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

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Keeping Up Appearances...Or Should We?

I've been collecting my antique hymnals for over a dozen years now.  Along the way, I started picking up other antique books here and there; some old sermon collections, a few old language tools, and various other "religious" works.  One of the side benefits is the little treasures you sometimes find inside. 

Not the text of course, though that's the real treasure.  But from time to time I come across little scraps that someone put in the book as a book mark, or as a keepsake, or maybe just by accident.  I've found old letters, obituaries, some pressed flowers, and a variety of other things. 

Recently I picked up my collection of sermons by Scottish pastor Thomas Brown of Dalkeith, one of my favorite "pieces" in the collection.  Published in 1828, it's not in the greatest of shape: the cover is worn and water stained, the pages also water stained and yellow.  But the binding is still pretty good and it's "useable."  Of course, the real value of a book like this would be the content of the sermons, right?  Not the outer binding.  It's not about the appearance, it's about the quality of the content (of course, the content here is good except that I would differ on his "Defence of Infant Baptism"!)

And the little extra I found in this book was a good reminder of this.  Tucked inside was a scrap of newspaper from...I don't know.  Much later than 1828.  One part of the scrap mentions an ad for a paint that was manufactured in the late 1960s, so that would be my best guess.  But alongside that ad was this one: 

My how times change.  Imagine, advertising food purposely as "fattening."  People worried about being too thin.  Wouldn't find that today would you?  It reminds me that what people consider to be healthy and attractive changes from generation to generation.  And it brings up a very interesting note.  We are much too enamored with the appearance and too little concerned with the quality inside. 

The most obvious Biblical example of that was of course little David.  When the prophet came looking for a new king among the sons of Jesse, he was very impressed by what he saw at first.  David's brothers were big and strong and good looking.  Surely a king was among them.  But God said "no."  He sent the prophet out back to find the little runt of a son doing his chores.  Samuel was not impressed.  But God said, " For the LORD sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Sam. 16:7b)

Sometimes the outside might be a little worn, like my favorite books.  While the inside is highly worthwhile.  Other times the outside might be extremely attractive to the eye, say a sports star or model; while the inside might be empty and morally corrupt.  There's nothing wrong with trying to be healthy and take good care of yourself.  Heaven knows I could do a better job with that.  But in the end, this shell is just temporary anyway.

"Don't judge a book by its cover" may be a cliche, but it's still good advice.  It certainly applies to books.  And it applies to people as well.  It applies as we're considering others; and it applies to ourselves as we decide what we're going to spend our time and energy working on. It seems to me that Jesus had a few things to say about those who spent their time working only on the outer appearance, and little time on the heart.

So let's be sure that we are focusing our attention on making sure our lives represent Christ in the way we live, in the words we speak, in the actions we take, in the attitudes of our heart.  And worry less about just keeping up appearances.  Remember where God is the heart.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Are We Ignorant of God?

Almost five years ago, Paul Washer preached a dramatic message called “Ten Indictments against the Modern Church.”  It’s a long, and at times difficult message, but if you want to hear all of it you can go here.

One of the indictments is that the modern church has an ignorance of God.   He asks “Do you know why all your Christian bookstores are filled up with self-help books, and five ways to do this or that, and six ways to be godly, and 10 ways not to fall? – because people don’t know God!  And so they have to be given all sorts of trivial little devices of the flesh to keep them walking as sheep ought to walk!”

Why this ignorance?  In large part, Washer suggests, because our pulpits are silent when it comes to truly teaching who God is.  Rather, we teach who we want God to be, who the people want God to be and so on.  One way to overcome that is to spend time teaching on the attributes of God as we read about them in Scripture.

Washer says this:  At times I am asked, “Brother Paul, please come and do a week long series on the attributes of God.”  And many times, I will say this: “Well, brother, have you thought this through?”

I remember one specific conversation, and the pastor replied, “What do you mean, ‘Have I thought this through?’“ “Well, it is quite controversial, the subject that you are giving for me to teach in your church.” “What do you mean it is controversial? I mean it is God. We are Christians. This is a church. What do you mean it is controversial?” I said, “Dear pastor, when I begin instructing your people on the justice of God, the sovereignty of God, the wrath of God, the supremacy of God, and the glory of God, you are going to have some of your finest and oldest church members stand up and say something like this: ‘That is not my god. I could never love a God like that.’ Why?—because they have a god they have made with their own mind, and they love what they have made.”

Wow!  Is this true, or is he being overly harsh?  Actually, that’s not even the harsh part.  Listen to this (or technically, read this…)  “I would submit to you that it would be better not even to have a Sunday morning service. Sunday morning is the greatest hour of idolatry in the entire week of America, because the great mass at least of people are not worshipping the one true God. They instead are worshipping a god formed out of their own hearts by their own flesh, satanic devices, and worldly intelligence. They have made a god just like themselves—and he looks more like Santa Claus than he does Jehovah. There can be no fear of the Lord among us, because there is no knowledge of the Lord among us!”

Since hearing that message, I have often reflected on this question:  Is that true in my own church?  Would our people run from the building because these things about God are unknown?  Is our worship idolatry?  I pray not.  And I have made every effort to be sure that the God we speak of on Sunday and Wednesday and every other day is the God of Scripture: the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

In fact, every now and then we do have that study on the attributes of God.  We’re starting it again right now.  And we’re using a study based on A. W. Pink’s book on the subject as presented by the Chapel Library.  I would highly recommend it for use in your church, in your family, even for your personal study.

You can download the study for free from the Chapel Library website,  (Scroll down the studies to the "Doctrine" section and find The Attributes of God).  You can also find a printed copy of Paul Washer’s message there in booklet form which you can purchase, or as a download for Kindle, etc. (Just put "Ten Indictments" in the search field) It’s worth your time to read as well.

I pray our churches will recapture a true knowledge of God, and that our lives will be radically altered as a result. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

A Cup of Coffee With Spurgeon

With apparently too much time on my hands, I recently considered how two of my favorite things might be related…Coffee and Spurgeon.  One stimulates my mind and the other my soul (I leave you to decide which is which).

Browsing through some of the Prince of Preachers writings, I soon found that the pastor seemed to enjoy using coffee in illustrations as well as coffee houses in practical uses.  One of the institutions/ministries related to the Metropolitan Tabernacle, in fact, was simply called the Coffee-house Mission.

Spurgeon apparently inherited the significance of meeting over a cup of coffee from one of his pastoral predecessors, John Gill.  It is written of him that, “It was his practice, once a week, to meet his ministering brethren at the accustomed coffee-house, where a sort of ministers’ club assembled.  Even in the mid-1700s pastors knew that the local coffee house was a holy place.

Spurgeon continued that legacy, again, often referring to coffee houses and the importance of coffee.  Numerous times he mentions two men from his church who met a man on the street contemplating suicide, and their first action was to take him for a cup of coffee!  (I don’t mean to make too light of that; in truth Spurgeon does mention the coffee, but it seems giving him a good meal was part of the plan as well).

Here are a couple of other mentions of the divine drink where Spurgeon shows the value of a good cup of joe by using it illustratively.

My servant might, perhaps, think it a very proper thing for her to arrange my papers for me in my study, but I should feel but a very slender amount of gratitude to her. If, however, she will have a cup of coffee ready for me early in the morning, when I have to go out to a distant country town to preach, I shall be much more likely to appreciate her services.”  Nothing like starting the day with that first cup!

Or here, where he compares not getting his coffee to playing loose with Scripture: “Suppose that I was starting on a journey, early in the morning, and I said to my servant, ‘I should like a cup of coffee before I start,’ and suppose that, when I came down, she brought me a glass of cold water, I should. ask her, ‘Why did you do that’!’ If she should reply, ‘Oh, sir, I thought that the water would be better for you than coffee!’ I should say, ‘Well, I am very much obliged to you for thinking of me in that considerate way; but I shall have to engage another servant who does what she is told.’ So I advise you not to alter or judge God’s Word, but to obey it.”

The message is clear: Don’t mess with my coffee!  In fact, so valuable is this elixir of life, that in his collection of wisdom called Salt Cellars, Spurgeon simply includes this brief line:  Advice to a thirsty soul. Try coffee.”

Try coffee, indeed!  I realize that this is the second post about coffee in the last couple months (see here for the other one).  Some my say I’m starting to obsess about the subject.  Actually, I was just trying to find a way to send a message to my family.  With the impending celebration of my birth only a month away, one might just consider something like this to be an interesting choice of gift.

I’m just sayin’….

So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to grab my cup of coffee and go read a little Spurgeon.  Seems like the right thing to do.  Have a nice day!

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Bumper Sticker Doctrine

Several years ago the O. C. Supertones had two great songs that bemoaned the shallow state of contemporary theology, which they called "bumper sticker doctrine.  (Silly statement in part since all of the Supertones songs are great songs, but...)

One song was called Escape from Reason: "Tell me who will listen to uneducated congregants And why should they when all we have to say is Bumper sticker doctrine and cute catch phrases Does this amaze us that no one will take us seriously."

The other was Return of the Revolution:  "Our hearts have grown so cold and we’ve such numb souls But shirts and bumper stickers man we got ’em by the truckload Is true religion what you have around your wrist What does the scripture say of this They honor me with words but their hearts are far away I call ’em like I see ’em and that’s what I see today."

Sadly, things have only gotten worse since then.  The internet is full of all these cute little sayings and pictures that are supposed to be inspiring; at lease I think they are.  Some of it just plain insane and I don't think anyone takes them serisouly.  Timothy Dalrymple recently posted what he called "Twelve Terrible Facebook Jesus Memes."  Among them were these.

If you really want to torture yourself with the rest, go to the post and look for yourself.  Warning, though, these can be pretty profane.  And because of that, I don't think anyone was meant to take them seriously.  But they are in one sense a response to some of the ridiculous things people post, and do mean.  How about this one.

I mean, come on.  The prayer is nice and all.  But praying to God while looking at the Pope and Ma Theresa.  Post this prayer on facebook and all will be well.  Is that really where we've come in modern Christianity?

And then, there are the bumperstickers themselves.  I pulled into the bank last night and the car in front of me had this sticker on it.  I'm not kidding.  It said:  "Give Jesus a chance, He died for the opportunity."  Oh my dear goodness, are you kidding me?  Poor little Jesus, dying just hoping to have the opportunity for you to give Him a chance.  How pathetic!

And yet, all of this does indeed describe what passes for theology in many, many churches.  We've become so shallow, become so self-centered. It really does make you wonder how anyone can ever take us seriously, and makes you realize why so much of the world doesn't. It's as if the church today is allergic to genuine truth and sound doctrine. 

Of course, it's nothing new.  Charles Spurgeon often addressed the issue in his own day.  In one article he says, "IT is astonishing how far mere polish will go with certain hearers. Let a man affect fine language and pompous manners, and there are professed Christians who will delight in him... Manly Christians look more to the meat than the garnishing, but the present feeble generation runs mad after flowers and finery... Somewhere or other we came across the story of an old lady who persisted in wearing a pair of spectacles which were of no earthly use to her, for she always looked over them, and not through them. She preferred them far beyond another most serviceable pair, and why? Because they had gold rims. There are old women of both sexes who attach themselves to a weak-minded man of veneer, and cannot appreciate a solid gospel preacher of vigorous intellect and extended usefulness... Reader, be not thou enchanted with childish things, but feed on sound doctrine, which is both milk for babes and meat for men."

Indeed, we are facinated by the "gold rims" of cute catch phrases and this bumper sticker doctrine, enchanted with childish things and not feeding on sound doctrine.  Our cry needs to be the same as that of Spurgeon when he confronted the same lack:  a cry for genuine revival.  He said in another place: 

"If you read the standard divinity of this age, and the standard divinity of Whitefield’s day, you will find that the two cannot by any possibility be made to agree together. We have, nowadays, what is called a “new theology.” New theology? Why, it is anything but a Theology; it is an ology which has cast out God and enthroned man; it is the doctrine of man, and not the doctrine of the everlasting God. Therefore, we need a revival of sound doctrine once more in the midst of the land."

God save us from bumper sticker doctrine.  Save us from trite and cute "theology" that we can fit on a t-shirt.  Give us a love for sound doctrine, for bold preaching, and a passion for the true conversion of souls, not just people who will "like" us on facebook.  (Don't forget to share this if you agree!)

Monday, January 7, 2013

Old Rock Day

Just learned on my calendar of important holidays that today is Old Rock Day.  I must say, I'm very excited about this day.  Being a lover of old rock, I was overjoyed to know that there's a whole day dedicated to celebrating it and I wanted to share it with you. 

Of course, as a Christian, my listening habits have modified over the years.  And I guess that "old" is a relative term.  So for this celebration I'll focus on the "old" days when I was working in Christian radio: the mid 80s.  Bands like Petra, Whiteheart, Degarmo & Key, Resurrection Band were all on the scene in those days.  Great times.

I remember taking my then-fiance to see Whiteheart on their Don't Wait for the Movie tour.  Here's a great video from that concert featuring a drum (Chris McHugh) and bass (Tommy Sims) solo followed by the great classic Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Christian (featuring awesome guitar solo by Gordon Kennedy):

Ah, those were the good old days.

Wait a minute...I'm getting a message...

Oh, um, I think I've made a mistake.  According the official important holiday site, Old Rock Day is actually "an opportunity to enjoy and appreciate old rocks and fossils."  They meant rock, rock day; not rock-n-roll rock day.  Uh, sorry about that. 

But hey, according to my kids, Whiteheart would fit into the category of "fossils" so I guess this still counts.  So find some old rocks, or some old rock songs, and enjoy Old Rock Day.  Just don't become a fossil yourself!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Resolved: To Proclaim the Gospel

On the heels of the last post about resolutions, I've decided to actually make one.  It's not a new one.  It's not an original one.  Hopefully it's not one that I can't follow through on.  But it's one I think we (as in pastors) ought to make again and again.  Whatever else we do, we ought to resolve to preach the gospel. 

I recently picked up Paul Washer's new book "The Gospel's Power and Message" and didn't get past the introduction before this reminder hit home.  I've had the opportunity to hear Bro. Washer on a couple occasions and I always walked away feeling both energized and convicted.  Truth has a way of doing that.  This book seems as if it's going to have the same impact on me.

Listen to what he writes in the introduction:  "One of the greatest crimes committed by this present Christian generation is its neglect of the gospel, and it is from this neglect that all our other maladies spring forth.  The lost world is not so much gospel hardened as it is gospel ignorant because so many of those who proclaim the gospel are also ignorant of its most basic truths." 

As Voddie Baucham is known for saying:  If you can't say "Amen", you gotta say "Ouch!"  Again, this isn't anything new.  Washer even quotes from Charles Spurgeon who said of his own day that "In this age, there have risen up in the church itself men who speak perverse things...and undermine the faith they are pledged to maintain."  It's an ailment that has plagued the church time and again. 

And yet, in many ways it does seem as though the American church is striving to top the list of "perverse things" being taught and "gospel neglect."  As a pastor, it's my responsibility to examine what goes on in our church, what goes on in my own teaching, to ensure that we are not guilty of these same things.

Kevin DeYoung just posted a piece about "Things People Should Never Say They Never Heard in Your Church."  Most of the truths he mentions are basic gospel truths.  He reminds us that people can come and go in our churches for years, but that's no guarantee that they know the things they need to know.  It may be that they just aren't listening, but as a pastor it's up to me to be sure that it's not because I'm not proclaiming it.  

Paul's instructions to Timothy were pretty simple:  Preach the Word (2 Timothy 4:2).  Preach the Gospel.  Not entertain, not build a reputation, not make people feel better about themselves.  Preach the Gospel.  Preach the Word of God in season and out, when it's popular and when it's not.  Just preach the Word.

I'm looking forward to the rest of Washer's book, which in large part is simply a collection of his sermons edited for publication.  I'm looking forward to being reminded of the central elements of this Gospel message we have been called to proclaim.  I need to be reminded what my true task is.  Too often I get sidetracked by the mundane issues of church life, and the temptation to feel burdened by the "never-ending-Sunday" issue many pastors feel (Sunday's coming and I've got to have something to say!).  

But it's no burden.  And we do have something to say.  And it's something that people need to hear more than anything: the Gospel.  And so I resolve that whatever else may happen in our church this year, the gospel will be proclaimed. If people walk away from this place not knowing the truth of Jesus Christ and Him crucified, may it never be because I failed to proclaim Him.