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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

A Covenant With Christ

I've always had a soft spot for things Scottish.  I mean, my name is Scott after all.  And last night I went to the theater to see the introduction of the newest Doctor Who, who happens to be Scottish (a fact which led to some great humor throughout the episode).  But I digress....

I love reading about the history of the Reformation in Scotland, and the folks known as the Scottish Covenanters.  Coming on the tail end of all that was a Scottish minister named Ebenezer Erskine.  Not the most well known preacher in history, although he does have a few statues in his honor.  However, early on in life, he wasn't much of a minister at all.  

Though he gave his life to service in the church, his own faith was dried up.  His messages were given without much conviction.  It was more of a job than a calling.  Fortunately, his wife had a different heart.  She was passionate in her relationship with Christ, and prayed for her husband.  Unfortunately, it took the near death of that fine woman to get Ebenezer's attention.

Following a severe illness which almost took her life, Ebenezer and his wife had some serious discussions about faith, and recalling some of the biblical truths that had led him as a child to seek this profession to begin with, Erskine finally came to a true and saving relationship with Christ.  In fact, it was on this date, August 26 in the year 1708 that his conversion took place.

Being Scottish and all, and coming within a few decades after those Scottish Covenanters, Erskine decided to mark his conversion with a "covenant."  These are his words: "I offer myself up, soul and body, unto God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. I flee for shelter to the blood of Jesus. I will live to Him; I will die to Him. I take heaven and earth to witness that all I am and all I have are His."

Not so bad, huh? I know we have to be careful to not just parrot the words of others.  I don't want to use something like this as some do a "sinner's prayer" where if you repeat after me you will get your ticket to heaven.  And yet, I think these words would not be so bad on a plaque somewhere in my office.  Just as a reminder of what is at the core of my faith, what is at the core of my commitment, at the core of my calling.  In all, it wouldn't be bad to "sign on" to a covenant statement like this one.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Slow Death of Religious Freedom

No, I'm not talking about global atrocities like those being committed at the hands of folks like ISIS in Iraq.  I'm not talking about any number of European legislatures that continue to shut the mouths of Christians in a variety of ways.  I'm not even talking about the anti-Christian administration that currently runs our nation (or is running it to the ground, some might say). 

I'm talking about right here in the heartland.  Dead in the middle of Missouri.  In the little town of Fayette.  My college roommate hails from this fine metropolis, so I naturally took notice when news came out last December about a lawsuit over religious issues in the schools there.  

It seems that two students, one of which no longer even attends Fayette schools, were cited in a lawsuit against the school district because their constitutional rights were infringed.  How?  Because the school intercom announced the activity of a Christian students club.  No, the students weren't forced to attend.  No, they didn't have to be anywhere near it when it took place.  But they had to hear the announcement.  And that infringed their Constitutional Rights.  Or so they said. 

Furthermore, a teacher, yes an actual teacher, sat in on those meetings with the students.  Imagine, a teacher sitting in on a student meeting.  But that's not all.  The teacher actually, get this, actually prayed with those students.  In a completely voluntary meeting, before classes ever began.  Oh, and worse yet, the teacher actually brought food to those students on occasion. The inhumanity!  And again, these two students felt their Constitutional rights being violated.  Hence, the lawsuit. 

Now, any rational person would see this as a frivolous law suit.  Any rational person would see that two nit-picky teenagers have absolutely no leg to stand on.  Close your ears.  Don't listen to the intercom announcement.  Stay away from that classroom.  Let others express their Constitutional rights to free speech and freedom of religion.  But apparently the U. S. District Court lacks any rational people, since they let this case proceed.  And it turns out the school district seems to lack rational people as well.  

According to reports: "The Fayette R-III School District has agreed in federal court to change policies regarding the religious expression of teachers and school district staff."  What changes?  "...the school district has agreed not to 'promote prayer or religious activity' and will modify its Student Teacher Handbook to prohibit teachers from participating in prayer or religious activities at student meetings. The court settlement also prohibits school district employees from placing religious books, materials, or items in a place where students would be likely to see them."

And so, to placate two whiny students, the majority in the school will have to give up their own rights to free speech and religious freedom.  Teachers can't express their faith in any way, shape, or form.  I'm assuming, based on past cases, that the phrase "religious books, materials, or items" will include not only Bibles and such that a teacher might read during breaks or off hours, but also any jewelry that is "religious."  Obviously cross necklaces will be out, earrings as well.  I couldn't even wear my wedding ring if I were there, since my ring has a cross on each side. Shoot, these days a wedding ring itself is probably considered a "religious item" considering the way we see marriage. 

This isn't the East Coast or West Coast, folks.  This isn't happening in the liberal centers of the nation.  This is happening right here in the heartland, in tiny little rural schools on the edge of the Bible belt.  And we sit by and watch as our religious freedom continues to die a slow, agonizing death.  And we wonder what's wrong with this country?  

Monday, August 18, 2014

Riot vs. Reason - Just my two cents

Everyone and his brother has chimed in on the events taking place in Ferguson, Missouri.  For the most part, I don't know that I have anything to say that hasn't been said.  But, that's never stopped me before.  I do have family in the neighboring communities, and so I have been keeping tabs pretty closely.

The truth is, we obviously don't know everything that happened that day.  The officer involved says one thing.  Self-professed witnesses say something else.  Surveliance tapes come out showing a new angle.  Now a new video shows a background conversation that seems to support the officers account.  Autopsy results are released that are interpreted differently by both sides.  The final verdict is far from in. 

But that's where the problem comes in.  We don't know all the facts of the case in question.  What we do know is that people have taken to the streets in violent ways, looting stores, throwing fire bombs at police, hurting other innocent people in the process.  The question is: how does this help?  

Even if the officer is completely off his rocker, decided to shoot the young man on a whim, the worse case scenario if you're the police; but how does rioting help?  How does hurting other innocents help?  The investigation has only started, so you can't say there is no "justice" yet.  We haven't even had time to check all the facts yet.  How does blowing up your neighbors business help find that "justice"?

That's the point, isn't it?  It doesn't help.  But for many, it doesn't matter.  This is just an excuse to blow off steam, to engage in stupid, sinful, hurtful behavior and try to feel justified by it.  There is no reason behind the riots; protests, maybe; riots; absolutely not. 

And what's worse is the church or churches in the area who invite someone like Al Sharpton to come and speak, and call it a "unity rally" when all it does is stir the pot of disunity even more.  Shame on them.  Do you really think spouting rhetoric that inflames passions is really going to help anything?  And if you are really concerned about "injustice" and innocent lives being taken, why are you not rallying/rioting on the streets of cities like Chicago and Detroit where the lives of young men and women are being snuffed out daily by thugs and drug dealers and gang bangers and so on.  Where are the protests to support those families?  Where is the outcry of injustice in those cases?

My heart goes out to the family of this young man.  I can't imagine their pain.  I can imagine some of the rest of it.  Living on a Sioux Reservation for several years I found out first hand what racism and racial profiling is all about.  Folks on the rez didn't like us because we were white and blamed me for what some other group of white folks did to their anscestors a hundred years ago.  Meanwhile, white folks in town, off the rez, didn't like me because I lived out there "with those Indians."  I had police eye my car suspiciously because it had tribal plates.  I also had threats against me and my family simply because we were white.  We got it from both sides. 

So I do have some minor understanding of the kind of thing going on.  But I also know that rioting helps no one.  Burning down and stealing is not "justice."  It's only sinful men behaving sinfully and trying to rationalize it.  I'm in no way trying to defend the officer, or defend the young man who was shot.  I don't have enough facts to do either just yet. Neither does anyone else.

I just wish that reasonable people, maybe the true Church even, could stand up and urge peace instead of pointless violence.  I wish all the outside influences that have stirred the pot even further would go home and leave the poor folks of Ferguson alone.  And I pray that somehow in the midst of this, the redeeming grace of Christ will get ahold of some folks and show them that the biggest injustice of all was when one innocent man died so that we might live.  Nothing was ever more unjust.  But trust me, I'm not going to protest or riot at all.  Because as a result of that injustice, my own sinful heart has found peace in Christ; the only true and lasting peace that can ever be found.  I pray the folks in Ferguson will find that peace as well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Please Pray for Your Pastor

There are all kinds of needs in the world.  Persecution and war in the Middle East.  Riots just up the interstate here in Missouri.  People you know who are struggling with family issues, health issues, job issues.  Our prayer lists certainly have no lack for entries. 

But might I suggest that your pastor needs to be near the top.  I know that comes across very selfish, being a pastor and all.  Yet, as I see all the struggles in this world, I know that the answer for them is Christ.  And the church is tasked with telling that truth to the world.  And the pastor is tasked with leading the church.  What a responsibility!

Last December I posted some comments about pastors being "targets" for the enemy based on a book our class was reading at the time. (You can read here if you're interested).  And that is certainly true.  This is a spiritual battle, and those in leading roles on the front lines will be targeted.  But target of direct attack or not, you pastor needs your prayer.  If you don't realize that, then I don't think I can say anything that will convince you.  That's not even my point here.  For now, I just want to offer some suggestions for those who do see the need. 

It's no secret around here about my love for old hymnals.  And there are a couple of hymns I've come across that are actually prayers for pastors.  I love that.  The church at one times saw this as such a need that men wrote songs, and churches put them in their hymnals to pray for their pastors.  I just want to share a couple of these prayers/hymns to maybe prompt your own prayers as you think of your pastor.  Trust me, he'll appreciate it!

With heavenly power, O Lord, defend
Him whom we now to Thee commend
His person bless, his soul secure,
And make him to the end endure.

Gird him with all-sufficient grace;
Direct his feet in paths of peace;
Thy truth and faithfullness fulfil,
And help him to obey Thy will.

Before him Thy protection send;
Oh love him, save him to the end;
Nor let him as Thy pilgrim rove,
Without the convoy of Thy love. 

Enlarge, inflame, and fill his heart;
In him Thy mighty power exert;
That thousands yet unborn may praise
The wonders of redeeming grace.

~Rowland Hill's Collection, 1774

Father of mercies, bow Thine ear,
Attentive to our earnest prayer;
We plead for those who plead for Theee;
Successful pleaders may they be!

Clothe Thou with energy divine
Their words, and let those words be Thine;
To them Thy sacred truth reveal,
Suppress their fear, inflame their zeal.

Teach them aright to sow the seed;
Teach them Thy chosen flock to feed;
Teach them immortal souls to gain,
Nor let them labour, Lord, in vain.

Let thronging multitudes around
Hear from their lips the joyful sound,
In humble strains Thy grace adore,
And feel Thy new-creating power.

Let sinners break their massy chains,
Distressed souls forget their pains;
Let light through distant realms be spread,
Till Zion rears her drooping head. 

~Benjamin Beddome, 1818

Monday, August 11, 2014

Voice Recognition and The Gospel

I consider myself to be fairly articulate.  I speak for a living (technically "preach").  I have a degree in communication. I took voice and articulation classes. I spent several years working in Christian radio.  I know that, like everyone, I let my grammar and diction slip now and then.  But overall, I'd say I speak pretty clearly most of the time.  

Especially when I'm trying.  When I'm trying to be sure I'm understood.  Like when speaking into my phone's voice recognition software to send a text message, or post online.  I try to be clear.  But sometimes...

It's my fault for naming my youngest Kenaniah.  I don't expect the software company to have made plans for a name like that, even though it's quite Biblical.  But I tried three different times to send a text to my wife one day about taking our son to his baseball game.

I thought the message was simple: Are you going to take Kenaniah to his game?  The first attempt came out typed like this: Are you going to take in and I add to his game?  So I tried again: Are you going to take can I add to his game?  Finally, what I thought was my most clear attempt: Are you going to take in and it was getting?  It seemed to get worse as I went. 
Again.  It's my fault with the name and all.  Folks couldn't hope to have programmed the software to recognize that.  But other times, I'm simply mystified.  The software seems to have an aversion to all things theological.  I have a habit of "tweeting" lines from old hymns.  Today I tried some lines from an Anne Steele hymn which said this: The blessings of Thy grace impart, And make me live to Thee.  Now I know "thees" and "thous" might be a problem, but this is what my phone typed when I spoke those words: The blessings of bike race in part, And make me live TV.   

Really? Bike race in part really makes more sense than Thy grace impart?  And it really thinks I want to be a live TV?  Of course the software doesn't think at all.  It just "hears" and spits out what it thinks it heard.  But again, this is based on programming algorithms designed to "make sense" of what it hears.  And those are put in by programmers based on what they expect to be said.  And it seems that bike races are more likely to be texted about than God's grace.

I know it shouldn't surprise me.  The world as a whole doesn't grasp the grace of God, doesn't think it terms of His blessings and a desire to live for Him.  And it is just cheap computer/phone software. But the whole thing got me to thinking. What if this is how we really sound to the world? What if when we speak of God's grace imparting blessings, it makes about as much sense to people as a "bike race in part"?

Do they have the context, the background software, to make sense of what we're saying?  Sometimes I think we believe we are still in this idyllic "Christian" nation that has all the background information and Biblical foundations to work with.  And increasingly, folks don't.  The worldview of our current culture and the worldview of the Bible are perhaps further apart than they've ever been in this country.  Not that these haven't been at odds all along; not that other places on the globe are unaware of a biblical worldview; but in this nation it seems that what at one time was at least an awareness of a biblical worldview has long since disappeared from the public realm. 

What difference does it make?  Well, it makes communication of the gospel a bit more difficult for starters.  Maybe not more difficult, since speaking the truth of God to a sinful world has always been tough.  But it's going to take more concerted effort on our part.  We're speaking a foreign language to many.  Speak about reality TV shows, speak about Oprah, speak about evolution and environmentalism, and folks will get it.  But speak about sin and righteousness and atonement and God's sovereignty and we might as well be talking about being a live TV.

We need to set the background, lay the foundation. Which, by the way, is why our view of Genesis is so important.  If that foundational book is not to be trusted, the rest will fall as well.  But that's another post altogether.  Now, where was I?  Oh yes, laying a foundation.  "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life" won't cut it anymore (if it ever did!).  We need to begin with the holiness of God, the sinfulness of men, the rightness of His justice and wrath because of the gulf between those things, and then the beautiful light of the cross which bridges the gap.  Even then, we're going to have to watch our words, define ourselves, make sure we're operating on the same wavelength.  As I said, it takes effort. 

Anyway, since our primary goal as the Church is to glorify God and proclaim His good news, I just thought this was something to think about.  Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to have to go and actually figure out how to use the little digital key pad on my phone to get these messages sent. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

I Voted!

I voted.  I wonder if we take those words for granted sometimes.  This was only a primary election, though there were several important state and county measures on the ballot today.  But regardless of whether it's a primary or general election, or just some other county issue, I wonder if we appreciate the great blessing it is to be able to say "I voted."

Do we appreciate the great sacrifice so many in our nation's history have made to give us this freedom? Do we realize how many millions around the world still don't have that freedom?  Do we know how blessed we are to be given the opportunity to elect our own leaders, help shape our own laws, direct our own nation?  And do we know what a great responsibility it is?

President James Garfield once said, "Now more than ever before, the people are responsible for the character of their Congress.  If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption.  If it be intelligent, brave, and pure, it is because the people demand these high qualities to represent them in the national legislature... If the next centennial does not find us a great will be because those who represent the enterprise, the culture, and the morality of the nation do not aid in controlling the political forces."  

Wow. And that was in 1881!  How much more true is that today?  And it's not just the "national legislature" that this applies to.  It's every election, every amendment, every tax increase, every judge and county official.  We can sit and complain about this or that, but if we aren't out at the polls, exercising this blessed freedom we have, then not only do we not have room to complain, but there may even come a day when that blessed freedom is lost.  

I thank God I was born in this great nation.  The freedoms we enjoy are like nowhere else in the world in so many ways.  And I'm very proud to say that today I took full advantage of those freedoms.  I voted.