Monday, September 30, 2013

Grace Alone, Faith Alone & The Chilean Miners

Romans 4:1-3 1  What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?
2  For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3  For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”

i think our american culture bristles at the notion of "Grace Alone, Faith Alone".  "Sola Gratia", "Sola Fide" were appropriated by the Reformers - Luther and Calvin, and others - to express their opposition to the Catholic ideas of Salvation thru the merits earned in the church.
Well, the modern American doesn't believe in either option anymore, although that person is much more closer to the idea of "earning" salvation (if they even believe in Salvation)...or at least "earning entry into Heaven" on the basis of doing good, performing, doing the best they can.
It probably insults the average person to think they cannot earn their way into God's favor.
But, here's the point...and the text for the next teaching in Romans that I'm immersed in these days (a brief commercial interruption...if you want to listen to these messages from Romans you can access them at http://www.nlfellowship.org/). The point is that Faith alone and Grace alone are precisely the way in which people have always come to God for Salvation.

Do you remember in 2010, the story of the Chilean Miners dilemma?  
BACK IN 2010, AUGUST 4, A MINING ACCIDENT TOOK PLACE IN CHILE.
33 MINERS WERE TRAPPED 2300 FEET UNDERGROUND AFTER THEIR TUNNEL COLLAPSED. 
THEY HAD NO WAY TO GET OUT AND THEY WERE SEALED IN – SO THEY WENT INTO SURVIVAL MODE.
THEY ATE TWO TEAPOONFULS OF TUNA A DAY, EACH TOOK ONE SIP OF MILK, AND A BITE OF PEACHES IN HOPES THAT THEIR FOOD COULD LAST UNTIL THEY WERE RESCUED.
ON THE SURFACE, A RESCUE TEAM BEGAN TO DEVISE A PLAN.  THEY BUILT A 13 FOOT TALL CAPSULE, LARGE ENOUGH TO FIT ONE PERSON INSIDE OF IT, AND THEN PROCEEDED TO DRILL A HOLE.
THEY DRILLED A SMALLER HOLE TO COMMUNICATE AND TO PUMP OXYGEN DOWN INTO THE TUNNEL WHERE THEY WERE TRAPPED IN. 
FOR TWO MONTHS, THEY DRILLED, AND THEY DIDN’T KNOW WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.
THE MINERS TRAPPED BELOW HAD NOTHING THEY COULD DO.  THEY WERE COMPLETELY DEPENDENT UPON THE RESCUERS ON TOP BEING ABLE TO REACH THEM IN TIME.
8 WEEKS… 8 WEEKS WENT PAST.
ON OCTOBER 13TH, THEY LOWERED THE CAPSULE DOWN INTO THE HOLE AND THE FIRST MINER WAS BROUGHT TO THE SURFACE.
ALL 33 WERE SAVED BECAUSE EACH CLIMBED INTO THE LOWERED CAPSULE AND EACH WAS RAISED TO THE SURFACE.

NOW…WHAT’S THE POINT?
WE’RE TRAPPED…WE’RE ALL “UNDER SIN”.
THE RESCUE PLAN COMES FROM ABOVE.  DOWN BELOW WE HAVE NO RECOURSE…THERE’S NOTHING WE CAN DO.
WHEN THE RESCURERS COME TO US…THEY LOWER A CAPSULE, AND THEY SAY, “GET IN”. 
THE ACT OF FAITH IS TO “GET IN”.
IT IS GRACE THAT IS THE CAPSULE… THEY WERE SAVED BY THE CAPSULE BEING LOWERED FROM ABOVE. 
IT IS GOD WHO LOWERS THE CAPSULE AND THAT CAPSULE IS CALLED “JESUS”.
WHAT IS ASKED OF US IS TO STOP DIGGING, STOP TRYING, AND GET IN.
IT IS SOLA GRATIA, BY GRACE ALONE, AND SOLA FIDE, THROUGH FAITH ALONE.

Not what these hands have done
Can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God,
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone O Christ,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
Thy grace alone, O God,
To me can pardon speak,
Thy power alone, O Son of God,
Can this sore bondage break.
I bless the Christ of God;
I rest on love divine;
And, with unfalt'ring lip and heart,
I call this Savior mine.
-      Horatius Bonar, 1861

-PEACE

Friday, September 27, 2013

In Praise of Little Known Poets - On This Date

On This Date – Sept. 27th, In Praise of Little Known Poets – Thomas Traherne died Sept 27, 1674.

I didn't think to blog on Poets.  I am not one, although I have done a couple that I thought were ok.  

My son, Christopher, is our family Poet.  He is good and I truly love reading what he has done.  And with his permission I will post some from time to time.

I get this Church History page that lets me see what happened in History on this date.  That a little of google searching led me to a "little known poet" named Thomas Traherne.

He was born in Hereford, England, a son of a shoemaker.  He was educated at Hereford Cathedral School and Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1652, achieving an MA in arts and divinity nine years later. For most of his career he served as a Parish Minister.  He did end it as a private chaplain to one of the officers of the royalty under Charles II.  He died on Sept. 27, 1674...today being the 339th year since that day.
He was not known as a poet during his lifetime.  He wrote numbers of pages of poetry and grouped them together into themes, but only one set of pages was ever published in his lifetime.  After his death, almost 20 years after, a well known English publisher discovered the poetry and published them in their original style.
I read a few of his poems and found that he often focused on God's mystery and majesty.  Here's a sample of one of those, which also served as a title to one of his manuscripts.  I enjoyed reading it...in fact, read it two or three times to fully grasp what he's saying...it's good.

A Serious and Pathetical Contemplation of the Mercies of God
For all the mysteries, engines, instruments, wherewith the world is filled, which we are able to frame and use to thy glory.

For all the trades, variety of operations, cities, temples, streets, bridges, mariner's compass, admirable picture, sculpture, writing, printing, songs and music; wherewith the world is beautified and adorned.

Much more for the regent life,
And power of perception,
Which rules within.
That secret depth of fathomless consideration
That receives the information
Of all our senses,
That makes our centre equal to the heavens,
And comprehendeth in itself the magnitude of the world;
The involv'd mysteries
Of our common sense;
The inaccessible secret
Of perceptive fancy;
The repository and treasury
Of things that are past;
The presentation of things to come;
Thy name be glorified
For evermore.
....

O miracle
Of divine goodness!
O fire! O flame of zeal, and love, and joy!
Ev'n for our earthly bodies, hast thou created all things.
{ visible }
All things { material }
{ sensible }
Animals,
Vegetables,
Minerals,
Bodies celestial,
Bodies terrestrial,
The four elements,
Volatile spirits,
Trees, herbs, and flowers,
The influences of heaven,
Clouds, vapors, wind,
Dew, rain, hail and snow,
Light and darkness, night and day,
The seasons of the year.
Springs, rivers, fountains, oceans,
Gold, silver, and precious stones.
Corn, wine, and oil,
The sun, moon, and stars,
Cities, nations, kingdoms.
And the bodies of men, the greatest treasures of all,
For each other.
What then, O Lord, hast thou intended for our
Souls, who givest to our bodies such glorious things! 

Thomas Traherne

Monday, September 23, 2013

Pascal's Knowing and a Fool's Not

One of the greatest minds - not just spiritual, but minds in general - comes from the 17th century, Blaise Pascal.  A French believer, Pascal was home-schooled by his Father, a tax collector.  He was a brillant thinker who wrote extensively.  Trained in Mathematics, he was also an inventor, physicist, philosopher, and as stated, a writer.  
I was introduced to Pascal in the early 1990's.  A group of friends met together every month as a book group (sorry Oprah, we were there first).  Our goal was to read one of the classics that all of us had not previously read and then over coffee and drinks, discuss what we read.  I had little knowledge of Pascal and had never read any of his writings.  We all agreed to read Pensees.  

Pensees was written as an apology for his Christian faith...a defense of the faith in a society of increasing doubters and skeptics.  What's interesting is that Pascal didn't "sit down" to write this book - in fact, it's quite agreed among scholars that the books was never even finished.  Instead, Pascal wrote notes and sketches of arguments that he wrote down from time to time in his notebook he carried with him in his coat pocket.  While he defended the biblical concepts of miracles and prophesy, Pensees  is as much a philosophical arguement - some would say a psychological argument - where Pascal begins with the human and his soul and arrives at God.  One of the most beautiful quotes of Pascal here is:

Not only do we not know God except through Jesus Christ; we do not even know ourselves except through Jesus Christ.

How true.  In our quest for self-fulfillment and self-identity, the modern human has pushed aside "truth" as the basis for knowledge and embraced the relativism and post-modern assertions of self-individualized truth.  
Hah!
We end up with a society of people who neither know God, nor themselves!  
One of the bible's favorite phrases for people like this is "fool".  
Fools wander our hallways of education with titles of Professor and Doctor.
Fools wander our hallways of government with titles of Senator, Justice and Congressman (I'd say President but then that's only one person - let the reader discern).
Fools gain awards for best actor, best drama, best…

Pascals "wager" was his famous argument for God's existence.  Summed up, 
If God exists and I wage my life on that - I gain all.  
If God does not exist and I wage my life that he does, nothing is loss.  
If I wage God exists and I live my life without concern, I bet eternity's misery.
I don’t know about you, but I think he has it right…and I bet on God...and I gain myself.


Peace

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Great Man A Lot of People Don't Know

On Sept 18, 1905,  a great author, poet, and Pastor, George MacDonald went home to be with His Lord. Today is the 108th anniversary of his death.
Unfortunately, a lot of people have no idea who he was.
You may not know him, but did you know he was the person who C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L`Engle both said most influenced their writings.  He was friends of such writers, even influenced them, as Mark Twain, G.K. Chesterton, Walt Whitman.

As an  author he  who wrote with an amazing imagination, and utilized fantasy and fairy tales to share truth, morality and faith.  My introduction to MacDonald was years ago after reading a C.S. Lewis book in which he repeatedly referred to MacDonald's book Phantastes.  Lewis said that he had read the book and it changed his life because it opened up a world of imagination with faith.  I bought Phantastes and it began my MacDonald appreciation.

Born in 1824, in Scotland, MacDonald was raised in a farm family, but while many of his day stayed in their family vocation, he graduated from the University of Aberdeen, and then went to London to began training for Ministry - he was a Congregationalist.  At the age of 26, he entered Pastoral ministry at Trinity Congregational Church in a Scottish village of Arundel.  Interestingly, his emphasis on God's universal love met with little interest, and he was not successful.  Yet, he continued to speak, write and proclaim that God's love was the great need in human understanding.

He wrote over 50 works - fiction, fantasy, poetry and theology.  He broke from the Calvinist strain of the Congregationalists of the UK, and for that he is often criticized and even reviled by those who feel he moved away from orthodoxy.  Nothing could be more false.  He was not a true Calvinist, but he has a theology that is historically owned by the Church Fathers and is truly orthodox.

My appreciation for George MacDonald lies in his works of fiction.  He writes in a style that is simple and yet interesting to read.  If you have never read anything by MacDonald, I'd urge you to pick up one of his works and dive in....you will become addicted!

Peace

Monday, September 16, 2013

Home Sweet Home

One of the great joys of life is that I get to teach scripture.  I've been doing it for 40+ years and I have read the Bible through dozens of times.  Yet often I am startled, amazed at the words that appear.
The bible has this ability to come alive and grab me, make me sit up and take notice.

I remember years ago I was teaching a class of 20+ year old young adults.  I love teaching young adults because they are often first beginning to think through the implications of what faith means to them.  That's not necessarily true of all young adults.  Some of them, raised in households of faithful parents, often were dealing with those things at a much earlier age.  But in the absence of that, I saw many at those early 20's wrestle with issues of faith and seek understanding that was truly wonderful for me to be a part of.

In one situation, as the class took a break, this beautiful young woman saw me in the hallway - on my way to get a cup of coffee.  I said hi and so did she, but then she stopped, and turned to face me and looked me square in the eye, as if to say, I want your attention.  She looked up and said, "Mr. Pollasch, I don't know if you realize it, but you are the most important teacher in a lot of our lives, and you need to know that you have a great role in shaping our adult faith lives..."  (something to that extent).  Well, Rachel, I've never forgotten that.  It made me realize something I couldn't ever come to understand myself.

Those who teach and handle the word as truth have a crucial role to play in life.  Don't underestimate the importance of that.

NOW...Home sweet Home?  What I mean is this.  I'm teaching through the book of Romans.  Today, I'm immersed in Romans 3...and I read the words all over again, and this is what I wrote to share on Sunday to my friends at New Life:

Romans 3:21-24
21  But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
22  This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference,
23  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24  and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.


"I AM CONVINCED, AFTER 40 YEARS OF TEACHING, THAT IF YOU PAY ATTENTION TO ANY PART OF THE BIBLE, NOTHING CAN BE MORE IMPORTANT, MORE CRUCIAL, AND MORE NECESSARY THAN THESE VERSES."

peace

Monday, September 9, 2013

Really, Should We Even Be Using The Word "Depravity" Anymore?

29  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, Romans 1:29 (NIV) 

I began teaching through the book of Romans on Sept. 1st.  I began with a message, "The Good News is the Good News" and it culminated with - Romans 1:17 (ESV)  "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”   Beautiful in it's scope, the verse defines so amazingly the beauty of what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Yesterday we dove into the latter part of chapter one and the message was entitled, "The Bad News is Bad News".  It is a diagnosis of depravity - there's that word again.  Depravity?  Depraved?  In a 21st century world is it even applicable anymore.  I think most people would say "Yes" when it's applied to an Adolph Hitler, a Ariel Castro, or any number of humans who did atrocious inhumane things to others.  But, what about in general...to others...to Us?  It's not an easy thing to swallow.

29  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips,
30  slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents;
31  they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless.
32  Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:29-32 (NIV)

 When we look at current societal debates around homosexuality, same-sex Marriage, abortion, drugs, church and state, we are witnessing a prevailing wing of change on morals, values and ethics from a bygone era.  For me, it begs a question:  Do we believe our society thinks it can abandon God with its relativistic worldview, and do as it pleases without consequence?
Have we completely forgotten the wisdom that can be found in history? It is said that if we don’t learn from history, we’re doomed to make the same mistakes again. Ironically what we have learned from history, is that we don’t learn from history.
Malcolm Muggeridge said:
“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

The Roman culture that the Apostle Paul wrote in, the one in which he wrote this letter to the Romans in, was filled with perverseness of morals.  Homosexuality was common-place.  Children were used in a sexual marketplace, slaves were sold to be sexual servants.  Certainly there were regular marriages, families, and homes; but the fabric of society was being torn through a steady decline of moral underpinnings.

"The decline of Rome was the natural and inevitable effect of immoderate greatness. Prosperity ripened the principle of decay; the cause of the destruction multiplied with the extent of conquest; and, as soon as time or accident and removed the artificial supports, the stupendous fabric yielded to the pressure of its own weight. The story of the ruin is simple and obvious: and instead of inquiring why the Roman Empire was destroyed we should rather be surprised that it has subsisted for so long." – Edward Gibbons in “The Decline and Fall of Rome”

Depravity...it is not that we are as Bad as we can be...but that we are simply Bad in our nature.  The steady movement is not towards a righteousness of God, but towards a steady allowance and tolerance of more and more that leads us away from Truth.

John Wesley said:
“What one generation tolerates, the next generation will embrace.”

It took Rome 500 years totally be destroyed...but clearly after 250 years, it was headed towards ruin...everyone who was objective could see the end coming.  Interestingly, as a nation we are 230+ years old.  We are more divided as a nation than we have ever been before.  We are finding the moral credit being used up in ever increasing ways, and the values and moral character we so desperately need is simply not to be found in public leadership.  

Depravity...it's not simply an idea, it's a word we need to use and wrestle to understand...and it should begin in each of us.
More on this later,

Peace

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Grace: When God Stooped

The Good News is Good News - the Gospel tells us that God has reached into our world and done something about the way we direct our lives.  SIN is nothing more than the pride of our own individual decisions that are often/usually selfishly made.  Sin is the decision to ignore God and do what we want to do -even if we still seek God's help and faithfulness.
The answer to our Selfish, Sinfulness, is Grace.  Grace is God reaching into our lives and showing us a better way.  Grace is God helping us to step our of the false assumption of our own security and instead learn to "trust" God for the choices we make in following his commands.

Grace is God's idea...and we should be glad he thought it up.  We love Grace...We use it almost everyday in various ways.  We have "grace periods".  We see people in the public eye who "fall from grace".  Musicians have a "grace note".  We speak of an artist, or dancer, or musician as "graceful"; and of a person who is kind and generous as "gracious".  Grace is a part of what we sing, and it is joined immediately as a sibling to words like "forgiveness", "faith" and "fellowship".

The sage theologian/teacher, John Stott, said it best:  "Grace is God loving, God stooping, God coming to the rescue, God giving himself generously in and through Jesus Christ."

Titus 2:11 (ESV)
11  For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,

Ezekiel 36:26 (ESV)
26  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)
8  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

All great reminders that in defiance of the Sin-dominated selfishness of our world, God has stooped for our defense.
AND, one more thing...what do we do with God's grace?

Hebrews 12:15 (ESV)
15  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;

70 years ago, a German pastor/theologian saw a nation of "believers", "church attenders", "religious people" fall head-long into the Nazi propaganda, to the detriment of their supposed faith in Christ.  Caught up in the nationalism and belief that their world would be better with Hitler as their leader, they completely lost sight of the obvious direction he was leading their nation.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote against the Nazi "faith" and he directed people back to God's grace...Real Grace...and not the Cheap Grace he saw.  This is what he wrote.

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Peace