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

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Called To Be Saints

Depending on what faith tradition you come from, being a saint can mean many different things. But Scripturally, all who are in Christ are called saints. The word means “holy” or “set apart.” And even the most problem filled church in the New Testament is addressed as “saints.”

Paul writes to the church at Corinth and says: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours.” (1 Cor. 1:2, ESV)

Again, somewhat ironic, given this church’s problems. It’s kind of like the angel coming to Gideon, hiding in fear of the Midianites and saying: “Hail, Mighty Warrior.” Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor.

But the truth is, we are saints. We are holy. In Christ, we have been set aside for the purposes of God. In Christ, we have been given the perfect righteousness of the Son, just as He took our sin upon Himself. In his second letter to this same church Paul declares: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor. 5:21, ESV)

Yet, just because we have this positional holiness, this standing of “sainthood” that comes through Christ’s sacrifice, doesn’t mean that we are not then expected to live in holiness as well. In fact, Paul says both things there at the beginning of 1 Corinthians. He calls them saints, or sanctified, and then reminds them that they are called to be saints. Holy in Christ, but called to live in holiness as well

Yes God declares us holy in the sense of our legal standing, our standing before His judgment seat because of Christ’s imputed righteousness. But we aren’t intended to sit back and take advantage of that. We are called to truly strive to live lives of holiness.

Matthew Henry wrote that “All Christians are thus far sanctified in Christ Jesus, that they are by baptism dedicated and devoted to him, they are under strict obligations to be holy, and they make profession of real sanctity. If they be not truly holy, it is their own fault and reproach. Note, It is the design of Christianity to sanctify us in Christ. He gave himself for us, to redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us to himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”

He gives us His righteousness for our salvation, but then He calls us to make a profession of real sanctity, to live sanctified lives, to live lives of purity and zealousness for good works. We are not only saved from something, but we are saved to something. We are saved from sin and death, but we are also saved to lives of service and holiness to our God.

1 Thessalonians 4:7 says, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” And Galatians 5:24-25 reminds us that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.”

Holiness is our very real calling, a very real expectation God has of our lives. Too often we’re tempted to think in terms of the grace that God gives us, thinking that since we have this grace, this glorious transaction of righteousness, that we can just go on living anyway we want; since after all, our holiness is in Christ anyway.

Paul writes about that in Romans 6, and listen to what he says: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1-4, ESV) He says: “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” (v. 6). Yes we know His grace, but having been given that grace, we have died to sin and raised to walk in newness of life, no longer enslaved to sin.

We are sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be saints together will all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are called to be saints. We are called to live in holiness. We are called to live in such a way that reflects the righteous nature of Christ that lives within us, letting His light shine through. That’s what it means to be a saint.

Just a word of encouragement today from Saint Scott.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Who Do You Resemble?

Everybody’s always being compared to someone else. They look like so-in-so, that band sounds like this band, this tastes like chicken, etc. Hopefully the comparisons are positive, if you’re the one being “compared.” In fact, now you can find out who you write like.

Super-blogger Tim Challies pointed to a web site called I Write Like, where you can enter some text from your writing (blog, journal, etc.), and it will be analyzed to tell you what famous writer you write like. Based on word choice, grammar, etc. it tells you what writer you most resemble.

Since my daughters are budding writers, this caught my attention. I entered some chapters from our oldest girl’s “novel” (The Tale of Ander Collins, which you can read here, along with other stories and poetry). The first chapter said she wrote like Leo Tolstoy. Heady stuff. Of course, the next chapter said Chuck Palahniuk, and being somewhat illiterate I have no idea who that is (sorry, Chuck). My daughter then copied the entire text of her novel into the analyzer and it went back to Tolstoy. Makes a dad proud. Interestingly, she then went and looked up Tolstoy and read that he wrote like Dickens, so…

Not to be left out, I entered several blog posts and came back with various comparisons. Each post was different, but the name James Joyce came up more than once. (Hmmmm….) Then, for extra fun I started entering the full texts of a few recent sermons.

The first sermon came back as Daniel Defoe. Must have had some illustrations about being lost on a desert island or something. In fact, a couple of the sermons came back as Defoe. Then, to my horror (pun intended) one sermon came back compared to H. P. Lovecraft. Eewww! Must have been a hellfire and brimstone sermon.

So here’s the point (aren’t you glad there is one?!). If we could place our lives in a life-analyzer, who would it tell us that our lives look like? I’ve been studying Luke chapter 3 lately, looking at the ministry of John the Baptist. Luke tells us that because of his life and preaching, people were beginning to “question in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Christ.” (Luke 3:15, ESV)

What was it they saw in his life that gave them such Messianic hope? And what is it that people see in us as they question in their hearts concerning us? We may claim the name of Jesus, but do people see Jesus in us, or do they see the world? Do we live like Christ, does our language imitate Him, do our actions reflect Him, do our habits resemble His? Or would the life-analyzer come back and tell us that based on our words and actions, we live like every other worldly sinner on the planet.

The interesting thing about the writing analyzer is that I put in a bunch of stuff that I had already written. It’s just who I am. I wasn’t consciously thinking about a writing comparison when I did it. Likewise, when people look at us on a daily basis, they just see what is naturally coming out of us. So what do they see? Not on Sundays when we’re trying to be good, but daily as we live and work. Who do you resemble?

The Apostle Paul tells us to imitate him, but only insofar as he is imitating Christ. So our ultimate comparison is not Paul, or John the Baptist, or Spurgeon, or Edwards, or Luther, or Piper, or whoever. People should look at us and see Christ. The highest compliment a child of God could receive when our lives are placed in anyone’s life-analyzer, is to hear the words: You look just like your Father. Do people see that in us? Who do you resemble?

(PS- just for fun I put the text of this post in the analyzer. It’s says this post resembles science fiction writer and blogging activist Cory Doctorow. {Thanks Widipedia} Not sure if either of us should be complimented or insulted, but there you have it)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Love Christ by Opposing His Enemies

We often have a wrong understanding of what it means to be a “loving” people. Too many think that Christians are supposed to be pushovers, that we are supposed to be these mild mannered folks who never really oppose a sinful world because we “love” everyone and don’t want to offend. Here’s a shocker for you: loving good means hating evil. And we demonstrate our love for God by vigorously opposing that which opposes Him.

The class I teach at church has been reading through Thomas Vincent’s The True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ. He spends a great deal of time talking about the love we ought have, how worthy Christ is of it, what to do if we don’t have that love, and so on. And at the end, he offers some practical demonstrations of that love true Christians ought to have for our Lord.

In particular he mentions things like: Obedience; Learning, Keeping, Asserting, and Maintaining all of Christ’s Truths; Public Zeal for Christ’s Honor and Interest; Following His Example; Readiness to Take Up and Patiently Bear Christ’s Cross; and A Desire for Christ’s Presence.

In the midst of that, Vincent points out that we Demonstrate our Love for Christ Through Vigorous Resistance and Opposition to Christ’s Enemies. Let me just share his thoughts (hoping that I’m not violating any copyright laws in the process!):

There are three grand enemies of Christ which you are, by your baptism, engaged to fight against, namely, the devil, the flesh, and the world, which war both against Christ and against your souls. This trinity of adversaries agree in one, and combine together against His Anointed, doing their utmost endeavor to break His bands, to untie His cords, and to unhinge His government. . . but all their attempts in this kind have been, and will be, in vain. Christ has tried the strength of these enemies, and has vanquished them; but still some life and power is left with them to war against the holy seed.

You are Christ’s soldiers, listed under His banner; show your fidelity and your love to your Captain and General in manfully maintaining your spiritual combat against His and your spiritual enemies. Fight the good fight of faith, resist unto blood, do not yield upon any account. Disdainfully turn away the eye and ear when these enemies would entice and allure you, and stoutly make resolute opposition against them when they most furiously assault you. Hearken to no suggestions of the devil, temptations of the world, or motions of the flesh, which would induce and draw you into ways of sin, or which would force and drive you out of the ways of Christ. Resist, oppose, and labor to gain some victories over these adversaries every day. Especially get conquest over the flesh and the other two will be soon vanquished.

Christ showed His love to you in submitting Himself to be crucified for you; do you show your love to Christ in crucifying your flesh, with its affections and lusts, for His sake, in your self-denial and mortifying the deeds of the body, when you deny your carnal reason, your carnal wisdom, your carnal will, your carnal affections, your carnal interest, all inordinances of your sensual appetite, for the sake of Christ? When you crush pride, envy, revenge, malice, inordinate grief, lustfulness, and all evil concupiscence, for the sake and because of the command of Christ, all these are acts and evidences of love to Christ, and herein you should exercise yourselves daily.
(Thomas Vincent, The True Christian’s Love to the Unseen Christ, Soli Deo Gloria Publications, Orlando, FL, 2006 reprint edition, p. 108)

Manfully maintain your spiritual combat. Fight the good fight. Resist unto blood. Resist, oppose and labor to gain victory. Yes that means in part fighting against our own sinful nature, but it also involves all three parts of this unholy “trinity of adversaries.” That means the same vigor is applied to fighting against the worldly system which dishonors our Lord and shames His name and fame.

I suggested to our class that it’s no different than defending the honor of our spouse. If someone were to slander my wife’s name; physically attack her; seek to violate her in anyway; you can bet that I won’t stand idly or meekly by and watch it. Rest assured I will resist unto blood. Why should we not fight equally as boldly against those who disparage our Bride-groom?

Now please don’t misunderstand. I’m not advocating any sort of armed rebellion here. I’m a redneck hillbilly in many ways, but not one of those kind. I’m simply saying that the Bride of Christ ought to stand up for the honor of her Bride-groom. We shouldn’t just look the other way while folks attack our Lord; or even worse, join right in with the same kinds of entertainment and goals and passions as the sinful world around us.

We ought to stand firm. Forgive the patriarchal phrase, but “be a man.” Manfully maintain your spiritual combat against His and your spiritual enemies: the devil, the flesh, and the sinful world which is at war with Christ and your soul. This is how we demonstrate our love for Christ. So do we love Him, or not?

As Vincent writes: What do you say, sinners? Shall Christ have your hearts or not? And what do you say, believers…Your love has been very weak, will you love Christ more strongly? Will you be persuaded to get off your hearts from earth and earthly things…Will you love the Lord Jesus much, whom you can never love too much?

Then let us demonstrate that love.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Far Beyond Rescue - A review of some new old music

A paradox is defined as something that seems contradictory, but may be true in fact; or a person who seems full of contradictions. This pretty much fits me to a tee when it comes to music.

As far as I know, I’m the only person who collects antique hymnals for a hobby, and yet listens to music like Skillet, Newsboys, Flame, Shai Linne, Pillar, etc. Seems contradictory. But it’s not, and here’s why.

I love music that exalts Christ. Old, new, doesn’t matter. History is rich with songs written for the glory of God, and I enjoy the old hymnals to be reminded of that rich tradition, regardless of my “style” preference (which is more “modern”).

Praise God that some folks are putting this all together. There is a move out there to take old hymn texts and put them “modern” music. The goal is to introduce a new generation to the doctrinally rich heritage in these older songs.

One such artist is Aaron Robert, who graciously sent me a copy of the Far Beyond Rescue CD project. According to the website, the goal of this project is: to unite the hearts and voices of believers across the globe. The term blended worship is being redefined as a middle ground where the rich texts of ancient theology are carried by relevant melodies and sounds. The project's goal is to challenge worshipers to examine our hearts and to graciously worship in unity of purpose - the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The musical “style” covers quite a range. There are some modern “rock” tunes; along with a “Do-Wop” sounding arrangement of Were You There; a “techno-pop” sounding version of O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and even a little Irish interlude thrown in.

I especially enjoyed the first song, a nice arrangement of the old Toplady classic O Love Incomprehensible, and a very fun Nothing But the Blood (including a very fun guitar solo). I also liked the back to back cuts of Holy, Holy, Holy; the second being the aforementioned instrumental heavy track.

Much of this is just personal taste, of course, but I didn’t enjoy all of the offerings as much as some. The variety of styles, while interesting, was a little distracting for me personally. And of course, with everyone having different style preferences, others may have enjoyed different tracks more than me.

Also, to be very honest (sorry Aaron!), I think some of the mix/production aspect could have been a little better. Since this was basically a one man effort on that front, you can’t expect the poor guy to do everything. Aaron obviously is a talented musician with a gifted voice, and some of the tracks didn't show that as much as others.

Now having said that, I started out here talking about the desire to reach a new, wider audience with some of the rich hymn texts of yesteryear. On that front, I am extremely grateful for what this project offers. And honestly, I have enjoyed listening in my office while I study. I hope Aaron will continue to seek to honor God with his gifts in this way.

I love modern music. I’m grateful for each generation of song writers God has raised up to bring music to His people, just as He raises up godly men to proclaim His truth in every generation. But I’m also grateful for the rich heritage of music in the church. I keep praying we can get over the “worship wars” and simply appreciate anything that exalts Christ, whether new, old, or a fresh combination of the two.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Parades, Politics, and Popularity

This past Saturday, I took the boys up to the town square for the annual 4th of July parade. (OK, so we had it on the 3rd of July, but you get the point). Actually, our little parade has quite the history and reputation, being the longest running Independence Day Parade west of the Mississippi. All sorts of politicians and celebrities have made appearances over the years.

This year, being an election year and all, the parade was domineered, uh…dominated by floats from political candidates. Again, because of our parade’s history and reputation, the leading candidates for Missouri’s US Senate seat were both there, as well as our current US Congressman. Add to that the candidates for State Office, County Offices, etc, and we had quite the crowd.

As I’m watching some of these floats go by, watching these candidates shake hands and kiss babies (do they do that anymore?) I was struck with some thoughts about our electoral process. (And aren’t you glad you get to read about it!)

It seems that some of the candidates felt they could influence your vote by the sheer size of their float or the contingent of people with them. Some even had multiple entries spread throughout the parade. (Oh, look, another group of people with _________’s name on their shirts. Boy, they must be really qualified to be elected with all that T-shirt money they’ve got).

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, a float with a 40 foot sign bearing the name of one candidate rolls around the corner. (I know, that’s an exaggeration, but it’s my blog after all, so I’ll tell it my way). I guess the thought is that when you step into the voting booth, that huge name will be branded in your mind causing you to check that name on the ballot.

It all seems to be about name recognition, or popularity in the good ol boy network, or how many different ways they can put their name or face in front of you. One candidate even finagled his way into singing the national anthem at the beginning of the thing. (I always choose candidates based on their singing voice….really. I heard Lincoln could really belt out the tunes).

Meanwhile, we’ve had no meaningful debates among the candidates for our state offices, and the “forum” that was held offered little help. The questions were printed in the newspaper in advance and did little to really hit on policy issues. It was just more of the “come on guys, you know me” kind of thing. The “talk” from supporters around town for one office all center on how “nice” this guy is, or how that one “always smiles at me.” Great qualifications for public office.

So what’s my point? (Other than to frustrate folks with way too many parenthetical comments). I guess my problem is twofold; one aimed at the voters, and one at the system itself.

As for the voters, it seems we have lowered the standard for those we elect to lead us to who is most popular; who has the most impressive parade float; who spends the most money; etc. This is nothing new I know. But I also know that our founding fathers had a much bigger vision here.

Samuel Adams said that “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend to the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue, and who…will not suffer a man to be chosen into any office of power and trust who is not a wise and virtuous man.” Wise and virtuous men. That’s who are to be looking for; not the guy with the coolest t-shirt brigade or biggest sign or most well known name.

Today voters seem to be taken in by the “flash” and don’t even look to see if there is any real substance behind it. That’s why candidates spend thousands on the local level, millions on the national level, because they know how easily impressed we are. And after all, they know they’ll get a good return on their investment if elected.

Which also points to my second complaint, the problem with the way the system has developed. Politics in many ways has become a very lucrative business. And this is not a good thing. Our Founding Fathers warned us of the dangers of making political offices pay too well.

In his opposition to seeing our Government leaders draw hefty salaries, Benjamin Franklin said: “Place before the eyes of such men, a post of honour that shall be at the same time a place of profit, and they will move heaven and earth to obtain it.” He warned that “by making our posts of honor, places of profit” we would “sow the seeds of contention, faction & tumult” and would draw into government posts, not men of virtue, but men seeking their own “selfish pursuits.” Sadly, I think we’ve arrived at the very kind of situation Franklin was hoping to avoid.

Unfortunately, many folks are unaware of these and other thoughts from our Founding Fathers. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend picking up a copy of The 5,000 Year Leap, either at your local library or through the National Center for Constitution Studies. Most folks are such a product of the revisionist history that has dominated our country for the last couple generations, that we have no idea about the principles upon which our Founders built this great nation; and how disappointed they would be in the parade and popularity contest methods we’ve come to expect.

Again, I know none of this is new. It’s been going on, and going downhill, for a long, long time. But it needs to stop. We need to elect men of virtue again. We need to focus on candidates who actually know what they are doing instead of just those that can spend a lot of money for “flash.” We at least need to elect folks who have a working knowledge of our nation’s/state’s governing documents…little things like the Constitution. (Just one reason why I’ve officially switched to the Constitution Party. In case you missed it, you can read a bout that here).

Furthermore, I have to throw in my “pet peeve,” which is this idea of “electability.” The reasoning goes: “I know this candidate might be better qualified, more virtuous, etc. But he’s just not electable, so I’ll have to go with the dominant party candidate, or whatever.” If folks would get a spine and stand for what is true and right; especially if all the self-proclaimed Christians would step up and vote their convictions, we could see a landslide of change.

Everyone loves a parade. At this point, I’d love to see a parade of professional politicians marching out of capital buildings all over the country, replaced with responsible citizens who are looking to SERVE their nation/state, the way our Founding Fathers did. People who agree with the prayer of George Washington as expressed in his farewell address, “that the free constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained” and that “its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue…” Amen!