Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Don't Worship The Turkey

Where Is Christ At Thanksgiving?

Thanksgiving images show tables groaning under their burden of food, surrounded by a happy throng of family members from multiple generations. The emphasis seems to be prosperity, family and tradition.

Should we not be thankful for prosperity and family?

Of course we should be thankful! But I think we tend to focus on the prosperity and family and tradition, while leaving Christ at the extreme fringe of our consciousness. We are thankful to God, but we are focused on the stuff. We give a nod to God, but it is the anticipation of the food and family and traditional activities that really makes our hearts race.

This is just another example of idolatry. We give the Lord a minute before the feast, but our hearts belong to the food, the fellowship and the fun.

Put Christ in His rightful place in your affections! Be thankful! Be joyful! Rejoice and praise the Lord - not because He has loaded you with good things, but because HE IS WORTHY of all our praise! Give Him glory and honor! Praise God that He is your Savior and Lord! Praise Him that your life does not consist of the stuff this world offers. Praise God that if you were suddenly bereft of your loved ones and had no home or food, you would still be rich in Christ.

In Jesus Christ we are rich regardless of the prosperity we experience in this sinful world.

I plan to have a GREAT time enjoying my family (especially my sweet grand-babies) and all of the food and fun over Thanksgiving. I am truly thankful for them all. God has graciously provided good things for me and my dear ones. But while I enjoy God's blessings, may I never allow those blessings displace God from His rightful throne at the center of my affections.
(Philippians 3:7-8) ¶ But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.
8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Bumper Sticker Theology

A while back I came across an F-Minus comic strip picturing two guys leaning back against a car trunk. The one is saying, "Of course I believe in stuff. I just don't bumper sticker believe in anything."

At WalMart today, I parked my "Pastr D" licensed truck next to a beat up car with Quebec plates. It was the bumper stickers that really captured my attention.

"Happy Atheist" and "Your imaginary friend is a dead Jewish carpenter."

He didn't seem so happy to me. Sounded more hostile than happy. When I came out to my truck with my purchases, the happy atheist came out to his car too. He didn't LOOK happy.

I seriously considered asking him what it is that makes him so happy.
  • Is it that he doesn't need to be concerned about answering to his Creator?
  • Is it that he likes the idea of having no consequences for his actions?
  • Is it that he has no questions about eternal destiny?
Certainly he can't be happy about some aspects of his atheism.
  • What is happy about a meaningless existence?
  • What is happy about having no purpose for living?
  • What is happy about having no hope for life beyond this broken world?
I suspect that he is not so much a happy atheist as an irritated atheist. He is probably "bumper sticking" in reaction to all the Christian bumper stickers he sees. It is his attempt to irritate the people who irritate him.

I was tempted to talk to him there in the parking lot, and I'm a bit sorry that I didn't. But I also suspect that talking to him there might have been just the kind of thing that he is reacting against. Nevertheless, I did try to look happy and smile at him.

People like that happy atheist need a good Christian friend who can live out the gospel in their relationship rather than just post (irritating) slogans on their bumpers.

There truly IS a difference between believing something and "bumper sticker believing."

Friday, November 20, 2009


I talked to a man today about eternal life. He was in the hospital with an IV in his arm and heart monitor patches glued on his chest and sides. His scar from a previous open heart surgery was clearly visible on the center of his chest as we talked.

I asked him, "Are you sure that when you die you will be accepted by God into heaven?" He said, "I won't know until I get there." "Won't that be a bit too late?" I asked.

But he is not afraid. He talked and talked. He wasn't afraid when he had his open heart surgery. He isn't afraid now. He was born and raised in the Roman Catholic church. Even though he never attends Catholic services or partakes of Catholic sacraments, his confidence is in his identity and background in the church. He wakes up in the morning and praises God for a new day. He does the best that he can do in his life. He doesn't worry about what anyone else believes - including his children. He goes to bed at night and entrusts himself to God. He reads his Bible every day, he told me.

Eventually I asked if I could borrow his Bible that he reads every day to show him something there. He graciously and tenderly handed me the two small books. One was the Catholic catechism. The other a well worn copy of the Catholic Faith Handbook For Youth.

Not a Bible at all. This explains why his long accounts of biblical history are completely out of step with what the Bible really teaches (e.g., we are all Jewish because Adam and Eve were Jewish.)

So what does he believe?
1) He believes that if he is good enough (and he is sure that he is), God will let him into heaven. As he says, he does the best he can do, and that will have to be enough.
2) He believes that it doesn't matter what you believe, as long as you believe it with all your heart. According to him, there is no objective knowledge of God based on the Bible - there is only what resonates with you. That's why he doesn't care very much what religion his children are following.
3) He believes that he is the measure of everything... right and wrong, good and bad, true or not true. He and he alone can tell the truth, but nobody can tell him. Whatever he has picked up or thought up - no matter how contrary to the facts - is true because he believes it to be true.

I like this man. He is an interesting man. He is an articulate man. He is a vibrant, bright eyed, gregarious man.

But he is lost. He doesn't know the basic truth of the Gospel - that all have sinned - that the wages of sin is death - that the only remedy is the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ - God's gracious gift, received by faith and not by works.

But even though he is lost, he is not frightened. He has great confidence. He faces the approach of his own death with complete calm. Just like John Bunyan's character, Ignorance, he will cross the river of death without getting his feet wet because he has hired a ferryman of dubious origin. The ferryman's name is "Vainhope."

So, while this man is not afraid, I am afraid for him. He needs Christ. I pray that God will open his eyes and his heart, that the word of God might enter and give him light.
(John 3:36) He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Jesus Changes Everything

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. Are you thankful?

The Greek word that is often translated "give thanks" in the New Testament is related to the word Eucharist. Its roughly literal meaning is "good grace" or "good gift." It suggests an expression of gratitude for the gift that has been received. I suppose that the word came to be used of the communion service because the scripture says, "He took bread, and when He had given thanks (eucharist), He broke it..." (1Cor. 11:23-24)

When we remember Christ in the communion service, we are thankful for Christ, the indescribable gift of God. (2Corinthians 9:15)

Why do we do the things that we do? Why do we get up? Why do we get dressed and go to work? Why do we say the things we say? Why are we happy? Why are we upset? Why do we obsess about some things and ignore others? What is our motive? What is our governing principle?

It seems like there are plenty of potential answers that are not so positive: physical pleasure, personal gratification, peer pressure, guilt, joy, rage, pride, greed, sloth, etc. Truth be known, these are the answers far too often. This is our natural condition as followers of "...the course of this world." (Eph. 2:2)

But in Christ we have died to our old life and have been raised to walk in newness of life. Now we have a completely different perspective on the world and our life in it.
(Colossians 3:1-2) If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.
2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

Jesus changes everything. We can now see beyond the petty cares of this world. We finally have something of genuine value that will never depreciate. Everything this world offers fades into dim obscurity by comparison.

What is our motive? It is to please Jesus Christ.
What is our governing principle? It is our gratitude for God's grace.
(Colossians 3:17) And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks (eucharist) to God the Father through Him.

Let us be truly thankful.
(2Corinthians 9:15) Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Monday, November 16, 2009

So Great Salvation!

Consider our calling as followers of Christ.
(2Peter 1:2-4) ¶ Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,
3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

In Christ we have:
  • grace & peace
  • everything pertaining to life & godliness
  • a call to glory and virtue
  • exceedingly great and precious promises
  • we are partakers of the divine nature
  • we have escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust
Wow! Do we advertise all these things in the gospel?

So much of what pretends to be Christianity in America today suggests that people can be followers of Christ with a few slight cosmetic changes. Their goals, their pleasures, their lives are the same as ever, but now they are "Christians" and sure of their place in heaven.

But the call to salvation is the call to follow Jesus. Any response that does not originate in a new heart and result in a new life is bogus. The confidence of the believer is that God is at work in him to make him significantly different than the slave of sin he used to be.
(2Peter 1:5-10) ¶ But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge,
6 to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness,
7 to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love.
8 For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
9 For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was cleansed from his old sins.
10 ¶ Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble;

Press on, true followers of Jesus Christ. Don't settle for some anemic imitation. Follow hard after Jesus! Give Him your whole heart. Pursue Him with your whole being! Let Him consume your whole life, for the Glory of God!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Every idle word

Think of all the words you say (or type or text) on any given day. We live in a river of communication. A flood of words washes around us like a river. We are completely submerged in words and to that deluge we add our own steady stream of words.

What do we say? We preach, teach, chide, encourage, inform, tell, gossip, question, exclaim and entreat! We use words in our most public and most intimate lives. We use words that many people might hear and words that we hope will not be overheard at all.

Do we pay enough attention to what we say?
(Matthew 12:34-37) Brood of vipers! How can you, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.
35 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.
36 But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment.
37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”
Our words are important because they reveal the contents of our hearts. Are we filled with truth? Then what we speak will be truth. Half truths or lies reveal our deceitful heart. Are we full of anger? Then our words will be bitter. Are we foolish? Then our words will be silly. Are we filled with pride? Boasts or false humility will reveal it.

You get the idea. Our words are a window on our soul. Jesus was interested in "every idle word" because, in fact, every word comes from the heart and reveals the heart. It will be the testimony introduced at the judgment.

What should we do? Should we be more careful what we say? Certainly so! We should be careful to listen more and talk less.
(James 3:1-2) My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.
2 For we all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle the whole body.
(James 1:19) ¶ So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath;
(Proverbs 17:28) Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
But this is only a partial answer and not enough.

The ultimate answer is not the window to the heart, but the heart itself. We need the new heart that God gives through Christ. We need to let the Spirit of God bring forth the fruit of righteousness in our soul.
(2Corinthians 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

(Galatians 5:22-23) ¶ But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,
23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fall Days

We have been enjoying beautiful, sunny, late fall weather. What glorious golden days these are! They make me feel rich. What a great gift from God - beautiful days and life to enjoy them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Bountiful Blessings

Today I am leaving home for a training seminar near Harrisburg, PA. Consequently I am completely confused. My routine is completely out of whack. I am supposed to be getting things ready to go... and I suppose I am except for taking this time to write this blog.

What I hate is the feeling of forgetting things. I make notes and lists and lay things out. But I am still concerned about the thing that I might have forgotten to write down or list or lay out. Those are the things you remember after you have driven 5 hours. Oops!

But, praise the Lord! It is a beautiful sunshiny morning. I thought it was supposed to rain, but I am not disappointed.

Praise the Lord that I have time to get things in order and into my truck for the trip. I have time to go and vote. I have time to finish a few odds and ends of work before I hit the road.

Praise the Lord that I get to go to the training. It is sure to be stimulating. I will also have fellowship with some new people and some that I know, but rarely see.

Praise the Lord for computers and cell phones and e-mail. Even though I am out of the office for most of a week, I will be able to stay in touch and get my work done in the evenings. While I don't like everything about the proliferation of cell phones - I sure do like begin able to stay in touch with my loved ones while I am away from home.

Praise the Lord!

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Pastor's Monday

I can't speak for every pastor, but for me Monday morning is always a combination of reviewing events and encounters from Sunday, and planning my work for the week ahead. I don't take Monday off. I am still energized from Sunday. I want to use that energy to get a good start on preparations for next weekend.

On Monday I always think about who attended Sunday's services and who didn't. I guess it is a shepherd thing. When sheep show up or don't show up at feeding time the shepherd wonders about it. It is not about keeping score... but about caring for the health and safety of the sheep.

Some new sheep unexpectedly appeared. Where did they come from? What are they here for? What should I do about them? How can I meet their needs?

Other sheep were missing! Where were they? Do I need to go after them? Are they physically or spiritually sick? Have they been attacked by wolves? How can I meet their needs?

People attend church in predictable patterns that are certainly related to their perspective on and their commitment to the ministry. Some people attend every service. It is a surprise when they are missing (though they usually warn you in advance.) Other people attend just one service a week - and for some that one service is in jeopardy if there is any plausible excuse.

Guess whose spiritual health the pastor worries about.

There are people to whom one hour a week is more of a burden than a blessing. There are people who consider church attendance to be like a necessary dose of an unpleasant medicine. They go, when they go, because they think they should - but not because they want too.

I think that is so sad! Here are people who have not discovered the rapturous joy that is only found in Jesus Christ - our Lord and Savior! For them Jesus cannot compete with the pleasures of sleeping in or a football game or a ride in the country or reading a novel or watching T.V. or even vacuuming the house.

Do they really know Jesus at all? How can they know Him - really know Him - and be content to live away from the gathering of the redeemed where Jesus is exalted in praise and testimony and where His word is preached and taught so that we can be further set apart to Him? How can they stand to live on such a thin soup when there is a rich and varied banquet provided?

I suppose that when anyone is "off his feed," he is sick. And so I fret. What can I do? I can pray. I can preach. I can call. I can confront. But I cannot change a person's heart.

Ah, Lord! Change people's hearts! Let them have no other gods but you - not only in their theology, but also in their affections.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-5) ¶ “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.