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

Monday, October 21, 2019

The Gospel Net

Continuing with my newly stated goal of using Mondays to share Sunday's message, well, here it is. 

But to share more fully, some of the issues in this message go along with two posts I made several years back.  One, a looooong time ago, had to do with the "bait and switch" tactics used in the church.  The misunderstanding that some have about what it means to be "fishers of men." We think of modern fishing practices, using the right lure to catch the right kind of fish, etc.  Whereas Jesus' call to be fishers of men has much more to do with the idea of casting a net and seeing what mind find its way into that net.  In other words, casting the net of the Gospel and trusting God to fill the net as He sees fit. 

The other article, almost as looong ago, has to do with the sad practice of "specialty churches."  The goal here is to target some sub group of the culture and make a church just to attract that group (i.e. Cowboy Church, Biker Church, etc.).  This is an obvious violation of so many biblical principles.  Primarily the issue of proclaiming the Gospel to all men, all kinds of men; and the principle of unity in the church that tears down dividing walls. 

You can follow the links in those paragraphs above to read those posts, if you're bored, or if you're having trouble sleeping, or whatever.  But as we looked at the "Parable of the Net" Jesus gives in Matthew 13, those kinds of issues surface again.

In the end, the basic idea is that the Church is to be about the business of casting the net of the Gospel, knowing that a great "separation" is coming at the Day of Judgment, and that until that day we need to keep casting and trust God to fill the net as He chooses.  I pray the message (should you choose to listen) will be a challenge and a blessing. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Fake News and The Gospel

Without a doubt you’ve heard about the recent kerfuffle regarding ABC News reporting on attacks in Syria and using video footage that seems to show a great onslaught, only to find out that said footage was actually from a nighttime artillery demonstration at a range in Kentucky.   Cries of “fake news” come ringing in, and rightly so.  News folks take a piece of video and build a narrative around it, whether it’s accurate or not. 

Actually, seeing the video footage in its entirety destroys the narrative. The ABC footage is grainy and zoomed in.  Once you zoom out, the shot clears up, and not only do you see the impressive streaks of artillery fire scorching the night, you also see the large crowd gathered to observe.  I can’t help but think that if the folks at ABC had seen the whole video in context (I’m assuming for their sake that they had not), that they would have known right away this was not an attack in Syria, or anywhere else.  Context helps immensely.  

What’s true of video footage, is also true of still photographs.  Maybe even more so.  One photo, taken out of context, can transmit all sorts of false narratives.  One that comes to mind has made its way around the social web the last couple years.  The picture is of a group of young students sitting in front of Rembrandt’s famous ‘The Night Watch’ at the Louvre.  But instead of appreciating the masterpiece, they all have their heads down, glued to their mobile devices.  Sad, right?

The photo is passed around as evidence of the ignorance of today’s youth, the destruction of their minds by technology, etc.  How can they sit there on Twitter and ignore such amazing art?  Or so it seems.  I’ve read that this might not quite be the case.  Apparently, they were on a class trip to the museum, and at some point their devices were being used to access the museum’s media app.  Indeed, there is another picture of the same group of kids “totally mesmerized” by one of the artist’s paintings.  Context helps immensely.

Here’s my point (other than the simple point of being careful not to jump to conclusions just because you saw a photo of a video online somewhere).  This idea of taking things out of context to create a false narrative isn’t restricted to news and social media.  If we’re not careful, we can do the same with Scripture and our presentation of the gospel.

Numerous examples can be offered of popular Bible verses that are ripped out of context.  The one that comes to mind personally is a verse from Genesis 31.  When my wife and I were dating, way back when, there were these little heart pendants that were quite popular.  The heart had this verse engraved on it, and then the heart was separated, and each person wore half of the heart.  The verse is Genesis 31:49: “The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.”  Romantic, huh?  We thought so. 

Then I read the verse in context.  Jacob is leaving his uncle Laban, who is pursuing him.  The two don’t trust each other at all.  But they make an agreement, and to seal the agreement they build a pillar of stones as a monument, invoking the name of God to watch over them and keep them honest.  So the verse is not about romantic feelings at all, but a call for God to watch over the promises of these two untrustworthy fellows.  Context matters.

We do the same with all kinds of verses; sadly, too many to list here.  While all those are important, the one place we have to be so very careful is in sharing the Gospel with folks.  Too often we take the “good news” out of context and make the work of Christ all about “God loves you and wants you to be happy.”  While there may be a grain of truth there, it’s not the whole picture. 

We tell people God loves then and Jesus died for them, and in context the question should be “what does God’s love have to do with Jesus dying?”  Why did He have to die?  He had to die because God is so holy, and sin is so abhorrent, and the penalty for sin is so beyond what we can pay, that in order for God’s justice and mercy to both be satisfied, the Son of God Himself had to suffer.  The “good news” has to be set against the “bad news” of sin and judgment in order for it to be understood in its proper context.  Just one part of the picture doesn’t tell the whole story.

So, this is just a long, roundabout way of saying this:  Preach the Gospel; the whole Gospel; and nothing but the Gospel.  Don’t let laziness or a fear of “offending” folks turn the Good News into fake news.  Context matters.  And the effects are eternal. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

An Incomparable Treasure

Value is a strange thing, isn’t it?  What some consider a treasure, others throw out as trash.  What I throw out as trash may be sold for a hundred dollars to the right person at some antique store.  And often the value of things changes from time to time, depending on the collection market, and so on. You just never know. 

I started collecting comic books when I was about 9 or 10. By the time I was in high school, I had given that up for the most part.  But in that short time, I managed to compile quit a stack of books.  Some fairly rare.  For those “in the know,” I have the “transition” issues between what was called Journey Into Mystery with the Mighty Thor, and what became known as just The Mighty Thor.  An historical moment in Marvel history, and I love having that set from 1966.  But are they valuable?  Well, to the right collector they are worth quite a bit.  To me, they are nearly priceless.

As a kid, I picked up a few “new” titles, thinking that later the #1 issue of said title might be pretty valuable.  Recently, I heard that one such title was getting popular, and that some copies of that first issue were going for over $100.  So I took my copy to a comic store, along with the next dozen issues of that same title, and they guy offered my $30 for the whole stack.  So, what is the real value?  Depends on who you talk to.

People value what they have decided to place value on.  What’s it worth to you?  Why is this rock more valuable than that other rock, just because we call one a diamond?  It’s what we have decided to consider valuable.

In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a couple parables about finding something valuable and deciding it’s worth selling everything else to have.  His point is to let us know how we ought to be looking at the Kingdom of God.  Christ is to be seen as an incomparable treasure.  John Piper often uses phrases like “all sufficient” or “all satisfying” treasure.  The point is that Christ and His Kingdom should be seen as something worth giving away everything else to obtain.

Sadly, I don’t think many in the church today see Jesus and His Kingdom in that light.  We value things in this world more.  Our homes, our jobs, our entertainment, our families all are more valuable to us.  We might say they aren’t, but when it comes to what we give our time to, what we spend our energy on, what we can’t wait to talk with other people about, it becomes pretty clear what we really value.

Well, here is yesterday’s message about seeing Christ and His Kingdom as an incomparable treasure.  I pray God would open our eyes to the truth of it. 

What is the greatest treasure in your life?

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Hope vs. Hope

(If you aren’t a baseball fan, hang in there.  This is going somewhere…)

Growing up in the St. Louis area, October baseball is a common thing.  It’s an expected thing.  When the Cardinals aren’t in the playoffs, it just seems like something is off in the world.  Which is what we’ve endured for the last 4 years.  Now, I know that a four year playoff drought isn’t much for some franchises.  But in St. Louis, that’s forever. 

So, I am understandably delighted to see my Red Birds back in the post-season this year.  Even if they did get in with the worst winning record of any division champ.  Hey, at least they are division champs.  And that championship was due in large part to a number of late inning comebacks by this team.  It seems that no matter the situation, this team always has hope.  Which causes fans to always have hope. 

Yesterday was a perfect example.  They come down to the late innings behind, only to tie things up thanks to St. Louis superstar/hero/titan/future-hall-of-famer Yadier Molina.  Said mega-man also provided the winning run in the 10th inning, keeping the Cards from being eliminated from these playoffs.  Cardinal fans still have hope.

We’ll have to see if that hope produces reality in the decisive game 5 in Atlanta.  But there is hope.  Hope based on a season of grind-it-out baseball from this team.  Based on a solid resume of comebacks and never-give-up attitudes.  Yet, it’s still just a hope.  It’s a wish.  It’s a desire, a dream, a longing.  It’s by no means a sure thing.

That’s where hope in this world and hope in God’s Word are so very different.  The Bible often speaks of hope.  The Psalms repeatedly speak of putting our hope in God.  In the New Testament, that hope is placed squarely in Christ.  The Apostle Paul tells us to rejoice in this hope.  Even when we grieve over the loss of loved ones, we are told to not grieve as those without hope.

So, is the hope the same kind of hope I have that the Cardinals will continue deep into the playoffs?  Well, aside from the fact that the eternal significance of that hope is a far cry from the hope we have in Christ and His saving work, there is another difference.  The hope spoken of in the New Testament is not just a wish.  It’s not just a dream.  It’s much, much more.  It is a certainty.

The hope spoken of in the Bible, a hope based on Jesus Christ and His work on the cross, His resurrection, is a hope that gives confidence.  A hope based on the promises of God.  When we speak of the “hope of glory”, the hope of eternal life, it’s not just wishful thinking.  It’s a sure thing. 

When Jesus went to the cross of Calvary, He was part of a divine exchange that had real, definite consequences.  He purchased salvation for His people.  Not just the possibility of salvation.  Not just a hope of salvation.  He cried “it is finished.”  It’s a done deal.  He accomplished the purpose for which He came.  He achieved salvation for all His people.  We have hope.  We have a sure inheritance waiting for us.  An eternal reward kept in heaven by our Sovereign God.  Permanently purchased. Surely kept. 
This is why when Paul prays for the church at Ephesus, he prays that they would have confidence in this hope.  He prays that “having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:18, ESV)   That you may know.  That you may have confidence in this hope.  That you may know the riches of his inheritance. 

So, when I say I hope the Cardinals win this series and go on to greater things, I’m expressing a genuine desire.  A desire that has some basis in the stubborn play of this ball club all year.  But, it’s still just a dream.  I have no guarantees.  But when I say have hope of eternal life in Christ, I’m talking about a sure thing.  Jesus died that we might live.  He suffered that we might be reconciled to God.  No matter what this life brings, I have hope in Christ.  And just as Paul prayed for those Ephesian believers, I pray that you, too, might know this hope.  Look to Christ.  He never disappoints. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Turning Over a Dead Leaf

Yep, it's me again.  Trying to once again revive this old space.  Not sure if it's going to happen.  Not sure if it's even useful for anyone but me.  But, nonetheless, I'm going to give it a try.

The title refers to this blog, as well as the season. Normally you might think of turning over a "new" leaf.  Obviously, this blog is a dead one.  Yet, as I said, I'm going to try turning it over anyway.

I think I may start by posting each Monday on Sunday's message.  Right now, I'm in the middle of preaching through the Gospel of Matthew.  Literally in the middle.  As in, chapter 13.  Odd place to start.  If someone is really interested, you can check out our church web page for the first 12 chapters. 

Anyway, the first couple parables in Matthew 13 could tend to make one a bit discouraged about the Kingdom of God and its success in this world.  Only a portion of the seed scattered falls on good ground, and what does grow has to contend with weeds.  Not a pretty picture. 

Which is why I think Jesus gives us the two short parables in the midst of those first two with their explanations.  It's a bit of Kingdom Encouragement to let us know that in spite of the seemingly bleak picture, the Kingdom will grow, will expand, will be strong.  So keep at it.  Keep spreading those seeds.  Even if it means you have to turn over a dead leaf now and then.

So, here is Sunday's message:

Kingdom Encouragement, Matthew 13:31-35

Hopefully there is more to come...