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

Monday, February 27, 2012

I Love You Enough To Tell the Truth

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I went to college. At least it seems like that long and far. Anyway…

During those college days our supposedly Christian college hosted what they called the "Human Family Reunion" (I think they still have it today). It had stared years earlier, and I believe had a “pure” intent. The idea was to set aside difference, especially racial ones, and worship together as the “human family.” I can appreciate that.

However, the one “worship” service I attended for this event was led by a unique collection of individuals: A Jewish Rabbi, an Islamic Imam, a Catholic priest, a female Methodist pastor, and a liberal Baptist pastor. There may have been others, but these were the ones I remember. Again, I’m all for racial harmony, tolerance, and all that.

But here’s the problem. The service led by these different religious representatives was said to be a “joint worship service” where we put aside our “differences” and worship God together. What’s wrong with that? Most of those folks don’t worship the God of Scripture, plain and simple. It’s what makes that silly “coexist” bumper sticker based on this same idea so ridiculous. There are major issues between Christian, Jewish and Muslim theology.

I remember raising the issue in my sociology class, where the prof was the founder of this get together, and was told that we needed to set aside “little differences” and work together in love. My response, which wasn’t taken well, was simply: If I love my brother, shouldn’t I tell him he’s worshiping a false god and bound for hell? Can love let a brother die without Christ, the only way of salvation?

I thought about this again recently as our Sunday School class is studying 2 Corinthians using Sam Storm’s “A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ.” In talking about Paul’s “tough love” to the Corinthian church, Storms says the loving thing to do is to tell the truth in seeking the eternal good of others, not looking the other way as the world tells us. He writes:

For example, we re told repeatedly today, both inside and outside the church, that if we love homosexuals, we will accept their orientation and behavior and refrain from words of judgment or any suggestion that their lifestyle might be immoral. If we truly love the sincere Buddhist, we will not speak ill of his faith or insist on the exclusivity of Christ, but bless him in his chosen path and embrace him as a child of God. If we truly love our professing Christian brother who has abandoned all local church life because of his disgust with its purported hypocrisy, or for some related reason, we will affirm his decision and wish him well during his time on the golf course or at Starbucks on Sunday morning.

To ignore sin in the name of live is not only unbiblical, it also betrays the very nature of live itself, which by definition always seeks the ultimate spiritual welfare of its object, even at the expense of immediate personal peace.

It’s also an act of cowardice. Confrontation is hard, and we typically prefer finding a way to avoid it. Appealing to our “love” for the person as an excuse for not speaking biblical truth concerning their unrepentant sin is the worst and least loving thing one can do and displays a greater devotion to self than to the sinner. It means, in effect, that we prefer our own emotional peace and sense of well-being above his conformity to Christ and perhaps even his eternal destiny. That hardly qualifies as “love” in any language.

Man, I wish Pastor Storms could have been with me in class that day. As it was, I stood alone. No one else seemed to think there was anything wrong with Christ-deniers “worshiping” alongside the saints of God, all arm in arm and love- dovey.

Plain and simple truth. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for the glory of God alone. I think I’ve read that somewhere before. It’s foundational, folks. And if we love folks, we will tell them the truth. We will point out their need for Christ. We will call our brothers to greater holiness. We will put their eternal good before our worldly comfort.

So, please, don’t be a coward. Love one another enough to speak the truth.

NOTE: When I wrote and posted this item this morning, I had not yet read about Rick Warren's latest shenanigans. I guess this is even more timely than I thought. If you haven't heard, Warren is suggesting we all celebrate the "similarities of our faith." Wow, I thought I was thinking about this out of left field, but here it is folks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What’s In A Name? To Be Or Not To Be Southern Baptist

Most have probably heard the news. The task force appointed to consider a possible name change for the Southern Baptist Convention has given a recommendation. And in the end, it’s just a name game with no significance. I mean after all, this is the group that is so fixated on how things sound that we use “task force” instead of “committee.” Anyway…

The decision is to recommend that we keep the name legally Southern Baptist, but allow folks to use the alternate name “Great Commission Baptist” if they want. Seems a bit odd, since as autonomous local churches, we can all call ourselves whatever we want anyway, but…

The whole thing seems to be a lot of political maneuvering and “symbolism over substance” stuff. The argument is that the word “Southern” is a deterrent to church planting work outside of the south. I wonder if that is really the case with the people who live outside the south, or just the perception of the church planters.

Case in point. In the early 1990’s we did some church planting in the far off reaches of North Dakota. Even then we were told by the powers that be down south that we should be careful with our name thing. People might not like the SBC, so don’t focus too much on that. Use a generic name like Community Baptist or something.

Fine, but here’s how our experience turned out. The little group we started eventually started meeting in a motel conference room, and eventually in an old church building not in use. We gave the decision for the name of the church to the people who lived there, were born there, were part of that community, etc. The name they voted on: Trinity Baptist Church, SBC. They specifically wanted to be identified with the Southern Baptist Convention because of its doctrinal stand and to differentiate our church from some other questionable “Baptists” who had been around. So…

The other argument is that the word “Southern” highlights the fact that the SBC was on the “wrong side” of the War Between the States. In fact, in recent years the SBC has officially apologized for that. Folks, let’s move on.

I have less tolerance for racism than most of my friends and family and even many others in the church. Having lived on a Sioux Reservation and experienced all that first hand, I’ve developed a particular distaste for basing anything on skin color, heritage, etc. But folks, we are living in the 21st Century. While the atrocities of the past should be remembered so as not to be repeated, we need to stop acting like it happened yesterday and move on.

Furthermore, this whole thing seems to be a bit oxymoronic to me. On the one hand, the Convention wants to be sensitive to diversity and not isolate others and on and on. And yet at the same time, we are heavily promoting those works that do nothing but highlight our lack of diversity and our selfish individuality: see Cowboy Church, and Biker Church, and whatever other “identity” you want to throw on something to isolate ourselves from everyone else in the body of Christ.

OK, I’m digressing. This is supposed to be about the name change. Here’s the deal. Why do we spend so much time worrying about the name? Why don’t we just focus on being the Church? I’m proud to be Southern Baptist because of our strong historical theology. Next week I’m going to a Southern Baptist Founders’ Conference, highlighting the strong Reformed faith of our faith forefathers. For that matter, our church is Faith Southern Baptist Church (named before my arrival for the record).

But the names are secondary. How many man hours, how much money has been wasted by the “task force” studying this issue, which could have been spent on actually obeying the Great Commission; only to bring a recommendation that does nothing but offer a fluffy bunny option?

Again, the names are largely irrelevant. And I really don't want to seem insensitive to those who feel greatly troubled by this name. But it’s the gospel that counts. If we really think that simply calling ourselves Great Commission Baptists rather than Southern Baptists will change the quality and character of the gospel message, then maybe we don’t understand the message. And maybe that’s our problem to begin with.

Maybe our problem is not the name, but the emphasis. Maybe our lack of success in other regions has to do with the fact that most of our efforts are still in the South, and those efforts outside the South are still approached like they're in the South. Our biggest problem while with the then Home Mission Board was that they acted like things in North Dakota should work just like they did in Atlanta. Regardless, the focus should be on the Gospel, not the name.

Preach the Word, in season and out. Preach the Gospel. Only the Holy Spirit can bring regeneration to the heart of dead sinners, and regardless of what our T-shirts say, He accomplishes that miracle through the preaching of the Gospel. Let’s go do it and stop worrying about what to call it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Serving Christ "On Key"

It’s not every day I make my wife cry during a sermon. Well, maybe she cries sometimes because they’re so pathetically bad and she can’t believe she married me, but that’s a whole other story. This was different. I asked her afterward if everything was ok and she just told me that it seemed everything we talked about that night “hit her.” It actually started in choir practice before the service. (Yeah, so it’s your fault, Matt!)

My wife has a beautiful voice. One of the many reasons I fell madly in love with her was listening to her to sing of her love for Christ. You could tell she meant every word! And yet, she doesn’t have the best “ear.” (you musical types will know what I’m talking about). She’s been singing alto in the choir recently, and at this particular practice, the other altos were all AWOL.

Cheryl told me that she was getting frustrated because she could tell she was singing the wrong notes at times, but couldn’t quite hear in the music what those right notes should be. And even when she did hear them, she couldn’t quite get herself to match up with them.

Now, that’s frustrating to be sure, but nothing to really cry about. The problem is that my wife is also a very insightful person. Not that her insightfulness is a problem, it’s a good thing, but you know what I’m saying. Anyway, she began to think about this whole thing and realized what a picture of our spiritual life it can be. Sometimes, we try hard to do what we know is right, and yet, we just can’t quite hit the right notes. Think Paul in Romans 7.

The message that night happened to be about the nature of the church, and the images Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 3 and the purposes we ought to be working towards. She put two and two together and got, well… tears.

In thinking about being part of the family of God and spurring one another on toward love and good deeds, encouraging others in the body toward maturity, etc., she was thinking back to that choir practice. She thought “yeah, if there had just been one other alto there helping to hit those notes it would have been easier.” And then, “am I helping others in the church ‘hit the right notes’ as they seek to serve Christ?” Told you she was an insightful woman.

So what about you? Are you serving on key? Are you working hard, by God’s grace and in His Spirit, to “hit the right notes;” to do those things you know you ought to be doing? Are you struggling sometimes just to hear the right notes, maybe because there are too many other distractions in your life? How are you helping others? Are you doing your part to add to the harmony in the church, seeking to help others stay on key as well? Or are you the sour notes that throws things off?

This is good stuff people. Some very good questions to ask yourself as you seek to glorify Christ in His church. I may even work it into a sermon someday… though I hope it doesn’t make Cheryl cry again!

NOTE: In interest of full disclosure I should let you know that my wife granted me permission to use her story. Don't want any trouble started, you know!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Are You Truly Committed to Christ?

Years ago, our oldest daughter got us interested in the ministry of Voice of the Martyrs. Quite honestly, I don’t think we’ve ever been the same. I’m not saying we’re suddenly super spiritual or anything, but every time I get to thinking my life is difficult, my ministry is difficult, etc, I simply remember folks like these. Here is part of the latest VOM email I received yesterday.

Before they gave their lives to Jesus in 2006, Fawzi and Nadira were both Muslims living in a majority Muslim village. After they became Christians, Fawzi, a farmer, continued to work for a Muslim landlord. For years he and Nadira actively ministered to others, offering their home for prayer meetings and sharing the gospel. In the daytime Fawzi worked in the field, and in the evening he visited and prayed with local Christian families.

In 2009, a Muslim man asked Fawzi to come and pray for his sick mother. When local Muslim leaders learned that Fawzi was visiting and praying for Muslims, they were infuriated…The Muslim leaders and other fanatical Muslims began harassing Fawzi, blocking his way when he tried to attend prayer meetings. He was beaten seven times and once was forced to cut wood all night in the forest.

In September 2009, several Muslims showed up at Fawzi's house. Fawzi gave his Bible to his 7-year-old nephew and said, "Today they will kill me; please hold my Bible and keep it with you." At gunpoint, one of the Muslims told Fawzi, "Today I will shoot you if you don’t accept Prophet Muhammad as the true prophet." Fawzi replied, "I cannot do this. If you want to shoot me, do it. I will accept being killed, happily, but remember if this is not from Heaven, you cannot kill me."

Rather than shooting Fawzi, the Muslims filed a false robbery report against him. The police arrested him and held him for 13 days, and the Muslim leader paid the police to beat Fawzi until he returned to Islam. Every day, the police hit the bottom of his feet with sticks, dragged him across the room by his beard and lashed his back and buttocks with a leather strap. He was told the beatings would stop if he would accept Islam, but Fawzi remained firm in his faith.

When the police realized that their efforts were futile, they registered the false robbery report and sent Fawzi to the district jail in another city in October 2009. Fawzi's wife, Nadira, borrowed money from relatives to hire a lawyer, and Fawzi was released on bail in January 2010.

Nadira was joyful to have her husband home, but her joy was short-lived. That evening the village leader came and forced them out of their home, telling Fawzi, "Today if you don't leave this village I will shoot you and your wife. Get out of here."

The family left and their struggles continued, though they eventually found a Christian brother who has reached out to them. Here’s the point. This is what many in the church have endured down through the years. This is the sort of sacrifice and commitment Jesus had in mind when He warned us of the cost of following Christ.

What about the American church? We whine about what kind of music we have in church, we argue about this and that policy at our church business meeting, we fight over who gets to use the nice million dollar building God blessed us with. Meanwhile, our brothers and sisters are willing to die for their faith, and many are actually dying!

I wonder how many of those who whine and complain in the American church would be willing to endure what this family has endured. I wonder if our commitment is truly to Christ or to our own little “kingdoms” we’ve built in His name. I wonder how a little persecution would change our outlook on what's important. A little perspective would be a wonderful thing for most of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are some serious doctrinal issues that we should “fight” for. I know that we should do things orderly in the church and that we should be good stewards of what God has given us. But once in awhile we need to open our eyes to the bigger picture, realize how truly blessed we are, and fall to our knees in thanksgiving for our blessings and in prayer for our persecuted brothers.

Jesus calls us to sacrifice for Him, to take up our cross daily and follow Him. When was the last time you truly sacrificed for Him? Just how firm is your commitment to Christ? As for me, this is a daily challenge to live for Him and His glory above all else. May God give us each the strength to do just that no matter what.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Christ Worthy to be Trusted: A Birthday Testimony and Plea

On Sunday morning, June 19th, 1861, C. H. Spurgeon delivered a message to his London congregation from Zechariah 12. He was calling them to look to Christ, to see His glory, to see their sin, and to trust His sacrifice. The date was his 27th birthday. That a man can show so much maturity at such an age has always amazed me…and rebuked me at the same time.

Anyway, at the conclusion of the message, he pleads with his hearers to trust in Christ because he is worthy to be trusted. He speaks, just briefly in passing of his birthday and offers a personal testimony of Christ’s worthiness to be trusted.

Though I’m…well…a bit past 27, these words match the testimony of my own heart more completely than you can imagine. And so, on the occasion of my own “crossing into another year” I offer you the same testimony and the same plea: trust in Christ. Here are Pastor Spurgeon’s words:

This is God’s testimony, that Christ is able to save. O that you would trust him. My soul, thou hast regretted a thousand things, but thou hast never regretted trusting Christ in thy youth. Many have wept that they did not come to Christ before, but none ever lamented that they came too early. Why not this very day? O Holy Spirit, make it so!

As to myself, I cross this day into another year of my own life and history, and I bear witness that my Master is worth trusting, Oh! it is a blessed thing to be a Christian; it is a sweet thing to be a believer in Christ, and though I, of all men, perhaps, am the subject of the deepest depression of spirits at times, yet there lives not a soul who can say more truthfully than I, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.” He who is mighty hath looked upon me with eyes of love and made me his child, and I trust him this day as I have trusted him aforetime.

But now I would to God that this day some of you would begin to trust in him. It is the Spirit’s work, but still he works through means. I think he is working in your heart now. Young man, those tears look hopeful: I thank God that those eyes feel burning now. I pray you do not go chatting on the road home and missing any good impression. Go to your chamber, fall upon your knees, cry out to God, entreat his favor. This day let it be! None of the devil’s to-morrows — away with them! away with them! “To-day it ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart.” May the Spirit of God constrain you to “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way, when his wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.”

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Reflections on Birthdays and Service Rendered

Celebrating another birthday this week, I've once again been drawn into a contemplative mood. I won't share all of it with you, but here are two thoughts.

1. Our Sunday School class studied a lesson on the leadership principles demonstrated by Paul in 2 Corinthians. That, along with the message I worked on this past week about being ready for our King's return caused me to reflect on the nature of what I've done for the King. To be honest, when thinking about what I've rendered to Him for the last ?? years, how I've led in my home, my church, etc. I'm not entirely convinced I'd get the long awaited for "Well done my good and faithful servant." Maybe just a midlife crisis sort of thing, but I'm praying by His grace to offer service more pleasing to my King, more profitable for the Kingdom, etc.

2. What's with celebrating birthday's anyway? Our church still does the old thing where folks who have had a birthday come up front, we sing to you, etc. I asked my wife before going up "why do they applaud for me just because I survived another year?" She said, "It's not for you, it's praising God's grace He's given you for another year." Good thought, but I'm not sure most see it that way.

Anyway, along with thought number two, I recently read this post which I think is very good about this whole idea of celebrating birthdays. So check it out.

Are Birthdays Biblical? 2 Lessons from the (only) 2 biblical birthdays

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

I Had A Visitation

In case you missed it (I did until today) the world famous traveler, Corky Velveeta (from Calvinistic Cartoons) actually stopped by for a visit to the By Grace Alone headquarters. (If you don't know Corky, it's a long story, and well, you'll have to figure it out for yourself)

He even posted a picture of himself out front on the CC blog. Thanks Corky. And thanks Eddie for the amazing architectural design! Click on over to see the photo of Corky at the BGA World Headquarters:

Calvinistic Cartoons: Corky on the BGA Tour:
Corky visits his old friend, Scott, at the By Grace Alone building

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Missouri Primary: A Lesson in Irrelevance

Today, all around the great state of Missouri, voters will go to the polls for the Missouri Primary election. Much debate and discussion has been going on amongst Republican voters about whom to choose in the Presidential race to face off against President Obama in the fall. The only trouble is, it really doesn’t matter.

In a strange twist of red tape, smoke and mirrors and power mongering, the primary in Missouri is “non-binding.” That means whoever wins the GOP primary today is not assured the Missouri delegates. Those will be decided next month by the caucuses.

It seems only certain states are allowed to have their primaries before March 1st, and Missouri isn’t one of them. So when Missouri decided to have it early anyway, the national parties told them if they did, they would lose half their delegates. To get around that, the geniuses in power decided to go ahead and have our primary anyway (that’ll show ‘em) and just not actually count the votes. Hmm…can anyone say “symbolism over substance?” (to borrow a phrase)

And here’s the real kicker. This meaningless trip to the polls will cost Missouri taxpayers over $7 million! That’s right, the state is shelling out over 7 mil to run a primary that has no meaning, in a state that is running $500 million in the hole. Sound like 21st Century politics to you? Sadly, yes.

So who outside Missouri cares? We all ought to. This is a microcosm of the state of affairs in this nation. The people, by and large, are ignored. The two major parties do what they want to do regardless of what most folks want. Sure we have a vote here and there. But once a person is elected, don’t expect them to actually represent YOUR interest in anything.

We see it over and over. Folks are asked about issues, polls show how folks feel about the issues, and the politicians just do what they want anyway. Case in point, I recently sent my legislators a letter of concern about a particular issue that came up in the President’s state of the union address. Two of the three did respond, but with stock, pre-written comments about the president’s speech which barely touched on the issue I had written about.

Now, I understand these are busy people. It would be impossible to respond personally to each and every comment they receive. But again, it just shows how out of touch folks in DC are to the average person here in the heartland they are supposed to be representing.

So, am I saying we just shouldn’t bother voting? Well, honestly, as for the Missouri primary, I just decided to save my golden gas and stay home. But that’s not the primary issue (pardon the pun). Instead, I am urging you to make sure you vote. This fall, especially, get out and vote and let the two major parties know that we’ve had enough. Their time is over. They think they can do whatever they want, and because we continue to buy into the two-party-only mentality, we empower them.

Now, more than ever we need independent and third party votes. I’ve made no secret on this space that I have joined the Constitution Party and will be supporting that party’s candidates. If you don’t have that option where you live, do the research and find good, godly, Constitutional minded folks to support. Enough is enough.

As I have said, repeatedly (nearly ad nauseum), if godly conservative voters would go to the polls and truly vote their conscience instead of the pragmatism and electability spouted by the two major parties, the results wouldn’t even be close. It’s time we wake up and see that the “big two” have been doing a number on us for years, making our voice and vote practically irrelevant. The situation in the Missouri primary just brings it into the open. I hope we all learn from this little lesson.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Pastor's Family Time

This is an amazing post. No, not mine, not the one you're reading right now. I'm talking about the one you should be reading. This one:

Why Family Time is a Pastor’s Job Description

It's a wonderful post, with great insight for pastors and their church members alike. So go on, click on over to Clint Archer's site and read.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Spurgeon on the Super Bowl?

Obviously this is Super Bowl weekend. Just as obviously, CH Spurgeon lived long before the first NFL championship game. However, he was well aware of the “amusements” that most men gave their time and attention to, so I can speculate with some accuracy that what he said of those amusements could be applied to our current “event.”

While there is nothing wrong with sporting events, I think it would be wise for Christians to consider how much emphasis they place on them, and how we go about celebrating them.

We all know that many churches will not have services tomorrow because of the high holy hogskin hoopla. Others will have services, but only around the game schedule. Others still, like us, will have regular services but know in advance that attendance will be way down.

Now, again, there is nothing wrong with football or baseball or hockey or racing, etc. I love all those. I love the World Series, the Daytona 500, and yes even the Super Bowl. But what does it say of our priority when we place greater passion and concern over a worldly amusement than the worship of a holy God?

I know, I’m just one of those hyper-critical, over-zealous, anti-fun guys. Maybe. Or maybe I just think Christians’ values and priorities ought to be different than the worlds. We all know that there are things going on during this game, during all the celebrations, during all the commercials, that should make the average Christ-lover blush. But we don’t blush. We go along with the crowd, taking in the same enjoyment, etc.

Back the Spurgeon. In a message on Luke 24:5, and the idea of seeking the living among the dead, he suggests that if we put our focus on happiness and entertainment in this world, it’s the equivalent of seeking the living among the dead. Again, he never knew the Super Bowl. But might he address these same words to us?

It is sadder still, and this sometimes occurs, when the professor tries to cheer his heart by the silly vanities of worldly amusement, There are a thousand inlets to happiness which you may look upon as free to your use: you are as welcome to enjoy them as other men. Whatsoever it be that is pure and lovely, and uncorrupted with sin, is as much yours as it is the portion of any other people under the sun. Yours are the beauties of nature, the wonders of God’s handiwork, and the vast domain of creation, wherein are things innumerable to please the eye, to charm the ear, and make the heart to heave with joy. Learn to use without abusing the bounties which Providence has placed within your reach, and pray that thedelights they are capable of yielding may be sanctified to your good.

But there are sundry amusements, so frivolous and trifling, that if they are not in themselves sinful, they verge upon that border-land where diversion is separated from dissipation by only a faint line; and as the border-land is always the most infested by thieves and robbers, it is well to beware of it... Oh! shall you that have once leaned your heads upon the bosom of Christ profane your hearts with this wanton wicked world? Shall you that have once eaten angels’ food hanker after the diet of fools, and drink the intoxicating wine-cup of their pleasures? Shall you be seen in the assembly where none congregate but the lightest of the light, and the gayest of the gay? Shame upon you, Christian! You have disgraced your profession; you have disgraced yourself; you are seeking the living, not only amongst the dead, but among the rotten and corrupt...

Thus, Christian, while I say to you, do not seek lasting comfort in earthly things, I am compelled to say to some who bear the name and wear the profession of Christians, do not seek your joy at all among the unprofitable sports and gambols in which some men delight. It is seeking the living among the dead.

I know I’m probably taking some things out of context here, but so much of this applies. Examine your own hearts. Why is it that you do what you do in “celebrating” the Super Bowl or other worldly delight? Is God truly glorfied in the event, in the company kept, in the activities surrounding it? If not, why are we willing to put His worship aside in order to “partake?”

Well, I’m sure that won’t change anyone’s minds. And maybe it’s not nearly as big a deal as I’m making of it. I just truly wish the average Christian was as excited about being rescued out of darkness into His glorious light as we are about going to the pigskin palace. As for me and my house, by His grace we will seek His glory first.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy Groundhog Day!

Yes, it's that most wonderful of holidays again. Grab the kids, gather 'round the computer screen, and listen to the official proclamation from Punxsutawney Phil himself.

One of these days I have a great fear that the crowd will riot when Phil gives his forecast, and the scene won't be pretty!