Rockport Sermon

Monday, December 29, 2008

"Jesus Loves Me, this I Know!"

Some questions have been asked concerning my message on Sunday Morning, “Jesus Loves Me This I Know”, and the question of our sins and God’s anger. I want to try to make this response as brief as possible. I want to begin by affirming that, NO dear friends, God is not angry with us because of our sins. Now doesn’t that cause the believer to want to go out and sin with impunity? No, it doesn’t. The gospel makes the believer want to live a holy life. The question is, how does he do that, which is actually another message, but part of the answer is believing that what God says is true. Actually, it is very common for believers to live lives filled with guilt concerning their sins, and feel that God is continually mad, or “upset” with them. No, dear ones, God has forgiven you “all trespasses”. Isn’t He gracious? Isn’t He kind? Doesn’t that make you want to love Him more? Be patient. “He that has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” It is His love, kindness and forgiveness that excite us towards a practical living out a pure life, not His anger.
One verse that was referenced in questions about God’s anger for sin toward the believer was Gal 5:7.
Gal 5:7- Be not deceived, God is not mocked; for what ever a man sows that will he also reap.
The context of this verse has most to do with the believer doing good, especially concerning those who labor in the gospel
He is certainly not talking about the sins of a believer, for in the very next verse, the result of the wrong type of sowing is corruption, and the result of the right type of sowing is eternal life.
If anything, this verse has more of a reference to character and a hope for eternity, whether false or true.
It makes for “good preaching on sin”, to use this verse to attempt to prevent the believer from sinning, but it is simply the wrong use of scripture for a gospel preacher.
If this verse is the only ground we are going to stand on to attempt to prove that “God gets angry with his children”, than we are on shaky ground.
Spiritual warfare again sin is another subject, which always needs to be addressed. The true believer always desires to fight against sin, but the question of how that is scripturally carried on is another subject also. I would maintain that a big part of it is having our minds renewed concerning sin, the cross and the love of God. We are always to admonish one another concerning sin, but more importantly, we are to point one another to Christ. The believer is always to strive against and resist sin, but how is that accomplished? We are admonished by Paul in Romans concerning “reckoning” and “yielding” and it would pay great dividends to us to study what he says. Scott covered this beautifully in his exegesis of Romans, where the doctrine of sin is most full covered. Scott’s work on this subject is very clear.
In essence, when we understand that "We are dead, and our lives are hidden with God in Christ" Col 3:3, our theology about God's attitude towards us my get cleared up.
Another question that was raised was concerning the "discipline of God". Yes, God does discipline his children, but it always in love. God never disciplines his children in anger. (by the way, just like we should not!) His discipline is "for our good", not as a result of His being angry at us. it is simply His way of training the believer for godliness.
when I was in training for football, it was rigorous. It was often painful. It was sometimes not fun! but there was no anger or punishment involved. I was being prepared for survival! When a head to head collision came between me and some young 20 year old college football player, I wanted to be prepared. My trainers and coaches were kind to me to get me ready for those days, or I may not be walking today. God is so kind and good to discipline His children, and give them His grace in order to endure trials.
the scriptures teach us that it is God's goodness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath. that, glory to Him, was vented upon Christ, for us.
let's rejoice that we have such a loving God, who although He will pour out His wrath without mixture upon them that do not know Christ, upon His blessed children, He will lavish only grace upon grace.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Brief Response to my son, regarding Mark Driscolls' "Death by Love" and Dr. Bruce Wares' article.

Dear son,
First, let me say that Driscolls new book , "Death by Love", is an extremely valueable book. What a blessing it is to the church and to many lost souls. God bless him and Dr. Breshears for this worthy work. What I am about to say, is being said matter of factly, and I encourage you to search these things out for yourself. Should you come to a different conclusion than me, that is fine. I want to again congratulate you for your accomplishments, in particular, for your choice of reading. And this book would certainly rank in the top of the many recent releases that are a great blessing to the church. I also read, Dr Bruce Ware's article on the mentioned subject, and applaud Dr Ware for his service to Southern and to the church.
Although I respect both Mark Driscoll and Dr. Bruce Ware, I must disagree with the limited/ unlimited view of atonement that they represent. They are good men, and are of great value to the church, but on this point, I believe that although sincere, they are wrong.
Although I understand the tone of this letter to his son, the implications of are simply the historical “four point Calvinism” stand that many Baptists hold to. I personally believe in an atonement that was efficient for the elect only, although certainly sufficient in value for the entire world. This does not mean that the atonement was “potentially” a benefit in particular for every single individual in the entire world at all. This would exclude the doctrine of unconditional election according to the foreknowledge of God. In fact, His foreknowledge of the elect would be no certain foreknowledge at all.
Basically the oxymoron of a limited / unlimited atonement is an old twist of Arminianism which basically states that the elect are those who believe, whom God foreknew would believe. In other words, it is all contingent on the activating of something for man by man. No my son, Salvation is of the Lord, and neither activating of faith for salvation or for the full benefits of the atonement ring true with a Sovereign salvation.

What does Driscoll mean when he says that God “desires” the salvation of all?
Does he mean that God “wills” the salvation of all? If so, then God is not able to accomplish what He wills.

In citing 1 Timothy 4:10, Driscoll mentions Christ “dying” as the Savior of all people in a general way.
First of all, the text in question in no way refers to the death of Christ in reference to all men. Christ is indeed the only Savior and in fact the only sustainer of life and existence. He is said in Pauls’ epistle to the Colossians to uphold all things by the Word of his Power. But here in Timothy Paul clearly refers to GOD, as the Saviour of all men, and in particular, those that believe. This is because God, the creator does indeed bless both the just and the unjust with his blessings of air, rain, food, etc. All life is from God. In fact, God is the Savior of the elect, because it was His plan to save the elect. It was not His plan to save the rest.
Driscoll using the words “Jesus’ dying….” instead of “the living God, who is the Savior…” brings questions to my mind. The references here and in 2 Peter 2:1 are similar to Wares arguments, but leave out some important things.
In Timothy, the entire passage is referring to the Providence of God upon all, and especially His providence on them who would believe, i;e; the elect. It is no secret that God has his hand in a special way on those whom He has ordained to eternal life.
Clearly the reference in I Timothy has nothing whatsoever to do with either the sufficiency or the efficiency of the atonement, which Driscoll later refers to. Although he is correct in his assessment that the atonement is sufficient in its value to redeem the world, and in fact, a world of worlds, the atonement is, as he says, efficient for the elect only.
This is in fact the historical position of those who would be deemed “Calvinist”. Driscoll’s conclusion here certainly falls within the beliefs that most "Calvinists" would espouse, although I really hesitate to use that word, since my belief in election and a limited atonement had nothing to do with Calvin per se.
Again, we would be sure to emphasize that Paul’s use of the word “all” has more to do with, “NOT JUST JEWS”, as is clear in some of his other epistles, which point I would be glad to elaborate on if I have time. This, to me, is a key note in interpreting many passages in James and Hebrews also, not to mention John’s letters.
It is the same in I Timothy 2:4, where the “will of God” is misunderstood, and so the conclusion is easily drawn wrongly, that God “desires” every single individual to be saved. This would mean that God’s will could be frustrated. And of course it can’t. The Sovreign, omnipotent, and all-wise God, could not will and decree something to happen and it not happen. It is a divine impossibility. But He could will that all men, rich and poor, bond and free, Jew and Gentile, etc. would be saved. All men from every context, nation and tribe, etc. Do you see how critical this Jewish understanding of these epistles are?
The entire context of the passage here in fact is Paul’s admonition to godliness, and that those who exercise themselves thereunto, have their reward, even though suffering. The reward is in the labor itself. There is no particular intention of Paul to address atonement or its sufficiency.
Driscolls reference to “a pile of verses” though in a “letter to his son” is inadequate, because we doubt the interpretation of each verse he may refer to by someone whose bent is Arminian.
In fact, here is a quote by Calvin on this passage, who Driscoll asserts would agree with him, after citing this passage.
“Who is the Savior. {1} This is the second consolation, though it depends on the former; for the deliverance of which he speaks may be viewed as the fruit of hope. To make this more clear, it ought to be understood that this is an argument drawn from the less to the greater; for the word swthr {2} is here a general term, and denotes one who defends and preserves. He means that the kindness of God extends to all men. And if there is no man who does not feel the goodness of God towards him, and who is not a partaker of it, how much more shall it be experienced by the godly, who hope in him? Will he not take peculiar care in them? Will he not more freely pour out his bounty on them? In a word, will he not, in every respect, keep them safe to the end?

Calvin’s notes on Col 1:14 have to do with redemption and forgiveness. Surely Driscoll, in citing Calvins comments on expiation, does not think that the sins of the entire world have been covered, or expiated? well, I guess he does in some way. But, in my estimation, this is redemption and only the elect are redeemed.

Driscoll comments also on Calvins notes on Gal 5:12, citing that Christ suffered for the sins of the whole world, failing to mention that the text says that Paul’s desire was that some would even be emasculated, and at another time, he called curses on them that did not preach the same gospel as he.
Calvins notes in context have to do with our responsibility to glorify God above all, and that even though Christ may have died for “all men”, i.e. even those Jews whom Paul denounces, we ought to aim at the glory of God before the salvation of men. That was the force of Calvins argument on Gal 5:12

Having said this, I would not disagree that Calvin seems to lean towards a “general” redemption in some of his writings, but this is debated among scholars, and when his writings are closely looked at, it seems that Calvin understood the bent of the Jews to claim the Messiah as only theirs.
For instance, see these notes of Calvin, directly addressing the point from 1 John 2:2:
“the design of John was no other than to make this benefit common to the whole Church. Then under the word all or whole, he does not include the reprobate, but designates those who should believe as well as those who were then scattered through various parts of the world. For then is really made evident, as it is meet, the grace of Christ, when it is declared to be the only true salvation of the world.”

Yes, certainly there are universal benefits of Calvary that are apparent. Societal, our laws, our culture, etc. That is not the point. The point is that, certain summations, for instance, that those is hell are somehow “reconciled “ to God, and are no longer rebels, is contradictory to my understanding of scripture.
Those in hell are eternally tormented. What kind of reconciliation could there possibly be? What scripture does he offer that they are no longer rebels?
Wares’ and now Driscolls’ assertion on these facts are no where scripturally based. It is simply an assumption that if all things are now reconciled, that there hell is included, when Paul goes on to specifically mention all things regarding “earth and heaven”. Hell is a thing in and of itself.

Ware and Driscoll also mention their assertion that Christ died so that there might be “bona-fide” offer of the gospel. This is to assert that the offer of the gospel can not be made in “good faith” to everyone, or that it is not a sincere offer of the gospel, unless the atonement could be applied to the person who believes. Of course this is an unnecessary argument, because it is clear that “everyone who believes” is saved. Our responsibility is to preach the gospel to all men, not to save all men. That is God’s job. Our job is to preach the gospel of Christ crucified, dying and being raised for our justification. God’s job is to use His word to save those whom He gives faith. (It might help to have a good understanding also of what the Foreknowledge of God means.)

When Ware and Driscoll talk of a redemption for the entire world and an atonement only for the elect. To me, that doesn’t make sense
What kind of a salvation is a potential salvation?
These and other questions have not been sufficiently addressed by either Ware or Driscoll for my satisfaction.
There is so much more that can be said, but I hope some of these issues that I have raised will only heighten your desire to fully search these things out in scripture for yourself.
Let’s talk more about this and investigate the glories of our atonement further. Especially the fact of the substitutionary aspect which propitiated the wrath of God due us!
All my love,
Dad

Monday, December 22, 2008

Only Jesus

My wife, Amy, has always had a time sitting still. Her active mind is always buzzing about something. Even in church she tends to need to occupy herself with something as she listens and participates with the congregation. This past Sunday night as we were all celebrating Christmas together, Amy was jotting down some of the thoughts that were pouring through her brain. She shared them with our congregation just before I got up to preach. I thought they are an excellent summation of why only Jesus is worthy of all praise!

Here is what she wrote:

Only Jesus


Only Jesus can be our Great High Priest


And our sacrifice




Only Jesus can be our judge

And our advocate




Only Jesus can be born


Of his own creation




Only Jesus can be humble enough


To be highly exalted




Only Jesus can be seated at the right hand of the Father


And be with us always




Only Jesus can be the hearer of all our cries


And cry out in intercession




Only Jesus can be the alpha


And the omega




Only Jesus can be the Lion


And the lamb




Only Jesus can say “It is Finished”


And “I am completing a good work in you”




Only Jesus can be feared


And calm our every fear




Only Jesus could have nothing in his appearance that we would desire him


And be the joy of man’s desire




Only Jesus can be despised and rejected


And draw all men unto himself




Only Jesus can exist before time


And appear when the time had fully come




Only Jesus could empty himself


And be the fullness of God in bodily form




Only Jesus

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reading the Bible in 2009

One of the things our elders hope to stress this year is to see our congregation committed to reading through the Bible using R M M'Cheyne's Bible reading plan (which can be found by clicking here or, in a really nice automatic 'daily reading file in the ESV by clicking here). Below is what M'Cheyne wrote when he first introduced the plan to his congregation in 1842. I thought it was well worth posting here. - SSL


Daily Bread,
being a calendar for reading through
the Word of God in a year

by Robert Murray M'Cheyne

"Thy Word is very pure; therefore thy servant loveth it."

Robert Murray McCheyneMY DEAR FLOCK,—The approach of another year stirs up within me new desires for your salvation, and for the growth of those of you who are saved. "God is my record how greatly I long after you all in the bowels of Jesus Christ." What the coming year is to bring forth, who can tell? There is plainly a weight lying on the spirits of all good men, and a looking for some strange work of judgment coming upon this land. There is need now to ask that solemn question— "If in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?"

Those believers will stand firmest who have no dependence upon self or upon creatures, but upon Jehovah our Righteousness. We must be driven more to our Bibles, and to the mercy-seat, if we are to stand in the evil day. Then we shall be able to say like David—, "The proud have had me greatly in derision, yet have I not declined from thy law." "Princes have persecuted me without a cause, but my heart standeth in awe of thy Word."

It has long been in my mind to prepare a scheme of Scripture reading, in which as many as were made willing by God might agree, so that the whole Bible might be read once by you in the year, and all might be feeding in the same portion of the green pasture at the same time.

I am quite aware that such a plan is accompanied with many

DANGERS.

1. Formality. We are such weak creatures that any regularly returning duty is apt to degenerate into a lifeless form. The tendency of reading the Word by a fixed rule may, in some minds, be to create this skeleton religion. This is to be the peculiar sin of the last days— "Having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof." Guard against this. Let the calendar perish rather than this rust eat up your souls.
2. Self-righteousness. Some, when they have devoted their set time to reading the Word, and accomplished their prescribed portion, may be tempted to look at themselves with self-complacency. Many, I am persuaded, are living without any Divine work on their soul — unpardoned, and unsanctified, and ready to perish — who spend their appointed times in secret and family devotion. This is going to hell with a lie in the right hand.
3. Careless reading. Few tremble at the Word of God. Few, in reading it, hear the voice of Jehovah, which is full of majesty. Some, by having so large a portion, may be tempted to weary of it, as Israel did of the daily manna, saying—, "Our soul loatheth this light bread;" and to read it in a slight and careless manner. This would be fearfully provoking to God. Take heed lest that word be true of you— "Ye said, also, Behold, what a weariness is it! and ye have snuffed at it, saith the Lord of Hosts."
4. A yoke too heavy to bear. Some may engage in reading with alacrity for a time, and afterwards feel it a burden grievous to be borne. They may find conscience dragging them through the appointed task without any relish of the heavenly food. If this be the case with any, throw aside the fetter and feed at liberty in the sweet garden of God. My desire is not to cast a snare upon you, but to be a helper of your joy.
If there be so many dangers, why propose such a scheme at all? To this I answer, that the best things are accompanied with danger, as the fairest flowers are often gathered in the clefts of some dangerous precipice. Let us weigh

THE ADVANTAGES.

1. The whole Bible will be read through in an orderly manner in the course of a year. The Old Testament once, the New Testament and Psalms twice. I fear many of you never read the whole Bible; and yet it is all equally divine. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect." If we pass over some parts of Scripture, we shall be incomplete Christians.
2. Time will not be wasted in choosing what portions to read. Often believers are at a loss to determine towards which part of the mountains of spices they should bend their steps. Here the question will be solved at once in a very simple manner.
3. Parents will have a regular subject upon which to examine their children and servants. It is much to be desired that family worship were made more instructive than it generally is. The mere reading of the chapter is often too like water split on the ground. Let it be read by every member of the family beforehand, and then the meaning and application drawn out by simple question and answer. The calendar will be helpful in this. Friends, also, when they meet, will have a subject for profitable conversation in the portions read that day. The meaning of difficult passages may be inquired from the more judicious and ripe Christians, and the fragrance of simpler Scriptures spread abroad.
4. The pastor will know in what part of the pasture the flock are feeding. He will thus be enabled to speak more suitably to them on the Sabbath; and both pastor and elders will be able to drop a word of light and comfort in visiting from house to house, which will be more readily responded to.
5. The sweet bond of Christian love and unity will be strengthened. We shall be often led to think of those dear brothers and sisters in the Lord, here and elsewhere, who agree to join with us in reading these portions. We shall oftener be led to agree on earth, touching something we shall ask of God. We shall pray over the same promises, mourn over the same confessions, praise God in the same songs, and be nourished by the same words of eternal life.


CALENDAR DIRECTIONS
McCheyne's Daily Bible Reading Schedule.

1. The [first] column contains the day of the month. The next two columns contain the chapter to be read in the family. The two last columns contain the portions to be read in secret.
2. The head of the family should previously read over the chapter for family worship, and mark two or three of the most prominent verses, upon which he may dwell, asking a few simple questions.
3. Frequently the chapter named in the calendar for family reading might be read more suitably in secret; in which case the head of the family should intimate that it be read in private, and the chapter for secret reading may be used in the family
4. The metrical version of the Psalms should be read or sung through at least once in the year ... If three verses be sung at each diet of family worship, the whole Psalms will be sung through in the year.
5. Let the conversation at family meals often turn upon the chapter read and the psalm sung. Thus every meal will be a Sacrament, being sanctified by the Word and prayer.
6. Let our secret reading prevent the dawning of the day. Let God's voice be the first we hear in the morning. Mark two or three of the richest verses, and pray over every line and word of them. Let the marks be neatly done, never so as to abuse a copy of the Bible.
7. In meeting believers on the street or elsewhere, when an easy opportunity offers, recur to the chapters read that morning. This will be a blessed exchange for those idle words which waste the soul and grieve the Holy Spirit of God. In writing letters to those at a distance, make use of the provision that day gathered.
8. Above all, use the Word as a lamp to your feet and a light to your path — your guide in perplexity — your armor in temptation — your food in times of faintness. Hear the constant cry of the great Intercessor,
"SANCTIFY THEM THROUGH THY TRUTH: THY WORD IS TRUTH."

St. Peter's, Dundee, 30th Dec. 1842.

Copied by Stephen Ross for WholesomeWords.org from The Works of the Late Rev. Robert Murray McCheyne. 2 vols. New York: Robert Carter, 1848-1850.

Love for Jesus

The following is from (Theodore Cuyler, "Wayside Springsfrom the Fountain of Life" 1883). I borrowed it from Gracegems.org, a fine organization that is a treasure trove of great quotations, books and sermons from the rich heritage of our Christian past. I highly recommend it -- not just the website, but the passion producing power that flows down to us from faithful men and women in our past who faithfully served Christ. They have much to teach us.

"The love of Christ constrains us."
2 Corinthians 5:14

Love of Jesus is essential to Christianity.
No privations can starve it, and no burdens
can break it down. It is the core of all true
piety. It is the only cure of the reigning
worldliness and covetousness and fashion
worship
, which have made such havoc in
too many churches.

There is only one way to be a steadfast
Christian--it is to get the heart so full of love
to Jesus--that the world, and the lusts of
the flesh, and the devil can get no foothold.

A true Christian life is the continual
consecration of our bodily powers, of our
energies, our affections, our resources,
and our influence--to Him who bought
us with His precious blood.

"Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of
God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living
sacrifices
, holy and pleasing to God--this is
your spiritual act of worship." Romans 12:1

Thursday, November 20, 2008

True Christianity

Someone asked me recently what the Bible says about a person who claims to be a Christian, and yet continues to live in sin. My answer, pretty much off the top of my head is as follows:

Matthew 7:15-23 is very clear. The fruit of conversion will be evident. The person who merely claims to know Jesus, but does not bear the fruit of a changed life is simply fooling themselves. They are inwardly wolves, not sheep. v 18 says that a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. The fruit of the life will give evidence to whether or not the heart has been changed by grace

Romans 8:5-8 makes clear that those who are still "in the flesh" cannot please God, indeed they do not know God. Here he is speaking again of the genuine change brought by the new brith which changes a person. Without that change and the new life it brings, those who profess themselves to be Christian are merely fooling themselves.

John in 1 John goes even further as he says that those who are truly born of God (ie, have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit into faith and new life) will give clear evidence of that fact. They will desire to keep his commandments (1 Jn 2:2-4), walk in a lifestyle that follows after Christ (2:5-6); love his fellow believers (2:9f); does not love this world (2:15f); and does not practice sin as a lifestlye (3:4-10). In fact the whole book of 1 John exists to provide tests for true, as opposed to a false conversion (see 5:13). John more than once says that the one who claims to know Christ, and yet lives in continuing sin is a liar and the truth is not in him. (2:4; 4:20).

Indeed, someone who believes that a person can "accept Jesus" and continue to live in sin yet still go to heaven simply betrays the fact that the do not understand the nature of salvation at all. Jesus said "unless a man is born again he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven" (John 3). By that he means, there must be a radical, God-wrought change of the whole heart and mind evidenced by repentance (a turning from sin) and an embrace of a new life in Christ. Anything short of that is not Christian.

The ultimate definition of such gracious conversion is found in Ezekiel 36:25-29 where God says he will take away the heart of stone (that did not respond to God) and replace it with a heart of flesh (that does) so that those who are saved are made clean and begin to walk in all God's ordinances and observe His way. (There are passages in Jeremiah that say the same thing).

I could go on and on since there is so much that needs to be said here. This is so much a part of the "meat" of the Bible's teaching that it really astounds me when people miss it. We live in an age where so many have come to believe that salvation is a merely human decision, rather than understanding that it is a gracious work of God upon the human heart that brings a real and lasting change.

My friend Paul Washer gives a good summary here, let me just pass this short video along.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

MUSIC AND SUCH

There has been much discussion lately concerning worship, and I am so glad that our little congregation seems to have grown in this area and there is a sweetness in our fellowship that I have been longing for. But the subject of worship does come up periodically, and there is nothing wrong with that. We reformed people ought not to exclude worship in our examination of truth. Having said that, I hasten to add that there are always differences of opinions as to what is "best". Let me begin with just a few thoughts on the choice of music in our services.

We simply can’t insist that we have the inside track on what kind of music God likes. That would be a very arrogant assumption indeed. We are left then with the type of music we think is best, which opinions are very subjective.

We should strive hard to understand one another and prefer one another. What does this mean in a corporate worship setting? I will try to struggle through this. First of all, preferring one another would mean that I am not thinking about myself first. But that doesn’t mean that I am thinking about others first. In corporate worship, I ought to be focused first and foremost on what God thinks. Since all I have to go on is God’s word, the songs that we sing ought to be centered on the truths that we find revealed in scripture. Secondly, what happens in our worship services should reflect something of what happened in worship services we see in scripture.

Now, it has been said by some reformed leaders that our worship should reflect what we see in New Testament modes of worship and not Old Testament. But is this fair? I have to raise that issue because in every other issue that reformed people discuss, they would only expect dispensationalists to arrive at their interpretation of scripture that way. Why is the subject of worship any different? Is it because, God forbid, these reformed leaders have a prejudice to one type of music? Why would any reformed teacher attempt to arrive at a conclusion on the issue of worship by the same methods they accuse dispensationalists of? Now, we may be arriving at an important point. Good theology! But we will save that for later discussion
Of course I am being facetious, but you get my point.

So, in preferring one another, we certainly must learn to understand that the things that happen in our worship services ought to be subject to biblical guidelines, and those guidelines must be subject to the same rules of interpretation that we use to discuss every other issue. That is, that if the plain, literal, grammatical, historical sense of the words make sense, then we ought to interpret them literally.
So, as we examine the subject of corporate worship, we should strive to make scripture the standard, if I can call it that, by which we allow our thinking about this subject to be molded. Here again, I hesitate to use the word molded, because we are all different and ought to have no desire to make anyone else like us. But in discussing any subject, believers must always bow to scripture if scripture speaks, and yield our thinking to God’s Word.

Now, I have not answered the question as to what type of music God likes. According to scripture, there is a variety. They are called Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. I have briefly discussed my opinions on these before and may again at a later time, but suffice it to say for now, that there ought to be a variety of scripture based songs. Underlying my discussion also are the various expressions we see in different worship settings, but again, scripture is to be our guide.

We will continue to strive for this variety, and allow freedom for a variety of expressions in our worship experience. We are not even allowing. We are simply being who we are and yet exhorting one another to in honor, prefer one another. Each member should pray about what that means as they yield themselves to the sweet influence of God’s Spirit.

Monday, November 17, 2008

We've updated our website

We've finally updated our church website. It's not done yet, but we're making progress. You can find it here.

Thanks, John, for you all your hard work.
SSL

Thursday, November 13, 2008

the Unfailing Love of God for sinners

Communion with God involves receiving His love, and loving Him supremely.
Many Christians carry issues with themselves because they have never fully received the Love of the Father. I struggled with this for years, because I could not fully believe that God could fully love someone like me. What arrogance.
So, I empathize with those who are yet failing to comprehend such grace as we have from our Father.
It is as if they feel that to fully receive the complete love and forgiveness of the Father would be an act of pride. They don’t deserve it, so they feel that they will carry a measure of guilt and remorse around with them. They have never fully accepted the grace of God for themselves and thus feel that no one else deserves it either. And they are correct in that. But they are victims of a strange disease. The health of others. I know... I was there once. I understand. Give it up. None of us are worthy, but God is very gracious and has extended His mercy to the worst of us.
It hurts such people to see others full of joy because they themselves could never be full of such joy. It bothers them that others are not as miserable in their Christianity as they are. They feel that everyone should suffer continuously as they do. Never living in the vitality of such invitations as to come boldly before the throne of grace. So they meander through the mundaneness of their ordinary existence, never attempting to believe enough to pray that God would reveal His glory to them, for their faith is not in the completely finished work of Jesus Christ, but rather a combination of sorts involving self-flagellation or self-pity. It is an attempt of kinds at meriting goodness from God. And at the bottom of it all is..PRIDE. This is something that all of us sooner or later have to come to terms with and repent. There is nothing that we could do to make God love us any more than He does, and there is nothing that we could do to make Him love us any less.
You simply cannot share intimacy with Christ unless you are secure in His love for you.
He has loved us with an everlasting love.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Post-Election Prayer (Or how to survive an Obama presidency as a conservative)

1 We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds. 2 "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. 3 When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. 4 I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn; 5 do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'" 6 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, 7 but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another. 8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs. 9 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. 10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.
Psalm 75:1-10


Like most conservatives, I am greeting the Obama presidency with a great sense of dismay. It has nothing to do with his racial heritage. I'm honestly glad to see that barrier broken. It has to do with his policies. I am honestly concerned about the direction such a liberal politician will take this country. That being said, however, I am willing to pray for him as he takes his new place of office, and to seek the Lord for the good of our nation. That, I believe, is my civic (and Christian) duty according to Romans 13.

But how does a dyed-in-the-wool political conservative, who is also a believer and follower of Jesus Christ survive the next few years? Psalm 75 gives me direction as well as a great deal of encouragment that I'd like to share with you.

(1) Rivet your eyes on the Supremacy of God v 1 says, We give thanks to you, O God; we give thanks, for your name is near. We recount your wondrous deeds. So here is the question I must ask myself. Is God just as near today as he was yesterday...or last week...or 12 months ago? Is He not just as Sovereign? Psalm 90:2 says "Before the mountains were born Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God." Knowing that, as I fix my eyes on Him and look back over his proven track record of faithfulness, I am encouraged about the future!

(2) Keep Listening to His Sovereign Word of Promise vv 2-5 continues as God speaks, "At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity. When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars. I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn; do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"

Men boast in small things – like elections! But men do not utlimately determine the course of this world, nor it’s final outcome! God alone remains the judge! And He tells us that He has set a day when all the earth shall be judge by His Son. Acts 17:31 declares
"He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
God has set the day. God will determine the outcome! Nothing has escaped, or can escape his eye. Justice will indeed be done.

And then, I love v 3, "When the earth totters, and all its inhabitants, it is I who keep steady its pillars." It seemed like that on election night, at least for me. And yet, I see God's steadying hand underlying all things. And I see the promise of vv 4-5 as well,
"I say to the boastful, 'Do not boast,' and to the wicked, 'Do not lift up your horn;
do not lift up your horn on high, or speak with haughty neck.'"
The proud and arrogant boaster of this world, whether Republican or Democrat, have their day. But it is God who gets the final say. The "horn" in Scripture almost always refers to someone's "strength", especially when they boast about it. When Republicans were in charge, they made many boasts, and yet accomplished very little they promised. Now the Democrats are in charge, having flooded the world with their promises -- most of which they will not fulfill. Man's best attempts at societal self-remedy will continue to fall short. God's purposes alone cannot fail, and therefore neither can His promises. It is to these I now cling.

(3) Remember that God is still in control vv 6-7 For not from the east or from the west and not from the wilderness comes lifting up, but it is God who executes judgment, putting down one and lifting up another." God willed this outcome! Can you doubt that? Now I don’t know if God has willed it for our blessing, or as an aspect of judgement. That’s not my call, right now. But I know this – “He works all things after the purpose of His will” Eph 1:11. And "in all things He is working for good, for those who love Him" Rm 8:28.

Thus v 8 continues...
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.
There is a righteousness in God that will hold every person to account for their sin -- not just the politicians, and not just liberals or conservatives -- but you and me as well! We are responsible for our actions. We will be held accountable for our words, for those things we have done, and those we've left undone. Rm 2:5 says that on account of our evil behavior we are “storing up wrath” for ourselves. And a day is coming when God will pour out his judgment on all mankind for the things we've done. You and I will face that judgment, unless it has been poured out on another in our place -- God's own Son whom He sent to be a propitiation for our sins (Rm 3:25; 1 Jn 4:10). A propitiation means "a sacrifice that takes away wrath." That's what Christ has done for his people, he has satisfied the wrath of God against our sin, by taking it upon Himself!

You may remember Jesus' prayer in the Garden just before He was crucified. He says, ”Father take this cup from me!” (Lk 22:42). What was in the cup? It was the cup of God’s wrath against our sin! Christ was about to drain it down to its dregs for his people. And he has now done so! He has taken the wrath of God for all who will be saved. But those outside of Christ, still have a cup to drink. God’s justice will be done.

Knowing that frees me to let the outcome of recent events remain in God's hands not mine. And not with bitterness, as if I want bad things to happen to those now in power. Not at all. For the sake of this nation I pray they govern well. But even if they don't. I know that God is still in control and -- in a nation like ours -- another elections cycle is coming. That allows me the joy of this final thing....

(4) Keep Praising and Trusting God for His Sovereign Grace vv 9-10 But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob. All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

The day is coming, when God will right every wrong, and punish all sin. Evil will be forever dethroned and righteousness forever exalted. And Christ's redeemed from every nation tribe and tongue of all the earth will praise Him forever and ever, to the praise of the glory of His grace.

It is to that day I am looking with hope!

Soli Deo Gloria,
SSL


Monday, November 3, 2008

Bob's Dream Season

Brother Bob Schembre, our "Football Playin' Preacher," has made it through his dream season of playing football for Westminster College! We're glad to have him back at Rockport safe and sound and leading worship as he begins to serve with us again. For those of you who missed Bob's Dream Season, here is a news report from a Columbia, MO station. Bob, as soon as you get the time, why don't you give us a wrap-up of what you've learned from this season and what it's meant to you?

Grace and peace


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Desiring God

Desiring God

Oh to be swallowed up in God,
To swim in the rivers of his delights
To bask in the radiance of His sweet presence
And enjoy the fullness of His companionship.

Oh to look up in the face of Jesus,
To be caught up in His arms,
To be refreshed with a sense of His love
And rest in the comforts of His smile.

Oh to glory in the presence of My Savior,
To yield to His unending power,
To see through the fog, His wisdom,
And find myself sitting at His feet.

Oh to cast away all idols and worship the one and only True God,
To let God be God, and me be me, fulfilling His perfect will,
To honor and esteem His name, in every thought and deed,
And rest beneath His sheltering wings and on His manna feed.

Oh to be swallowed up in God,
To bathe in the glory of His embrace,
To know the fullness of His delights, his Joys, his loves,
And to behold His wondrous face.

Oh to lose myself in Jesus and be finished with the flesh,
To cross the chilly Jordan and to enter in that rest,
To say goodbye to all held dear in vanity and charm,
And finally be without the sin that so long worked its harm.

Oh to rest in His sweet radiance and blessed countenance,
To finally flee this world of woe and lose my self in Him;
He all my thoughts and dreams consume for in Him is my life,
While here below I dwell mid tears in vanity and strife.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Preaching Repentance.

And they went out and proclaimed that people should repent.
Mark 6:12

The Christian message begins with a call for sinners to repent of their sin and turn to God by faith. That’s always been the case. When Jesus began his ministry after being baptized by John, he began by commanding repentance. He said, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." (Mark 1:15). Without repentance there is no Gospel.

Sadly, much of today’s preaching skips over repentance as if it were an unnecessary addition to the Gospel. Since Christ came to save people, so the thinking goes, let’s just tell them about Christ and his love, and urge them to put their trust in Him. “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” they say, “so pray this prayer and ask Jesus into your heart and you can be saved.”

The problem with such a message is that it falls far short of the biblical Gospel, and thus it cannot save. ‘Salvation’ you see, implies rescue from something. I’m in danger of some terrible fate. I need to be rescued from it. But what does the modern gospel offer, to save me from missing “God’s wonderful plan for my life?” Maybe I have plans of my own? Is that all there is to it? I think most people would be willing to take their chances if there is nothing more to the Gospel than that!

But the biblical Gospel begins with a warning. “You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”, and “the wages of your sin is death.” It’s not just that you might “miss God’s best.” You are a rebel sinner who’s sin has put you under the wrath of God. You’ve set ourselves against God and His right to rule over this universe. Thus the danger you are in is that you will perish under His righteous wrath when He pours it out against all who stand against Him. No, your only hope is to turn from your sin and embrace by faith the Savior God has sent to bear His wrath for you – Jesus Christ His only Son. So repent and believe the good news that God saves sinners who turn and trust in Him!

Soli Deo Gloria
SSL

Thursday, October 16, 2008

'Talladega Nights' Theology

For if one comes and preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached,
or you receive a different spirit which you have not received,
or a different gospel which you have not accepted . . .
2 Corinthians 11:4

I recently saw a clip on You Tube of a scene from the movie Talladega Nights that was as funny as it was blasphemous. Certainly I don’t condone this movie or encourage anyone to watch it, but this scene did make what I thought was a very insightful theological point. In the movie, the main character, a goofy race car driver played by Will Ferrell, is asked to say grace before the family meal and insists on praying to“the baby Jesus.” When his wife objects that Jesus "has grown up now" so it’s not appropriate to pray to him as a baby anymore, an argument breaks out. Soon every person at the table is giving their opinion about the kind of Jesus they like to think about – whether a teenaged Jesus, adult Jesus, casual or formal Jesus, even Ninja Jesus. As I say, the whole thing is quite blasphemous and frankly a little hard to watch as a believer, since they toss the Name I love best around so casually. But that’s just my point.

Here's my question. Why did this seem funny to those who made this movie? Could it be they have seen us as Christians carelessly tossing Jesus’ name around as we've tried to “market him” to the world? Could it be that we are the ones who first gave them the idea that Jesus can be made into anything you’d like Him to be when we attempted to make him seem “cool” and “relevant” to them? Aren’t we the ones who put his name and his supposed likeness on T-shirts and caps and posters and yard signs, and treated him more like a brand name to be sold than the Name above every Name to whom every knee should bow and every tongue confess that ‘Jesus is Lord?’ I think that’s the most important theological message behind this scene in Talladega Nights.

It makes me wonder just how the world perceives Him, based on what they see in us. What will our children think of Jesus, based on what they've see us doing and heard us saying about Him? And are we really preaching the Gospel, or just marketing a product called "Jesus"? I hope you who honor His Name as I do, will join me in thinking this through.


Do not profane my holy name. I must be acknowledged as holy by the Israelites.
I am the LORD, who makes you holy
Leviticus 22:32


"But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went. "Therefore say to the house of Israel, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went.
Ezekiel 36:21-22

"My holy name I will make known in the midst of My people Israel;
and I will not let My holy name be profaned anymore.
And the nations will know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.
Ezekiel 39:7


"It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy.
And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread.
Isaiah 8:13

SSL

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Why Vote? A Biblical Perspective for Disillusioned Voters & Non-Voters

(An excellent article from a friend and fellow worshiper at Rockport I thought would be worth sharing)

By Tren E. Groat

It always bothers me deeply when I hear people say they don’t vote or don’t plan to vote. I’m not always sure what to tell them. After all, is it necessary for Christians to vote, or is that just something important to me? These questions have caused me to search the Scriptures.

So does Scripture have anything to say about voting? For believers, Scripture should be our ultimate authority for all we do and the first place we look for answers.

Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.”

Scripture says all authority that exists was instituted by God and He is sovereign over it. This includes government, which is God’s means to maintain order, regardless of whether it is a democracy or a dictatorship.

Romans 13 says all governments that exist in the world exist because God ordained them too exist. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:2). The United States of America has a democratic republic because God ordained it to occur in 1787 when our Constitution was enacted.

Where does voting fit in this? Paul writes in Romans 13:7, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” These are some of the duties of each citizen under government to ensure it functions in an orderly way. If everyone stops paying taxes or does not respect laws and authorities, the society erodes into chaos and government cannot function.

In America, the government God has established (Rom. 13:1) requires elections in order to continue to exist and function. “We the people” are given the responsibility (and privilege) to choose our leaders through elections. If God has instituted our government in the United States, then voting and elections are also something that have been instituted by God as the means for our form of government to exist. Scripture makes it clear that we are not to live in rebellion to the government God has established and to not vote undermines our form of government.
God commands us in Scripture to “Pay to all what is owed to them…” (Rom. 13:7). Not voting ignores our responsibility and does not give to our government what is required of citizens by Scripture.

Not voting also shows a careless attitude about government and what happens in our nation. This ignores Jesus’ command: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31)
I’ve heard disillusioned people say, “It will do no good to vote.” That is fatalism. God determines what will occur, and that includes the means (events) He will use to bring everything about as He wills it to be. In our government, God has chosen elections to bring into power those He desires. If we don’t vote, we are rejecting the means God will use to bring about His will for us and our nation. Perhaps our vote may be what God uses for change.

Let me be clear. We do not trust in the election process. We trust in the Lord to do His will. Our prayer should always be, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:9-11).

Certainly, there is much to be displeased about in our government and a long list of politicians that are unworthy of their offices. Yet, we are not free of our responsibility because some politicians are crooked. We would be prideful to think we are above the fray by not voting. If you don’t vote, you are guilty of replacing the “complexity of voting with the simplicity of gloating.” (Why Vote If You Are Disillusioned, John Piper, October 27, 2004.)

Scripture tells us, “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:8-9). We know from Scripture government will never be the solution to our problems since sinful people lead us. But they are the only kind of politicians that will ever exist. Giving in to cynicism is not the answer. Hoping in politicians is idolatry. Let’s trust in God’s sovereignty to use voting and elections as one of His many means for bringing about His will on earth. May His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Bob Schembre: Football Playin' Preacher?

For those who may not have heard, our old friend -- and supposedly one of the contributors to this blog -- Bob Schembre's been a bit busy these days 'living the dream' of playing college football. Check out this interview that aired on Foxnews this morning (Oct 10, 2008). And keep our brother in prayer, that he not break anything. We're all ready for him to get back home so he can fellowship with us again.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Hopless Situations and the Glory of God

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 15:13

Hopeless situations must be some of God’s favorite things, for he always seems to show up in the middle of them. Think of all the hopeless places in the Bible where God has made his presence known.
  • Abram is over a hundred years old with a post-menopausal wife who’s never been able to get pregnant. But God says, “I’m going to give you a son.”
  • The children of Israel have their backs to the wall – the Red Sea in front of them, Pharaoh’s army behind them – with no place to run either left or right. There’s no way out of this jam. But God tells Moses, “Stand back and you will see the salvation of the Lord”
  • Gideon’s army is whittled down to 600 men, when God tells him to defeat a Midianite hoard of thousands.
  • And who could forget David the shepherd boy sent out to face the Giant; or Daniel in the Lion’s Den; or the young virgin girl who’s told she will bear God’s Son even though she’s never been intimate with any man.
  • And then there is Christ, God’s Messiah, hanging on a cross, despised and rejected by the very people He came to save. What hope could there be in such a Man? Or what hope is there for the ragamuffin band of disciples He sends out to evangelize the world.
God, it seems, does his best work when he puts us in impossible places. That theme, of God’s strength made perfect in our weakness, is what drives the action in Mark 5. Here Jesus steps in to rescue three different people who are drowning in despair: A man controlled by evil, a woman afflicted with an incurable illness, and a father grieving the death of his only child. In each case, it seems like a hopeless situation! But then, that’s just where God’s grace shines best.

I was thinking about this chapter the other day, when it occurred to me, that the real miracle here is not just what Jesus did for these individuals, but who He shows Himself to be in each case.

One man is possessed by demons – Satan has taken over His life! Jesus comes and sets him free. But that's not all. 1 John 3:8 says, “the Son of God has come to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus not only has power to set this man free. He came to purify all His people from sin and it’s terrible consequences

The woman is suffering under the crushing weight of a terrible affliction. And Jesus heals her of her affliction. But Isaiah 53:4 goes on to say “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; . . .by his stripes we are healed. Christ came to take upon Himself our wounds and our sins and bear them away to the cross!

A child was dead! Beyond all hope of recover. And Jesus raises her from the dead. But even more, in John 11:25 Jesus says “I am the resurrection and the life, He who believes in me will live, even though He dies.” He Himself is our source of Life! Eternal Life comes to us by trusting in Him!

In each one of these cases, Jesus not only gives what each one needs! He Himself is what they need! He is our victory over sin! He is our healing righteousness! He is our resurrection life! In other words, we don’t come to Him for what He gives! We come to Him, by faith trusting Who He is!

My prayer is that thought will give you hope in a lot of "hopeless situations" as you look by faith to Him

SSL

Friday, October 3, 2008

Christless Christianity

For several years now I've been an avid listener of "The Whitehorse Inn." I've found its biblical and historical perspective refreshing in light of the continuing downgrade of contemporary Christianity. Somewhere along the line we have fallen it to our culture's insane fascination with the "new" and "novel" and it's rejection of that which is "faithful to the old paths" (Jeremiah 6:16). Here in this short clip, Whitehorse Inn host, Michael Horton, gives what I believe is a vital insight into "what is wrong with the church today." Take a moment and listen to what he has to day. I hope to most more on this subject later.



If after watching this you'd like to learn more about "Christless Christianty" you can go to Michael Horton's new website www.Christlesschristianity.org.

Soli Deo Gloria
SSL

Saturday, September 27, 2008

The Power of Sin

A quote from Bro Charles Leiter. Oh that God would teach us to hate sin and to see sin as it really is.

One of the most fearful things about sin is its power to harden the one who practices it. The deeper a man goes in sin, the less sin bothers him. . . . Every sinner finds himself now committing sins that he once despised, and the sins that he now despises, he will someday find himself committing. It should shock us to remember that Adolph Hitler was once a little boy playing with toys just like other little boys. Man knows the beginning of sin, but no man has ever known the end of sin.

- Charles Leiter

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The New Birth is a Radical Change


"Therefore if any man is in Christ--he is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, all things are become new!"
2 Corinthians 5:17


As a follow up to this past Sunday evening's message on the Evidence of the New Birth from 1 John, I thought the following quote from Octavius Winslow would be helpful.
- SSL

How comprehensive the words--how vast the change! The effect produced by the new birth is radical and thorough: the heart, once so hateful and hating, has now become a fountain of sweet waters, transmitting its pure and holy streams throughout the whole soul, changing the entire conduct of the individual, and working out in its degree a universal holiness of his whole being.

For the Christian, who has received a new nature in regeneration . . . .

The WORLD he once loved is now as a crucified thing.

The PLEASURES he once indulged have lost their charm.

The SINS he once committed are now loathed and forsaken.

The worldly friendships he once enjoyed no longer attract or please him.

The new birth
will be manifest in our Christlike mind and spirit . . . the pride and selfishness, the worldliness and frivolity, the levity and man-pleasing, which cropped up so luxuriantly from the soil of our unsanctified heart, will now in a great measure be supplanted by the fruits of righteousness springing from a heart which has been changed, sanctified, and occupied by the Spirit of God.

The walk and conversation of a renewed man will be the outward and visible reflection of inward and invisible grace. As a parent, as a child, as a brother, a sister--so let your light shine, so let your life evidence its reality, so let your change and your faith be visible in its lowliness and gentleness, its lovable and loving spirit, as to command from all who see it the admiring exclamation, "Behold! he is a new creature; old things have passed away; all things are become new!"

-- Octavius Winslow

Saturday, September 20, 2008


This is a follow-up to Aaron's article just below. I found this article by Dr Michael Horton to be very helpful and troubling as we think about what most young people in our churches today really believe about God. It's an excerpt from a fine article in Modern Reformation Magazine called "Are Churches Secularizing America." The gist of the article is that our pragmatic approach to teaching youth has produced a generation of kids who are more deist, than christian and who believe that morality, not truth is what counts. So if you're good and do good, you go to heaven, but if you're bad and do bad, you don't. Christ is virtually absent from their belief systems as are such vital truths as justification by faith alone and regenerating grace. This is well worth reading by anyone who has teenagers (and 20 somethings) in the home, or who works with them in the church.

Soli Deo Gloria
SSL
--------------------------------------

Diagnosing the Illness: "Moralistic, Therapeutic Deism"

Americans have always been "can-do" people. Pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, we assume that we are good people who could do better if we just had the right methods and instructions. Add to this the triumph of the therapeutic in popular culture and we end up with "moralistic, therapeutic deism."

Besides psychologists, sociologists are documenting the fact that Christianity in America-including evangelicalism-is less interested in truth than in therapy and in attracting consumers than in making disciples. James Davison Hunter, Robert Bellah, Wade Clark Roof, and numerous others have made these points in their extensive studies of religion in America. However, there are two relatively recent sociologists who have contributed significantly to the spiritual condition that I am highlighting in this article : Christian Smith and Marsha Witten.

As noted above, from 2001 to 2005, University of North Carolina (now Notre Dame) sociologist Christian Smith led a team in a remarkable study of teen spirituality in America today. From his extensive interviews Smith concluded that the dominant form of religion or spirituality of American young people today is "moralistic, therapeutic deism." It is difficult to define this somewhat amorphous spirituality, especially since, ironically, "22 percent of teen 'deists' in our survey reported feeling very or extremely close to God (the God they believe is not involved in the world today)." (13) Apparently, God's involvement is restricted to the inner sphere of one's private world.

Smith observed that most teens-including those reared in evangelical churches who said that their faith is "very important" and makes a big difference in their lives-are "stunningly inarticulate" concerning that actual content of that faith. (14) "Interviewing teens," he relates, "one finds little evidence that the agents of religious socialization in this country"-i.e., parents, pastors, and teachers-"are being highly effective and successful with the majority of their young people." (15) In contrast to previous generations that at least had some residual knowledge of the Bible and basic Christian teachings, it seems that there is very little serious ability to state, much less to reflect upon and examine their beliefs, much less to relate them to daily life. Many young people seem to be living on the hype and the familiar circle of friends in the youth group, both of which eventually lose their influence, especially in college.

Smith defines "moralistic, therapeutic deism" as expressing this sort of working theology:

"God created the world."
"God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and most world religions."
"The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
"God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
"Good people go to heaven when they die." (16)
The sense one gets from reading Smith's study jives with my own anecdotal experience of popular religion in America today. Basically, the message is that God is nice, we are nice, so we should all be nice.

Do young people raised in evangelical homes and churches really believe this? According to Barna's reports-not to mention the studies of sociologists like Smith (as well as James Hunter, Wade Clark Roof, and others)-the tragic answer is yes. (17) This approach, Smith says, reflects similar studies of their parents' generation. Even Lutheran youths active in the church could not define "grace" or "justification," he says, pointing up the disparity between what churches say they believe and what they are actually communicating week in and week out. Smith pointed out that in the working theology of those he studied, "being religious is about being good and it's not about forgiveness....It's unbelievable the proportion of conservative Protestant teens who do not seem to grasp elementary concepts of the gospel concerning grace and justification....It's across all traditions." (18)

Whatever churches say they believe, the incoherent answers offered by those entrusted to their ministry further substantiate my argument that a moralistic religion of self-salvation is our default setting as fallen creatures. If we are not explicitly and regularly taught out of it, we will always turn the message of God's rescue operation into a message of self-help.

- Dr Michael Horton (Modern Reformation, March/April 2008 Volume 17 Issue 2)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Looking forward to the Student Retreat

Before I read the other morning from Spurgeon's Morning and Evening, my mind was previously given to the task of getting things ready for our Fall Student Retreat at Bates Creek Camp. I was thinking about the fact that there will be a large number of students from different congregation as well as a large number of unbelieving students in attendance. Our theme, "Biblical Manhood and Womanhood" is a subject that has been ignored by so many for so long. We are reaping the fruit of countless years without such instruction and the thought of where to start, well it seems just a little overwhelming.

Sometimes in my full time job working with lawless teens and dealing with wickedness that is shameful to even mention, it becomes easy at times to become burdened down with the terrible state of our society, the terrible, deviant wickedness that is not only running through young people, but it praised and encouraged by many adults. There are days, and I am sure that some of you can relate, when I begin thinking "where do we even begin?"

Then I was reading C.H. Spurgeon's reflection on the Lord's words..."Bring Him Unto Me" from Mark 9:19. Though Spurgeon is commenting on praying for your own child, I don't think that he would be displeased in us receiving great encouragement from a simple, yet life-changing truth. Our only hope is in the Lord! Here is a clip from what Spurgeon said:

In the days of their youth we shall see sad tokens of that dumb and deaf spirit which will neither pray aright, nor hear the voice of God in the soul, but Jesus still commands, “Bring them unto me.” When they are grown up they may wallow in sin and foam with enmity against God; then when our hearts are breaking we should remember the great Physician’s words, “Bring them unto me.” Never must we cease to pray until they cease to breathe. No case is hopeless while Jesus lives. Morning and Evening (September 17 - Morning)

Looking Forward to Sunday

Lately, I've been sending a little note out to our congregation through our yahoo group (Rockportnews), just to give a small preview of the message coming up that week, and to encourage prayer for me as I make preparation to bring God's Word to His people. I originally posted this on on my "personal" blog, but Aaron suggested it would be good to put it here also, so here goes (with just a wee bit of editing). And my apologies to any of you who may actually read both sites!
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Dear Rockport,

As we look forward to Sunday and what will be the last of our short series on "Raising Children Who Delight in God", I've really been enjoying God's teaching on wisdom, (or as I see it, "the God-centered life") found in Proverbs 1:7-9. This is what we are to train our children to see! That all of life relates back to God...and life is sterile and empty if anything but him takes center stage!

It also occurred to me this weekthat the Bible's emphasis on family is not something we should see as exclusive, as if those who are single or no longer have children in the home, are left out. The Bible's emphasis on family is "inclusive." We as Christ's church are meant to see ourselves as a "household of faith" (Eph 2:19). Thus we are commanded to open our lives and homes to one another so that all the benefits that are designed to flow from a healthy home into the lives of the children of faithful parents, can also flow out of our homes into the lives of those around us who are hurting, lonely, or just in need of seeing the beautiful picture we find on display of the love of God in Christ whenever we do see a biblical, healthy family.

I also have found great encouragement in the fact that there are no perfect families. Nor does it take perfection for God to work in the life of our children. 2 Tim 1:5 and 3:14-15 give us a window into Timothy's home life: an absentee father, raised and trained in Scripture by his mother and grandmother -- anything but ideal! And yet Timothy was trained well because of the God-centered faith and love of these two women who brought him up (1:5). It seems that God's grace can make up for an awful lot that sin would otherwise destroy! So it's true, no one comes from a perfect home. And yet, no matter what kind of home you may have had, God's grace is sufficient, and more than able to make up for what sin has stolen. What a joyful thought! When our lives are shaped by His Word, His presence heals and corrects, strengthens and solidifies us into men and women who are able to know the joy of living to the praise of His glorious grace!

Now certainly this does not excuse parents to slack off and just "let grace handle it". Far from it (See Romans 6:1f)! We can do much to set our children on a God-glorifying path -- and we must do all we can as we prayerfully seek God's help! But it is a great encouragement to those who feel deeply the loss of not having a solid home life to find that God really is able to restore all that sin has broken! And he does that through the larger family we all 'the church" when it really is being "the church", the "household of God" There wounded hearts can heal, the fatherless can find a Father, and the unloved outcast finds that he has a family who cares for him very deeply and will not let him go. And there, by the patient love of a church family, built on the solid structure of healthy families, God will use what Satan meant for evil, in order to bring about great good! What a wonderful plan our Father has for His children of grace!

Well, that's a small taste of what we'll be thinking about together this Sunday.! I pray you who live near Arnold, MO will be able to join us!

God is at work. I'm looking forward to worshiping with my beloved family in Christ!

Soli Deo Gloria,
SSL

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Missions Passion or the Manipulation of Persons

I just got back from our local Baptist Association Annual Meeting. The main speaker is an executive vice president of the Southern Baptist International Missions Board. Since I have been for many years a zealous supporter of Cooperative Program missions, I was anxious to hear what he had to say. Especially since our congregation has grown concerned about the quality of the Gospel that is being preached through the IBM. Don't get me wrong. I deeply appreciate the sacrificial service of our IMB missionaries who leave the comforts of home and go out to serve Christ. But I'm also deeply concerned about the kind of message we are exporting from this country. Is it a clear Gospel that is bring preached? One that focuses on the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15) and calls people to repentance and faith in Him alone for salvation (Mark 1:15); or is it mere decisionism that manipulates people into an "alter call" where they "come down front" and "pray a prayer" that has almost nothing to do with biblical conversion (and thus "another gospel which is no gospel at all" Gal 1:7)

What I heard tonight did not encourage me. This brother began his message with an attempted defense of the 'alter call' as something from God and found "all through the Bible." His attempts to justify this recent innovation were not convincing. He did not seem to understand that there is a huge difference between inviting people to turn from sin and embrace Christ by faith (which we must do!), and "herding people down front" at the end of a message (which is nowhere in the Bible). It quickly became clear that the latter was his intention. He then gave several examples of what he considered to be 'biblical examples' of God requiring individuals to "show their faith" by some action when invited to respond to Christ -- like Jesus telling the man with the withered hand to "stretch out his hand" or commanding the paralytic to "take up your mat and walk". I was grieved. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was he actually equating Jesus' gracious all-powerful command to broken people to be made whole by trusting in Christ alone, with his own intention to get us to the front of the building? Could he really believe this was the same?

His intention then became crystal clear, I believe, as he informed us that he was going to preach a message about "the minimal support of missions" after which he would invite us all "down front" to "God's alter" where we would commit to support missions. After a fairly brief message that was somewhat on point from Mt 9:35-38 (but of course filled with several 'heart tugging' stories), he then proceeded to do his best to get every person in the building "down to the alter" where we would make a commitment and someone would pray over us.

Anyone who knows me knows that I dearly love missions. I believe mission is at the heart of what it means to be a Christian, and that the Great Commission applies to all God's people. I believe God calls all of us to go out for the sake of His name and declare his glory to the nations. We must do that! I wish that all God's people were zealous to go and support those who go. But this felt to me like crass manipulation. The brother from our church who attended with me and I were, the only people in the building, as far as I know, who remained in our seats. After that we left.

Since then I have struggled in my heart over this whole affair. It felt defiant to sit there while all others "moved forward" to be prayed for. But I could not in good conscience give into this show. It seemed to me that the real point was to satisfy a man's ego, not to glorify God! I do not intend to judge this man's heart (or the heart of any dear brother and sister there who did "move forward" for prayer), but this seemed to me to be an artificial device, and thus a thousand miles away from the powerful working of God's Spirit we find in the book of Acts and throughout church history. Why must we manipulate what appears to be a positive response to our message, but may in actuality be nothing more than a compliant crowd? When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, the crowd begged to know, "men and brethren, what must we do to be saved!" The response was clear because it was something God worked by His Spirit, not something the preacher suggested and encouraged in order to get an instant "validation" of his preaching.

When I got home, I picked up the missions magazine from another mission organization, HeartCry Missionary Society. What a different atmosphere I found there. As I was reading an article about a brother's call to serve the Lozi people of Zambia, my eye fell on the following :
To accomplish this goal of moving you to action, I could describe for you the Lozi’s primitiveliving conditions, their extreme poverty, or their isolation from the world. I could paint a picture of mud huts and filthy children in tattered clothes, with bellies swollen from malnutrition. I could relate tragic stories of spouses and siblings attacked by crocodiles or drowned in the river. Such stories would surely tug at your heart and move you to care about the Lozi, but only for a while. Therefore, I will not begin with an appeal to your emotions. Instead, I will confront your mind with the truth of Scripture, for I know that the deepest emotions, the most reliable and enduring impressions, must be founded upon the truth of God’s Word. In the following pages, I will remind you of what God says about the Lozi, that you might be moved to their aid.

Wow, what a difference of perspective! That's what I was longing for this evening! A God centered call to love what God loves and, for the sake of His great Name, to go out; as opposed to a manipulative call to "make a move for God right now so we can see the results."

My goal here is not to nitpick, but I am deeply troubled. I believe that ultimately the man-centeredness of our modern "gospel methods" is a perversion of the biblical Gospel...and a thousand miles away from our true calling.

There's a lot of thought and prayer that still needs to be given to this subject. May God help us work through it in a way that makes him look good, and causes us not to be seen at all.

"Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory"
Psalm 115:1

For His Glory
SSL

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Dreams of Coming Back

From whence my little jaunt I return I will gladly once again know the sweet felicity that always accompanies our fellowships and enter into the common discourses we once had concerning the things of God and man. I will no longer bash heads with younger men who seem to heal immediately upon such fierce collision, while I moan in yonder bed with dreams of going home. In the meantime, I will continue to entertain my stubbornness, running fast and headlong into such continual collisions on the practice field, all the while knowing that surely I will more than likely not get more than a play or two of the real action because, well, I am old. They feel for me I suppose, these older coaches of mine. So then, I will revert to more such violence after class, drawing complaints from the younger of my efforts to knock the snot out of them. Let them whine. The pain is only meant to make them better. And hopefully, when they encounter far more difficult questions in life, they will remember the old man and the Christ he served.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It'll Come Together in Time!

For those few of you who check here from time to time. We really are going to get back to some of the questions you've posted, as well as other things. Right now it's a time issue . My two com padres have temporarily bailed out on me! Bob (in the middle) has taken six months off to go back to college and to play football for Westminster College in Fulton, MO. No seriously. 51 years old and playing football! He assures me he's having the time of his life ministering to the young men on the team and gettin' himself roughed up. Aaron, on the right, is up to his eyeballs in missions ministry and work, and now is on vacation for two weeks. And me, well, it's just been crazy, but you don't want to hear me whine!

Besides, God continues to be so incredibly good in the midst of everything that I just wouldn't want to. He is so faithful! So, as soon as things calm down, I hope to get back to some regular posts, Lord willing.

One thing we're working through as a church is the question of missions support. We believe strongly in supporting missions (Mt 28:18-20), but are concerned to make sure that the people we do support are preaching a clear, biblical Gospel, and not the "easy believism" and "decisionism" that marks so much of American Christianity today. Again, I hope to post on this issue soon, Lord willing.

If you read this, pray for us!
S. Scott Lee
(the sane one on the left in the picture)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Christian Amusements

I'm often asked about how a Christian should and should not spend his or her free time. This quote from J. R. Miller, from his book "In Green Pastures" (1890) provides some helpful instruction:

Amusement
must never become an end in life. It
must always be a means, a help on the way--just
as sleep is, just as rest is. An hour's amusement,
should be to you, just what a night's sleeping is. It
should make you stronger, clearer-headed, braver,
calmer-souled, more hopeful, more earnest, more
enthusiastic--inspiring you for godly living.

Anything which leaves a taint of impurity upon the
life, or starts a thought of impurity in the mind,
anything which degrades or debases the soul--is
an unfit and unworthy amusement for a Christian.
Christian amusements
must be such, as do not
harm spiritual life; they must be means of grace.


"Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever
you do--do everything for God's glory!" 1 Cor. 10:31