Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Boasting In The Cross

I usually do not brag about it, but during a track meet held at Memorial Junior High (Mentor, Ohio) in 1971, I finished sixth in the hurdles. Somehow finishing sixth out of six does not seem like something to boast about. But what should one boast about?

Paul said that if he were to boast it would be to boast of the cross (Gal 6:14). In modern terms, that is like bragging of having a friend on 'death row'.

The false teachers troubling the Galatian church had been teaching that salvation is a human work, something we accomplish. That is, and always has been, a common view. But there are many things wrong with that view.

To believe that we can save ourselves suggests that our sin is not all that serious. If we are to save ourselves, we must not be dead in our sins (Eph 2:1) but merely ill. If we can save ourselves, then the penalty for sin must not really be death, as God has always said it is (Gen 2:17; Rom 6:23), but something less. If we are really dead in sin, we cannot save ourselves, for the dead can do nothing for themselves. If the penalty for sin is really death, then we cannot possibly save ourselves - for we would have to die to pay our penalty.

To believe that we are saved by Jesus taking our place on the cross is to admit the seriousness of sin, to admit that there is nothing we could do to save ourselves. It is to acknowledge that our salvation is totally dependent on the willingness of the Father to accept Jesus in our stead, the willingness of Jesus to offer himself, and the willingness of the Spirit to dwell in us and apply the righteousness of Christ to us. It means that we are less than nothing and that God (Father, Son and Spirit) is everything.

Boasting in the cross turns all ordinary human values upside-down. Yet that is exactly what the early Christians did - turned the world upside-down (Acts 17:6). If we are not accused of turning the world upside-down today, maybe it is because we so often boast in self rather than in the cross of Christ.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Bring the Candles!

Abraham Davenport was a lawyer and important political figure in Connecticut in the 1700s. The most famous event of his career was described by Timothy Dwight (president of Yale University) in these terms.

"The 19th of May, 1780, was a remarkably dark day. Candles were lighted in many houses; the birds were silent and disappeared; and the fowls retired to roost. The legislature of Connecticut was then in session at Hartford. A very general opinion prevailed that the Day of Judgment was at hand. The House of Representatives, being unable to transact their business, adjourned. A proposal to adjourn the Council [Senate or Upper House] was under consideration. When the opinion of Col. Davenport was asked, he answered, 'I am against an adjournment. The Day of Judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, there is no cause for an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty. I wish therefore that candles may be brought."

The Day of Judgment will one day appear. When it does, what will we be found doing? Yes, we live in dark days. But that is no reason for shirking our duty. Let us light candles and work on.

Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants! (Luke 12:37-38, ESV)

Read more about Abraham Davenport and the dark day at http://www.stamfordhistory.org/dav_abraham1.htm

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Attitude That Makes The Difference

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7, ESV)

Christians are not necessarily the strongest, the smartest, or the best-looking people in town. Christians are not necessarily the most talented people in school. In many cases those called to know the Lord may be lacking one or more of these gifts. But, if we are living as Christians ought to live, if we are working as Christians ought to work, if we are studying as Christians ought to study, we will be making the most of whatever gifts we do possess.

We have the advantage of a higher motive. Others may be working for personal advancement or for the good of humanity. But Christians are working for the glory of the Lord who both created and redeemed humanity (Col 3:17). Keeping this higher motive in mind will not make us the smartest students in the class, but it should make us the most diligent students in the class. This higher motive will not make us the most talented employees at the firm, but it should make us the most reliable employees at the firm.

Take a fool and send him to school for a long time, what do you get? In most cases you end up with an educated fool. He may know a lot more, but that only equips him to do more harm. It is not primarily more information that he needs, it is a new attitude that is needed.

What is our attitude? Do we live "in the fear of the Lord"? (Which is, of course, a very different thing from living in fear of the Lord.) Do we study, work, eat, sleep -- do we live our whole lives -- godward? Are we striving to be constantly aware of his presence? Are we striving to do everything in a manner that glorifies him (1 Cor 10:23, 31)? This is the attitude that makes the difference.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Offensive Language

"WARNING: These historical recordings may contain offensive or inappropriate language."

I found the warning cited above on the Library of Congress web site. It was attached to a recording of the hymn "We Are Going Down the Valley". The recording was made in 1909.

I think that I understand what they might be referring to as offensive or inappropriate language. Some old recording might use inappropriate terms for minorities.

That sort of thing does bother me. I have never been able to sing "Way Down Upon the Swanee River" with a clear conscience. I find Stephen Foster's reference to minorities in that song a touch offensive.

But I wonder, what would be the reaction if we asked the government to place such warnings on all modern songs with offensive lyrics? No, I do not really wonder. I know. They would refuse. They would call us narrow-minded. They would say that we were interfering in people's freedom of expression.

There is not much we need to say about such hypocrisy. Just that it is hypocrisy. If songs from 1909 can be labeled as offensive and inappropriate, then so can songs from 2014. The truth is that their concern is not to protect freedom of speech. Their goal is to protect freedom of speech for non-Christians while denying it to Christians.

If you agree with me, you may feel discouraged. I admit to getting a little discouraged sometimes too. But look at it this way. They must be scared of Christians, or they would not be treating us this way. Maybe that should encourage us.

1 John 4:4 (ESV) Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.