“O Lord God, you know.”

April 30, 2008

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of preaching at the church we attend in our small Hill Country town, so as to allow the Pastor to take a well deserved week of vacation.  The text that I used for the sermon was from Ezekiel 37, the familiar (if anything in Ezekiel is familiar to most people) passage containing the vision God gave to Ezekiel of the valley of dry bones.  The bottom line of the sermon, by way of application, was that we are all dead in our trespasses and sins , and that apart from the working of God through His grace, we remain in that condition, blinded to the light the gospel.  Further, just as God did in Ezekiel’s vision, He uses His word to awaken the “dead” and the Holy Spirit to truly bring about and confirm new life.  With an invitation for the congregation to consider their current “state”, I am trusting that God will continue to use the truths proclaimed, in spite of whatever failings were present in the the means of delivery (yours truly), to accomplish His ends. 

For those of you who teach, or preach, do you find yourself continuing to consider, or maybe better said wrestle with a text, even after you have completed your teaching from it?  I sure have these past few days.  And as a part of that wrestling, I find that I wish I had made a few more applications, or that I had made them more clearly.  I have also come to the conclusion that I could use this same text as the basis for yet another whole sermon.  My first go centered around God’s grace and the process by which He brings people from spiritual death to eternal life, (i.e.:  the preaching of the word and the movement of the spirit).  My second pass through would focus on the doctrine of election, and OUR response to that in terms of evangelism.

In verse 3 of Ezekiel 37, God asks the prophet if the many bones on the surface of the valley could live.  A similar question could be asked of us regarding the countless numbers of people whose orbits cross and sometimes collide with our own.  Are they now breathing eternally, or if not, can/will they be saved?  At the risk of oversimplifying that which seminaries and seminarians spend vast amounts of time reading, lecturing and writing about, I settle on the notion that there are basically three points of view on this matter. 

One is the Roman view that says that by virtue of the washing away of original sin in baptism, and the periodic renewal of that state of sinlessness through confession to a priest and observance of the sacraments, ALL can live.  I am not persuaded by their doctrine and think that there is something dangerously missing when relying on man-made rituals and tradition.  I fear for the condition of people’s souls if they are making such a reliance.  But God will be the ultimate judge.

Of the other two views, both involve an election on the part of God as to who will be counted among those saved at the end of the age.  The Arminian view, vastly and perhaps overly simplified, holds that God looks into the future to see who will choose Him when that person is confronted with a choice of faithfulness to God or not, and for those who do pick faithfulness, He then counts them among His elect.  The difficulty I have with this doctrine is that man will show up in heaven being able to take credit for having done something to allow for his presence there.  This wrecks my understanding of Eph. 2: 8 & 9, where we are told that salvation is not “of our doing, it is a gift of God, not a result of works.”  I would argue that even a decision would be regarded as “work.” 

The Reformed view (aka Calvinism) says that God, according to the kind intention of His will, elects some to salvation, without any consideration of merit or actions of that person.  This is the essence of God’s sovereign grace.  God chooses according to His pleasure, and for His glory alone.  Again, Eph 2: 8, says we are saved by grace through faith.  And that faith is a capability given only by God through the regeneration of a person, who otherwise would be incapable and unwilling to choose God for him/herself.  For anyone who is not familiar with me, or who has not read elsewhere at this site, I will take the guess work out for you, my worldview is defined by this doctrine.

So, how does Ezekiel 37: 3 relate to this?  Well, back to God’s question to Ezekiel…”can these bones live?”  While I have difficulty with the Arminian view, and I do find scriptural support for the Reformed doctrine of sovereign election, let’s just allow for the moment that both views have validity.  The truth is, we don’t know any more than Ezekiel did when God posed the question to him about the possibility of life for someone already dead.  In the case of Ezekiel, it was the symbolic death of the nation of Israel.  In our case, it is the spiritual death that plagues mankind.  We simply do not know who can live and who cannot, (or for the Arminian, will not).

So, our answer must be the same as Ezekiel.  “O Lord God, you know.” (ESV) or in some versions, “you ALONE know.”  Consequently, our mission is to present the good news of the gospel to all the dry bones, we come into contact with just as Ezekeil did in his vision.  Because whether by our attempts or those of others who follow us, the elect will hear and they will “live and stand on their feet” (verse 10).  We need to reject the teachings of those who corrupt the doctrine of election by saying that there is no need to evangelize if the elect are bound for salvation no matter what.  God has clearly taught us about the means by which He regenerates, and that is in part through the preaching and the hearing of the word, and He has also given us the imperative that we GO and TEACH. 


If you ever fly commercially, you gotta watch this.

April 28, 2008

For several years, I was on airplanes traveling on business at least one or two weeks out of every month.  Flying was no fun back then, and that intense period of travel was prior to the imposition of the security measures necessitated by the events of 9-11.

Justin Taylor posted this video on his site over the weekend, but I just caught up to it today.  Brian Regan’s form of humor is amazing.  He absolutely nails the peculiarities of flying itself and the little annoyances present around the airport.  His observational humor hits the bull’s eye.  For anyone who flies on airplanes this is a must see.


Are you celebrating “Earth Day”?

April 22, 2008

Well, today is the eagerly anticipated and breathlessly celebrated annual festival of everything “earthy”…Earth Day 2008!  Happy Earth Day everyone.  Are you celebrating?  Did you even remember?

               Unofficial Earth Day Flag

In doing a little research on Earth Day, I was amazed to find out that the first Earth Day in the US dates all the way back to 1970!  Can you believe that we have been celebrating this special day for 38 years?  I must say that if I had been asked to guess how long Earth Day had been recognized, I probably would have offered 20 years as my hunch for how long we have yielded  to the environmental hypochondria we are engaged in these days.  But, no, 38 years of fear and prediction of the eminent demise of our planet.

All the snarkiness aside, I do believe that as humans we need to appreciate and care for the planet we live on.  In the Genesis account of creation, God gave specific instructions to Adam to care of his garden home.  I think the same imperative applies to us.  There is no question that we have NOT cared for our home in all cases and our greed, selfishness and shortsightedness have produced regrettable messes that are difficult if not impossible to repair.  But it is equally true that to too great a degree, we have overreacted on the basis of questionable science that has been regarded by some as established fact (when it is not) and made compensatory decisions that are equally foolish.  With concerns over the price of oil and the instability of oil producing nations of the middle east, we continue to sit on huge underground and undersea oil reserves that could help to both stabilize prices as well as insure our nation’s relative independence from foreign nations who produce oil, many of which are hostile to our country.  The Trans-Alaska Pipeline System, completed in 1977 is proof that good science, engineering and construction can both extend the use of our OWN natural resources, while at the same time protecting the environment from the kinds of catastrophes that the environmental doomsayers predict with certainty are looming over us.

Do I think we need to be concerned with our environment.  Of course I do, and I suspect that any reasonable and thoughtful person would agree with that.  But that agreement is measured in degrees.  Doing nothing to steward our planet will not be helpful.  But the environmental extremist mindset that suggests not doing anything above and beyond what we are doing today relative to economic expansion and development is absurd.

On a spiritual level, the romance that some have for the environment I fear borders on worship of the created, and leaves no room for reverence for the Creator.  This transcends stewardship to idolatry.


If you are wondering, the answer is YES, you should!

April 18, 2008

I have just returned home after seeing the movie Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed, written and directed by Ben Stein.  The movie opened in theaters today, April 18, 2008.  This movie, which would more correctly be called a documentary, is a must-see, but especially for people who acknowledge the presence of a “divine power.” 

This movie pulls back the curtain on what might almost be called a scientific facism that is present in our culture.  And it draws close correlations between Darwinism and Evolution science and secular humanism and the devaluation of human life.  This movie is intelligent and provocative, and yes, you should and must see it. 


A Study in Contrasts

April 18, 2008

God ______ America!

 

Both of these men disagree with certain policies of the United States of America.  Both are opposed to the war in Iraq.  Both are concerned about human rights, although probably on somewhat different levels.  Neither veil their comments.  Both are upfront and outspoken.  They are expressive, forceful, and articulate about their opinions.

One of these men encourages mankind to find justification, the other justice.  One calls for revival, the other revenge.  One seems to operate with an air of peace, the other just seems pissed off.  One clings to grace, the other a grudge.  One seems motivated by concern for the human race, the other one for a particular race. 

And one chooses to ask God to bless our nation, the other calls upon Him to damn us!  What a contrast.


Just one of the folks

April 14, 2008

Over the weekend, the term “elitist” suddenly emerged as one of the labels to avoid in this year’s presidential campaign.  Barack Obama has had it leveled at him by both his democrat rival as well as John McCain, as a result of some in-artful comments he made earlier this month to prospective donors in San Francisco.  He was making reference to middle income, rural citizens of Pennsylvania.  According to Obama, these “folks” are bitter.  Bitter people, who in their bitterness are comforted by guns, religion, and xenophobia.  Wow.  WOW!  I wonder on what basis he came to those conclusions.  Throughout the weekend, he contended that he did not communicate his thoughts well, but “everyone” knows it’s the truth.  [Barack, here is some free advice:  One of the fundamental rules of life is this, when you are in a hole that you would like to get out of, stop digging!]

The truth is that both of the democrat candidates could be regarded as elitist, and likely John McCain could be as well.  Clinton and Obama are both Ivy League educated lawyers, and both are married to Ivy League educated lawyers.  All three candidates sit atop wealth that only single digit percentages of Americans have any experience with.  And all three presidential contenders are members of the most elite club in America, the United States Senate.  I had the opportunity a few years ago to sit in the Senate gallery and observe the goings on on the floor, during a roll call vote.  It was interesting to watch these people, swoop in, with staff members in tow, vote and leave with all the fanfare they could muster.  Or other “club members” who appear to be bitter rivals, especially when in front of a camera, laughing it up and putting their arms around each other’s shoulders.  The pomposity was palpable.

 

It has been amusing to watch Obama and Clinton relate to “the folks.”  Both of these Senators are out of their element when it comes to even the appearance of being comfortable in these settings.  Earlier this month, Obama went bowling.  Bad decision on the part of his handlers.  At the very least, they should have had him practice on the tour bus with a Wii to get the hang of the sport.  I heard on TV that he bowled something like a 37.  Only reinforces the reality that he’s not “one of the guys in the Thursday night league.” 

And this weekend, while in Indiana, Clinton tossed back a few shots of whiskey and washed them down with beer and pizza.  The whole scene seemed almost surreal.  Here was this 60-ish woman hanging out with the boys, “doin’ what guys do!  It would have been unbecoming of a college sorority girl to do this, but for the woman who wants to be queen of the world?  Once again, what were her handlers thinking?

Yeah, bowling and drinking may be relaxing pastimes for some, or perhaps many Americans, but to have these two participating, when so clearly out of their normal modus operandi, seems to almost mock.  Pretension and condescension seem to describe the whole effort.  And none of it makes me feel like they really connect. 

And I suspect in time, we’ll see John McCain participating in equally inane efforts to appear to be just one of the folks.


Another reason to watch American Idol

April 10, 2008

Wednesday night on American Idol Gives Back, the closing performance had the 8 remaining “Idols” performing Shout to the Lord.  However, the opening lyrics were changed from “My Jesus” to “My Shepherd.”  On tonight’s results show, the opening performance by the “Idols” had them singing the song with the original and correct lyrics.

Some have speculated that the re-do of the performance tonight was in response to lawyers from Hillsong raising a stink.  I doubt that was the case, as song lyrics and melodies are routinely changed in the public domain, and it is customary on American Idol for songs to be given some “artistic adjustment.”  Furthermore, who was damaged in this particular instance.  Hard to see how the copyright holder was.  There was nothing defamatory about the version sung on Wednesday night.  And the producers of American Idol would have a reasonable defense that Jesus referred to Himself as “The Good Shepherd.”

I think the performance of Shout to the Lord  tonight as probably a bit of commercial genius, that will be a winner for all involved.  For any who watched tonight, you might recall that Ryan Seacreast was encouraging viewers to download Idol performances at iTunes.  Proceeds from those downloads benefit American Idol Gives Back.  He then said something to the effect of “this performance could also be downloaded.”  He then threw to the “Idols” singing the song, with its original lyrics…with the song beginning “My Jesus.”

The performance was a good one.  And somewhat of a surprise in such a secular venue.  My hunch is that there will be LOTS of downloads of this song from tonight’s show.  American Idol Gives Back will realize more money for their relief efforts here in North America and in Africa.  And perhaps most importantly, and most unexpectedly, the name of Jesus was proclaimed on national television on one of America’s highest rated programs.