Grace

Secret Is not Safe

There is a scene in the early part of the first Lord of the Rings movie where Gandalf is cautioning Frodo regarding the ring that Bilbo has left to him.  Gandalf suspects that this ring is the “One Ring” that belonged to Sauron and therefore holds great danger to him.  He tells him to “keep it secret; keep it safe.”  This sounds like totally prudent advice.  For a time, the “keep it secret; keep it safe” plan might work, but eventually the ring has to be destroyed in order to break its evil power once and for all.

I know that many have used the symbolism of the Lord of the Rings to make spiritual points before.  I have no doubt that someone else has already drawn out the same conclusion I am going to make here.  The way that Gandalf initially tries to handle the ring is very similar to how most of us seek to handle sin in our lives.  We would prefer to keep it secret and hope that this will somehow keep us safe.  Secret sin however is far from safe, it is a time-bomb that is waiting to go off and destroy the one who holds it quietly in hiding.

The news came down Sunday that a fellow blogger and one who interacts frequently over at another blog I read at was caught in sin.  That which was thought to be secret and hidden had come out of the dark and into the light.  In one sense, this is not a new story.  It is a sad truth that has been repeated and will be seen again.  We cannot hide sin.  Trying to keep it secret will consume us and will leave us far from safe.  At times like this, my mind often recalls a song from one of my favorite artists.  A stark reminder that none of us are immune from the potential catastrophe of sin.

Do not seek to keep sin hidden thinking that it will be safe as long as it is unseen.  Jesus cautioned His disciples that there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed.  Just as Frodo had to take the ring out of hiding so that it could be destroyed, we too must bring sin into the light for its power to be broken.  This is God’s promise.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say we have not sinned we make Him a liar and the truth is not in us. – 1 John 1:9-10

From what I have gathered thus far, the person mentioned above is now beginning the road to restoration that follows confession, but real consequences still remain.  They always do when we don’t destroy what was secret in the hopes that it will be safer that way.  Please pray for this man and for those affected.

Categories: Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, Grace, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Problem of All or Nothing

God is holy and perfect and commands us to be “perfect as He is perfect.”  Perfection: it is a standard that we all know we cannot keep.  Those who spend a great deal of time thinking about it are in real danger of driving themselves crazy.  It is this insistence of perfections that drives the “wretched urgency” that Michael Spencer, AKA the Internet Monk, used to opine about back in the day.

But we humans have a hard time with not taking this the other direction entirely.  Since we know we can’t be perfect, we have developed whole theological systems that essentially say, “why bother.”  Jesus paid it all, you can do nothing; so just fall on Him and do nothing.  What’s wrong with this?  You are saved by grace and that not of works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8).  Right?!?  So just sit back and relax and quit.  Be still and know that I am God, if you will.

It is the problem of all or nothing.  If all isn’t enough, then why bother.  If nothing will get me there, then why not.

I saw an interesting quote from Dallas Willard posted by a friend of mine.

“In most churches we’re not only saved by grace, we’re paralyzed by it. We’re afraid to do anything that might be a “work.” The funny thing is we will preach to people for an hour that they can’t do anything to be saved, and then sing to them for a half an hour trying to get them to do something. This is confusing. People need to see that action is a receptacle for grace, not a substitute for it. Grace is God acting in our lives to do things we can’t do on our own. Grace is not opposed to effort; it’s opposed to earning.” -Dallas Willard

This is the problem of all or nothing boiled down into a couple of sentences.  That same Bible that tells you that there is nothing you can do to earn salvation, still calls you to a life of service and obedience once you have been saved.  Keep reading from that quote I earlier pulled from Ephesians:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  – Ephesians 2:8-10

The problem is that if you don’t take all of Scripture to place a single verse in good context, you may find that nothing you say makes good sense.

We don’t handle this dilemma well.  Might I suggest a solution with a little humor in it.

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.” – G.K. Chesterton

Stop making it all or nothing.  God takes care of it all, but not so that you can do nothing until eternity.  Rest period doesn’t start until then.  In the meantime, do all that you can, badly if you must.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, devotional, Discipleship, Faith, Fun, Grace, Humor, Love, Salvation, theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

TULIPY: The Acronym for Hyper-Calvinists (i.e. 6-pointers)

I have had a flash of inspiration.  Perhaps someone, somewhere has already done this before, but I can’t say that I have seen it elsewhere so I thought I would give it a whirl.  I run in some blog circles where people complain about hyper-Calvinists.  I have a dear brother in the Lord who was burned so bad by a group of extreme hyper-Calvinists (we referred to them as 6.5 pointers in humorous love) that he would nearly froth at the mouth at the mere mention of Calvinism at all.  This post should not be taken as a diatribe against Calvinism as a whole or even all that seriously.  It is meant in a spirit of levity to encourage potential discussion.  I love my brothers and sisters who are serious Calvinists and who are passionate for the Lord and the Gospel.

Please further note that I am not a 5-point Calvinist.  I am probably more like a 2-3 pointer if anything, but I will try to describe the points with some accuracy up through my own addition.  These descriptions will be intermingled with my observations as well.  With all that said, here is the acronym spelled out for posterity.

T – Total Depravity

Ok, we all pretty much get that and know what it means I would think.  Man is totally depraved.  Scripture makes this point repeatedly, and one episode of Jerry Springer will drive this point home to even the most reluctant of individuals I would think.  The other point behind this however is that man is completely helpless regarding his salvation.  We don’t even look for salvation on our own.

U – Unconditional Election

We can not earn God’s grace and cannot merit salvation.  There is nothing within us that makes God love us, He just does.  All our righteousness is filthy rags type of things are the general point of this point.  From my perspective, the idea behind this is generally right, but I hesitate to do much explaining about how God does these things.  Even Paul was eventually rendered speechless in this regard (see the end of Romans 11).

L – Limited Atonement

Since not everyone is saved based on the words of Jesus, it follows that Jesus’ death must not be effective for all people in the end of all things.  This particular point is generally arrived at through logical means in my experience.  Both those who support it and those who argue against it can cite John 3:16 as it becomes a discussion/argument of who is covered by whosoever.

I – Irresistible Grace

This is the teaching that God’s grace is irresistible to those who are elected to salvation and they will respond to the call of God through the Spirit.  This is also a hotly debatable topic, mostly because simple observation yields plenty of examples of people who hear the clear Gospel message and don’t respond to it.  Frankly, I think it is more amazing that anyone can reject God at all.  This doctrine reflects that in some means, but I think any attempt to explain why some reject God’s call by placing them in a category of “unelected” or whatever is not correct.

P – Perseverance of the Saints

This doctrine simply states that those who are called, elected and chosen will remain in the faith without fail as God is capable of keeping them.  This sentiment is perfectly biblical and true as far as it goes.  I think the main problem in applying it stems from the fact that we never can know who is who from our limited perspective.  In fact, many of the problems of Calvinist theology and much of the rest of theology is our extremely limited understanding and perspective.

Y – You’re Irrelevant

This one is all mine, but you may have seen it coming.  Given all of the above as absolutely true, many have moved on to another very logical point.  It doesn’t matter what we do, since God has planned it all ahead of time.  This comes out in various ways.  I have seen a church that did no external evangelism.  They preached the Gospel in Sunday morning service and expected God to draw those who were called to their building.  I have seen others who assume that because everything is up to God, it absolutely doesn’t matter what you do about anything.  Ultimately you are either chosen or not chosen, so just live your life and trust God(I mean why not do it anyway right) and He will do everything.

Let me say it once again.  I love my Calvinist brothers and sisters.  I will work alongside you all day long to share the Gospel and make disciples for Jesus Christ.  I just wanted to write a post that points out the all too real end of taking this theology to its logical conclusions (I have seen it far too often for my liking).  The only thing that can keep us from going there is the reminder that while all of these points may be true from God’s perspective; we are not God and they don’t work from our limited perspective.

Categories: Apologetics, Christianity, church, Discipleship, Faith, Fun, Gospel, Grace, Humor, Questions, Salvation, Southern Baptist, theology, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Fun Videos for Friday

Since it is fitting for this time of year.  Pondering what it would have been like if Moses had used modern technology during the Exodus.

We did our Seder at the church last night and it was fun to relive the experience of the Exodus as well as the final night of Jesus with His disciples.

Here is another one in the same line of thinking.  The story of Jesus through the eyes of Twitter.

May you be blessed as we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus and the redemption from sin.  Our Deliverer has come and He is coming again.

Categories: Christianity, devotional, Discipleship, Feasts, Fun, Gospel, Grace, Hebrew, Humor, Messiah | Leave a comment

Preparing for an Encounter

Tonight we are going to do a Passover Seder dinner at the church with our church family.  I am using a new Haggadah from FFOZ this year and combining an element or two from the older one that we used the last two years.  We have more people planning to come this year and I am looking forward to an exciting night as we relive the last meal our Master shared with His disciples before His crucifixion.

I expect posting to be a little sparse (I didn’t get anything yesterday) as we make final preparations for the meal and fellowship tonight.  Tomorrow I plan to post a couple of videos that are part funny and part thoughtful.  May the blessings of this season be yours in abundance through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Categories: Christianity, church, devotional, Discipleship, family, Feasts, Fun, Gospel, Grace, Hebrew, Messiah, ministry, Yeshua | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Father’s Eyes

I got a new toy this week.  It is a standalone DVD recorder from Sony.  It was a refurbished unit on clearance from one of my favorite tech sites, so we decided to grab it in hopes of dubbing off a bunch of our old home movies.  So today, I pulled it out of the box and after struggling with some cabling problems (I keep tons of old cables but can’t find the one for our camcorder.  I dug an older camcorder out of the box and managed to get something going to try this thing out.

As I write this post, I am watching the video of my first son digging into his first birthday cake after earlier seeing the video of my other two children doing the same thing.  I have sort of seen these in reverse order, but it is precious to walk back down the memory lane of these events.

As an obsessive dad, I filmed non-stop action of each of my kids tearing their cakes apart and stuffing them in their mouths.  In the background you hear the voices of those at the party, but you never see most of them.  The focus is on the kid at the center of the spotlight and it stays there.  The reason I did this is because I didn’t want to risk missing a moment of the excitement for anything.  Of course the whole thing isn’t exciting for most who watch it, but I have the eyes of a father.

I admit that as an earthly father, I have  my moments of distraction.  It isn’t like I always stare at my kids nonstop, but there are times when I zero in a give them complete focus.  It lets them know that I love them.  Scripture talks about this aspect of God’s love for us.  Jesus says that if we as earthly fathers know how to give good things, how much more does our Heavenly Father give good things for us.  The Bible also talks about Him “singing over us.”  One of my favorite “modern hymns” is called How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, because it is so powerful in its expression of this love.  In the first verse it says this:

How deep the Father’s love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure

You may feel wretched or unloved, but let me assure you that nothing is further from the truth.  The Father is not without compassion.  John 3:16 isn’t just some sappy sentiment.  He loves you and gave His only Son for you.  See yourself through His eyes.

Categories: Christianity, devotional, family, Gospel, Grace, Love, Parenting, personal, Salvation, Thanksgiving | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spring Already Sprung, But the Job’s Not Done

We are moving toward spring on the calendar and the signs of it are around us even here in the frozen north.  There is a small stream flowing alongside the curb that says the temperatures are just warm enough to allow snow to melt.  There are daily flood updates from the Fargo and Devils Lake areas and plenty of concern to go around.  As a fun distraction, pro baseball is about to begin its regular season and college ball already has.  My Razorbacks are doing well, and I can only hope the same for the STL Cardinals.

Around here spring is a time of celebration and dread wrapped into one.  Celebration for the end of winter and the “death” that it brings to so many things.  Dread for the hazards that accompany “new life.”  It all makes me think of my word, growth.

Let me pull this back to the baseball realm for a minute.  The whole object of baseball in a microcosm is to “get home” to come full circle and finish the circuit of the bases.  This has parallel with life itself.  Life is cyclical and we sometimes circle the bases and other times just get picked off first or strike out at the plate.  It is often said that baseball is a game where you must get used to failure.  A person who only gets a hit 1 of every 3 plate appearances is considered a good hitter for instance, but that percentage means that he fails 2 out of every 3 times at bat as well.

We see this same thing at work in our own life.  We fail far more often than we succeed as we walk in faith.  This doesn’t mean that we should hide in the dugout secure in the knowledge that we can’t be kicked off the team.  If anything knowing that we won’t be cut should provide us the courage to keep going up to bat.  It’s kind of fun to work this many baseball metaphors into a single post, but I presume that you get the point.

I am excited for the start of baseball season to be sure.  I am hoping that the Cardinals have a great year and win the World Series.  In the meantime, I am still growing because I won’t quit when I fail.  I will look to the One who went to bat  (I know, Paul calls it a race, but stick with me) and batted 1.000.

Categories: adventures in the cold, baseball, Christianity, Discipleship, Faith, Fun, Grace, Growth, ministry, One Word, razorbacks | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Grace for the Journey and Wisdom from the Battles – A Review of Surviving Sexual Brokenness by Thom Hunter

Since getting reacquainted and in the loop at SBC Voices, I have come to appreciate each time Thom Hunter shares a new post.  His writing is always penetrating and frequently takes a tack that few will ever ponder or dare to do, usually because it is born of personal and often painful experience of the sort that few are willing to share about transparently with others.  This is the main reason that I jumped at the offer to review Thom’s book, Surviving Sexual Brokenness.

If I were required to describe the book using a single word, I would go back to that same idea: transparent.  This isn’t a theory book or an abstract look at the problem of sexual issues in the body of Christ.  This is the story and lessons learned by a man who has been through the fire personally and been given the grace and the gift to share the lessons learned with those are at an earlier point in the journey or who have not gotten the courage to start.  Make no mistake about it, this book will challenge and prod in a good way.

There may be those who question the notion of sexual brokenness that Thom is talking about in the book, but statistics bear out the depth of the issue within the church itself.  We live in a culture that glorifies sex and promiscuity and promotes an “anything goes” attitude toward sex.  While most churchgoers understand the inherent problem with this worldview, we have struggled with how to respond.  Some pastor’s have gone along with the “sensationalization of sex” and made responding to it part of their marketing ploy if you will.  Others have chosen to not say much at all.  Thom addresses head on the fact of sexual brokenness that surrounds us in the pews and offers help on reaching out to those who have already wrecked into the shoals or are perilously close to such a disaster.

There is excellent advice for churches and pastor’s in this book that comes from a heart who has been on the receiving end of both helpful and hurtful help from those who were just trying to do the right thing.  Thom gives excellent advice on how we can relate to and help those who are struggling without compromising the truth of Scripture and God’s standards of righteousness.  He also invites us to take a hard look at attitudes and behaviors that may lead us to isolate or destroy our ability to minister to those who need it most, the broken.  One statement that stood out was, “from him who fails much, much failure is expected.”  This encapsulates the problem we so often have in extending the same grace to others or even ourselves that we so desperately need to have and to give.

I do not hesitate to recommend this book and I cannot imagine any person who would not benefit from reading it.  The issues surrounding sex and sexuality and how we respond to them, particularly in the areas of sexual sin are going to be a flashpoint for years to come.  If you want to be prepared ahead of time instead of scrambling for wisdom in how to respond in the wake of a crash and burn disaster, you should read what Thom has shared.  His wisdom from experience will provide grace for the reader and insight for the storm.  I am grateful to him for providing me a copy to read so that I could equip myself and those around me for the days ahead.

Categories: Book Reviews, Christianity, church, Culture, Gospel, Grace, ministry, Southern Baptist | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Holding Fast to the Truth

I have gone back and forth on whether or not to even say anything about this story in the news, but I think I will share a little something.  With all the flap out there about Rob Bell’s new book, this is almost a side issue, but I think it is an important one.  Many of the “mainline” denominations have been struggling in recent years to hold onto a biblical orthodoxy.  Various denominations have caved on issues like homosexuality and even the “exclusivity” of Christ as the only Way of salvation.  For that reason, I am actually a little surprised to hear that a Methodist church fired their pastor for echoing Bell’s universalism.

It was just a couple of years ago that we had a Methodist campus “pastor” come and speak at a baccalaureate, put together by the ministerial association here in town, and essentially espouse a similar type of message.  She asserted that various faiths like Hindu, Baha’i, Buddhism, Islam and so forth all espoused some variation of the “golden rule” and believed in “god.”  Of course, she wasn’t much for mentioning Jesus Christ and hedgingly referred to a Creator a few times.   It is the Methodist church that has been running the “open doors, open hearts, open minds” ad campaign for several years now as well.  I have been worried about my brothers and sisters in the Methodist church from recent experiences.

The pastor in question mentioned in the story that he had expressed some other “controversial views” recently:

Church members had also been unhappy with Internet posts about subjects like gay marriage and the mix of religion and patriotism, Holtz said, and the hell post was probably the “last straw.” Holtz and his family plan to move back to Tennessee, where he’ll start a job and maybe plant a church.

“So long as we believe there’s a dividing point in eternity, we’re going to think in terms of us and them,” he said. “But when you believe God has saved everyone, the point is, you’re saved. Live like it.”

When someone makes a statement like this and declares to be a follower of Christ, I have to ask myself what Bible they are reading.  Are they reading the Gospels?  If they are, they don’t believe them.  Jesus made exactly this distinction over and over again.  Sheep and goats, wheat and tares, and others are exactly and precisely about a dividing line and a demarcation.  To declare otherwise is nothing short of an attempt to gut the teachings of Christ.

We cannot compromise the truth and we can’t rewrite the words of Jesus to make them more comfortable for our generation.  We are not “new” or special.  There is nothing new under the sun.  Those who reject the God who is will always seek to make a god to suit themselves of their own design.  It’s called idolatry and it still happens today.

Categories: Apologetics, Bible Thoughts, Christianity, church, Culture, Faith, False Teachers, Gospel, Grace, Heresy, Love, Messiah, ministry, Salvation, theology, Truth, Yeshua | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Who’s Got Your Back?

There have been several things that I have read and seen recently that have caused me to reflect on the importance having people you can count on.  In the world that we live in today, we have lots of technology that is able to simultaneously connect us to more people in many ways, yet which leaves most of those connections still remarkably tenuous in nature.  That is OK for some things in its own way.

Recently, I have been having a little fun with the Blog Madness competition over at SBC Voices.  So far, I have garnered 19 votes as of the typing of this sentence.  This is despite the fact that I have posted links asking people to vote on this blog and on facebook several times, however I have 375 facebook friends according to the count on my profile and numerous blog views over any given day.  This means that most of those who potentially see the messages have chosen not to do anything about it.  It is a trivial matter and they don’t “have my back” on this one.  It doesn’t bother me either.

You may be saying, “if it doesn’t bother you, why bring it up at all?”  That is a valid question and I am glad you asked.

Even though this contest is certainly trivial in the scope of things, this caused me to appreciate something that I don’t take the time to express often enough, which is the support I do have from those who truly know me and love me anyway.

At the top of that list is my wife, Amelia.  She has been a steady and faithful presence in my life for over 16 years now and we will mark our 15th wedding anniversary with much joy in May.  My wife has been in my corner through thick and thin, which is how it is supposed to be in all marriages to be sure; but in modern society, this is a rare and wonderful gift I have been given from God.  I may have never told the story online before, but it brings tears to my eyes most every time I retell it in person.

When we were in Rapid City before our move in 2003, we went before the church that was voting on whether or not to call us to serve in ministry and were asked many questions.  At that time, I was thrilled to relate the story of how God had called us to the Dakotas and the series of events that had confirmed that call right up to that present time in the summer of 2003.  Looking back through the archives it seems that story never has been told on my blogs, I think I put it together for a newsletter years ago, but that will have to wait for another time.  Suffice it to say, that when I had finished this somewhat long and involved story about God’s work in our lives to move us to uproot the family and relocate to minister in South Dakota everyone was speechless.  Well, almost everyone anyway as the next question was directed to my wife.  Someone asked her, “how did God call you to come to South Dakota?”  Imagine my surprise, and there may have been a gasp or two, when the first words she spoke were, “God didn’t call me to South Dakota.”

I think my heart may have skipped a beat at that moment.  I could see the look of surprise on the face of the person who asked the question and the uncertainty on the faces of all those others who had not five seconds before been in awe and near tears at the amazing things God had done to let me know we were destined to be in South Dakota as soon as they voted yes for us to come.  It was the words that followed that moment of shock that will forever stay with me; and I honestly pray that if you are a husband, you will one day know this same joy if you don’t already.

My wife said, “God didn’t call me to South Dakota, He called me to be with him (me, Jeff); and wherever God calls Him to go is where He has called me to go!  I know that He has called my husband to be here and I am going where he goes.”

Even when I write that out now, there is a moment that is too heavy to take it in.  These aren’t just words.  My wife has lived this sentiment and statement every day now for almost as long as we have known one another.  We fell madly in love very quickly and even through an engagement that was far too drawn out for my tastes and hers, we have persevered in all things together.  That means far more to me than votes in a contest or friends on a facebook.  There is no one on this earth that has my back more than my wife, and that means the world to me.  God has blessed me beyond measure.

So, I am not worried about the outcome of an online competition.  Although I am not above making one last plea here at the blog for your vote, if you haven’t already done so (just vote for me only in the West regional :)).  I just wanted to take the opportunity to share my feelings heart to heart and electron to electron.

If we are friends here in the world of ones and zeros and don’t know each other face to face in flesh and blood, it is my prayer that if we never manage to meet this side of heaven; I will meet you on that beautiful shore.  God bless and shalom to you all.  And know this, if no one on earth has got your back, God will always have it.  He knows the hairs on your head and He knows everything about you and He loves you anyway.  That is the greatest blessing of all.

Categories: devotional, family, friends, Fun, Grace, Love, ministry, personal, SBC Blog Madness, Thanksgiving, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

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