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

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Great Is Thy a bunch of Gomers!

Several days ago I read this wonderful article by Brandon Smith over at the Gospel Coalition that reminds us the “we are Gomer.”  And he's not talking about about a goofy redneck who joins the Marines (even though some of us might actually resemble him).  He's talking about the biblical Gomer, the wife of Hosea, the one with the questionable past and the ongoing faithlessness.  You know, the one it makes us uncomfortable to talk about sometimes.  The... (*whispers*)... “harlot.”

Some might get offended by the comparison.  But it's dead on.  And his overall point is dead on as well.  It's all about God's faithfulness, not ours.  If our salvation, our relationship with God, our whatever; if it was dependent upon our own  Don't even want to think about it. 

But I have been thinking about the subject lately.  Primarily because I see just how often I fail.  How often I don't live up to the standards; not just my own, but the clearly stated standards in God's Word.  I see how often I struggle. How often I'm no different than Peter in his moment of weakness, denying Christ.  Not that I've been put in that spot.  But my heart is no different.

Lately I've been reminded just how much I need a faithful God, because my own heart is so weak and weary, “prone to wonder” as the song says.  But then I remember that other song.  You know the one.

Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!”
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!

Thomas Chisholm's words aren't even a hundred years old yet, and yet they are timeless.  Such rich Biblical imagery that reminds us that we do indeed serve a faithful God.  In fact, it's all about His faithfulness.  Because, after all, we are just a bunch of Gomers!

And so for your edification and enjoyment, click here for a great arrangement of that wonderful hymn from Denver & the Mile High Orchestra

Monday, January 26, 2015

Preparing for the Future

So, I'm meeting with a guy from a life insurance company this morning to finalize a new policy.  My wife and I talked about some of the details over the weekend, and hearing the subject of the conversation ("If I should die...") the kids are all "this is morbid!"

I explained to them that talking about our pending death (since we're all in the process of dying) may seem a bit morbid, but it's just plain good stewardship.  Now or later, we will die.  Making plans for the future, deciding how the kids will be provided for, arranging for the distribution of my massive wealth (my oldest son gets my Hot Wheels, and so on...), is basic wisdom.  No sense pretending it won't happen.  Perfect sense to plan for the inevitable.

I'm not sure how much that comforted the kids, but at least they saw the logic.  It is, truly, just good stewardship to plan for the future in general, especially those things that you know for certain will happen.  Ok, the thing, singular.  Because the only thing we know for sure that will that we will die. 

Now, then.  Here's the thought.  If it makes sense to make plans for the earthly implications of our death, which we know is coming; how much more is it simple wisdom to make plans for our eternal future.  If we know we're going to die, how foolish to not makes "arrangements" for that inevitability.  

There's a well know old story about a certain nobleman who kept a fool in his court, and he gave that fool a staff with a charge to keep it till he should meet with one who was a greater fool than himself. Some years later, the nobleman became ill and was on his death bed. When the fool came to see him, the sick lord said to him, "I must shortly leave you." "And where are you going?" asked the fool. After a moment’s thought, the nobleman said, "I am going into another world." 

And the fool began to quiz his master.  "When will you return? Within a month?" "No." "Within a year?" "No." "When, then?" "I suppose never!" was the final reply. "Never?" asked the fool. "And what provision have you made for this journey from which you will never return?" "None at all," said the lord.  The fool shook his head and said, “Here then, take my staff; for, with all my folly, I am not guilty of any folly such as this."

Jesus tells the parable about the man who stored up all his wealth, only to be told that he was going to die and all that wealth would be left behind. And the man himself, whom God calls a "fool", enters eternity unprepared. 

How foolish to buy life insurance, to put a will in order, etc. and give no thought to making plans for an eternal future.  One day each and every one of us will stand before a holy God and will answer for this life we've lived.  On our own, none of us can stand under that judgment.  None of us.  None of us have lived according to His perfect standards and can earn the right to live in the presence of His holiness for all eternity.

But in His great mercy, He sent His Son to live a life of perfect obedience, then give that life as a perfect sacrifice, and perfectly satisfy the wrath of God that our sins deserve.  He then calls us to repent and believe, to trust in that sacrifice, to look to Christ as our great Provider.  Then on that day, those for whom He died, those who He has called to Himself, those who have come to Him in faith, will stand before the Creator and Judge, not on our own merit, but on the merit of Christ.  Our eternal future has been provided for.  Eternal life has been given in Christ. 

Don't be a fool.  You prepare for the future of you and your family in this world.  Prepare for your eternal future as well.  Seek God in His Word.  Look to Christ today. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Cheating and Sin: How Much is Enough for Penalties?

The sports world is abuzz with the latest scandal involving the New England Patriots, in which they were found to have deflated several of the footballs during the AFC Championship game.  Apparently, NFL rules require the footballs to be a certain air pressure, and the Patriots purposely went under that number by 2 pounds. 

Now, I'm no football expert, so I don't know exactly what to think.  I've heard some say that this would allow the quarterback to better grip the ball on a cold day, making his passes better.  Some say the receivers would have an easier time catching it.  Still others say this makes no difference at all and it's no big deal. 

But here's the thing.  If there is no advantage to reducing the air pressure, then why did the NE folks do it?  Obviously they thought it was some advantage.  They felt there was enough of an advantage to purposely violate league rules regarding the air pressure.  Someone, somewhere felt it was some advantage. 

And then there is the whole "it's no big deal" angle.  Again, the NFL felt it was at least a big deal enough to go to the trouble of putting this issue into the rule book, outlining possible penalties for violating the rule, etc.  So it must be at least a little bit of a big deal. 

Being a NASCAR fan, I'm used to seeing this all the time.  Teams constantly play with the cars trying to get every little advantage they can.  Sometimes within the rules.  Sometimes pushing the edge.  Sometimes going way over the line.  In the end, when they're caught, it's always: "it's no big deal.  We didn't really gain an advantage.  I don't know what the problem is."  And again, the same arguments above apply.  If no advantage, why do it?  If it's not big deal, why are the rules there?

Then there is the big question:  How far is too far?  How many rules can you break before it's a "big deal"?  Are some rules ok to break while others aren't?  Why all the grey areas?  Aren't the rules the rules?

All of this plays into our attitude about sin, I think.  We have the same approach.  God has stated what is right and good, and what is not.  But we think we can play loose with those.  This sin is so small it doesn't really matter.  What's the big deal?  I mean come on, is telling a little white lie as bad as killing someone?  Is cheating on my taxes really as bad as cheating on my wife?  

What we fail to remember is that a single violation of any point of God's law is still a violation against a pure, holy, righteous God.  James 2:10 reminds us that if we are talking in terms of our ability to keep any of the law, we're in trouble, because "whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it."  One little violation is the same as violating it all. Of course, that's simply a reminder of why we need grace.  

None of us can keep God's law.  It's impossible. It was designed to be impossible.  It was designed to show us our need of a Savior.  But that doesn't negate the truth that sin is still sin, little ones and big ones, all a violation of God's holiness, and rightfully deserving of His wrath and judgment.  And while we are under the grace of God in Christ, His sacrifice having atoned for our sins big and small, to flippantly regard any sin as a "little one" or "no big deal" is an insult to grace and an affront to mercy.  

I don't know what will happen with the Patriots.  Some say they should be kicked out of the Super Bowl.  I don't think that will ever happen.  But a team that continually flaunts the rule book, acting as if they are above it, acting as if the rules are too small to apply to them....well, something needs to happen.  Justice should prevail somehow. 

In our case, justice has prevailed.  Christ died in our place.  God's wrath is satisfied.  Our sins are atoned for.  But please, don't presume upon that grace. Don't pretend that one little sin doesn't matter.  That one little sin is still a violation of God's law. It still would require the sacrifice of God's only Son.

And for those not trusting in that sacrifice and grace, don't ever think that your sin is too small to bring God's wrath upon you.  He's not NASCAR or the NFL.  He doesn't look the other way.  Sin will be punished.  If not through Christ's sacrifice, then you will pay for it yourself for all eternity.  Even the little ones.  So, please, run to the cross, confess your sin and your need of forgiveness, trust in His sacrifice.  It's your only hope!

Monday, January 19, 2015

The True Racial Divide – And How To Overcome It

As millions in this country celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, as the issue of race and racism and racial relations is on the minds of so many; I offer this simple reflection. Below are excerpts from two sermons by the Prince of Preachers, C. H. Spurgeon. In one he shows that there is indeed a dividing line between races, what he calls a “vital difference”; a division which means these races “can never blend.” In the other, he offers the answer to every form of division among us.

If those sound like they contradict one another, understand that in the first, Spurgeon's identification of “races” may be different than you think. And in the second, well, just read for yourself...

From “The Master Key – Opening the Gate of Heaven” preached May 23, 1886

THE possession of a God, or the non-possession of a God, makes the greatest possible difference between man and man... There are many wise, careful, prudent men of the world who have no God and, truly, these in the highest sense, like the young lions, lack and suffer hunger, for their highest nature is left to famish. Those who wait upon the Lord are often very simple and devoid of ability and policy, but they shall not lack any good thing—their highest nature is well supplied from heavenly sources. This is the great difference between the two races which people the world—I mean the sons of men who say in their hearts, “No God,” and the sons of God, the twice-born, who have received new life and, therefore, with heart and flesh cry out for God, even the living God! The child of this world enquires, “Where shall I flee from His Presence?” The child of Light cries, “O God, You are my God; early will I seek You.” There are thus two races of men who can never blend, either in this life or in that which is to come. Deep in their innermost nature lies a vital difference—they are of two distinct seeds. My dear Hearers, you can divide yourselves without difficulty by this rule—Have you a God, or have you none? If you have no God, what have you? If you have no God, what good have you to expect? What, indeed, can be good to you? If you have no God, how can you face the past, the present, or the future?

From “The Christian – A Debtor” preached August 10, 1856,

Therefore, Brethren, we are debtors.” -Romans 8:12.
OBSERVE the title whereby he addressed the Church—“Brethren.” It was the Gospel which taught Paul how to say brother. If he had not been a Christian, his Jewish dignity would never have condescended to call a Roman, “Brother”—for a Jew sneered at the Gentile—and called him, “dog.” But now in the heart of this “Hebrew of the Hebrews,” there is the holy recognition of Christian fraternity without reserve or hypocrisy! The Gospel softened the heart of Paul and made him forget all national animosities. Otherwise, one of the down-trodden race would not have called his oppressor, “brother.” The Roman had his iron foot on the Jew, yet Paul addresses those who subjugated his race, “Brethren.” We repeat, a third time, it was the Gospel which implanted in the soul of Paul the feeling of brotherhood and removed every wall of partition which divided him from any of the Lord’s Elect.

So then,” he said, “we are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God. He proclaimed the Doctrine of the “one blood” and gloried in the fact of “one family” in Christ. He felt within him affinities with all the blood-bought race and loved them all.

He had not seen many of those whom he addressed—yet they were known to him in the Spirit as partakers of one glorious and blessed hope. And, therefore, he called them, “Brethren.” My Friends, there is a cementing power in the Grace of God which can scarcely be overestimated! It resets the dislocated bones of society, rivets the bonds of friendship and welds the broken metal of manhood into one united mass. It makes all, Brothers and Sisters, who feel its power. Grace links mankind in a common brotherhood. Grace makes the great man give his hand to the poor and confess a heavenly relationship. Grace compels the intellectual, the learned, the polite—to stoop from their dignity to take hold of the ignorant and unlettered—and call them friends! Grace weaves the threads of our separate individualities into one undivided unity.

Let the Gospel be really felt in the mind and it will toll the death-knell of selfishness, it will bring down the proud from their elevated solitude and it will restore the down-trodden to the rights of our common manhood! We need only the Gospel thoroughly preached to bring about “liberty, equality and fraternity,” in the highest and best sense of these words! Not the “liberty, equality and fraternity” which the democrat seeks for, which is frequently another name for his own superiority, but that which is true and real—that which will make us all free in the Spirit, make us all equal in the Person of Christ Jesus and give us all this fraternity of Brothers and Sisters, seeing that we are all one with our Lord in the common bond of Gospel relationship! Let the Truths of Christianity work out their perfect work—and pride, bitterness, wrath, envy and malice must see their graves. This and this, alone, can restore the peace of divided families and unite disputing relatives.

Only let the Gospel be preached and there shall be an end of war—let it thoroughly pervade all ranks of society and saturate the mind of nations—and there shall be no more lifting of the spears. They shall be used for pruning hooks! No bathing of swords in blood, for they shall be turned in to the peaceful plowshares of the soil. We shall then have no hosts encountering hosts. We shall have no millions slain for widows to deplore—but every man shall meet every other man and call him, “Brother.” And men of every kindred and of every tribe shall see in the face of every man a relative allied to them by ties of blood. I am sure I feel, myself, the force of this word, “Brother,” and, “Sister,” with regard to many of you. If you are partakers of that glorious hope. If you are believers in our glorious Redeemer. If you have put your trust under the shadow of His wings—my hand and my heart with it—there is that word, “Brothers and Sisters,” for you!

There you have it. Only two races of men. Those of God. Those without God. And the answer for every other divide we have in this world is the Gospel. In Christ, we are all one; all brothers; regardless of race, face or place. Just some thoughts to ponder on this day.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Expectation vs. Reality

It's been a pretty dry winter in our part of the country. A few really cold days. A little ice scare. A little snow back in December that left as quickly as it came. So you can imagine how excited the kids were when they predicted 2-4 inches of snow overnight. We were all pretty excited.

But when we woke up this morning, nothing had really materialized. We were expecting this:

And we got this:

Sometimes the reality just doesn't live up to the expectation. Of course, I had to stop and remember what my expectation was built on: the prediction of a weather forecaster. Now, in all fairness, I know these guys do the best they can with what they have. They put all their models together, based on typical patterns, etc. They are definitely educated guess; but only guesses. In the end, they really have no idea. Because only God controls the weather, right?

I began to realize that this is a bit like life in general. We have so many expectations. We have expectations about what our job will be like, and what our marriage will be like, and what our children will be like, what life will be like in general. But they are only guesses. We can consult the charts, look at models of those before us, consider lots of variables that might get us a good guess. But it's only a guess. Life plays out much differently than our expectations sometimes. Because we're not God.

We even have expectations about God. We are told by this or that TV preacher, or we read this or that best selling book, that tells us God does this, or God will do that for us, or this is how God is. But what are those expectations built on? The words of men. Often the words of false teachers. The only true expectations are found in God's Word.

Even then, our expectations can be off. We read things into the word. We claim promises that are not ours, or at least no ours in the way we want them to be (read here for a great little post on which Bible promises we claim). And based on those faulty interpretations, we come up with a set of expectations, and then we are severely disappointed when they fall flat. But what were those expectations built on? God's true promises, our our fleshly interpretations of them.

Here's the thing. God has made all kinds of promises. He promises to keep those who are His, to never leave us nor forsake us, the bring us into an inheritance that will never fade or spoil. He promises to comfort us, to hold us up on the midst of difficulty, to watch over us and protect us. But we need to be sure that we don't have misguided expectations of what all that looks like. That we don't listen to those who tell us God's promise of His presence and provision means we will never have suffering, we will be always healthy and wealthy. Because eventually you're going to wake up and realize the weather guy was wrong. Your expectations were built on the wrong foundation.

Instead, wake up each day and take what God gives you. I wanted more snow, but I rejoice in the beauty of God's creation that He demonstrated this day. Just like I might say I wanted more ________________ (fill in the blank), I expected more this or that. Take what God has blessed you with, see the beauty of it, rejoice in His goodness to you, exalt Him for His presence with you, and praise the Lord. Rejoice in the Lord always, and again, rejoice. Even when you don't get what you expected.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Am I Really Praying?

As I begin another week; as I reflect on the week that was, on the ministry of the week ahead, and of my inability to accomplish anything on my own, I'm driven to prayer. But am I really praying.

I think men have always struggled with prayer. With the advent of social media, prayer has become even more of a magic potion, a superstitious mantra to so many. I read “prayer requests” all the time on various folks, ranging from serious health issues to relationship issues to financial needs, to really minor stuff. And we ought to pray about all things. But usually, the prayers asked for are really more like “Please make God do what I want. If enough people pray, He has to do it.” Again, say the magic words and 'poof' all will be as you want it. (I've spouted off about this “Cheapening of Prayer", so you can go there and read that if you're really that bored.)

But for those truly seeking genuine prayer, genuine communion with God, genuine humble communication with the Sovereign King of the Universe; how do we do it? How can we be sure we are truly praying, and praying rightly?

John Bunyan, of Pilgrim's Progress fame among other things, once wrote a little booklet on prayer that I've found very helpful (once you get past some of the archaic language). He defines prayer like this:

FIRST, What [true] prayer is. Prayer is a sincere, sensible, affectionate pouring out of the heart or soul to God, through Christ, in the strength and assistance of the Holy Spirit, for such things as God hath promised, or according to the Word, for the good of the church, with submission, in faith, to the will of God.

In this description are these seven things. First, It is a sincere; Second, A sensible; Third, An affectionate, pouring out of the soul to God, through Christ; Fourth, By the strength or assistance of the Spirit; Fifth, For such things as God hath promised, or, according to his word; Sixth, For the good of the church; Seventh, With submission in faith to the will of God.

Bunyan goes on to give greater detail on each of those seven things, along with other explanations and applications. If you've never read Bunyan's discourse on prayer I highly recommend it. You can read it online here as well as other places.

Did you catch everything in that definition, though? Sincere, sensible, affectionate. Pouring out of the soul to God. Through Christ. Assisted by the Holy Spirit. According to God's promises in His Word. For the good of the church. Submitting in faith to God's will. That really narrows some things down, doesn't it?

First, it reminds us that this is spiritual work. Spiritual. And work. It's effort, but in spiritual strength. How much of my praying is like that, as opposed to throw away lines, habitual rituals and so on?

Also, it's centered on God in Christ through the Holy Spirit. Prayer is centered on the Triune God of Scripture. That means all those well intentioned folks who toss their prayers and “good thoughts” or “positive energy” or whatever my way, are really useless. As are my prayers when not centered in the God of Scripture.

Furthermore, my prayers must be according to His Word, His promises, His will. That means that I don't get to just ask for whatever I want willy nilly and demand God give it to me. It also means I need to spend a bit of time in His Word so I know what it says, what those promises are, what His will is.

And then, the direction of my prayer is not to be for my own selfish gain, but for the good of His Church, according to His will and for His glory. Wow, that weeds out a few prayers, too, doesn't it?

Finally, all prayer is done in faith and submission. What an odd pairing. Faith, meaning I believe God hears and will answer. But submission, saying ultimately “Not my will but Yours be done.”

I'm not saying that God only hears prayers that are super organized and theologically outlined and footnoted and so on. Sometimes, the only prayer we have in us is “O, God help.” “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” And those are good prayers. They are sincere, sensible and affectionate. They are addressed to the God of Scripture in Christ, aided by the Holy Spirit. And so on. So we don't have to over think this.

But I think we do have to think. Our prayers can become very ritualistic, selfish, and unbiblical, which means they are also meaningless and powerless. Just as we need humble self examination in general (as per my last post), our prayers could stand a little examination as well. Am I really praying? Or am I just offering up a magic mantra in hopes of getting what I want?

Now, if you'll excuse me....I need to go pray awhile.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Humble Self-examination

So I've been preaching through John's Gospel for almost...a long time. And we come to chapter 13 which begins with that wonderful portrait of our Lord washing His disciples feet. But the awe of that moment is tainted with the revelation that there is a traitor among them.

As I studied the brief middle section of that chapter, two things about the disciples' reaction jumped out at me. The first, when Jesus says one of them will betray Him, their first response is not for all of them to start pointing at Judas and saying things like “I knew that guy was up to no good.” John says they were “uncertain.” They had no clue. Judas wasn't the obvious villain we sometimes think. There's more on that, but I don't want to just give you Sunday's sermon.

The second reaction, when Jesus says one of them will betray Him, is also that their first response is not pointing at others at all. It's not just that they didn't recognize Judas' traitorous heart, it's that they didn't start wagging fingers and tongues and accusing each other and so on. Instead, as Matthew's account tells us, they each began to ask the question: Is it I?

I'm blown away by that. Humility. A readiness to look at my own heart before I start casting blame on others. What an amazing example. I don't imagine it playing out that way in most churches today. I have a feeling we'd be a little quick to point the blame on others. “Oh, yeah, it must be that guy. I've never trusted him. Or maybe that guy, he dresses funny. Or that guy over there, he always disagrees with me at business meeting.” We would fill our minds with suspects and accusations. But the disciples asked, “Is it I?”

I'm not suggesting living in a constant state of uncertainty and doubt. John ends his first letter to the church by reminding us that he has written to those “who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know you have eternal life.” That you may know. Confidence in the saving work of Christ is a good thing. And expected thing. But spiritual pride is another. And we are frequently reminded to take a good look, to make our calling and election sure, to see that we are in the faith, and so on.

Humble self-examination. Periodically checking to see that our heart is right. Looking in evaluation before we look out in judgment. Getting the plank out of our own eye before looking to help a brother remove his speck. (That doesn't mean we don't look to help the brother get that speck out, because that's part of the reason we need to get the plank out of our own eye.......but that's Sunday night's sermon, so.......)

I know I need this reminder. I'm pretty certain most things are other people's fault. I'm pretty sure I've got it right and the rest of y'all need to get some things figured out. So, yeah, I need to hear this. Humble self-examination. Searching my heart before looking to blame others. If a relationship isn't what it should be: Is it I, Lord? If there's a disagreement here or there: Is it I, Lord? If there's something that needs to be done: Is it I, Lord? Is there an obstacle that needs to be removed: Is it I, Lord?

Maybe it's not me. In this case it was Judas. The other guys were innocent of this particular crime. They weren't the traitors after all. Yet, we have much to learn from their first look being inward instead of outward. May we all example such humble self-examination.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Deacons = Servants

Can I brag on our church's deacons for a minute? Well, it is my blog, I guess. You don't have to keep reading if you don't want. But if you want a great example of what Biblical deacons look like, read on.

I have to confess that over the years I've been blessed to work with many good deacons. May sound strange if you've been around church life enough to hear the jokes/horror stories about the relationship between pastors and deacons. And honestly, I've had a few of those as well, as I'll mention. But for the most part, I've been able to serve with humble men who serve their church. The group I serve with now is the cream of that crop, though.

The aforementioned horror stories usually have something to do with power mad individuals who think being a deacon in the church means “I get to run things.” And I have come across one or two of those. They are domineering, they think their opinion carries more weight than everyone else's, they throw little tantrums if they don't get their way, which usually results in pastors getting fired. (Hmm, my flying fingers originally typed “fried.” Typing accident, or subtle truth getting out?) Fortunately, I've only come across one or two mild forms of that guy in nearly 25 years as a pastor.

The other typical problem is a bunch of weak willed individuals who cave under pressure from this or that group in the church to do this or that thing, or to not do this or that thing, and they end up merely as puppets. In this scenario, the deacon is still seen as an “authority” figure. It's just that instead of wielding that power on his own, he is the lackey of political groups within the church. Again, I've come across a few of those, been on the receiving end of their puppet power punches. No fun.

In both of those situations, the main problem is that people see the deacons as some sort of authority figure who runs the church. Whether they run it on their own, or at the behest of others, they are still trying to run things. That's not what deacons do.

In Acts 6, when those first deacons are called out, they are called out as servants. They are called out to settle petty disputes in the congregation so the apostles can focus on preaching and praying. The Greek word for deacon literally refers to one who runs errands. It's an attendant, even one who waits tables. In a word: deacons are servants. And that's what our guys do.

No one is perfect. I know that. Our men aren't perfect either. But they hold the role of servant very well. They care about our church family. They serve them. When I ask any of them to fill this or that role, they humbly accept. When folks are upset, these guys jump in and want to make things right, but in a biblical way, not a pandering to the power hungry.

Honestly, they've all caught flak for their servant role. Some want to use them in that “authority” role, as puppets. And when these guys don't give in to that, they've been accused of being my lackeys. As if I have some sort of power over them. What those folks don't know is how many times these same guys have “called me on the carpet.” Again, not in a power mad way, but in a biblical exercising of their responsibility to the church. If a ministry is not operating the way it should, including the pastor's ministry, these guys aren't afraid to step up and say, “we need to address this, work on this, fix this.” I appreciate the humble way they do that.

A few years back I asked them to come early for church to meet with me and pray before each service. Our service is at 9am, which means they then have to come at 8:30. That means their wives have to come early as well, or they have to make other arrangements, bring two cars, whatever. Not one of them complained. They all agreed happily, and come faithfully. In fact I have to show up earlier every Sunday now to get my “stuff” done, because they usually show up even earlier than the 30 minutes I asked for! They are servants.

Not everyone understands the difference between “serving” and “ruling” in the church. Whether it's pastors, or deacons, or committees, or whatever. Folks often overlook the truth that Biblical leadership means servant leadership. Leading by serving, not by ruling, or as the apostle Paul calls it “lording it over” others. I appreciate so much that these men get the difference, and seek to lead by serving our church.

This may not mean anything to anyone but me. It's sort of a personal reflection. But my prayer is that you may experience godly, servant leadership in your church as well. I pray God would raise up men to serve you and your church in this way. If you are a deacon, look to serve for Christ's glory, not man's. If you are a pastor, I pray not only that you are blessed to work with men like this, but that you are a servant leader yourself. Because in the end, what I think of when I consider these men, is: I want to be like that, too. I want to lead by serving. I don't want to be a “ruler.” I have one of those already. His name is Jesus. And ultimately I want to be like Him. And ironically, He lead by serving as well. There must be something to that.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Praising God for the Destruction of the Wicked?

So I'm driving down the road listening to Shai Linne, one of my favorite Christian rappers (go ahead and hate me for it, I don't care). And I come to one of my favorite songs simply titled: C.H.R.I.S.T. It's a simple song of praise for the glories of Christ. Shai says some basic truth, asking “right?” And the background singers/crowd yells “Yeah!” Here's a sample:

Christ created all things, right? (Yeah!)
Lord of Lords, King of Kings, right? (Yeah!)
He came through a virgin birth, right? (Yeah!)
God in the flesh walked the earth, right? (Yeah!)
Jesus lived a perfect life, right? (Yeah!)
He died as a sacrifice, right? (Yeah!)
He was raised on the third, right? (Yeah!)
And we know this from the Word, right? (Yeah!)

You get the idea. It goes on to hit the five “solas” even at one point. Great song. But as I'm listening to all this great truth, listening to all this praise for Christ, I'm suddenly taken aback by one section.

He ascended to His throne, right? (Yeah!)
He’s gonna come and take us home, right? (Yeah!)
He’s gonna judge all the earth, right? (Yeah!)
He’s gonna show what He’s worth, right? (Yeah!)
He’ll send the wicked to hell, right? (Yeah!)
But with His people He’ll dwell, right? (Yeah!)

I'm singing/yelling “Yeah!” right along with them, but then I stop. Wait a minute. What did he just say? He'll send the wicked to hell, right? And we say “Yeah!”? Is that the response I should have? Should I really praise God for the destruction of the wicked? Well, according to Scripture, yes.

Why? Because the destruction of the wicked is a display of the glory of God, the justice of God, the righteousness of God. Jonathan Edwards once gave a message on “Wicked Men Useful In Their Destruction Only.” After showing how God's justice and righteous are highlighted, he directly addresses the issue or our response. He says this:

The destruction of the unfruitful is of use, to give the saints a greater sense of their happiness, and of God's grace to them. The wicked will be destroyed and tormented in the view of the saints, and other inhabitants of heaven. This we are taught in Revelation xiv. 10. "The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture, into the cup of his indignation ; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone, in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb." And in Isaiah lxvi. 24. "And they shall go forth and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me : For their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched, and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh."

When the saints in heaven shall look upon the damned in hell, it will serve to give them a greater sense of their own happiness, seeing how vastly different their case is from their own. The view of the doleful condition of the damned will make them the more prize their own blessedness. When they shall see how dreadful the anger of God is, it will make them the more prize his love. They will rejoice so much the more that they are not the objects of God's anger, but of his favor; that they are not the subjects of his dreadful wrath, but are treated as his children, are taken near to him, to dwell in the everlasting embraces of his love.

When they shall see the misery of the damned, it will give them a greater sense of the distinguishing grace and love of God to them, that God should from all eternity set his love on them, and make so great a difference between them and others who are of the same species with them, are no worse by nature than they, and have deserved no worse of God than they. When they shall look upon the misery of the damned, and consider how different their own state is from theirs, and that it is only free and sovereign grace that makes the difference, what a great sense will this give them of the wonderful grace of God to them! And how will it heighten their praises! With how much greater admiration and exultation of soul will they sing of the free and sovereign grace of God to them!

When they shall look upon the damned, and see their misery, how will heaven ring with the praises of God's justice towards the wicked, and his grace towards the saints! And with how much greater enlargement of heart will they praise Jesus Christ their Redeemer, that ever he was pleased to set his love upon them, his dying love! And that he should so distinguish them as to spill his blood, and make his soul an offering, to redeem them from that so great misery, and to bring them to such exceeding happiness!

Wow! I once heard Paul Washer talk about the vileness of our sin, and the blight that our sin is on creation, and how man compares with the rest of creation in that sense, and creations response, and thought it was a bit intense. He says this:

God said to the stars, each of which is large enough to consume a dozen of our suns, ‘You go there, and you will be called this, and you stay there until I tell you otherwise.’ And the stars obeyed. He said to the planets, ‘you go there, and will be this color, and will go in this path, and will reflect light in just this way, and you continue to do all that until I tell you otherwise.’ And they obeyed him.
And He said to the mountains, arise and come forth and they obeyed and rose up out of the ground. And He said to the valleys, ‘Cast yourself down’ and they obeyed Him. He said to the monsters of the deep dance in this way, and they danced in obedience.

And then he said to you (man) come follow me, and you said, ‘No!’” Washer concluded by saying, “Our sin is so horrible, so vile, such a blight on creation that when you take you first step into hell, all of creation will rejoice because God finally got rid of you!”

Again, wow! But hopefully you get the point. God is so holy, so righteous, so perfect in all that He does, that even His justice on display in the destruction of the wicked elicits praise from all of creation, including His saints. It's not joy over the pain and suffering of men. It's not a joy that delights in the punishment of the wicked for the sake of punishment. It's a joy based on the perfect judgment of a holy God. It's joy based on the reality that our God is a God who makes all things right. It's a joy that centers on Christ and the salvation He offers that rescues us from such destruction, while at the same time knowing that destruction is right and good and worthy of praise.

I still struggle with this, I'll be honest. I know that none of this means a delight when those who oppose us “get theirs.” It's not a petty, vindictive thing. In this life, I should see that coming destruction and be so passionate about seeing those around me avoid it that I faithfully and frequently share the gospel, hoping and praying that those around me are saved from such an end.

But at the same time, I know that such an end is right. I deserve it myself. Only the grace of God keeps me from it. And it is right to glorify God for bringing such an end to those who spent their lives in hatred of and rebellion against Him. I pray God will teach me the truth of this, help me get the right balance of it, and praise Him for His justice as well as His mercy.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

New Year, New Beginnings

I admit I was a little off at the end of the year. A little tired. A little frustrated. A little of a lot of things. Hence the “death knell” post.

But as we look to this new year I'm reminded of the blessing of new beginnings. In fact, isn't that what our faith is all about. All things becoming new. God bringing life to the dead. New chances. New opportunities. New life. And continual newness.

What a horror it would be if God looked down at our sin and filth and said, “You know, I'm a little tired. A little frustrated. A little of a lot of things. Let's just end it.” Oh my! Praise God His mercy endures forever. Praise God He continues to bring newness, to renew the strength of the weary, to restore the wandering son.

And so, even though the things that cause weariness and frustration haven't changed, I am resolved to focus on newness and joy and strength in Christ instead. (AHH! A new year's resolution. I said I wasn't going to do those! Oh well)

To mark the newness, I've revamped the look of things. I'm not that computer savvy, but thanks to the fancy tools Blogger provides, I was able to come up with some new stuff. Might even change it again. I'll wait and see how it grows on me.

I still don't know if the productivity will increase. But the “new” part is I don't really care. I'm not going to do this because I think I have to. I like the catharsis, as I've mentioned frequently before. So I'll do it for the joy of it, for the help in clarifying my own thoughts, for the entertainment of the 3 people who read this, simply sharing the thoughts as God gives them to me, for His purposes and for His glory. And it'll be a great new year.

So in looking forward to the newness, the new year and all, keeping in perspective that God's plans and purposes should always be foremost in our hearts, here are Samuel Medley's words from 1789 in looking at “Another Year.”

Father of mercies! God of love!
Whose kind compassion still we prove,
Our praise accept, and bless us here,
As brought to this—another year.

We sing Thy goodness all divine,
Whose radiant beams around us shine,
Tis through Thy goodness we appear
Preserved to this—another year.

Our souls, our all we here resign;
Make us, and keep us ever Thine;
And grant that in Thy love and fear
We may begin—another year.

Be this our sweet experience still,
To know and do Thy holy will;
Then shall our souls, with joy sincere,
Bless Thee for this—another year.

Still, Lord, through life Thy love display,
And then in death’s approaching day,
We’ll joyful part with all that’s here,
Nor wish on earth—another year.