Tuesday, December 31, 2013

We Happy Few

...and who are my brothers? -Matthew 12:48b

Leadership training classes start at GPC this Sunday. Looks like
seven guys are signed up to take part.

Our numbers here at Grace have never been impressive. And  that tempts us, at times, to become discouraged.

I look around me, however, and count myself blessed. The dedication of each of these happy few inspires me. Out of a Sunday morning attendance of perhaps sixty, we see twelve or fifteen or (once?) even twenty show up an hour before Sunday School to pray. For friends, neighbors, our church, the church universal, for our nation.

A disproportionate number of our members contribute to the writing ministry which has placed a weekly article in the local newspaper for over four years now.

Though our numbers have thinned from when we started, this church was founded  and still exists in answer to many fervent prayers that God place a Reformed witness in this county.

So here we are. At times the ignorance and indifference seem overwhelming. Ignorance of the history of the Christian faith and what the Church has taught through the centuries. Indifference to how the doctrine of salvation by grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-10; can it be stated any more plainly than this?) was lost, then recovered. Recovered at great cost to a great many believers.

Ignorance of and indifference to the sacrifices made so that we might be free of a works-based salvation are a shame upon the Body of Christ. How is it that one can profess a love for Christ, a love above all other loves, and not desire to know all there is to know about Him and all He has done to bring salvation to the nations?

You know it does seem like a few against the whole world at times, and I am reminded of the battle of Agincourt very nearly 600 years ago. Cut off and cornered in rural France, the bedraggled and hungry English army prepared for a battle in which it looked likely to be destroyed.

In one of the great speeches in English literature, Shakespeare has King Henry V address his troops. Henry speaks of the tiny size of his army, but does not desire one single man more to fill his ranks. The fewer the numbers, he states as he rouses his men, the greater the glory. The tiny English army inflicted a devastating defeat upon the French.

There are no super-Christians here at Grace. We simply stand upon God's assurance that He will use the weak and seemingly foolish to confound the strong and the wise of this world. Not that we might receive the greater glory because of the fewness of our numbers. But that God might receive all glory, honor and praise.

Because He alone is worthy.

And He has done it.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Have You Seen Her?

I can see her face everywhere I go....-The Chi-Lites

A guilty pleasure of mine is the film, sex, lies and videotape. In it, a young man is reduced to seeking pleasure in the viewing of videotaped conversations he has had with various young women.

Implied throughout, but never explicitly stated, is the premise that this is his penance for his misuse, ill-use, and objectification of the women with whom he has had relationships.

The fascination of the camera with their faces as they speak represents his own fascination (and the viewer's). The beauty of these women (and they are beautiful) lies especially in the movement of their faces as they speak.

There is truth in this. The glance flickers upward to meet mine  then is cast quickly downward, eyelids lowered demurely. The expression of the mouth is both endearing and enlightening.

When I think of people I have known, my mind's eye recalls their faces animated by conversation.

Here is a question then. What about the one God has given you? Though she is there, each and every day, can you close your eyes and see her face? Do you watch her as she talks? This face that should be so familiar to you, does it still attract your attention as expressions ripple across it?

Perhaps familiarity has not bred contempt, so much, as a lack of appreciation for the uniqueness of the individual seated across from you at the breakfast table.

I have found, since my hearing has declined, that I much prefer to look into someone's face when I converse with them. Look at it like this: God has blessed me by forcing me to focus once more on the face of the one speaking to me.

It seems that the cares and the pain of living can cause us to withdraw, if we are not careful, bit-by-bit to within ourselves.

So I must be deliberate to revel in the small (oftentimes overlooked) pleasures. I am not doing penance for the sins of my past, but enjoying what God hath wrought.

Have you seen her lately?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Breaking the Law

If you love me you will keep my commandments. -John 14:15

"Aren't you taking this too seriously?"

These are the words spoken by a friend when I shared my feeling that participating in a certain activity would be sinful on my part.

I admit I was taken aback by the question. My reply was weak. Another question: "Aren't we supposed to?"

This conversation has stewed in the back of my brain until this morning when I read a TableTalk article by Mark Jones addressing this issue.

If I am saved by grace alone, shall I sin more "that grace may abound?"

Paul's short answer: "God forbid (Romans 6:2a)!" As he continues: "How can we who died to sin still live in it (6:2b)?"

Not one of you, I would imagine, would propose to me that we would desire to go on living like the devil now that we have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb.

How crass, how blatant, how ungrateful would such an attitude be in the heart of a Christian person.

Yet I find in my own heart a casualness (dare I say, "a comfortableness?") toward my sin. In Wayne Watson's words: "I took one step away and thought, 'Hey what's the harm? Still see the light from here, still feel the warmth.'"

To learn to hate my sin. What a mountainous task. It is one I will be engaged in for all the rest of my days.

Paul struggles with this in the 7th chapter of Romans: "For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin (v.14)," and "...I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing (v. 19)."

Am I as heart-broken over indwelling sin as Paul was? It's called sanctification and I am not that far along in my journey.

One thing I do know. When I consider honestly the darkness of my heart, it is not hard to see the distance that it places between my Heavenly Father and myself. Like Adam and Eve, I wish to run and hide from the consequences of my sin. And from the God who gave Himself to redeem me.

In that sense, I can understand John Owen's words: "You must be killing sin or it will be killing you."

Friday, December 6, 2013

Peace, Peace

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and respect. -1 Peter 3:15

I must apologize.

I do not apologize for the faith that I have in God's saving grace. How could I when it is grace alone, and not any good thing that I have done or possess, that has opened heaven's door to me.

Nonetheless I must apologize.

R.C. Sproul, in this TableTalk article, has smitten me in kindness and gently reproved me:


In my zeal for the doctrines of grace and the joyful freedom they impart, I have been overzealous.

Impatient as well. Not so much with those who don't "get it," as with those who apparently "don't want it."

Our selective memories let us forget our own shortcomings very quickly. Not too very many years ago, I was one of the ones I am impatient with now.

At that time, Billy McGarity's preaching and more than that, our conversations, had me searching for the scriptures I knew full well would refute the hateful doctrines of Calvinism.

Imagine my chagrin when I began to discover that my pet verses, when viewed in light of the whole scriptural counsel of God, proved the very things I wanted to disprove.

Human nature, it seems, resists the notion of human inability.

Yet how can we be truly free in Christ until we understand our utter inability to desire God unless he graciously intervenes to change our desires? I long for all my brothers and sisters to revel in this freedom.

And the truth is; drops of grief can ne'er repay, God's justice can never be satisfied, heaven can not be earned, by anything we could possibly ever do.

Any teaching that places any eternal value on my ability to appease God by praying a prayer, walking an aisle or making a public vow will lead to a false sense of security ( I did this when I was eight, so I'm OK). To teach that any of this gives one a right standing before the Righteous God is to cry, "Peace, peace (Jeremiah 6:14; 8:11) when there is no peace."

So I must continue to witness; to the lost, yes of course, but also to my brothers and sisters who spread the false impression that God requires anything less than our all, our everything. And to remind them that even our faith, and the good works that flow from it, is a gift (Ephesians 2:8-10).

The fault, you see, lies not in the message, but in the messenger's presentation.

For this I beg your pardon while inviting you to begin to consider these things, even as the Bereans did (Acts 17:10-11).

Monday, December 2, 2013

I Cannot (only) Imagine

Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. -1 Corinthians 2:9

I have a great imagination. I have imagined a gangster named Draco Vesuvius; the life of an Israelite warrior; a college girl who stalks her professor (not as sinister as it sounds).

File:St. Edwards Krone (Nachbildung auf den Bahamas).jpg

Here is a picture of St. Edward's crown, part of the crown jewels of England. If I were to describe it to you: the heavy gold setting, its ermine and satin lining, the precious stones of jasper, carnelian, ruby, emerald and diamond, could you picture it in your mind's eye? To be honest, even this picture does not do justice to what the reality must be like, does it?

In Revelation 21:10-27, the New Jerusalem, the Bride, the wife of Christ is shown coming down to earth out of heaven. The description of its jeweled foundations, the pure crystalline gold of its very streets, the pearl settings of its gates, and above all the brightness of the glory of the presence of God stagger the imagination.

Like Bunyan's Pilgrim, we long to see it, to be there in God's presence. Yet I am almost afraid to dishonor the scriptural image with my own pallid imaginings. But I feel just a little bit guilty that my desire for heaven does not include a desire to imagine (or speculate) on what it must be like.

R.C. Sproul Jr. made a comment that I find helpful: "We are indeed on a journey. But we are going to a Person more than a place."

I have fellowship with the Christ of God in the here and now. I cannot hope to conjure the beauty and glory of heaven in my feeble imagination. But I can desire in its richness and fullness the promised fulfillment of the present reality: God with us.