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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Does God Need You?

I heard the most interesting thing last night. A rather well known denominational person said in a message that it doesn’t matter how mighty we say God is, that unless we make ourselves available revival will never come. Now, I understand where he’s coming from, I think. God does indeed choose to work through weak vessels such as us. But is it right to say that without us, He can’t work?

He used the illustration of a major league pitcher who has a 95 mile an hour fastball. But if he blows out his elbow joint, he can’t even lob the ball underhanded. Is that really a picture of God’s power without us? God’s power is helpless and useless without us? Again, I know he was just trying to motivate us and remind us of the great responsibility and great privilege we have to be used by God for Kingdom purposes in this world. But to imply that God’s might is lost without us? Does God need you?

One of the weaknesses in the modern “gospel” is that God is helpless without us, that He needs us to work for Him, that He needs our fellowship, that He needs…whatever. Dr. Voddie Baucham calls this the “sissified, needy Jesus.” In preaching about the holiness of God, Dr. Baucham addresses this and says:

By definition God needs nothing. God does not need you and He’s going to prove it one day ‘cause you’re going to die and the world’s going to keep on spinning at the same rate it was before you were here and somebody’s going to get all your stuff.

God calls us to serve Him. He chooses to work through us. He delights to do it through us. As John Piper has said in Brothers We Are Not Professionals, “God loves to bless His people. But even more He loves to do it in answer to prayer.” He writes in that same place that “How astonishing it is that God wills to do His work through people. It is doubly astonishing that He ordains to fulfill His plans by being asked to do so by us.

But that’s not that same thing as implying that God needs us and is powerless to bring revival and powerless to save lost sinners without us. As the Prince of Preachers once said in a message on The Eternal Truth of God:

God does not need any of us. We think ourselves mightily important, and we really are no more important to God’s plans than the caterpillar in the kitchen garden is to a Napoleon when he is marching his armies across a continent. We are nothings and nobodies, except when God pleases to use us; and he can do better without us than with us sometimes, for we get in his way. Oh, brethren, matters are all right, for they are in God’s hands. The everlasting God lives, and he will work his purposes, for he is the true God. The heathen will be converted to Christ, for the Lord has said, “Ask of me, and I will give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” “As I live,” saith the Lord, “surely all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” It shall be done, it must be done. Rest you sure of it.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying, and Pastor Spurgeon was not implying, that salvation comes apart from God’s chosen means as well as His divine power. He has chosen the proclamation of the Gospel as the means through which lost men come to Christ. He does indeed work through His people…most of the time.

I say most of the time, because the truth is that there are countless testimonies of people coming into contact with God’s Word, reading it, and through His divine providence coming to faith in Christ. But God most often uses the preaching of the Word, the testimony of His people. Not because He needs us, but because He delights in His power being made known in our weakness.

We should never use this as an excuse to not serve, not proclaim, not testify. But know that we do those things simply because a holy, righteous, all powerful God has commanded us to do them, not because He needs us.

Folks, our pride is already a big enough problem. We don’t need to be told that the God of the Universe is not powerful enough to accomplish His purposes without us. We already think more our ourselves than of God. And one last time, I know this speaker was only trying to help us see that we are called to serve, that God does indeed choose to work through His servants. But God doesn’t need you. We ought to respond in obedience simply because He commands it, not because we have a view of God that is so low that we see Him as that sissified, needy Jesus.

And for your viewing pleasure and edification, here’s the clip from Voddie Baucham’s message which is quoted above.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Flee Temptation

Why is it that we toy around with temptation? When something we know to be wrong presents itself, instead of running kicking and screaming in the other direction, we actually take time to look at it, think about it, pretend it doesn’t really tempt us, etc. And then we’re shocked when one day we actually stumble and fall. “Oh, that snuck up on me; I couldn’t help it.” When in all honesty, we’ve been toying with it for some time.

Of course, that’s the way the enemy likes it; that’s the way sin operates. As Brian Hedges writes in License to Kill: Sinful desire tricks the mind into thinking that sinning is no big deal. Through subtle insinuations and crafty arguments, the flesh tries to influence our perception of sin and its dynamics. Its goal is that we would increasingly:
• excuse our own motives for sin
• overestimate the pleasure we expect sin to deliver
• underestimate the pain and consequences we expect sin to produce

Hedges speaks of our tendency to rationalize. He says: “It’s just a little sin.” “No one is perfect.” “God will forgive me.” “I won’t go too far.” “I’ll give this up soon.” This is the language of sin in a deceived and enticed heart. If you are willing to be tempted by sin, to fondly consider its proposals, to carry on a peaceful courtship with the flesh, you have already become unfaithful in your heart to Christ, your Bridegroom.

Why do we do this? Why do we even allow the “game” to begin with? I think it really is because we’ve convinced ourselves it’s no big deal. We laugh it off. We make a cartoon out of it.

How many times have you seen some cute little cartoon with the person facing some decision, while and angel perches on one shoulder and a little devil on the other.
Isn’t it cute? I mean, it’s Donald Duck, after all. The little devil tries to get us to do one thing, while the little angel tries to get us to do something else. Sadly, this little image has become too common, and we fail to see the real problem here. Why are you letting that devil on your shoulder to begin with? This is what it should look like:
In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian has a conversation with Faithful in which the two men are discussing the various trials they’ve face. Faithful describes his confrontation with Wanton and her temptations. Basically, Faithful says he just shut his eyes and ran away.

Charles Spurgeon, in his Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress, writes of that episode: “It is a blessing if, by God’s grace, we use Joseph’s way of conquering it, namely, by running away from it, for there is no other. Fly, for this foe is not to be parleyed with. While you tarry, you are taken prisoner. While you look, the fruit is plucked. While you think how to resist the attack of the serpent, you are caught in its folds. He that hesitates is lost. “Escape for thy life, look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain,” is the only direction to every man who would come out of Sodom. There is no way to escape from this sin save by flight."

This same response would be good for all of us in any temptation. Flee temptation! Don’t play with it. Don’t talk to it. Don’t act like it’s anything less than it is, a tool of the enemy to bring you down. Don’t, as Hedges says, carry on a peaceful courtship with the flesh. Run from it kicking and screaming Get it off, get it off!!! Let’s pray for one another that we would do just that.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Give 'Em What They Want

Consumer is king. Or at least that’s the running theory. I’ve made no secret that I’m a big NASCAR fan. And my favorite track would have to be Bristol. I especially enjoy the Bristol night race, along with most NASCAR fans. I liked that race before, but I’ve loved it ever since I had the chance to actually attend.

Anyway, this past weekend’s attendance wasn’t so good at Bristol. Some feel it’s because of the change the track made a few years back. Personally, I think simple economics could be a huge part. Folks just can’t afford pricey tickets, plus travel, plus accommodations, etc. But some blame it completely on the changed track.

So much so that ownership is considering spending at least a million dollars to change it back. In a recent article Bruton Smith, the guy in charge, quoted a poll in which the majority of fans liked the old way better, and so they are strongly considering spending that cash to change it back. The exact quote: “We’ve got to be sure that we have appeased these race fans. We want to be sure that we are now making a change and giving them what they want.” Consumer is king.

Unfortunately, that attitude has bled over into other areas of life. Our local school board announced this week that the man who had coached the high school girl’s basketball team for over 20 years would not have his contract renewed. He has led them to all kinds of success, all kinds of records, but that wasn’t enough.

He has the reputation of being a tough nosed coach. For years, the kids just dealt with it, or didn’t play for him. But now, a few kids complained and threatened to quit, and their parents whined to the school board, and the school board basically said the same thing Smith did. “We want to be sure that we are now making a change and giving them what they want.”

I don’t need to go into all the local politics involved there, I’m just trying to get to a point. And here it is. This “consumer is king” “give ‘em what they want” attitude has unfortunately crept into the church as well. Somewhere down the line we started buying into the idea that taking polls and giving folks what they want was the best way to grow a church. And from a pragmatic, worldly standpoint, maybe it works.

However, study after study shows the overall maturity of the average church goer, their biblical knowledge, their genuine commitment, etc. has all declined as rapidly as our attendance numbers have grown. We’re getting ‘em in the door, but we’re not doing much with ‘em. I wonder if this is what Jesus had in mind. (see Gregg’s series at Gospel Driven Disciples for some history on this)

I may have mentioned here before the comment made in a doctoral seminar at Midwestern Seminary, when one of my classmates summarized it like this: "People come into the church not knowing what the church is, but we let them define what it ought to be." And the same thing applies to those already “inside” the church. It’s not about how you want to define the church, it’s about how God defines it.

Folks, when will we remember that the true Church of Christ is built in His power, according to His plan, for His glory? It’s not about entertaining the lost or even placating the saints. It’s about preaching the gospel, calling people to repentance, promoting holiness and worshiping a holy God in spirit and in truth.

The simple point here is this. In the church, consumer is not king, only the King is King. And it’s about time we started listening to Him. To paraphrase Smith’s quote in the proper context for the church. “We want to be sure that we are now making a change and giving Him what He wants.”

So, if you’re a pastor or leader, please keep faithfully proclaiming the truth, regardless of what anyone else says. In the end, God is the only One you have to worry about answering to. And for those expecting anything else in the church, please stop acting like whiny race fans or disgruntled school parents and submit yourselves to God’s truth for God’s glory.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

This Blog Rated "R"

I've said before that sometimes I'm a bit behind on things. So you shouldn't be surprised that I just discovered something that was posted several years ago! You know how it goes, you follow a link to one article, then it points to another, and so on.

Anyway, I followed enough links to end up at a post from Trevin Wax's Kingdom People over at the Gospel Coalition blog. And it had to do with the "rating" his blog received by some online rating thingy. His was rated NC-17 because of references to death, missionaries, dangerous, etc.

For kicks, I plugged in my own little blog's URL to see what they might say about the rantings found here. While I'm not apparently as dangerous as Mr. Wax, I still have been labeled as semi-dangerous. Here is the result:
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:
  • missionary (4x)
  • shoot (3x)
  • kill (2x)
Well, there you have it. Parents, keep your kids away from this site. Who knows what I might do or say. I know this is just in fun. The site that does these ratings is just one of the silly "quiz" sites that tries to draw you in and follow an endless series of clicks that gives you all sorts of ads, etc.

Still, it does raise some interesting questions about what the world thinks about Christianity. I remember reading somewhere that a popular Christian movie received a PG-13 rating for "thematic elements," meaning of course the theme of Christianity. Wouldn't want young children hearing about that, now would we?

There are all sorts of commentaries that could come from this. We could talk about the faulty ratings system in general (which I mentioned here regarding games). We could talk about the world's aversion to all things Christian. We could talk about the idiotic double standards we see all around us (i.e. promoting "alternative lifestyles" while banning Christian thought). In fact, I recently read about a case here in Missouri where the ACLU brought a suit against a school district for using filtering software that kept school kids from pornographic sites. They used the argument that the school was discriminating against pro-gay sites. The world we live in. Go figure.

As I said, lots of things come to mind. But for the most part, this was just for fun. So, have fun. After all, this is a rated R site!

(P.S. You'll be glad to know that our church site received a G rating. It's safe! Or does that mean we aren't using enough Christian language over there. Hmm... I'll have to rethink this)

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Pastor’s Humble Confession and Prayer

I know that many despise the use of written prayers, and would especially go crazy if we used them in corporate worship. And yet, I have been especially blessed in reading the prayers of others, for example the collection of pastoral prayers by C. H. Spurgeon.

I’ve also been blessed by that wonderful collection of Puritan Prayers which I’ve referenced before: The Valley of Vision, edited by Arthur Bennett. I use it often for my own private devotional reading, and have on occasion used these prayers as a closing prayer to a sermon (as I’ve done the last two Sunday PMs).

Know I know we can never substitute the word of man in the place of the Word of God. And these sorts of things should never replace Bible reading, or be held to a standard higher than what they are, the cries of sinful men. But still, I think written prayers can and should be a good source to prompt our own prayer and worship.

This morning I read this prayer entitled A Minister’s Confession. And while I’ve read it several times before, even underlined portions, this morning it seems to have really effected me. It amazes me how someone else’s words can so speak the longings in my own heart.

In large part this prayer is from the perspective of the pastor, but I’m sure there are elements here that would apply to all of us as we seek to serve our Lord. And so I just offer this as my prayer today, for myself and for my brother pastors, as well as for each and everyone who seeks His glory in all things.

O God,

I know that I often do thy work without thy power, and sin by my dead, heartless, blind service, my lack of inward light, love, delight, my mind, heart, tongue moving without thy help.

I see sin in my heart in seeking the approbation of others; This is my vileness, to make men’s opinion my rule, whereas I should see what good I have done, and give thee glory, consider what sin I have committed and mourn for that.

It is my deceit to preach, and pray, and to stir up others’ spiritual affections in order to beget commendations, whereas my rule should be daily to consider myself more vile than any man in my own eyes.

But thou dost show thy power by my frailty, so that the more feeble I am, the more fit to be used, for thou dost pitch a tent of grace in my weakness.

Help me to rejoice in my infirmities and give thee praise, to acknowledge my deficiencies before others and not be discouraged by them, that they may see thy glory more clearly.

Teach me that I must act by a power supernatural, whereby I can attempt things above my strength, and bear evils beyond my strength, acting for Christ in all, and have his superior power to help me.

Let me learn of Paul whose presence was mean, his weakness great, his utterance contemptible, yet thou didst account him faithful and blessed. Lord, let me lean on thee as he did, and find my ministry thine.

Amen and Amen!

Note: If you don’t have a copy of this book, I strongly encourage you to find one. I’ve gone through two paper backs and finally picked up a leather bound copy! It’s worth your time and money.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

What's Your Creed?

Just a little reflection on some comments both made and overheard today. The issue of “creeds” was mentioned, and immediately many of my Baptist brothers will stand up and cry: “We have no creed but Jesus!” Likewise, much of the modern “missional” movement has given us this same idea: it’s not about church and doctrine, it’s about being like Jesus.

I know these folks mean well, but the truth is that we all have a creed, either written or unwritten. A creed is defined simply as “a formal statement of Christian beliefs.” It’s simply stating what your belief is, where you stand.

Now, to say we have no creed but Christ sounds nice, and it’s true we do believe in Jesus. But that’s not quite adequate, and most of us would agree. What exactly do we believe about Jesus, who was He, what did He do for filthy sinners like you and me, or are we even filthy sinners? All those are questions to be asked, and our “creed” answers them.

Most of you are well aware of the Downgrade Controversy which consumed the later half of Charles Spurgeon's life; one which eventually led to his church leaving the Baptist Union. Here are some remarks Spurgeon made in regard to this controversy which address the issue of creeds:

To this it was replied that there is an objection to any creed whatever. This is a principle which one may fairly discuss. Surely, what we believe may be stated, may be written, may be made known; and what is this but to make and promulgate a creed? Baptists from the first have issued their confessions of faith…

To say that “a creed comes between a man and his God,” is to suppose that it is not true; for truth, however definitely stated, does not divide the believer from his Lord. So far as I am concerned, that which I believe I am not ashamed to state in the plainest possible language; and the truth I hold I embrace because I believe it to be the mind of God revealed in his infallible Word. How can it divide me from God who revealed it? It is one means of my communion with my Lord, that I receive his words as well as himself, and submit my understanding to what I see to be taught by him. Say what he may, I accept it because he says it, and therein pay him the humble worship of my inmost soul.

I am unable to sympathize with a man who says he has no creed; because I believe him to be in the wrong by his own showing. He ought to have a creed. What is equally certain, he has a creed—he must have one, even though he repudiates the notion. His very unbelief is, in a sense, a creed. The objection to a creed is a very pleasant way of concealing objection to discipline, and a desire for latitudinarianism.

I especially like the last line. To object to a creed is simply a way to ensure our “freedom” to do whatever we like.

Creeds are a necessary part of who we are. As the old line says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything,” and creeds are simply a way of defining what it is we stand for.

Our church follows a creed, though we Baptists prefer to call it a confession. In reality it serves the same purpose, defining who we are and what we believe. And to those who claim, “no creed but Christ”, or “no creed but the Bible” they are fooling themselves, because what you believe about Christ and how you interpret the Bible is significant indeed.

That’s not to say that we put ideas of men and documents written by men on par with Scripture. That would be Catholicism. But the truth is still that as a body of believers we have a set “outline” of belief which “defines” our body, and that by definition is a creed.

So, then, for your entertainment and edification let me share with you a fun little clip which sparked much of this (I love it even if it did come from Lutherans!)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Life Ain’t Fair! (And, boy, am I glad)

Let me begin by saying that I don’t know anyone in Michigan, so this isn’t personal. I’m sure Michigan State University is full of wonderful people. But, folks, this is just wrong.

The Mizzou Tigers finished the season ranked 5th, and went on to win the Big 12 Tournament championship. Yet when the National Tournament Bracket was announced, the Tigers only got a number two seed behind Michigan State, who finished the season in 9th (and had a worse season record, I might add). Now, while the Spartans did at least win their own conference championship tourney, something none of the other number one seeds did by the way, still, how does Mizzou end up number two behind them? This just isn't right!

This is a huge example of the old “life ain’t fair” axiom. It’s one we all learn early, or at least we should. I can remember growing up, going to mom with my complaint, and all I would get is “Life’s not fair.” I never did like that answer. I really don’t like it much now in many ways.

I don’t like that Mizzou got robbed of a number one seed. I don’t like that Jeff Gordon has been robbed of two NASCAR championships by this “Chase” format (sorry, that one just slipped in). I don’t like that some folks can afford new, nicer stuff than me; or that crooked politicians laugh all the way to the bank with our tax money, or that because of stomach issues I can’t eat onion rings anymore! Life ain’t fair!

And yet, I’m so very glad that it’s not. You see, if life were fair, then you and I would be destined for God’s judgment and wrath without any hope at all. Because of our own rebellious hearts, we could expect nothing but death and hell. That would be fair. Because we’ve earned it. We deserve it.

The classic Newsboys song tells some wonderful news, though. “When we don’t get what we deserve, that’s a real good thing.” That’s mercy. Of course the next line of the song tells us the opposite. “When we get what we don’t deserve, that’s a real good thing.” That’s grace.

Mercy and grace are often used synonymously, but they are different. Mercy is not being punished as we deserve, not feeling the wrath we’ve earned. While grace goes beyond that. Not only do we not get the punishment, but we do get Christ’s righteousness as well; salvation and eternal hope on top of it all. That’s grace. Grace on top of mercy. It ain’t fair, but I’m sure glad God gives it.

You see, what’s not fair is that God’s perfect and holy Son would die, and I get to live. What’s not fair is that God’s wrath was poured out on the divine Son of God, and God chooses to give me the honor of being His son in righteousness. That’s not fair.

In fact, I have this nightmare that Jesus screams out from the cross, “It’s Not Fair!” and God answers Him saying, “you’re right, it’s not. Let’s forget this whole thing and do things justly.” Of course, the end of that nightmare is you and me back under condemnation, and without hope. I’m so glad that’s just a nightmare, and that the reality is God chose to do it “unfairly.” Grace on top of mercy.

Now, the truth is, I’ll continue to whine about the “unfairness” in the sports world; and probably in the world in general. But of course, that’s just the way things are in a fallen, sinful world. In the end, however, I’ll remember that it’s a very good thing that life’s not fair. Praise God, Life Ain’t Fair!!

Now, for your listening pleasure, feel free to check our Shai Linne talking about Mercy and Grace from his Attributes of God project.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Homeschooler Moment #9

OK, so this doesn't really have to do with homeschooling, I guess, but it's fun. And anyone who wants to rip me for my choice of movies, well, that's ok, too. Anyway...

So, the girls are at a sewing class and the boys want to watch a "guy movie," with stuff blowing up, etc. So we dig through the old VHS pile (yes, that's right, VHS) and we pull out an old Star Trek movie. The youngest is thrilled because it's only PG and mom might be OK with it.

We're moving along just fine, a little Sci-Fi violence in which pink Klingon blood is spilt, ships explode, etc. Nothing seems to be bothering the youngest. But then comes a scene is which an alien lady snuggles up to the hero and plants a big ol kiss right on his lips. (They're on an icy prison asteroid, so they're both wearing layers and layers of clothes. So it's not like that. Just a kiss).

The youngest groans loudly, hides his eyes, and says, "Eeewwhh, now I know why this is rated PG!" Go figure.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Missionary Moment

Last week I was blessed to be able to travel to the St. Louis area with my oldest son to attend the Southern Baptist Founders' Conference Midwest. In addition to a wonderful time of teaching/preaching and fellowship with old friends, we also had the blessing of making some new friends.

Michael and Erin Pfleegor and their family currently attend Rockport Baptist in Arnold, where the eminent preacher and theologian Scott Lee is pastor (I hope he likes that description!). But their presence there is temporary, as the church is sending them out in Christ's name to reach the lost in Suriname.

Interestingly enough, when I went to their family blog I read of a recent trip in which they happened to meet fellow blogger Jon Cardwell, author of Christ and Him Crucified. Small world!

Anyway, it was a real treat to meet this godly family and hear about their passion for Christ's work. I've already shared their ministry plans with some in our church in hopes that we might be able to partner with them in some way.

If you're looking for a way to be involved in a missionary endeavor, I'd encourage you to visit their blog, check out their plans, and pray about the possibility of joining with them as well. Maybe I should have asked Bro. Michael before sending out this "plea" on his behalf, but hopefully he won't mind.

God's great desire is for His name to made great among the nations, and any chance we have to be a part of seeing that happen, we ought to grab it. At the very least, let's remember to keep ever in prayer those who are serving here, there and everywhere. SDG!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Oh! What Grace!

But by the grace of God I am what I am. (1 Corinthians 15:10, ESV)

Oh my, what a statement. As I read through that passage this week for our daily readings, I was taken aback by the richness of the depth of information in that one little phrase.

It reminds me that I exist because of Him. His grace is my source of life. His grace sustains my life. His grace.

It reminds me that who and what I am is all because of His grace. Every experience that has shaped me, He has ordained. Every trial that has drawn me back to Him, is an act of His grace. Every blessing; His grace. He continues to mold and make me, and it’s all His grace.

It reminds me, simply of all that grace entails. Grace that gives me strength to live and breathe and serve Him. Grace that gives me hope for this world and the world to come. Grace that births me and redeems me. It’s all grace.

And knowing all that should lead me to such greater depths of humility, greater depths of gratitude, greater depths of compassion and hope for others, greater desires for service. It’s all of grace.

What a grace! All of grace! Spurgeon wrote that wonderful little book with that title reminding us that salvation is indeed “all of grace.” And as amazing as that is, it’s only part of the story. All of life is all of grace. All that I am, I am by the grace of God.

I think it’s a reminder we need often. All we have, we owe to Him. All we are, we owe to Him. What an amazing grace. I can’t help but think of this grand old verse by Horatius Bonar. I hope it moves you to worship our great God of grace today.

All that I was, my sin, my guilt, My death, was all mine own;
All that I am, I owe to Thee, My gracious God, alone.

The evil of my former state Was mine, and only mine;
The good in which I now rejoice Is Thine, and only Thine.

The darkness of my former state, The bondage – all was mine;
The light of life in which I walk, The liberty – is Thine.

Thy grace that made me feel my sin It taught me to believe;
Then, in believing, peace I found, And now I live, I live.

All that I am, e’en here on earth, All that I hope to be,
When Jesus comes and glory dawns, I owe it, Lord, to Thee.

Amen, and Amen. Soli Deo Gloria!