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

Monday, April 29, 2013

True Bravery: Jason Collins or Chris Broussard

Rumors have been swirling that some big name atheletes were going to "come out" as homosexuals.  The rumor mainly focused on the NFL, where reportedly a group of 3 or 4 players were going to come out together.  Then, the NBA beat them to it, with the Washington Wizards' Jason Collins announcing that he is homosexual

Of course, the media loves it.  On Fox Sports' website, the top four or five headlines had nothing to do with NBA playoffs, or the NHL playoffs about to start, or any other actual sporst story.  It was all about Collins and how "brave" he is to do this.  

Really?  How brave is doing something that the sinful world in which we live applauds?  How brave is it to admit to a sinful lifestyle for which the mainstream media will turn you into a hero?  The President of the United States commended the guy for pitty's sake.  How brave do you have to be to step into the limelight and be the hero of a godless culture?  

Then there is Chris Broussard.  The ESPN analyst said in an interview: "Personally, I don't believe that you can live an openly homosexual lifestyle, or like, premarital sex between heterosexuals … it says that that's a sin … I believe that's walking in open rebellion to God and to Jesus Christ," he said on the show. "So, I would not characterize that person as a Christian, because I don't think the Bible would characterize that person as a Christian."

That, my friends, is brave.  Because the media isn't going to send Mr. Broussard any love letters.  He won't get any press except bad press and the "hateful bigot" that the world sees all Christians as being.  He won't be getting any pats on the back from the world at large.  The POTUS certainly won't be giving any props.  He'll be lucky if he doesn't lose his job at ESPN.   

Because the world we live in loves the darkness and hates the light.  They can't stand for the light of Scripture to be shined upon their sin.  And Mr. Broussard did just that.  And the world cringes.  Yet, the truth is, we need more people like this who are willing to take a stand on God's Word.  As Mr. Broussard says in the interview, not just with homosexuality, but adultery and other sexual sins as well.  It's not a popular stand.  Especially in the hormone driven world of professional atheletes. 

Thank you, Christ Broussard, for standing firm on the truth.  Thank you for showing true bravery by going against the flow.  Thank you for putting your career on the line.  We'll be praying for you, and for others in the media to be bold like you.  And we'll be praying for Jason Collins as well, that God will open his eyes to the sin that enslaves him and show him true freedom in Christ.  

In the meantime, ready yourselves Church.  The onslaught against those who do take a stand on matters like this is only just getting warmed up. 

An Experiment in Time

I’ve noticed that over the last month or so, posts here have been rather sparse. I’m not sure if it’s a matter of too little time, too little to say, or a combination of the two.

But when I started this thing, I had resolved to try and average two a week, which I usually have done; until recently. Again, crowded schedule, empty brain, or somewhere in between.

So here’s the deal. At some future point I plan on time travel becoming a reality. Either we’ll invent it, or the Doctor will finally let us in on it. But either way, someone will figure it out. At that time, I will come back in time and fill these pages with some really amazing posts, so that readers will be amazed at how I can possibly find the time to do it all.

Of course, by the time you’ve read this, this future return to the past will already have happened. And so you will already have read all those posts. And you’ll be wondering what in the world I’m talking about. So maybe, I should also delete this post when I add the others, so no one will be the wise.

Now then, if you are reading this, it must mean that the time machine hasn’t been invented, or the Doctor is still keeping it all to himself, or somehow maybe I just got old and absent minded and forgot to come back and fill these pages with my brilliance. Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Where on the timeline are we, anyway?

Well, in the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to start working harder in this timeline, applying myself more faithfully to ensure that the two or three bored souls who stumble across this site have something at least mediocre to fill their time with.

To the future…

Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Demise of Corporate Prayer

The Faithful Few. The Dedicated Dozen. The Elite Eight. Whatever the size, and however you refer to them, the truth is that those who regularly and faithfully gather for prayer in the local church seems to dwindle year by year.
Of course, not every church. I know of a few places where those gathered for prayer are a constant, and sometimes even growing number. Sadly, in my experience, these are the exception.

And of course, that's assuming the church even still has a "prayer meeting." I know there isn't anything magical or even biblical necessarily about a "Wednesday Night Prayer Meeting," In some cases, it's just a tradition. But in doing away with tradition, many have done away with corporate prayer all together. Those that still meet midweek often are entertained with all sorts of programs for the kids, some helpful, some not. But where is the prayer?

It's sad that the average church of about 100 in attendance grabs only a fraction of those during stated times for prayer, again assuming such a time even exists. What's going on? Why are folks not interested? Are these meetings even necessary?

Charles Spurgeon once taught on the subject and outlined several biblical benefits of the corporate prayer meeting, based on the church in Acts. He reminds us that these times are good for encouraging the believers, for receiving divine power, strengthening during persecution, achieving the deliverance of individuals, empowering missions, among other things. He points out that this gathered prayer is where we find our true spiritual power as a church. He said:

"United prayer is useful inasmuch as God has promised extraordinary and peculiar blessings in connection with it, “Wherever two or -three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”…God asks agreement, and, once the saints agree, he pledges himself that the prayer of his agreeing ones shall be answered. Why, see what accumulated force there is in prayer, when one after another pours out his vehement desires; when many seem to be tugging at the rope; when many seem to be knocking mercy’s gate; when the mighty cries of many burning hearts come up to heaven. When, my beloved, you go and shake the very gates thereof with the powerful battering-ram of a holy vehemence, and a sacred importunity, then is it that the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence. When first one, and then another, and yet another, throws his whole soul into the prayer, the kingdom of heaven is conquered and the victory becomes great indeed."

He then made application to his own church in particular, saying: 

"The prayer-meeting is an institution which ought to be very precious to us, and to be cherished very much by us as a Church, for to it we owe everything. When our comparatively little chapel was all but empty, was it not a well-known fact that the prayer-meeting was always full? And when the Church increased, and the place was scarce large enough, it was the prayer meeting that did it all. When we went to Exeter Hall, we were a praying people, indeed; and when we entered on the larger speculation, as it seemed, of the Surrey Music-hall, what cries and tears went up to heaven for our success! And so it has been ever since. It is in the spirit of prayer that our strength lies; and if we lose this, the locks will be shorn from Samson, and the Church of God will become weak as water and though we, as Samson did, go and try to shake ourselves as at other times, we shall hear the cry, “The Philistines be upon thee,” and our eyes will be put out, and our glory will depart, unless we continue mighty and earnest in prayer."

How I would love to give that testimony, that our church is known as a place of prayer, that even when worship services may lag in attendance, the prayer meeting is full.  I do know that the opposite end of that is true, though.  Our lack of prayer is much to blame for our lack of power in the church today, and in extreme cases why the "glory has departed."

Is it that our churches are filled with unbelievers, who don't care about prayer?  Or are they filled with immature believers who have forgotten their need for prayer?  Or are they filled with over busy believers who forget that the busier they are, the more they require prayer?  Some combination?  I don't know. 

So what's the answer?  I wish I knew.  I know that only God can motivate His people to want to pray.  I can sure offer a lot of gimmicks and gadgets to get folks to come out, but unless they really want to come and pray, all we end up with is better attended entertainments, not true prayer.   So all I can do is...pray.  Pray and thank God for the faithful few.  Pray that He honors their faithful prayers on behalf of the church.  Pray that others are convicted of their need for prayer in general and their need for corporate prayer in particular.  Pray for God to send His Spirit to motivated and empower His church again.  We need revival in the land, and that will only come through prayer.

So I urge you.  Go to your church's prayer meeting.  If they don't have one, ask to start one.  If they have one in name but fill it with activities and stuff, humbly request to set aside time for prayer.  May God restore His Church to a place of prayer.  

Note: Spurgeon's message on Prayer Meetings is well worth your time to read. You can find a pdf copy here.

Friday, April 19, 2013

This Shouldn't Surprise Us

Everyone knows of the horrific events in Boston this week.  By now you also know of the two young men suspected of being behind the bombings.  Two Chechnyan brothers have been identified, gone on the run, and one is already dead.  According to Fox News, it's been a violent end...

"The suspects apparently surfaced just hours after the FBI released their imaged late Thursday afternoon, shooting the police officer, robbing a convenience store, carjacking a man who later escaped and engaging in a wild shootout with Boston police, in which they hurled explosives from their stolen car."

As I stood in line to buy coffee this morning, I heard the reports on the radio and I heard comments like this: "How could someone so young already be filled with so much hate?" I've been hearing the same kinds of comments all week long. "How can someone do something like this?" "What are they thinking?" How, why, what's going on?

On the one hand, I agree with those questions. We like to think of ourselves as "reasonable" and "good" people, and acts like this befuddle us. We can't imagine what goes through the minds of someone who would bomb a marathon with an obvious attempt to maim and kill. And again, I agree; I can't imagine what goes on in their minds.

But the answer isn't as foreign as we might think. Jonathan Edwards once taught on the “dreadful condition” of natural man, and he said in part:

“The hearts of natural men are exceedingly full of sin…The heart is a mere sink of sin, a fountain of corruption, where issue all manner of filthy streams...The souls of natural men are more vile and abominable than any reptile. If God should open a window in the heart so that we might look into it, it would be the most loathsome spectacle that ever was set before our eyes.” 

I have to remind myself that he's not just talking about "those people out there."  Apart from Christ, apart from some really amazing grace, my heart is just like that.  We're born that way, drowning in sin.  I have to remind myself that my rebellious heart has the potential for the same hatred, the same violence as whoever it is that planted those bombs.

I know we don't like to hear that.  I know we want to act like we're better than this or that person.  I know we want to think that we're "basically good" people.  But the clear teaching of Scripture is just the opposite.  Ephesians 2 begins by saying:  "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience-- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (Eph. 2:1-3, ESV)

Dead, following the sinful nature, disobedient, children of wrath.  That describes all of us.  I'm so grateful that Paul didn't stop there.  I'm so glad verses 4-5 continue: "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ--by grace you have been saved." (ESV)

Only God's grace can change us from depraved sinners with the kind of hatred and violence that leads to the most horrific things; not just bombings, but all sorts of vile and destructive things:  abuse, adultery, abortion, addiction...(and those are just the "a"s).  Again, I know we like to categorize sin, and say that the events in Boston are worse than the gossip and slander and bitterness in my own life.  But it's all destructive, all wounds and maims, all dishonors a Holy God, all is worthy of His wrath.  That's not my opinion; that's the Word of God.  All have sinned and fallen short, all are worthy of His wrath.  

In the end we shouldn't be surprised by the hatred in the hearts of whoever is responsible for Boston's grief.   It's the natural state of all men apart from Christ.  Just because all of us don't go bombing things doesn't mean our hearts are capable.  I think we've shown that they are. 

So praise God for His grace.  Praise God for the mercy and forgiveness shown in Christ.  May we be moved to pray that God would shower that grace on all those involved in this situation.  And may it motivate us to be even more fervent in our efforts to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Because gun laws and terrorist prevention and all the resources of this world can't stop this kind of thing from happening.  Only changed hearts, changed lives, grace washed souls will overcome the sin that is in us.    

Friday, April 12, 2013

God's Provision

I've been thinking a lot lately about God's provision.  In so many ways we take it for granted.  We get so fixated on what we don't have, that we overlook what God has provided.  To use a biblical illustration, we get so fixated on the fact that we're about to sacrifice Isaac, that we may lose sight of the lamb that's been provided. 

It's been a rough few weeks.  My son's car, which he's only had for a few months, dropped the transmission.  It may not be worth fixing.  We've been running around trying to get him to work, working around our other schedules, etc.  It's been a frustration. 

But then, we do have the other vehicles to get him there.  He does have a job.  I still have a job.  We may not be able to afford to fix his car even if it's deemed "worth it" but we still have food on the table, a roof over our heads, etc.  Because our God provides. 

Awhile back I started having worse than usual problems with my eyesight.  I've to -10.00 power in one eye and -7.50 in the other.  Pretty bad and I've always had trouble getting them to focus together, but this was even worse.  Things are getting "warped" in the one eye.  Turns out I have a degenerative condition that causes swelling and bleeding on the retina and damages the macula.  I'll be going in for a dye test to track the bleeding and then considering if an injection therapy will help, or if I'll just have to learn to live with the diminished vision.  Waa, waa, poor me. 

Even though my reading is affected, I have access to my computer where I can change font sizes, along with my Kindle which does the same.  This helps some, and what a blessing to live in a day where I have that technology.  And even if it does get worse, I can pick up audio books, and there are all sorts of other techonologies available.  At least I know how to read, have access to books, etc.  How many don't?  How many never have?  I still have breath in my lungs, and a mouth to speak God's Word, and an opportunity to do so.  Because God provides. 

We can be tempted to focus on the negative, look at the demands God makes of us, emphasize the "sacrifices" we make; and lose sight of God's gracious provision in all things.  I pray my eyes are always on Him (pardon the personal pun), and that I will always be reminded of the provision.  Especially the provision He has made in Christ.  Because above all, in spite of anything and everything else, we have Christ, I have salvation in Him, I have the promise of eternal life. What an amazing God we serve!  What a grand provision beyond anything we deserve, anything we could ever hope for.  

Another of God's grand provisions in my life, is music.  It has always been such a big part of my life, and I've been blessed to be able to collect quite a few old hymnals containing some amazing words of praise and instruction.  I just came across these words from an old 1833 volume, taken from one of Isaac Watts' old collections that speaks to this whole issue of God's provision and our need to trust in that, to trust in Christ above all.  I hope you are encouraged. 

Keep silence, all created things,
And wait your Maker’s nod!
My soul stands trembling while she sings
The honors of her God.

Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown
Hang on His firm decree;
He sits on no precarious throne,
No borrows leave to be.

His providence unfolds the book,
And makes His counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke
Fulfills some deep design.

My God, I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes,
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright scenes may rise.

In Thy fair book of life and grace,
O may I find my name
Recorded in some humble place,
Beneath my Lord the Lamb!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Homeschooler Moment #16

Wow, has it really been that long since I've done one of these??  Well...

We started homeschooling when our oldest was in first grade.  She's now finishing her Junior year in college, so we feel like we've homeschooled long enough to make fun of homeschooling!  Around our house, we have a little inside joke about being the "homeschool poster child."  Anytime someone does something really absurd, misses an obvious fact, etc. we laugh and say "homeschool poster child!"  (For the record, we think highly of homeschoolers, obviously.  We just think it's fun to use the absurd moments like these to fit in with what many have seen as stereotypes of homeschoolers.)

Here was the latest of those moments: 

Yesterday was my wife's birthday.  Our 8 year old made her a nice little card patterned after a family favorite series of children's books by Mo Willems.  It even featured the famous Pigeon.  His card was about "Don't Let Pigeon Blow Out the Candles."  (see the other Pigeon books and you'll get it).  But the story was only half finished.  The card ended with "to be continued..."

After mom read the card, my son smiled real big and said "too bad you have to wait until Christmas to get the contusion."  When we all laughed, he thought we were laughing with him at making mom wait.  Then we had to explain to him that we think he meant to say "conclusion", and explained that a "contusion" is like what happened when he hit the fireplace bricks with his head.  And to think that he was waiting to give one to his mom until Christmas, well, that's pretty funny.  Even funnier was the face he made, the light going on, and the big "Ooohhhhhh."  Homeschool poster child!

Of course, he's not the only one to suffer from a little word confusion.  We had a President who dealt with that, and in spite of what people often said/thought, he was a pretty smart guy.  So I think this one may turn out ok as well.   And that, my friends, is the contusion to my story. 

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Battle Rages On, Even Though Victory Has Been Achieved

Having just celebrated the Resurrection this past Sunday, rejoicing in Christ's victory over sin, death and Satan, we might be tempted to be a little overly triumphant.  Not that we shouldn't rejoice in His triumph.  Not that we shouldn't rejoice in our victory in Him.  But we need to not lose sight of the reality that though the victory is won, the battle rages on. 

I've been preaching through Ephesians for the last year or so, and we've arrived near the end and Paul's discussion of the Christian's armor.  The first question that should come up in light of this past weekend is this: If Christ is victorious, why do we need armor?  And the answer is plain: because the battle rages on.

It's somewhat confusing, at least for me.  How do I reconcile the message of the resurrection, the victory of Christ, with Scripture's repeated urging to "fight the good fight", "put on the whole armor of God", etc.?  The war is over but the battles continue?  Seems a bit odd, doesn't it?  But this is the reality we live in. 

Jesus has won the victory.  Satan is defeated.  And yet, his final defeat will not be "realized" until the end when Christ returns to establish his kingdom.  In the meantime, you and I live in this land of "already, but not yet."  We are already partakers with Him in life and victory.  But we have not yet experienced the fullness of that.  He has already won, but the enemy has not yet surrendered.  And so the battle rages on. 

I don't want to go into too much detail.  At least one or two of our church folk read this blog and I don't want to give away the next few weeks' sermons.  But in short, we need to find this balance between confidence in our victory, and vigilance in our ongoing spiritual battles.  We need to beware becoming to overconfident because of the Resurrection that we overlook the enemy's ongoing war against us.  Just because he's lost, doesn't mean he's given up.  

Again, Scripture gives us warning after warning about this battle, and speaks often with a military motif.   Be on your guard.  Keep watch.  Stand firm.  Be of good courage.  Fight that good fight.  Don't ever lose sight of the reality that there is a real enemy out there, a real foe with "schemes" and "flaming darts" and everything. 

Yet at the same time, remember who we are, and Whose we are.  We fight day in and day out, but the battle is the Lord's.  And He will win, has won.  Battle on, but do so in confidence.  With that in mind, here is this wonderful old hymn on spiritual warfare by Isaac Watts from 1709.  It reminds us both of the ongoing battle and the absolute confidence we have because of Christ's victory.  

Stand up, my soul, shake off thy fears,
And gird the Gospel armor on,
March to the gates of endless joy,
Where thy great Captain-Savior’s gone.

Hell and thy sins resist thy course,
But hell and sin are vanquished foes;
Thy Jesus nailed them to the cross,
And sung the triumph when He rose.

What though the prince of darkness rage,
And waste the fury of his spite,
Eternal chains confine him down
To fiery deeps and endless night.

What though thine inward lusts rebel,
’Tis but a struggling gasp for life;
The weapons of victorious grace
Shall slay thy sins, and end the strife.

Then let my soul march boldly on,
Press forward to the heav’nly gate;
There peace and joy eternal reign,
And glitt’ring robes for conquerors wait.

There shall I wear a starry crown,
And triumph in almighty grace,
While all the armies of the skies
Join in my glorious Leader’s praise.

Monday, April 1, 2013

It's About Change - The Story Behind April Fool's

You might already know the history behind April Fool's Day, or you may not.  But his "bulletin insert" from Christian Communicators Worldwide gives not only a recounting of the history, but a series of great lessons to be learned from the whole thing.  You can also read and download the insert here.

Confessions of an April Fool
Author: Susan Verstraete
I don't know about you, but if I had been alive in Rome in 1582, I would probably have been one of the original April fools.
April Fools Day History
In that year, Pope Gregory XIII decided that the calendar needed to be changed to align better with the solar year. The current Julian calendar was off about 11 minutes and 14 seconds a year, which by the year 1582 added up to about 10 days too many.

In order to fix this error, Gregory proposed a radical solution. On October 4th, 1582 we assume everyone went to bed as usual. But when they woke up the next morning, it was October 15th. Ten days were lost forever. Holidays, birthdays and anniversaries were reset to ten days later. New Years was moved from April 1 to January 1 and the new Gregorian calendar was officially adopted in Rome.

As you can imagine, some people did not easily accept this change. A few thought it was a trick to get them to pay a full month's rent for only 20 days occupancy. Others couldn't see the need for the change and some people, especially those in rural areas, never even heard about it. Perhaps a handful resisted the change just because it was change, difficult and confusing.

Because of this widespread resistance, the new calendar was not fully accepted for many years. Those who clung to the old system and celebrated New Years on April 1 were scoffed at and called "fools" by the more progressive Romans.

My sympathies lie firmly with the traditionalists. Though some people thrive on change, many of us fear it. The more invasive the change, the more we avoid it. So how do we April-fool types learn to respond to change in a way that honors God?

Accept that change is inevitable. The Bible teaches us that life is "a vapor, which appears for a little time, and then disappears" (James 4:14). Is anything more changeable than a vapor? And yet there is a part of us that—sullenly and against common sense—expects our life to go on just as it is forever. Accepting the biblical truth that change is inevitable will free us from the feeling of surprise and even betrayal when circumstances do change (and they will).

Agree that change is commanded. All through the Bible, God commands his people to repent—to change their minds and actions to conform to His holiness in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
For you ought to put off the old man (according to your way of living before) who is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, And you should put on the new man, who according to God was created in righteousness and true holiness. Eph. 4:22-24
Understand that change is desirable. Most of us are familiar with Romans 8:28, "All things work together for good to those who love the Lord, who are called according to His purpose." But when seemingly-tragic changes come, it's difficult to see them from God's perspective. In "Don't Waste Your Cancer", an article written by Pastor John Piper after his own cancer diagnosis, he says:
What God permits, He permits for a reason. And that reason is His design. If God foresees molecular developments becoming cancer, He can stop it or not. If He does not, He has a purpose. Since He is infinitely wise, it is right to call this purpose a design.
Piper knows, as we all should, that every circumstance in our life comes from the hand of the Father and is specifically designed to work for our good and the glory of God.

Cling to the unchangeable. The uncertainty of this life does not need to leave us feeling anxious and uneasy. God told His people, "For I am Jehovah, I change not." (Mal. 3:6). The author of Hebrews says that Jesus Christ is "the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Heb. 13:8). Ultimately, any change in circumstance in this life is endurable if we rest on an unchanging God.