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

Monday, September 30, 2013

The Silence is Deafening

From time to time we may hear a snippet of some atrocity facing our Christian brethren around the world.  But most of the time, it is just a snippet, and those snippets are too few and far between.  Meanwhile, Christians all over the globe face the most horrendous persecution.  They are kidnapped, raped, beaten and killed.  They are falsely arrested and imprisoned.  They are targeted by radical Muslims and by extremist governments. And all the while, we sit by and do nothing. (read here for a little summary of some of the things that have been going on; and lest you think it's a biased report, read here for a more "mainstream" report).

Two things stand out to me about this.  One, how does our government stand by so silently on this.  We are so quick to condemn those who would infringe on the "rights" of Muslims, gays, and a host of other politically correct "victims."  But slaughter a few Christians?  No big deal.  In fact, sadly, in many of these cases our government is actually supporting the very people carrying out these atrocities; see Syria for example.  The silence is as sad as it is deafening.

And yet, two, the silence from our churches is even worse.  Several years ago our oldest daughter took a homeschool course with material from Voice of the Martyrs.  It was an eye opening thing for our whole family.  Since then, we've tried to bring attention to the persecuted church in our own church fellowship, and even have one of our Sunday School classes that regularly takes up offerings for ministries like VOM.  But even that is probably too little on our part. 

Most churches, like ours, would rather spend our time and energy fighting over what songs we sing, and who gets to use our building (and whether or not they should have to pay for the electricity they use while using it), and what Bible translation we read from, and what color toilet paper we use in the women's restroom.  OK, so that last one might be a bit of an exaggeration.  But sadly, not much of one.  

The American church, and the Western church in general, enjoys such an enormous amount of blessing and freedom, and we fail to see it.  Not only are we to be ashamed for how little we stand up and fight for our persecuted brothers, how little we even think about them and pray for them; but our failure to appreciate our blessings may soon lead to a loss of them.  We see daily examples of the eroding freedoms in America and the increase of "persecution" even here.  And while some see that, and bemoan it, we fail to have equal concern for the real persecution around the globe. 

So what's the solution?  At the very least, we ought to make an effort to keep up with what's going on around the world, whether it's from reliable news sources or ministries like VOM.  That information should then lead us to action; to prayer at the least, and maybe to support of various ministries attempting to serve in those places.  Maybe we should even write some letters, contact some legislators, and urge our seemingly blind government to speak up about some of these things.  Whatever it is, the deafening silence needs to be overcome with an outcry of protest to the world, and prayer to our King. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Having Something to Say (again)

A repeat.  Because quite frankly I'm having that struggle of having something to say right now.  When all else fails, just "say" the gospel.  

Originally posted July 18, 2011

I once read that a company called Bell Data ran an ad in the Financial Times of Canada that said: "This is a full-blown, state-of-the-art, fully integrated, user-friendly, multifunctional, omni-lingual, multi-tasking word and data processing system with advanced graphic generation capabilities." Any idea what they were describing? Pencils. Why didn't they just say, "We sell pencils."

We do indeed waste a lot of words, don't we? We speak with our mouths, but our words are empty. Either it’s access verbiage, or just meaningless babble. We live in a cliche culture. Hi. How are you? Fine. Looks like rain. How about those Cardinals?

I think part of the problem with both cliche conversation and excess verbiage is that we live in a society where we feel like we have to say something. Silence scares us for some reason. Henry Nouwen wrote that for most people "silence creates itchiness and nervousness. As soon as a minister says during a worship service, Let us be silent for a few moments, people tend to become restless and preoccupied with only one thought: When will this be over?"

That fear of silence will get us into trouble, too. So often we feel we have to say something when we might be better off keeping quiet; and then we end up saying something that we wish we hadn't said. Admit it; it's happened to all of us. We need to remember this sage little piece of advice I once heard one man say, "I seldom feel sorry for the things I did not say."

As a pastor, I think I feel this need to say something very acutely. Any of you who have tried to help in ministry situations involving loss or grief or sickness or whatever may have felt that overwhelming feeling that we should say something. Many times we ought to just listen, but because of our fear of silence we just have to say something.

Also, in ministry there is the crisis of the never ending Sunday. Sunday just keeps following Sunday, and I have to have a sermon prepared for each one. Then there are Sunday nights and Wednesday nights and funerals and weddings. There is this real struggle in my life between having something to say, and having to say something. At least three times a week I have to say something; that doesn't mean I always have something to say, as readers of this blog may be well aware.

Oswald J. Smith wrote that "the world does not need sermons; it needs a message. You can go to seminary and learn how to preach sermons, but you will have to go to God to get messages." I really identify with that. Occasionally I give into the pressure of having to say something three times a week and I come up with sermons. Sometimes they come off OK, other times they don't. What I need to remember is that having to say something is not enough; sermons are not enough. I need to have a message; I need to actually have something to say.

And I think the average Christian goes through that as well. If you’ve been in church long enough I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of times how important it is for each and every Christian to share our faith in Christ with others. Peter reminds us that we should “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”(I Peter 3:15). We know it’s something we should do. But I think a lot of folks suffer from the same thing I do. When it comes to telling others about Christ, we know we should say something, but we don't always feel like we have something to say. I just want to offer you this simple reminder inspired by the words of Jeremiah 20:9

If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” there is a fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot.”

Jeremiah reminds us of two very simple things: we do have something to say, and we have to say it. A few verses later Jeremiah speaks of praising God for “he has delivered the life of the needy from the hand of the wicked.” It’s that simple. The main thrust of the Gospel message, what we have to say to a lost world is simply this: God rescues the life of the needy from the hand of the wicked. God rescues needy sinners from the hand of sin. Through Christ Jesus there is salvation and hope and victory. And folks, that's what our world needs to hear more than anything else.

Scripture says that Satan is the god of this world. You and I may never understand it, but God in His wisdom, for His purposes, has allowed the adversary to have nearly free reign. As a result, sin dominates, people are lost and confused, and the world seems to be going to hell in a hand-basket. There are people out there with real hurts and real needs; things that cliches just won't solve.

But guess what? We have the solution, don't we? The solution is Jesus Christ. In His grace and mercy He gives us a new heart, a new life, a new hope, and a new future. For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Our friends and neighbors need to hear that; and we are the ones who have been called to tell them. God has set us aside for that purpose. Don't worry about just having to say something, because we definitely have something to say. Jesus Saves!

And if you are truly a disciple of Christ; if you have unquestionably been born again; if God's Spirit has genuinely taken up residence in you life, then I can guarantee you this one thing. There will come a time when you just can't hold it in any longer. We have to speak it.

It doesn't matter how frightened you are, how shy you are, how inarticulate you may be, eventually God's Spirit is just going to come bursting through your life out the words are going to come out of your mouth. God can't be contained. If He's in your heart, sooner or later you're not going to be able to hold Him in, and He's going to show through. Like Peter and John before the Sanhedrin, we’ll say, "we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:20)

The world is literally dying to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. They are dying to hear some words of hope. They don't need cliches, they don't need excess verbiage, they just need to hear the truth that God loves them and Jesus died for them. And we are the ones who have been commanded to tell them. We do have something to say. We can say it boldly because God is there to guide and support us. And we should be so full of the Spirit that we just can't help ourselves.

So get out there and share some good news with someone today.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Freudian Slips in Worship?

You've heard of the Freudian slip, right?  Saying something you didn't intend to say, calling someone by a wrong name, and realizing that there is a connection to your subconscious thoughts.  You call your wife by your ex-girlfriends name, and they say this means you're still thinking about that ex.  Or you say something wrongly and they suggest this is what you actually think.  According to Freud, unacceptable thoughts or beliefs are supposedly withheld from our conscious awareness, and these slips help reveal what is hidden in the unconscious.

I'm no psychology expert, but I know the term, have seen it at work, and even when the slip was just that, a slip, it's fun to tease someone about what their subconscious mind is at work doing.  But how often are these slips legitimate, and can they happen in our worship?

Recently I read a post about "accidental heresy" in worship.  Worship leaders snitched on themselves about little slips they've made in songs, prayers, etc. during worship services.  Sometimes is just getting the lyrics wrong.  Sometimes it's just switching a word or two.  It's all in good fun.  And yet, I wonder...

Could it be that some of these things are real Freudian slips at work?  I don't know any of the folks who shared these slips; don't know their hearts; so I don't mean to be accusing anyone of anything.  And yet when we look at some of these slips, do they not reveal what many in the church actually are thinking?  Consider some of these examples of what was accidentally uttered in worship:

"I see a generation rising up to take their place with selfish faith."

"Not because of what You've done, but because of who I am."

"I'd rather have silver than Jesus or gold."

I once asked a congregation to "Stand and worship us," rather than "Stand and worship with us."

"Lord, align Your will with ours."

"God, that you would decrease so that I may increase..." 

Again, I don’t know any of these folks.  I know we all just have a slip of the tongue sometimes.  It happens.  But let’s be honest.  Don’t some of these statements reflect the heart of so many in the church today?  Isn’t some of this the very message being given off in some of our churches? 

Isn’t it true that we are raising up a generation of folks with a selfish faith?  Isn’t it true that some worship leaders want the attention for themselves?  Isn’t it true that many want silver more than Jesus, that we want God’s will to align with ours, that we want ourselves to increase, etc.? 

Could it be that some of these statements are simply reflecting the subconscious thoughts and feelings of many in the church today?  Maybe even our own hearts, if we’re honest?

So much of what goes on in the church today has become so man-centered, so emotion-centered, so self-satisfying.  It’s about me, and my wants, and my pleasure, and what God can do for me, and how I feel about it all.  Is it any wonder that statements like this might slip out.?

I don’t have anything really profound to say about all this.  It just made me think.  It made me do a little heart searching to see if my worship really is centered on Christ and His glory, of if there might be a little of this in my heart as well.  I think it’s good to do a little self evaluation from time to time. 

So, that’s all.  I hope this sparks a little self-evaluation in you as well.  Are we truly Christ-centered in all we do, and do we accurately project that to others as well?  Just a little food for thought.  (And remember that if your self-evaluation turns up anything unwelcome, just blame your parents like all good psychologists would have you do!)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Happy Constitution Day

September 17, 1787.  A pretty good day in US history.  It was on this date that the U. S. Constitution was completed and signed.  55 men were involved altogether, including the writing and signing. (It's worth noting that nearly all were active members of Christian denominations, for those who say Christians have had nothing to offer...)   That makes today the 226th anniversary of that wonderful day.  So Happy Constitution Day.

You can celebrate in any number of ways.  You can find some of the online resources that give some basic information, fun facts, etc. about our Constitution.  (here or here for example)

You can read the Constitution.  It's one of the suggested ideas in the links above, and would be a good idea for every American.  It would be especially good for those serving in any branch of government, since so many seem to have never seen it before. 

Speaking of which, one way we could celebrate is to look back over the last few years and enumerate the various ways the Federal Government has violated the Constitution.  That would be a fun and educational experience, I'm sure. 

You could also celebrate Constitution Day by going right now and joining the Constitution Party. That way, you're already set for the next election cycle to try and restore our nation to its founding documents (a pipe dream, I know).  

Or you can simply do what the framers and signers of this grand, historical document did on a regular basis.  Get down on your knees and thank God for His generous blessings to this nation and seek His guidance for its future.  While it may be a radical concept to many today, it was common practice (and common sense) to our founding fathers. 

But however you celebrate, you should celebrate.  This document, if you are an American, is why you have the freedoms you have, including the reading of this post right now.  So remind yourself of this important part of our heritage.  Happy Constitution Day!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

On Books, Covers, and Judging

One of my favorite historical events has always been the choosing of David as King of Israel.  God sends the prophet Samuel to the house of Jesse to anoint the chosen king and Jesse trots out his sons.  Big and tall and strong and good looking kids.  But God says, "Nope, none of these."  (paraphrased, obviously.  Not sure God ever said "nope")

You know the story, they finally bring in the runt of the litter who's out back doing chores, and Samuel says, "Him?"  And God says, "Him!"  And Samuel says, "Are you sure?"  And God says, "Don't judge a book by its cover."  (again, a paraphrase, but it helps me get to the line about books and covers and judging, see 1 Samuel 16 for the actual version).

I've always loved that because indeed God does tell us that while man looks on the outside, God looks at the heart.  And those are good lessons.  And in general, the idea of judging a book by its cover is a good one. However...

My oldest daughter recently wrote about the issue of judging books by their covers when actually talking about...books; imagine that.  And she points out that when it comes to books, especially these days with all the fancy graphics and stuff, we often do judge those books by their covers.  She gives some examples showing how the spine, the title font, the cover graphics, all lead us to certain conclusions about that book.  They either grab our interest, or we move on the the next one.

Now, with books, her point is that the covers do indeed have an important part to play in the "book selection" process for the average book buyer.  Obviously, the content is what is ultimately important, but it does make a good point:  If the cover is horrendous, will the average buyer pick it up long enough to see what that content is? 

And here's the point for us.  While the story of David reminds us that what's on the inside is what counts, the truth is, what's on the outside is important to a degree as well.  Our outward behavior is what "advertises" to the world what truly is on the inside.  If I give no attention at all to the outward "appearance" of my words, actions, etc., then will I ever get the opportunity to show others what the inside looks like?

James, for example, reminds us that our tongues give away quite a bit.  He tells us in James 3 that what comes out of our mouths should match up with what's on the inside.  So if my mouth is busy gossiping, cursing, telling rude jokes; and then I try to tell folks that my heart is pure before God....hmmm, how much will they believe me?  

Likewise Jesus tells us that we will be known by our fruits.  That is the actions, behaviors, etc. that are produced on the outside will reveal the life, or lack of it, on the inside.  So if I claim to be a Christian, I claim to have been born again, changed by a Holy and Righteous God and called to conform to the image of His Son; and yet I live like the rest of the world in my actions, words, etc., how much is anyone going to believe me?

Ah, but you can't judge a book by it's cover, you say.  Well, to a degree.  If you're God.  He's the one who looks past the outside to see the reality of our hearts.  He knows the truth about us no matter how hard we try to cover it up.  But as He said Himself, man looks at the outside.  Others around us will be browsing through life, and the cover they see on us will in large part determine if they will ever give us the time of day to find out what the "content" really is.

Please don't misunderstand.  I'm not arguing for a focus on appearances alone.  But if a book cover presents itself as an action packed sci-fi adventure and then the story turns out to be some cheesy romance; folks are going to be pretty put out!  Likewise, we shouldn't pretend to be something we're not just to impress others; but at the same time, we should be very conscious about the fact that how we look, act, talk, etc. does have an impact in our attempts to share the love of Christ with others.  

And in the end, if there is real life inside, it will be obvious on the outside.  So while God judges the heart, the reality of that heart is seen on the outside.  Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks, Jesus said.  So what's coming out of us?  What does our "cover" look like?  Does it truly reflect the content of our hearts?   Now, if you'll excuse me, all this has put me in the mood to go do some book shopping!