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

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Turkey Menace

When we last saw our heroes, Bubba and Bubba Jr., they were being thwarted by the evil Tubba Turkey. Since then, things have not much improved.

First, the evil bird actually found a human accomplice who snuck into our blind in the middle of the night and stole our hen decoy. That’s right, stole it; as in pilfered, pinched, filched, absconded with. A hen decoy. Guess we should be glad they didn’t take the whole blind.

Then, the filthy bird played us for over an hour one morning. We actually got the entire harem of hens to come down the hill right in front of us. They grazed awhile and then actually went into the woods on the other side of us.
But Tubba didn’t budge. He paced back and forth at the top of the hill for more than one circuit of the old hour hand on the clock, and just kept gobbling. Eventually, those senseless hens came out of the woods, back up the hill, and obediently followed the foul fowl off into the distance. Must be some evil Jedi mind trick.Next, we arrive at our blind after these torrential rains we’ve been having to find that it is sitting in over two inches of water. Not my idea of a good time, so we head off into the woods, only to learn that Tubba’s not crazy about crossing this vast expanse of swamp either. A shivery lesson learned.

And then, we thought all was lost. Crow-call-guy, whom we’ve heard in our wood before, arrives and begins his obnoxious baiting of the bird. Evil as he is, Tubba can’t resist that crow call, and begins to gobble. Within minutes, gunfire erupts immediately behind us. Crow-call-guy just shot our Tom!

We leave the woods dejected that day. But being ever optimistic, we went out again, hoping some other young tom may still be out there, waiting to assume the throne Tubba has left vacant. To our surprise, the gobble we hear is eerily familiar. Within half an hour, we see the source of the noise, and sure enough, it’s ol Tubba. We rejoice on two accounts. One, we still may have a shot at the old buzzard. Two, crow-call-guy was thwarted by the evil emperor of the forest just like we’ve been. Ha! Misery loves company.

I wish this tale had a happy ending. I wish I could say we were chewing on a Tubba leg as we speak. But alas, this isn’t the movies. In real life, the evil emperor sometimes wins. For now. There are still a few days left this season. There is still hope for the good guys. In the meantime, the last comment I heard from Bubba Jr. as we sat in the woods: “Is it squirrel season?”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Significance of the Resurrection

As you know, the events we celebrate this week are closely tied with the celebration of Passover. The “Last Supper” was in fact, a Passover meal. Jesus is the Passover lamb, who’s blood causes death to pass over the people of God. And during the traditional Jewish Passover celebration, a question that comes up often is why. Why is this night different? Why do we do this? Why do we do that?

Why is a good question. Why do we do anything we do? Why is Easter such a big deal? Why does the resurrection matter? These are good questions. And here’s a good answer: because apart from the resurrection we have no mercy from God, no life, no inheritance, no comfort in trials, no joy; in short, no hope.

Peter writes to the church and says: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith--more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire--may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3-9, ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Why? I’ll tell you why, Peter says: because He has shown us mercy, and given us life, and given us an inheritance, and given us comfort, and given us joy. That’s why. And it’s all because of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. So here are those five things that tell us the significance of the resurrection.

I. Number one, IT IS OUR SIGN OF GOD’S MERCY. Because Jesus has died and rose again, we know God accepted His sacrifice for our sin. Remember the reason Jesus told us that He came. He said he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to give His life as a sacrifice for the sins of many. The resurrection was preceded by the crucifixion. The reason Christ rose again has to do with the reason He died in the first place.

We come into this world with a rebellious heart, seeking only our own pleasure, our own self gratification, our own sinful desires. We care nothing about God, nothing about the plans of God, nothing about the pleasure of God. And as a result, we deserve nothing from the hand of God but judgment and wrath. But in His great mercy, He sent His own Son to give His life as a sacrifice in our place. Scripture says that he who knew no sin became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. He took our place, died in our place, suffered judgment and wrath in our place.

That’s what the crucifixion was all about. That’s why Good Friday is good, why the cross is a thing of beauty in the eyes of the Christian. And the resurrection, the empty tomb is a sign that in God’s mercy, that sacrifice was sufficient. Because of the resurrection, we know that the sin of God’s people has been dealt with, and forgiveness is offered.

II. Number two, IT IS OUR SEED FOR NEW BIRTH. Because Jesus died and rose again, because through that act He accomplishes for us the forgiveness of sins, as a result of that we have new life in Him. Here we are told literally that God in Christ has “begat us anew.” He has caused us to be born again through the resurrection of Christ.

This is the idea of regeneration. It’s not just an effort to do better. It’s not just a matter of knowing some Bible verses and trying to do our best to live up to them. Regeneration is an act of God whereby He removes our heart of flesh, as it’s called in Ezekiel, and we are given a heart of flesh, a heart which is then obedient to God and His plans and purposes.

God does this. He caused us to be born again, Peter says. In His great mercy, through the power of the resurrection, God has caused us to be born again. He has given us a new life, a new heart and mind, and new reason for existing, a new set of goals and directions. Again, not just joining a club and trying to do better, but a genuine new heart and mind and life; a life that will be eternal in His Kingdom. Which is our third reason for the importance of the resurrection.

III. Number three, IT IS OUR SOURCE OF INHERITANCE. Because Jesus has died and rose again, we have eternal life. Oh, what a glorious hope. Peter reminds us that this world is not our hope. The words he uses to describe our inheritance is intended to show that it’s the exact opposite of the things of this world. In this world, all the greatest treasures we can set our hearts on are ultimately things that are perishable; they’ll all either die, decay or be destroyed. They are all things that are fading, and one day will pass away; they are fleeting.

But this inheritance that God is holding for His children; it’s something completely different. It’s imperishable, undefiled and unfading. When Christ returns to establish His kingdom, Scripture tells us that God will restore all things. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. The goodness of God’s creation will be restored, and the inheritance of the people of God is being kept for us in that perfect order.

And notice that it is something being kept for you. That’s a reminder that this inheritance is secure. John Calvin wrote that “the inheritance is said to be reserved in heaven so that we may now that it is beyond the reach of danger. If it were not in God’s hand, it would be exposed to endless dangers. If it were in this world, how could we regard it without qualms amidst so many changes? In order, therefore, to free us from all fear, he maintains that our salvation is paced in safety beyond the harms which Satan can do.”

And let’s be honest, we need that freedom from fear. We need that comfort and encouragement, because the truth is, in this world there are many harms of the enemy; there are dangers and difficulties. Which is the next truth here.

IV. Number four, IT IS OUR STRENGTH IN SUFFERING. Because He rose again, we have hope in the midst of suffering in this life. Verse 6 says “in this you rejoice, though now for a little while you have been grieved by various trials.”

I have no idea what trials you’re facing, what struggles you’ve endured, what difficulties face you every morning as you wake up. But I do know this. No matter what they might be, they aren’t bigger than a dead Jesus. I was introduced that particular way of putting it several years ago listening to Voddie Baucham at a conference in Branson. I’ve actually written about that before, and you can read about it here if you want. But the point is simply this: After spending the bulk of the message defending the reality of the resurrection, Baucham then pointed out that regardless of the circumstances we find ourselves in, it can’t possible be a more “difficult” situation than a dead Christ. And if God can raise Christ, what are you afraid of? Could your problem possibly be bigger than a dead Jesus?

In this we rejoice in spite of our grief Peter says. In what do we rejoice? In the hope and new life and inheritance and mercy of God that come from the resurrection. That’s not to make light of anything you might be going through, but regardless of what it is, the God who raised Jesus from the dead can certainly deal with your trials as well.

V. Number five, IT IS OUR STIMULUS FOR JOY. In this you rejoice, verse 6 says. Then in verse 8 we are reminded that because of Christ, because of His resurrection, because of His promised return, because of the inheritance He has promised, we can rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory. A joy that is so great, that I can’t even really fully describe it. I can’t really make a verbal expression of it. Does that mean I won’t try though; of course not.

For centuries man has written poetry and songs trying to express the joy we have in Christ. Books have been written. Sermons have been preached. Testimonies have been given. And yet, still none of them fully express the joy Christ brings to the hearts and lives of those who love Him, who believe on Him, who have trusted Him for life and new life.

O for a thousand tongues to sing my great redeemers praise. Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so rich, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all. And yet even then, as great as Isaac Watts’ words are they are still incomplete, incapable of catching the true nature of the joy we have in Christ.

We can’t express it, but we can experience it. And that’s my greatest prayer, my greatest desire. That you would know this joy. That you would know the hope of Christ; the mercy of God; the reality of new birth; the security of His inheritance and the strength of His comfort in all things. Why is this day so significant? Because apart from the resurrection of Christ, we have none of this. And again, my hope and prayer is that all of this is more than just a holiday story to you. I pray you know the truth of it. And may God continue to add His blessings to your life as the meaning of this glorious truth grows in your heart and draws you closer to Him. To God be the Glory!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Further Adventures of Bubba and Tubba

Bubba would be me. Tubba would be the tubby tom turkey that’s been taunting and tormenting us for the last two years. Bubba Junior is also in the story, but my son hates when I call him that.

Yesterday was day one of the 2011 Spring Turkey Season. This is the year that we are finally going to nab that ol bird that has come into sight frequently, but never in range. This time, we’ll get him.

This year started off like the others, with me sleeping in the blind.
(The snoring is clinically proven to attract larger turkey)

Over the course of the next few hours, we saw a beautiful “moon set,” a skunk running much too close to the blind, and various other spectacles of God’s good creation. Then the gobbling starts.

We have a nice conversation with the ol boy. He seems interested. Along the way, three jakes and several hens come right up to us, one almost jumping in the blind, and some others putting on quite a show.
But we’re waiting for Tubba. Finally, the gobble gets closer. He’s just inside the tree line. A little more enticing, and he steps out into the field. There he is. Unfortunately, he’s about 20 yards beyond what my ancient little shotgun will manage. So we talk a bit, he and I. Bubba Jr. adds to the conversation on his box call. But in the end, Tubba decides that a bird in the field isn’t worth 12 in the bush. Our little decoy and pitiful attempts with mouth and box call aren’t enough to pull him away from those hens we hear in the trees.

A bit later, we see that he’s circled around behind us and come out at the top of the field, now about 150 yards away. He comes out a little more boldly now, knowing that we are well out of range. And he dances and prances for us a little bit, once again taunting and teasing. This time, the light is good enough that Bubba Jr. gets a good picture with his super zoom lens.

He’s a gorgeous old bird. And he thinks he’s won. Maybe for today. But season is three weeks long. This isn’t over yet…

Monday, April 11, 2011

Resolves for Revival

I was invited to preach this week at a series of “meetings,” “revival services,” whatever you want to call them. (I know, I agree…what were they thinking?!) We certainly are praying that God would use these services to do a work in the hearts and lives of His people, and if He does choose to work through a weak instrument like me, it would be even that much more miraculous.

Anyway, it’s caused me to do a bit of thinking and praying on this whole subject of revival, and has reminded me that true revival begins in my own heart; the heart of His people. As Andrew Bonar said: Revivals begin with God's own people; the Holy Spirit touches their heart anew, and gives them new fervor and compassion, and zeal, new light and life, and when He has thus come to you, He next goes forth to the valley of dry bones… Again, that’s certainly our prayer this week.

Along those lines, I thought I would simply share some amazing thoughts from Jim Elliff of Christian Communicators Worldwide about this issue of personal revival. These are truly challenging thoughts, and I hope God may use them to spark revival in your heart as well. (You can go here to see the article in its original format)

Five Resolves For Personal Revival

Behold, the LORD'S hand is not so short that it cannot save; neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2 (NAS)

DO you wish to be an instrument in the hands of God? Do you want to see God's power at work through you? Do you long for your prayers to be answered? If you do, then the barrier of sin between you and God must be demolished and a lifestyle of holiness and love for God renewed. Though you are pardoned and placed eternally in Christ, God chooses to bring discipline and to allow ineffectiveness in the lives of his erring children. To be restored spiritual surgery must take place.

Personal revival beings when the believer faces his sin honestly. Though painful, only honesty with God and others will enable the Christian to walk in purity and power. The following resolves are not a formula but are required of every believer. Humbly pray and search your own heart. Trusting in God, begin this moment to repent and return to Him. Pay any price to be a means of spiritual renewal to others.

1. Repent Of Every Known Sin 'Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent. Revelation 3:19 (NAS)

Resolved: I will not go to bed this evening nor live this day without fully repenting of all known sin against God. (James 4:4-10; 2 Corinthians 7:10)

2. Forsake All Questionable Habits And Activities For whatever is not from faith is sin. Romans 14:23b

Resolved: I will not to go to bed this evening nor live this day without removing from my life every habit or activity I cannot be absolutely sure is approved by God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)

3. Make Right Any Wrongs Between Yourself And Others. "If therefore you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar, and go your way; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. Matthew 5:23-24

Resolved: I will not to go to bed this evening nor live this day without doing all that is possible to correct any wrongs between myself and others. (Matthew 6:14-15; Matthew 18:15-35; Romans 12:17-21; Colossians 3:12-15)

4. Commune With God In Prayer And Be Personally Instructed Through His Word. Pray without ceasing; 1 Thessalonians 5:17 Revive me, O LORD, according to Thy word. Psalms 119:107b

Resolved: I will not to go to bed this evening nor live this day without spending quiet moments with God in prayer and sincerely meditating on His Word. (I Peter 2:2-3; 1 John 5:14-17)

5. Trust God To Use You As His Specially Designed Tool For Revival In Others. My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins. James 5:19-20

Resolved: I will not to go to bed this evening nor live this day without asking and expecting God to use me as an effective instrument of revival in someone's life. (Jude 22-23; 1 Peter 4:11; Psalms 51:10-13)

• Review these resolves daily until your thinking conforms to holiness, and your life is revived and useful. Never fail to apply them.

• If you weaken in your desire and intensity for holiness, do not give up and return to a half-hearted, selfish life. Repent of your apathetic heart and lack of love to God immediately and continue. Holiness improves this life and the one to come. Do not let the enemy of God take advantage of you but giving him time to build strongholds. Resist him and he will flee from you.

• Ask God to bring some like-hearted friends with whom you may share struggles, discoveries, and victories on the road to holiness. Pray together seriously for revival in others. Remind each other of these resolves. Make honesty and repentance your creed. Admonish each other with humility. Speak the truth to each other in love. Do not doubt the value of such a gathering or God's ability to use you. God will guide you.

• Seek also to encourage others outside your groups to submit to God and to obey these same biblical disciplines for revival. Actively pursue holiness in others.

• Expect God to use you now and to make you even more effective in the future by His own perfect methods for conforming your life and renewing your mind.

• At all times avoid religious pride.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way. Psalm 139:23-24

Copyright © 1992 Jim Elliff Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Demise of Discernment Continues

Over the last few years, since I’ve been filling this tiny little corner of the blogsphere, one topic that seems to come up on a somewhat regular basis is the lack of discernment in the modern church (for just a few examples, you can read here, here and here). Maybe the subject comes up so often because the examples of this woeful lack continue to crop up so often.

The latest example is…no, not the Rob Bell book, let’s put that to rest…a little book about a little boy and his heartwarming tale of visiting heaven during a near death/out of body experience. OK, let me see if I can address this without completely losing my composure.

My first response is…are you serious?! This is actually selling? People are actually eating this up? Then I realize, this is the same church culture that kept The Shack at the top of the best seller list for how long? All it takes is some superficial Bible knowledge to see that this sort of book, as well as those that were popular before it (90 Minutes in Heaven, etc.) are just plain unbiblical. For example:

If anyone had anything to offer about what heaven is like, why don’t we hear more from Lazarus. This guy was dead for four days! We’re not talking a few minutes on the operating table or anything. Dead. Four Days. Buried, for crying out loud. And then Jesus comes and calls him out of the tomb. Don’t you think if anyone had a good story about the afterlife, this would be the guy (notwithstanding the old Carman song that imagined his experience). Don’t you think if God wanted us to know anymore about heaven than He’s already revealed, Lazarus would be the guy to tell us; and we’d surely believe him!

How about Paul? The apostle says that he was given a vision of heaven (assuming the account in 2 Corinthian 12 was the apostle himself). And yet, even when mentioning the vision itself, he gives no details. He offers nothing! Again, this is the perfect opportunity for God to give us these details. A Holy Spirit inspired letter that will be preserved in the church for all eternity. Yet the apostle is quiet.

Then there is the story of the other Lazarus in Luke 16, and the rich man whom Jesus describes for us in hell. Do you remember that man’s request? Please send someone back to tell my family about these horrors. And Abraham, speaking from heaven, says “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them…If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:29, 31) If they don’t believe Scripture, they won’t believe someone’s after death experience. And yet here we are, the modern church, believing more in those claimed after death experiences than we do in the Word of God itself.

Furthermore, what does all of this say about God? We have all these people who claim to have died and then return, essentially acting as if the whole thing were a cosmic accident. God is no longer the author of life and death, but merely is forced to respond to these giant gaffs with a Divine “oops.” What ever happened to “appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment?” (Hebrews 9:27)

And all of this isn’t even taking into consideration the mere observational reality that those who have looked at near death experiences world wide report that each person experiences “heaven” in exactly the way their culture has envisioned it. For one, it’s the warriors happy hunting ground, for other the tunnels of light and warm fuzzy, etc. Unless heaven is a transitory thing that changes based on culture, this should tell us that these experiences have more to do with brain synapses than divine visions.

I heard a sermon recently where it was said that “we often suffer from a lack of Bible knowledge…We don’t know this Word nearly as well as we should. If we did, the number one bestsellers at the Christian bookstores wouldn’t be the number one bestsellers; because we’d see them for the unbiblical junk they often are.” OK, so that was actually from my own sermon last Sunday. But it’s still true!

Folks, we need to stop being sidetracked by warm fuzzy, emotional responses to this or that claimed experience, and start reading The Book again. Stop letting experience define our theology and let the theology of the Bible define our experiences, as well as our understanding of the experiences of others.

We are called to be a discerning people, who have feasted on the solid food of God’s Word. As Hebrews 5:14 says, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Powers of discernment that have been trained by constant practice. Oh, to see that kind of power in the church.

My prayer is the same as that of the apostle Paul in Philippians 1:9-10, “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ.” May the church grow in discernment so that we can truly approve what is excellent vs. what is just a really good story for the next Christian best seller.

(NOTE: for an excellent review of the book in question, read here)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Bell on Hell - The Parody

I know, we’re all tired of hearing about it. I’ve posted twice, others have posted….more than twice. But this was just too much fun, and since I haven’t posted in over a week, I thought it would at least fill up some time and space. So enjoy this fun parody of the “trailer” for Rob Bell’s Love Wins heresy.

Robbed Hell - C.A.S.T. Pearls Presents from Canon Wired on Vimeo.