Worship Preparation for Easter Weekend

This week is celebrated as a special time by the Church of Jesus Christ.  I am aware of the fact that EVERY SUNDAY is, or should be, a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, but the church has historically set this Sunday apart for special emphasis.  While we should prepare ourselves for worship each week and not just expect it to “happen” because we enter a door to a building, perhaps many of you will think even more about our Lord’s sacrifice and resurrection this week.  Here are two of my favorite songs related to this week.  I hope they minister to you and help you prepare to worship the Living King this week.

I love this quote from Mark Driscoll in Doctrine:  “If Jesus is dead, then Christianity is dead. If Jesus is alive, then Christianity is alive.”  JESUS IS ALIVE, SHOUT IT AND PROCLAIM IT THIS WEEK!!!

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A Shocking Thing That We Should Forget

One of my favorite New Testament theologians is Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Chicago.  Anything you can read that he has written will be well worth your time.  Lectures and sermons that you can find in simple Google searches on the internet can give you hours of rich nourishment in God’s word.

One thing that many “fans” of Carson don’t know is that he has also written a collection of hymns that are collected in the album “Shout for Delight.”  They are all very good and worshipful, but there is one in particular that always ministers to me and also brings just a bit of conviction.  It is a communion hymn entitled “A Shocking Thing.”  I give you the lyrics below for your edification. You can find the CD and some samples HERE.

A SHOCKING THING

A shocking thing, this, that we should forget
The Savior who gave up his life –
To turn from the cross, indifferent, and let
Our minds veer toward self-love and strife.
The table, this rite, is habit – and yet
Christ’s words pierce our shame like a knife:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Enamored with power, surrounded with praise,
We set out our ecclesial plans.
Efficiency hums, and we spend our days
Defending, promoting our stands.
Techniques multiply, our structures amaze –
The gospel slips out of our hands.

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.
O remember, remember the cross.
From my side issued water and blood,
This was no accident,
I bore the wrath of my God.”

“Remember my bed, the dank cattle shed,
Though glory was all my domain.
Remember the years of service and tears
That climaxed in lashings of pain.
By God’s own decree, your guilt fell on me,
And all of my loss is your gain.”

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

“Remember my tears, Gethsemene’s fears;
Recall that my followers fled,
That I was betrayed, disowned and arraigned –
The Prince of Life crucified, dead.
Remember your shame, your sin and your blame;
Remember the blood that I shed.”

While lifting the cup, the Savior spoke up,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

So now when we eat this feast simply spread
I blush I forget to recall.
For this quiet rite means once more I have fed
On bread that gave life once for all;
Memorial feast—just wine, broken bread—
And time to reflect on Christ’s call:

While breaking the bread, the Lord Jesus said,
“Do this in remembrance of me.”

Peru Report — December 2009

It is always exciting to see God move in ways that you neither plan nor expect.  That is exactly what happened last week in Peru with our little team.  We saw the power of God and the power of the Gospel in ways that we did not expect.

One of the things we had been told from the beginning of the REAP strategy was that the going would be slow and we should not get discouraged because we don’t see a lot of people coming to Christ in the early stages of our involvement.  We are dealing with a people, who by and large, have no understanding of Christianity.  What little information they have has been mixed with their ancestral religions dating back hundreds of years.

The early Incas, and most of Peru, worshiped Pachamama (Mother Earth) and El Sol (the Sun god).  They believed that when these two came together they bore a son and he was the First Inca, the emperor.

When Spain began their conquest of South America they did not have enough money to finance their endeavors to conquer the lands and keep them, so the Vatican agreed to help finance part of their efforts in return for a share of the bounty and the use of the Spanish soldiers to “bring the gospel to the pagans.”  In many cases this was done by the sword not by persuasion.  The Incas were given a choice, convert or die.  So the converted, as least in words.

The Roman Catholic Church did not have enough priests to serve/teach the large numbers that had converted by this “mass evangelism” so the Native Peruvians simply changed the names to fit the Catholic church and then brought many of their practices and superstitions into the church.  They continued living as they had, they were just using different names for their gods.  Thus, Pachamama (Mother Earth) became the Virgin Mary; El Sol (Sun god) became God the Father, and the First Inca became Jesus; and then the regional and local gods (of which there are many) became the Saints.. But their way of thinking did not change.  Their false religion simply became mingled with the Catholic church and no clear gospel has ever been preached in these parts where we are working as far as we can determine.

One of the problems/barriers to Christianity in the Chancay River Valley has been that there has simply not been Bibles available.  We went there hoping to get some of the people to take a Bible from us. What we didn’t expect was to have people literally begging us for Bibles.  And we gladly accommodated them.  One of my favorite pictures (see left) we took is of an elderly woman, after receiving a Bible on Thursday night, sitting on the side of the street reading it.

We have seen three people come to faith in Christ in the short time we have been there. We do discipleship Bible study with these when we are there.  We also discovered that there is at least one group of believers (who believe in Jesus alone) in one of the villages.  In several conversations we had people tell us that they believe in the “image” or worship the Saints.  But God has called out a group to worship in Christ alone and we look forward to helping them become a vital church.

This is the season when we celebrate the Incarnation of God in Jesus Christ.  It is also the time as Southern Baptists that we emphasize International Missions through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.  God is giving us the opportunity to make an impact for the Gospel on an international scale.  Both through the LMCO and also through our work in the Chancay River Valley of Peru.

Let’s be faithful in both our giving and our going during this season.  Tell someone in Somerset about the great Gospel of Jesus Christ this year.

When Church is Mundane & Truth is Not Central

Peter,_Paul_and_Mary_2006When I was in high school and college I loved the music of the folk group Peter, Paul & Mary.  I still think they had one of the purest sounds ever recorded.  While they didn’t share many of my political views they wrote and sang some incredible music.

One of my favorite songs by them was not one of their most popular.  It was simply entitled “Hymn.”  It spoke of institutional religion without any reality in faith.  It was sung from the perspective of a young boy as he went and observed the hypocrisy of ritualism without truth.  I have often wondered if it were not a song written before its time.  Because the lyrics speak volumes to the contemporary church, I’m afraid.   Below I will print the lyrics and you can hear Paul Stookey sing it HERE.

It certainly gives us pause to think:

Sunday morning, very bright, I read Your book by colored light
That came in through the pretty window picture.

I visited some houses where they said that You were living
And they talked a lot about You
And they spoke about Your giving.
The passed a basket with some envelopes;
I just had time to write a note
And all it said was “I believe in You.”

Passing conversations where they mentioned Your existence
And the fact that You had been replaced by Your assistants.
The discussion was theology,
And when they smiled and turned to me
All that I could say was “I believe in You.”

I visited Your house again on Christmas or Thanksgiving
And a balded man said You were dead,
But the house would go on living.
He recited poetry and as he saw me stand to leave
He shook his head and said I’d never find You.

My mother used to dress me up,
And while my dad was sleeping
We would walk down to Your house without speaking.

We must be certain that our churches are filled with truth and love, and be able to point them to the One who is not dead . . . but is alive!!!

A Christian Holiday to Celebrate — Oct 31

Luther & 95 Theses492 years ago this Saturday (October 31) was a day that changed the course of the church for all time. On that day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Wittenburg Chapel. His desire was to begin a debate about abuses that he saw by the Papacy and the church. He had no intention on beginning a new church or even a movement. He simply wanted to see the church “reformed” that is re-formed by God’s word and in the image of Christ.

While the abuses may not be the same as they were in Luther’s day, the church today has departed from the pure Gospel message in many ways. There are many abuses where the church has watered down, distorted, and simply denied the Gospel. We have been content to let “little” errors enter without challenge thinking that a little error won’t do much harm. But it has and today the church is in as great a need of re-forming as it was in Luther’s day. What if you received a letter from your drinking water provider that said, “we have had a little problem with our water filtration system and some of the sewage from the treatment plant has gotten into the water supply. But the good news is that it is only 10% and 90% of your water is still pure.” You would be outraged. Yet, every day we allow the “sewage” of false teaching to enter into the church and think that it won’t hurt anything. How wrong we are.

Out of the Reformation came five “battle” cries. These expressed the basics of the Gospel for their day. They have not changed over the past 491 years . . . indeed over the past 2000 years . . . though we sometimes forget them or we let little errors push them aside. In 1998 as we dedicated a new campus of the church I pastored back then, we used these five “alones” (or Solas) for a dedication Bible Conference. Today we need to remember their importance as we remember the Reformation.

Sola Scripture — By Scripture Alone

It is through the Scriptures, the Bible, that God speaks today. The Bible is not just a book that somehow contains God’s word, but rather it is God’s Word! It is in His word, with the enlightenment and guidance of the Holy Spirit, that we find God’s will, His purposes and His requirements for our lives.

While we believe that denominational traditions and church history are important and should be known and studied, it is God’s Word, the Scriptures, where we find our ultimate and absolute authority.

2 Tim 3:16 -17 — All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.

Psalm 19:7 — The Lord of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

Solo Christo — By Christ Alone

We live in a day which cries for diversity and tolerance. Thus, when people hear a church or group claiming that there is “only one way” to a relationship with God they appear to be horrified. However, the Word of God is quite clear on this matter. Jesus Christ himself left very little doubt as to where salvation is to be found.

John 14:6 — Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.

Acts 4:12 — “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

We believe and proclaim that there is no salvation, no relationship with God, apart from the person and work of Jesus Christ. His death was as a substitute and sacrifice taking away our sin and giving us His righteousness. In reality, He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. He died in our place the death that we deserved.

Sola Gratia — By Grace Alone

Man is notorious for wanting to “do it for themselves” – no matter what the “it” is. The Gospel teaches us that in the matter of salvation and being right with God, there is absolutely nothing that man or woman can do for themselves. Man is in rebellion toward God and will never seek God according to Romans 3:

Romans 3:11 — THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD;

If it were left up to man to “get saved” it would simply never happen. The good news is that God has determined to save a people for His glory. The Holy Spirit, in drawing men and women to Christ, demonstrates that salvation is totally of grace. It is only because of this grace that anyone will ever be saved.

John 6:44 — “No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:37 — “All that the Father gives Me shall come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

Sola Fide — By Faith Alone

The core, or fundamental truth, of the Gospel is that justification, being made right with God, is not on the basis of works, that is, anything we have done, but rather by faith in Christ alone.

Eph 2:5-8 — even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (6)and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, (7) in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (8) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;

Salvation does not involve being as good as you can be . . . obeying all the 10 Commandments . . . or living by the Golden Rule. Salvation comes by faith in Jesus Christ alone.

We acknowledge that when true faith is exercised in Christ there will be a change in life. New attitudes and actions follow faith in Christ. But this is the work of Christ in us, not our work for Him.

Soli Deo Gloria — To God Alone belongs the Glory

What does a person say when they have come to faith in Christ? The only proper response is “Thank you God!!” Too often men try and claim the glory, the credit, that belongs only to God. However, the Word of God clearly declares that God alone is worthy of worship, praise, and adoration.

Who should receive the glory for what we gain in this life? God should, because it is only by His grace that we have anything at all.

1 Corinthians 6:20 — For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

1 Peter 4:16 — but if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God.

Job 1:21 — And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

This is indeed a day of celebration . . . and also a day to call for a new reformation in the 21st century. It is time to see that these 5 solas are the foundation for the church to be formed in the image of Christ.  For too long now the church has taken on the “look” of the culture around it.  It is time to be counter cultural . . . to focus again on what God’s word says about salvation and proclaim it boldly.  Fads come and go . . . but the Truth of God abides forever!!

Five Stones -- Five Solas

Awesome? Is it Really???

Last week I led a Bible Conference in North Carolina on the theme of “The Eclipse of God.” The general idea is that we allow things, or stuff, to come between us and God thus making Him appear to not be present.  Much like in a solar eclipse, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun and casts a shadow across the earth, it appears that the sun disappears or loses its power.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  The sun remains just as bright, just as hot and just as powerful as when it is shining at noon day.  But it just doesn’t appear to be so.

In our lives we allow “stuff” to cast a shadow on our lives that makes God seem to be weaker or not as glorious.  Who at times hasn’t made a comment to the effect, it just seems my prayers don’t get past the ceiling and seems as if God is not there or doesn’t care.  Again, nothing could be further from the truth.

Now, there are obvious things that can “eclipse” God in your life.  Known purposeful sin is the most obvious, and so are the things that David, in Psalm 19, called, “presumptive sins” which are those we tend to excuse as only being “little sins.”

One of the things that I mentioned in one of the sessions was that we can also “eclipse” God with the language we use.  I was speaking with someone this week who was told that a friend’s dog had just had puppies.  This person responded, “that’s awesome.”  I was walking down the street with someone and they saw a new corvette parked on the curb and again their response was, “wow, that’s awesome.”  I was even eating with someone the other day, we were having burgers (and good ones no doubt) and my friend said, “this hamburger is awesome.”  Do you see where I am going?

The word “awesome” is a word that means to see something and stand in awe of it.  It is a word that when applied to something means that it causes me to want to fall down and worship it, I am so struck by it.  I don’t know about you but I have never seen a car (even a vette) or a puppy (even a litter) or a food product (though I love to eat) that made me want to fall down and worship it.

It just appears to me that we do serve an awesome God.  When I think of His character and attributes and glory I want to fall down and worship Him.  But when we speak in the same way about everything else in the world, do we not lessen His glory in the eyes of those who know we are Christians?  If the same word is used to describe God and a car, or a dog, or food . . . well, you get my picture.

I know I am probably going to be viewed as out of step with this post-modern culture we live in.  But that’s OK.  I once had a staff member who accused me of trying to be controlling of other people, simply because I thought this word ought to be reserved for God, and I said so in a sermon.

I don’t want my language eclipsing God in my life or in other’s lives. It just seems to me to be prudent that we reserve one descriptive word for God alone.  Awesome seems to be that word, in my humble opinion.  What do you think?

Great Is Thy Faithfulness

rainbow018The hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness has long been one of my favorites.  So I was interested today when Bob Kauflin of Worship Matters sent out an email dealing with the story behind the hymn.  I believe it is worth a read:

The story behind Great is Thy Faithfulness should encourage every Christian who thinks of their life as ordinary. There’s no tragic story (think “It Is Well” by Horatio Spafford) associated with this hymn. It’s just the fruit of a faithful man with a simple faith in a faithful God.

Thomas Chisholm, who sometimes described himself as “just an old shoe,”  was born in a Kentucky log cabin in 1866. He was converted when he was 27, became a pastor at 36, but had to retire one year later due to poor health. He spent the majority of the rest of his life as a life insurance agent in New Jersey. He died in 1960 at the age of 93. During his life he wrote over 1200 poems, most of which no one will ever hear.

But back in 1923, at the “beyond his prime” age of 57, Thomas Chisholm sent a few of his poems to William Runyan at the Hope Publishing Company. One of them was Great is Thy Faithfulness, based on Lamentations 3:22-23.

Lam. 3:22    The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Runyan was particularly moved by Great is Thy Faithfulness and sought to set it to a melody that would reflect the response of wonder and gratefulness to God’s faithfulness conveyed in the lyrics. Apparently, he succeeded.

The song quickly became a favorite Moody Bible Institute, and later George Beverly Shea sang it at Billy Graham crusades. Now it’s known all over the world and has been used to encourage millions of Christians to trust in a faithful God.

Pretty impressive spiritual fruit from a life insurance agent.

When Chisholm was 75, he wrote in a letter:

“My income has not been large at any time due to impaired health in the earlier years which has followed me on until now. Although I must not fail to record here the unfailing faithfulness of a covenant-keeping God and that He has given me many wonderful displays of His providing care, for which I am filled with astonishing gratefulness.”

The hymn has three verses and a chorus. Verse 1 speaks of God’s faithfulness revealed  in his Word, and is adapted from James 1:17: Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.

Verse 2 tells us of God’s faithfulness revealed in creation. The seasons,the sun, moon, and stars all continue on their courses perfectly, orderly, quietly – guided by God’s faithful hand, without any help from us.

Verse 3 reminds us of God’s faithfulness revealed in our lives. He pardons all our sins, fills us with his peace, assures of his presence, gives us strength, hope, and blessings to numerous to count!

Whatever challenges, trials, or disappointments you might be facing right now, this hymn reminds us that God’s promises are true, that he never changes, that his compassions never fail, and that his faithfulness to us in Christ Jesus is more than good—it’s GREAT!

God doesn’t need incredibly gifted or wildly famous people to proclaim those truths from his Word.

Just faithful ones.