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Friday, October 15, 2010

Hawking's #1 Bestseller: God No Longer Necessary

Stephen Hawking's new book The Grand Design has immediately shot up to #1 on the N.Y. Times Bestseller List. One of the reasons for all the hype is Hawking's claim that God no longer needs to be the answer to questions concerning the origin of the universe, which is a departure from his conclusions re: divinity in the book that made him famous twenty-two years ago, A Brief History of Time (sold over 9 million copies -- for a scientist appealing to the masses, that's pretty remarkable).

Anywho, seems as if a lot of people think his work on The Simpsons (which was masterful! -- see right) is more skillful than his newest book. If you're interested in science, rub elbows with people who are, or you just care to reach an atheist neighbor who may be looking for reasons not to believe, Professor Edgar Andrews has a great, two-part review of Hawking's new bestselling book, which can help us make some sense of all this. And even I can semi-understand this review (and I barely passed any science class I took):

Monday, October 11, 2010

Grace: Reused & Recycled

Warning: This post is not about the environment
(though your comments about the adjacent picture are welcome).

"Reduce, Reused, Recycle." As I grow further into fatherhood, sadly, many of my analogies are reflective of just that (I caught myself singing the Disney Channel's Special Agent Oso theme song when warming up my vocal cords for this Sunday Morning's Sermon). I heard the above three words uttered over & over during a season of time when my children were addicted to a claymation character in a hard hat named Bob the Builder. Bob was advocating trying to reuse any and every material when building.

One of my passions in life is to eradicate a mentality that plagues churches & individual Christians -- namely, that the gospel of grace is to be used one time (for salvation) but then thrown into the rubbish bin as each of us "goes on then to DO the Christian life."

So trusting in Jesus' finished work on the cross is amazing, we are saved by it; but now you need to move past it to grow in the Christian life.

People, even us pastors and minister-types, may not actually say or admit that this is the message being proclaimed from our pulpits and with our actions -- but isn't it?

Grace: Reused & Recycled

Grace is the fuel that ought to motivate the Christian life. The cross is to be returned to each day as a place to mourn over & confess sin, receive forgiveness, & celebrate and exult in the the crucified & risen Christ as we freely walk in obedience. Otherwise, we start subtly trusting in self & self-efforts, which will end in our ruin.

Few express this better than Charles Spurgeon, the great 19th century pastor of the London Tabernacle (this dude started preaching at the age of 18...can you imagine receiving your weekly dose of preaching from a freshman in college?!). The following excerpts are from his book All of Grace, which I've been reading lately. I'll leave it without commentary and pray that these words would be a source of life to you as they have been for me:

A dark fear haunts the minds of many who are coming to Christ. They are afraid they will not perservere till the end...I believe that this fear is often the father of fact--that some who have been afraid to trust Christ for all time and eternity have failed because they had a temporary faith which never went far enough to save them. They set out trusting Jesus in a measure, but looking to themselves for continuance and perseverance in the heavenward way...If we trust in ourselves for holding on we will not hold on.
I have no doubt whatever that mistake about the perseverance of the saints has prevented the perseverance of many who ran well. What hindered them that they should not continue to run? They trusted in themselves for the running, and so they stopped short. Beware of mixing even a little of self with the mortar with which you build, or you will make it untempered mortar. The stones will not hold together. If you look to Christ for your beginning, beware of looking to yourself for your ending. His is Alpha. See to it that you make Him Omega also...
The urgent need of the believing soul is confirmation, continuance, final perseverance , preservation to the end. This is the great necessity of the most advanced believers, for Paul was writing to saints [ie. Christians] at Corinth who were men of high order, of whom he could say, "I thank my God always on your behalf, for the grace of God which is given you by Jesus Christ" (I Corinthians 1:4).
Such men are the very persons who most assuredly feel that they have daily need of new grace if they are to hold on and hold out and become conquerors at last.

May each of us hold on by daily reusing & recycling the gospel of grace as our fuel. It's the same 'stuff' by which we were saved & it's the same 'stuff' that will keep us living for Him till we die.

Monday, October 4, 2010

What's the Particular Grace God has given you?

Particular Grace in Prison

Last night I had another opportunity to speak & visit with prisoners at Northward Prison out toward the Savannah area. Every time I go, I'm convinced that I'm exceedingly more blessed listening to the Spirit speak through these men than they are by hearing from me.

Anyhow, last night I spoke on the "Importance of WHY." I knew they'd been asked by so many persons-- Guards, Wardens, Pastors, Volunteers, & society-at-large -- to reform. When I asked them: "Reform what specifically?," they all agreed -- their behavior. I communicated to them that God cares about WHY? because He cares about our hearts & He has far greater and more certain reasons for reforming than the other reasons they told me they'd been given. I shared a few verses about this and closed by challenging them to think, really take time to think about: "Why do you do whatever it is you do?." And make a little list (even if it's a mental one).

Why did I go in this direction? Well, I was recently considering God's immense goodness towards each person no matter their current situation. God gives saving grace through faith in His Son. He also gives general grace -- God "sends rain on the just & unjust" (Matthew 5:45). But I also think he gives another kind of grace that I'll call, for lack of a better term, Particular Grace.

Particular grace is a blessing given by God that is remarkably unique to one's circumstances & situation in life. I asked the prisoners to tell me about a typical day and then I asked them, "How much time to you get to think?" The response was overwhelmingly in the favor of "plenty" to even "Too much." For these prisoners, one particular grace God had afforded to them was time to think. Few others outside prison walls are either afforded or take advantage of time given to think & ponder.

This truth really resonated with them. So much so that one inmate who is in prison for life, got up after me and started challenging the other 30 or so men regarding if they ever stop to think about why they do what they do. He said he'd been asking himself the same question. He pressed home the gospel message as the superior answer to "Why?" Men then began to share both with everyone and then privately afterwards that they'd heard so much from preachers and thought they knew right answers and right reasons, but recognized their real reasons for doing things were way off.

Particular Grace in the Bible
One of the foremost examples of this notion of particular grace is the Apostle Paul and his calling to minister the gospel to Gentiles (ie. the non-Jewish world):

Of this gospel I was made minister according to the gift of God's grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ (Ephesians 3: 7-8).

Paul woke up to the notion: "Of course God would put me, of all people, in this situation & circumstance." He implies just this above: "I am the very least of the saints." But because of his past of persecuting Christians and thinking he would please God by being a model Jew, he was even more convinced:

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (I Timothy 1: 15-16).

"Of course it was me. I was complicit in murdering Christians while being more zealous than anyone about earning favor with God through righteous acts. If God forgives & has a plan for me (of all people), He supremely demonstrates the infinite, mind-blowing nature of his forgiveness & patience." As a side note: We can also see that particular grace is mingled with the idea of calling. But not only can calling be a more general calling toward all persons (see I Thess. 5: 16-18), but calling also connotates burden & responsibility. There is a sense in calling can be a burden & it is certainly a responsibility -- but for today, I'm choosing to focus on such a particular blessing as grace.

Particular Grace allows for an Opportunity to Respond
As you might be able to tell from the previous examples, particular grace allows for an opportunity to respond. And this is true of grace in general -- the responses of faith, then repentance, & then obedience to saving grace through Christ. Responses of thanksgiving to unmerited favor when we receive rain & sunshine from Above. Furthermore, particular grace is often borne out of hardship -- consider prison for the inmates & going immediately blind when first meeting Jesus to significant persecution for the remainder of his life in the case of Paul.

Particular Grace applied to Us
So I've been considering the particular grace God has given me. I want to offer two. The first is God calling & moving us here to pastor a church in Cayman. On the one hand, what God has called us to is tantamount to a church plant. It has been filled with a lot of excitement as we watch God work to grow His church, but it has also required a lot of extra hours of tender and watchful care. On the other hand, island life is laid back. We're more isolated and there isn't as much to do. For instance, Scuba Diving is good times -- but usually lasts 4-5 hours and isn't conducive to the Saturday of a husband and father of two young kids. The particular grace given ever since God called us out of our old church and we had some time to regroup is: Extra & more focused time with the fam. It has proved to be a tremendous blessing just to hang more with my family. The opportunity to Respond: Stepping up to be more intentional as the leader of my family. Christ-centered family traditions, taking opportunities with boys to share with them their need for Jesus, praying and reading God's Word with Katie, setting an example of love & holiness as I'm around them more. All are blessed opportunities to respond.

A second involves Katie specifically. In order to cover Mason's tuition, Katie is currently teaching Art part-time at a small, private school (first time she's ever taught). Concurrently, she's being certified to teach on the island through a full school year of classes. Sufficed to say, some particulars have changed since the beginning of September. Obviously, a number of challenges presently exist for Katie (but I won't speak for her...she has her own blog). The particular grace in this for me is to step up in dying to self and sacrificing as a husband and dad. Why is this a grace? I know relying on Christ's help to die to self and give of myself, I'll become more & more like Him! The opportunity to Respond: For the first two years of being a dad, I was so selfish (still am). I've always been stubbornly independent. But my Father has patiently helped me gradually die to self toward my family. Now, he's asking me to die further -- which really is just further life ("He who loses his life for me will find it"). Plus, the high degree of laundry-folding improvement makes Katie think I once worked retail at Old Navy...maybe even Abercrombie.

What's the particular grace God has given you?

What opportunity for response has He laid at your feet?