river his lovingkindness is always flowing, with a fullness inexhaustible as his own nature, which is its source. Like the atmosphere which always surrounds the earth, and is always ready to support the life of man, the benevolence of God surrounds all his creatures; in it, as in their element they live, and move, and have their being.

Yet as the sun on summer days appears to gladden us with beams more warm and bright than at other times, and as rivers are at certain seasons swollen with the rain, and as the atmosphere itself on occasions is fraught with more fresh, more bracing, or more balmy influences than heretofore, so is it with the mercy of God: it hath its golden hours, its days of overflow, when the Lord magnifieth his grace and lifteth high his love before the sons of men. If we begin with the blessings of the nether springs, we must not forget that for the race of man the joyous days of harvest are a special season of excessive favor. It is the glory of autumn that the ripe gifts of providence are then abundantly bestowed; it is the mellow season of realization, whereas all before was but hope and expectation. Great is the joy of harvest. Happy are the reapers who fill their arms with the liberality of heaven. The Psalmist tells us that the harvest is the crowning of the year. . .

We may forget the harvest, living as we do, so far from rural labors, but those who have to watch the corn as it springs up, and track it through all its numberless dangers, until the blade becomes the full corn in the ear, cannot, surely, forget the wonderful goodness and mercy of God when they see the harvest safely stored. My brethren, if we require any considerations to excite us to gratitude, let us think for a moment of the effect upon our country of a total failure of the crops. Suppose to-day it were reported that as yet the corn was not carried, that the continued showers had made it sprout and grow till there was no hope of its being of any further use, and that it might as well be left in the fields. What dismay would that message carry into every cottage! Who among us could contemplate the future without dismay? All faces would gather blackness. All classes would sorrow, and even the throne itself might fitly be covered with sackcloth at the news. . . My brethren, should we not rejoice that this is not our case, and that our happy land rejoices in plenty? If the plant had utterly failed, and the seed had rotted under the clods, we should have been quick enough to murmur; how is it that we are so slow to praise?

Take a lower view of the matter, suppose even a partial scarcity; at this juncture, when one arm of our industry is paralysed, how serious would have been this calamity! With a staple commodity withdrawn from us, with the daily peril of war at our gates, it would have been a fearful trial to have suffered scarcity of bread. Shall we not bless and praise our covenant God who permits not the appointed weeks of harvest to fail? Sing together all ye to whom bread is the staff of life, and rejoice before him who loadeth you with benefits. We have none of us any adequate idea of the amount of happiness conferred upon a nation by a luxuriant crop. Every man in the land is the richer for it. To the poor man the difference is of the utmost importance.

I would I had this morning the tongue of the eloquent, or even my own usual strength, to excite you to gratitude, by the spectacle of the multitudes of beings whom God has made happy by the fruit of the field. My sickness to-day, makes my thoughts wander and unfits me for so noble a theme, yet my soul pants to set your hearts on a blaze. O for heaven’s own fire to kindle your hearts.

O come, let us worship and bow down, let us exalt the Lord our God, and come into his presence with the voice of joy and thanksgiving.

Amen, and amen!

Happy Thanksgiving and to God Be The Glory!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Christ Altogether Lovely

Well, after my last post I wasn’t sure if anyone would take me seriously ever again. So to sort of “ease” the transition back to some serious stuff, I thought maybe someone else’s words would have more weight.

Puritan pastor John Flavel wrote on the topic of Christ Altogether Lovely based on the idea of Song of Solomon 5:16: "Yes, He is altogether lovely." He describes Christ’s loveliness by looking at who He is, what He is and what He is like. My favorite part is where he reminds us that in comparing Christ to anything else in all creation, Jesus comes out way on top.

I’ve found it to be quite a challenge when I consider how much I love and focus on other things instead of the One who is due that supreme love and devotion. Here is just part of that section:

If you compare Christ and other things, no matter how lovely, no matter how excellent and desirable, Christ carries away all loveliness from them. "He is before all things," Col. 1:17. Not only before all things in time, nature, and order; but before all things in dignity, glory, and true excellence. In all things he must have the pre-eminence. Let us but compare Christ's excellence with the creature's in a few particulars, and how manifest will the transcendent loveliness of Jesus Christ appear! For,

1. All other loveliness is derived and secondary; but the loveliness of Christ is original and primary. Angels and men, the world and all the desirable things in it, receive what excellence they crave from him. They are streams from the fountain. The farther any thing departs from its fountain and original, the less excellency there is in it.

2. The loveliness and excellency of all other things, is only relative, consisting in its reference to Christ, and subservience to his glory. But Christ is lovely, considered absolutely in himself. He is desirable for himself; other things are desirable because of him.

3. The beauty and loveliness of all other things are fading and perishing; but the loveliness of Christ is fresh for all eternity. The sweetness of the best created thing is a fading flower; if not before, yet certainly at death it must fade away. Job 4:21. "Does not their excellency, which is in them, go away?" Yes, yes, whether they are the natural excellencies of the body, acquired endowments of the mind, lovely features, graceful qualities, or anything else we find attractive; all these like pleasant flowers are withered, faded, and destroyed by death. "But Christ is still the same, yesterday, today, and forever," Heb. 13:8.

4. The beauty and holiness of creatures are ensnaring and dangerous. A man may make an idol out of them, and indulge himself beyond the bounds of moderation with them, but there is no danger of excess in the love of Christ. The soul is then in the healthiest frame and temper when it is most overwhelmed by love to Christ, Song of Songs 5:8.

5. The loveliness of every creature is of a confining and obstructing nature. Our esteem of it diminishes the closer we approach to it, or the longer we enjoy it. Creatures, like pictures, are fairest at a certain distance, but it is not so with Christ; the nearer the soul approaches him, and the longer it lives in the enjoyment of him, still the sweeter and more desirable he becomes.

6. All other loveliness cannot satisfy the soul of man. There is not scope enough in any one created thing, or in all the natural universe of created things for the soul of man to reach out and expand; but the soul still feels itself confined and narrowed within those limits. This comes to pass from the inadequacy and unsuitableness of the creature to the nobler and more excellent soul of man. The soul is like a ship in a narrow river which does not have room to turn. It is always running aground and foundering in the shallows. But Jesus Christ is in every way sufficient to the vast desires of the soul; in him it has sea-room enough. In him the soul may spread all its sails with no fear of touching bottom. And thus you see what is the importance of this phrase, "Altogether lovely."

And for the more video minded, here's just a short clip on the same subject from Mark Kielar of Cross TV.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Disturbing Start to My Day

Warning! The following images may be disturbing to some readers. Especially if you are a NASCAR fan. Especially if you are a #24 fan. (If you're not a #24 fan, you may actually find these images amusing!). You've been warned.

So, I walk into my office this morning, and see something strange lying on the floor.

I bend over to take a closer look, hoping that this isn't what I think it is. But, alas, it is.

I quickly look to the top of my desk to just verify one more time that this horror could possibly be true. And there, glaring at me is the final piece of evidence.

The questions now begin to run through my head. How did this happen? Who would do such a thing? Did someone break into my office overnight to commit this vile act? Is this a message; a warning? Could it possibly have been an accident? And if so, which of the children do I bring in to grill about the issue?

Normally I wouldn't be quite so paranoid. But after all, Jeff did have a rather eventful time at the track last weekend (read here and watch the entertaining video).

The poor guy hasn't had such a good year. Actually, he had a great year in many respects, with many good runs and opportunities to win. But something always seemed to get in the way. An unfriendly act by a teammate. Mechanical problems. As a result the 24 team didn't have the results they were hoping for. Until now, I just thought it was one of those things; you know, like the drivers say, "Just one of those racin' deals." But now...

Could it be that the same forces that have been at work stopping the 24 team all season long have been offended by Jeff's display of ire and emotion last weekend, and they swooped into my office to take their revenge on my bobblehead? I mean, what else can exlplain this vicious act? We may never know the answers.

I may not be able to do anything about the 24 team's season, but on my watch, the evil forces arrayed against my guys will not get away with it. We will rebuild. We will continue on...
(Aren't we all glad for Band-Aids?!)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Thank God for Veterans

In his book The Truth War, John MacArthur writes about Civil War General William Tecumseh Sherman. He quotes the General’s well known axiom that “war is hell.” Sherman later in life said simply, “I am sick and tired of fighting.” MacArthur then says this:

Whatever we might think of General Sherman as a man, there is something commendable and courageous about his soldiers’ perspective of battle. We ought to despise warfare with every fiber of our souls. War is one of the most calamitous consequences of evil. It is catastrophic. It is always ugly. It should never be glamorized, and no sane person should ever desire the conflict or savor the strife of war. There are times, however, when evil makes warfare absolutely necessary. And when we have a moral obligation to fight, we should never shirk that duty, compromise with the enemy, or enter the battle halfheartedly. As detestable as warfare of any kind might be, there are causes for which not fighting is a far greater evil.”

MacArthur is of course introducing a study on spiritual warfare, and is very clear that as the Church, our cause is on that plane, not on the plane of the physical battle field. However, his point about warfare in general is a very good one. Sometimes there are causes for which not fighting is a far greater evil. And when we come face to face with one of those causes, I for one am grateful for the United States Military.

I can remember going to the airport to pick my brother up after his basic training in the Marine Corps. There had been such a change in him, the way he carried himself, the look in his eye, etc. that he nearly walked right past us without recognizing him. Say what you want about our military, but my thought after this introduction to the Marines, was simply “if we ever go to war, I’m glad these are the guys out there fighting on our side.”

My dad served in the Army, and my brother has since “switched” to be a recruiter for the Naval Reserves, so I’m not just going to brag on Marines. The US Military as a whole is the best in the world, bar none, and we ought to be thankful every day for the work they do protecting our freedoms and the freedoms of others around the world.

I’m not a “war-monger;” I don’t relish war. As MacArthur says, it’s ugly and detestable. However, it’s often necessary in this sin-spoiled world to protect us from the spread of evil. And again, I am grateful for those who have given of themselves to serve this nation throughout our history. While we have many faults, and I’m often quick to point them out; as they say: “It’s the best ship floatin’!”

This week we will officially recognize and honor our US Veterans. Hopefully, we can do that more often than once a year. Hopefully, we will take the time to give a brief thank you to any active serviceman we might cross paths with, and regularly think to show some appreciation for those who have served in years gone by. Above all, let’s thank God for their service and pray faithfully for those serving now. And more than just a token song during the 7th inning stretch, let’s pray for God to truly bless America.

(I tried to upload some video I took this past Spring of the Marine Silent Drill Team at Marine Barracks, Washington. It was truly an awe inspiring presentation, but I couldn't get it to load. I may try again later. Anyway, Happy Veteran's Day)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Fear God, Honor the King, and VOTE!

On this election eve, let me again beat my patriotic drum for a minute. I know that Scripture says we are to “Be subject for the Lord's sake to every human institution” (1 Peter 2:13). And a lot of folks will misinterpret this passage to say that submitting ourselves to authority, the king or governor, means that Christians should not be involved in politics. In fact, I once read that one of my favorite conservative commentators had backed down saying that Christians have lost the battle and we should no longer be involved trying to influence our government. Folks, that's in no way what Peter is saying here.

He's saying that we ought not to instigate riots or political upheaval for the purpose of political or selfish gain. In other words, we ought to be good law abiding citizens. But only so far as that law is not in contradiction with the law of God. Over in Chapter 4, Peter writes, "If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed but praise God that you bear his name."

Peter knew what he was talking about. You'll remember that it was Peter and John who stood trial before the religious authorities for preaching the truth of Christ even after being told not to. Peter stood firm and said, "Judge for yourselves whether it's right to obey you or God, but we can't help but speak about what we've seen and heard." And again later Peter says, "We must obey God rather than men."

So Peter isn't saying we should stand by and watch godlessness take over. What he's saying is summed up just a few verses after he makes the “be subject” comment, in 1 Peter 2:17: "Fear God and Honor the King." Jesus taught the same principle when he told the disciples "give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." Let's examine Peter's two short statements "Fear God and Honor the King" in reverse order.

A. First HONOR THE KING. What does it mean for you and I as Americans, with regard to our Christian citizenship, to honor the king? We don't have a king in America, do we? How does this fit into a modern world of elected presidents and governors. Well, what I'm going to say may surprise you a bit.

Our nation was found on the principle, the revolutionary idea of "we the people." That concept is expressed in a representative form of government in which citizens, we the people, elect leaders to govern as our representatives. The ideal is that they act as we requested them to, representing us. Now, obviously we've gotten away from that ideal a bit, but the way this country was conceived was as a nation of the people by the people and for the people. In a sense then, the people, you and I, are the king in our representative republic system.

The way that Christians honor the king in America, other than obviously being law abiding citizens, is to be involved in the political process. Take part. Get educated and exercise your rights and responsibilities as a citizen of this nation.

Now before you leave thinking I've lost my marbles, think of Paul. When arrested he claimed his right as a Roman citizen to have a hearing before Caesar himself. Paul knew his rights and responsibilities as a citizen of Rome and he exercised them. He worked within the system.

Here in America, working within the system means first and foremost that we get out and vote. Your right as a citizen and your responsibility as a Christian citizen is to vote, make your voice heard, to work within the system and be the best American citizen you can be. That's how we honor the king.

B. Peter's other statement is that we FEAR GOD. As followers of Jesus Christ, we exercise our citizenship in light of our fear of God. What does that mean exactly? Peter provides instructions on how we are to fear God back in verse 16. He says "live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover up for evil; live as servants of God," or as one translation says "as bond slaves of God."

We should exercise our rights and responsibilities an American citizens, but always keep in mind where our true citizenship lies. Remember where our true allegiance rests. Remember who or real Lord and King is. Our right to vote comes with the Christian responsibility to use that right in a manner which will please and honor God.

As Christians we should consider taking part in our governmental process to be a serious spiritual matter. It should be bathed in prayer. We should take time for careful reflection on how our vote can be used to secure a more righteous society, because in America, we get the government we ask for, and deserve what we get.

Fear God. Honor the King. What are some practical, concrete ways of doing that? Pastors are often accused of spouting off good sounding religious ideas, but never giving practical help. Well here it is. Practically speaking, here are three things to do to be a good citizen who fears God and Honors the King:

1) PRAY - Pray that our government will affirm biblical morality in our laws. Pray that God will show us which issues are worth fighting for. Pray that He will give us the courage to be obedient to His laws first and foremost.

2) EDUCATE - Educate yourself and your family and your church about the critical issues that face our nation. Educate yourself about where candidates stand on those issues. Educate yourself about ballot initiatives and don’t just listen to the ads on TV.

3) VOTE - Christians of all people should strive to be good citizens, registering and voting; and yet, the percentage of Christians who vote is as low or lower than that of unbelievers. VOTE! It’s not only an American right, it’s a Christian responsibility. The church needs to wake up, get our heads out of the sand, and start being responsible Christian citizens who fear God and honor the king. Hopefully you’ve already been praying and educating, so tomorrow, get out there and vote.

(Voiceover: I’m Scott Weldon, and I approve this message.)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Reformation Day!

Yes, Reformation Day...not that other thing so many folks like to celebrate on this date. And for the last couple of years I've simpy repeated my original post on this topic (go here if you must). So for a change, let me just point you to someone else's brief comments on the matter.

Go here to the Gospel Driven Disciple site and read the brief word from our brother Gregg. Then get yourself to church and worship our great and glorious God of grace, thanking Him for the men and women down through the years who have given themselves for the true faith.


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Page CXVII Hymns

Readers of this blog will know that I’ve shared before about my eclectic musical tastes. I enjoy a wide range of styles: rock, hip hop, Celtic, jazz, etc. Most of what I listen to is in the “Christian” genre; which is to say that I prefer music that exalts Christ whatever the style. And while I enjoy the “new” stuff, I am also passionate about the “old” stuff. Hence my antique hymnal collection and my appreciation for the growing number of folks “re-introducing” hymns to this next generation.

All this is simply to say that one of the hymn singing groups I appreciate has made it possible for folks like me to provide “streaming” on this blog of their music. Now, you have to understand, I’m pretty much techno-ignorant. I most often have nothing but a dial up connection. So I don’t really understand “streaming” and most often can’t even make use of it myself. However, I know that many (most) of you are far beyond me in this area, and I’d love to make this available.

The group in question is Page CXVI (spoken Page 116), takes their name from get this… page 116 of C. S. Lewis’ classic Narnia tale The Magician’s Nephew. The scene is one in which Alsan, the Christ character, begins to sing Narnia into creation out of a black void. They have a passion for the rich hymns in church history and a desire to see each new generation gain an appreciation for them. You can even find free music on their website.

So then, the point here, is these two links; one for their Hymns I and one for Hymns II. I’m trying to figure out a way to insert it as a permanent fixture on the side of the blog page, but until I figure that out, try these. Hope you enjoy.

Hymns I

Hymns II

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Miscellany: The Good, the Bad and the Patriotic

Just came across a couple of things I thought I’d like to pass along; a couple of links from and then something from an email. Just in case you have some spare time today and need a little filler. So here we go…

The Good

This link from the Take Your Vitamin Z blog has a wonderful list of lessons learned in ministry. These are insightful, fun, and spot on. After 20 years as a pastor, I would “Amen” each of these, and agree that I wish someone had told me about up front.

Brady Boyd: 10 things I wish someone had told me
1. Sheep bites can’t kill me, but the gnawing will make life miserable a few days each year.

2. No matter how hard I try, I will always be tempted to measure my success by attendance numbers.

3. The best thing I can do to build and grow God’s kingdom is to be myself and not compare myself to others.

4. It takes a long time to become old friends so nurture and cherish the old friendships God has given me.

5. I will only have as much spiritual authority as I am willing to submit to myself. Independence will destroy me but there is power in submission.

6. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. Challenge people to go deeper even when the message is unpopular.

7. My brain will always feel like scrambled eggs on Sunday afternoon so don’t make any major decisions until Tuesday morning.

8. Some people will only trust you after a really long time of proving yourself and another group will never trust you no matter what you do.

9. Don’t feel guilty about taking a Sabbath. It was not a suggestion.

10. I will never regret spending time with my family instead of saying yes to a church meeting that someone else could lead.

The Bad:

Check out this article from CNN:
Being a devoted bibliophile (see here for more) I see this as a doom and gloom report of epic proportions! Not only because I think that the printed page is much more “experiential” than the digital counterpart, but because in an age so dependent on technology in general, this is one more step down a path that we may one day truly regret. Read the article and tell me what you think. (And then go out and buy a couple of real books!)

The Patriotic

Someone sent me this cartoon from Steve Breen at the San Diego Union Tribune. I know nothing about him or the paper, but especially with Veterans’ Day looming, I thought it was just too good not to pass on.
Thank God for the men and women who have given so much over the years to give us the freedom to be complete ingrates!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A Borrowed Prayer

One of the tools I like to use in private devotions is a collection of prayers called The Valley of Vision. Obviously our hearts need to come before God on our own, in sincerity, and not just wrote repetition of someone else’s thoughts and prayers. But I have often been helped, encouraged, and led into greater prayer through the hearts of others in this way.

This morning I read a prayer on “Weaknesses.” And since weaknesses are what I often seem to have the most of, this seemed a good place to start. This prayer was a great blessing to me, and I hope it will be to you as well.

Help my infirmities;
When I am pressed down with a load of sorrow,
perplexed and knowing not what to do, slandered and persecuted,
made to feel the weight of the cross, help me, I pray thee.
If thou seest in me
any wrong thing encouraged,
any evil desire cherished,
any delight that is not thy delight,
any habit that grieves thee,
any nest of sin in my heart,
then grant me the kiss of thy forgiveness, and teach my feet to walk the way of thy commandments.

Deliver me from carking care,
and make me a happy, holy person;
Help me to walk the separated life with firm and brave step,
and to wrestle successfully against weakness;
Teach me to laud, adore, and magnify thee,
with the music of heaven,
And make me a perfume of praiseful gratitude to thee.
I do not crouch at thy feet as a slave before a tyrant, but exult before thee as a son with a father.
Give me power to live as thy child in all my actions, and to exercise sonship by conquering self
Preserve me from the intoxication that comes of prosperity;
Sober me when I am glad with a joy that comes not from thee.
Lead me safely on to the eternal kingdom, not asking whether the road be rough or smooth.
I request only to see the face of him I love, to be content with bread to eat, with raiment to put on,
if I can be brought to thy house in peace.

From The Valley of Vision, Puritan Prayers and Devotions

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Seeking God's Face: A Sermon Summary

Let me warn you now that this is a much longer post than usual. If you have a short attention span, you may want to just stop now. Last night I had the honor of addressing our Baptist Association Annual Meeting by brining the annual sermon. The theme for the meeting was Seeking God’s Face, based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. Here’s a somewhat shortened version of what I offered on that text:

Now before we think about these familiar words and the idea of seeking God’s face, let me just say something briefly about the dangers of that familiarity and the issue of context. Sometimes things become a little too familiar and we run the risk of missing the real point. We’ve heard this verse, we’ve read it, we’ve heard countless sermons on it. And unfortunately, at least it seems to me, our problem is that we’ve come to take the verse out of its context. We read about this idea of humbling ourselves and praying and seeking God’s face and turning from our wicked ways so that God will hear and heal our land; and we most often think in terms like this. If America will just get its act together, then God will bless us. Right?

However, America isn’t even in the thought process here when this verse was written. Look here in 2 Chronicles 7. Solomon has just finished building the temple of God. They’re having a nice prayer service to dedicate the new building, much like we would at the end of a long building project. Here they slaughter 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep, whereas most of us would only slaughter a couple cows and a pig or two for the fellowship dinner after the service, but still; very similar.

And then beginning in verse 11, Solomon is visited by the Lord in a dream in response to the prayers the king has offered. And in essence, God says, “I’ve heard your prayers and will indeed bless this place with my presence. But here’s the deal. When the people sin and I bring suffering on them; when the heavens are closed up with no rain, or locust come along and eat everything up; that sort of thing. When that happens, not if, but when that happens, here’s what I’ll do. If my people who are called by my name…. “

That’s the context of this promise. It’s in the context of the disobedience of the people of God. It has nothing to do with American politics. It’s addressed to God’s people. It’s addressed to the church of God. If we will get our act together, if we will get on our knees and pray, if we will turn from our wicked ways.

Woah, now wait a minute? You mean it’s not about all the immorality in Hollywood; it’s not about all the liberal politicians; it’s not about abortion and homosexual marriage and all those other issues that those pagans out there are dragging us into? Well, rest assured God’s pleasure rests on none of those things.

But in its context, this issue of seeking the face of God here is directed at the people of God. It’s talking about our failure to live faithfully in His presence, and the need to restore that relationship to where it needs to be. The call here to seek the face of God implies that we have somehow lost sight of it. We have wandered and are in need of returning, specifically in these areas.

I. Number one, we need to RETURN TO HIS WORD. We need to return to the Scripture as the primary focus in our lives; the dominant authority; the governing authority. Because it is here that the face of God is revealed. This is how we will know Him. This is where we should seek Him.

Our problem is that when we speak of God, too many, even in the church, have their own ideas of who God is. In this text we are being called to seek the God of Scripture, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Moses; the God of David; the God of Paul and Peter. Yahweh, I am, revealed to us most fully in the person of Jesus Christ. But again, too many have set Scripture aside and decided that we’ll just created God in our own image, rather than the other way around.

Paul Washer, who is one my favorite contemporary preachers, put it like this: “Sunday morning is the greatest hour of idolatry in the entire week of America. Because people are not worshipping the one true God, the great mass at least, but are worshipping a god formed out of their own heart and their own flesh. They’ve made a god just like themselves and he looks more like Santa Claus than he does Yahweh.”

One of our greatest problems is that we don’t know God. We haven’t spent enough time in His Word to see how God has revealed Himself in Scripture. We’re like the people spoken of in Psalm 50 who think God is somehow like us; we’ve made God in our own image.

The church of God needs to return to an understanding that the truth of God’s Word should be central to all we do; not the latest self help craze; not the latest best selling fiction book; not the latest ear-tickling fad; we need to return to the Word.

II. Number two, we need to RETURN TO HIS WORK. I’m not talking about just getting back to working for God, though we certainly need to do that. We need to be about the Lord’s business. But to truly seek the face of God is to focus on His Work, what He has done.

Again, the text says, if My people who are called by My name. So who are His people who have been called by His name? Obviously, His people are those who have been redeemed by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. Those who have been purchased, saved, forgiven, justified by the finished work of Christ on the cross.

Apart from that saving work, we have nothing, are nothing, have hope in nothing. It’s not about our efforts, it’s about His sovereign work in Christ. We are the recipients of His grace and by His grace are then the proclaimers of His work. We need to get back to talking more about His work.

The Apostle Paul wrote that he resolved to preach nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified; a focus on His work on the cross. Sadly, there is a lack of “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” in our churches today. We’re more concerned about drawing crowds and not offending and being popular and having things to brag about on our annual church profile than we are about proclaiming the truth of Christ’s sacrifice and seeing lives genuinely redeemed and changed by the sovereign hand of God.

We’ve got to get our priorities straight. We are called to proclaim the gospel; the truth of substitutionary atonement; the truth that all men are dead in their sin; not just a little sick and need of a Jesus balm to make them feel better; dead. Men are lost and bound for hell apart from the saving work of Christ. It may be offensive. In fact, Scripture calls it foolishness and a stumbling block in the world’s eyes. But it’s also the only truth that we have to offer; the only truth that can set men free from their sin and rescue them from the pit of hell.

We need to return to His work, faithfully proclaiming Christ and His finished work on the cross, that reality which allows us to be called His people in the first place.

III. Number three, we need see a RETURN TO HIS WORSHIP. God’s people need to seek His face, and then fall down in humble adoration. We need a return to genuine, biblical, Christ centered worship. And I’m not talking about this or that style of music, or this or that order of service, or this or that kind of instrumentation. All of those things, all of those externals, are just that: externals. Worship is a matter of the heart.

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray. Humble themselves and pray. Humble themselves. There is a severe lack of humility when we come together for worship. The biggest majority of people walk into church on Sunday morning and their minds are more fully focused on themselves than God. They’re hearts are in the wrong place. We’ve been living for the world all week long; living for ourselves and our own glory right up ‘till Saturday night, and then we think we can flip a switch on Sunday morning and suddenly be focused on God and His glory. It doesn’t work.

You see, most of us have a wrong concept of what corporate worship even is. When we think of worship, we think of a service on Sunday morning; the formal activity we call worship; and we focus on the form and style of it rather than the content. Worship is a matter of the heart. Worship comes out of a life that has been lived in light of God’s grace and mercy all week long; living for His glory; seeking His face day in and day out. And then we gather together with others who have been doing the same, and worship occurs out of the overflow of those hearts who are humbled before God.

Forget all the fads and fashions. Forget all the polls and personal preferences. If you want to be Purpose Driven then understand that our purpose it to glorify and honor Him; not please and satisfy ourselves. If you want to be Seeker Sensitive, then understand that there is only one true seeker and we ought to be sensitive to Him. It’s all about God. It’s all about Christ. It’s all about His glory; His honor; His praise; His will and His purposes.

IV. Finally, if we are going to truly seek God, we need to RETURN TO HIS WAY. Once we have truly sought God in His Word; once we have truly been reminded of His work on our behalf, purchasing our salvation; once we have humbly allowed all of that knowledge to lead us into true worship; we will have a burning desire in our hearts to follow Him and be obedient in all things.

And here’s the heart of that obedience. Being obedient doesn’t mean sort of doing what God asks us, but doing it the way we want. It doesn’t mean taking our own ideas and putting Christian sounding words on it to make it seem more holy. Obedience means doing God’s will in God’s way for God’s glory alone.

For too long the church has paid more attention to marketing strategies and entertainment strategies and opinion polls and all sorts of other worldly means when it comes to doing church. And our reasoning is: well, it works. We’ve been blinded by the god of pragmatism. It draws crowds, it increases revenue, it grows our popularity and reputation in the community, it makes people happy.

But is that what we’ve been called to? Jesus said to go and make disciples; teaching them to obey everything I’ve commanded you. Obedient, Christ exalting disciples. That’s what we’re called to produce, not marginally obedient professlings who like to come to the popular “in” place on Sundays but still live like the world the rest of the week.

God has told us how to live, how to witness, how to preach, how to worship, how to love one another, how to live in holiness, how to help those in need. We need to turn from our worldly wicked ways and seek the face of God. Seek His way. Seek His will. Seek His glory. Seek His pleasure. Seek His Face.

It’s all about Him. It’s all about God. It’s not about you and your own selfish desires. It’s about God’s plans and purposes in all things. And to truly seek God’s face is a recognition of that truth. Seeking His Word, exalting His Work, focusing on His Worship, and being committed to His ways.

And when we do that, Church; when that happens, then we find ourselves in the kind of blessed church Pastor Spurgeon described.

“If we are walking aright with him, he is in the midst of the church, dwelling there, and revealing himself to his people. His presence makes our worship to be full of spirituality and life; he meets his servants at the table, and there spreads them a feast upon his body and his blood; it is he who puts power and energy into all our church-action, and causes the word to sound out from our midst. True saints abide in Jesus and he in them. Oh, brethren, when the Lord is in a church, it is a happy church, a holy church, a mighty church, and a triumphant church.”

I pray that the people of God, called by His name, would humble themselves and pray and seek His face and turn from our wicked ways; and the result would be a happy, holy, mighty, triumphant church that would impact this nation and the world for the Kingdom of God and for His glory.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Why The Constitution Party

I’ve shared here before my personal pilgrimage from a longtime supporter of the Republican Party to now being a full fledged supporter of the Constitution Party. (You can read here and here if you’d like) But I continue to receive questions from well meaning friends about how I can be so foolish as to support a third party when everyone knows they can never win.

So I felt compelled to share a few thoughts once again. First of all, I refuse to agree with the “they can never win” mantra. As I’ve said before, if good and godly people would stop looking at the “pragmatic” way to vote and would vote their conscience, a third party, or any candidate could win in a landslide. It’s been done before. Remember that the GOP was a third party at one time.

Furthermore, I’m simply tired of throwing away my vote. I know that there are many who say voting for a third party is throwing away my vote, but I strongly disagree. To “throw away” you vote means to cast it without meaning, in a worthless way. How much more worthless can it be to vote for someone who you don’t even believe in simply because they are part of one of the two dominant parties, or more accurately because they are NOT of the other party. Never mind conviction, we just vote because “well, it’s better than the alternative.”

I refuse to accept that. I refuse to give in to that “lesser of two evils” argument. Charles Spurgeon once put together a collection of wise and witty sayings called Salt Cellars. One of the bits of wisdom he records there he places in the mouth of his fictional “John Ploughman,” the common everyday man who offers common everyday wisdom. He writes: John Ploughman says, Of two evils choose neither. Don't choose the least, but let all evils alone.

Of two evils, choose neither. We don’t have to chose one of the reigning parties just because it’s the lesser of two evils. We can man up and vote our conscience and make our vote stand for something; stand for principle; stand for right; stand for the Constitution that this nation was founded on.

Again, I’ve said before, I know not every person is worthy just because they run on the CP ticket either. But I would again urge you all to check out the National CP site, read the CP platform, get informed about any CP candidates in your state, and make your voice heard.

Along these lines, I found this wonderful piece that came out of Ohio’s state party. It fits perfectly with Spurgeon’s advice to choose neither of two evils and carries with it some profound food for thought. Consider these wise words:

Why voting for the lesser of two evils is always wrong!
(1) God does not want us to be in league with evil! The lesser of two evils is still an evil. Instead, God wants us to embrace what is pure and good and then simply to trust Him with our future. If the worst candidate wins, so be it. Perhaps that is needed to wake up more of us, or perhaps God intends to judge this nation. It would be a mistake to interfere in either case.

(2) If we vote for a bad candidate, we will be held partly responsible for the harm done by that candidate. This is true even if our sole intent was to defeat a worse candidates. One evil does not justify another. It would have been better not to vote at all.

(3) Supporting the lesser of two evils tells politicians that it is acceptable for them to do likewise. If we won't stand for what is right and take the necessary hits, how can we demand it of our politicians?

(4) Pragmatic voting always results in a downward trend in the quality of candidates. Politicians won't change if they know we'll vote for them anyway. Good candidates seldom receive the support they need to become viable. The problem of bad choices is thereby perpetuated, and the nation continues to deteriorate until the day when our choices will be an Adolf Hitler or a Joseph Stalin.

(5) The argument that the lesser of two evils will buy us time to get our act together and field better candidates is wishful thinking. What invariably happens is people again become apathetic, and the greater evil makes an even stronger comeback.

(6) Voting for the lesser of two evils is a defensive act. What team ever won playing only defensively? We need to move offensively! Vote for someone based on who they are, not on who they aren't. Vote FOR a good candidate, not AGAINST an evil candidate. Don't stoop to their standard - demand that they rise to yours.

(7) Principled voting means making sacrifices until enough people wake up, but it is necessary to get the ball rolling. Our nation's Founding Fathers sacrificed much to secure our freedoms. We too will need to make some sacrifices to regain some of those freedoms. What are we waiting for? Delay and compromise will only deepen those sacrifices.

The Constitution Party of Ohio