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

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!