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

Monday, August 31, 2015

Shocked by Sin - Saved by Jesus

I have told our children over and over to not be surprised by the world.  I tell them that you can't expect an unregenerate person to act in any other way except as an unregenerate person; so don't be shocked.  And I convince myself that I can't be shocked by sin.

For the most part, I'm not.  Horrified and saddened, yes.  Surprised, no.  When we see the ongoing atrocities committed by jihadists, I'm angered and grieved, but not really shocked.  Regular stories of violence, whether it's a white man killing black people in their church; or a gay, black man killing his white former co-workers; these are deeply troubling, but not shocking given the depraved hearts of men.  And when liberals want to scream about white racism with that first story, but blame guns for the second, well, that's a whole other post.  But I'm not shocked by that sin. 

But then a story comes along that hits me in the head and it can't stop shaking.  It's not that it's all that heinous, when compared to terrorists or abortionists (though I'm not sure those are separate terms).  Some folks may not even be shocked by it.  But I'm dumbfounded. 

I recently came across an article from a ministry operating in my own backyard that I was not even aware of.  GO 61 is a ministry based on Isaiah 61 bringing good news to the poor and setting captives free.  Namely, they are focused on rescuing folks from the sex trade.  Not that the sex trade is shocking, since it is after all the "world's oldest profession."  And it's not that I somehow thought it didn't exist here, because it exists everywhere. 

But this article, published almost a year ago, was describing the story of one former prostitute and her experiences.  And as heartbreaking as the whole thing is, the part that shocked me had to do with the response of others to what she did.  She says that most folks were unaware of how she made a "living", with her online solicitation.  But after a fight with a best friend in which the best friend's daughter found out her profession, things got....disturbing. 

She was close to this friend and her daughter, the daughter called her "aunt."  She was devestated to think that this teen now knew what her "aunt" did for a living.  But the shock came when the girl told her friends at school, and the former prostitute started receiving messages from other teenage girls.  They were asking her how to go about setting up an online account so they could make a little extra money as prostitutes!  One girl's parents took her iPhone away, and she wanted to make some quick cash to get a new one.  And she was willing to prostitute herself to get it!

Some may not be shocked by that at all.  And as I said, it may be nothing compared with the real atrocities being committed out there.  But we hear all the time about girls in the sex trade being forced there by homelessness, or drugs, or domestic abuse.  To think that young girls would willingly enter that trade just to get some cash for a new iPhone?  I admit it, my head is still shaking as I type this. 

That our world is so mired in it's sin; that we've raised a generation of young people with such a lose understanding of intimacy; that we are so materialistic that a girl would value her iPhone more than her own body and soul.  Oh, God, save us!

And He can, by the way.  I don't know much about GO 61 but I plan to learn more.  If it's all on the up and up, it's a wonderful ministry, seeking to rescue folks from this kind of thing and share with them the Gospel of Christ.  He can, and does, give men and women new hearts all the time.  I know He's not shocked by these things.  He knows the depths of our depravity more than we ever will.

I think John Newton had a grasp on it though.  That former slave ship captain, converted miraculously into a hymn writing pastor and proclaimer of the Gospel.  He wrote this hymn which shows an understanding of man's willing decent into depravity, and reminds us of the only hope for rescuing us out of it.  I offer this hymn to remind us of our own hearts as well, and to those who may even now be caught in the web of sin.  There is hope in Jesus.  Oh, God, save us. 

No words can declare, No fancy can paint,
What rage and despair, What hopeless complaint,
Fill Satan’s dark dwelling, The prison beneath;
What weeping and yelling, And gnashing of teeth!

Yet sinners will choose This dreadful abode,
Each madly persues The dangerous road;
Though God give them warning They onward will go,
They answer with scorning, And onward do go.

How sad to behold The rich and the poor,
The young and the old, All blindly secure!
All posting to ruin, Refusing to stop;
Ah! think what you’re doing, While yet there is hope!

How weak is your hand To fight with the LORD!
How can you withstand The edge of his sword?
What hope of escaping For those who oppose,
When hell is wide gaping To swallow his foes?

How oft have you dared The Lord to his face!
Yet still you are spared To hear of his grace;
O pray for repentance And life–giving faith,
Before the just sentence Consign you to death.

It is not too late To JESUS to flee,
His mercy is great, His pardon is free;
His blood has such virtue For all that believe,
That nothing can hurt you, If him you receive.

"No Words Can Declare" by John Newton, Olney Hymns, 1779

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

"Just Like Me Church" -A New Church Plant Idea (revisited)

I just read an article about a "Rock and Roll Church" here in Missouri, and it reminded me of this little tirade I posted about 3 years ago.  When will we learn to just "be the church" instead of having to coddle the culture?  I haven't changed my mind, because I don't think the Scriptural principles have changed, so let me just repeat that old post here:

So here’s the idea. I’m going to start a church for NASCAR fan turkey hunters who like loud Christian rock music and collect antique hymnals. I’m sure it’s a subculture in America that isn’t being reached yet, so I’m going to “become all things to all men that I might win some.”

Now, before you pooh-pooh the idea, let me tell you what I was recently told. You need to be more open minded. You need to learn to think bigger and realize that there are “cultures” out there that won’t be reached by the traditional church. So what’s wrong with my idea?

Well, here’s what’s wrong with it. It seeks to find people who are just like me. I want to hang with people who look like, talk like, think like, dress like, and view life just like me. And those are the people I want to reach out to. That’s what’s wrong with it.

Of course, I guess I’m the only one who sees it as wrong. The discussion started when I told someone that I thought things like Cowboy Churches and Biker Churches and so on were unhealthy for the Body of Christ. Scripture tells us “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28, ESV) The early church sought to “tear down the dividing wall” between Jew and Greek, various cultures, etc. The modern church is trying to build them back up.

Look, I don’t care if you like acting like a cowboy. I don’t care if you like putting on leathers and riding a motorcycle. That’s great. More power to ya. But being a part of the Body of Christ means bringing your “likes” and your personal preferences into the Church, into the Body of Christ, adding to our diversity, and then yielding those likes and preferences to Christ. You don’t have to do away with them, you just have to begin to view them as less important than Christ; less important than the Body.

Our problem is that we’ve elevated our “culture” (in reality our personal preferences) above the Body. My “culture” is more important. Instead of seeking unity in the midst of diversity, we’ve focused on homogenous groups that are just like me. I can’t help but think of the old, old Emo Phillips joke that was at one time considered among the best religious jokes ever. It goes like this:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"

“Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

Just like me. That’s the way I like my church. Now don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about “universalism” of belief. I’m not talking about watering down doctrinal standards. The Truth is the truth, and Scripture is our standard.

But as this person told me: “The message is the same, but the methodology can be changed.” And while there is some truth to that, the methodology that seeks only to make people comfortable with others just like them isn’t really healthy for the Body of Christ.

Think about all the “one anothers” in Scripture. Bearing with one another and forgiving one another, etc. Much of that is harder to do when we’re with a bunch of folks who are different from us. It’s a greater challenge to put others first when those others are different than me. Likewise, the challenge is lessened when everyone already acts, thinks, looks like me anyway. And I think that’s the point. We like to take the easy way out. We don’t like to have to work at being the Body of Christ. Our maturity in Christ needs the challenges.

But, since I’m the only one that sees it this way; since I’m the nut case who needs to be more open-minded, I’ll play along. So any of you NASCAR fan turkey hunters who like loud Christian rock music and collect antique hymnals, drop me a note and we’ll arrange for time to start our club…I mean church. And everyone else can go find their own.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Geek Moment #?

It's been so long since I've done a "Homeschooler Moment" or the rarer "Geek Moment," that I'm not even sure what number to title it.  But anyway...

My oldest daughter comes to the church with me to do some online stuff before I take her to work at the library.  I have a small 5 cup coffee maker in my office, which I use to brew my coffee one mug at a time after freshly grinding the beans.  But I digress. 

I started a cup of coffee and went to the other end of the building.  When I come back, my daughter is a bit freaked out.  She tells me, "I knew you were in the building, but you didn't answer your phone when it rang, and I didn't know if someone else was in the building, and all I heard was Darth Vader's breathing coming from your office!"  

Because, yeah, evil Sith lords stop by for a visit on a regular basis....

Actually, I just think it's great that this is the first thought in her head.  We must have done something right in raising her!

Side Note:  After spending a year in Germany, she tells me that no one there was surprised by the epic Vader reveal of "I am your father, Luke."  Because in German the word for "father" is "vater" and so they all just assumed Darth Vader was the "dark father."  Hmmm...

Side Note 2:  If you're looking for a nice Christmas gift to go along with this whole discussion...

Friday, August 7, 2015

National Lighthouse Day and A Call to the Church

I know you've heard the story before, in one form or another.  Here is the version posted on a sermon illustration site:

In U.S. Navel Institute Proceedings, the magazine of the Naval Institute, Frank Koch illustrates the importance of obeying the Laws of the Lighthouse. Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.
Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."
"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.
The lookout replied, "Steady, Captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.
The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: 'We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.'"
Back came the signal, "Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees."
The captain said, "Send: "I'm a captain, change course twenty degrees.'"
"I'm a seaman second-class," came the reply. "You had better change course twenty degrees."
By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send: 'I'm a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.'"
Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse."
We changed course.

I love that story because it speaks of authority, and our need to bend to it.  I also like it because it's about a lighthouse.  I love lighthouses.  My office is filled with them.  Paintings, figurines, various lamps and models, even a giant puzzle I put together and framed.  I love lighthouses.

Today is National Lighthouse day.  According to one site: "On this date in 1789, through an Act of Congress, the Federal Government took over responsibility for building and operating our nation's lighthouses. They recognized the importance to ships at sea to find safe harbor during fog and storms. Over the years, these lighthouses have saved many ships, and an untold number of lives."

I love lighthouses because of the symbolism as well.  A beacon of light bringing direction, comfort and even warning to travelers in dangerous waters.  It's a perfect symbol for the role of the church, and for those of us in ministry.  Songs have even been written.

I think we need lighthouses more now than ever.  Our nation is in such dangerous waters.  The moral decline has morphed into a moral landslide.  Terror threats increase regularly.  We need a solid authority to give us warning, to give us direction, and to bring hope and comfort to those lost at sea.

God is that authority, and we, the church, are His lighthouses.  We need to shine the light of the gospel into the darkness of the world around us, giving warning, showing direction, offering hope.  And we need to stand firm on His truth. 

The world will try to throw its weight around, try to cause us to back down, change course.  But we know the truth.  The world is the one who needs to change course because they are headed for the rocks of destruction.  God's truth is the solid ground, the only true way to safety. 

So stand firm on the truth of God's Word.  Our world is headed for disaster, and they are desperately need of the truth whether they realize it or not.  And we are here to show the way to safe harbor, in hopes of saving lives, and maybe a nation in the process.  Be the lighthouse.  

Monday, August 3, 2015

Uh-Oh The Real Truth is Comin' Out

That's right, I just titled this with hip hop lyrics from an old Flame cd.  But I feel like it's pretty appropriate.  Part of that song goes on to say:

The media's lying the T.V. is lying, and guarantee the streets ain't telling the truth
So what you want me to do?
But point to the Bible for more than survival
But God's word that be speakin' to you, they God breathe its true

OK, get past the loose grammar of the hip hop and consider the “truth” part.  If nothing else has been learned in the last few weeks, with all the revelations coming out about Planned Parenthood, it's that none of them have been telling the truth.  In fact, we're now told that 8-10 more videos might be coming out soon.  Sadly, our President's administration has responded by opening an investigation, not into PP, but into the group exposing them.  Uh-oh, the real truth is comin' out.

But before we get too excited about this (though we should be excited, no, outraged as this fine article says); let's turn those eyes of truth back toward ourselves and ask if we are ready for the truth to come out.  What does that mean, you ask?  Simply this.

When it's the enemy's dark side coming out, we all scream for the “truth.”  We want all the dirty details to come out.  We want the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  But do we hold ourselves to the same standard?

I can hear the protests:  But we're not selling baby parts!  No, we're not.  But the truth of Scripture is that your heart is just as black in its natural state as those who are.  Uh-oh, the real truth is comin' out!  We don't like that kind of truth, do we?  But all of God's Word is breathed true, including the truth of the sinfulness of our hearts. 

We say we want the truth, but we often don't hold ourselves up to the standard of truth set forth in God's Word.  We like the convenient truths that make us feel better about ourselves.  We like the truths that make those we dislike look worse.  But truth is a double edged sword, cutting both ways.  If we want to stand for “truth”, then we need to look to God's Word and stand for ALL of it. 

Too many in the church are falling for false teachings, half truths, worldly ideas.  That issue needs to be addressed as much, if not more so, than the horrors of PP.  As Flame also says in that song:

See it's a war and I done stepped into it
And I'm on the team of the rescue unit
For the following people..
1. Ones who caught up in false doctrine
2. Non-believers ignoring the sin problem
3. And new saints, so while my mic is on
All I've got is the truth and a warning

Indeed, all we have is the truth.  The truth of God's Word.  We need to let it's light shine into our own hearts and lives as much as we want it to shine on the sin of the world.  And there are so many applications of that.

For one thing, it means truly being dedicated to the truth.  That means not passing things around the internet simply because we like it, never testing to see if it's actually true.  How many times have Christians been guilty of passing along some quote that was never actually said by the person it was attributed to, or sending along some story about this or that latest conspiracy that a simple search would reveal isn't true, or any number of other simple ways we ignore truth?

On the other hand, or on the more serious side, there are so many caught up in the cheap gospel tricks of the Osteens and Meyers of the world, whose messages aren't any different than Oprah's or even a fortune cookie for that matter. (here's a great little piece on that).  No sound biblical truth to be found, but Christians everywhere buy into it; again, pass it around the internet; join the crowd because it feels good.

We need truth.  We need to be devoted to truth, in all it's forms.  The truth we speak to others, the truth of what we pass along on social media, the truth we accept from anyone claiming to be a teacher of God's Word. 

We need The Truth.  No matter how uncomfortable it might make us at the time, God's light needs to shine on our hearts and lives just as much as the light of truth needs to reveal the despicable acts of baby killers. Sin is sin, in my life just as in others'.  We all need Christ.  Apart from Him we are all lost.  Apart from His grace, my sin is just as vile and damning as those in the PP videos, and I am just as much deserving of His wrath.

And so, if that's true, the real truth that needs to come out is not just that these people are disgusting and horrid in every way imaginable; but that they need Jesus.  So don't just yell and scream (though again, in our outrage, a little yelling and screaming needs to be done on this particular issue).  But pray for these folks.  Be willing to share the love of Christ with them and those who support them. Only God can change their hearts.  Fight for the lives of the innocent children being butchered, but also fight for the eternal souls of their executioners.  I know it's hard, but it's what the Truth demands. 

So, if you can handle the truth, enjoy a little hip-hop truth from our man Flame from “back in the day.”  (full lyrics can be read here)