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

Monday, June 27, 2011

Wise Words to Young Men – On My Son’s Birthday

Today my oldest son turns 17. He’s quite a young man. I have to think of him that way, not as a little boy anymore, especially since he’s taller than me now! I’m proud of the young man he is becoming. God has spared him many of the “snares” other 17 year old boys face, and for that I’m grateful. But I know he is still a human being, though redeemed still forced to deal with the flesh, and there are still dangers out there lurking.

So I’m giving him a copy of J. C. Ryle’s Thoughts for Young Men. I should have given it to him sooner, but I’m still struggling with the idea of him being a young “man” and not my little boy. Anyway, though Ryle’s thoughts include so much more than what I’ll post here, I thought I’d share one warning and one positive counsel from his thoughts. I hope some other young man might read this, be warned/counseled, maybe even be prompted to pick up a copy of the whole thing and read. May God add His blessing, and may He graciously raise up a generation of young men and women who will honor and glorify Him and lead His church in a mighty way.

A Word of Warning

The devil uses special diligence to destroy the souls of young men, and they don't seem to know it. Satan knows very well that you will make up the next generation and therefore he employs every trick to make you his own. I would not have you to be ignorant of his schemes.

You are those on whom he puts his choicest temptations. He spreads his net with the most watchful carefulness, to entangle your hearts. He baits his trap with the sweetest morsels, to get you into his power. He displays his wares before your eyes with his utmost ingenuity, in order to make you buy his sugared poisons, and eat his accursed treats. You are the grand object of his attack. May the Lord rebuke him, and deliver you out of his hands.

Young men, beware of being taken by his snares. . . He will paint, cover with gold, and dress up sin, in order to make you fall in love with it. He will deform, and misrepresent, and fabricate true Christianity, in order to make you take a dislike to it. He will exalt the pleasures of wickedness—but he will hide from you the sting. He will lift up before your eyes the cross and its painfulness– but he will keep out of sight the eternal crown. He will promise you everything, as he did to Christ, if you will only serve him. He will even help you to wear a form of Christianity, if you will only neglect the power. He will tell you at the beginning of your lives, it is too soon to serve God—he will tell you at the end, it is too late. Oh, do not be deceived! You don't know the danger you are in from this enemy; and it is this very ignorance which makes me afraid. You are like blind men, walking among holes and pitfalls; you do not see the perils which are around you on every side.

Your enemy is mighty. He is called "The Prince of this world" (John 14:30). . . Your enemy is restless. He never sleeps. . . And your enemy is cunning. For thousands of years he has been reading one book, and that book is the heart of man. He ought to know it well, and he does know it—all its weakness, all its deceitfulness, all its folly. . . Young men, this enemy is working hard for your destruction, however little you may think it. You are the prize for which he is specially contending for.

Oh that your eyes were opened, like those of Elisha's servant Dothan! Oh that you could see what Satan is scheming against your peace! I must warn you—I must exhort you. Whether you will hear or not, I cannot, dare not, leave you alone.

A Positive Word of Counsel

Determine as long as you live to make the Bible your guide and adviser.
The Bible is God's merciful provision for sinful man's soul, the map by which he must steer his course, if he would attain eternal life. All that we need to know, in order to make us peaceful, holy, or happy, is richly contained there. If a young man wants to know how to begin his life well, let him hear what David says: "How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word" (Psalm 119:9).

Young men, I charge you to make a habit of reading the Bible, and not to let the habit be broken. Do not Let the laughter of friends, do not let the bad customs of the family you live in, don't let any of these things prevent your doing it. Determine that you will not only have a Bible, but also make time to read it too. Allow no man to persuade you that it is only a book for Sunday school children and old women. It is the book from which King David got wisdom and understanding. It is the book which young Timothy knew from his childhood. Never be ashamed of reading it. Do not "scorn instruction"
(Proverbs 13:13).

Read it with the prayer that the Holy Spirit's grace will help you understand it. . . Read it reverently, as the Word of God, not of man, believing implicitly that what it approves is right, and what it condemns is wrong. Be very sure that every doctrine which will not stand the test of Scripture is false. Be very sure that every practice in your life which is contrary to Scripture, is sinful and must be given up.

And read it regularly. This is the only way to become "mighty in the Scriptures." A quick glance at the Bible now and then does little good. . . But store up your mind with Scripture, by diligent reading, and you will soon discover its value and power.

Young men, give the Bible the honor due to it every day you live. Whatever you read, read that first. And beware of bad books: there are plenty in this day. Take heed what you read. . . Value all books in proportion as they are agreeable to Scripture. Those that are nearest to it are the best, and those that are farthest from it, and most contrary to it, the worst.

Be wary of the enemy, be much in the Word. Those two things alone will go a long way in aiding you, young men. May God bless you as you continue seeking and serving Him.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Happy Anniversary to my Beauty

Today I celebrate 22 years of marriage with the most beautiful woman in the world. I know some would argue with that assessment, not because you doubt my wife's beauty, but because if you're married, you probably think your wife is the most beautiful. And, you'd be right. Of course, I'm right, too. Thanks to Tim Challies, I found this wonderful little article that shows how we can both be right.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Moral Confusion and Correction

OK, folks, I’m completely confused. People want legislators to normalize the immorality of homosexuality by legalizing gay marriage; but we’re offended by a governor who has an affair with the house maid. We don’t have problems with pornography, but if a politician takes pornographic pictures of himself, we cry for his resignation. Late night hosts rant and rail and ridicule about the immoral acts of these elected officials, but then their guests of honor for the night live the most ungodly lifestyles imaginable, and they are hailed as heroes.

Is it any wonder I’m confused? Is it any wonder so much of the nation is confused? Is it any wonder that more people are concerned about who wins American Idol than who wins the next presidential election. We have this very strange and confused moral compass in this nation.

Of course, the liberals don’t see the double standard, or at least they ignore it. They fail to see the glaring problem with trying their best to do away with God, Christianity and the Bible in the public square; and yet trying to claim some sort of moral standard (at least for politicians), and acting all shocked when people behave immorally.

And the question is: what then defines morality? If we toss out the Bible and its moral code, then what grounds do we have for most of our “moral” laws? Why is murder even wrong? What about theft? Aren’t those part of the Ten Commandments we want removed so badly? If it’s all about self, and what makes self happy, then if killing those who are infringing on my happiness makes me happy, it should be allowed. Isn’t that the logical conclusion of the current way of thinking?

I know this is nothing new, and I’m not saying anything that hasn’t been said before. I’m just confused and frustrated. I watch the news and see the anchors shake their heads at the moral lapses of this or that person (which we should do, by the way), and then glowingly brag about the this or that media darling’s latest escapade; completely ignoring said celebrity’s own moral lack. I mean, how can the same media trash Congressman Weiner and then idolize Lady Gaga and her song “Born This Way?” What a confusing message to our kids.

Of course, Lady Gaga has it right. As much as truly moral people might detest her over-sexualized image and crass songs, she’s absolutely right. We are born this way. That’s the whole problem. We are born into sin, and our sin nature will lead us into nothing but more sin and rebellion against God and His Word. In all honesty, the philandering politician can use the same excuse and sing the same anthem: I was born this way. Instead of resigning, if we were honest and consistent, the next national figure caught with his pants down should just be allowed to say: Hey, I was born this way. If it works for one set of immoral behavior, it should work for all.

Unless we see that being born this way isn’t an excuse, it’s a condemnation. Being born into sin isn’t a laughing matter; it isn’t an free pass to do whatever we want whether it’s shooting people or pathetic pictures. Being born this way is an indictment against our very souls and understanding that should point us to our desperate need to be born again.

Whether the world likes to hear it or not, the only answer for any of these things is Jesus Christ. Only through faith in Christ and His finished work on the cross, only through the regeneration of our heart wrought by the Holy Spirit, can we hope to have our moral compass set straight, as well as our life’s compass in general.

But don’t expect folks to see the truth of that any time soon. Our sin blinded eyes will continue to make us think that we can laugh about sin on one hand, and try to act like we’re offended by it on the other. Only God can change the heart to see differently. And apart from a radical outpouring of His Spirit in genuine revival, that won’ happen.

So what’s the point? Simply this. Instead of spending time “tsking” at this or that sin, let’s try praying fervently for revival and get busy sharing the gospel. Instead of our churches trying to woo the culture by being like the culture and entertaining the culture, let’s try living like Christ and calling people to a Kingdom culture. Instead of continuing to imitate the world’s double standard on these things, let’s start promoting holiness and righteousness within the church, as well as condemning immorality outside our walls. Instead of just trying to command God to “bless America,” let’s try to be a blessing to America by pointing them to Christ and praying people will find in Him the only true source of blessing.

Ultimately, let’s pray God does a work in all of our hearts to give us a true passion for holiness and His glory in all things, so that we see all sin (and I mean all sin) for what it actually is: an affront to our holy God. May we grieve over our own sin, may we live in repentance, may we live with a moral consistency, and may God use us then as a witness to others to do the same.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Homeschooler Moment #6

I’m not sure this is really just a homeschooler moment, though I guess it does reflect on the education we are providing.

Our family was playing a game of Apples to Apples. If you’ve not played it, it’s a word association game, where everyone has 7 cards with nouns on them. In this “Bible” version, those words are things like “Temple, Passover, Angel of Death, Abraham, The Trinity, etc.” Then we all take turns drawing a card with an adjective on it: Rich, Colorful, Huge, Patient, etc. And each person submits a noun card they think best goes with that description. Sometimes they really go together, other times it’s just for a laugh (like the “My Mind” card played for the word “Colorful”.) OK, got it?

So, the word is “Smelly.” The card also gives synonyms: stinky, bad odor, foul. So all the cards are in, and our daughter starts reading off the choices we’ve submitted: Sin, Heresy, Beggars, Rabbis… Wait a minute. I stop the game. We’ve never encouraged any sort of anti-semitism, so I ask “Rabbis?!” (I’m a preacher; I’m good with words and phrasing). My six year old looks at me with this look like “Duh, it’s so obvious.” And he says with great exaggeration, “You know…when they burp!”

Well, now you know the level of education we are providing in our home. Pray for us!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Let's Hear It For The Old Guys!

My weekend didn’t start out so great. Going to visit our worship leader and his wife in the hospital after they’d just had a little baby girl, I was checking at the front desk for the room number. The kind older lady at the computer smiles at me and my wife and says: “Oh, are you the grandparents?” I think my jaw hitting the ground was the lady’s first indication that maybe she had made a mistake.

Now, being forty…something….I know that mathematically I’m old enough to be a grandparent. Our oldest daughter is in college now. I’m slowly coming to grips with that. But still, I’m not ready to be “gramps” just yet.

That’s why this weekend ended up being a really good one; not just for me for the forty-ish crowd world-wide. First, my “old” buddy Jeff Gordon pulled off another win, his second this season and 84th of his career. He’s now tied for third on NASCAR’s all-time win list. As a fan of the 24 team, I’m always glad to see them in victory lane, especially since those wins haven’t come as often as they used to. But now, with Gordon turning 40 in August, they are especially sweet.

The sport is always focusing on the “young guns,” and in some sense rightfully so. These young punks….er, young drivers come into the sport with so many advantages these days, and they begin winning right away. They certainly deserve some attention. But like in every area of life, it seems, we tend to worship youth, and it’s always nice to see the “old” guys take one.

Likewise, last night we saw the “old guys” in the NBA take the championship. The Dallas Mavericks, with an average player age of 33, are one of the oldest teams in the NBA and were considered underdogs going into the Finals against the hot shot trio of the Miami Heat: Dwayne Wade, Lebron James and Chris Bosh. The NBA considers the “average” team to have an “average” age of less than 30. The Mavericks had a starting point guard, Jason Kidd, who is 38; the oldest starting point guard in a Finals game, and the oldest player next to legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to ever win a Finals.

Again, in a sport that worships youth (with players being drafted right out of high school these days instead of after a proven college career), it’s nice to see the old guys “school” them a bit.

Of course, this is nothing new. Youth and beauty have always been worshipped by sinful men, and our society has brought that to new levels in many ways. And yet, a biblical worldview reminds us that age and wisdom are often to be preferred.

Of course there are some extreme examples in Scripture: Abraham was just a bit older than average when his son was born. Most folks don’t live to be over 120 as many in the Old Testament did. We can talk about Moses being 80 years old when he led God’s people out of Egypt and the 85 year old Caleb claiming he was just as strong then as the day Moses first sent him out to spy the land, so let him “take this hill.” Those may seem extreme to us today.

And yet, while we don’t see many 85 year olds leading troops into battle, it’s not so much the exact age as the time of life. They lived to be 120, so these guys were in the last third of their life. For us that may be more like 50s or possibly 60s. The point being, we often look at that age as being ready for retirement, when God sees it as time to get busy. God sees these later years as a time to be serving Him, discipling the next generation, putting those years of growth and service in the Kingdom to good use.

Maybe being mid-40s has given me a new perspective on things; maybe be asked if I was a grandparent has made me defensive. But the truth is, God doesn’t see getting older as a reason to send folks out to pasture. He sees 40 or 50 years of life as just preparing us to begin accomplishing the task He put us here for. It took 40 years in Egypt and another 40 years in the desert for God to make Moses the kind of man he needed to be in order to do what God wanted him to do. Wisdom and maturity don’t spring up overnight.

The Mavs give credit to their “veteran” point guard for his leadership and poise in helping them win a championship. Gordon’s post race interview this weekend spoke of his “experience” helping him to win at Pocono. Maybe the rest of us ought to start remembering some of those things and looking to our “elders” as inspiration and fountains of wisdom to learn from. And maybe the “older” folks need to stop spending so much time looking forward to retirement, and asking God where the next hill is to conquer.

So let’s hear it for the old guys. Maybe God’s not quite through with you (or me) just yet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Proper Proclamation: Another Sermon Summary

I recently had the opportunity to return to a former church for the celebration of their 50th Anniversary. I wanted to remind them, and all of us, of what should be at the center of our ministry, the center of our proclamation. Below is a shortened version of the message I shared from 1 Corinthians 2:

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. (1 Cor. 2:1-5, ESV)

For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. It’s not that Paul was uneducated and unable to speak with lofty speech or wise words. We know better than that, don’t we? And it’s not that Paul didn’t address other issues as they came up, because we see all throughout his letters that this is exactly what he does; applying the reality of the gospel message to all kinds of different situations.

But at the heart of it all is this one thing: Jesus Christ and him crucified. I think we’ve lost sight of that central message in many ways. Let me suggest to you several things our proclamation is not; and then what our proclamation is, reminding ourselves that it’s not about us; it’s about Him.

I. First of all, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GRATIFICATION. In the wisdom of this age, in the plausible words of wisdom, as Paul calls it, many have suggested that the primary mission of the church is to simply gratify the consumer. We’ve been told that the church is like any other business, and our goal is simply to find the customers felt need and meet it.

Dozens and dozens of church growth books have been written based on that theme. Whole movements within the church have been based on this basic concept; find out what people want, find out what will satisfy them, find our what will gratify their own desires and then make the church about that. And so the church has become nothing more than one big self-help, self-esteem building project.

And the point is, the wisdom of the world tells us this approach is effective. It’s pragmatic, because it works. It draws crowds. People are gratified and so they come back and might even bring a friend. But our message is not about gratification. Jesus never told us to take a survey and find out what people wanted to hear and give them that, did He? And sadly, the end result of this gratification approach has really become bizarre and absurd as we will go to nearly any lengths to get folks attention. Which is the second thing we need to be reminded that our proclamation is not.

II. Number two, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GIMMICKS. Paul says, I didn’t come to you with lofty speech. Other translations call it excellency of speech. What he’s referring to is the common practice of the Greek rhetoricians of the day, who went to great lengths crafting just the right arrangement of words, crafted in just the right way so as to have the most appeal, to get your attention.

I wonder what Paul would think of the church today? We’re so focused on trying to gratify and satisfy that we’ll go to any lengths to get people’s attention, to entertain them, to make them want to come to church. Tantalizing sermon series on sex, and attention grabbing gimmicks like the one church who had motorcycle stunts in the middle of sermon. We have a church down the road from us that built a whole sermon series around a certainly bodily function, and passed out whoopee cushions to all the attendees. One of our folks has a friend who attends there, and all they can talk about is how cool their church is because they pass out whoopee cushions. Is that what the church is about? Is that what Christ died for?

If we truly believe in the sufficiency of Scripture in all things, we don’t need to resort to gimmicks and entertainment based on a worldly wisdom. That’s not the heart of our proclamation.

III. Third, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GROUPS. Go back up in to chapter one. Paul addresses the issue of some division that had arisen in the church over loyalty to this teacher over that teacher. But Paul says it’s not about which teacher or preacher is your favorite. It’s about Christ and only Christ. Our problem is that often we are tempted to promote this or that group. We preach this or that denomination, this or that church, this or that group within the church. We preach Southern Baptists. We preach our particular church.

It’s good to have some loyalty to our local church, because after all it is the expression of the body of Christ in that place; and we ought to have some loyalty to our denomination, since if we didn’t agree with it’s teachings we’d be in another denomination… While all that is well and good, our primary message we share with the world is not “be a Southern Baptist.” Our proclamation isn’t primarily “join our particular church.” Our message is not become part of our group. We preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified. We don’t proclaim groups, we don’t proclaim gimmicks, we don’t proclaim gratification.

IV. And then fourth, WE DO NOT PROCLAIM GOVERNMENT. Again, according to the wisdom of the world, many see our primary goal in the church as forming a huge voting block so we can get this country back where it ought to be.

Now, I know I have to be careful here. Because the truth is, we are commanded to be good citizens. And as good citizens of this nation, we ought to be involved in the political process. I’m not saying we hole up somewhere and ignore what’s going on in government. But in the end, government isn’t the answer. Passing this or that law is not the answer. Voting this or that way is not the ultimate answer, and so it should never be our primary emphasis. Not that we ignore it, but it’s not our primary proclamation. It shouldn’t be our primary emphasis because our liberal opponents actually have it right. You can’t legislate morality. All the laws in the world will not cause people to become moral. And even if it did, all you end up with is moral lost people who are still bound for hell.

Please hear me clearly. I’m not saying we should give up on the fight to pass moral laws. Yet, if abortions were stopped tomorrow, and gay marriage was outlawed permanently, and gambling was made illegal, and all the other moral issues were settled rightly, and all the right people were elected, whoever they are; that would still not save a single soul in eternity. Yes we should fight for these things, yes we should work for moral laws and work to encourage morality in all its forms. But morality will not save a single soul, and so that should never be our primary goal or proclamation. Government will never save anyone. Denominations and gimmicks and self help programs will never save anyone. People need to hear the gospel.

V. WE PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL. Paul says I didn’t proclaim any of that other stuff based on the wisdom of man. I didn’t offer you any of those pragmatic, humanistic solutions. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The plain truth is that people are not just a little sick and in need of a self help program to make them feel better. It’s not just that they’re distracted and in need of some quirky attention getter to put them on the right track. People aren’t just lonely and in need of joining up with the right group, or just off track and in need of the right government programs to set things right. People are dead in their sins and trespasses and in need of life; life that only comes through the sacrifice, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Our problem is a sin problem, and only Christ can remedy that. Our problem is that we are born into rebellion against God and we need to have our rebellious hearts removed and replaced with hearts that are obedient to God. And only God, through Christ and the power of His Holy Spirit can accomplish that. And He has chosen to do that through the preaching of the gospel; Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

That’s our proclamation. That’s why we’re here. Don’t ever forget that. Don’t get distracted from the mission. Don’t let the world sidetrack us. Don’t fall into those traps that make us think it’s all about us, all about our satisfaction, all about our happiness and our popularity and our success. It’s all about Christ. It’s all about Him. We exist to proclaim His name, to obey His will, to accomplish His purposes, all for His glory. I challenge you to be the people of God He called you to be, proclaiming the message of Christ He called you to proclaim, and to God be the glory.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

*Gospel-driven Disciples: Five Ways To Improve Your Gathering With The Body

This is an amazing post about our approach to/attitude in worship. Wouldn't be right for me not to share it. Thanks Gregg.

*Gospel-driven Disciples: Five Ways To Improve Your Gathering With The Body: "The more I read, the more I listen, and the more I invite people to gather with me on Sunday mornings as part of a 'church service' the more..."