In my last post I wrote about the grounds of our justification; that being the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this post I am going to look at the instrument of our justification.
When we say sola fide -- 'faith alone' we are not saying that faith is our justification; faith is not the grounds of our justification, but the instrument of it.
Let me state it this way; we are saved through faith, but not because of faith. Our faith in and of itself is not salvific – it needs an object. Some would claim that if one simply has ‘more', or 'enough' faith then they would be saved, but it is not the volume of our faith that is justifying, rather it is the object of our faith – that is, Jesus Christ and His finished work.
People may have faith in many things, but only one thing is salvific -- the person and work of Jesus Christ. We can have faith that our favorite baseball team will make it to the World Series, but that will not save us -- we can have faith that our president will 'save' America, but that is not salvific -- it is only faith in the correct object; that being the person and work of Jesus Christ, that has any efficacy in our salvation.
And our faith is not even generated by us – it is a gift of God. Ephesians 2:8, 9 -- For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Even the faith to cry out to God is a gift from Him.
Sadly, we have come under what R.C. Sproul calls the ‘Pelagian Captivity of the Church”; we somehow believe that we come to the table with SOMETHING and only need a bit of a boost from God to affect our own salvation.
However, having said that; let me clarify something: faith is something that we take and work with. God gives the faith, but we are to believe. God does not believe for us. Faith is not some condition that we meet to merit salvation, but a gift from God that we exercise. God is the one who gives faith to us, but we then take this gift and reach out to Christ in awareness of our need. Faith is our open and empty hand reaching out to Christ.
So, faith is the instrument of our justification – faith, given by God, enables us to respond by reaching out to Jesus Christ so that we have His perfect righteousness imputed to us, giving to Him our sinful, soiled garment in the great exchange.
Let us meditate on those thoughts for a bit, and I will complete this section on sola fide in my next post.
“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -
Thursday, December 18, 2008
In my last post I wrote about the grounds of our justification; that being the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this post I am going to look at the instrument of our justification.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I recently taught on the 5 'solas' of the Reformation, and I thought I would put some of my thoughts up on the blog.
I just noticed that I have only posted around 36 times this year -- that indicates what the pace and tenor of my year has been like!
The church has grown a bit, and it is interesting, but even a change of ten or twenty people in a small church affects the time of the pastor more than many would realize. And of course, my eyes were working through their paces this past year as well, which certainly slowed down my ability to regularly post. And then there is the very real aspect that I just did not have a lot to say that I felt was blog-worthy -- yes, I had some strong feelings about the election, and the economy, but there are many other people in the blogsphere that are much better, and much more qualified at commenting on these areas.
So, let me post on some things that I am more familiar with -- we will start with the first sola I taught on - sola fide
During the reformation there were five solas that were pillars of the Reformation - they were:
sola fide - faith alone
sola gratia - grace alone
solus Christus - by Christ alone
soli deo gloria - to the glory of God alone
sola scriptura - Scripture alone
I felt that our church would benefit from understanding what these solas really meant in the life and faith of the church, and spent five weeks talking on them (although I could have spent much longer).
sola fide is the doctrine that states that we are justified by faith alone. Luther said of this doctrine - "This doctrine [justification by faith] is the head and the cornerstone. It alone begets, nourishes, builds, preserves, and defends the church of God; and without it the church of God cannot exist for one hour…. For no one who does not hold this article – or, to use Paul's expression, this 'sound doctrine' (Titus 2:1) – is able to teach aright in the church or successfully to resist any adversary . . . this is the heel of the Seed that opposes the old serpent and crushes its head. That is why Satan, in turn, cannot but persecute it."
Calvin's comment was that sola fide was the hinge on which everything else (in our faith) turns.
I want to first define justification, then I want to state the problem, and then touch upon three points. The three points are: the GROUNDS of our justification; the INSTRUMENT of our justification, and the RESULTS of our justification.
In this post we will look at justification and then discuss, briefly, the 'grounds' of our justification.
First and foremost – what exactly is justification? To say that we are justified is to say that we are declared right before God. God, in His role as the Holy, Righteous Judge of the Universe has declared us to be right. We are not declared righteous because WE ARE righteous; nor are we declared righteous on the grounds of our own belief. When we say that we are justified by faith alone, we are saying that the Holy Judge of the Universe has declared us to be righteous because of His Son, Jesus Christ and His work.
Sadly, the reality of our justification is either unknown, or taken for granted by many in the church today. We have lost our perspective, or never had one, on just how incredible our justification truly is. So, let me state the problem – it is found in Romans 3:23 - for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… As a matter of fact, if you put Romans 3 into its context, you begin to see the thrust of Paul’s argument and just how incredible it really is. In Romans 1 and 2 Paul builds the argument. He starts in Romans 1:16 by stating that he is not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to all men.
He then paints the picture – man is fallen, horribly and completely. Not just the Greek, but the Jew as well. All men are horribly and hopelessly fallen, and as of yet, Paul has not fleshed out the gospel. He has simply made the statement that it is the power of salvation. So first, Paul shows the situation that man finds himself in, and then in Romans 3, Paul begins to unpack the gospel. He starts in the opening verses of Romans 3, by reiterating that we have all fallen and cannot be justified by the Law or any other way. It seems hopeless – if one stops reading at this point, they will miss the thrust of the remainder of Romans.
Paul then begins to outline the gospel with those wonderful words – ‘But God…’ Romans 3:21 -- But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law… How sweet those words should be to every Christian – we cannot span the chasm that separates us from God; there is no way one can work their way into being declared righteous; but God provided a way!!! And that way is through His Son, Jesus Christ. So, without further ado – let us now look at what, or rather who, our justification is grounded in:
What is the grounds of our justification – the foundation of our justification? Well, it is not something that is found within us – it is something OUTSIDE of us that causes us to be declared righteous before God, the Judge of the whole universe! It is not our intelligence, our good looks, our wisdom, or anything that God foresaw in us that is the grounds of our justification.
Here is what Paul says: “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith…” [Romans 3:23b – 25a]
We are justified by redemption that is in Christ. Solus Christus – by Christ alone are we justified, through faith alone, by God’s grace alone. It is Christ’s righteous life that provides for us the grounds of our justification. The guilty are declared righteous because of the obedience of Christ. Think about that for a minute – let it sink in: to our account is accredited righteousness, because of the obedience of the Savior. And, horrific as it is to consider, He is declared sin for us. Therefore, as Paul says – God is just (He punished sin by laying it on His Son at the cross), and the justifier (God the Son justified His people through His obedience).
The grounds of our justification are under attack again in today’s world. There are those who would claim that we have misread Paul all these years and the reality is that we are responsible for some work in our justification, that we 'cooperate' with Christ in producing righteousness in ourselves. My friends this is a return to Rome – to the concept that we somehow can ‘improve’ upon the finished work of Jesus Christ through our own work. If that is the case, then we are all in trouble, because God Himself says that all our works are as filthy rags – so if Jesus Christ is not the grounds of our justification, we are doomed!
Notice in Romans 3 how Paul goes on to demolish this thought by stating that there is no room for boasting in our justification – we have nothing with which to boast – he brings this to the fore again in Ephesians 2:1 - 9 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
My friends, the sole grounds for our being declared righteous is the finished work of Jesus Christ – it is not within us, but in fact is an alien righteousness which is found ONLY in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior! And we see it in three ways:
(a) Jesus Christ is our substitution – in our place He suffered, taking upon Himself the righteous judgment of our sins, suffering at the hands of the righteous judge so that we would never have to say those horrific word – “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”
(b) Jesus Christ is our propitiation – His death satisfied the wrath of a righteous and Holy God. It says in Psalm 7:11 - God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. The wrath of God was poured out on Jesus Christ.
(c) Jesus Christ is our reconciliation – Jesus Christ, through His work, has provided reconciliation between God and man. Romans 5:9 – 11 - Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Let that sink in for a bit and in the next post we will examine the instrument of our justification.
Posted by Ray at 6:36 AM
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
I was really hoping that I would begin to regularly post here again - sadly, it seems that there is simply no way to be regular as far my attendance to this blog. As you know, I am a bi-vocational pastor, and our church has grown some; add to that the fact that my secular job has picked up, and I find more tasks than hours in a day.
However, I do occasionally get an opportunity to stop by here and drop a line.
I don't know how some of these other pastors come up with something brilliant everyday AND then post it! I am in awe of those folks! God has given us all gifts; regularity and the brilliance do not appear to be mine!
Anyway - enough of that - coming up in the next month is the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church (November 9th & 16th); I would ask that you pray for the persecuted church. This is very near and dear to my heart as I have very good friends in India right now (they are indigenous pastors), and they are feeling increasing hostility. Likewise, I have a friend in Congo and it is not good there either.
And we should not forget Mosul, Vietnam, or any of the other places where Christians pay for their faith with their lives and/or freedom. I am writing this primarily to my friends in the USA and Canada as that is the cultural milieu that I find myself in.
Next month our church will be focused on the Persecuted Church. Besides preaching on the subject, we will enjoy a week when Wycliffe Bible Translators will speak, and then a friend of mine from E3 Sudan will update us on the situation in Sudan.
The Western Church operates in relative freedom, (although they want to decry how 'persecuted' they are!), and is often so inwardly focused, that I really want to urge each and every person to remember their brothers and sisters who are suffering for their faith in lands that seem so far away. We operate in ease here, both economically and religiously, yet all we do is complain about both, without really understanding what true suffering is. I would pray that this would change as the USA Christians turn their attention to those in lands where Christianity is a punishable offense.
There is much more I could write here, but go to the below websites - they say it better than I could.
Voice of the Martyrs
International Christian Concern
International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church
Posted by Ray at 6:23 AM
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I find it telling, during these serious economic times, that many Christians are spending more time watching CNN Money and reading the Wall Street Journal than they are praying and reading the Scriptures. I know, I know, that sounds like some type of religious prudishness, but it truly is not...
I am not oblivious, or unconcerned about the economy, but we also need to remember that our trust is not in man, but in God - a SOVEREIGN God, one who is completely in control of the situation. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." -- Psalm 20:7.
We also need to remember that many of our economic situations are caused by taking on debt that we cannot pay - an unchristian practice. I am not talking about taking a loan out - I am speaking of getting into debt up to our eyeballs, eventually causing default.
The materialistic, commercialized, greed-based mentality that pervades our society is as prevalent within the church walls as it is outside. Christian churches are filled with 'stores' nowadays that sell 'merchandise'; from pictures hand-painted by the pastor (who cares!), to gaudy trinkets and 'Jesus-junk'. I am not talking about having a place to purchase books and Bibles for the congregation, I am talking about the tawdry 'dime-store' type of venues that I have seen in several places.
And the church itself is placed deep into the debt-based environment by building colossal monoliths to the success that they have experienced. Why would one need hundreds of thousands of dollars of monitors, lights and sound? Why is it necessary to have high-dollar restaurants within the walls of the church?
We, the church, have turned Jesus' statements regarding His disciples on it's head: In John 17, Jesus says that we are not of the world - however He does not pray that we will be removed from the world - in other words, we are called to be IN the world, but not OF the world. Instead, we are now OF the world (practicing the same behaviors and mores as the lost), but not IN the world (we have separated ourselves from the very lost and dying people that we are supposed to be placed amidst, in order to shine the light of the gospel into the world!)
What do I mean? Well, we live according to the same sexual, social, and economic practices as the world does, but we do it in a 'Christian ghetto', made up of Church mega-complexes, Christian big-box stores, and Christian entertainment facilities. We go into debt the same way, we sleep around the same way, we laugh at the same trash on TV, but we do it in the safety of a Christian cocoon.
At this time in the nation's history, the Christian community ought to be shining the light of the gospel and showing that we do not trust in chariots, but in God; that we do not practice the same economic and social patterns that the rest of the world does, that we have the Truth contained within these clay jars. We ought to be living in such a manner that the truth is breaking out through us.
Now, as a final caveat - I know that many of us have gotten ourselves into debt - I have, you have, we have all heard the siren song of materialism and reacted inappropriately; but now is the time for that to change. Church, now is the time for us to rise and show the world the greatness of our God - that our contentment is found within Him, that our joy is found within Him, and that our love and care is found within Him.
What would be wonderful is to again have the church be a place where those stung by the times could come for solace, hope, love and charity; hearing the Good News of the Gospel, that there is so much more to this world than their next purchase! May we be a light to this world in which our God has placed us...
Posted by Ray at 6:35 AM
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
I told you in my last post that I was going to get something off my chest. Well, here it is. In my studies, I have been doing a lot of reading about great men of the Faith - how full of grace they were, how they were known for their kindness. (John Newton comes to mind).
This has spurred me to go back into the Word (which is always a good thing), and do a bit more of an in-depth study of this. What I found, and continue to find, is disturbing to me.
Here it is: I am, many times, FAR too many times, graceless and unkind in my dealings with people. I can be contentious and self-righteous, and it is very disturbing. As I read passages, such as Romans 7, passages which used to be of comfort to me, I fear that now I only use them to rationalize that I am just as human as Paul. Sadly, this is not what my focus should be - rather, as Paul admonishes the Corinthians church to do, 1st Corinthians 9:24 -- Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it, I should be running to receive the prize, NOT rationalizing, and justifying my behavior.
There are times when I feel that I started the race fairly well, but I began to slack off about halfway through it, and I would love to place blame on any number of reasons, that are not 'my fault'; but the bottom line is that this is slothfulness.
Here are a few passages that have brought me to this place of repentance and (hopefully) improvement:
1st Corinthians 9:24 - 27 -- Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
1st Timothy 1:15 -- The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:8 -- Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, was this grace given, to preach unto the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ...
I coudl go on - but I think you get the picture - I also have read John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, and as mentioned Letters of John Newton.
My God give me the grace to continue to be conformed to the image of His Son!
Posted by Ray at 7:01 AM
Friday, September 05, 2008
I have been absent for quite a while. It is good to see that some folks periodically stop by and see me, even when the Out to Lunch sign is hung out. :-)
I have been in a crazy state of hyperactivity as the eye situation has stabilized. The eyes have now been corrected, with glasses to, believe it or not, 20/20!! (NOTE: The above picture is of me in my new glasses). My job has picked back up to pre-surgery levels, I am traveling quite a bit, and the church has grown a bit.
My wonderful friends and family that help me shepherd the flock that Christ has entrusted to us, has gotten me into the 'hi-tech' world of burning CD's for my messages (replacing a very tired old cassette duplicating machine).
We also have a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University scheduled for a September 9th start, and we are having a Wycliffe speaker at the church sometime in the next few months.
There has been much going on with me -- I have not simply neglected this blog!
I am putting together a post about something that has been on my heart lately -- a thing that I have realized about myself that has made me really take inventory of things. It is nothing earth-shattering for the readers of this blog, I don't have some skeleton in my closet which I am going to reveal - well, actually I do, but it is not something that will make the headlines on the National Enquirer. It is just something I want to get out in the open.
Posted by Ray at 7:50 PM
Thursday, July 17, 2008
At the risk of alienating some folks, I felt compelled to put together this blog. I have been sitting on the sidelines watching the increasingly ugly mood envelope our political and social arena, and I am honestly, tired of it.
It seems that daily now we have race-baiting, name-calling, and other unsavory actions coming from the supposed leaders of this country. I am a child of the sixties (barely!), and I am appalled by where we are at.
And this is not a one-sided event – oh no, everyone has joined the fray – trying to solidify their position within the community by using underhanded and malicious argumentation.
And then I hear several of these self-righteous flacks make reference to Doctor King’s famous “I have a Dream” speech, all the while doing the very things that he was against! If we would but read a few lines of this most brilliant speech, we could see that Doctor King was light years ahead of the hacks on both sides of the debate. His speech was TRANSCENDENT – it was not a speech mired in a narcissist mindset, nor was it to ‘position’ Dr. King in the hierarchy of the Civil Rights movement – he spoke eloquently, passionately and directly; something we so badly need from SOMEONE today.
Read these lines from Doctor King’s speech anew today, and tell me who is speaking like this?
"I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.
Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.
But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.
In a sense we've come to our nation's capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked "insufficient funds."
But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice."
And he continues on….
"But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom."
And still yet, he builds to the crescendo that so many know a PART of…
"And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" -- one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together."
This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.
With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
And this will be the day -- this will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning:
My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim's pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!
And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.
And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.
Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.
Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.
Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.
Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.
But not only that:
Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:
Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"
We all owe Doctor King a huge apology for the mess we have made of his dream!
So, what do we do about this? For starters, turn off your TV, for far too long the politicos and activists have told you and I what to think about those different from us. Turn off Don Imus, and Rush Limbaugh; turn off Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton, and do something radical – REACH OUT to your neighbor, get to know them – and, as Christians, how about we begin to act like we expect everyone else to act…???
Let the people reclaim their land – let those who are in Christ light to way to something new – NOT tolerance, NOT even simple acceptance, but something transcendent to that – let us fulfill Doctor King’s dream! Let us become color-blind and compassionate. We can do this!
Posted by Ray at 1:15 PM
Friday, July 04, 2008
Seems that I write more of these apologies than real posts anymore. I have been away nigh on a month, but what a month it has been!
Just in the last week, my lovebird, Lovey passed away. He lived WAAAYYY longer than anyone thought he would. These lovebirds usually live about 12 years, he lived well past 16. He went peacefully, and now we are down to one bird -- our white-cap Pionus, Josiah.
On another front, I had surgeries number 7 & 8 this week, both on my right eye. The first was a cataract surgery on Tuesday -- it went OK, but unfortunately a piece of the cataract slipped through the back of my torn lens capsule and drifted into the posterior chamber of the eye, hence the need for surgery number 8. I had a lensectomy, and vitrectomy on Thursday to remove the cataract piece and the doctor also cleaned out the PC. Good news is that the retina stayed in place, the IOL is still in place, and everything looks like it is holding together! Another three days and I will know more...
Thanks for the many prayers! I am hoping that once my eye settles down, I will get back to regular posting.
Posted by Ray at 9:37 AM
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I recently said, during a teaching session, that I disliked, and disagreed with the ever-popular colloquialism that is on the lips of the Christian community today -- "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin"
I expected to get reaction from that, and sure enough, I did. I had several people come up and said "God does not 'hate' anyone". They were appalled that I would say such a thing. I tried to, probably unsuccessfully, talk with them about the fallacy of the statement.
When one tells a person who is lost that God loves them, but hates their sin, they hear, and agree with: God loves me. This does not speak of the damnation that is facing those who die without Christ. It is a false 'advertisement'.
I must confess that I find so much so-called 'evangelism' today to be nothing more than an activity that people do to apply balm to their OWN souls. It comforts one to say "I 'did' evangelism today". However, much of this evangelism really is nothing more than a handful of well-learned, witty statements that do not bring to bear the very real, and dire situation, a lost soul is in.
A statement such as "God loves the sinner, but hates the sin" is untrue, for God does not send the SIN, but, in fact, the SINNER to hell! One who hears these words and continues in their sins is comfy knowing that God 'loves' them! This is nothing more than universalism. The lost souls remains comfortably numb, to borrow a phrase from Roger Waters.
Another reason that I dislike this statement, and others like it is that it allows the redeemed to approach evangelism with a laissez-faire mentality -- taking away the urgency and seriousness of evangelism. There is no pleading for men's souls -- rather there is a warm, cotton candy feeling of 'accomplishment', when in fact, NOTHING has been accomplished.
We can stay safely within our realm of 'being liked' while 'sharing' with others. Sadly, those within the church oftentimes do not weep for the lost, or pray for them -- rather they send them these little 'Hallmark-moments', that quite frankly, are not meant to drive a person to their knees in repentance, but are meant to provide comfort and acceptance to the soul of the redeemed!
Let our evangelism be done in a way that is Biblical and urgent. Let me leave you with some thoughts from Paul as regards his heart towards his brothers, the Israelites:
Romans 9:1 - 3 -- I am speaking the truth in Christ — I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
Let our heart for the lost be so great that we are in anguish for their souls!
Posted by Ray at 12:18 PM
Monday, June 09, 2008
I just wanted to post and state that I received some interesting comments (via phone and email), about my last post. One person accused me of being the very type of pastor they are 'running away from'. They claim that they are living with another person (not a spouse), yet they LOVE the Lord with all their heart.
Can I just add another controversial statement to my last post? How can one love the Lord with all their heart and yet live in a lifestyle that they KNOW is inconsistent with the Bible? Jesus states in the Word, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments". What do we do with that?
Now, I understand that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God -- I sin everyday, no question about that. But here we are talking about a WILLFUL, REBELLIOUS lifestyle that is counter to the Biblical model for a man and a woman in marriage; one in which the person knows that their lifestyle is wrong (they told me they knew it)! How can you square that with the words, I love the Lord with all my heart?
This is why I posted the last time, and here these folks are simply solidifying my feeling that the U.S. Church (at least), has completely lost its moral compass -- it is no longer that the Bible is the infallible rule for the life of a Christian -- now it is the social mores of the society around us that set the tone for what is acceptable.
And it does not stop with this one thing -- witness the issues in many of the mainline denominations with the ordination of gays, or the performing of 'wedding' ceremonies for homosexuals. This is due to the fact that the word of God is no longer 'valid' in the eyes of the church, at least as a rule for life. No, it has some 'good ideas', and people today talk about tragectorial theology (where was Paul heading with his theology had his life not been ended, or had he been sufficiently enlightened), to validate the any and all of their variances from Biblical norm.
And these people lead with their emotions -- "I know a really nice XXX that loves the Lord" (fill in the blank). This is a dangerous and slippery slope -- witness Carlton Pearson's slide into universalism -- when they interview him, his statement is very much akin to this. Everyone builds their own personal Jesus and then makes the claim -- "MY Jesus would never judge anyone.", or "MY Jesus would never confront anyone about their sin". Yet that is what He consistently did within the pages of the Bible!
May I just say that if you know a really nice XXX, AND you believe the Bible to be true, then would you not tell them about the gospel, and explain that it is not enough to be a really nice person? I have many really nice XXX's that I know, and they know my feelings about their lifestyle -- do I hate them? No, but I make it clear that BECAUSE I care about them, and I understand the grace shown to me, a wretched sinner, I MUST share the gospel with them and tell them they are in danger of hell. That may seem narrow-minded to many, but if you truly care for someone, do you just let them go on their merry way? That is not being tolerant; rather it is cowardice -- you are more afraid of what they will think of you than you are of their eternal home. I can't call that loving and tolerant.
Paul went through persecution by the Jews for his proclamation of the gospel, yet in Romans he says that if he could give his salvation away to save his fellow Jews, he would do so. Does that seem unloving and narrow-minded? No, it is a clear understanding of the ramifications of the gospel, and a clear view of the grace shown to him.
We all must come under the rule of Biblical teaching -- we do not redefine it, it redefines us, and until (if ever), the U.S. Church understands that, we will have a weak, tepid, polarized and politicized faith; without unity or a clear bearing on truth. We will not be a City on a Hill, but rather another dim light shining amidst the lights of this world.
Posted by Ray at 7:08 AM
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
I find it interesting that I will often find people who come to our church and tell me about the 'legalistic' church they just left. This has happened several times, and one person even had a rant on their web page about 'legalistic' churches, and how they were 'killing' the church!
So, I began, after I learned, to check a bit into these claims. I could not believe that there were that many legalistic churches out there; my experience has been quite the opposite, or they are the neo-nomianism folks, ala Osteen.
What I found as I did this was an interesting fact -- These so-called 'legalistic' churches did not approve of a lifestyle of sin, and therefore, these people had left. This is why it is important to get letters of transfer, if possible, from people.
They will look at you like you are crazy, especially at a little church like ours -- they think they can get away with hiding in a little place. To give but one example:
Them: "We left our last church because they were SOOOO legalistic"
Me: "What was their concern?"
Them: "Well, they thought it was wrong that me and my girlfriend live together."
Me: "Well, so do we!"
It is amazing to me how people think one is being 'legalistic' by simply upholding church discipline! And this is common! People are shocked and appalled when I 'get in their business' as the pastor of the church! As if, what they do in their own time is of no consequence to the church. A completely unbiblical attitude!
We truly have reached a point where Biblical literacy is at its nadir!
Posted by Ray at 10:13 AM
Thursday, May 22, 2008
A few news notes, with a bit of commentary:
This week a Prestonwood Baptist pastor in Texas was arrested for attempting to consummate an illegal rendezvous with a 13-year-old girl. This was a shock to Pastor Jack Graham, the senior pastor of the church, and I would ask that you pray for that church and their staff.
Sadly, I have seen many comments that speak of Prestonwood as being full of ‘hypocrites’ and ‘unsaved’, and this from the Christian community. Many of the comments touch upon the fact that Prestonwood is a Mega-Church, with 26,000 congregants. While I am not a fan of the Mega-Church movement, I feel that these comments are not only unnecessary, but untrue.
While I agree that large churches enable people to be less accountable, painting the entire church with the brush of hypocrisy is wrong. Be in prayer for the staff, the family of the arrested pastor, and the pastor himself.
In another area – Christian Music has been touched with several deaths recently. The first was Dottie Rambo, who was killed in a bus accident in Missouri on May 11th. She was to be inducted into the Christian Music Hall of Fame. She was a prolific writer, and has many songs to her credit. And just this morning, Steven Curtis Chapman’s 5-year-old daughter, Maria, was tragically struck and killed by one of her older brothers as he pulled into their driveway. Pray for these families.
Many have ‘celebrated’ the transition of Dottie Rambo from here to eternity, but I think that this is an unfortunate aspect of modern Christianity. We should grieve and allow the families to do so as well. Yes, when a believer ends their life here, they enter into eternity with the Savior, but to trivialize death, by ‘celebrating’ it is missing the point IMHO. We should rail against death – we should grieve; we should not ‘celebrate’. Death is the direct result of sin, and therefore we should not be comfortable with it. I am not saying that we should fear death, but we should understand that it is our enemy, and Christ has defeated death, sin and the grave. If anything should be celebrated, it should be that fact.
And finally, Ted Kennedy has just been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. While I disagree with virtually everything he stands for politically, I have been in prayer for him. I pray that Christ would move his heart, and that the reality of his mortality would draw him to Christ. I do not know the state of his soul, but whatever it is, I am in prayer for him.
Posted by Ray at 9:37 AM
Thursday, May 15, 2008
I have posted on the necessity of faith, and the object of our faith, but now let me dwell for a moment on the source of our faith.
In the Heidelberg Catechism we read: "This faith, [saving faith], the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel."
Sadly there are many who have been taught, directly, or indirectly, that they can grit their teeth and 'develop' faith. My friends, you cannot 'develop' your own faith; the source of our faith is God and God alone. Yes, we exhibit it, but it is given to us by the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, through the preaching of the Word of the Gospel.
One cannot work up saving faith – it is a gift from God, by grace. God, monergistically – that 25 dollar word meaning working alone - works in us to give us saving faith. It is not synergistically developed, with me adding a little something and God adding a little something.
Let me give you but two examples:
Ephesians 2:8, 9 -- But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ — by grace you have been saved — and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Acts 16:14 -- One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul.
My friends, we were as dead as Jairus’ daughter when Christ arrived at the door of our heart – it was the blessed Holy Spirit that made us alive, like Lydia, to hear the word of the Lord, and believe! And by this belief we are saved.
Why would God do this? I don’t know, but what an awesome God we serve, one who sent His only begotten Son to die a horrific death on the cross for sins that I committed, providing a way for me to be made right before the Father. Not only did Christ die for our sin, but God puts in our hearts the very ability to believe this! Words fail me when I think of the greatness of salvation, and the amazing Grace of God!
Let me close out this post by saying this; the means that God has chosen for stirring the hearts of those being regenerated by the Holy Spirit is the Word of God – as Paul says in Romans 1, For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
My friends, the proclamation of the word is so vital! We must never forget that God uses the means of His Word to stir the hearts of one who is lost, and by the power of the Holy Spirit He brings them to Himself – let us never neglect the reading, studying and applying of God’s Word to our lives!
Posted by Ray at 1:47 PM
Tuesday, May 06, 2008
Amidst the cries of 'Deeds not creeds", and the antagonism against any type of doctrinal discussions, we find this!
What is amazing is the final line in the article -- understand that this statement comes from a man whose daughters are still caught up in this cult. "I can't judge it," Sayer said. "Every person's got their own relationship with God."
This could have come from the lips of almost any modern 'evangelical' attending the largest churches in the land!
So we find here the result of Biblical illiteracy, doctrinal ignorance, and the whole 'personal jesus' cottage industry that is propagated by so many within the church today.
If anything and everything is right, and we all have our own 'personal relationship with God' that is torn loose from its Biblical moorings, then why are we surprised to find these types of things going on?
Sadly, the modern church is only a step away from this -- when you throw out orthodoxy, the Bible, doctrine and history -- preferring to 'experience' Jesus in an all new and totally personal way, then this church fits right in with many other, well-known, so-called churches out there.
Posted by Ray at 10:48 AM
Monday, May 05, 2008
Having said that it requires faith we now come to the next point – the object of our faith. Today there are many have been taught that they were to ‘have faith’ and they would be healed, or if they mustered up enough faith, God would provide them with prosperity. Sadly, all too often, the object of this faith is left out of exhortations such as these. People come to believe that we must simply have strong enough ‘faith' and things will happen… Faith somehow becomes the object of our faith – which is not Biblical.
Everywhere in the Bible we are called to have faith IN someone – not in our own faith, or our own strength, but in Jesus Christ! The woman who was healed in Matthew 9 had faith IN Jesus Christ, the blind men who were healed had faith IN Jesus Christ – as a matter of fact, before He heals them, He asks a pertinent question – “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” He was saying “Do you have faith in Me?” The object of our faith is Jesus Christ, and Him alone – not our own strength, our own faith, our own anything, but casting ourselves upon the only Savior and Lord of our souls, Jesus Christ.
Paul in Acts 20 and 24 speaks of how he is constantly preaching about faith IN Christ. Not simply living a life of faith, but living a life of faith IN Christ. This is the great divider – many people will say, I am a ‘spiritual’ person, and I have a lot of faith…
But when pressed, they have faith in their own abilities, in their own faith, in something BESIDES Jesus Christ, and my friends, that IS NOT saving faith – saving faith originates in, and is focused on Jesus Christ! We can see in Romans 3:21, 22 that the righteousness of God is found through faith IN Jesus Christ! And in Galatians 2:16, a particularly poignant Scripture on this, we find Paul saying – “…we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified…”
It is poignant because the Galatians believed in Christ, but had devolved into believing that they could only be FULLY justified by the addition of something else – by their keeping of the law. Friends, this is a great danger – we come to Christ empty handed, and understand that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ, but somehow we fall back to believing that we stay saved by ‘doing’ something. It is all of faith – By faith you have been saved – the word speaks of a continuing event – you are being saved!
We must never let the object of our faith be overshadowed by the many 'get-rich' schemes that are touted by the snake-oil salesmen of our day -- telling us to have faith; a faith without an object, and all of our hopes and dreams will be answered.
By faith in Christ we are saved – He is the author and FINISHER of our faith – we are saved in no one else, save Christ!
Posted by Ray at 1:30 PM
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 21
Q. What is true faith?
A. True faith is a sure knowledge whereby I accept as true all that God has revealed to us in His Word. At the same time it is a firm confidence that not only to others, but also to me, God has granted forgiveness of sins, everlasting righteousness, and salvation, out of mere grace, only for the sake of Christ's merits. This faith the Holy Spirit works in my heart by the gospel.
References -- John 17:3, 17; Heb. 11:1-3; James 2:19. Rom. 4:18-21; 5:1; 10:10; Heb. 4:16. Gal. 2:20. Rom. 1:17; Heb. 10:10. Rom.3:20-26; Gal. 2:16; Eph. 2:8-10. Acts 16:14; Rom. 1:16; 10:17; I Cor. 1:21.
Matthew 9:18 - 38: While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, "My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live." And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, "If I only touch his garment, I will be made well." Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, "Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well." And instantly the woman was made well. And when Jesus came to the ruler's house and saw the flute players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, "Go away, for the girl is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl arose. And the report of this went through all that district. And as Jesus passed on from there, two blind men followed him, crying aloud, "Have mercy on us, Son of David." When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you believe that I am able to do this?" They said to him, "Yes, Lord." Then he touched their eyes, saying, "According to your faith be it done to you." And their eyes were opened. And Jesus sternly warned them, "See that no one knows about it." But they went away and spread his fame through all that district. As they were going away, behold, a demon-oppressed man who was mute was brought to him. And when the demon had been cast out, the mute man spoke. And the crowds marveled, saying, "Never was anything like this seen in Israel." But the Pharisees said, "He casts out demons by the prince of demons." And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest."
I recently posted about the woman grasping the hem of Jesus' garment, but I wanted to take a look at the rest of this passage and make some observations. But before I post about of saving faith, may I just return your attention to the Heidelberg Catechism I posted above? You see faith is not something that has no object, i.e. faith in faith. Faith has an object – that object is Jesus Christ – we cannot simply have ‘enough faith’ and ‘be saved’, but we must, in fact, have faith IN someone to be saved.
This may seem to be obvious to my readers here, but all too often the tendency within some circles is to have faith in faith – in other words, if one simply musters up enough ‘faith’, they will reap all sorts of benefits – but faith in the Biblical texts is never without an object, and that object is Jesus Christ!
So, as we look to Scripture, I am hoping that I will be able to do several things in the next several posts – first, I am hoping to show the necessity of faith, secondly, the object of faith, and finally the source of faith.
THE NECESSITY OF OUR FAITH -- We see in the Scripture, the outworking of several people’s faith; Jesus says to the woman who was healed – “Take heart daughter, your faith has made you well”. The leader,(aka known as Jairus), in coming to Jesus was exhibiting great faith as he went against his peers, asking Jesus humbly to heal his daughter – and of course, we find the blind men crying out in faith to Jesus as ‘Son of David’.
Is faith necessary? Well, it says in Ephesians 2:8 it says that we are saved by grace through faith. In John 3, as Jesus speaks with Nicodemus, He tells him that, just as the serpent was lifted up in the desert by Moses, so too will the Son of Man be lifted up and all who believe on Him will be saved. Romans 3:21 – 26 -- But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
So faith is required – one cannot be saved without faith. And we see it in today’s passage – the woman reaching out to grasp the promises of God in Jesus Christ did so in faith. She had tried all the doctors, and Luke says she was incurable – she had no hope, only in reaching out to Jesus Christ in faith was she healed. What of Jairus? His daughter was dead! How much hope did he possess? Yet, in faith her father reached out to Jesus, and she was returned to him. And the blind men – crying out to Jesus as Messiah, they showed their faith in their very words! Yes, we must reach out in faith to Jesus Christ – it is by grace THROUGH faith, by which we are saved!
Next post - "The Object of our Faith"
Posted by Ray at 5:55 PM
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Words fail me!
This defies words...
Even brute animals have more sense! And here is my favorite line... "Shvarts will be honored at a reception April 25."
HONORED?! For what? Terminating several lives? Why don't we also honor Jeffery Dahmer and John Wayne Gacy? They were just practicing their 'art'.
Posted by Ray at 1:04 PM
Monday, April 14, 2008
Matthew 9:18 - 22 -- While he was saying these things to them, behold, a ruler came in and knelt before him, saying, My daughter has just died, but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live. And Jesus rose and followed him, with his disciples. And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, If I only touch his garment, I will be made well. Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well. And instantly the woman was made well.
I wanted to look at this encounter, and try to set the context, maybe providing a bit of insight into this event.
Jesus has been walking amongst the people of Capernaum teaching and performing miracles, and has gathered a large following of people. During this time, Jesus is approached by Jairus, a leader, in order have him come and heal his daughter.
So, Jesus gets up to follow Jairus to his home, and amongst the throng was a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years. She determines to simply touch this amazing rabbi’s cloak at the fringe, and what happens is an amazing event!
Jesus would have been wearing a Tallit (prayer shawl). However, His tallit would not have been like the modern tallit, which has been reduced in size to simply a shawl. Rather, Jesus would have been wearing a full-length cloak that would have had tzit-tzit (tassels) attached to the four corners.
These tzit-tzit were commanded to be worn by God in Numbers 15:38 -- “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner…” and Deuteronomy 22:12 -- “You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of the garment with which you cover yourself.”
The reasoning for these tassels in explained in Numbers 15:39 -- “And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after.”
So Jesus, being an observant Jew, would have had a garment with tassels on the corners. It is one of these tassels that the woman grasped – in the Greek, the word used is kraspedon, which is the same word that was used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew tzit-tzit.
These fringes are attached to the corner of the tallit; the corners are known, in Hebrew, as kanaph, or wings. When a Jewish man dons his tallit, he will often reflect on Psalm 36:7 -- How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
Now what does it have to do with the story? Well, the factof the matter is that the woman did not simply reach out and touch Jesus, thinking the touch itself would heal her, but rather she was reaching out in faith – as she reached for the fringe of His garment, she would have been reflecting on a well-known Messianic passage in the Old Testament, found in Malachi 4:2 – “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. The word wings here is the word kanaph!
The people of that day were looking for the Messiah, and as this woman heard more and more about this rabbi, her thoughts would have turned to the passage that states that there will be found healing in the wings of the Sun of Righteousness. And Jesus responded! MANY were touching Him in the crowd, but only one touched Him in faith – faith in who He was!
Posted by Ray at 6:25 AM
Tuesday, April 08, 2008
I was having a conversation with a friend recently when we went down the path of politics and religion. Now, my friend is a wonderful Christian person, and I love him as a brother, but we have sharply different views of this subject.
He began the conversation by saying that he was disgusted with all of the politicos and their pandering of the Muslim community. I asked him to expand on this thought, and basically, he believes that if a politician even gives a nod of acceptance towards the Muslim community, then he/she cannot be Christian! I found that to be a bit over the top.
Now, mind you, I am not going on record to say that I believe that ‘all people pray to the same god’. I am simply saying that a person who is going to be the leader of the USA needs to be the leader of the USA, NOT simply the ‘Christian’ leader, or the ‘black’ leader, or the ‘white’ leader, or the ‘left-handed’ leader. This is [one] of the problems I have with the current round of election nonsense, there is no one standing up and saying “What is good for America?”, rather it seems that everyone is saying “What is best for me?”
But I digress from my original intent.
Our conversation really revolved around his statement that the USA is a ’Christian’ nation, and was founded, and should be ruled as such. Here is where we began to strongly disagree. Mind you, I am not saying that the USA was founded by wiccans, but rather by a diverse group of people coming from several different perspectives.
I tried to explain to my friend that the US Constitution, a brilliant document by all accounts, expressly had no ‘God language’ by intent. As a matter of fact, I believe that the US Constitution was one of the first nation-founding documents without reference to divine fiat.
Here is the preamble -- ”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
The First Amendment is clear that the government is not to establish, nor prohibit religious practice. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Many folks on both sides of the argument have either not read this amendment, or decided to interpret it in their own way.
My friend then went on to say that it was the Pilgrims who were the true ‘founders’ – well, no, actually the indigenous people were the true ‘founders’ in that sense. It is true that the Pilgrims were fleeing from religious persecution, but they were not the ‘founders’; they were the first to arrive from Europe. The founders were represented by a much more diverse group, including many deists, i.e. Jefferson, Franklin, and (the most infamous of the deists), Paine.
To further illustrate -- let’s look at another document, the Declaration of Independence, where we find in the first line, these words -- ”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Compare that line with this quote from Plato -- ”All men are by nature equal, made all of the same earth by one Workman; and however we deceive ourselves, as dear unto God is the poor peasant as the mighty prince.
It would seem that our founding fathers dipped into many fountains to pen the founding documents! Now, I am not denying that the USA was founded on Judeo-Christian ethics, but that primarily means that we took the framework for our legal structure from the Decalogue. But utilizing Judeo-Christian ethics does not constitute a ‘Christian’ founding!
So, I write all of this to say that when a presidential candidate recognizes the pluralism of the country by mentioning Islam, or another religion, this does not, in and of itself, constitute an unchristian act, nor does it mean that the person will ‘surrender’ our country over to the radical Jihadists, any more than giving a nod to the Christian community means that they are endorsing Fred Phelps! I would hope that any presidential candidate worth their salt would recognize that the USA is a diverse melting pot…
Let us, as a Christian community, think critically and cogently about whom we vote for, and not knee-jerk react to every statement that we are fed!
Posted by Ray at 1:51 PM
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
Monday, March 31, 2008
I am back - for those who might actually still check by here and see what's new (I don't know if any of those folks are left!)
I just wanted to post something about the youth study we are doing:
We are going through the Bible and talking about the life of a Christian. The first week I started by talking about the (sad) stats that show the evangelical community looking much like the secular world in the areas of abuse, divorce, crime etc. I asked why there is such a great disparity between the words we say, as evangelicals, and our lives.
Then we talked about what the Bible had to say about some of these areas, and discussed what that meant in the lives of a Christian. The next week we actually looked at how the Gospel is presented, oftentimes, in the modern western church; focusing on the fact that we are MOST concerned with 'fire insurance' as opposed to understanding the fact that we are a NEW creation! Unfortunately, sanctification is often left on teh table, and the 'salvation' experience is focused on to the exclusion of everything else.
So this week we discussed this questions: What should our lives look like as Christians?
So far, this has been an interesting study, with some lively discussion. I am using Ron Sider's book as a basic framework. While I may not agree with everything Mr. Sider says, overall the book is a good skeleton upon which I can lay some thoughts.
A final thought -- We have tagged our young people with names such as 'narcissistic', 'materialistic', and 'relativistic'. Now, they are all of these, but no more so than their parents! What I have found as we study is that the young folks are very idealistic, and want to live lives that reflect Christ -- they have just never been confronted with that reality!
Will continue this line of thought in upcoming posts.
Posted by Ray at 7:15 AM
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
This is a post that I believe the Pyro crew would call WIARN -- "Where I Am Right Now".
You may have noticed that I have not posted in over a week at this location. Simply put, I have been underwater -- my 'secular' job has been consuming me, I have Passover Seder coming up, as well as the Easter morning service. I also have several counseling sessions going on and a new bird at home to boot!
I must be honest; there are times when I wish I was NOT a bi-vocational pastor. There is much to be said for being bi-vocational, i.e. getting out into the community, functioning in a role that helps me identify with the congregation etc., but there are also times when it would be nice to simply be able to focus for long periods of time on the job at hand at the church.
Truthfully, without the fantastic folks at the church, I could never accomplish what I do -- but I feel like I could be a better pastor to them if I were able to spend more time being a pastor. At times I feel like I am 'robbing' them because of the other demands on my time.
So, I apologize for the spotty posting, but for now, it will have to be that way... If I do not have time for the important things, then this blog will definitely be lower on the list... I hope to dig my way out in the next three weeks!
Posted by Ray at 10:33 AM
Monday, February 25, 2008
I have been speaking on the cost of discipleship (read my last two posts), and yesterday after the service a young lady came up and gave her life to Christ. What is amazing is that we do not have altar calls at our church, I will even say (as I have been teaching through this series), that one is to count the cost of knowing Christ. I truly believe and have seen that the Holy Spirit regenerates a heart, and not persuasive, and often manipulative words, from a pastor.
This young lady came forward, spoke with me, obviously understood what she was saying and prayed with me. It is so incredibly humbling to be a small part of God's work on Earth -- what an honor to be able to share in the glorious moment of a new believer coming to Christ!
Posted by Ray at 10:45 AM
Thursday, February 21, 2008
I closed out the last post by looking at the Scribe who approached Jesus, anxious to follow Him 'anywhere'. However, as we saw, Jesus is not moved by his apparent piety, clearly stating the cost of discipleship.
Jesus’ teaching may have moved this man, or the miraculous healing of the leper may have amazed him, but Jesus knew his heart. The Scribe makes the pious statement that He will follow Jesus wherever He goes, but Jesus outlines the reality of following Him. The Scribe might have thought that it would be exhilarating to follow this man who healed people and was an incredible teacher, but he had not given much thought to the reality of following Jesus.
In today's world, we have gladly brought this guy in and maybe even put him in a leadership position, (he was, after all, a Scribe). At a minimum, we would have him as a member of our church before you knew it. But Jesus knows the heart of man, and penetrates to the crux of the issue in one statement. Just like the rich young man in Matthew 19, Jesus looks beyond the pious words to the heart and makes the statement that He does not live a lavish life, but one of discipline, not having a big home or a even, at times, a place to lay His head. Interestingly, we do not hear from this Scribe again!
So often one can get caught up in the moment and make vows and oaths to God, but once they have calmed down, they are still unregenerate; they simply got caught up in the 'hype' that often surrounds altar calls! I have heard many people say that this person or that person is saved because "They said the sinners prayer with me", but there was never any indicator that they had been regenerated, and often times these self-same people go on to live lives that make it obvious that their 'commitment' to Christ was but a fleeting moment of emotion.
This is why emotional, manipulative methods that get people to ‘come down front and accept Jesus’ are non-Biblical – Jesus is basically telling this man, "Count the cost – here is what life with Me is like.”
In Luke 14:26 – 33, Jesus says it this way: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.
Believe me, He is not fooled by our pious words! He says in Matthew 15 that the people honor Him with their lips, but are, in actuality, far from Him! You see, there is a cost to discipleship – and that cost is death to self, and a new life in Christ. I fear that we have done away with this vital teaching because it is not the type of teaching that packs the house. And our churches have suffered because of it – we have churches that have a membership roll of hundreds or thousands, many of whom never darken the doorway of the church, but at one point said – “I will follow Jesus anywhere”.
The church no longer talks of the cost of discipleship, it might cause people to find another place to have their ears tickled, but it is those who are truly redeemed who can grasp the incredible gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ, it is these people who are not offended by the cost of discipleship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, in his incredible book, “The Cost of Discipleship” -- "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth which has a place for the Fatherhood of God, but omits Christ as the living Son. … There is trust in God, but no following of Christ."
Bonhoeffer made the distinction between ‘cheap’ grace and ‘costly’ grace in his book; here are a few more passages that bear repeating -- "cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ." In contrast to this is costly grace: "costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: "My yoke is easy and my burden is light." "
The second man we read about is one who seems to have a reasonable request – “I need to go and bury my father.” I mean, who could refuse such a request? Yet Jesus says that the dead should bury the dead. What does Jesus mean by this seemingly heartless response? Well, there are several thoughts on this – the first is that the man was saying – “Let me wait until my father dies and I claim my inheritance”. This was known to have been a colloquialism meaning just that; the Jews would have buried someone the same day that they died, unlike today in the West.
Some would say that the man’s father was not yet dead, but aging, and he wanted to wait until his father HAD died before embarking on the journey of discipleship with Jesus, and finally, some say that Jesus means that we are to let the ‘spiritually’ dead bury the dead. And in some sense this is also true; but I believe that what Jesus is saying is something contained in all of these perspectives. He is calling this man to drop his earthly concerns and follow Him now!
The call to discipleship is one that is immediate and all consuming. We cannot have one foot in the realm of the world and one foot in the realm of the kingdom. We are to be IN the world, but not OF it – and it would seem that this man had the concerns of the world consuming him – he was asking Jesus to allow him to delay his following until he had taken care of the earthly concerns that he had. Jesus’ answer is unequivocal – following me will require that you leave behind your inheritance, letting the spiritually dead bury the dead, and take up your cross and follow Me.
In the case of the first man, he was reacting to the hype of the events taking place around him, he was, like the seed that lands in rocky ground, [Matthew 13], sprouting up quickly (i.e. “I will follow you wherever you go”), but has no root and when hard times come, it withers.
The second man is like the seed that falls amongst thorns; it sprouts up, but the cares and concerns of the world choke the seed and it dies. This man could not leave behind the cares of the world.
Paul talks of leaving behind worldly cares and concerns in Philippians 3:7 – 11 -- whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Friends, do we understand that Jesus Christ calls us to a life of discipleship? Those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior, the redeemed, are called to a life that is perceptively different from the world's. The call to discipleship impacts all aspects of our life: in our marriage we are called to self-sacrificial love, the marriage being the very picture of Christ and His redeemed bride; it calls for sacrifice of our time to help build the kingdom, proclaiming the gospel and helping to build up the body – many who go by the name Christian do not give financially, or time-wise to the church to assist in the ministries that she performs. Often many who would call themselves disciples will spend hours watching a sporting event, or sitting at a computer or playing an instrument, but will not give up any of their time to do anything within the church.
Our lives should reflect the fact that we are captive to Christ; does your life? Are we being conformed to the image of God’s Son, as it says in Romans 8, or do we look, for all intents and purposes, exactly like the world, our biggest differentiator being that we spend a few hours at church on Sunday?
Are we disciples at work? Are we disciples at home with our family? Are we disciples when we are out with our friends? Jesus took these two men today to task – He did not let them get away with a cavalier statement about being His disciples, but clearly explained what the life and concerns of a disciple are to be. I wonder how many of us would still claim to be His disciple if we truly examined the cost?
Posted by Ray at 9:04 AM
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
I spoke this weekend on the Cost of Discipleship. It seems that this is a topic that has gone out of favor amongst the Christian community. I have heard a variety of reasons, mostly those that have to do with 'chasing away seekers', I even had one person tell me that it was this type of preaching that was hurting the church!
It would seem that some believe that the way to get someone to come to Christ is lull them into it through good music, designer coffee, and a rational 'discussion' that enables them to weigh all the options and make a decision as to the 'validity' of the claims of Christ!
And you would definitely not tell these people that there is a cost to discipleship! So often the message, implicitly, or explicitly from Christians, is that once you come to Christ EVERYTHING gets easier. If you want to be richer, prettier, more athletic, and have a winning smile, just come to Christ! This is often the message posed to people but it paints an unrealistic picture of discipleship (true discipleship)
True discipleship is a call to die to self! That is not a popular message, so it is often muted, or ignored.
Yet, in the passage I spoke on this weekend, it would seem that Jesus Himself approached things rather differently. I spoke out of Matthew 8:18 - 22. This is an interesting juxtaposition from the immediately preceding verses.
In those verses Jesus approaches two people who, it would seem, would have been outside the pale of God's 'acceptance'; a leper, and a Roman Centurion.
The first would have been an outcast considered unclean, and adjudged by God as accursed (see Numbers 12 and 2nd Chronicles 26). This rotting, stinking walking corpse would have been in constant torment, separated from the family of God (Israel) and forced to live in the outer areas of town.
The second man was an avowed enemy of God and His people -- a man who oppressed and subjugated the nation of Israel. And this was no ordinary man in the Roman ranks, He was a centurion -- a leader who commanded the men who were oppressing Israel!
Yet Jesus heals the one, and heals the servant of the other. This would have been shocking in that day and age.
And then this week we see a SCRIBE approach Jesus, and make a wonderful profession as to his willingness to follow Jesus. Now, you would think that after Jesus had been willing to heal the aforementioned two, then He would gladly welcome this scribe. But, Jesus does something unexpected -- He challenges the scribe; "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Interestingly, we never hear from the scribe again.
The second man makes a seemingly simple request - "Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” but Jesus, in a seemingly callous way, says “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.”.
It would seem that Jesus is acting in an irrational manner, wouldn't it? Yet, when this passage is examined we find a profound message. First, in the case of the leper and the Roman Centurion, we see those whom Jesus came to save -- the ones who were outside the gates, doomed to death and avowed enemies of God.
Are we really any different than the leper? We were, before Christ, clothed in the stinking rags of our own righteousness, outside the gates with no hope of entering in, separated from the people of God and cursed with an incurable disease. Yet, like the leper the redeemed are drawn to Christ to say "If you will, you can make me clean", and He has said "I will, be clean".
And likewise, we are reflected in the Centurion -- an enemy of God and His people (witness Paul); one who oppressed God's people. Yet, Jesus brought healing into our lives, even with our enmity towards Him -- "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.
Now, what of these next two? Well, the Scribe seems to have been caught up in the moment -- I am sure it was an exciting time; this rabbi had come down from the mountain and healed two men, the crowds were growing, and in his exuberance, the scribe exclaims "Jesus, I will follow you anywhere". Sadly, in today's church we would go no further and instantly put him in a leadership role (he was, after all, a scribe!). I see this in many cases where a celebrity or sports figure (what is the difference anyway?), has a salvation 'experience' and the next week is preaching to throngs of people. But Jesus informs the scribe that following Him may not be what the scribe thinks it is. There is a cost to discipleship. And it does not matter if you are a scribe or a leper, the cost is the same -- “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?"
As I said previously, we never hear from this scribe again.
I just realized that this post is getting a bit lengthy, even for me, so I will continue these thoughts in my next post.
Posted by Ray at 6:29 AM
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Monergism has a new site.
This site has a number of free Puritan books available on-line.
Here are some of the names available -- Thomas Watson | Thomas Brooks | Thomas Boston | John Bunyan | Stephen Charnock | Richard Sibbes | Thomas Goodwin |Thomas Shepherd | John Robinson | Thomas Case | John Owen | William Bridge | John Ball | John Flavel | John Howe | Richard Baxter | Hugh Binning | Thomas Gouge | Joseph Alleine | Richard Alleine | William Bates | John Colquhoun David Clarkson | Richard Steele | Jerremiah Burroughs | William Gurnall | Thomas Adams | Matthew Mead | Philip Doddridge | Isaac Ambrase | Benjamin Brook | William Guthrie | William Perkins | Herman Witsius | Walter Marshall | Henry Bullinger.
If you have never read the Puritans, I highly recommend this site to introduce you!
Posted by Ray at 5:47 AM
Wednesday, February 06, 2008
This infuriates me.
The incredible hypocrisy of Mendell in his statement -- "We are shocked, saddened and sickened by what we have seen today," Mendell said. "Operations have been immediately suspended until we can meet with all of our employees and be assured these sorts of activities never again happen at our facility." -- is simply amazing. This type of abuse has been recorded over and over again for well over ten years.
Management is well aware of these practices; there have been hundreds of interviews with former and current employees at many plants which speak of these atrocities. What is amazing is that they are not similar acts, but IDENTICAL, leading one to believe that this is SOP for these plants.
The nonsense of having USDA inspectors and vets located on-site has been shown for what it is many times. Just the speed of the line makes it impossible for the inspectors to keep up, and anytime outside consultants or OSHA personnel show up, their visit is known for days in advance and the plant 'cleans up' for the inspection.
The USDA actually has the audacity to say this!
Why is that incredible? Well, because they have staff ON-SITE -- did they simply MISS the activities?
And then they lay the blame at the feet of the HSUS with this little self-righteous blurb -- "It is unfortunate that the Humane Society of the United States did not present this information to us when these alleged violations occurred in the fall of 2007. Had we known at the time the alleged violations occurred, we would have initiated our investigation sooner, and taken appropriate actions at that time."
Let me ask them this: Where were your inspectors when these events took place?
Christians have abdicated their responsibility as stewards of God's creation -- this is not about vegetarianism vs. non-vegetarianism, this is about basic humane treatment of animals. The animal rights groups that are out there often have agendas which are directly counter to the Christian beliefs (witness people like Peter Singer who believes that there is no difference between an animal and human beings), so do not think that I am saying these groups are correct, what I AM saying is that we are incorrect.
The two things that I often hear from the Christian community are:
(1) - "I don't know anything about meat preparation, and I don't want to" or
(2) - "God gave us the right to eat animals starting with Noah, so what is the point?"
There are several problems with this, but let's just look at one -- Where does God say ABUSE, MAIM, and TORTURE these animals before slaughtering and eating them?
It is high time that Christians (who seem to want to be involved in anything politically or socially which improves their lot in life) begin to speak out against this type of wanton and horrific practice. If you want to put your blinders on, and actually believe what Hallmark and the USDA are trying to pass off, then I pity you!
Go read up on the abuses recorded over DECADES within the meat-packing industry, and then tell me that this is an isolated incident!
Whether you want to continue to eat meat or not is not my concern, what IS my concern is that we Christians go blissfully through life, ignoring this issue.
Read up on the issue, take the time to understand where your food comes from, read Slaughterhouse, or Prisoned Chickens, Poisoned Eggs. Actually educate yourself before you react to this post.
We believe that we were made in the image of God (imago dei): do you really believe the God who created everything and saw that it was good does not notice our apathy?
Posted by Ray at 6:45 AM
Monday, February 04, 2008
My companion, and partner on sermon writing sessions, my green-cheek conure, finally succumbed to cancer. He simply fell asleep on Saturday night and never woke up on Sunday. We had him 14 years, and have no children, so this is will be a hard few days or so. But, in honor of him, I wanted to repost something from last November:
My beloved pet, who has been through many things with me, Isaac, a green-cheek conure, was diagnosed with lymphoma yesterday. We have had him around for 13+ years. He sat by me on many a day as I prepared sermons etc.
You can see him with me in the new picture to the right of this posting.
As I watch him deteriorate, I am driven to this Scripture:
Romans 8:9 - 22 -- For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
All too often we Christians think only of our own lives as regards redemption, but in fact CREATION will be redeemed! We need to understand the depth of sin and decay before we can truly appreciate the heights of God's salvific plan! My bird is dying because of sin, just as I am dying because of sin, just as the world is dying. When we understand that, it is then that we can begin to understand the incredible beauty of redemption!
Revelation 21:1 - 5 -- Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.
Posted by Ray at 6:22 AM
Friday, February 01, 2008
Well, I know I have not been writing on here much -- but I am really running at a quick pace right now...
I foolishly decided to start back up in taking some classes, so I am working through Calvin's Institutes: a LOT of reading! PLUS, I am taking Timmy Brister's Puritan challenge and I am trying to catch up by reading through 'The Bruised Reed' by Richard Sibbes.
Plus my 'other' job (telecommunications system engineer) is really picking up.... I will be back when I can catch my breath!
Posted by Ray at 9:08 AM
Friday, January 25, 2008
In this day and age of abortion on demand, and eugenics, this story is amazing.
In a world where narcissism reigns, especially in the area of the abortion debate, this woman is a shining gem. All we hear is that women have the right to decide what to do with their body (although conveniently neglected is the right of the baby), and then we are treated to a plethora of so-called stats that tell us how many women would die of either complications or 'back-alley' abortions should this 'right' be repealed. (just an FYI, almost all abortions are for convenience, and not life-threatening).
Interestingly, Lorraine Allard got very little airplay here -- guess this simply does not accord well with what the feminists and liberal community might want to portray -- a mother willing to give up her life for a child. It sounds strange in our ears, doesn't it? We are so used to mothers killing their children (I speak not only of abortion, but of the number of women who have killed toddlers etc.) And so unused to true sacrifice in a parent.
I do not know the faith of this women, Lorraine Allard, but I applaud her for being a true mother -- one who went the distance to give her son a fighting chance at life!
I may revisit the idea of self-sacrifice soon, but did not want this to go unnoticed.
Posted by Ray at 3:22 PM