Thursday, April 29, 2010

Yet Not I

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; YET NOT I, but CHRIST LIVETH IN ME: and the life which I now live in the flesh I LIVE BY THE FAITH of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself for me" (Gal.2:20).

What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn't work. So I quit being a "law man" so that I could be God's man. Christ's life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not "mine," but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that. Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God's grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily. (v 19-21) —The Message

Monday, April 26, 2010

We must!

What did you hear from the pulpit this past week; a message of what we should or shouldn’t be doing? Or, one that spoke of Christ in you, the hope of glory?

So often we're told things like “We must persevere!” “We must set aside a block of time every morning to pray!” “We must do good works!” “We must do this and we have to do that!” Over and over again it’s about what we should be doing, inferring that if we aren’t doing…whatever it is…then maybe we were never saved in the first place. What a great way to keep the average Christian a nervous wreck wondering if he/she is truly saved, and/or, puff up those who think they’re doing a pretty good job of it. This certainly sets us all up to judge one another, too. For we only see what's going on on the outside; God, however, sees the heart. "Oh foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you..." (Gal 3:1-3)?

My own pastor admits he used to teach law until he came to realize his error.

“My preaching has become more Christian. I looked back upon my preaching in the early years and I came to the devastating conclusion that it was not Christian preaching. It was Law centered. I used to preach Law, Law, Law… here is what you should do to be a Godly person. The problem was that there was nothing Christian about it! When I was younger I didn’t preach messages that exalted Christ, and the hope we have in him, as the center of our lives.”

Now he says this:

“There is a lot of preaching today that wouldn’t give you the impression the Christian life is responding to what God has done for us through Christ. Most preaching is about what we do for God by obeying the great commission, making sure we love God adequately, dealing with the sin in our lives. This kind of preaching is a bunch of law and it is laid on people who really need to be fed Christ.”

“The topical preacher can fall into this trap because at the end of the day, all “how to do life” sermons are law. They are about what we can do, what we ought to do, what we should do. This appeals to our ego, but it isn’t the message of the Bible. The Bible message is that we live life as an expression of gratitude for undeserved grace.”

I sincerely appreciate my pastor's candor and perspective.

It's so easy to fall into this kind of preaching. Because of its prevalence, the pressure to do so is tremendous. None of this is new, however. As I alluded to earlier in this post, in Galatia Paul had to deal with the fallout from this very thing:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothing — if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard (Gal 3:1-5)?

Even Peter struggled with it:

When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray (Gal 2:11-13).

(Interesting that these "certain men" came from James; might this help explain Jas 2:24 and Rom 4:5, 11:6?)

The fact of the matter is, preaching law puts the focus in the wrong place. When the focus is placed on a whole list of things we must do or shouldn't do, we become “me”-focused instead of Christ-focused. And it’s never been about what we do because what we do is always a mess! We couldn’t save ourselves, we can’t sanctify ourselves, and we can’t persevere either. God is the only One who can do all these things.

Therefore, the only thing we can do is keep our focus on Christ — keep putting on the new man — because He is the One who saved us, He is the One who is sanctifying us, and He is the One who will preserve and keep us till the end (Heb 10:14, 12:2; 1 Cor 1:2-9, 30-31; Gal 5:16, 25; Eph 4:30; 2 Tim 4:18).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Will’s Wonderful Salad

Will is a friend of ours and an excellent cook. Recently, at the age of 55, he returned to school and has now graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. This salad is one of his wonderful creations.

Spring salad mix
Pears, ½ pear per person, any ripe pears will do
Walnuts, as many as you like.
Bleu cheese crumbles, as much as you like. (I like bleu cheese, so I use a lot.)


1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, pepper, and sugar to taste

Combine and shake together until well blended.

Salad assembly:

Lay greens out on plate. Peel and core pears and slice lengthwise, not quite cutting all the way through; you should be able to fan pears out. Toast walnuts for a few moments in oven until they become fragrant. Place pear with the scooped out part facing up. Place enough bleu cheese into cavity to fill it and sprinkle the rest around the greens. Sprinkle toasted walnuts around plate, placing one complete walnut half on top of the bleu cheese. Drizzle vinaigrette on top of entire salad; don't use too much or you'll drown the flavors of everything else.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Whom are you following?

Recently, while reading a history on theology throughout the ages, one thing was made abundantly clear to me — I need to check everything that men claim to be truth against Scripture! And it doesn’t matter how great, brilliant, or well-known they are, either. They’re all just men and therefore fallible.

I know that many people nostalgically dream of returning to the 1st century church, thinking those were times of simplicity and purity of the faith. However, because man has always been man, there was gross immorality and apostasy within the Church even then. The Apostle Paul had to deal with legalism in Galatia (even Peter struggled with this one), Greek philosophic speculation, Oriental mysticism in Colossae, rampant immorality in Corinth, antinomianism in Philippi, as well as rivalries, personal ambition, and perfectionism.

Gnosticism also influenced the 1st century Church. Among its teachings were 1) knowledge is superior to godly living, 2) the non-literal interpretation of Scripture is correct and can be understood by only a select few, 3) the Incarnation is not to be believed because deity cannot unite itself with anything material such as a body (Docetism), and 4) there is no resurrection of the flesh.

As we moved into the 2nd century, these problems didn’t disappear; in fact, a few more were added: the Marcionites tried to corrupt the canon, the Montanists corrupted the doctrines of the Holy Spirit and eschatology, the Ebionites denied the virgin birth and deity of Christ, the Elkesaites claimed an angel had given a book to Elkesia that taught that Christ was an angel born of human parents, while the Nazarenes continued the teaching that it was essential to adhere to the law for salvation.

Okay, we might say, so maybe it wasn’t quite so rosy back then after all. But that was then; now we know better. Not only do we have the completed canon, we also have centuries of biblical scholars’ writings to read and refer to, not to mention all of our Bible colleges, seminaries, etc…

That is certainly true. We benefit tremendously from all the study done by those who have gone before us. Sadly, however, it seems that in many sermons today, biblical scholars are more frequently quoted than Scripture itself, even though they can often be wrong. In fact, here are some of the beliefs of those most frequently quoted:

Clement of Rome (1st century): Taught the importance of obedience in obtaining salvation, confusing the salvation message and detracting from the free grace of God.

Justin Martyr (100-165): Taught water baptism is needed for the remission of sins (baptismal regeneration) and that the name of the Father is to be invoked over the one being baptized. Also taught that after baptism, the Christian is supposed not to sin, and that some sins, if indulged in after that rite has been administered, are unforgivable.

Origen (185-254): Taught that eventually all — including demons — will be saved, after undergoing educative punishment. Is known for unsound theological speculation and allegorizing.

Augustine (354-430): Taught the necessity of water baptism to wash away original sin and sins committed before conversion, and that the elements in the Lord’s Supper become the body and the blood of Christ. Also abandoned the literal view of the Millennium when Ambrose taught him it was okay to allegorize the OT.

Okay, so I guess the early church fathers were confused on a few things, but Christianity was still relatively new. Things improved as time went on, right?

Luther (1483-1546): Taught baptism is necessary to salvation and, in fact, produces regeneration. Also had a real problem with the Book of James and questioned whether it should have been included in the canon. He is quoted as saying, "Many sweat to reconcile St. Paul and St. James, but in vain. 'Faith justifies' and 'faith does not justify' contradict each other flatly. If anyone can harmonize them I will give him my doctor's hood and let him call me a fool."

Calvin (1509-64): Taught infant baptism is necessary — a symbol of assurance to the parents that the child is included in the covenant. Also, basing his actions on the civic code God gave to Israel (Deut 13:6-11), he perpetrated prosecutions (and sometimes executions) of heretics by the state.

Come on now, we may say, it's quite understandable that Luther and Calvin struggled with a few things; look at what they came out of! Besides, things have certainly improved since then, right?!

CS Lewis (1898-1963): Believed in purgatory, prayers for the dead, and practicing auricular confession of sins. Did not believe in eternal security. “The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name; some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.”

No, the Church’s past is no better than the present; as the old saying goes, "the best of men are but men at best." So, let’s not imitate those reprimanded for following mere men instead of Christ:

Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ." Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:12-13)

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, "I am of Paul," and another, "I am of Apollos," are you not mere men? What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth (1 Cor 3:1-6).

Instead, let’s imitate the Bereans and check everything we read or hear against Scripture!

The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so (Acts 17:10-11).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Another great Hymn Sing

I had the privilege of singing in the ensemble that helped lead another Hymn Sing yesterday evening. It was very well attended again — in fact, packed — and it was such fun singing all the old hymns with everybody singing so loudly that the roof nearly lifted off. One of my favorites of the evening was the song, “Until Then.” What great words and music!

My heart can sing when I pause to remember
A heartache here is but a stepping stone
Along a path that's winding always upward
This troubled world is not my final home

But until then my heart will go on singing

Until then with joy I'll carry on

Until the day my eyes behold my Saviour
Until the day God calls me home

The things of earth will dim and lose their value

If we recall they're borrowed for a while

And things of earth that cause this heart to tremble
Remember there will only bring a smile

But until then my heart will go on singing...

by Stuart Hamblen

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The sermon

A pastor, known for his lengthy sermons, noticed a man get up and leave during the middle of his message. The man returned just before the conclusion of the service. Afterwards the pastor asked the man where he had gone.

"I went to get a haircut," replied the man.

"But why didn't you do that before the service?" asked the pastor.

"Because," the gentleman said, "I didn't need one then."

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Peace with God

When Jesus was born at Bethlehem the angels proclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Lk 2:14).

But today we see anything but peace on earth because He, "the Prince of Peace," has been rejected, and this world will never know peace until He reigns. That is why the Father said to the Son, "SIT AT MY RIGHT HAND, UNTIL I PUT YOUR ENEMIES BENEATH YOUR FEET" (Matt 22:41-45).

It is possible, however, for us as individuals to enjoy peace with God and to know that all is well as far as our eternal destiny is concerned. For when the multitudes were about to crucify Christ, He said to those who knew and trusted Him, "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful" (Jn 14:27). Even Paul's epistles open with an important declaration of peace which God sent him to proclaim to all men: "Grace be to you and peace." And he explains how we may have this peace.

By nature all of us have sinned against God, but in Paul's epistles we are told that "He Himself [Christ] is our peace" (Eph 2:14), "having made peace through the blood of His cross" (Col 1:20). In other words, we have all sinned against God but Christ died for our sins so that we might be reconciled. And if we trust in Christ and His finished work at Calvary, we are fully reconciled with God (Jn 3:16).

This could not have been said more plainly than it is in Rom 4:25 and 5:1:

He who [Christ] was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. THEREFORE, BEING JUSTIFIED BY FAITH, WE HAVE PEACE WITH GOD THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST.

If you haven’t yet placed your faith in Jesus Christ and been reconciled to God, I urge you to do so now. Believe me, having peace with God is truly beyond compare.

He is Risen!

They're singing that you can be born again
Hear the bells ringing
They're singing Christ is risen from the dead

The angel up on the tombstone
Said He has risen, just as He said
Quickly now, go tell his disciples
That Jesus Christ is no longer dead

Joy to the word,
He is risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah
He's risen, hallelujah

by 2nd Chapter of Acts