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

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Consumeristic Christmas Confession

Over the years I’ve always prided myself on keeping a proper perspective on the holidays. We avoid “Black Friday” like the plague. There is nothing on the planet I want so bad that I’m willing to descend into that boiling cauldron of fleshly paganism to get it. In every way we can think of, we’ve always tried to de-emphasize the commercial side of Christmas.

And not just avoiding that aspect, we purposefully concentrate on the spiritual side of things. Our family has for years used an “Advent Chain” to help us daily remind ourselves of the true meaning of this celebration. There are 25 links in the chain, one for each day in December leading up to the big day, and each link has a Scripture reading or a hymn or some object lesson to remind us of God’s gracious gift in Christ. Each night during family worship, we take down one link and count our way to Christmas.

Of course, being a pastor, I’m maybe more conscious of all this because I’m also preparing messages for the church in which we seek to remind folks to keep a proper perspective as well. So, in all, I’ve always thought my Christmas mindset was pretty good.

Until this year. Like so many others, we find ourselves a bit short on holiday cash, and so I’ve been trying to figure out what we’re going to do for each of the kids in keeping with the limited budget. And I found myself thinking in terms of feeling guilty because I wasn’t going to be able to “get” them more “stuff.” And the thought hit me: I’m just as much bitten by the bug of materialism as so many out there I’ve often condemned.

Since when did Christmas become about getting something; either in the sense of receiving a gift or even giving one to others? Who says it’s about gifts anyway? Our kids have never been the spoiled “I want, I want” types, praise God. So why am I so bothered by not being able to “get” them “stuff.” Maybe they’ve learned the lesson better than Dad.

In thinking about it, I began to really examine my own thoughts and see just how much the “pagan” side of Christmas has really invaded my thinking. And sadly, I see much more of it there than I really want to admit; so much based merely on “tradition” rather than any true meaning.

I don’t want to fill up this space with the “history of Christmas” so as to show how pagan much of the roots of our celebrations are; just as I don’t want to just ring that old “Keep the Christ in Christmas” bell that we sound so often at this time of the year.

I guess I just want to do a little confessing (confession is, after all, good for the soul, right?). And maybe just offer a little encouragement to others out there in a twofold way. One, be careful how judgmental you are of all those materialistic “pagans” out there, because at heart you may be more like them that you realize. And two, maybe we ought to all do a little reexamining of our motives in all we do, not just at Christmas. Are we doing things simply because “that’s the way it’s done?” Or is there a genuine and biblical motive behind it, seeking God’s glory in all things.

As for me, I’m going to get over the guilt of the gift giving shortage and work on getting my own heart right before God. Maybe I’ll talk with my kids and let them teach me a bit about it. And then I’ll spend a great deal of time on my knees thanking God for the amazing grace He’s given in Christ, and let that thought drown out all others for His glory. After all, I do believe that gift is the one we’re supposed to be concentrating on to begin with, right?

In the spirit of all this, and just for fun, here’s a little Calvin and Hobbes (one of our family’s favorites. Thanks to my daughter for pointing this one out). Enjoy.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Crowning the Year With Goodness: A Thanksgiving Message

As we move into this week in which we celebrate a national day of Thanksgiving, I’ll forgo the usual reminders of the history of the day, the Pilgrims, and so on. Hopefully, we’ve kept those wonderful things in mind.

Instead, I simply will share with you some words on Thanksgiving from my favorite preacher. In calling for a day of Thanksgiving in his own church in September of 1863, Spurgeon spoke from Psalm 65:11 and the words: “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.” (Thanksgiving and Prayer, #532)

Simply thinking of how God crowns our year, each and every year, each and every day of the year, Spurgeon said.

“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.”

Indeed, this ought to be such a time. We ought to be thankful each and every day, but especially during this “holiday” season, we ought to be especially mindful of His mercy and grace. What amazing grace it is. And seeing that grace, embracing that mercy, upholding God’s crowing gifts in our life is the very best way to celebrate the season.

Spurgeon saw that as well, and concluded his message with a few suggestions about how we could truly see God’s crowning goodness in our lives. And I’ll leave you with those same suggestions, praying you may see God’s grace and goodness this Thanksgiving season.

The whole subject seems to give us one or two suggestions as to matters of duty. “Thou crownest the year with thy goodness.” One suggestion is this: some of you in this house are strangers to God, you have been living as his enemies, and you will probably die so. But what a blessing it would be if a part of the crown of this year should be your conversion! “The harvest is past and the summer is ended, and ye are not saved.” But oh, what a joy, if this very day you should turn unto God and live! Remember, the way of salvation was freely proclaimed last Sabbath morning, it runs in this style — “This is the commandment, that ye believe on Jesus Christ whom he hath sent.” Soul, if this day thou trustest in Christ, it shall be thy spiritual birthday, it shall be unto thee the beginning of days; emancipated from thy chains, delivered from the darkness of the valley of the shadow of death, thou shalt be the Lord’s free man. What sayest thou? O that the Spirit of God would bring thee this day to turn unto him with full purpose of heart.

Another suggestion. Would not the Lord crown this year with his goodness if he would move some of you to do more for him than you have ever done before? Cannot you think of some new thing that you have forgotten, but which is in the power of your hand? Can you not do it for Christ to-day? — some fresh soul you have never conversed with, some fresh means of usefulness you have never attempted?

And lastly, would not it be well for us if the Lord would crown this year with his goodness by making us begin from this day to be more prayerful?
Let our prayer meetings have more at them, and let everyone in his closet pray more for the preacher, pray more for the Church. Let us, everyone of us, give our hearts anew to Christ. What say you to-day, to renew your consecration vow? Let us say to him, “Here, Lord, I give myself away to thee once more. Thou hast bought me with thy blood, accept me over again; from this good hour I will begin a new life for a second time if thy Spirit be with me. Help me, Lord, for Jesus Christ’s sake.” Amen.

And Amen.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What Is Your Legacy?

I don’t mean to brag or anything, but in high school I won the Louis Armstrong Jazz Award, for outstanding high school jazz musician. It’s not nearly as prestigious as it sounds. I went to a relatively small school, and was only for graduating seniors in our own jazz band. (Although, we were a good band, placing in the top three of nearly every contest we entered; brag, brag, brag…) Still, it’s a fun little piece of trivia in my mostly anonymous life.

I bring it up now simply as a way of introducing why I still love jazz music. I’ve mentioned before that my tastes are pretty eclectic. While I listen to mostly “Christian” music, my tastes range from classic rock (Petra, Whiteheart, Rez, etc.), to 80s metal bands (Stryper, Barren Cross, Whitecross), to contemporary rock bands (everything from Newsboys and Third Day, to Skillet and Thousand Foot Krutch) with even some “reformed” rap tossed in (Flame, Lecrae, Shai Linne). And in addition, I like the blue eyed soul of Bryan Duncan and the Neho Soul Band, and the big band/jazz sounds of Denver and the Mile High Orchestra. Which brings me back to the jazz band thing and my point.

On the way in this morning, I was listening to D&MHO and the song Only Jesus (My Legacy) came on. Here are some of the lyrics:

What will they say, When my life is over?
Will it fade into the past?
What will remain, When my life is over?
Is there something that will last?
What will I leave behind to stand the test of time?
I leave the One who’s worthy of my whole life

My legacy, all I will leave, Is Jesus, only Jesus
The world will see, inside of me, Is Jesus, only Jesus
Lord, I long for You to be my legacy

They won’t remember my name
But they’ll know the God that saved me
My life may fade away
But they’ll know the truth that sets me free
So I will live today, For You alone to be
My life, my love, my legacy

What will folks say about me when I’m gone? What is my legacy? Good questions. An even better question is “what will my family say?” What is the legacy I’m leaving behind in my children, and then their children?

I was thinking about that lately anyway, since I picked up a copy of At the Throne of Grace, a collection of pastoral prayers from the ministry of John MacArthur. I’ve only read the first few entries, and while the prayers themselves are good, biblical, inspiring, all the things you expect from MacArthur, it was the book’s introduction that really got my attention.

MacArthur’s four adult children were the one’s to encourage this book to be printed, and they wrote the intro. While the book is a collection of MacArthur’s public pastoral prayers, it’s what the kids had to say about prayer and home that I want to highlight. Listen to what they say about dad and his prayers:

Even when we were very young, we listened attentively to our dad speak to his heavenly Father. We listened and we learned of God’s grace through these humble prayers. And we began to understand who Jesus is and what He had done for us. Our theology was shaped by the words our dad prayed.

Sitting around the kitchen table, we heard dad’s words of gratitude for the privilege of being adopted into God’s family. We heard expressions of his love for the Bible and the church around the world and for the people who were the congregational family at Grace church. His transparency disclosed his own disappointments, and his faith unpacked his sheer confidence in God’s providence. In his prayers, our day was carrying our family into the holy presence of the sovereign God of the universe. (John MacArthur, At the Throne of Grace, Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, Oregon, 2011; p 9)

Best of all, they write: “By God’s grace, our dad has been what he preaches.“ What a remarkable word for children to speak of their father. It speaks of the godly legacy this man is leaving behind, not only in his public ministry, but more importantly, in his family.

So what is my legacy? What will I leave behind? Is it Jesus, only Jesus? Will my children be able to say these kinds of things about how I have led them, and whether my life either did or did not back up my “public ministry?”

In the end, it doesn’t matter what cheap trophies we won in high school, what accolades we achieved at work, what material things we were able to accumulate. In the end, it’s our legacy that matters. I pray God will give me grace to provide a godly legacy to my children and to their children. What is your legacy?

Now, just for fun, here’s Denver and the Mile High Orchestra with their rendition of It Is Well With My Soul. As a sax player, I have to call your attention to the pair of monster sax solos starting at about 1:51. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The World Will End on Friday!

I know a lot of folks have heard a lot of predictions about the end of the world. Two of those dates have come and gone this year. One is scheduled for next year. But I’m telling you now that the end will come this Friday.

The ominous date of 11-11-11 is the dead giveaway. First of all, it's a perfect date: a perfect same-numbered palindrome, reading the same backwards as forwards. And according to biblical numerology experts (at least on the one website I read) the number 11 is the number representing disorder and judgment. As we all know, the end will be accompanied by great chaos followed by judgment, so there you go.

Furthermore, we all know that Jesus had twelve disciples. One, of course, Judas was the betrayer and was kicked out. Well, he killed himself. But if he hadn’t, I’m sure he would have been kicked out. And either way, you are left with only eleven. After the resurrection, Luke says that Jesus "appeared to the eleven." He appears to the eleven! 11-11-11

And have you read Psalm 11? This is the real key. Here is the whole Psalm from the ESV:

In the LORD I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, "Flee like a bird to your mountain, for behold, the wicked bend the bow; they have fitted their arrow to the string to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart; if the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD's throne is in heaven; his eyes see, his eyelids test, the children of man. The LORD tests the righteous, but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence. Let him rain coals on the wicked; fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup. For the LORD is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.

Look at those words again: The Lord is in His temple. We know that will happen when he returns. He will rain coals on the wicked; a sign of judgment! The upright will behold his face. Behold His face! We’ll see Him. In the 11th Psalm. 11-11-11

And one more piece to the puzzle. In the eleventh book of the Bible, in the 11th chapter and 11th verse we read this: "Since this has been your practice and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes that I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant.” Did you hear that?? Because of the unfaithfulness of the people, God will tear this earthly kingdom from us and give it to His servant: Jesus. 11-11-11

I’ve spent years studying this. Well, days….well, a few minutes at least. And I’m convinced of the accuracy of this sign. The end is coming: 11-11-11. This Friday. I would expect that it would be about 11:11:11 in the morning, uh, Jerusalem time, I guess. Which would make it about 3:11 in the morning here in the Midwest US. Of course, that wrecks the 11 thing here, but it only counts in Jerusalem anyway. The time doesn’t matter, it’s the day: 11-11-11. Personally, I’m just glad the Third Day concert we bought tickets for is on the 10th. Man, I’d hate to miss that.

So remember, you heard it here first. I know this is short notice, but, you know...I didn't figure it out until now. You've been warned now, that's the point. Don’t be caught off guard. 11-11-11. Our Lord is coming, nothing will stop Him, so be ready.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in the above prediction is true except for the last eleven words! Luke 21:8 And he said, "See that you are not led astray. For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is at hand!' Do not go after them.”

Monday, November 7, 2011

My Name is Scott…and I’m a Bookoholic

Sitting next to my desk as I write is a pile of about three dozen books. On the shelf behind me are more stacks, about 8 or 9 dozen more. Most wouldn’t see that as a problem, but you see, these are books I haven’t even read yet. This isn’t even considering the1,500 or so books that fill up the rest of the shelves. These are just books that I saw in a store, saw online, thought I couldn’t live without and just had to buy; and yet I haven’t had a chance to get to read them yet.

I’ve shared often here my love for books in general. But often, I’ll be in the middle of one book, when suddenly I see two or three more that I think would be wonderful, and I buy them. Sometimes, I’ll end up putting the first book aside and start reading one of the new ones. Meanwhile, the first book is left unfinished. (I mentioned my lack of “finishing” skills back in the summer)

I think I have a problem. It’s not just the lack of finishing a book. I usually get around to that…eventually. It’s this compulsion to continue buying more and more books. The books themselves are good books. Books on theology. Books on ministry. Books on family and family worship and so on. All good books. But just because a book is good, does that mean I have to buy it? Is this a healthy thing, or is this an unhealthy compulsion?

I’ve always jokingly used Paul’s words to Timothy as somewhat of a justification for this obsession with books. Near the end of this life, the thing that he asked his young protégé to bring to him was his books (2 Timothy 4:13). Certainly this does highlight the importance of reading and study, even though we don’t know exactly what was in that collection of books. But still, does this really justify my seeming compulsion to continue buying more books.

As I said before, the growth of technology has made this worse, with my Kindle also heavy laden with more and more books. This problem is amplified by the large amount of free material available for download. Again, these are good resources. Many of the “old” books are being made available, and this is truly good. But does one man need all these? Will I ever actually get all of them read? Especially if I keep adding to the piles?

Just looking for some help and advice, I guess. Are there others out there who suffer from this obsession? Is it something I should seek treatment for? Are there any good 12 step programs for obsessive book buyers/collectors? Books are good, but is this a case of too much of a good thing?

Maybe I just need to listen to the advice from one of my mentors in the faith, C. H. Spurgeon who tells his students: Master those books you have. Read them thoroughly. Bathe in them until they saturate you. Read and reread them, masticate and digest them. Let them go into your very self. Peruse a good book several times and make notes and analyses of it. A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books he has merely skimmed. Little learning and much pride comes from hasty reading. Some men are disabled from thinking by their putting meditation away for the sake of much reading. In reading let your motto be “much not many.” (Letters to My Students)

Much, not many. Pretty good advice. Even if I did read it in a book! Anyway, confession is good for the soul, I suppose; and I guess this is just one little way of confessing. I appreciate your prayers as I struggle with this little compulsion of mine. And if you hear of any good book sales…Don’t Tell Me!!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do You Desire God?

My Sunday School class has been studying 2nd Corinthians. Recently we spent some time talking about what it means to truly be born again, the new creation Paul speaks of in chapter 5. At the same time, on Wednesday nights, we've been using Don Whitney's 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health. Actually, this is the second time we've gone through this, but you go to your doctor more than once every five years, right? Anyway, among the diagnosis questions is: Do you thirst for God?

These two things together reminded me of a short piece from Paul Washer on true Christians having a passion for God. This is a marker of sorts. To be truly born again isn't just a moralistic change of behavior, it is a whole new set of motivations, actions, thoughts, etc. all focused on God and His glory. Do you thirst after God? Another question in Whitney's book: Are you more sensitive to God's presence.

In light of all of that, I showed this to our class on Sunday, and it's been sticking in my mind, so I thought I would post it here for anyone who may not have seen it. If you're interested, you can find this and many more like-minded teachings at