The Search (Part 3)

I really appreciate your interactions with me on this series topic and rather sobering subject. After my last blog posting, a gentleman from our church texted me this message: “Charles, I have never been challenged by someone saying to me that there is no such thing as absolute truth. But if I am so challenged, I will ask them if they are absolutely sure.”

Brilliant! I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Today let’s ask ourselves this question: what did modernism mean for the church? Asked another way: since we’ve left behind the cultural sway of modernism, what else have we left behind?

We’ve left behind a climate in which people are searching for the truth. This postmodern, and in many ways post-Christian, context in which we find ourselves casts doubt not only on the ability of a person to discover the truth, but it also daily asks the question: can truth be known at all (does truth even exist)? Modernism meant: absolute truth exists; absolute truth can be discovered; and absolute truth can be known. Those days are gone.

We’ve left behind the widespread conviction that Christianity, and the Judeo-Christian ethic in general, are a sturdy foundation for the advancement of human flourishing. As you observe today’s media reports, you get the distinct impression that Christians have never done anything good for the world. Never mind widespread advancements in education for everyone, healthcare for the needy, promotion of the arts, care for the poor, elevating the status of women, and ministry to the orphan and widow – and much of that accomplished in Christ’s name since the days of the early church – you would think that Christians should be feared. It used to be that the average person, by and large, accepted the fact that Christianity – as a belief system – rests upon an unshakeable foundation of truth. (Thus we in the church promoted apologetics and sound, reasonable thinking under the Lordship of Christ.) Now we are finding that our presuppositions about truth, and truth claims, sound foreign in the ears of most of the people around us.

We’ve left behind the generalized assumption that the church can expect to enjoy a prominent place in the marketplace of ideas. Again, those days are gone. People are skeptical and suspicious of us. They consider us anti-truth and anti-science. They regard us as both culturally and intellectually irrelevant. Similarly, no pastor today should expect to be respected simply because of his position or title. That simply is not the world in which we now find ourselves.

We’ve left behind the belief that the Christian faith is inherently personal. And, in all honesty, this might be a good thing. The tenets of modernism tended to reduce the gospel to “my personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” You may remember: “I come to the garden alone …” The sentiment is sweet, but my aloneness with Jesus is only part of my story. The whole truth is: we were created and redeemed to be in community (Romans 12:1-5). I personally think it’s a wonderful development that we’re rediscovering what it really means to “do life” with other followers of Christ. It was always designed to work that way – so maybe we’re going to get back to something really, really important. Rugged individualism and the Bible are largely at odds after all. Could postmodernism have a plus-side for us? Please stay tuned.

Finally, we’ve left behind the notion that Christ-followers can expect to live peacefully and comfortably in this life. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that persecution – and I’m not talking about the “Starbucks reneging on their red Christmas cups” variety – may well loom on our horizon. Our Lord told us to expect as much. But, again, I note for the second time in this blog posting, this might be a very good development in disguise. Personal security is of some value, of course, but Christ’s gospel never called us to minimize all risk for ourselves and for those whom we love. The gospel is risk. We can no longer expect to live out our lives within a comfortable American context where the church remains untouched by the evil and confusion of our day.

Friends, we have our work cut out for us! But it’s good gospel work, and that’s who we are, and that’s our high calling – so let’s be us!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search (Part 2)

Thanks to those of you who expressed an interest in this topic! We’ve taken up the subject of postmodernism and its takeover of our current cultural landscape. In my last blog posting, I shared with you a little of the history of modernism, from its birth during what is now generally referred to as the Enlightenment. We can’t understand postmodernism without understanding modernism. (So if you need to go back and read, please do.)

In his response to last week’s blog, Kent Buchanan made this observation: “Relativism is the prevailing foundation of thought today. It’s really built on … the idea that … my truth may be different than yours.” Well said. That’s the crazy soup we’re in, friends! Kent went on to explain how we’re drowning in a sea of personal experience, in which even the notion of any real truth gets lost.

Do me a favor and check out a really cool verse: First Chronicles 12:32.

In the early days of Israel’s monarchy, David is about to be crowned King of Israel. Saul is dead and the Benjamites have other ideas about the successor to the throne. But the other tribes are in favor of David as their king, and they meet in Hebron to turn the kingdom of Saul over to him. The political climate is very tense. Sound familiar? Two hundred leaders of the tribe of Issachar are described in this verse. The ESV uses the word “understanding,” and it’s from the Hebrew word binah – which communicates “to have insight” and “to act with prudence.” The sons of Issachar know how to analyze a situation carefully because they know what their times are all about!

That’s who you and I want to be for such a time as this. We need to understand where our culture is headed. We need to understand how to apply God’s Word to that cultural runaway train.

So let’s think about modernism for another moment or two. I made the point last time that modernism didn’t ultimately satisfy the human race. (Only God can satisfy, right?) But we may have jumped from the proverbial frying pan into the fire. When people were under the sway of modernism, at least they tried to govern themselves by reason, intelligence, and science. Those things are not God, but I think you might agree with me that they’re better channel markers than unchecked personal experience. The same thing can be said regarding a general respect for authority, a clear sense of right and wrong, and the ability to think (and reason) critically. I could offer other examples, of course, but each of these has fallen on hard times as we’ve tried to push away – both as a culture and as a society – any ultimate notion of “true truth.”

In American business, we often see a CEO under intense scrutiny and pressure whenever his or her company is not keeping pace with market trends. When Fiat Chrysler lags in sales, and when the CEO is unable to convince people that a turnaround is possible, the board demands a new CEO who can “git ‘er done.” (The Opryland Hotel used to have that phrase on their in-room phones. It marked the button to push when you needed help with something right now.)

How happy are the fans of a basketball-driven university when its team is losing routinely?

How excited are the hometown loyalists of a football-dominated city when its team’s performance is downright cruddy?

We see it in sports. We see it in business. We see it in education. And we see it in almost every other sphere of life. Every age of history has its unique opportunities. And every age of history has its unique challenges.

But we were made for opportunities and challenges.

This is ours.

Your thoughts?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Search

What I think I’ll do for the next few blog postings is take on the subject of “meaning” – as in, “what is the meaning of life?” You may be wondering if I have a little too much time on my hands. Hardly! But this sparks my interest, and so I’ll share a few thoughts and we’ll see where this goes …

We live in culture that’s been nearly overrun by the idea that “there is no absolute truth.” If you’re over 40, you find that thought a little bizarre. If you’re under 40, you’re not all that surprised that such a notion as the un-know-ability (my term, and admittedly a strange term) of truth has caught on. You’ve heard some version of “we can’t really know that” – at least in the public square – for much of your life. If you’re 40, well, I don’t know exactly how to classify you. (But enjoy it.)

“There is a God to whom we will one day answer.”

“We can’t really know that.”

“There is a right and wrong.”

“We can’t really know that either.”

This is the spirit of postmodernism. It’s the spirit of our age. But, when it comes to real life, people seem to apply “we can’t really know that” rather selectively. When you ask your dentist if you have a cavity, he or she is unlikely to respond – at least after an x-ray – “We can’t really know that.” If you hear that from your dentist on a regular basis, you might want to find another dentist. Quickly. On a level deep down in our souls, we inherently recognize that “we can’t know that” is far from satisfying. And far from helpful.

But postmodernism contends, with everything in it kicking and screaming, that there is no absolute truth.

How did we land here? Well, for starters, the Enlightenment failed to deliver. After the “dark” Middle Ages, people in Europe – and later in North America – believed that the path forward for the human race was the illumination of intellect and culture. Think about the late 17th century and the early 18th century, particularly, and on a broader scale think about what some historians call the “long 18th century” – stretching from about 1685 to 1815. Why were those years so important? Because everybody believed that the world was getting better. It was the “Age of Reason,” and it meant the reorientation of communications, philosophy, politics, and even science according to all of the new discoveries that were being made – and on the basis of all of the truth that was being learned and absorbed because of all of those amazing discoveries.

Even in the 20th century, when I was born, I have a vivid childhood memory. The mother of one of my friends died of cancer. Her death shook our little town, as she was admired by many, and she left behind young children. As a kid, I distinctly remember thinking: “I will not have to worry about cancer when I grow up. It will be cured.” That was an example of the “modern” mind, wasn’t it? I was sure that the answer to our problems would be found in the gaining of new information – which must surely be right around the corner.

But modernism didn’t deliver. At least in part, that’s why we’re here in this world of postmodernism.

I’d be stoked to hear your thoughts on the subject, and we’ll pick up here next week.

Much love in Christ,

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Penultimate

This week I am vividly reminded that I do not write my story. I never have. I never will.

I’ve rediscovered that I don’t even control the appearance of my story. Not only is someone else writing my story, but someone else is providing the colorful and glossy illustrations!

Only God. Only God writes my story. Each and every chapter. Each and every bend in the road. Those few moments along the way when I feel like “I’m in control” or “I’ve got this” are mere illusions. The “ashes to ashes” of the old English burial service is a far better descriptor of who I really am.

This morning my mind wanders back to the Church at Corinth. If you loved money and a good time, Corinth was the place to be. Corinth was a Greek city-state which was marked by wealth and luxury, and right in the middle of it all was a group of Christ followers who had been planted there for God’s glory. Friends, there are strong parallels between Corinth and our contemporary culture. Said another way, Corinth is not that far from Paducah.

Many of the Corinthian believers regarded themselves as prominent and respected citizens. They were women and men enjoying a certain status and influence. As you well know, it’s not always easy to keep your head on straight when you’ve got lots of toys and distractions. So, among the Corinthians, the gospel message – this “foolish” message of Christ’s Cross – didn’t always occupy the place of centrality where it belonged. Some church folks would become ashamed of the gospel. Certain teachers would minimize or obscure the gospel, just to be validated by the wider community. And many professing Christians would end up not wanting to be identified with the gospel, in the long run, because they craved so badly that life of “I’m in control” that still dogs you and me.

Enter Paul. What did the apostle remind them (First Corinthians 3:18)? Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise.

The world, and even the church, may love us for a moment. But, sooner or later, we’re likely to be labeled fools. This may be one of the harder parts of your story, and of mine. We may be misunderstood, maligned, and marginalized – but that may be the moment when we finally discover the wisdom of God.

Here’s what I’m discovering about what I need in order to go the distance with Christ. Maybe you’ll be able to relate …

I need humility. For goodness’ sake, I need to get over me. That’s it, really. Easier said than done, of course. But perhaps the victory of the Christian life.

I need detachment. In certain seasons when my finite mind can’t make sense of anything that’s happening, I need to step back and remember the thesis of this blog posting: “I do not write my story.” When I grasp that truth, I can breathe a sigh of relief, because – though I’m certainly in my story – I am not my story’s Hero.

I need armor. I’ve been enlisted for battle. Whether I remember my charge or not, I’m supposed to be destroying strongholds of spiritual darkness. The same goes for you. There’s not a chance in this world that we can do this in our own power. We need the Spirit and strength and steadiness of God for such a time as this.

And I need more than a small dose of humor. I’m not talking about laughing at anybody else – I’m talking about the ability to laugh at me! Did I really think that I was in control? That must be the absolutely funniest one-liner of the day!

I’m following the Son of God, whom the priests called a fool, and I’m blessed just to be along for the ride. I don’t write the story, but the fact that my name is written in the Book is more than enough.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Brighter Day

Eileen and I came home from Birmingham encouraged. Very encouraged! What I feared would be exceptionally controversial was not controversial at all, and our denomination did the right thing. It’s never easy to admit “sin in the camp,” but real freedom comes only when we tell the truth. And I’m happy to report to you that the Southern Baptist Convention voted overwhelmingly to take a strong stand against both sexual abuse and racism – not just in words but in substantive action. Today is a brighter day for a denomination experiencing steady numerical decline. Now our 52,000 churches and congregations have a path forward.

What you need to know is this: individual churches that mishandle or cover up claims of abuse will be removed from the SBC.

The “lawyer” in me must also inform you that these constitutional amendments must be ratified by a two-thirds vote next year in Orlando, but – based on the historical movement I just observed – I think that’s just a technicality at this point. I can remember, not too many years ago when the SBC annual meeting in Indianapolis was nearly tone deaf to the pleas of a woman who claimed former sexual abuse by SBC church leaders. Tone deaf no longer! By God’s grace and for His glory, we’ve come a long way. We must, like President J.D. Greear articulated so well at this year’s meeting, admit that the media actually did our convention a huge favor by “shining light on this evil.” Speaking to whom evangelicals often refer to as “the secular media,” Pastor J.D. said: “You are not our enemy.”

Monday I was invited to a late-night rollout of the Caring Well Challenge, which has been diligently put together with tremendous input from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. It’s a local-church plan for training church leaders on the ground to prevent abuse. Eileen has agreed to lead First Baptist Paducah through this Challenge. Please stay tuned – this will involve nearly all of us at one point or another.

I’ll steal another of Greear’s lines: this was a “defining moment … a very, very significant moment in the history of the Southern Baptist Convention.” Indeed it was. Indeed it is.

What I most loved was how unifying and worshipful was the climate at the convention center. You could feel the palpable sorrow in the room. You could see the tears, and hear the pain. But you could also sense the beginning of healing. Real healing I pray.

Though I graduated from an SBC seminary, in my early ministry years I was extremely reluctant to get involved in the SBC. In my mind and heart, the convention represented needless infighting over trivial matters that had little or nothing to do with the gospel of Christ. I’m so hoping I’m being proven dead wrong.

So you can imagine how encouraged I was by this year’s annual meeting theme: Gospel Above All. Amen and amen! As the messengers elected the most diverse slate of leaders ever in its history – in terms of age, race, ethnicity, and even geography – it felt like I was watching critical history unfold. It felt like the annual theme was being lived out, as the common denominator among all those women and men was nothing or no one but Jesus.

Friends, who could have imagined that the Houston Chronicle might be used by the Lord to help usher in – for a huge swath of God’s people here and now – a brighter day?

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Overlord

It was the largest ever airborne and amphibious invasion.

It turned the tide of Nazi occupation.

It turned the course of global history.

D-Day. 75 years have passed. This week we remember. At the landing beaches surrounding Normandy, and at the American Cemetery, veterans of World War II are being treated like heroes, as they should be. Indeed they were, and are, our heroes. I know that you’ve seen lots of photos, so I’ll choose only one: this was Wednesday’s celebration and military parade at Portsmouth, England.

President Donald Trump said it remarkably eloquently yesterday morning, and I’m sure that his words will live on: “You are the pride of our nation. You are the glory of our republic. And we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” France’s President Emmanuel Macron said it like this: “We know what we owe to you, veterans: our freedom.” Both men were spot on: an entire generation sacrificed that you and I might live in freedom.

Since 1995 I have carried with me the sense of horror that I experienced when I walked onto the grounds of Buchenwald concentration camp that summer. I was doing the tourist thing while Eileen, who worked for the U.S. government, did depositions in Berlin – so I was all alone in feeling what it must have been like when horses pulled German artillery into the rooms where victims were hung from hooks. Where men were told that they were going to receive needed medical treatment, only to be shot from behind in the back of the neck when they stood to have their height measured in the “clinic” – and where women left bloody patches all over the walls as evidence in the plaster of their desperate death throes. All while much of the world looked the other way.

The war would not end until September 2, 1945, but D-Day changed everything. It was the decisive victory, and all because the bravest of soldiers were willing to cross the English Channel, storm the fortified coastline, and defeat their “undefeatable” enemy!

So today I’m fixated on the “Operation Overlord” of June 6, 1944. In regard to D-Day itself, the Lutheran theologian Oscar Cullmann once wrote that “there is something about all this that has close resemblance to the Christian experience.” I agree. I’m not sure if I know exactly what he meant, but I’m going to give this a try.

First of all, the wounded and bleeding soldiers would have had no way to know that it was a victory. It certainly would not have felt much like a victory when you were dodging bullets! Have you ever had a day like that? Even when you know and believe the gospel, our daily trials don’t always feel like wins, do they?

Secondly, there would be many tough days ahead. The war was not over. There would be some real encouragement stemming from the results of D-Day, but there also would be more steep hills to climb. Can you relate? Every morning I pray for my family: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” Why do I pray that? Because each new day, in spite of the promise that it holds, also brings with it a whole new crop of “dangers, toils, and snares” (borrowing from John Newton).

Thirdly, God Himself has invaded history! That’s the glory of what we, as Christ followers, hold dear: God has come to us! God is with us! God will be with us forever! He has proven that on the cross and in the empty tomb!

Lastly, our enemy is surely defeated. Though we can’t see that win fully yet, final victory has been assured. Christ has “secured an eternal redemption” for us (Hebrews 9:12). He has paid our sin debt in full. “The ruler of this world has been cast out” (John 12:31). The devil may make a lot of noise ‘round here, but he’s as good as done. Because Christ lives in and through us, who are forever His people, the Prince of Darkness is going down like a drunken fighter. Not only that, but the Bible promises that you and I are being set free by the Spirit to live a new life of righteousness and joy (John 6:38-39; 10:10; First John 3:8; and so many other verses that I can’t cite them all).

So you and I have all kinds of freedom to celebrate this week!

Christ Jesus is the Overlord, friends. He is, and forever will be, Lord over all.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Spelling Bee-liever?

Just today, in an op-ed piece for NBC News via THINK, Megan Francis takes on the legitimacy of the spelling bee. Though Ms. Francis seems like a great mom who puts much thought, love, and care into the raising of her 10-year old daughter Clara, I’ll have to respectfully disagree with her conclusion: “I question [the spelling bee’s] usefulness as a regular, celebrated, school-wide event at the elementary-school level.”

Come on now.

My heart goes out to Clara and her mom. It really does. It’s no fun when you have to sit down after missing an important word. Or when you disqualify yourself because you’re such a pile of nerves that you can’t spell at all. Or when you have to re-live and re-live that one tragic spelling blunder that haunts you well into middle school.

It seems like yesterday. Mrs. Lockwood, my fourth-grade teacher, called out the word “donkeys” in the final round, and I confidently spelled it “d-o-n-k-i-e-s”. Then I heard it: Mrs. Lockwood looked at one of my two remaining opponents and said “donkeys”. I knew what that meant: I was done. Ouch. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the crucible of that spelling bee made a lasting impression on me. Believe me, I never misspelled “donkeys” again! Sure, the parents have to do a little seat-squirming, and the kids have to suffer a little embarrassment from time to time, but isn’t that pretty good practice for life? (I’ll even credit my love for spelling, at least in part, for my 2007 appearance on Wheel of Fortune, but that’s another blog for another day.)

I’m not trying to be insensitive here, y’all. I know that spelling doesn’t come easy to everybody, and I’m probably biased because it came easy for me, but I cringe every time I hear that we ought to throw out another of our childhood rituals. What could be inherently wrong, after all, with a good old-fashioned spelling bee?

O.K., so here’s the whole truth. About the same time that I was learning to be a decent speller, I also signed up for diving. Our small town was blessed with a retired Olympic diving coach, and he offered free lessons to every kid who wanted to learn. (I’ll include a pic of Coach “Moose” Moss at the pool he built out on his farm.) Well, I worked for a year to prepare for my first diving meet. The highest degree of difficulty for which I signed up was an “inward”. (You turn around at the edge of the diving board, jump backwards, and then quickly transition into a dive – while still facing the board.) Don’t be too impressed: I was only doing this from the low dive. (Why I’m admitting that to you I’m not quite sure.)

Anyway, it was the day of the diving meet, and my turn finally came. Our whole team was wearing green swimsuits, but mine seemed shinier than everybody else’s. The material was somehow a little off. You know how it goes when your mom didn’t exactly get your order right, but you just now notice it – when everybody’s watching. (When insecure and in doubt, blame your mom, right?) As I looked across the pool at the three judges assembled for the meet, I knew that this was going to be my shining moment! (The way it worked was this: about the time a diver came up out of the water, the three judges would announce their three scores – for everybody to hear.) So I completed my dive, with one slight problem: I didn’t quite complete my dive. I came up out of the water only to hear this – and in my mind it was breaking news heralded around the world: “Fail Dive” … “Fail Dive” … (wait for it) … “Fail Dive”. All three judges had declared it: I was no diver. (And I was never going to be a diver.)

But you don’t see me out writing op-eds against competitive diving, do you?

We each have our gift or gifts. The Apostle Paul made that point abundantly clear (First Corinthians 12:1-31), and I simply say “Amen.”

That same year, among other words more complex than “donkeys”, I learned to spell “phenolphthalein”. I’m not making this up – I was really proud of that word! In fact the mayor of our town, Willie B. Withers, gave me an old spelling primer – and in it Mayor Withers inscribed: “For Charles, the best speller in the country.” I never forgot that endorsement. I’m still proud of it.

I can sympathize with the parental angst of Ms. Francis, but surely there are kids like me who still need the spelling bee! There must be a connection between good spelling and rocket science. I’m absolutely certain of it.

By the way, who needs diving when you’re the best speller in the country?

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Impossible Dream

Do you remember Don Quixote?

I guess I’m revealing my age by simply asking the question. Quixote was the “mad” knight in a play within a play, performed by Cervantes and his fellow prisoners. The Broadway hit ran for 2328 performances and won five Tony awards, including Best Musical. From it was born the song The Impossible Dream.

It was Don Quixote’s dream that made the tale. His appearance seemed ludicrous. Makeup and powder in his hair – gray and disheveled. A twisted piece of tree limb for a spear. A barber’s shaving bowl for a helmet of gold. An honorable knight or a fool? That was the point.

There are images of grace in the story, and all of that is well and good. But in the end the man is just a man. It’s kind of like the curtain-pulled-back reality check of The Wizard of Oz. Sometimes life reminds us just how fragile and finite we really are. For some reason, this has been that kind of week for me.

Don Cash, at the age of 55, just died at the top of Mount Everest. After reaching his seventh and final summit climbing the tallest mountain on each continent, Cash has departed this life. He was so passionate about mountain climbing that he left his job to join the “Seven Summits Club.” Mr. Cash lost fingers to frostbite on earlier adventures, and likely succumbed to a heart attack on Everest – the world’s tallest peak.

I guess there’s something in all of us that can identify with reaching for an “unreachable star.” That being said, when I’m really feeling my finiteness, I’m sure glad that I have something to stand on that’s more steady than an impossible dream.

 

From The Book of Common Prayer

“Everyone the Father gives to me will come to me;
I will never turn away anyone who believes in me.”

He who raised Jesus Christ from the dead
will also give new life to our mortal bodies
through his indwelling Spirit.

My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;
my body also shall rest in hope.

You will show me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy,
and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

In sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life through our Lord Jesus Christ, we commend to Almighty God our brother, and we commit his body to the ground; earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious to him, the Lord lift up his countenance upon him and give him peace. Amen.

 

That’s called “The Committal,” and I use parts of it nearly every time I preside over a burial. Why? Because, for those of us who remain, it’s both a needed reality check and a source of incredible hope!

You see, dear friends, IN CHRIST we have it all. The only alternative to gospel grace is chasing after the impossible. But, IN CHRIST – even in the face of death – “nothing will be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37). In spite of every human weakness and frailty, IN CHRIST our countenance is lifted up … and we find peace.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Change Constant

We have to say goodbye to The Big Bang Theory.

The wildly popular show premiered on September 24, 2007, and for most of its run was primetime’s most-watched comedy series. In fact it remains one of the most successful sitcoms in television history – and the longest-running multi-cam comedy of all time. It even surpassed Cheers, which is hard to believe if you grew up when I did. The Big Bang Theory has generated an estimated $1 billion and counting in syndication. The series has received 52 Emmy Award nominations and ten wins, along with seven Golden Globe nominations. And the two-part series wrapper ended on a strong note in the metered markets last night.

12 years. 279 episodes. And the elevator finally got fixed.

Change is a universal constant. Perhaps that is the takeaway. And it’s a good one for us to ponder as this week draws to a close, because it’s true.

We think that it was the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said it first: “The only thing constant is change.” That was before Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. What did Heraclitus mean? That there is nothing stable in the world around us. Planning a summer trip to the Smoky Mountains? Even those mountains are changing. It may take millennia, but they change. Slowly but surely their shape is altered by time and external forces.

And not only the world around us changes, but we change. Surely you’ve noticed that we’re changing. We change physically, mentally, morally, and even spiritually.

Because everything around us – and even in us – is changing, ancient pagans saw their gods as deceitful, unpredictable, arbitrary, and even scheming. In our popular culture, more and more people are questioning the existence of God, as you well know. Others – even some who consider themselves Christ followers – are expressing serious doubts about the reliability of the Scriptures. And, among those who truly believe in God, many understand little about who He really is. This kind of confusion and uncertainty inevitably leads to overwhelming feelings of insecurity.

But. But. But.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Hebrews 13:8. No more hopeful words were ever spoken! James says it like this (1:17): Every good and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Talk about a Big Bang!

But here’s the problem with sin. It makes us seek after permanence and security not in the awesome God who created and loves us, but in things which are also changing. The search becomes futile, my friends, unless it ends in Christ.

“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed” (Malachi 3:6).

In Christ.

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

The Old, Old Story

What makes a church a “success”? Are increasing knowledge and improving behavior the standards of achievement, or is there more to the story? Is a growing budget or an expanding array of programs the sign of life, or is there something more?

Sometimes I fear that we’ve all been duped. Sometimes I feel like we’re captivated by the wrong things, and blind to the things that really count. Maybe you can relate.

What is the real truth about the church? I would propose to you simply this: we are no stronger – no better, no more successful, no more faithful – than how much we love and live the gospel of Jesus.

What does this mean? It means that you and I are to be constantly anchored in a universal, cosmic history of grace. The gospel, we must remember, is God’s grand declaration that something awesome has happened! There at Christ’s cross, the kingdom of God has triumphed! And it was a decisive victory – validated and proclaimed by Christ’s resurrection! The world will never be the same, and neither will we.

Do we still love our story?

Do we still live our story?

Or have we somehow become subtly enamored of other stories instead? The stories of the world are never as good as our story, but sometimes we get hooked by them nonetheless.

How do we assess ourselves in this regard? I would propose some indicators.

  1. We still love our story if we’re full of praise. When I’m praising God, there’s less room for me. As it should be. If the gospel story does anything, it reminds me that I’m not at the center of the universe – Christ is.
  2. We still love our story if we recognize our own bankruptcy. The world says: “you can do it.” But we know better. Only Christ can accomplish anything of value in or through us. A gospel-saturated life never forgets who I’m not … and who He is.
  3. We still love our story if we find Christ exceedingly beautiful. It’s O.K. to enjoy something which God has given us, but do we admire the Giver more? This is not an easy mindset to maintain, so the gospel helps keep us on our knees.
  4. We still love our story if we’d rather give life away than keep it. That one stings a bit, at least for me. I recognize my own sinful tendency toward self-preservation and self-advancement. I need a regular gospel reminder that I’m on mission. I am becoming less, that Christ might become more.
  5. We still love our story if we care about the one who’s on the fringes. If I’m really living out the gospel of Jesus, then I’m always looking around – just like He did. Is there anyone who needs encouragement? Is there anyone whose heart is breaking? Is there anyone ready to give up? “Here I am; send me.”
  6. We still love our story if we can spot a phony story a mile away. Are we gospel-soaked? Only then can we discern when the wolf comes calling. Only then can we hear that still small voice. Only then can we see with eyes of faith what others can’t see: the gospel truth.
  7. We still love our story if we’re full of hope. The world and the headlines are full of terrible stuff. Stuff that can make all of us want to quit. But our gospel story speaks into that malaise as well, and it reminds us of this: there is a God, and He is always right, and He is always good. History is “his story,” and He wins in the end.

The British missiologist Lesslie Newbigin said it like this: “It is not sufficient for the Church to attend to tactics: she must first attend to truth.” May God anchor us firmly in His gospel truth. There we must stand. Live or die, there we stand. There, and there only, will we flourish. Perhaps “the old, old story” is what we’ve been missing.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts