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

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Are You Content With His Control?

I’ve written here before about the wonderful collection of Puritan prayers called The Valley of Vision.  It’s a wonderful tool for private devotions, and even corporate prayer.  I often conclude Sunday evening messages with words from this collection that relate to the evening’s message.

There is one group of prayers designed for morning and evening of each day.  The morning prayer for today begins like this:

We cannot escape from thy presence and control,
     nor do we desire to do so.
Our privilege is to be under the agency
    of thy omnipotence, righteousness, wisdom, patience, mercy and grace;
For thou art Love with more than parental affection.

Now, most of us would heartily agree with the idea that we “cannot escape from thy presence and control.”  We know God is sovereign.  We know He sits on His throne and is busy working all things for His purposes and His glory. 

OK, so not everyone would agree.  There are those radical, man-centered, free-will-or-die types who want to relegate God to a doddering old man sitting on His throne, wringing His hands and hoping things work out right; begging for someone to please answer His call.  But anyway…

Scripture tells us that we cannot escape His presence.  The well known words of Psalm 139:  You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you.
(Psalm 139:2-12, ESV)

We are also told that all thing are in His control.  Proverbs 19:21 reminds us that Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.  The prophet Isaiah says:  For the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it? His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? (Is. 14:27) and through that prophet God says:  Also henceforth I am he; there is none who can deliver from my hand; I work, and who can turn it back?" (Is. 43:13)

So again, no right thinking person who has read the Word of God can disagree that we cannot escape His presence and control.  But it’s the rest of that phrase that got my attention: nor do we desire to do so. Our privilege is to be under the agency of thy omnipotence, righteousness, wisdom, patience, mercy and grace; For thou art Love with more than parental affection. (emphasis added)

I don’t want to be out of His presence and control.  I see it as a privilege to submit to His divine omnipotent hand, knowing He is wise and righteous and patient and merciful and gracious, more than any human parent could ever be. 

Wow.  Do I really believe that?  Sure I don’t want to be out of His presence.  I want to live under His mercy and grace and know that He’s there loving and protecting.  But do I honestly feel that I see it a privilege to be under His divine omnipotent control, knowing that His purposes are right and wise?

Now be careful.  Before we rush in and say “yes, of course.”  What if that wise and righteous plan is for you to suffer and grieve and struggle?  Hmm.  Most often, in fact, this is the case.  Think Abraham and Moses and David and Job and Paul.  Sure they had their bright shining moments.  But they all also suffered and struggled greatly.

Or think…Jesus.  Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; (Is. 53:10)  God’s will, God’s pleasure, was to crush the perfect Son of God in order to bring sinful folks like you and me into right standing.  So, where do we get off thinking that God would gladly crush His own Son, but want nothing but fun and happiness for you and me?

So, are we still eager to thank God for keeping us in His control, working His perfect plan and purpose for His glory?  We should.  Because the rest of that is true as well.  It is all done in mercy and grace, and wisdom and righteousness, and with a love that is greater than any earthly parent could ever produce.

As a parent, I want to shape and guide and protect my children.  I want what’s best for them because I love them.  I have sometimes not let them do something (exerting parental control) because I knew it wouldn’t be best for them.  They didn’t like it, but it was done in love.

And God’s love is so infinitely higher and deeper and wider and greater…  So yes, it’s a privilege to be under His sovereign control.  Even when things don’t work the way I think they should.  It’s a privilege because I know He is working out an eternal plan that I only have a glimpse of.  It’s a plan that is for my highest good and His highest glory, and that makes it the best plan ever.  If I were in control, I’d only mess it up! 

So, Amen to that prayer.  I hope you can give it an Amen as well.  No matter where you are or what you are enduring, remember that God’s love is greater than you can imagine, and His plans and purposes are perfect and wise and good.  And He seeks to glorify His name in and through you, and there is no higher calling, no place we’d rather be.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Redefining Culture - One Hero at a Time

(Note, this may be a meaningless rant for many (and maybe it is) but there is a serious point in here)

First they told us Green Lantern is gay.  Then they announced Thor is a woman.  And now we're told that Captain America is black.  Those are just some of the changes made to some iconic heroes from my childhood.  Not that I have a problem with women heroes, the comic universe is full of great ones: Jean Grey, Storm, Invisible Girl, Wasp, etc.  And it’s obviously not that I have anything against a black superhero; again there is a rich history of “ethnic” heroes: Luke Cage, Falcon, Black Panther, etc.  And as for the Gay Lantern, well, yes I do have a problem there, but….

Here’s the deal.  Why do we feel the need to redefine established characters to reflect what we think is the politically correct worldview?  I mean, come on, Thor is not only an established comic character, but a character from ancient mythology who is obviously a male character.  He’s not a woman.   Just like when the Doctor Who universe was recently in need of a new Doctor, there were cries from a few that the new Doctor should be a woman.  Why?  He’s a male character. 

The issue with Captain America, for me, is not the racial issue, but by making the Falcon become the new Captain America, you’ve completely changed the whole deal.  Cap is a solid, moral, even old fashioned kind of guy.  And the comic folks think that’s a bad thing, so they want to replace him with a modern guy who has none of Cap’s old moral moorings.  Nothing about race there, just about character.  Captain America will cease to be the hero he was, simply because we want to redefine everything to reflect our own modern standards.

And the whole Gay Lantern thing?  That’s so much an obvious ploy to make homosexuality seem mainstream to our younger generations that it’s hardly worth mentioning.  Except for this reason:  we’re not limiting it to fictional superheroes.

I know that many will have stopped reading by this point because I’m ranting about fictional comic characters that they don’t even care about.  But the point is that we are doing the same sort of thing with real, historical figures as well.  We want to go back, and with our “modern” glasses on, reinterpret the past so that our own immoral values are vindicated.

The most recent example might be the suggestions coming out (pardon the pun) that Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay.  For those of you who might not know, Bonhoeffer was a German pastor who resisted the Nazi regime and was imprisoned and died for that cause.  I’m not a  historical scholar, and I haven’t read the book which puts this theory forward so firmly, but I like the way this article summarizes things.  Even if Bonhoeffer did have a close relationship, even a deep love for another man, why does that have to automatically mean it was sexual? Only our over sexualized minds would go there.

For years I’ve heard from liberal, gay-agenda folks that King David had a romantic relationship with Jonathan.  Looking at these biblical characters, and seeing a deep love for one another, our modern immoral mindset can’t see how two men can care deeply for one another without it being sexual.  So we try to read our warped understandings back on to them.  As the article points out, this says more about our modern preoccupations than anything else.

The same retroactive arguments have famously been applied to President Abraham Lincoln among others.  I even heard one blasphemous suggestion that Jesus and His disciple John had a romantic relationship based on John being called the “disciple Jesus loved.”  Taking that and twisting it into something lewd reminds me of junior high boys giggling and laughing over some rude innuendo.

Now, please don’t hear me equating a character being a woman or being a non-white ethnic background as being immoral.  I know the liberals want to link homosexuality with the civil rights movement, and there are so many holes in that link that I don’t have time to begin.  That’s not the issue.

I simply wanted to use the desire to change these fictional characters in an attempt to be “politically correct” as an illustration of our warped sense of trying to rewrite history to fit our modern sensibilities.  We seem to abhor standards.  We hate things that disagree with the way we want the world to work.  And so we try to rewrite not only fictional history, but actual history, to make us feel better about ourselves.

There may be some well meaning value to that.  I mean, I’d love to go back and change a bit of history myself.  I’d love to undo the Crusades and the horrors done by sinful men in the name of Christ.  But I can’t.  That’s just the way it was.  I simply need to be sure I don’t repeat their mistakes.

So, I guess there are two warnings/pleas here.  One, just be aware that the culture will do whatever it can to reshape our thought patterns to match their own skewed view of reality.  Having a gay superhero is certainly aimed at teaching young folks that aberrant behavior is normal.  Making Bonhoeffer gay will make it look like this is much more normal.  Be wise and be aware of those efforts.

And two, please, can’t we just leave things alone?  If we’re so worried about letting people be who they are, then let Steve Rogers continue to be Captain America.  Let Thor continue to be the son of Odin.  Let them be who they are without trying to rewrite them to be something we think the modern world will more readily approve.  And for heaven’s sake let’s apply that to the real world, and let history be what it is, not what we want it to be.

Thus ends the rant that falls on deaf ears. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

VBS Hiatus

Feeling guilty about not posting anything here for awhile.  We're in the middle of VBS, including an adult class which I'm teaching.  14 hour days tend to hinder the blog inspiration.  Hopefully will get back with it soon (as if anyone cares!).  

In the meantime, enjoy some new(er) music from a band I just discovered called Carrolton. Not sure how long they've been around, but I've just found out about them. Though leaning toward the mellower end of things, I think I'm gonna like these guys. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Short Note on Sermon Preparation

This is NOT how to do sermon preparation:

Monday, July 14, 2014

Free Stuff!!

That got you attention, didn't it?  Who doesn't love free stuff?  I love free stuff, especially books.  I enter contests to win free books.  I follow several "resource" pages on facebook in order to get free books for my Kindle.  In fact, 99.5 of the 700+ books on my Kindle were free!  I love free.

But here's the thing.  Free stuff isn't really free is it?  I mean, when a publisher makes a new book free to download as a promotional thing, or whatever, it doesn't cost me personally to download it.  But it isn't really free in the sense that it cost no one anything.  The writer has a lot of time and effort and maybe even money invested.  The publisher may have some tied up in it as well, but they offer the free download in hopes that you will buy some other stuff. The point is, it cost someone something to produce that "free" item. 

Likewise, when I win the free books (which I actually have once or twice), it's not that the books magically appear out of nowhere.  Again, the writer and publisher have time and money invested in producing that book, the person running the giveaway pays postage in order for me to receive them.  It cost someone something in order for me to get if for "free."

Now, we can apply that to politics and really start an argument.  The government is always offering this or that "free" program.  Free lunches and free tuition and free housing and free this or that.  But it's not free, is it?  You and I, the average tax payer, we pay for that "free" stuff.  That's a frustration for lots and lots of folks as they watch others take advantage of those things, often even illegally, that our government "hands out."  We know we worked hard to earn a paycheck, and the government took part of that hard earned money, and they pass it out (often willy nilly) to folks who may or may not truly need the "assistance."  The point is, nothing is free.  Someone paid for it. 

Similarly, our church has a benevolent ministry in which we help folks in the community who are in need.  Help with a light bill, or a gas bill, or some groceries.  Sure those folks get it for free.  But it came at the expense of the pocket books of some very generous folks in our church.  We're glad to do it.  But it can be frustrating when folks don't appreciate it, or act like we "owe" it to them.  Because it does cost someone something. 

I really didn't want to just make this about politics.  What I eventually want to get around to is the theological implications of this.  We talk often of free grace; the free gift of salvation.  And it is.  It doesn't cost us a thing.  Salvation is the gift of God; His grace is free to those whom He chooses to give it.  But we need to remember that this free gift did indeed cost someone something.

Salvation is not God looking the other way and just ignoring our sin.  Grace is not God saying "Aw shucks, I guess sin isn't that big of a deal after all, let's just forget it."  The truth is, our sin demands justice.  Our sin demands a price be paid.  Because God is pure and holy and true and righteous and just, He absolutely must punish sin.  It can't be ignored.  It can't be overlooked.  To do so would violate the very nature and character of God. However...

What a great word: however...  However, God in His amazing mercy, chose to send His perfect Son to live and die in our place, to take upon Himself the punishment our sin deserves.  2 Corinthians 5:21 says: "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."  A real transaction took place on the cross of Calvary.  Your sin was heaped on the perfect Son of God, and the righteousness of the perfect Son of God was imputed to you.  Wow!  What a price God pays for us to receive His free grace.

Here's the thing.  All that annoyance we might feel about others taking advantage of free stuff, acting like we're owed something for nothing, not appreciating a free gift when given...magnify that to infinity and imagine what God must think when we act like our salvation is a freebie we can take or leave, or something we're owed, or something we don't truly appreciate.  God paid a price higher than we can even imagine in order to give us this free gift.  It most certainly cost Someone something very valuable indeed.

So please, if you haven't, consider God's free gift of salvation in Christ.  It truly is free.  You don't deserve it, and you certainly can't earn it, but God has paid the price in Jesus.  Receive His offer of free grace.  But please, never forget the price that was paid.  

Those who know this gift already, please, don't take it for granted, don't take it lightly.  Thank God daily for the amazing gift that it is.  Rejoice in His grace, revel in the free nature of it, jump up and down at the riches of His infinite Grace.  But please, please, never forget that this glorious gift cost Someone something precious.  And thank Him for that, too.  

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Letting Go Stinks...but maybe it's time

Time to take my own advice I guess.  I just hate when that happens.  I recently posted about our family portraits for the church directory, and I said all kinds of high falutin' stuff about growing and maturing and moving on; and how it's good and right and natural to do that; about not holding on to the past, etc.  What was I thinking?

Yesterday morning, we took our oldest daughter to the airport in St. Louis.  From there she was flying to Newark, NJ, and from there to Frankfurt, Germany where she will spend the next year.  Obviously, she was quite excited.
Of course, Dad was much less so; Mom was the same.  Little sister had the world's mopiest look and even her brothers weren't that thrilled.  But here's the thing...

When I was her age, I was newly married and moving to Texas for seminary.  I had already spent 3 months in North Dakota serving on a Sioux Reservation, a place I would take my wife and brand new baby just a couple years later.  We stayed there for three years. 

Now, granted, Texas and North Dakota are both within driving distance from where I grew up; only a couple days.  Germany is nearly 5,000 miles away, across an ocean, etc.  But still, we've arrived at that time of life when letting go is a natural part of the growing process. 

And at least she is going to Germany for a "fun" thing, to serve as an aupair for a very nice German family, with their two adorable little children.  I spent some time visiting on Sunday with a young lady in our church who served in the military for 8 years, and was deployed in Iraq for over a year.  I can only imagine what her parents went through! 

Still, this was the last thing I saw of my baby, and the last I will see for over a year.
I confess I teared up a bit walking away.  Only ticketed passengers past the security check these days, so we had to just let her go, let her wander off to find her gate and then sit and wait almost two hours for her flight (it was delayed, of course).  Tough for a parent to do.  I know the goodbye is really only "see ya later."  She does plan to come back in a year "or so" and work on her master's degree, and a few other plans.  But it's time to let go.  And it's a good thing.

So instead of remembering that last picture, and the sadness it provokes, maybe I'll try to focus on that other picture above.  Remember how excited she is about this new experience.  Focus on how this is going to be a wonderful growing experience for her and for me and for our family.  And then, focus on thanking God for the 22 years (minus four at college of course) that we had with her nearby, and trusting that God has plans for her which He has been moving toward since the beginning.  She's in His hands, where she's always been.  And that's exactly where she needs to be.  

Ich Leibe Dich, Sonnenschein!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Forgotten Heritage

I posted online a couple of days ago what I see as the irony of the 4th of July: that our forefathers fought for independence from a tyrannical government in order to freely serve God; an event celebrated today by a people fighting for independence from God while submitting to an increasingly tyrannical government. Sort of makes you wonder what those founders would think of things today. 

Regardless, we do have a memorable and, for the most part, godly heritage in this country.  As much as we have distanced ourselves from that, as much as some want to deny it, we have a solid Christian heritage in this nation.  Not that we ever were truly a completely Christian nation; not that we have ever had some corner on the market as the unique people of God as a nation.  But we do have a rich heritage that we as Christians can celebrate.

For example, in 1802 a Massachusetts Grand Jury was appointed by Judge Nathaniel Freeman.  In his instructions to that jury, Judge Freeman stated: “The laws of the Christian system, as embraced by the Bible, must be respected as of high authority in all our courts and it cannot be thought improper for the officers of such government to acknowledge their obligation to be governed by its rule…  He said, “[Our government] originating in the voluntary compact of a people who in that very instrument profess the Christian religion, it may be considered, not as republic Rome was, a Pagan; but a Christian republic.”  Imagine a judge saying something like that today.  

Or how about this one.  Henry Wilson, who served both as a US Senator and as Vice President under Ulysses S. Grant, said this:  "Men who see not God in our history have surely lost sight of the fact that, from the landing of the Mayflower to this hour, the great men whose names are indissolubly associated with the colonization, rise, and progress of the Republic have borne testimony to the vital truths of Christianity."  Haven't seen that in a text book lately, have you? 

Of course, then there are the more well known quotes by the more well know founders.  Washington's declaration that "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."  In fact, William Federer's book America's God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations (where all the above can be found) actually contains 30 pages of words from our first President which show his belief that this national experiment was founded on biblical principles.  

But most folks know about Washington and company.  I wanted to add a couple of lesser known quotes from maybe lesser known individuals to remind us that the majority of leaders in our nation's early history felt this way.  Not all.  And not all were perfect examples of Christian ideals.  But by and large folks at one time recognized the spiritual heritage of our nation.  It's so sad to see that slipping away. 

Again, I'm not one of those guys who equates America with "God's Chosen People."  There is a distinct difference between this nation and the Kingdom of God.  I am happy to be a citizen of both, but I know my citizen in the Kingdom takes precedence, and is mine regardless of what happens in this country. 

Still, it's sad to see a nation so richly blessed by God, to be given such a wonderful Christian heritage, and we just trample it under foot.  To enjoy so many rich freedoms, purchased by the blood of men and the grace of God, and we ignore both.  

All that is simply to say this.  On this Independence Day, may we truly appreciate what all went into finding that independence.  May we thank God for His grace.  May we honor the faith principles of the men and women who fought for that independence.  Regardless of where we are now and where we may end up in the years ahead, may we ever be thankful for the hand of God at work in the lives of those American heroes who truly believed in God and Country; beliefs which are the foundation of who we are, like it or not.  

Happy Fourth of July everyone.  

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Supreme Court's Handslap - Will it be enough?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  This little doosey has been making its way around the internet and it's truly filled with a myriad of meaning. 
This shot of the President reaching over the sneeze guard encapsulates his and his administration's basic approach to life:  "Boundaries are for other people, not me."  Time and again we have seen this administration over-reaching into nearly every area of public life.  One of the most well known recently came to a head with a decision handed down by the US Supreme Court. 

As you are well aware, the Obama Administration's Health Care Act demanded that all businesses provide contraceptives to their female employees at no cost to the employee.  Free birth control.  Even if the owners of the business found a moral/ethical/religious objection to such a practice.  Famously, Hobby Lobby, a privately owned business, challenged that little detail.  And thanks to the US Supreme Court, religious liberty has won a major victory.  Which brings to mind another fun little photo on the net. 
I wanted to post an insightful, wonderful response to that recent decision, but I'm not smart enough to read through all the legalize. Fortunately, folks like Al Mohler have given us a wonderful summary of this recent decision and the impact it will have on our nation.  He also points out some other interesting messages that come from this decision.  I encourage you to read that article

But here's the question I have.  While this little hand-slap-heard-round-the-world has sounded a great victory for religious freedom, is it enough?  Will the same arguments here about the religious liberties of privately held companies also apply to those photographers and bakers who are being forced by government courts to provide services for gay weddings which these businesses have moral/ethical/religious objections to?  Will this decision be enough to head off the impending forcing of churches to perform gay weddings which I recently wrote about?  

I guess it remains to be seen.  But at this point, there's almost enough room for real hope.  Though it was a truly divided court decision on this case, other issues (as Mohler points out) gave the administration a unanimous hand slap.  Reason for hope indeed.  Yet, I hope we don't use this as an excuse to let our guard down.  As the President has shown, he doesn't mind reaching over those guards, so we need to keep them up and remain vigilant.