Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Widsom of God in a Sinking Ship

A friend of mine forwarded this article to me and I was so moved by it that I thought I'd pass it on to you all. Blessings on your day!

Wisdom Cries out From a Sinking Ship
by Pastor Bill Randles
January 25, 2012

Wisdom Cries out in the streets... (Proverbs 1)

God's wisdom is always crying out to every generation, whether it be through the Scriptures, the church, or Israel, there is always a Divine witness to truth trying to get people's attention as life pushes them on to their final destination. I believe that one of the ways God's wisdom cries out to this generation is in certain current events.

It is true that for the most part the real message is lost on most people, due to  the cacophony of other incidents, or the urgency of the mundane. Many of these events are like the writing on the wall in the book of Daniel, people know they are significant but not how to interpret them. I believe that God is speaking to this generation very specifically through the recent sinking of the Concordia, off the coast of Italy. What a statement it is to us about where we as a civilization have come from and where we are headed.

The way to hear Wisdom's message is by contrasting this event with another famous maritime disaster, the sinking of the Titanic, which is just three months short of a hundred years ago,  April 14,  1912. Before we begin though, it is necessary  to banish from your mind director James Cameron's anachronistic version of the Titanic.

When the Titanic began to sink, and it was discovered that there were half as many life boats as needed. Women and children were put into them first, as this survivor recounts:

No laughing throng, but on either side [of the staircases] stand quietly, bravely, the stewards, all equipped with the white, ghostly life-preservers. Always the thing one tries not to see even crossing a ferry. Now only pale faces, each form strapped about with those white bars. So gruesome a scene. We passed on. The awful good-byes. The quiet look of hope in the brave men's eyes as the wives were put into the lifeboats. Nothing escaped one at this fearful moment. We left from the sun deck, seventy-five feet above the water. Mr. Case and Mr. Roebling, brave American men, saw us to the lifeboat, made no effort to save themselves, but stepped back on deck. Later they went to an honoured grave.(Elizabeth Shutes,  The Sinking of The Titanic)  

The world of the Titanic crew and passengers was yet steeped in a Judeo Christian outlook. The self sacrificial actions of the men on the ship were informed by the chivalric ideal of  the strong bearing the burden for the weak and helpless.  These ideals came straight out of  the Bible and Christianity. Women and children first, even to death!

Again from Shutes,

Sitting by me in the lifeboat were a mother and daughter. The mother had left a husband on the Titanic, and the daughter had left a father and a husband, and while we were near the other boats those two stricken women would call out a name and ask, 'Are you there?' 'No,' would come back the awful answer, but these brave women never lost courage, forgot their own sorrow, telling me to sit close to them to keep warm... The life-preservers helped to keep us warm, but the night was bitter cold, and it grew colder and colder, and just before dawn, the coldest, darkest hour of all, no help seemed possible...(ibid)

Contrast this with the reactions of our feminist, post Christian passengers on board the sinking Costa Concordia, from an excellent article by Mark Steyn:

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, "There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat." After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: "There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry."

If, by "the age of chivalry," you mean our great-grandparents' time.

In fact, "women and children first" can be dated very precisely. On Feb. 26, 1852, HMS Birkenhead was wrecked off the coast of Cape Town while transporting British troops to South Africa. There were, as on the Titanic, insufficient lifeboats. The women and children were escorted to the ship's cutter. The men mustered on deck. They were ordered not to dive in the water lest they risk endangering the ladies and their young charges by swamping the boats. So they stood stiffly at their posts as the ship disappeared beneath the waves. (Mark Steyn,The Sinking of The West)  

Once again these are people steeped in a Judeo Christian worldview. I am not saying they were all Christians in the truest sense of the word, but that the western ideals, leadership, sacrifice, heroism, the male as the protector, the female as someone to be protected all come out of the gospel, and the Torah of God's Word. These virtues are routinely scoffed at by our cultural influencers.

Modern people vainly imagine that we through our science and technology and our recent social revolution (i.e., the rejection of the old moral and religious constraints),  have constructed for ourselves a much more just, equal and compassionate world.  That illusion can be maintained as long as the ship of  life is cruising, the buffet table is open, tennis and yoga classes are in session, and the sun is shining on the deck. But what happens when the ship starts sinking?

There isn't anything sacred about a woman in post Christian society. Motherhood is just one option among many, a woman can be anything a man can be, for our cultural shapers have constructed an allegedly 'gender neutral' society.  In the new, godless society there will be no more, "women in the life boats first."  It is now, "only the strong survive." As another eyewitness on the Concordia reported, "Big, strong men were knocking over women and teenage girls to get in the lifeboats."

Children also have been debased in this 'brave new world." The acceptance and practice of abortion alone has murdered the sense that children are special and worthy of special protection that Jesus insisted upon in his warning about millstones.  Of course there were in the Costa Concordia some exceptions to the rule, for the Christian ethic hasn't been completely eradicated. Witnesses observed a Hungarian violinist who took the time to help several crying  children get their life vests on. He was not able to make it off the ship because of it.

There is much more to this such as the absurd behavior of the captain -- who sent people to their rooms knowing his recklessness had caused him to strike the rock that ruined the ship -- who ordered dinner as the ship sank, and who eventually jumped ship leaving the ship and passengers to their fate. Could this be some kind of metaphor about our reckless, unprincipled leaders these days?

Perhaps we should consider Lady Wisdom's full admonition:

Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: She crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge?

 Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; But ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof:

I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; When your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you.

 Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the LORD:(Proverbs 1:20-29)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thanks for Praying

Thank you so much for holding me up in prayer this week as I worked on my book, Preach the Word: Why I'm Passionate about Expository Preaching. One of my fellow pastors and I were at Trout Lake Camp in central Minnesota along with 25 or so other pastors. It was a wonderful time of refreshing and fellowship, and it was very productive as well. To help you understand how much the Lord enabled me to get done, I wrote the equivalent of about seven sermons in three days. That's a lot, and I couldn't have done that without the enabling power of the Holy Spirit which is due, in part, to your prayers, so again thank you!

I hope to complete the book in the next 6-8 weeks, send it to the publisher, and then have it in hand sometime in April. We'll see how it goes, but that's the plan right now. I pray that God will glorify his great name and fulfill every purpose for which he led me to write.

With deep thankfulness for you in Christ,

Monday, January 16, 2012

On Retreat this Week

Every year at this time our denomination offers pastors the privilege of going to one of their camps (Trout Lake Camp near Pine River, Minnesota) for four days of retreat, study, prayer or whatever. So my fellow Pastor, Kevin Feder, and I are heading up there today. In addition to spending some extended time with the Lord, he is going to spend his time praying and planning for year and I'm going to spend my time working on my book, Preach the Word: Why I'm Passionate about Expository Preaching.

I've been working on this book for ten years now and I'm very close to having it done. The hope is to have it to the publisher by late February/early March and hopefully on the shelf, so to speak, by Easter. But we'll see, the quality of the work is more important to me than the date of release.

Please pray for both of us as we put our hands to the plow of the Lord's calling upon our lives. I feel a particular burden to stay near to Jesus and write only what he instructs me to write, and this comes by fasting, prayer, and otherwise seeking the Lord in community. So again, please pray and I will certainly return the favor!

Thanks in advance for your partnership, may the Lord be near you as you fix your eyes on him!

Friday, January 06, 2012

How to Die the Right Way

I just read an article on MSN.Money called "How to Die the Right Way." You can read it here. It does contain some good advice and I did benefit from reading it, but I think I have a better and much simpler approach to life's inescapable end. It only takes four words to articulate: believe in Jesus Christ.

"It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). The judgment will be eternal joy for those who believe in Jesus Christ, by grace through faith, for, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him" (John 3:36). Compared to this, wills and life insurance and all such things are small potatoes. I do think we ought to see to the temporal things, but first and foremost we ought to see the eternal things.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Last Words

I watched another excellent documentary today entitled Hanged on a Twisted Cross: The Life, Convictions and Martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. When I was in college, I wrote a 50 page thesis on the life, work and implications of Bonhoeffer and I must admit that I've always bristled a bit at calling him a martyr as he was executed for actual crimes committed against the state. He was, in my view, right to commit those crimes and I can only hope that I would be so resolved if I were in his position. But it does seem to me that his death is distinct from that of a brother or sister who is killed merely for proclaiming the name of Christ. 

But, at the end of the day, this is a very minor debate. Bonhoeffer was a true man of God and I admire him very much. He thought rigorously, he believed deeply, and he lived boldly. He died on April 9, 1945 at the young age of 39, sadly only days before Hitler himself committed suicide and the war came to an end. It is reported by those who were with him just prior to his death that his final words were these: "This is the end - for me the beginning of life."  

I'm sure, given some things he said in his now famous Letters from Prison, that Bonhoeffer felt fleshly fear about the process of dying. Others thought him so brave, even some of his German prison guards (one of whom tried to help him escape), but he himself struggled with whether or not this was true. Surely such a fate would try any of us to the core. However, I'm also sure that he meant the words he spoke at last. I'm sure he knew Jesus well and had an assurance that he was about to see with his eyes the one who had saved him by faith. And I'm sure that he will live in loving embrace with Jesus forever--indeed, April 9, 1945 was the beginning of an eternity separate from sin and full of glorious and ever-increasing affections for Jesus.

Father, thank you for the deep work you did in and through Dietrich Bonhoeffer. May we likewise surrender ourselves fully to your will and ways in our lives by the power and mercy of Jesus, amen.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Babylon: Past, Present & Future--Good Documentary

Since I'm stuck in bed, I decided to watch a few things I've stored up in my queue on Netflix. One of those things was the documentary, Babylon: Past, Present, and Future. To be honest, I almost turned it off in the first five minutes because the music and narrating are so hokey, but I decided to hang in there and I'm really glad I did. It contains a lot of helpful info about the city and its meaning throughout the Bible, and also a very balanced view of how we should interpret its meaning, especially in the book of Revelation. So, if you have Netflix and a little time, I'd recommend it!

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Grace of God in the Stomach Flu

"Be filled with the Spirit...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Ephesians 5:18, 20). 

Over the last few weeks, my wife and daughter have had bouts with the stomach flu and last night it paid a little visit to me. I'll spare you the details but it wasn't fun, well, except for the fact that I lost some quick weight!

Because of this I wasn't able to sleep most of the night but then caught a nap between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m. As I was coming out of my slumber, the question came to mind, "Charlie, are you grateful to God for this ailment?" Immediately, in my half-conscious state, I answered, "Yes, I am," and then began to think of reasons why this is so. By the time I was fully awake my heart was alive with the worship of God and I just had to pull myself up and blog about the things that came to mind. With that, here are a few reasons why I'm thankful for the grace of God in the stomach flu: 

1. I'm thankful that God has not allowed me to suffer as my sins deserve. We tend to think that health is a right but it's not. Health is the manifest mercy of God toward sinners. I have enjoyed relatively good health almost all my days so I can not complain or impugn God because I have to suffer a little inconvenience from time to time. He knows the darkness of my sin, both before and after I came to know Jesus, and yet he has showered me with mercy instead of judgment. This little bout of sickness has reminded me of all the health I've enjoyed, and often taken for granted, and I'm very thankful to God for it.

2. I'm thankful to God for his abundant provision in my life: a nice bed, warm blankets, a house, private bathrooms, private bedroom, medicine, Powerade to replace lost electrolytes, wisdom to know what's happening and take appropriate counter measures, and so on. Yes, this is inconvenient. I'll have to cancel a couple of important meetings and I hate standing people up, but make no mistake about it, my life is covered with the mercy of God even though I'm currently down for the count.

3. I'm thankful to God for the people closest to me who love me when I'm down, mainly, my beautiful ladies, Kim and Rachel. Rachel doesn't know that I'm sick yet, but she's always so compassionate and helpful when things like this come along. She's still getting over a very bad bout with this herself so it'll be interesting to see how we hobble through this day together!

But as for Kim--Lord God, bless her heart--she spent the night more concerned about me than the fact that she had to be to work at 7 a.m. and teach a foreign language to teenagers! I literally had to persuade her to go back to bed. Wow, what inspiring self-forgetfulness, what love, what Christ-likeness. I love her so much, and I'm eternally grateful to God for her. I want to be more like her.

4. I'm thankful to God for the people of Glory of Christ Fellowship whom I have the privilege of serving as one of their pastors. My heart ached this morning as I thought of the fact that this slight sickness will keep me from expressing my love and concern for people in way I had planned today and tomorrow. And I am still sad about that, but in the midst of feeling this sadness I praised God because I saw that he's given me the loving heart of a shepherd toward His people. As I lay here, I'm chomping at the bit to be back in the swing of things and do all I can to help the people I love see the love that is there.

5. I'm thankful to God that I have affections for him. I don't take this for granted, and I don't take the glory for it either. My heart is hard and prone to stray every moment of every day, but the grace of God poured out through Jesus Christ bought a redemption for me on the cross that has guaranteed my love for him. So the love I felt in my heart for Jesus this morning was a literal manifestation of the value of the cross, for as Jesus bled and died he purchased my pardon, my redemption, my reconciliation with God, and my growth in him until the day of his second coming. As the old hymn writer so eloquently put it,

Jesus paid it all,
All to him I owe,
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

This is why I have affection for God. It's a sign of Jesus' gracious work in me and so to him be all the glory!

This entry may seem a bit much for a simple stomach flu. It's not like I have cancer or a missing limb or blindness. And yet, as we learn to see the grace of God in little things, we increase the chances that we'll see the grace of God in big things as well. Thus, may the Lord use our trials, big and small, to strengthen our faith and prepare us for that day when the grace of God in Jesus Christ will be brought to us and poured upon us forever! (1 Peter 1:3-12).

Thank you, Father, for your grace poured out this day!

Monday, January 02, 2012

Chuck Smith, Founder of Calvary Chapel, Has Lung Cnacer

This afternoon I learned that the founder and long-time leader of the Calvary Chapel movement, Chuck Smith, has been diagnosed with lung cancer and will undergo treatment this month. You can read about Chuck's condition here and I pray that you will. He needs the body to rise up and pray for him at this time.

Although I've never met Chuck, he's had some influence in my life and ministry. First, one of my sisters believed in Jesus in the early 1970s through one of his outreaches, and although she never really came out of the world and followed Jesus with all of her heart, I found out years later that she prayed over me every day in those years (she's 15 years older than me). It would be decades before I myself would understand who Jesus was and accept him into my life as well, but surely the Lord stored up those early prayers and "heard them" when the time was right.

Second, years later, when I had entered into full time ministry and was preaching week in and week out, I came across some material Chuck had written about the place the Word of God ought to have in the life of the church. In fact, I just came across that material the other day and reminisced how the Lord had used it in my life. To make a long story short, I read Chuck's philosophy of preaching when I was struggling to decide which way I ought to go with my own preaching life. And suffice it to say that he convinced me to trust the Lord and his Word and simply present the whole counsel of God, in a systematic fashion, in the prominent worship services of the church. For this I am forever grateful to Chuck, and more so the Lord's work in and through him.

Father, you've been so faithful to Chuck Smith over the years, and you've caused the Calvary Chapel movement to be so fruitful. You have glorified your own great name through them and for this we praise you with all of our heart. And now in Chuck's time of need, we lift him up before you and pray that you would bring healing to his body and peace to his spirit. Also, be with the many thousands who attend Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa. Teach them to put their hope and confidence in you alone for indeed, all flesh is like the grass. "The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God will stand forever" (Isaiah 40:8).

In the mighty and merciful name of Jesus Christ I pray, amen.

Wonder Changes People

This clip from John Piper is only about 3 minutes long and well worth your time. It may in fact change the way you approach life and Bible reading and listening to sermons. May the Lord use this brief word in your life, as he did in mine this morning.

Wonder Changes People | Fighter Verses

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Tora! Tora! Tora!--Great Pearl Harbor Movie

I first saw this movie some years ago and was very impressed by it. Then recently I noticed that Tora! Tora! Tora! is available on Netflix and jumped at the chance to watch it again. The title is taken from the Japanese code which meant that the surprise attack on Peal Harbor was successful. It means "tiger, tiger, tiger."

The reason I love the movie so much is that is was well researched according to the information that was available at the time, and it provides both the Japanese and American perspectives. It takes you into the war rooms of both countries and shows the complexities and divisions that were present on both sides. It displays very well the fog of war.

It's 2:28 long so you'll need some time, but if you like this sort of thing it's well worth it. My step-dad fought in the South Pacific during WWII, including Iwo Jima, and that's partly why movies like this touch me. It feels personal. That infamous day, December 7, 1941, in many ways shaped my step-dad's life and to some extent mine. And more importantly, it shaped the history of the world and the America we live in today.

So again, it's a good watch if you have the time.

Great Start to the New Year

Last night our church gathered at the home of one of our members to eat and play games and welcome in the new year with a brief message from the Bible and communion. John Anderson, the man of the house, brought the message from Matthew 24-25 and his main point--because it was Jesus' main point--was to be ready for the second coming of Jesus. Although the Lord has longed delayed his appearance, at least from our point of view, he will indeed return like a thief in the night and we need to be prepared.

This message was particularly touching to me because I spent all week preparing a message from 1 Peter 1:13-25 for our church service last night. One of the things Peter instructs us to do there is to "set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (v 13). In other words, he wants us to die to all earthly dreams and fix our eyes on the day when Jesus returns, a day that will not only define human history but all eternity as well. Then, having fixed our eyes on that day, he urges us to pursue the holiness of God rather than the passions of this world. He wants us to be ready for the day when Jesus comes.

Peter is calling on us to take action in these verses, that's for sure. But this call to action flows from his understanding of what God has done for us in Christ. According to vv 3-12, God himself caused us to be born again to a living hope in Christ that can never perish or spoil or fade because it's being kept for us in heaven by the God who saved us. He's storing up an inheritance of grace for everyone who has believed, and until the day we receive it he's guarding us as well. That is to say, God is responsible for our salvation, he's responsible for our destiny, and he's responsible for ensuring that we will come into the fullness of that destiny. God, by his astonishing grace in Christ, has done it all for us and all we have to do is receive.

On this basis, Peter issues his call to action. So today, the first day of 2012, let us receive the astonishing grace of God in Christ and put the Lord first in everything we do. Let us love him with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength, and let us love one another as an overflow and expression of his love. And as we give ourselves fully to the person and purposes of our Father, may he glorify his name in us and through us, and may he fill us with joy inexpressible!