September 17, 2019

Love Lifted Me

I've listened to sermons in big churches and in small churches for a good number of years. I've heard some of the best preachers Christianity has to offer. I've even preached a few sermons myself. But you know something - I do not remember any of them! I could not quote any of those sermons even those I preached. This lack of memory is a not a result of my advancing age, as my wife suggests, or my diminished mental capacity or my inattention during the sermons. I suspect I have a lot company.

However, there are some things I remember quite well. There are good Christian beliefs which come easily to mind, often seemingly "out of the blue". The brain is minding it's own business when out of the blue, something pertaining to God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit interrupts.

The other day I was walking my dog Lilly when this popped into my frontal lobe.
     Love lifted me, when nothing else could help, Love lifted me.
     I was sinking deep in sin, far from the distant shore,
     Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more,
     But the Master of the sea lifted me, heard my despairing cry
     From the waters lifted me. Now safe am I
     Love lifted me, Love lifted me.

 That isn't from a sermon I heard. It isn't from scripture I read and studied. It's from a hymn, a hymn written in the early, early 1900's, It was copyrighted in 1912, but was written and sung years before. The scriptural basis for the hymn is Matthew 14:22-32. I am positive there have been numerous sermons on this passage, but I only remember "Love lifted me". What better reminder of God's love for those of us who are deep in our sin? If you could only remember one thing about God's love, why not this old hymn?

A lot of the old hymns carry the messages of faith. They are simple, well written and paint an indelible picture in our mind. A picture we remember well beyond the closing "Amen" of the church service. One hymn I always liked began, "Are you able to remember when a thief lifts up his eyes, that his pardoned soul is worthy of a place in Paradise?" Actually this is the hymn's second verse, but it is powerful nonetheless. Look at Luke 23:39-43. Knowing the hymn's picture but forgetting the scripture's location in the Bible, the Christian can be assured of the forgiveness of sin based on faith in the Lordship of Jesus. This is a more powerful remembrance of God grace and love than any of Paul's writings about grace.

Consider ; "Amazing Grace how sweet the sound...", "All hail the power of Jesus name...", "On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross, The emblem of suffering and shame...", "He leadeth me, He leadeth me, By His own hand, He leadeth me. His faithful follower I would be, for by His hand He leadeth me". And on and on and on; all mini-sermons set to music so I would remember the message.

This is called the Doxology. It is not found in the Scriptures. The lyrics are actually the last verse of a hymn "Awake, My Soul, and with the sun" written in 1674, wow!  I remember learning this in our little church. It is a reminder to Praise God. What a great worship hymn! Thousands of sermons summed up in 26 simple, powerful, memorable words.

"Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; 
Praise Him all creatures here below; 
Praise Him above all ye heavenly hosts; 
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost". 

I attend a modern day Southern Baptist Church now. Preaching is excellent and meaningful.The music is wonderful, big choir, well trained orchestra and enthusiastic worship leaders. We sing new modern hymns with a lot of meaning. The congregation stands, raises their hands and applause. But I miss my small church Sunday evenings when we sang numerous mini-sermons usually from memory because we knew them. And we will remember them until we sing "I'll Fly Away", another old hymn! (written in 1929).

August 21, 2019

Build your house on a rock

Okay, I know Paul wrote in Ephesians and in Romans we are saved by faith and not by works. Here is the passage just in case you missed it.

"For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift - not from works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9 HCSB)

What a relief! All we have to do is have faith; faith that Jesus death on the cross is the payment for our sins. Jesus made us righteous before God. Seems so simple and really easy, right? But in the back recesses of our mind, it doesn't seem fair, does it? Jesus suffered and was crucified and all we have to do is believe He died for us. Just believe! Oh well that's what the man said. Now we can go on with our lives, occasionally thanking God for His love and His grace.

And then someone hits us with this bombshell,

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will likem him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock..." (Matthew 7:24 27 KJV) (Italics are mine)

How do you like the Old English words from King James? Laugh as we will at the old English, we can not laugh away the meaning of this parable from Jesus. Simply, everyone who hears what Jesus has been saying and does them will be counted wise. I knew it! There is more to this than just believing and getting along with our lives. We do have to do something. Frankly, that is just fine with me; I want to do something, I expect to do something. I am eager to find out what these things are so I can get on with doing them.

Okay, let's look at a few "do's" in no particular order.

"Don't worry about our life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. ...For idolaters eager seek these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteous, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don't worry about tomorrow,...." (Matthew 6:25-34 NIV)

Can you really not worry? How are you going to pay the bills, put food on the table, keep a roof over your head? You can't just forget those things, can you? But Jesus tells you to not worry about those things, God will take care of you. Jesus tells you to seek the Kingdom of God first and foremost. Can you in all honesty do that?

Another "do".

August 7, 2019

Faith vs Works, a Christian tug of War!

One of the lingering questions among Christians is the struggle between being saved by faith alone verses the necessity of doing good works for your salvation.

The Apostle Paul was very emphatic that a person is saved by faith. He writes about salvation by grace through faith in several places. From Ephesus, around 60 AD, Paul wrote Ephesians a letter meant to be circulated throughout the early church. In the second Chapter he wrote, "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God's gift - not from works, so that no one can boast." (Eph 2:8-9 HCSB) This is a repeat of Paul's earlier statements in his letter to the Romans written in 57 AD. The dates are important because they are among the earliest writings of the New Testament. The Jewish Paul was converted to this new understanding of the relationship with God on the road from Jerusalem to Damascus when he was confronted by the risen Jesus. This experience is normally dated to AD 33-36. Since his birth is estimated to have been in 5 AD, he would have been around the age of 28-31. These dates are also important as they indicate Paul was able to talk with many of the men and women who knew Jesus when he walked the hills and valleys of Israel and Judah. With the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the influence of Jesus contemporaries Paul developed his understanding of what it meant to be a believer of Jesus Christ. So his statements bare the ring of authority. His understanding was that a person could not work his or her way into God's good graces and thus have eternal life with the Father. But God was willing to grant sufficient grace to those who believed the sacrifice of Jesus erased all barriers to the Godly relationship.

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