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

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!