Amazing Grace (Part 2)

As promised, friends, in today’s post I hope to unpack a few of the “diagnostic statements” which I offered you last week in an effort to help us learn to distinguish between legalism/moralism and the gospel of Christ. So we’ll start with the first three.

Being a Christian means living a moral life. What could possibly be wrong with that assertion, right? As you might imagine, Christ changes everything about us. When we trust the Son of God for salvation, we are made entirely new creations in Him (Second Corinthians 5:17)! We are justified in an instant, and a lifelong journey of sanctification begins, by which we are steadily conformed to Christ’s likeness. That being said, it is easy to forget the source of our new identity, and to ease ourselves into believing that our “goodness” is our own doing. That is the heart of legalism: an inflated view of self. Do we want to live a moral life? Of course. But the heart of the gospel is never my morality (which is a failure on multiple levels), but the perfect righteousness of Jesus which has been freely given (credited) to me.

The reason I need the Bible is because I need good advice on how to live. O.K., I’ll admit it: I was being very subtle there. Here’s what’s incomplete about that perspective on my need for God’s Word. There’s nothing wrong with looking to the Scriptures for guidance, of course; in fact it’s an essential dimension of living for Christ. But we must understand that the Bible sets forth a moral standard which we can’t possibly attain. Thus, the Bible’s most critical role in our lives is to show us that we need a Savior! So what we most need from the Bible is not advice, but the revelation of Christ! If the Bible does not lead us to know and trust Christ alone for righteousness, then we will know no righteousness. It is not a self-help manual, and to view the Bible as such is way off the mark.

The main problem in our country is the liberals. I think you can see how this “philosophy” goes astray, though we’re all tempted by political pride on a regular basis. From time to time we need a reminder that, when our Lord Jesus walked the earth, He was sometimes an ultra-conservative, sometimes an ultra-liberal, and sometimes somewhere in between. You see, Christ operated from the perspective of an absolute truth standard which transcended every human category. You and I must stay humble enough to recognize that no people group has a corner on morality, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In that sense, every sinner, and that is every person, contributes to the fallenness of Planet Earth. Said simply, we must steer clear of self-righteousness in any of its deadly forms.

Just yesterday, Rachel Darnall tweeted: “Legalism is real, it is dangerous, and it is subtle. It did not die out in the first century or in any other century. It will be with us as long as the flesh is with us. It knows our christian lingo. It knows how to infiltrate our churches. Hold fast.”

Hold fast! More next week.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Amazing Grace

In my sermon Sunday morning, I began to unpack the dangers of legalism – sometimes known as moralism. I want to revisit that subject today, as you and I have before us a wonderful opportunity to rediscover grace. Thank you for bearing with me in love. (More on that this Sunday morning.)

Why is this subject of grace so important? For one main reason. I’ll let the Apostle Paul describe the peril of getting this wrong (Galatians 1:6-8): I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

That’s it. It’s a matter of life or death. Grace is life. Non-grace is death. This is no trivial theological debate, friends.

So let me give you my bottom line: the most dangerous enemy faced by this or any other church is a wrong understanding of how a sinful person is justified (saved) in the eyes of a holy God.

The gospel – the true gospel – is all about what Christ has done for us. How He came, and lived, and suffered, and died, and rose again for us! How He loved us before the foundation of the world. How He purchased us by the shedding of His blood on a cruel cross. How He perseveres in and through us. That’s it. The gospel is all about the work of CHRIST.

Moralism – or legalism – comes along and subtly destroys Christ’s gospel. Instead of being “good news,” what was once the gospel becomes the hopelessness of what I must do for God. Please let that sink in. This is a much bigger threat to the church than the evils of popular culture. When compared from the perspective of eternity, the danger levels are not even close. Please let that sink in.

It’s hard to believe that anyone would ever choose a performance standard for righteousness over the matchless grace of Jesus Christ, but that’s what people do all the time. Particularly religious people. Particularly people “raised in church.” Please let that sink in.

What happens to a person who buys into the lie of moralism? That person begins to believe that their identity and self-worth come from how good they are. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly. Instead of believing the life-giving gospel of Christ, that person hops up onto a gerbil wheel of works righteousness that never stops spinning. Deadly. Deadly. Deadly.

Do churches come right out and say that they’re teaching this lie? No. But they teach it all the time. For the most part, they don’t even realize that they’re not teaching Christ’s gospel.

What I will attempt to do in this blog post is to offer you some diagnostic statements. If these fit you, I urge you to turn away from this “different” gospel and to run instead to the merits of Christ. As always, His arms are open wide.

  1. Being a Christian means living a moral life.
  2. The reason I need the Bible is because I need good advice on how to live.
  3. The main problem in our country is the liberals.
  4. The reason Jesus came to earth was to show us how to live.
  5. If everybody lived by my rules, the world would be a better place.
  6. If and when I sin, I hope that God will forgive me.
  7. We grow in spiritual maturity by getting better at living the Christian life.
  8. The main problem in our country is the conservatives.
  9. The church should preach strong sermons on sin so that people will straighten up.
  10. I’m so glad that I was raised right, and that I was smart enough to choose Jesus.
  11. If I lack humility, I know several ways in which I can work on that.
  12. After I do (or think) something terrible, I withdraw from God until I feel worthy again.

You can see from my list that any of us can fall into any of these traps fairly easily. Because we’re part of a community of faith, we’re a breeding ground for Pharisaism and self-justification and self-righteousness. But I hope that you will also see that – held up to the light of Scripture – each one of these statements is grossly at odds with the life-giving gospel of Christ.

“I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”

 

Choosing grace instead, with you,

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

A Time to Mourn

In the context of my responsibilities on the Leadership Council of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, yesterday I was part of a conference call with S.B.C. leaders to discuss what we can do about the problem of sexual abuse in churches. This week’s article in the Houston Chronicle has sparked a firestorm, as it revealed a longstanding problem within our denomination similar to that with which other groups have had to wrestle in recent years. Sexual sin crosses every line of demarcation, and no one is exempt from its dangers, and we have been called to account.

As your senior shepherd, let me offer you a few of my own thoughts about the ways in which you and I can be part of the solution – right here in our local congregation.

  1. Always think safety. Protect the vulnerable. Act wisely in every circumstance. If you work with children or students here at church, make sure that there are always at least two adults in every ministry setting. It would be better to cancel a class or activity than to violate a policy which serves everyone’s best interest.
  2. Listen when people raise concerns about inappropriate speech or behavior. Don’t be dismissive, or assume that we are above impropriety, or think that “that would never happen here.” It could. Don’t be deceived: the enemy of God and God’s people is relentless. He would love to bring us down, individually and collectively.
  3. In spite of the fact that this is a tough topic to tackle, don’t resort to inappropriate humor. For a victim of sexual abuse, this is never a laughing matter.
  4. Be a good sport when we ask you to complete a background check. And, if you unofficially “recruit” another leader to help you on a project, make sure that he or she has been screened by the policies and procedures of our church. Any pastor, or member of the front office team, can help you get that started.
  5. Welcome women at the table of critical decision-making in the church. We can be complementarian in our theology (believing that the Bible calls men and women to distinct ministry roles, in some instances) without being foolish in regard to the unique contributions made by women to our understanding of this very difficult subject of sexual abuse.
  6. Don’t confuse “grace” with the covering up of a sex crime. Grace is submitting to government authority, which is our calling in Christ (Romans 13:1-7). Criminal offenses should be reported immediately. Period. No excuses. No cover-ups. This gets back to protecting the vulnerable – which is love.
  7. Pray for your church family, and for our denomination. If you’re not doing that already, it’s a great time to start!

As I get further and further into my awareness and responsibilities at the national level, I look forward to leading the charge with you in such a way that First Baptist Paducah shines brightly as a flagship church when it comes to doing these things right – for the glory of God. This is our high calling, and we should settle for nothing less.

May this difficult and sorrowful day of very public reckoning be a season of genuine repentance, and may it lead ultimately to the greatest outpouring of Christ’s gospel which the world has ever witnessed.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Dying to Live

I’ve been in and out of hospitals a lot recently. No fun. Sadness galore. Sometimes there’s no spiritualizing away the harsh realities of our lives.

In fact we shouldn’t. We should experience our sadnesses for what they are, knowing that God is sovereign over them. But that doesn’t make them unsad.

Speaking of hospitals, I just read of Robert and Ellen Hughes. Robert and Ellen had to drive their 33-year-old autistic son, Walker, to Loyola Medical Center in Chicagoland. Walker was in a fit of rage, and he sat in the back seat pulling his mother’s hair and attempting to strangle her. The much-loved son was having a terrible reaction to a medicine which was supposed to calm him down. Walker even bit his dad.

Not really a Hallmark moment. Maybe you can relate on some level.

Our Lord Jesus said something very interesting (John 12:24): “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit.”

Interesting indeed. I think I get it, at least in part: my pathway to life is through death. God desires that I bear spiritual fruit, but I have to get there by dying.

Jesus was talking about His own cross. He is that grain of wheat. He would give His life as a ransom for us. He, by His death, would bring us to glory. Only He could do that.

But, in another sense, Christ was setting an example for us. His ministry on earth would be short, but it would mean constantly dying to Himself as He loved others. Kind of like the foot washing experience among the disciples. The culmination of Christ’s dying would be the cross, but He would die all along the way in order to get there.

The same is true of us. As you and I die to ourselves – all along our way to glory – we find ourselves reproducing the Spirit of Jesus. That’s fruit. As we serve others instead of ourselves, Christ is glorified. Way cool.

Now back to our friends in Chicago. Just as they reached Loyola, Walker bit his mom. She let out a yell, and uniformed men surrounded the family in an instant. They were public safety officers with stun guns attempting to subdue a large and violent man. Walker’s exhausted parents had witnessed these kinds of scenes before, unfortunately, and usually they did not end well.

Ellen was sadder than she’d ever been in her entire life. Can you relate, at all?

That’s when things turned on a dime. Instead of a fight, the officers creatively lured Walker into a game. At first he jumped off the exam table, but then – for three amazing hours – the officers cheered and clapped for Walker until he was lulled into a completely different state of mind. These men, in their bulletproof vests, sang songs. They harmonized the theme of “Mister Rogers,” and grooved to some James Brown. They impersonated characters from Sesame Street. And they danced until Walker – who has great difficulty communicating – was completely calm. All because one of the men, Sgt. Keith Miller, picked up on an important clue: Walker mentioned Mary Poppins.

I’ll give you a quote from Walker’s mom: “Walker loved it. He was kind of mystified and charmed and started smiling.”

Sometimes, for life to flourish, you and I have to be set aside – just like those tough-turned-tender officers. May God grant us the grace to set ourselves aside! Daily. It will not be easy, but this is our tremendous privilege in Christ.

Regardless of what type of plant we have in mind, the seed must fall off of that plant and die before it can produce any more seeds. Though it may be necessary for the seed to be on the tree for a time, sooner or later it must die. Its death means, in reality, more life. Same with ours.

Some days, you and I are hurting. And, every day, there’s someone hurting nearby. The way to life, for all of us, is dying to ourselves. As Ellen thought about what had just happened to her son that cold winter night, she expressed her profound gratitude on social media: “They were men his size who considered him a real person. It’s scary when people don’t think you’re a real person.”

I’ll close with one more of Ellen’s descriptions of those kind and selfless men: “You can’t train that kind of spirit.”

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

When Life Gives You Ice

Eileen and I have dear friends in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Barb has been updating us on the temps via Facebook. We have another friend where we used to live on Chicago’s North Shore, and Bill has been updating us on the frigid weather there as well. Brrrrrr!

What are we to do with circumstances that test us? I don’t have to tell you that sometimes life hands us a whole lot more than an unseasonably cold day, and we have to adjust. We have to live and learn. As a matter of fact, I’ll never forget a mantra which Barb and her husband Wayne used to tell their kids as they were growing up: “Attitude is everything.” (By the way, all three turned out to be great adults.)

Attitude is everything, isn’t it? We all make mistakes, and we all face situations beyond our control which feel like anything other than what we think we signed up for! So the problem is not only in us – it’s beyond us. Not only that, but everyone around us makes mistakes as well. And every person we know is confronting some of the same harsh realities of life on this fallen planet. Nobody’s summer lasts forever. Lots of things make no sense this side of heaven. Life is not always easy, and it’s not always fair.

In reality, that’s a very good thing. If life really were “fair,” we’d all get what we deserve: eternal death and separation from God. But our Lord continues to rain down His grace upon both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45), and Christ’s mercies are new every day.

And here’s the thing about attitude. You and I can learn to “be of good cheer” – an instruction of Jesus in John 16:33 – even when we just don’t understand the imperfections of our lives. We can lean in on the comforting testimony of Job: “Though he slay me, yet I will trust him.” Our coldest nights can be warmed by the positive report of Joseph to his betraying brothers: “What you meant for evil, God meant for good!” We can stand strong on the words of the prophet, who surveyed his corrupt and crumbling nation, and yet somehow affirmed: “Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places” (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

So – winter or not – be of good cheer!

In the midst of this last Arctic outburst, a massive pileup of more than seventy cars happened just outside Montreal. Thankfully and amazingly, no one was seriously injured. On-the-scene news accounts from Canada revealed a surprising twist. It seems that even a wreck of that magnitude couldn’t stop some of the stranded drivers from having a little fun. As crews worked for hours to clear the route, the icy road was transformed into a makeshift hockey field!

I suppose hockey players are used to pileups. But, when it comes to making the most of our messes, we could learn something from our neighbors in the Great White North.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Justice, Judgment, and Jamie Lee

Last Friday morning, there I was in our nation’s capital posting on Facebook how peaceful was the situation in Washington, D.C., in the hours just before the March to Life. It was all true. I guess I should have known that “peaceful” wouldn’t last forever.

Here’s what happened in a nutshell, as my purpose in writing today is not to revisit the events in detail, but to help us learn something from them. Partial video footage of students from a Catholic high school in Covington, Kentucky, went viral. In the video, taken in front of the Lincoln Memorial and after the March for Life, the students appeared to be harassing a Native American elder. This provoked widespread condemnation of the kids on social media. Various media figures and Twitter users called for them to be publically shamed, and punished, along with members of their families.

This quickly escalated into death threats. The high school responded with administrators promising to consider expulsion. Eventually the school had to temporarily close over safety concerns. I’ve just scratched the surface, but you get the point. As junior Nick Sandmann became the face of the controversy, America – as it is now prone to do – went nearly crazy in a frenzy for revenge. Many people concluded that these boys in red MAGA hats had simply proven that Middle America is a breeding ground for nativist bigotry.

Now that much more video footage has been made available, and more eyewitnesses have been able to offer their accounts, many contributing factors have come into view. For example we know that, early on in the incident, the “Black Hebrews” were hurling racist and gay slurs at the Covington students. I won’t go any further with the retelling of the surrounding circumstances and events, but I did want to establish something of the wacky climate that led to multiple erroneous conclusions – and to subsequent retractions of earlier reports and comments which had been issued and published by both professional media and private citizens. In other words, a lot of people concluded that they had gotten key facts wrong in their first reactions to the sidewalk standoff.

Hopefully we as Christ followers will always remember these truths.

  1. We judge at our own risk. It’s impossible to function without making judgments – that’s simply part of life – but we better humble ourselves and seek God for sound ones. Jesus doesn’t mince any words when, in Matthew 7:1-5, he warns of us of the dangers of our hypocritical judgments in matters where we have no business judging.
  2. If we want to walk in love, we will work really hard at listening before we speak (James 1:19-20). The best way to de-escalate a potential controversy is to seek to understand what’s really going on (including what’s really being felt by the other person, or what’s really being asked of us) before we swoop in with our reactions or indictments. Patience and grace go a long way when things seem to be getting out of hand.
  3. There’s probably more to the story. Proverbs 18:17. I won’t say much here because I don’t want to take away from the text. Just read, and reread, that one powerful verse.
  4. If we need to speak up, we should be careful about hiding behind our keyboard or screen. The Bible is replete with reminders that taking a concern to the wrong person is damaging to our public testimony (e.g., Matthew 18:15). Real reconciliation is most likely to happen in a one-on-one conversation, when there is a spirit of humility and a desire to come together under the banner of Christ. We must avoid overreacting, or reacting too quickly, on social media. The danger is: it really can’t be taken back.
  5. Don’t stereotype the people who seem to be on “the other side” of an issue. Our role in every sphere of influence is to be Christ’s light and salt (Matthew 5:13-16). We risk losing both when we attempt to marginalize anyone, or to throw anyone under the bus in a harsh – and what almost always ends up being unfair, if not even untrue – emotional reaction.
  6. (My wife is really concerned about this one.) We must not join in on the growing phenomenon of mob rule. The Bible sets forth the priority of settling disputes equitably (e.g., Deuteronomy 19:15 and Second Corinthians 13:1), and these principles undergird our American system of justice for all under the rule of law. WE DO NOT WANT TO LIVE IN A SOCIETY WHERE PEOPLE ARE SENTENCED AND DESTROYED VIA SOCIAL MEDIA. Don’t even be a part of it.
  7. Romans 12:9. Christ’s love is still more powerful than all the political power or social influence in the world. Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Notice that we’re never given permission to hate anyone. We have to remember who is our enemy really – and who is not.

After having viewed only one photo of Sandmann from the D.C. incident, and because of it having made what she now calls a “snap judgment,” Hollywood star

Jamie Lee Curtis used social media to remind her followers that there are “two sides to every story.” The Hollywood icon acknowledged on Twitter: “I know better than to judge a book by its cover. I wasn’t there. I shouldn’t have commented. I’m glad there wasn’t violence. I hope these two men can meet and find common ground as can WE ALL!”

What she said.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

March On

It’s always fun to be in Washington, D.C., even in the middle of a government shutdown. Simply rubbing elbows with folks from some 190 nationalities is exhilarating! I’m here for the “Evangelicals for Life” conference, sponsored by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, as well as for the 46th annual March for Life. The route takes us from Constitution Avenue (at 12th Street) to the steps of the United States Supreme Court.

In The Coddling of the American Mind, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt take our culture to task for being so concerned about “safety” that we actually harm our young people, in that we consistently fail to expose them to the hard truths which they desperately need to confront. As a result, claim the book’s authors, America’s young adults are fragile instead of resilient. I’m glad to say that today I’m in the company of thousands of young people who are standing strong for the sanctity of human life.

I’m also happy to report that the pro-life ethic in our land appears to be broadening its horizons. It is not enough that we are anti-abortion, but we must be PRO-life. By that I mean that we must be humbly concerned about all of the conditions which prevent the people around us from flourishing. After all, all people are created in the image of Almighty God. Because our God values life, as Christ followers, we value life. All of life.

A film crew in the Pacific Theater during World War II documented the rescue of a 20-year-old American airman, and drew the attention of a Japanese official who remarked: “There is no way that the Japanese Navy would have sent any vessel into harm’s way, simply for a single aviator. They would have written them off.” This was not surprising at the time, really, as Japan had dedicated itself to the worship of their earthly king. Only the life of the emperor was sacred, so that made all other life expendable. The narrowly rescued airman, by the way, was the man who would become President George H.W. Bush.

Do you and I still believe that every life matters? Are we willing to defend and protect the vulnerable: unborn or otherwise? Are we willing to sacrifice so that others might prosper because we dared enough to serve them in love?

To love “the least of these” is the way of Christ (Matthew 25:31-46). It is a hard way, but it is the way.

I’m grateful to be walking along the way with you. Steven Curtis Chapman said it right here yesterday morning: “We’re on this adventure together.”

 

Pastor Charles 

Posted in Blog Posts

Of Ferdinand and Freedom

Almost simultaneous with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand was published. Written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, this timeless children’s tale is set somewhere outside Madrid. In a nutshell, Ferdinand is a bull, but Ferdinand is not interested in bullfighting. He would rather smell flowers. Expanding on the book’s principle theme, Disney released an animated short of the story in 1938, and a full-length animated film adaptation was released by Blue Sky Studios and 20th Century Fox in 2017.

Ferdinand is large and strong, and on one humorous occasion is mistaken for a ferocious bull. But in reality the banderilleros, the picadores, and the matador are unable to provoke him. Ferdinand simply is not a fighter. In its earliest days, The Story of Ferdinand from multiple directions faced accusations of being a stealth political attack, but I think such assessments miss the point entirely. So here’s my take on it.

Boldness is a noble virtue, but sometimes the boldness we most need is the boldness to just be ourselves. God our Creator has granted each one of us a unique set of gifts, strengths, and abilities. These may be uncelebrated and even unnoticed, by us and others, so part of our Christian maturity is discovering who God designed us to be for His glory (Psalm 139:1-18).

Unless we have our Ferdinand breakthrough, we will never serve Christ the way we were designed to serve. Unless we experience some of Ferdinand’s freedom, we are likely to spend the rest of our lives trying to be somebody else.

The Lord who fashioned us is very creative, and He knows exactly what He’s doing! He gave each of us a personality and a temperament. He gave each of us a communication style. He gave each of us particular passions, for creativity and expression, which are uniquely us.

Why? So we can serve one another in love (First Peter 4:8-11). So we can grow in unity, and in appreciation and respect for one other. So we can exalt Christ and His gospel in ways which would be impossible if we were not together in mission and ministry.

So don’t be who you’re not (First Corinthians 12:4-13). Let’s be bullish on that point, shall we?

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

Surrounded

Happy New Year!

Eileen and I are enjoying our time in Atlanta at Passion 2019 with some of the college-age gang from First Baptist Paducah. We’re in the arena right now, so I’ll write for just a few minutes.

Last night I was blown over by a very simple worship song. I remember that “Surrounded” was written by Michael W. Smith, but last night it was performed by the Passion band. I’ll include the main lyrics of the song …

“This is how I fight my battles … it may look like I’m surrounded, but I’m surrounded by You.”

That’s it. As we embrace 2019, I hope that you’re encouraged by those life-giving words. Will this year be easy for us? Of course not. Like I preached Sunday: we’re not home yet.

But. But. But. But we have hope. We are not doing this alone! In fact we are never alone.

I am reminded of Second Kings 6:8-17. When the battle rages fiercest, we are surrounded by an invisible army dispatched for our benefit. Why? Because God is on our side! He is FOR US. He is oh so FOR US.

I’ll close by quoting Matt Chandler: “Grace is for the journey.” May even the hardest fights of your 2019 journey be full of Christ’s amazing grace.

 

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts

More Than a Spoonful of Sugar

Perhaps, while the kids or grandkids have a few days off from school, you’ll indulge in a bit of butter popcorn and Mary Poppins Returns. The film opened in theaters nationwide December 19. Mary Poppins is exceptionally well done, and I think you’ll particularly appreciate the appearances of Angela Lansbury, Meryl Streep, and Dick Van Dyke. Eileen and I enjoyed the movie from start to finish. It’s a Disney reboot of the beloved American classic from 1964 – and it’s still set on Cherry Tree Lane. This time the Great Depression has intruded, and times are tough for everybody in London. Michael and Jane are grown up now, and they’ve lost the wonder of their childhood years. John, Anabel, and Georgie are the children now.

In case you take me up on it, I’ll offer a few points of post-viewing discussion with those you love:

  1. It is normal to feel uncomfortable because of the changes happening around us. Can’t we all relate to that message? Whether I’m a child or a grown-up, sometimes life just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Maneuvering the twists and turns can be exceptionally difficult, especially when it feels like somebody keeps changing all the rules. It’s hard to keep up with “progress” that doesn’t feel much like progress. Many of the Disney classics espouse – though sometimes subtly – a romantic and anti-modernist worldview. Just like in the original Mary Poppins, in Returns the bank symbolizes the modern world, and it’s not such a pretty picture. (This may be a great launching pad to talk about the complexities and pressures of our contemporary culture.)
  1. Sometimes our worldly ambitions are not all they’re cracked up to be. This theme is reminiscent of the 1964 film, and it still holds. An unquenchable thirst for profit eventually wearies the soul. So does the relentless pursuit of rational order. Thankfully, mysterious and gracious forces are often at work to free us from the chains that bind us – namely, us. The reason that we can’t come up with a satisfying ordering of the events of this world is because what we really need is a radical restoration of the perfect and holy order which was intended all along. We need Christ to do for us, in us, and among us what only He can do as the One who is sovereign over every circumstance.
  1. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Redemption can come from the seemingly strangest of places. How does a young widower raise three small children? One thing’s for sure: there is a plan. It will require pressing on and sheer determination, but it’s well worth finding. It will be in Mr. Banks’ absolute weakness that he will find his unshakeable strength. Family and friends might be rallied to our aid when we least expect it.
  1. Even in the bleakest circumstances, there is room for hope. Faithful perseverance always matters. Believing in the “impossible” may make no sense to those around us, but we don’t answer to those around us. Courage in the face of life’s obstacles requires a steady vision even when no one else can see what we see. Sometimes we all need a friend like “Jack the lamplighter” to show us how to navigate the fogginess of life. The fog will come, but so will the light. (Hopefully this will help you bridge into the good news of Jesus, who is our Light in darkness, and whose Word is our lamp.)
  1. In the end, the right prevails. In the words of the movie’s song: “There is nowhere to go but up!” But you and I know the rest of the real story. The British Empire, or any other empire for that matter, is no match for God – whose Word promises far, far more than a magical and happy ending. Human history is already worked out! The conclusion of all of it is clear: it’s a fait accompli. The future is just as settled as the past – just as settled as the “It is finished” of Jesus. You and I need not doubt or fear. Christ’s gospel will be preached to the ends of the earth, and then the end will come (Matthew 24:14). God will take us home to be with our Lord, forever. God wins! Speaking of the Incarnation of Jesus, C.S. Lewis wrote: “The door we’ve been knocking on all our lives will open at last.”

Which brings it all right back to Christmas. In the carol lyrics of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: And in despair I bowed my head; “There is no peace on earth,” I said; “For hate is strong, and mocks the song of peace on earth, good-will to men!” Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor doth He sleep; the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

Enjoy the show!

Pastor Charles

Posted in Blog Posts