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Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Great Day

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1: 3-4).

Today was a great day. Twas one of those blessed days for a pastor where he gets to see the Holy Spirit display His fruit before his very eyes.

Preaching on Grace. This morning I received the opportunity to preach on Grace as The Reason to Carry on (Luke 17:7-10) -- Grace is easily the doctrine that fires me up more than any other.

Elders Presented: I also had the blessing to present our two new (and...only...) elders before our congregation -- as well as two other godly gentlemen who will continue to meet with the Elders as "Elders-in-Training." These are men who have displayed such genuine care for one another (and for me) over the past few months. At the very end of the service, I asked everyone to get out of their seats and come further toward the front to pray for these men. Many remarked at how powerfully the Spirit was working in this morning's service! Praise God!

Baptizin': Lastly, we not only had our first public baptism at SCC but I had the pleasure of baptizing the first person who has trusted Christ (that I know of) since coming in January. I sat down with Linda and another person in early February when she asked me, "How do I become a Christian?" YES!!

What a gift of grace today has been. I pray this might be even a small encouragement for any reading -- that He longs to be gracious toward His children. Praise be to the giver of all good things!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Our new member of the family

My sister, Kelsey Christmas whom some of you met when she and her fam were down here in March, had a 6 lbs. 2 oz. baby girl on Wednesday. Her name is Lila Lee Christmas (Pronounced Lie-La as opposed to Lee-La - yup, I made that mistake right away).

Mason, Gage, & I all predicted "girl" and, as boys, we like to think highly of ourselves when we're right.

I'm very thankful for our niece, whom we'll get to meet in July.

Psalm 127:3-5 3 Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. 4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. 5 Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Grace: The Great Equalizer

If you know me, you know I love talking about & (trying) to apply God's grace. A primary passion God has put on my heart is to see disciples of Jesus motivated chiefly by Grace in seeking to become more like him. Anywho, It's often said that death is the "great equalizer" -- bringing people of great & little wealth, great & little social status, great & little anything to a place of equal standing.

I had lunch with a godly gentleman from our church yesterday. He and I were both discussing how when we're low, God's grace reminds us that we matter to Him -- which was ultimately expressed through the cross. Then we also spoke of when we're feeling high/good about ourselves -- perhaps overly good about ourselves. It is then that God patiently reminds us, that all the feel-goods and the successes are a product of His sufficient grace. Grace is the great equalizer in life.

Probably my favorite
living pastor (dead pastors are best...because they can no longer do anything to surprisingly disappoint), Tim Keller of Redeemer Pres. Church in NYC, puts this idea very nicely in his book The Reason for God. He uses "gospel" instead of "grace," but you get the picture:

When my own personal grasp of the gospel was very weak, my self-view swung wildly between two poles. When I was performing up to my standards--in academic work, professional achievement, or relationships--I felt confident but not humble. I was likely to be proud and unsympathetic to failing people. When I was not living up to standards, I felt humble but not confident, a failure. I discovered, however, that the gospel contained the resources to build a unique identity. In Christ I could know I was accepted by grace not only despite my flaws, but because I was willing to admit them. The Christian gospel is that I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued and that Jesus was glad to die for me. This leads to deep humility and deep confidence at the same time. It undermines both swaggering and sniveling.

I'm continually thankful for the gospel of grace -- God's great equalizer -- as I often seem to go from swaggering to sniveling and back again at a rate of 60 mph (or, in the Cayman Islands, 40 mph on our only "highway").

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Loving with an Agenda

A couple weeks ago, I asked this question in a sermon: "Am I being unloving if I build a relationship with someone simply to share the gospel with them?" (ie. Is it wrong to love someone with an agenda?). The context of this question was Luke 16: 1-13 and my main point -- "Use $ & Resources for your own eternal good -- by making friends for the sake of making of gospel connection with them" (that passage is a toughie).

So I argued YES to the above question -- as making a gospel connection with someone is the most loving agenda possible.

This week I ran across this from Atheist Penn Jillette (LEFT) that I thought I'd throw out there as it comes from someone who'd have every reason to feel "used" by any so-called agenda. Penn Jillette is one half of Penn and Teller, a duo that has been headlining Vegas shows for years with comedy and the art of illusion. Penn has never been shy about his disbelief in God, often writing about his conviction in articles and best-selling books. Yet in an on-line video blog that can be found on YouTube, Penn shares a story about the time a gracious Christian businessman gave him a Bible as a gift. Penn goes on to use the story as an opportunity to point out that Christians who don't evangelize must really hate people. Here's the direct quote from his video blog:
I've always said, you know, that I don't respect people who do not proselytize. I don't respect that at all. If you believe that there's a heaven and hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that, uh, well, it's not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward—and atheists who think that people shouldn't proselytize, [saying] "Just leave me alone and keep your religion to yourself"—uh, how much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize them? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming to hit you, and you didn't believe it, and that truck was bearing down on you, there's a certain point where I tackle you. And this is more important than that.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Urgency of Life & the Alternative

This past Sunday morning our church looked at Luke 16: 13-18. In this passage he speaks about his authority -- (1) His authority to expose our hearts & the sin of the culture; (2) His authoritative fulfillment of God's Law (The Old Testament); (3) His authority to interpret God's Word. But the heart of the passage is in verse 16b, where Jesus speaks of the urgency of getting into the kingdom and, thus, the urgency of the good news (the key to the kingdom).

Jesus' authority creates a sense of urgency. But why do I see such a lack of urgency all around me?

Last night I was thumbing through a book called Life After God by Douglas Coupland. While it was written in the mid-90s, Copeland's book is prophetic in its insightfulness regarding the postChristian world that most of Europe & Great Britain finds itself in and which the U.S. has shown signs of. Coupland's critically-acclaimed book is a sketch or vignette of a man who is coping with questions and disappointment (it also includes little drawings that the main character doodles while telling the story). In this book, Copeland deals with the matter of time/urgency in an insightful manner. Here he has just been introducing himself & his career/vocation-- He is disappointed:
I feel like the punch line to a joke I might have told you ten years ago. But you know: life just catches up on you. When you're young, you always feel that life hasn't yet begun -- that "life" is always scheduled to begin next week, next month, next year, after the holidays -- whenever. But then suddenly you're old and the scheduled life didn't arrive. (p. 147)
I think that description of the life "scheduled to begin next week" is spot on -- I often feel that myself. Don't you find yourself sensing this sometimes -- even if this scheduled life was only vaguely formulated...perhaps while brushing your teeth or after a good movie? We're often searching for God's will for our lives -- but we often do so to the neglect of the clear, urgent will before us: (1) Luke 16: Get into the Kingdom if you haven't trusted your life to Jesus; (2) If you have trusted your life to Jesus, he states at the end of Matthew's Gospel "All authority in heaven and earth belongs to me. Go therefore and make disciples" (Mt. 20:18-19a). Indeed, I've found that by urgently addressing God's evident, revealed will in Scripture, the more nebulous, what-career-or-place-am-I-supposed-to-be will starts becoming more clear.

Jesus was urgent and completed his mission in only 3 years. 3 years!! He's given me about 15 since I became a Christian. But after just 3 years, Jesus said to His Father during the week of his death: "I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do" (John 17:4).

For a lot of folks in our culture & society, when life passes them by and are subsequently left disappointed, they look for a sense of meaning. And when they do so they typically look backwards. Coupland's protagonist reflects back to his teenage years:
Ours was a life lived in paradise and thus it rendered any discussion of the transcendental pointless...Life was charmed but without politics or religion. It was the life of children of the children of pioneers -- life after God -- a life of earthly salvation on the edge of heaven. Perhaps this is the finest thing to which we may aspire, the life of peace, the blurring between dream life and real life -- and yet I find myself speaking these words with a sense of doubt. (p. 273)
Soren Kierkegaard famously asserted, "Life is lived forward but understood backwards." But now it seems many people, when not urged into the kingdom of God, seems pressed with this philosophy: "There is no life forward, all I can do is look backwards and salvage what remains."

When talking to friends or loved ones, have you ever grown frustrated when all they seem to do is dwell on the past? I know I have and still do. Perhaps we've never considered that they've experienced what Copeland describes -- a life scheduled for next week that never happened and, having experienced such disappointment in trying to live forward, being compelled to find hope somewhere in their past.

Perhaps it's possible, by radically depending on God and His grace, to start being urgent about how we live our own lives & interact with others. And by doing so perhaps God might use us to provide an example to such friends & family of a formerly listless life now moving with a purpose and a forward-ness that could only be divinely-inspired. There are people looking for an such an example, and they are often the same people who need to hear from you and I about God's Kingdom.