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

Monday, December 15, 2014

Death of a Blog?

We all know that life moves in cycles and seasons.  We start out young and learn our way around.  You then "hit your stride" out to conquer the world in youthful exuberance.  Eventually, age and wisdom take over, and maybe you slow down, or redirect.  Eventually, it all catches up and things really start to slow down, etc.  It varies from person to person, but there is a definite pattern to it all. 

I think I see that in this blog as well.  In 2007 I hit the online world with my little page and slowly started to learn my way around.  Growing and learning and getting the hang of things, the pace picked up a bit.  At some point, I "hit my stride" and was spouting off about anything and everything.  I even got a little nationwide boost during an election cycle in which my words prompted interviews from a St. Louis paper and even the NY Times, which both quoted me.  I felt like a star. 

But then middle age set in, it became more steady and plodding, maybe.  Hopefully more mature...nah, never mind on that one.  And then things started slowing down.  Maybe life got busier, maybe I got less opinionated...

...Sorry, had to take a break and catch my breath after "rolling on the floor laughing."

Anyway, it seems now that this thing has become like a sad, neglected old relative in a nursing facility.  I only come by to visit once a week or so, and then don't seem to think about it for awhile.

Again, maybe it's a life phase or something.  I still enjoy doing this.  I started in large part as a cathartic experience.  Just being able to share thoughts about random things.  Some important.  Others not so much.  Some things I couldn't really share from the pulpit. Other things which I had just shared from the pulpit.  All it all, a fulfilling experience for me whether anyone reads it or not.

But I've been feeling guilty about the lack of both quality and quantity lately.  And it's made me wonder what the future holds.  Maybe I'll get with it again.  Maybe I'll just let it fade into the sunset.  Just don't know.  The fact that I'm taking time for my weekly visit to even ruminate about this should tell you something.

I also read an online "acquaintance" who recently wrote about becoming bored with blogs.  Maybe that's it.  Maybe the time has passed.  I know there are still several places out there that I enjoy stopping by and reading, depending on time, etc.  So maybe these things still have a place. 

Anyway, the title of this blog says it contains "random thoughts" and these have been about as random as it gets.  At least I'm living up to the billing, though.  

If the end is near, it's been a fun ride.  If there is still life left, I look forward to what may still come.  Either way, God is good, grace is amazing, and... I need coffee!

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Awkward Handshake...and other "Traditions"

I'm not sure what's behind the "tradition" of the pastor standing at the head of the casket after a funeral service.  As the "viewing line" comes around, they all look at me with this bewildered look, like "am I supposed to shake your hand?"  I know that the few times I've been to services that I'm not conducting, I do appreciate the chance to thank the minister for his words of encouragement, etc. so maybe that's all it is. But most folks still give that confused look.

However, if the first person shakes my hand, then the rest of the line sees that and has this, "Oh, I guess I have to shake your hand now, too" look.  If it's a church member's service and it's other church members, the handshake is real.  For folks I don't know, it can be very awkward. 

I share that simply because I've made the decision that since 90% of all funerals I attend end with me up front offering this awkward handshake, I think that when I die I should leave instructions for the funeral director to embalm my body with my hand hanging out of the casket so that my last funeral can end like all the others: with me up front offering folks an awkward handshake.  (For the record, this probably won't actually happen since upon sharing the idea with my wife she informed me there was "no way" she was touching me when I'm dead!  Oh, feel the love.)

This brought to mind a recurring idea for me: why do we do the things we do?  Why do the bride and groom stuff cake into each other's mouths at weddings, for example? Or why do you have to have different forks for salads and desserts?  These are the things that keep me up at night.

I know that there are probably good reasons for most "traditions" in the church and elsewhere.  If I had the time and patience I could probably track those reasons down.  I don't mean to make light of those things that really do have meaning.  But so much of what we do, we simply do because...that's what we do.

Simple things like church bulletins.  Insignificant for most folks, but let the copier break down and go a Sunday without any, and while most might not really care, you'll have a couple of folks at least who will have a meltdown.  "What?! No bulletins?  We won't know what song is coming next! How will we survive?!"  Maybe not that bad, but we get used to things like that, and begin to think they are a vital part of things when they really aren't.

Or the other hand shaking thing, the one where we take time in the worship service to walk around and shake hands.  We do this before we even begin the actual service, but I've been places where the service starts, and then we stop to shake hands, and then we try to go back to worship.  Seems an odd insertion.  And again, some folks will freak if we don't do it. 

This one I really did experience.  We didn't do the "greeting time" one Sunday years ago, and I had someone come up after the service and was very irate about it.  "Why didn't we have the greeting time?  Why are you trying to change things?  Etc."

Those are simple things.  But the point is, we ought to take time now and then to consider the things we do in the church, or in our families, or wherever.  And we need to ask ourselves, are these meaningful things, useful things, productive things, Biblical things?  Or are they just traditions, habits, rituals, things we don't even know why we're doing them. 

Just some thoughts.  And if you do for some reason happen to attend my funeral, don't be shy, go ahead and shake that hand.  It will mean a lot to me.   

Monday, December 1, 2014

Final Feelings on Ferguson (maybe...)

Years ago, conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh started using a phrase to describe the liberal politicians and their media mouthpieces.  He called it "symbolism over substance."  The point being that those on the "left" were more concerned about good sounding ideas and such than actual, real world ideas and legislation.   That idea has now completely taken over our nation, it seems.

The headline in this past Sunday's paper said that the events happening in Ferguson, MO surrounding the black young man who robbed a local store and was then fatally wounded in a confrontation with a white police officer, was the beginning of the "new civil rights era."  Really?  This is the kind of case those fighting for genuine racial harmony are going to build their platform on?  One where the actual facts have nothing to do with a racial issue at all?  Symbolism over substance.

Meanwhile, across the city in St. Louis proper, several Rams players took the field with their hands up in the air mimicking the chant of the Ferguson protestors: "Hands up, don't shoot."  Never mind the fact that the evidence in this case, including the autopsy, show that if the young man would have actually demonstrated this attitude and posture, he might still be alive.  But as I stated in a previous post, facts don't seem to matter when it comes to issues of race.  Now, it's symbolism over substance.

As I also mentioned previously, I grew up about 30 miles from Ferguson.  While in the area over Thanksgiving, we watched in disappointment as protestors filled local shopping malls on "Black Friday", laying in the floor to obstruct shoppers, even closing a couple malls down.  Now I've never been a Black Friday shopper, so it doesn't bother me directly, but what of all the workers in those malls who are losing paychecks because of this.  Does this really help the "cause" of the protestors?  Or does it just create more animosity and division?

Furthermore, large groups of people on private property protesting like this should have led directly to arrests.  If I took a group of folks to the local mall and started preaching the gospel in the center court, I can guarantee I would have been escorted out quickly and firmly by security.  But this is a "racial" issue, so...  These actions really mean nothing constructive. It's just symbolism over substance. 

There are real problems in this world.  As Pastor Voddie Baucham (who is black by the way) pointed out.  "There is indeed an epidemic of violence against black men. However, that violence, more often than not, occurs at the hands of other black men. In fact, black men are several times more likely to be murdered at the hands of another black man than they are to be killed by the police. For instance, in the FBI homicide stats from 2012, there were 2,648 blacks murdered. Of those, 2,412 were murdered by members of their own ethnic group. Thus," Pastor Baucham says, "if I am going to speak out about anything, it will be black-on-black crime; not blue-on-black"

Where are all the protests for genuinely innocent young black men and women being killed routinely by gangs and thieves and such?  Where are the outbursts when a white young man was killed by a black police officer?  Where are Sharpton and Jackson and the others when two young black men torture, rape and kill and young white woman?   Where are the mall stoppers when truly innocent victims are being slaughtered left and right each and every day?  Where are the cries of outrage when black business owners have their businesses destroyed by "protestors"?  Oh, those lives don't matter, I guess.  Or maybe it's that those cases don't feed their political machines, fill their pockets with donations, and help push their race-baiting agenda.  Symbolism over substance.

Once again, please hear me.  The death of Mike Brown was tragic.  I pray for his family.  I pray for his friends and community.  This is a tragic loss of life.  But the evidence was gathered, presented to a grand jury that was already "seated" long before this case came along, witnesses were interviewed, and the result was that the officer here did nothing criminal, worthy of charges.  Why can't we focus on those out there who are guilty of criminal actions, now including many of the rioting, looting, so-called protestors in this case?  Ah, but that would break the symbolism over substance cycle.

I know men's hearts are wicked and depraved.  Sin was in the heart of Mike Brown as well as Officer Darren Wilson.  Sin is in the hearts of the protestors.  Sin is in my own heart.  But my prayer is that the power of the Gospel would prevail, that men's hearts would be changed, that people would start focusing on the substance, the real problems, the real issues, and stop focusing on symbols like this case where the facts don't support at all the protestor's claims.  

I long for the day when we can see one another simply as people, not white people, or black people, or whatever.  And when real issues of race arise, they ought to be addressed.  But the response by so many in this particular case, looking at the symbolism over substance, just leads to frustration on both "sides" and does nothing to genuinely help bridge the gap.  May God truly change some hearts, may folks wake up to the real issues, may genuine victims begin to have their cause championed, and may peace truly come to our communities.  Not just the symbol of it, but the substance of it.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Just a few words of thankfulness for God's bounty and a prayer for our continued faithfulness.  From The Valley of Vision.  Happy Thanksgiving all.

Thou hast made summer and winter,
      day and night;
  each of these revolutions serves our welfare
  and is full of thy care and kindness.
Thy bounty is seen
  in the relations that train us,
  the laws that defend us,
  the homes that shelter us,
  the food that builds us,
  the raiment that comforts us,
  the continuance of our health, members,
    senses, understanding, memory,
      affection, will.
But as stars fade before the rising sun,
  thou hast eclipsed all these benefits
  in the wisdom and grace that purposed
    redemption by Jesus thy Son.
Blessed be thy mercy that laid help on
  one that is mighty and willing,
  one that is able to save to the uttermost.
Make us deeply sensible of our need of his
    saving grace,
  of the blood that cleanses,
  of the rest he has promised.
And impute to us that righteousness which
  justifies the guilty,
  gives them a title to eternal life,
  and possession of the Spirit.
May we love the freeness of salvation,
    and joy in its holiness;
Give us faith to grasp thy promises,
    that are our hope,
  provide for every exigency,
    and prevent every evil;
Keep our hearts from straying after forbidden
May thy will bind all our wishes;
Let us live out of the world as to its spirit,
    maxim, manners,
  but live in it as the sphere of our action
    and usefulness;
May we be alive to every call of duty,
  accepting without question
    thy determination of our circumstances
      and our service.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Facts Don't Seem to Matter When it Comes to Issues of Race

Let me start by saying that I grew up about 30 miles from Ferguson, Missouri. So I'm at least somewhat familiar with the area. My wife and I also spent three years ministering on a Sioux reservation in North Dakota, so I am familiar with race tensions. While there, we were treated with disdain and resentment by many Native Americans because we were white, and we were treated with distrust and revulsion by many whites because we lived out there with “those Indians.” I do understand a little about this stuff. Maybe not much, but a little.

Still, I can't help but think that things like facts don't seem to matter when it comes to issues of race. Last night in the case of Michael Brown, an African American man, being fatally shot by a white police officer in Ferguson, a grand jury came back saying the evidence did not warrant criminal charges being filed against that officer.

The prosecutor gave a lengthy press announcement in which he reminded people that only the grand jury members had seen all the evidence, heard all the testimony, etc. That evidence showed a young man stealing from a local store, caught on tape, bullying someone who tried to stop him. The evidence showed the man being confronted by a police officer, at which time Mr. Brown was reaching into the officer's car when the officer fired a shot grazing him. Mr. Brown then walked off, was pursued by the officer, and at one point turned around, came 23 feet back toward the officer, at which point he was shot and killed. All that evidence suggests Officer Wilson was not criminal in his actions, while at least some of Mr. Brown's actions were criminal.

But those facts don't seem to matter. Neither does the fact that many witnesses who gave testimony which contradicted the evidence, later changed their stories. I once sat on a jury for a murder trial for almost two weeks. I can tell you first hand the impact of witnesses who change their story every time they find out the facts don't back them up. This grand jury decided those testimonies were not credible, and that the other witnesses, who backed up the evidence were.

Again, these facts don't seem to matter. We still have those people who are protesting, rioting, focusing all the attention on the “problems” with law enforcement. Even our President tossed out the facts when he began his statement last night saying we are a nation built on the rule of law, and then tossing that rule of law aside by saying that those who were disappointed and angry over the results were “rightfully so.” In other words, in spite of the facts, in spite of the “rule of law”, in spite of the evidence showing no criminal charges should be filed, folks are right to be angry that those charges were not filed. Thanks for that solid leadership, Mr. President. But again, facts don't seem to matter when it comes to issues of race.

We could apply the same idea to the immigration issue. The President wants to go around the very rule of law he mentioned, side step Congress and the Constitution, and single-handedly grant amnesty to millions of “illegal” immigrants. When we have this discussion, we seem to overlook the fact that we are talking about “illegal” immigrants. Because we are talking about people who are mostly Latino, it becomes a race issue and we overlook the facts again.

Our oldest daughter is spending a year in Germany. In order to get a work visa to spend that year, she had to pass a German language proficiency exam. She missed it by two points, and was not granted a visa. She was told she could enter the country on her passport for 90 days. At the end of that time, if she did not pass the test, she would have to leave. In fact, when buying a ticket, she was told she had to buy a round trip ticket, even though she couldn't use the return ticket, because if she bought a one way ticket, without a visa, customs would hold her up and possibly not grant her entry because they would wonder what someone with only a 90 passport would be doing coming in on a one way ticket. That's the law. It's been an inconvenience for her, (although I'm glad to say she did finally pass that test and get her visa!), but it's the law. These are the facts about legally entering Germany. Not once did we feel discriminated against because she's American and not German.

Yet, people by the thousands enter our country illegally, stay illegally, even receive government benefits illegally (which you and I pay for by the way), but I'm told that if I oppose this, if I suggest that those here illegally should be asked to leave or obey the law to stay, then I'm “racist.” Facts don't matter when it comes to race issues.

I agree with the President's statement. There are issues that need to be addressed. There are times when a few bad apples in law enforcement behave poorly, even immorally and sometimes even criminally. But there are also times when a young man is caught on tape robbing a store, and evidence suggests being aggressive toward a law enforcement officer, and the ending is tragic...but not criminal on the officer's part. And one problem that needs to be addressed is the people of any color need to be held to the “rule of law” and we need to stop assuming that anyone who is a minority is always the innocent victim, and those who want to uphold the law are always racist.

The real problem is the need for men's hearts to be changed. The real problem is the sin deluded heart that sees everyone else as the problem, that even sees in color to begin with. I love the fact that when we left the reservation, and came back to Missouri, our oldest daughter was in a kindergarten class at this time of the year when they were talking about the “Pilgrims and Indians.” (By the way, side note, most of the folks we knew on the res didn't object to the “Indian” moniker, and even used it themselves). She came home and asked us if we knew any Indians. We laughed and starting naming the people she knew from the reservation, and she said “Ohhhh, I didn't know they were Indians. I thought they were just people.” And indeed they are. Those are the facts.

People are people. People are sinful. People do sinful things, illegal things, which laws are intended to prevent and prosecute. And sometimes those in charge of the law do wrong as well. But in the end it's not the laws, but the hearts that need to change. And only Christ can do that. So, long story short (too late, I know!), everyone on all sides needs to stop giving passes to some because of race, stop mistreating some because of race, stop making assumptions because of race, stop ignoring facts because of race, stop ignoring needs because of race, and start preaching the gospel because we are all together a lost race in need of salvation. That's the fact.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Vague & Artsy: Fine for Music, Not for the Gospel

I've been a fan of Steve Taylor since the 80s when I first heard "I Want to Be a Clone."  A little quirky, both in music and lyrics, and yet when I dug down deep and figured out the meaning behind the satire and quirkiness, Mr. Taylor was always profound. 

I worked in Christian radio in those days, starting with our college station, and had the opportunity to meet and interview several of my favorite artists, including Steve Taylor.  He was very polite to a couple of college radio kids, took the whole thing very seriously, and gave some very insightful answers to our questions.  As silly as he may seem from the outside sometimes, inside this is a guy who loves the Lord.  

So even as his music and lyrics often became even quirkier, I still loved it.  I can honestly say I'm a fan.  And when, after decades, he comes back with an all-star band called The Perfect Foil (featuring Peter Furler, Jimmy Abegg and John Mark Painter), you could guarantee I'd be eagerly in line to get a copy of the new music.  And here was my response. 
That's right, I still don't "get" a lot of the lyrics.  They are "poetic" and "artsy" and, yes, quirky.  I mean: 
Happy go lazy
That's the way I am
You'll go crazy
If you think you can
Change a man
Happy go lazy
You're cute when you pout
I'm so lazy
Can't finish this song without...

??? But it's ok.  It's art.  It's music.  It's just for fun and entertainment.  And that's fine for music.  Sadly, there are too many in the church today who try to be fun and quirky and artsy with the Gospel.  We want to be popular and relevant and whatever.  And we often present a Gospel message that leaves people with nearly the same reaction I have to some music:  Well, I don't get it, but it was fun. 

That might be fine for earthly entertainments.  But it's certainly not fine for an eternal Gospel message.  Jesus never preached to be "cute" or "entertaining" or even what people around Him would consider "relevant."  He preached the truth, plain and simple.

But what about those parables? Those were quirky and confusing, right?  Yes, and they were given that way as a judgment on the world, not to be cute.  Folks need to hear the Gospel.  Pastor Charles Spurgeon, in teaching young preachers about preaching, reminds us that our primary goal is the conversion of sinners.  How can that happen if we're busy entertaining and being cute and being vague and hoping people get the point.   

Paul told Timothy to "preach the word" in season and out.  Proclaim the Word of God.  Do it to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" not to entertain. (2 Timothy 4:2) People are lost and dying without Christ.  Vague and artsy messages, cute and "relevant" performances won't cut it.  Preach the Word.  Preach it clearly.  We are at war, and the message of the Gospel needs to be presented loudly and clearly in the face of the enemy to see lost souls ransomed.  

Now, then, purely for your entertainment, here's a song that I think has something to do with that war, and an encouragement to face the enemy down because "the bigger they are, the harder they fall."  Enjoy.  

Monday, November 10, 2014

Life Ain't Fair - Revisited

(This is a repeat/update of a post from a couple years ago, but with a new rant to begin.  Just because I want to rant)

I think I hate NASCAR.  My driver, Jeff Gordon, has led the points almost all year long.  He's had the best year in years.  Using the "old points system" he would have the championship locked up.  Using the current point system without the new "Chase"format, he would have it locked up.  Shoot, using last year's point system he would still be in a position to "advance" to the final round of this new stupid chase/elimination format.  

And yet, due to the ridiculous new rules, due to being taken out of a possible win last week by a truly stupid move by another driver, due to a "convenient accident" at the end of yesterday's race which allowed another driver to finish one extra spot up and move one point ahead of  the 24 team in the standings....Gordon will not even be in the running for the Sprint Cup Championship in next week's race.  

This isn't the first of these fiascoes.  Crunching the numbers shows that the constant changes in the points system has robbed the 24 team of at least THREE championships in the last few years.  I'm about ready to give up on NASCAR.  It just ain't fair. 

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 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.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Read the Fine Print Before Voting

Well, tomorrow is another election day in these fine United States.  Let me begin by just saying what a blessing it is to live in a country where we have the right to vote, the right to elect our own officials, the right to voice our opinions about various legislation, etc. (even if those votes are often then thrown out by an over zealous judiciary, but that's a whole other post!)

But please, before you vote, please read the fine print.  When it comes to various ballot initiatives, amendments and so on, please be aware that the wording on your ballot may or may not accurately reflect the wording of the actual legislation.  Remember that the ballot language is written by elected officials who often have a stake in how the legislation turns out.  It is often misleading, causing people to vote for something they think they are voting against.

The solution is fairly simple.  Do the research and read the actual legislation, or whatever you can get your hands on.  A simple way is to find some resource that has already collected that information for you in a nice neat package.  Like, I don't know, the folks at the Constitution Party.  

Here in Missouri, the CP folks have put together a summary of the various amendments on our ballot tomorrow.  I realize they are biased as well.  They have an agenda (though it's one I agree with!).  But in spite of that, you can look at the wording of the actual legislation and make up your own mind. 

Case in point.  Amendment 2 being voted on tomorrow here in Missouri says this on the ballot:  "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended so that it will be permissible to allow relevant evidence of prior criminal acts to be admissible in prosecutions for crimes of a sexual nature involving a victim under eighteen years of age?"  Now, I don't know too many folks who wouldn't support that.  Protecting our children from sexual predators is a huge responsibility, and if a person has a history of criminal behavior in this area, I think it ought to be taken into account.  However....

Reading the full legislation reveals some interesting twists.   It speaks of introducing "relevant evidence of prior criminal acts, whether charged or uncharged..."  What?  What is an "uncharged criminal act"?  If there are no charges, then it's just gossip and hearsay, right?  And while some might say, "Well if there is suspicion of child abuse then we should consider that."  But what if you were the one being gossiped about?  What if someone didn't like you, started a gossip campaign suggesting you did something awful, and even though there is no evidence to support it, the "uncharged" acts are admissible in court anyway.

Now, I understand that we're talking about this evidence being admitted during a trial where actual charges are filed.  Which means you have been officially accused in this case.  But, still, this language being added to our State Constitution opens the door for all kinds of problems down the road.  You can read more about the specific problems with this particular amendment here if you're interested.

The point is simply this.  Words have meaning.  Especially words written in legislation, that will be interpreted in courtrooms regardless of what the legislators intended.  Sure we want to punish child molestors.  So I'm sure most folks will support this amendment.  But we already have laws on the books for this kind of thing, they just need to be enforced.  Adding more, and somewhat vague, language to our Constitution can be dangerous.  Down the road, wording like this may come back to haunt us in other areas, affecting not just child molesters, but since the wording is on the books, maybe it will be applied in other areas as well.  The legal precedent will have been set.  

And this applies to more than just this one amendment, this one issue.  Folks, do your research.  Read the fine print.  Don't go into the voting booth having only heard the political ads.  Do all you can to find out the truth of each candidates record, the reality behind each amendment's wording, the real impact it will have not only now, but down the road.  We are indeed blessed to have this wonderful freedom to vote.  But we need to do it responsibly and intelligently.  Do your homework, and then get out and vote!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Reformation Day and the Ignorance of Christian History

So I had the distinct privilege of speaking at a chapel service for a Christian school.  Since it was only two days before Reformation Day, I decided that maybe a look at the "solas" of the Reformation would be a good topic. 

I have a sweat shirt with the Five Solas on it and I wore that.  Because of the other celebration some folks have on October 31 I started by telling the students that as a pastor I usually wear more "professional" clothes when speaking, but with the impending holiday I thought I could get away with wearing the hoodie.  I asked them which holiday I was referring to, and predictably they all said the "H" word.,83866847

Again, I did this on purpose, knowing the tie in, knowing what most of them would be thinking of.  But when I jokingly pretended not to know what celebration they were talking about, and instead I was speaking of Reformation Day, they all looked at me like I was from another planet.  I started to talk about Martin Luther and his 95 Theses and the whole reformation deal.  Which lead to the reason for the sweatshirt, I told them, the 5 phrases printed on it.  We then talked about each of those.  (For those who may not be aware, I'm talking about the "summary" of the Reformation ideas about salvation:  Sola Fide-Faith Alone; Sola Gratia-Grace Alone; Sola Scriptura-Scripture Alone; Solus Christus-Christ Alone; Soli Deo Gloria-God's Glory Alone.  See here)

Now, I don't expect some grade school kids to know all the details of Reformation history.   I don't even expect them to have a grasp of the "solas".  And if this were a government school, I wouldn't even expect them to have a clue about any of it.  But this was supposedly a Christian school.  You would think that there would be some working knowledge of Church history going on here.  But the kids seemed to never track with anything I was talking about.  It was all shocking new information to them.  

It's not the kids fault, of course.  They aren't being taught much in the way of Church History because their teachers aren't giving the information.  And honestly, the teachers probably haven't never been taught either.  So where does the fault lie?  With the church.

How many of our churches teach Church History with any kind of depth at all.  If we interviewed the average person in the pew, how many could give any sort of detail about the Reformation?  How many know anything about Jon Hus, or Martin Luther, or the "Johns": Calvin, Knox, Wycliffe, etc"  We all pick up our English translation Bibles (maybe even argue about which one is best) but how many have any clue about the sacrifices made so that we might have that gift?  

Again, I don't think folks need seminary level, or even college level, history classes.  But we need to know where we've come from as the Church.  We need to understand the battles that have been fought, the sacrifices that have been made, and how God has sovereignly been at work in it all.

Might I offer one suggestion.  Rose Publishing has a DVD based study led by Dr. Timothy Paul Jones of Southern Seminary.  One class at our church has already been through it, and I'm about finish up a
second class.  While sometimes names and dates and places can all be overwhelming, Dr. Jones does a fine job of trying to summarize, show overall themes, and even has some fun in the process.  It's a great introduction to church history and a worthwhile study in general.  

This isn't just a commercial for Rose Publishing.  It's not like have any idea I'm even posting this.  And this isn't the only resource out there.  And it's not just about celebrating Reformation Day instead of that other pagan thing.  It's about the blank look on those children's faces when talking about the foundational principles which have guided and shaped the history of the Church.  Let's get with it Church.  If we don't have a grasp on where we've been, we may not truly understand where we're going.  Biblical History is of course foundational.  But a working knowledge of post-biblical church history is important as well. 

If you are a pastor, make sure you include this somewhere along the way.  If you are a teacher, then research and teach it.  If you are a church member, ask your leadership to offer at least some basic instruction, or volunteer to do it yourself.   But let's not let yet another generation slip into further ignorance of church history. 

Oh, and Happy Reformation Day! (tomorrow, of course; or today if you're reading it then, or yesterday, or whatever)

Friday, October 24, 2014

I Like the Old Way

So, one of the reasons I haven't posted here in awhile is that my laptop finally crashed.  Thanks to a generous Pastor Appreciation gift from our church I was able to go out and get a new one.  And then the fun started...

Getting everything I could from the backup hard drive to transfer over to the new laptop, trying to get the old stuff to run on the new platform, trying to figure out the new stuff in general.  It's been a real challenge.  And in the end I find myself saying over and over: I like the old way better!

My kids tell me I sound like the old foggies I used to complain about who never liked anything new.  And maybe I am getting there.  But the whole thing got me to thinking about change in general and how we respond to it, especially in the church.  Here are some conclusions:

1.  Change is inevitable.  Things are never going to stay the same.  In technology, there is always going to be some new big thing.  Advancements are always being made.  The same with people.  People today are by nature going to be different than the folks of a generation ago.  Not better or worse, just different.  Times change, tastes change, it's a part of life. 

2. Some change is good.  For the most part, we don't want things to stay the same.  None of us, I assume, want to go back to outhouses and such.  We like our indoor plumbing.  We like our heat and AC.  Change is good.  We like the advantages the computer age has given us, etc. I think I even see one or two things about this new computer that are actually better than the old one. 
 Some changes are good. And I think that some of that applies to the church as well. Because people change, we can change things to minister to them better, etc.  Let me very clear, though.  The Gospel Doesn't Change!  We can't improve on the Gospel, and all the watered down, self-help, best life now, love wins, tripe is not a change for the better because it's trying to change the one thing that is unchangeable.  But apart from that, some change is good. 

It's good that Isaac Watts and others came along and started writing hymns in English, not just singing Psalms.  It's good that some folks realize today that we need to go back and start singing those Psalms again as well.  It's good that men have risked so much to have the Word of God translated into our own languages.  Those are the biggies, but you get the point. Some change is good.  However...

3. Change for the sake of change is not good.    Some of the computer "updates" are nothing more than cosmetics.  Moving buttons from here to there in a program doesn't make it better, it's just different, and that can be annoying.  Redesigning a website is often just to make it prettier, it doesn't really help the functionality, etc.

We have to be careful about that in the church.  Doing something different just so we can say we did something different isn't always a good thing.  If you have a reason for the new change, great.  If it is more functional, if it is more biblical, if it is truly more helpful, great.  But change for the sake of change isn't always a good.  And that's primarily because it annoys people. Which brings me to the last idea. 

4. Our resistance to change is often about comfort.  Let's be honest.  I like my old computer because I was used to it.  The keyboard buttons felt "right" because I'd been using them for 7 years.  These new ones are hard for me to type on.  Not because they are not good buttons, but because they aren't "my" buttons.  I like the way the old programs worked because I was used to them.  I guess I'll eventually get used to the new programs as well.  Of course, as soon as I get used to them, they'll move on to something else.

I think some folks feel that way about changes in the church.  It's not that they are bad things, they are just different.  I like my old songs.  I like my old order of service.  I like the old way.  And while that does speak to those in leadership to be cautious about changes, to be sure they are meaningful and useful so as not to unnecessarily upset the apple cart; it also speaks to the person in the pew to not be so focused on your own personal comfort that you overlook what might be some good new things.  

So, there is a place for change.  It's going to happen anyway, whether I like it or not.  I have to find that balance between being discerning enough to only make changes that are good and helpful and biblical; and not being overly concerned about my own preferences and comfort.   I mean, I've heard one or two people who actually like Windows 8.  Go figure. 

Well, that's all for now.  This new keyboard is making it hard for me to type so I'm going to quit now.  Hopefully it'll get better soon.

Friday, October 17, 2014

We Are Exiles

Studying the opening words of 1 Peter, I was reminded of a very profound fact.  We are exiles.  We are aliens and strangers in this land.  We don’t belong here.  And if that’s the case, then we ought to live like it.

Here’s just a little excerpt from a message Charles Spurgeon preached from Philippians 3:20 which tells us that our true citizenship is in heaven. 

If our citizenship be in heaven, then WE ARE ALIENS HERE; we are strangers and foreigners, pilgrims and sojourners in the earth, as all our fathers were. In the words of Sacred Writ “Here we have no continuing city,” but “we desire a better country, that is an heavenly.”

I know that men of this world say we must keep up appearances; we must be respectable; we must do as others do; we must swim with the tide; we must move with the crowd; but not so the upright believer: “No,” says he, “Do not expect me to fall in with your ways and customs; I am in Rome, but I shall not do as Rome does. I will let you see that I am an alien, and that I have rights as an alien, even here in this foreign land. I am not to be bound to fight your battles, nor march at the sound of your drums.” Brethren, we are soldiers of Christ; we are enlisted in his army; and as aliens here, we are not to be constrained into the army of evil. Let lords and lands have what masters they will, let us be free, for Christ is our Master still. The seventy thousand whom God has reserved, will not bow the knee to Baal. Be it known unto thee, O world, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the image which thou hast set up. Servants of God we are, and we will not be in bondage unto men.

Christian men, ye must never covet the world’s esteem; the love of this world is not in keeping with the love of God. “If any man love the world the love of the Father is not in him.” Treat its smiles as you treat its threats, with quiet contempt. Be willing rather to be sneered at than to be approved, counting the cross of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.

He says much, much more, but you get the general idea.  We are strangers here, and we ought to live like it. Folks ought to see by our lives that we are of another land.  We should walk, talk, act, think, look different than those around us. 

One of my all time favorite songs is by the Christian band AD, led by former Kansas guitarist/songwriter Kerry Livgren.  Called Exiles, it reminds us these very truths.  It goes like this:

Distant home,
Across the Earth we roam,
leaving all that we possess behind us,
Known by name, we make no earthly claim,
Waiting for the one we seek to find us.

Exiles of another kind, with our maker intertwined
Vessels on a sea of love,
Aliens to Mother Earth, waiting for the second birth,
Vessels on a sea of love,
A sea of love.

Out of bounds,
No boundary surrounds,
No one's worldly object of desire,
Nations fade, but this foundation's laid, shaped in the divine refiner's fire.


Eyes are fixed on the goal ahead,
So alive, but to the world we're dead,
Inside outside and upside down,
Each man stands on the rock he's found,
Twice removed from the human race,
We found our peace in a hiding place,
Strangers living in a foreign land,
Now we fall, but in the end we'll stand.

Exiles of the world,
Exiles of the world.

Exiles of the world,
Exiles of the world.

No release for prisoners of peace,
Willing to be slaves of our own choosing,
Promising to serve no mortal king,
Gaining so much more than we are losing.


We are exiles,
We are exiles.

Lord, forgive us for seeking to fit in and be accepted when you have called us to stand out and be heralds of our True King.  Remind us we are truly exiles here.

Here’s the song.  Great music, classic guitar solo, but it’s really the message I’d encourage you to focus on.  

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Here, Houston, You Can Have My Sermons, Too

In case you haven't heard, the latest overreaching by a government agency is happening in Houston, TX.  The mayor of that city is a lesbian who has been pushing the homosexual agenda in her city, and when folks pushed back, she got all mad and decided to throw her weight around.  They are actually coming into churches and demanding copies of pastor's sermons!  That's an oversimplification of the mater but you can read the details here.  

I kind of like Russell Moore's response:
Indeed, the courage of John the Baptist is what we need.  And it may actually come to being willing to lose our heads, but the Gospel is non-negotiable.  Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  One way, one truth, leading to life.  We don't get to change it, make it up, play around with it.  And I hope that every true Gospel-preaching pastor holds on to that. 

Of course, this case in Houston is a lot of red flag waving, or sabre rattling, or whatever you want to call it.  At this point, I'm hoping that rational people will see this political ploy for what it is, and the whole thing won't grab any real traction.  Of course, as another recent favorite tweet pointed out.
Well, whatever the case may be, anyone and everyone is welcome to have my sermons.  The most recent are in a feed at the right on this page.  Or you can go to our church "website" and find more here.  (I post that in quotes because I'm just using a free wordpress blog site as our church website, but it works).  

I look at it this way. If someone out there has nothing better to do than want to go through my sermons, and they have enough coffee to make it through them, then have at it.  But seriously, I have never apologized for preaching the Word, no matter how inexpertly I may do it.  And I never will change what I have to say based on that Word because of some political maneuvering.  God says, "Preach the Word in season and out." (2 Timothy 4:2)  No matter the season, I plan to preach the Word.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who's In Charge?

Just over ten years ago I made this statement.  I said that May 17, 2004 will be a date that will go down in infamy.  We always talk about those dates that mark significant turning points in our nation’s history. You may or may not remember the event, but on that date the state of Massachusetts began issuing official marriage licenses to homosexual couples. At the time it was the only state to do so, joining the Netherlands, Belgium and three provinces of Canada as the only major jurisdictions in the world to recognize such unions.

My how things have changed. Today, there are 17 countries worldwide with legalized gay marriage.  And there are now 19 states along with the District of Columbia that have followed, ten of those in just the last 2 years.  And now the Supreme Court has refused to hear any cases on the subject, all but guaranteeing that more states will quickly join. The downward slide has indeed been rapid.  

And that’s just one area in which our nation has rushed as far away from the principles of our Christian founders as we possibly can. All around us we find moral decline and increasing violence and more dangerous schools.  The more faith is removed from the public sphere, the worse things get.  And yet the irony of it all is that the nation as a whole is still consistently and persistently committed to removing all traces of Christianity from the scene.

Years ago David Limbaugh wrote a book called “Persecution” in which he lists example after example of young people being censored in their schools from talking about Christ.  Employees being censored and even fired for daring to discuss God in public.  City after city where lawsuits are filed and thousands of dollars are spent in legal fees over things like prayers and graduations and displays of the Ten Commandments.  A runaway judiciary that thinks it can legislate from the bench regardless of what the people want or even what the constitution says.

I agree that our courts and schools have erred in their interpretation of the establishment clause of the first amendment.  And I believe that many recent events should serve as a wake up call for Christians everywhere to get off their backsides and get involved in our government process; being salt and light as we’ve been commanded. However, I think we need to keep things in perspective.

People use phrases like "Kicked God out of School", or “kicked God out of the public square” and so on.  Honestly, that offends me in a way. Too much doom and gloom and fist raising against “the man” makes me ask the question "Who's in Charge here?” Yes, we’ve failed to recognize God the way we should as a nation, but the truth is: Can the Supreme Court tell God where He can and cannot go?  Can the ACLU restrain God in His activity?  Do you, for a moment believe that God's Sovereignty is surrendered because an atheist throws a fit or a court makes a ridiculous ruling?  Who's in Charge?

The answer is: God is! He is Lord; He is Sovereign; and He still sits on His throne.  No matter what man may do, God is still God, and that has implications for all of these issues.
Scripture reminds us that all authority comes from God. In Romans 13, Paul writes, “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” Psalm 22:28 says, “For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”

As an example of that, we can look at King Nebuchadnezzar.  Speaking to the king about the punishment he would receive from God, the prophet Daniel said, “Seven periods of time shall pass over you, till you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” (Dan. 4:25)  I actually like the NIV there which says: “the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”

God is Sovereign, and men who rule do so under His authority. The authority to rule comes from God. That truth goes all the way back to the very beginning. Now, I’m not saying in any way that all earthly rulers have always ruled justly or rightly.  Obviously they haven’t.  Obviously they aren’t today.  But never forget that God is the one true King, and all these earthly authorities will answer to Him.

Over and over in God’s Word we read words of judgment.  I know it’s not a very popular subject these days; not that I guess it was every really popular.  But in recent years we just don’t hear about God’s wrath anymore.  The best selling books aren’t about judgment, but are about Your Best Life Now, and Love Wins, and all kinds of other tripe. People want to hear about how much God loves them and how graceful and merciful He is; which is all true.  But it’s only part of the truth; a half-truth; and incomplete truth.

The other half is that God is also a holy and righteous God.  And His very character demands justice and judgment.  Judgment is one of the most talked about themes is all of Scripture.  In fact, the event that is one of the most often repeated and quoted events elsewhere in Scripture is the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah. Don’t bring that up to the pro-gay lobbyists.  But like it or not, it’s there.  God consistently and continuously wants to remind us of the wrath poured out on those two cities in hopes of warning us of the judgment to come. And never doubt, judgment is coming.

Ecclesiastes 12:14 says “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.”  In Joel’s prophecy, God says, “I will gather all the nations and bring them down to the Valley of Jehoshaphat. And I will enter into judgment with them there.” (Joel 3:2)

Jesus himself repeatedly spoke of the coming Day of Judgment.  Romans 2 speaks of “the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:5)  And Romans 14:10 says, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.”  I think you get the idea.  The picture of God on His throne as Sovereign Lord reminds us that from the throne also comes judgment. I once read a quote that said, "A time is coming for all men when they will be either born again, or wish they had never been born at all.” Sobering words, but true words.  God will bring all things to justice

I know it’s easy for us to get caught up in all the garbage going on in this world.  It’s easy to get frustrated by all the foolish political decisions and immoral court decisions and reckless ACLU maneuverings and on and on.  And as Christians we ought to be concerned.  We ought to take a stand for the truth of the Word.  If you’ve ever read this blog before, you know I’m not shy about speaking my mind about moral issues and so on.  We ought to make our voice heard and be salt and light in a dark and decaying world.  It’s part of why we’re here. 

But in the midst of all that, let’s never forget who’s in charge?  Let’s never forget that God is God.  Let’s never forget that we serve a Sovereign Lord who still sits on the throne.  And one day, all these earthly judges, and all these politicians, and all these ACLU lawyers and such will all stand before their king and answer for their actions.  They’ll answer for their use and/or abuse of the authority God has given them. 

And not only will they be held accountable, but so will you and I.  We all belong to Him.  We all have been given the responsibility of managing the resources He has blessed us with; whether it be our jobs, our homes, our families, or our very lives.  He is the owner of it all and one day we will stand before Him to give an account. Which is why we need Christ.  Apart from Him, none can stand in that day.  We need His grace and mercy.  We need His sacrifice.  But even those who rest in that grace are told that we will be held accountable for what we've done in that grace.

So be salt and light.  Speak out against injustice.  By all means pray for our nation.  But don't ever forget Who is in charge.  And be sure that we spend at least as much time focusing on our own preparedness to meet Him on that day.  

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

From the Wire

Well, the world continues out of control.  Supreme Court bails.  Terrorists continue to rise.  Sinful people doing sinful things.  And quite frankly, I haven't had the time or thought process to reflect on it all. 

But seeing that I haven't posted here in a while, I feel compelled to do something.  So I'll just send you off to others who have both time and brain function to address some of these things. 

So then, here are a half dozen of my favorite articles/blogs I've read in the last day or so.  Some political, some theological, some personal and just for fun.  Enjoy.  I'll try to get back with original content in the very near future

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

When Your Daughter Lives in a Foreign Land Near A Russian Spy

Well, that title probably set off some bells somewhere.  I know that the views expressed on this site have probably already put me on every "list" out there, so I guess I shouldn't worry about it. And that's the point...worry. 

I've confessed before the issue of my anxiety.  I know it's sinful.  I know it's from a lack of faith.  I know it's plain disobedient to a God who commands me to "fear not."  But, I struggle. 

Allowing our oldest to spend a year in a foreign country as "au pair" (nanny) to a family we've never met did nothing to help with my little problem.  Of course, "allowing" is a strong word.  She is a 23 year old college graduate.  We didn't really have much say in the matter!  But seriously, an American living abroad these days can be a scary prospect. 

My daughter does nothing to help ease this fear.  She is a writer, with a wonderful gift of imagination.  And she's been writing a travel blog to keep us all updated about her adventures.  Her fanciful writing is great fun when describing the history and architecture and such of the city she lives in.  It was wonderful to read her poetic descriptions of a recent trip to another nearby land.  Made me jealous, actually. 

But her last post....that's another matter.  She spends her time describing some of the folks living in her little apartment community.  With all her artistic flair we get the view from her window and it's quite enjoyable.  (Though I do worry a bit about the stalker tendencies!)  All is good fun until she mentions the Russian spy.  Whether this is real or part of her little world of make believe, she mentions the guy who other residents rumor to be a soviet secret agent of some kind.  Fun character for writing.  Not so fun if you're daughter actually lives near the guy!  Worry!

And then there is my truck that just broke down, the washer broke down, the bathroom floor is caving in, other plumbing issues, and severe storms are on the way, and, and, and...Worry, worry!

Then, in to the midst of this, I read a post from Paul David Tripp which simply reminds me:  "You will experience a heart at peace when you remember that the God of wisdom, power and grace has already written the final chapter of your story." Thank you, sir.

Of course, I know this.  I repeatedly preach to our church about God's Sovereignty.  I know the truth of it. I just need to actually rest in it.  Trust that God is indeed on the throne, all is in His hands, all is according to His plans and purposes, and all is for His glory.  Nothing is beyond His sight or control. Even if my daughter does live near a Russian spy!

Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy National Coffee Day!

Such a spree of holidays lately.  Constitution Day.  Talk Like A Pirate Day.  Now, the high point of the September holiday calendar:  National Coffee Day.  How did I not know this thing existed for so long?

Ironically, a friend just posted an article for me on the issue of whether or not coffee comes as the result of natural selection or by divine creation.  Duh?  That’s a no brainer.  Only an intelligent benevolent Creator could come up with something so blessed!

Also recently, I had a friend compose a song parody for me singing the praises of the elixir of life.  I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me sharing it with you. 


by Gregg Metcalf

(To the tune of “Cocaine” by Eric Clapton)

If you wanna wake up you’ve gotta grab a cup.
If you wanna get through the day don’t act like a pup

She is so sweet, she is so sweet, she is so sweet


When you get those Monday blues she is always good news
When you need a clear mind and don’t have much time


If your head is in a spin pour another cup again
Don’t forget this fact or you’ll fall off the track

[Chorus 2x]

She is so sweet, she is so sweet, she is so sweet

Thanks, Gregg. 

I considered celebrating by taking a tour of the best shops in the area, but alas, an empty wallet and a broken down truck have prevented that.  However, for the rest of you, I’ve also heard that some big name chain restaurants are offering free brew to celebrate the day.  Not bad.

So read the articles, enjoy the song, and celebrate the blessed bean.  And though I’ve shared it before, here’s another little favorite ode to coffee.