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

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Creation vs. Evolution: Does it Matter?

Our church is hosting Vacation Bible School this week and we chose to use material from Answers in Genesis, called Gold Rush. We also have chosen to offer a course for older youth and adults, also from Answers in Genesis. It's a series of lectures by Ken Ham called Answers Academy.

What's the point? Actually, that question is the point. So many in the church today do not see that what we think about the creation vs. evolution debate is absolutely crucial to everything else we believe about God, the Bible, Sin and Salvation, etc. The book of Genesis is foundational to all that we believe, and if we throw out the first 11 chapters, we lose everything!

One's worldview answers three questions: Where did we come from? What went wrong? How can we fix it? The Bible answers these with: Creation, Fall, Redemption. If you don't star with Creation, you don't rightly see the Fall and Redemption. It's that simple. This is crucial, foundational stuff.

If you're interested, here is part one of a series from AiG on the issue "Why Does it Matter?" I tried to copy the "code" and embed the video here, but after several attempts with error messages, I gave up, so I'll just encourage you to follow the link. Enjoy. (The link for some reason will say part four, but it is part one; don't ask me why)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Praying or Playing: a NASCAR Nightmare

For years now I’ve bemoaned the demise of holiness and reverence in the church. I’ve railed against the consumer mindset and the entertainment emphasis in our churches. This past weekend I think I finally saw the culmination of this attitude.

One of the reasons I’ve always enjoyed watching a NASCAR race, other than the obvious nature of the sport itself, is the fact that this was the one place in the modern media world where you could still hear prayer and the name of Jesus mentioned without apology. Every race begins with a prayer. And they actually show it on national TV. Often the prayers are more geared toward patriotism than piety, and it’s obvious that at times the pray-ers are trying to be ecumenical. But they are usually at least reverent.

This one was just a joke. Listen for yourself.

Now, from the comments I’ve heard and read, I guess he was making some reference to a NASCAR themed movie. Having not seen the movie, I guess I don’t get the joke. But the question is, is this the place for a joke of any kind? Many are saying this is great because people laughed and enjoyed it. Is prayer about laughing and joking, though? Isn’t it supposed to be about humbly coming before God, seeking His guidance and help, asking for His blessings? I mean even some "secular" NASCAR folks are questioning the appropriateness of this.

Maybe I’m asking too much. It is after all a NASCAR race. I shouldn’t expect Spurgeon-worthy theology. But still. This man is introduced as a Baptist pastor. He has the spotlight. Not only this crowd but thousands of others are at home listening. He has the opportunity to call upon the name of Christ on a national stage. I don’t expect him to preach a whole sermon, or even a short one. But does he have to make a mockery of Christ, His church, and the privilege of prayer altogether?

And yet, is this not simply the logical result of the consumer driven, entertainment oriented attitude the church has promoted for so long. After all, the crowd cheered, the race winner wants him to preach his funeral, so it must all be good, right? He’ll probably be asked to speak at Saddleback or the Crystal Cathedral, so he must have done the right thing.

What’s sad about this from my perspective is that it makes me embarrassed as both a Christian and a NASCAR fan. That’s sad indeed.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Jesus: The Finisher

I’m so far behind in my reading that I’m not sure I’ll ever finish before the Lord returns! I’ve admitted here before that I am a bibliophile, as Henry Ward Beecher says: “A library is not a luxury but one of the necessities of life.” I love books. I can’t resist going into the bookstore, and if there are any good bargains they end up on my shelf as if by magic.

Unfortunately, the down side is that I have stacks and stacks of books that I couldn’t live without that I haven’t had a chance to start reading yet. And some of these are really good books; book I really want to read. Right now on my desk I have Ian Murray’s biography of John MacArthur, Brian Hedges’ “Christ Formed in You” (which he graciously sent me for free! Thanks, Brian), a book on Puritan prayer called “Taking Hold of God,” Tim Keller’s “King’s Cross,” Sinclair Ferguson’s “By Grace Alone;” and these are just the some of the more recent additions. My piles date back at least a year or more.

The electronic age has made this worse. I have a Kindle reader because I can adjust the font size, and for this blind man it makes reading so much more enjoyable. The problem here is that there is so much available either free or at a very low cost. My Kindle has well over 300 titles on it, of which I’ve only read about 2 dozen books.

Worse yet, I have to admit that I’m a good starter, but not a good closer. I’m guilty of picking up a book, reading about half, and even if I’m really enjoying it, I get sidetracked by the next big purchase and start in on another one. Meanwhile, that first book just sits there, half-read and neglected.

I’m so glad that my God is not like that. I read a couple of verses this week that I’ve read dozens of times before, have been part of my “memory verse” list on more than one occasion. I know them. I’ve heard them. I’ve preached them. But for some reason the two of them came together for me this week and really hit me. Here they are (or at least in part):

Philippians 1:6 “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

Hebrews 12:2 “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith…”

Some translations say Jesus is the “finisher” of our faith. The word simply means to complete, to consummate. Again, I’ve read that hundreds of times, I know what it means, but for some reason it just really struck me regarding the incredible hope that these two verses represent.

Jesus is the finisher. He will complete what He started. He’s not going to begin a work and then get sidetracked and walk away and leave us half-done and neglected.

To be honest, it was in leafing through the opening of Brian Hedges’ book that got me to thinking about this. He is writing about the Gospel doing its work in our lives, the work of sanctification, as the subtitle says, “The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change.” The point is, if Jesus starts a work of change in our lives, He will complete it.

Even though there are times when we don’t see the growth we would hope for. Even though there may be times when we are doubtful about seeing any change at all. If there is truly a work of God going on, it will be finished. He will complete what He started. He will finish and perfect it.

I don’t know if this hits anyone else the way it did me. You may be fully comfortable with where you are, with your growth as a disciple, with the direction your life is going. Hopefully we all have times of greater satisfaction in those things. And it’s not as if I’m in some deep, dark hole myself right now. It’s just good to know that Jesus is the ultimate closer. He’ll get the job done. He won’t give up on us. What a great word of hope. I pray that this simple truth might be an encouragement to someone else to day. So keep your eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Having Something to Say

I once read that a company called Bell Data ran an ad in the Financial Times of Canada that said: "This is a full-blown, state-of-the-art, fully integrated, user-friendly, multifunctional, omni-lingual, multi-tasking word and data processing system with advanced graphic generation capabilities." Any idea what they were describing? Pencils. Why didn't they just say, "We sell pencils."

We do indeed waste a lot of words, don't we? We speak with our mouths, but our words are empty. Either it’s access verbiage, or just meaningless babble. We live in a cliche culture. Hi. How are you? Fine. Looks like rain. How about those Cardinals?

I think part of the problem with both cliche conversation and excess verbiage is that we live in a society where we feel like we have to say something. Silence scares us for some reason. Henry Nouwen wrote that for most people "silence creates itchiness and nervousness. As soon as a minister says during a worship service, Let us be silent for a few moments, people tend to become restless and preoccupied with only one thought: When will this be over?"

That fear of silence will get us into trouble, too. So often we feel we have to say something when we might be better off keeping quiet; and then we end up saying something that we wish we hadn't said. Admit it; it's happened to all of us. We need to remember this sage little piece of advice I once heard one man say, "I seldom feel sorry for the things I did not say."

As a pastor, I think I feel this need to say something very acutely. Any of you who have tried to help in ministry situations involving loss or grief or sickness or whatever may have felt that overwhelming feeling that we should say something. Many times we ought to just listen, but because of our fear of silence we just have to say something.

Also, in ministry there is the crisis of the never ending Sunday. Sunday just keeps following Sunday, and I have to have a sermon prepared for each one. Then there are Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and funerals and weddings. There is this real struggle in my life between having something to say, and having to say something. At least three times a week I have to say something; that doesn't mean I always have something to say, as readers of this blog may be well aware.

Oswald J. Smith wrote that "the world does not need sermons; it needs a message. You can go to seminary and learn how to preach sermons, but you will have to go to God to get messages." I really identify with that. Occasionally I give into the pressure of having to say something three times a week and I come up with sermons. Sometimes they come off OK, other times they don't. What I need to remember is that having to say something is not enough; sermons are not enough. I need to have a message; I need to actually have something to say.

And I think the average Christian goes through that as well. If you’ve been in church long enough I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of times how important it is for each and every Christian to share our faith in Christ with others. Peter reminds us that we should “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (I Peter 3:15). We know it’s something we should do. But I think a lot of folks suffer from the same thing I do. When it comes to telling others about Christ, we know we should say something, but we don't always feel like we have something to say. I just want to offer you this simple reminder inspired by the words of Jeremiah 20:9

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is a fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Jeremiah reminds us of two very simple things: we do have something to say, and we have to say it. A few verses later Jeremiah speaks of praising God for “he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the wicked.” It’s that simple. The main thrust of the Gospel message, what we have to say to a lost world is simply this: God rescues the life of the needy from the hand of the wicked. God rescues needy sinners from the hand of sin. Through Christ Jesus there is salvation and hope and victory. And folks, that's what our world needs to hear more than anything else.

Scripture says that Satan is the god of this world. You and I may never understand it, but God in His wisdom, for His purposes, has allowed the adversary to have nearly free reign. As a result, sin dominates, people are lost and confused, and the world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket. There are people out there with real hurts and real needs; things that cliches just won't solve.

But guess what? We have the solution, don't we? The solution is Jesus Christ. In His grace and mercy He gives us a new heart, a new life, a new hope, and a new future. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Our friends and neighbors need to hear that; and we are the ones who have been called to tell them. God has set us aside for that purpose. Don't worry about just having to say something, because we definitely have something to say. Jesus Saves!

And if you are truly a disciple of Christ; if you have unquestionably been born again; if God's Spirit has genuinely taken up residence in you life, then I can guarantee you this one thing. There will come a time when you just can't hold it in any longer. We have to speak it.

It doesn't matter how frightened you are, how shy you are, how inarticulate you may be, eventually God's Spirit is just going to come bursting through your life out the words are going to come out of your mouth. God can't be contained. If He's in your heart, sooner or later you're not going to be able to hold Him in, and He's going to show through. Like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, we’ll say, "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20)

The world is literally dying to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. They are dying to hear some words of hope. They don't need cliches, they don't need excess verbiage, they just need to hear the truth that God loves them and Jesus died for them. And we are the ones who have been commanded to tell them. We do have something to say. We can say it boldly because God is there to guide and support us. And we should be so full of the Spirit that we just can't help ourselves.

So get out there and share some good news with someone today.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Who's Your Hero?

So I’m looking through my blogger dashboard, and no, I’m not talking about the dash of some newfangled foreign import. For those who don’t know, it’s just the “home base” at my blog’s website where I can check on all my blog info as well as look through a run down of all the other blogs I follow. So, as I was saying…

I’m looking through my blogger dashboard, checking the updates and I notice a real theme in the latest posts of several blogs I follow. Here are the pictures accompanying these entries. There is a decided "superhero" theme.

First there was the latest incarnation on the web from my friend Dr. Paul Hambrick.

Then there was this entry over at the Cripplegate blog.

And then this on the Pyromaniac site.
(OK, so Spurgeon isn’t “technically” a superhero, although he is to me and many thousands of others).

So I thought maybe I should get in on the theme and do a superhero post myself. I tried for some time to come up with something about the superhero I’d most like to be.

Around our house, we’ve seen a lot of Bibleman. If you haven’t seen it, it’s really cheesy, with some shallow theology, and the newer stuff if worse than the older in both regards (in my humble opinion). But the older ones seemed to take themselves less seriously, with one liner gags often being the best part. And to be honest, the basic idea of having so much Scripture in the mind and on the tongue to face any and all battles is not a horrible concept. Besides, he had a really cool purple and yellow suit!

Then of course, there is Duckman. Not any old Disney reference. When our youngest was born, my sister-in-law had made him a bath towel that was yellow and had a hood sown onto it with a duck bill, eyes, etc. He loves that towel, and regularly wears it around the house as a super hero costume for, of course, Duckman. He’s even drawn and written some Duckman comics, in all the glory only a six-year-old (now seven) can come up with. (He looks oddly a lot like Bibleman with a duck bill!)

As a younger child, I was a comic collector. I loved X-Men, Avengers, Thor, SpiderMan and Captain America; all those characters that are now being made into movies. I guess I happen to share a childhood with today’s money makers in Hollywood. In fact, I still have a couple of crates full of the old mags, saved to make me rich at a collectors convention some day, right?

But instead of talking about my favorite “hero” comic I thought I’d ask the simple question: what is it that draws us to superheroes in the first place. Is it the escape from reality? Is it the desire to be something more? Is it a genuine passion for justice, good triumphing over evil? Is it the love of things going “boom?” Is it the fascination with spandex?

To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m not really that much of a philosopher; I don’t have any real insight into the mindset and heart of mankind. Except for this: I think at our core we know there is something wrong with humanity, and we know there is something more “out there.” Call it a “God shaped hole”, or simply image of God which is a part of all men, I don’t know. I think we just know it’s there.

And I think we all know that the solution to our problem is something that is beyond us. We know we can’t overcome it on our own. We know we need someone greater, someone more powerful, to rescue us. Maybe I’m over analyzing, I don’t know.

I do know that I’m glad God saw fit to provide that rescue for us. I don’t want to trivialize Christ by relegating Him to the “superhero” category. In fact, I think some of the cheesy Christian attempts at art imitation with Jesus as Superman or something is just that: cheesy. Maybe even irreverent.

But the truth is, God sent His Son to come and provide us with a supernatural rescue. He overcame the greatest “villain” of all; no, not Satan, though He took care of him, too. I’m talking about our own sin. Our sin is the super villain that threatens to destroy us and wants to “take over the world.” Praise be to God, Jesus’ death and resurrection has overcome that and rescued us from the clutches of our own sinful hearts.

A hero can be defined as “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” I’d say Jesus certainly qualifies, although it’s a major understatement. He is so much more than that. He is God, after all. Still, when it comes to being rescued, I can’t think of a better place to look.

So, who’s your hero?

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Perspective on Prosperity - A 4th of July Sermon Summary

“We have rebelled against God. We have lost the true spirit of Christianity, though we retain the outward profession and form of it….By many, the Gospel is corrupted into a superficial system of moral philosophy, little better than ancient Platonism….My brethren, let us repent and implore the divine mercy. Let us amend our ways and our doings, reform everything that has been provoking the Most High, and thus endeavor to obtain the gracious interpositions of providence for our deliverance….

“If God be for us, who can be against us? The enemy has reproached us for calling on (God’s) name and professing our trust in Him. They have made a mock of our solemn fasts and every appearance of serious Christianity in the land…May our land be purged from all its sins! Then the Lord will be our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble, and we will have no reason to be afraid, though thousands of enemies se themselves against us round about. May the Lord hear us in this day of trouble….We will rejoice in His salvation, and in the name of our God, we will set up our banner!”

Quite the rousing speech, don’t you think? Most of you would probably be a bit surprised by the who, when and where of those words. Most probably think that sounds like something some radical right wing fanatic would be preaching in his radical right wing church in the last year or two crying out against the evils of our day. But that’s not the case. This is actually part of an address that was given on May 31, 1775. It was given in the halls of the Provincial Congress of Massachusetts. In fact, the man giving the address was there at the invitation of that Congress. And he wasn’t some radical preacher. He was actually the sitting president of Harvard College, Samuel Langdon.

Imagine that. A college president, speaking to a state legislature, speaking about turning back to a true faith in Jesus Christ and seeking God’s blessings and providential care. Amazing, isn’t it? And what’s truly amazing is that this was not an anomaly in the early days of our nation’s history. In fact, this was much more the norm than any exception, both in the political realm and the educational world.

Consider this. Read some of the original words of a couple of state constitutions. The Delaware State constitution reads: “Every person, who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust…shall…make and subscribe to the following declaration, to wit: ‘I do profess faith in God the father, and in Jesus Christ, his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed forever more, and I do acknowledge the Holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.’”

My goodness. There are some churches today who wouldn’t make that requirement for membership, let alone a state legislature. Or how about another one? Here is part of the original Pennsylvania State Constitution:

“And each member [of the legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration…: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.’”

Or how about this, from the State Constitution of North Carolina: “No person, who shall deny the being of God, or the truth of the [Christian] religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of this State, shall be capable of holding any office, or place of trust or profit in the civil department, within this State.”

If North Carolina held to that, or any state, I wonder how many of their current state leaders would be still allowed to serve. And again, that wasn’t just the dominant ideology in the political spectrum, it was the same in our educational institutions. For example:

The original mottoes of Harvard were: “For Christ and the Church,” and “For the Glory of Christ.” Part of Harvard’s original rules stated: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life, and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.”

Likewise, Yale was founded in order “to plant, and under the Divine blessing, to propagate in this wilderness the blessed reformed Protestant religion.” When classes began there, Yale required: “the Scriptures…morning and evening [are] to be read by the students at the times of prayer in the school.” Now, we can’t pray or read the Bible in schools.

Truly amazing, isn’t it? And yet, how many of us knew about that? How many have heard those things. Today we’re told that the truly Christian founders of our nation were a small minority, that most were deists or mere religionists. We’re told that Christianity was never the dominate worldview of our nation or its government. In fact, we’re told today by our own president that this is in fact not a Christian nation; and he repeatedly leaves out the words “under God” when referring to or saying our nation’s pledge.

Actually, Samuel Langdon’s words would be appropriate today, wouldn’t they? Today (Sunday) I began the morning message with these same words. We then picked up in our study of Luke 12 to consider the parable of the rich fool in verses 13ff. You may wonder what the two have to do with each other. Simply this: The parable there warns us of the dangers of covetousness, and we are reminded that prosperity in general ought to be kept in its proper perspective. And I think this is the key issue for our nation.

If you turn on the news, or pick up a paper, we are told time and again that the biggest problem facing our nation is an economic one. And I’ll admit that we may be facing some real economic challenges. But the truth is, our nation is still one of the most prosperous in the world, and in fact it’s because of our ill handling of that prosperity that we are in the condition we are today.

The real issue for our nation isn’t our economics, it’ our very soul. Look no further than the continued removal of all things God from the public arena; look no further than the ongoing slaughter of innocent children through abortion; look no further than the recent decision in New York to declare same sex couples living together in sinful sodomy to be a marriage. Our nation’s soul is in jeopardy.

We were talking about this at home, and my son made a profound statement. As I mentioned that our problem was not the economy but our nation’s soul, he said, “if our nation’s soul was right, we wouldn’t be in this debt problem to begin with.” Pretty profound. If we were living right before God, we wouldn’t be in the situation we’re in. And this parable speaks to that very issue.

I’m not the world’s greatest preacher, or even the best in our town probably. But this message is dear to my heart and I’d like to share it with you. If you want to hear the rest of this sermon, click the link below. I’m not promising world class stuff, but the message itself is important I believe, and so here it is (if you’ve read this far, you already know the opening, so you can fast forward a bit if you want)


May God continue to bless America!