Rockport Sermon

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.

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

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!

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,

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

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)