Thursday, December 29, 2005

Words of Grace for January 1

Romans 1:1-2 - Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures

The way the book of Romans begins seems innocent enough. It begins like so many of the other letters of the New Testament - with an introduction of the author and of his subject. But there is so much we can learn from this simple introduction. Take the first word for instance: Paul. If you read some of the New Testament record of Paul, both before and after his conversion, you see an amazing man who gave his all for the cause he believed in.

Paul describes himself in Philippians 3:5-14 as a very devout religious Jew. He was a member of the strict sect known as the Pharisees. He was very self-righteous, claiming that he had believed he was blameless where the law of God was concerned. He was so zealous that he thought he was pleasing God by killing Christians. And yet the church’s greatest enemy eventually became it’s most ardent supporter.

What could turn a man from a murderer into a missionary? The answer is the message of the Book of Romans. The gospel, or good news, of God is the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. It is what changed Paul. And it can change you. If your past is not something you would be proud to write about, take heart. The gospel arrives with the good news that you can be forgiven and changed if you will believe.

1. Read Acts 22:1-5; Acts 26:1-5 and Philippians 3:4-6. What do these passages say about Paul (Saul)? (NOTE TO PARENTS: Have children read the passages. If they are too young to read, you read slowly and have them listen for specific descriptions of Paul. The purpose of this question for you and your family is observation of what the text says)

2. According to Philippians 3:7, how did Paul feel about his past accomplishments in religion? Discuss how this relates to your feelings about your religious accomplishments. (Parents may want to talk about “works” such as church attendance, AWANA awards, Bible knowledge. Emphasize that although there is nothing wrong with these per se, resting your faith on these works is called sin)

Children’s Catechism Question
Q - Who made you?
A - God made me.

Adult Catechism Question (Keach's Catechism)
Q - Who is the first and best of beings?
A - God is the first and best of beings.

Suggested Hymn
Immortal, Invisible, God only Wise

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

A Little Warning

Just to tell both of you that actually read this blog and have gotten bored because I never update it, I am going to be doing just that in the near future! (Hold your applause, please.) I am going to be starting a new project with my church - having them memorize 2 verses from Romans every week. The goal is to have the whole book memorized in 4 years. Some could do it faster, some need more time, but this should work.

In order to help, I am going to be providing a daily study on the verses we are memorizing. There will be a brief devotional-style discussion, then some questions to give further study opportunities. I will also be including questions and answers from Keach's Baptist catechism and the Children's catechism, as well as suggested hymns to sing for family devotion time. I will be using these during my own family worship and hope to stimulate the church I serve, as well as the church universal, to further study and worship.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

2,131 Ten Years Later

Now I know that I am getting old. It has been 10 years since number eight trotted around Camden Yards (I never could call it Oriole Park) and single-handedly saved baseball as we know it. I didn't get to see the game live, because ten years ago, September 6 was a Wednesday night. Being a good Baptist, we had prayer meeting and choir rehearsal. I couldn't skip because I was, well, the music minister. They wouldn't cancel the service because they didn't care about Cal Ripken or the Orioles. So I did the next best thing. I taped it. I still have that tape, and I hope Major League Baseball doesn't come after me if I get nostalgic and illegally rebroadcast it on my tv without their "express written consent."

Cal was a throw-back player. He went to work because he had a job to do. Now, I don't buy that the person playing baseball is any greater than the person who works construction all his life. Playing ball might require an entirely different set of skills, but it is a job none-the-less. But imagine, if you will, that you go out to the construction site every day for almost 6 years without a day off. That means you never call in sick, never take a vacation, and get no days off for holidays. This is, in effect, what the iron-man did. And he did it with a spirit of humility. I used to think Rafael Palmeiro was that type, but I have recently been disappointed by him.

Now to the spiritual part of this: How come we have to look to Major League Baseball to find someone who is a hard worker with a humble attitude? Where are the Christian leaders of today who spend themselves in the cause of Christ, asking nothing in return? I could name a few, but I run out of names before I run out of fingers. Oh, that we, who claim to be under-shepherds in Christ's church, would be iron-men, who work hard, never give up, stick it out to the end, and do so with a spirit of humility.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Blogging and the Important Things of Life

Ok, Ok. I have just been informed via cell phone email that I need to update my blog. You know how it is. You have good intentions, but other things take priority. I, fortunately, am not like my fellow-Calvinist friend Bill who can't sleep at night and blogs at three in the morning. I need my rest. I also, unlike my friend Bill, don't sit out on the back deck with my new computer and wireless network and update my blog. Some have special talent, that is not one of mine.

But I will attempt to stay on top of things. One of the things that has caught my attention over the last few day, as I'm sure it has everyone else, is the aftermath of Katrina. (If your name happens to be Katrina, this has no reference to you!) This has been stunning. The loss of life and property is tragic. The helplessness of the people in New Orleans and Alabama, specifically, is sad. The fact that George Bush is being blamed is ludicrous. And the fact that more people aren't saying this is an act of God is concerning.

Please understand, I am not saying that this is a direct punishment of God on any particular sin of any particular people as some have said. Although that case could be made. But I am saying that God is sovereign. Lest we forget who is in charge of the wind and the waves, God every-once-in-a-while shows us how little we are.

It is interesting to me that Isaiah 45 tells us: "That they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting That there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; 7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things.'

God does things every so often to get our attention and put us in our place. We, as Christians, have a responsibility not only to meet the physical needs of the people in these devestated places (especially those of the household of faith), but also to point them to the One who uses these things to show His glory in the earth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Gospel Truth

There have been a lot of things over the years that I have been able to put up with in the evangelical movement. But a distortion of the gospel is not one of them. Turn on the TV on Sunday morning and you will hear anything but the message of the cross. Every week I try not to burn iron marks into my shirt while a smiling Joel Osteen tells me how I need to think nicer thoughts about those around me and then slips in a prayer at the end of his "sermon" so that I can begin my "Best Life Now."
Or take a recent discussion I have been having on an email list I am on. We have been discussing Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life. His gospel presentation, found on page 58 consists of "Believe God loves us and made us for his purpose" and "Receive Jesus into your lives as Savior and Lord by praying this prayer." What follows is even a corruption of the sinner's prayer: "Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you." That's it. You're now a Christian.

Is it any wonder that, according to the Founder's Ministries blog, the Southern Baptist Convention reports that they have over 16 million members and only 6 million in attendance? Is 37% follow-through acceptable? Or is this an indication that in our desire to be relevant, we have lost the gospel.

How often are we willing to take the time and effort to share the gospel like Paul did in Romans? He spent 11 chapters detailing to the church in Rome the gospel that He was going to be preaching when he got there. Did you ever sit down and read those 11 chapters straight through? It will probably take more than an hour. No fast-food gospel here.

When was the last time we heard about the holiness of God. We must remember that when Jesus presented to good news to the Jews, their background was the Old Testament. The Old Testament is filled with the holiness of God, especially the Law, and they were very aware of it. Why do we not use the Law when presenting the gospel to show people that God is holy and we are not? Is the practice of our Lord not good enough for us? (See Matthew 5-7 for Jesus' use of the Law.)

What about the cross and the need to repent and believe? Why are we afraid of giving the message clearly? Is it because we would not be popular? The modern evangelical presentation of the gospel has turned into a feel-good message that leaves out anything offensive. Is it any wonder 63% of the people who are members of evangelicalism's largest denomination don't even go to church?

We are told in 1 Corinthians 1:18 that the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God. If we want to see real revival, and not just temporary emotional responses to big stadium events, it's time we get back to preaching foolishness and the power of God.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Things That Separate Us

We live in a world in which distinctions are blurred and the question "Can't we all just get along" is of paramount importance. We are told that we should not call homosexuality a sin because that would be hate-speech. We enjoy watching a nationwide prayer service at the National Cathedral where a Muslim and a "Christian" pray to god simultaneously without a second thought. We are called by society at large to keep our religion to ourselves (unless of course it involves a turban or a red dot on your forehead) in order to maintain a peaceful existence. After all, all roads lead to Rome. Or at least all religions are equally valid. Right?

But two things over the last few days have really brought to the forefront the distinctions between what is the true religion, biblical Christianity, and what is a false man-made religion. The first was the sermon I preached this week in church. It was from Luke 9 where Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. The answer? The Christ, Son of the Living God. This answer, which according to Matthew came from the Father directly to Peter, is what separates us from every other religion. The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe Jesus is God. They believe he was the first created being, a heresy that was rejected at the Council of Nicea in 325. Most other religions, if they have anything to say about Jesus, believe that he was just a man. A good man, but just a man.

The second thing was my "read-through-the-Bible" passage from this morning. It was Mark 16 - The resurrection. According to Romans 1, it is the resurrection that declares to us the deity of Christ. It is the resurrection that proved God's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ. It is the resurrection that gives us, as His followers, the hope that He will return and raise us from the dead.

It is the resurrection that makes us a laughing stock to the rest of the world. This happened to Paul in Athens. He had them listening to him until he spoke of the resurrection. That was when they mocked him, for they were naturalists, who did not believe in any resurrection. We, too, live in a naturalistic society that mocks us when we proclaim that our Lord died and was raised on the third day. Even from within the ranks of those who call themselves Christians, we will hear naturalistic explanations, such as "his spirit lives on." This is ridiculous. The resurrection is true or Christianity isn't true. We cannot back down on this point.

These two areas, the deity and the resurrection of Christ, are what separate us from all other religions. There are many others, such as the five Solas of the reformation (sola gratia, sola fide, sola scriptura, solus Christus, soli Deo gloria), that distinguish us from others who claim to be Christians. But the deity and resurrection of Christ are two things that distinguish us from the rest of society. And these are two things about which we cannot be silent. For in every gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), the event which immediately follows the resurrection is the Great Commision, where Jesus commands us to go and tell everyone else about it.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Original Post

Since this is my first forray into the blogosphere, you will all have to cut me a little slack. This blog will contain my thoughts (hence the name) on a variety of subjects. And since I am passionate about religion, especially biblical (also known as "reformed") Christianity, and politics, I figure I can stir up some good conversations. Ultimately, I hope that everything I say brings glory to God, since that is all that matters anyway.

So, here's my first musing: Peter Jennings died of lung cancer today. He hadn't smoked for more than 20 years, but the damage had been done. It seems that the major news media is falling apart. First, the emergence of the "new media" with AM talk shows and cable news. Then, the disgrace that was Dan Rather finally coming to light. And now, Peter Jennings is gone. He was probably the only one of the major news anchors that I could put up with. I find it interesting, in this era when those in the public eye are talking about leaving America and renouncing their citizenship, that in 2003 he becam a US citizen. When asked about the timing, he said, "Did 9/11 make a difference? Yes, it did make a difference." I respected Peter Jennings as much as I can respect anyone from the major news media. I am sure much of America will miss him.