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

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.)