Contend for the Faith

“Contend for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints.”
(Jude 3)

As part of our Adult Sunday School study on the Book of Jude, I shared with the class that when we are called to contend for our faith, it is necessary that we know what it is we actually believe.  As a class we brainstormed some “Essentials of the Faith,” but as homework I suggested that each member write a brief statement of faith as well.  Below is my statement.  I admit it is not a complete statement, and I’m sure I’ve shared it before, but I wanted to share it again.

I know that I am a broken man, a sinner, who, left to his own ways, would continue to sin, rejecting God, His commands, and even His grace, mercy and love.

I know that God, who is holy, sovereign, and glorious in His majesty, is worthy of my praise, worship, honor, and obedience.  In my sin, I do not honor God, and I fully deserve God’s wrath; and He is righteous and just in His judgment against me.  Yet God is rich in mercy and steadfast in His love, and He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for me.

Jesus was everything I was supposed to be and was not.  He was without sin, living completely devoted to God, and completely loving His brothers and sisters.  Even more, He took my sin, my guilt, my shame, my judgment, and He died on the cross in my place.  Three days later, He rose from the dead, and now He lives and reigns with God, praying for me and for all who follow Him.

Through the grace of God and the love of Christ, I now live in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit teaches me through the inspired word of scripture how to live a life in response to God’s grace, mercy, and love.  I am called to become Christlike, and can only do this by the Spirit working within me.  I am called to be a faithful disciple, to follow Christ, to learn from Him, to receive his blessing, and to proclaim His gospel.

I did not choose Christ, he has chosen me.

I did not love God, he loved me.

I did not come to God, he came to me.

Everything I do from this point forward ought to be a response of thanksgiving and praise for all that He has done.

I believe that the Church is the body of Christ in the world today when the word of God is faithfully taught and preached, when the sacraments of baptism and communion are properly administered, and when, in love, we disciple and encourage one another in our maturing Christian journey.

I believe the world, now more than ever, needs to know the blessing of knowing Jesus as savior and lord – may it know this through me.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Doxological Theology

“Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise!
(Psalm 66:1–2)

I have heard it said, and I completely agree, that all theology should lead to doxology.  That is, every conversation about God, who He is, what He has done, should ultimately inspire us to praise.  The more we know about God, the more we will want to fall on our knees and praise Him.  Allow me to illustrate…

Last Sunday I began our Adult Sunday School Class on the book of Jude.  As Jude opens his letter, he addresses the epistle to “those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept in Jesus Christ” (Jude 2).  As we unpacked this threefold phrase (called, beloved, kept), I asked the class to turn to Romans 8:29-30 – what is commonly referred to as the Golden Chain of Salvation.

In these two verses we find one of the most succinct explanations of God’s work of Salvation in all of Scripture.  These two verses have inspired volumes and tomes to try to describe God’s great work of grace and mercy in our salvation.  There will be no attempt to speak exhaustively on it here: but note what the apostle teaches:

For those whom he foreknew… This word draws upon the OT word “know” to emphasize that God had a personal, covenantal affection for His people.  God wasn’t randomly picking names out of a hat, but those whom He knew from the beginning of time…

He also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son…  God has crafted our destiny, and our destiny is to be conformed to the image of His Son, to be like Christ.  Many reject the notion of predestination as God for-ordaining our every move.  I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.  That’s not what predestination means.  I don’t think that God orchestrates our every move, as though we are marionettes on a string.  I do, however, affirm that God’s sovereign will and His plan for all creation will be fully realized, and in the end we will see how, for those who love God, all things have worked together for good, that is, the good and glorious goal of our being conformed to the image of Christ.

And those whom he predestined he also called…  God calls His children, by the testimony of the Word (preached, read, etc.) and by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  When we are lost in sin, dead to the things of God, alienated from His kingdom, God calls us out of darkness and into the light.  God calls us out of death and into life.  God calls us out of sin and into righteousness.  God calls us out of the dominion of sin and into the kingdom of Christ.  This call comes through the outward preaching and teaching of the Word, the proclamation of the Gospel, and is received by the inward working of the Holy Spirit.  The reason you responded to the call is not because you are wiser than the others, but because the Spirit changed your heart.

Those whom we called he also justified…  The Westminster Confession says it best: God justified, “not by infusing righteousness…, but by pardoning their sins, and by accounting and accepting their persons as righteous; not for anything wrought in them, or done by them, but for Christ’s sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience to them, as their righteousness, but by imputing the obedience and satisfaction of Christ unto them, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith; which faith they have not of themselves, it is the gift of God.”

Those whom he justified he also glorified…  Those who have been known by God, predestined by God, called by God, and justified by God, will ultimately also be glorified by God as well.  Paul speaks of this assurance of God’s work with such confidence that he puts it in the past tense.  God will complete what He has started, and as Paul finishes the 8th chapter of Romans, we are assured that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Okay, I said this would not be an exhaustive study on Romans 8:29-30, so let me get back to my original point.  As I said at the beginning, all theology should lead to doxology, to praise, and this Golden Chain of Salvation clearly demonstrates how that happens.

Notice as you read through Romans 8:29-30, there is not one mention of our work, of our choice, of our responsibility.  Our salvation is the one work of God.  Yes, there is the gracious response to all that God is done.  When the Spirit makes us alive to God, we answer the call, embrace the grace, and grow in righteous obedience to the Word of God.  But all of this is a response to the primary, foundational, sine qua non gracious work of God.

Because our salvation is the work of God, it is therefore sure and secure.  I don’t have to worry that I might let God down (that’s actually a given), that I might rebel and fall away from my salvation.  I am kept in Christ, it is His sovereign grace, His calling, His justifying – it is His work.  He will not let me go.

As I was teaching this to the Sunday School class, one class member stopped me and said, “Can I just say, ‘Hallelujah!’”  Absolutely; that’s the point of it all.  All our theological musings, all our confessional statements, every word upon the Word should lead us, ultimately, to give glory to God.

All theology should produce a humble and gracious response of love.  If you study this Golden Chain, or the 5 Points of Calvinism, or any other theology for that matter, and come away with an air of superiority and self-righteousness, you have completely missed the point.  If your theology leads you to sit in judgment of others who are lost in sin rather than compelling you to demonstrate for all to see the very grace, mercy, and love of God that delivered you from sin and death, then your theology is of no use to you, to the world, and does not bring God glory. The theology of the church does not exist to puff up the pride of man, but to exalt and glorify God.

We are His creation.  Salvation is His gift.  It is all His work.  All glory and honor belong to Him.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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A Dehydrated Spirit

“Pray without ceasing.”
(1 Thessalonians 5:17)

While I was in Haiti last week, I took everybody’s advice, and I stayed well hydrated.  Haiti is hot, there’s no way around that.  It’s in the Caribbean, so it’s got the warm ocean wind and the sun beating down directly overhead.  Add to that, I went at the end of August and first of September, when it’s already hot (usually) in Northern Iowa – so, yeah, staying hydrated was important for a successful mission trip.  I went through at least 6 large bottles of water per day, sometimes adding electrolytes to the bottle just for good measure.  I even had a couple of Coconuts, the milk and meat of the Coconut having tremendous restorative properties.  All in all, I stayed hydrated, and therefore stayed pretty healthy.

Then I came home.  Back in the states, its cooler.  I’m not working as hard physically.  Don’t get me wrong; while I greatly enjoyed cutting metal and welding to help make beds and desks for the orphanages, I much prefer my study, with my cushioned leather chair, my books and keyboard, and, best of all, the air-conditioning.  And yet, Monday afternoon, my first full day back in the office, I found I was sluggish and having stomach troubles.

That’s when it hit me, I hadn’t had any water all day.  There was the cup of coffee early in the morning, but other than that, no fluids all day long.  I had gone from almost 200 fl. oz. of water a day in Haiti to about 6 fl. oz. in Iowa.  I was unintentionally dehydrating myself.  Why would I think that if I needed so much water there, I wouldn’t need any here?

And then I got to thinking, what else was I doing in Haiti that I quit doing as soon as I got home?  The answer was rather disturbing.  I had stopped praying.

I hadn’t stopped altogether.  I still woke up and prayed as part of my daily devotion.  I prayed at meal-time, and at the end of the day before going to bed.  I would say a prayer, when prompted, too, for those who asked for prayer.  But I wasn’t praying, unceasingly praying, like I was in Haiti.

When I was in Haiti, I was out of my comfort zone.  I didn’t speak the language, I was unsure of my surroundings, and I was there to do work and ministry in a way that is vastly different from my day-to-day work and ministry here.  So while I was in Haiti, I was dependent upon prayer.

I wasn’t obvious about it. I wasn’t closing my eyes and bowing my head every minute.  But I was still praying.  Before every conversation, before heading out to a new destination, before and during every encounter, I was going to God in prayer.  I was praying for His wisdom to guide me, His hand to guard me, His love to be seen through me, His name to be glorified in me.  I was praying that all that I would do would help to promote the Gospel of my Savior, Jesus Christ.   I lived and breathed in prayer while in Haiti.

So why did I stop when I got home?  I was comfortable here.  I spoke the language, I knew North from South, I could easily hold a conversation with those around me. I didn’t see my day to day living as mission, nor did I see myself as needing God’s wisdom, God’s protection, God’s grace every minute of the day.  I did not need God (or so I thought), so why should I pray?

In the story of the Transfiguration (Mark 9), Jesus takes Peter, James, and John up the mountain to pray.  While they are praying, Jesus is transfigured so that he shone white, brighter than the sun.  Beside Him were Moses and Elijah, and from the clouds came the voice of God saying, “This is my Son, whom I love, listen to Him.”  All of this happened while they were there to pray.

When they came down from the mountain, though, they met up with the rest of the disciples, and there was a crowd there arguing with them.  Apparently, a man had brought his son to the disciples to be healed, but the disciples were unable to heal him.  Jesus rebuked the disciples, and the crowd, for their faithlessness, then He healed the child.  When the disciples asked Him why they couldn’t heal the boy, Jesus said, “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer.”

I’m guessing the disciples were thinking they had seen Jesus heal other before, all they needed to do was follow His example.  They had even done some miraculous healing, so if they just followed the right procedure, all would go well.  And they failed.

So often we get to where we think we have all the answers, that we know how to do what needs to be done.  We follow the steps laid out before us, we do the right things, say the nice things, and all will go well.  And yet when the world comes to us demanding a sign, wanting to know why our faith should matter, we find our formula falls short, our plan is powerless – because we have not prayed.

Shouldn’t we treat every day, every moment, like we’re strangers in a strange land, pilgrims through this world?  Shouldn’t our language, our custom, our service, be so radically different from the rest of the world’s that we are constantly in need of the sovereign hand of God to guide us and protect us, the Spirit of God to move our lips in praise and powerful witness to Jesus Christ.

A life without prayer is a life without faith, without trust in the gracious hand of God.  A life without prayer is a life that is blind to the reality of our great need for God’s goodness, mercy, and love.  A life without prayer is a not a life at all.

I am reminded of the old hymn which draws us back to a life of absolute dependence on God:

I need thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like thine can peace afford.
I need thee every hour, stay thou nearby; temptations lose their power when thou art nigh.
I need thee every hour in joy or in pain; come quickly and abide or life is in vain.
I need thee every hour, most Holy One; O make me thine indeed, thou blessed Son!

I need thee, O I need thee, every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee!

SDG

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Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 9 – Self-Control

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Here we are, waiting at the Port-au-Prince airport. We’ve got a long day of flying, and driving, in order to get home. This is the first time in over a week that we’ve had reliable broadband internet connection, too, if you couldn’t tell. Amy’s watching a video of her granddaughter, Bruce and Donna are checking their email, Dawn is reading the news, and Matt – well, Matt is admiring the picture he took of the ONE Haitian we found wearing a Duke shirt (admittedly, we never saw a KU shirt). I’ll be buying Matt a beer later. (I need to remind my wife to send a couple of KU shirts to Haiti for next year.)

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I want to take a moment to thank everyone for your prayers, and for your financial support. It’s encouraging to know that so many are thinking and praying for us while we are here, and we hope you know that as we serve in the name of Christ in Haiti, we represent the whole body of Christ. You are here with us, in Spirit and in prayer, and we are one in ministry together.
As we finish our trip, we also complete our study on the Fruit of the Spirit, focusing today on Self-Control. That Paul should conclude this list with something like Self-Control is important. To walk in the Spirit, to live like Christ, to be a disciple, by definition, is to live a life of Self-Control. We engage in the battle against sin in the flesh – we deny ourselves and take up our cross daily. Self-Control is saying “no” to sinful desires, but its more than just saying “no.” You say no to the life of the flesh, and “Yes” to the life of the Spirit, the life of Christ.
Self-Control is holding your tongue, knowing when not to speak, and knowing when to speak, and to speak the Truth with Love. Self-Control is more than just restraining the rage and anger that can quickly burst out when wronged or offended – it is denying that rage and anger a place in your heart in the first place. Self-Control is the discipline of the athlete who denies himself even some of the “good things” this world has to offer to keep your heart fixed on the “great things” of God’s Kingdom. Self-Control is living in such a way so as to not disqualify yourself from the ministry of the Gospel – letting everything you say and do be to the glory of God the Father.
Of course, as with all the other characteristics of the life of the Spirit, this virtue of Self-Control does not come naturally, but is the gift of God’s presence in our lives. How do we grow in this gift? Zechariah tells us it is “not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.”
God’s Spirit produces self-control within us through grace, enabling us to see and trust all that God is for us in Jesus Christ. Paul says in his letter to Titus that the grace of God has appeared, instructing us to deny worldly desires in the present age (Titus 2:11). When we see and believe what God has done for us by grace through Jesus Chirst, the power of wrong desires is broken, so that we might fight the good fight, and take hold of the eternal life to which we have been called (1 Tim. 6:12).
SDG

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Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 8 – Gentleness

Its day 8 of our Haiti Mission Trip, and we are on our journey home.  We arrived in Haiti on a Thursday, and are heading back to Port-au-Prince on a Thursday; one full week in country.  
We are tired, its been a quiet ride so far.  The week here was full of hard work; we are exhausted physically, emotionally spiritually.  After a week like this, any other group might be testy and crabby – but by the grace of God we all still seem to like one another.  Hallelujah!  
We returned to the Consolation Center this morning for a quick goodbye with the girls before we left.  As usual, this was one of the hardest moments of the trip.  The girls sang for us, then rushed out to give us hugs and say “orevwa.”  There were tears, of course, and not just with the ladies – these girls get into your heart and have a way of stealing it away.
Next we bid farewell to Les and Catherine, our gracious hosts at the Beachhouse and mission partners with Laborers with Christ.  They have worked us hard.  Zachary, their son, is a task master – and you better remember to use the square when welding for him, or he’ll let you have it.  All in all we made 6 bunk beds, cut out metal for six more, and cut out the material for 10 new desks for the school house – not a bad three days of work. We also repaired a plow, and Matt plowed 5 fileds, and ran over his backpack – includeing his iPhone.  Not to worry, all the phone is fine, and the backpack will wash.  There was a lot of painting, singing, coloring – we kept busy and worked the days away.
Now its time to go home.  I think we’re all missing some of the comforts of home – hot showeers, air conditioning – personally i cant wait for some ice cream.  And while we are eager to go home, ther is a part of us that will stay in Haiti.  Our hearts and Spirits have connected to with these beautiful people; we’ve seen a need and God has granted us with the means to meet that need – what a honor and privieldge to be used by God in such a way to bless His children.
Today our devotion is on Gentleness.  Gentleness is not weakness; it does not mean being a pushover, easily manipulated.  No, gentleness comes from a deep well of quiet strength.  When you are secure in your identity in Christ, when you know that your salvation, your hope, our future, is in his hands, that His stength which has overcome the world is the same strength that moves in you today – you have the strenth to be gentle with those around you. Someone who is gentle does not have to rush to defend himself, can bear with the wrongs of others, is humble, unassuming.  Gentleness is a firm yet forgiveing hand – firm and unwavering, strong and mighty to save, but tender and kind – bringin blessing and relief in its touch.  Gentleness is like carrying a baby in your arms.  Your arms are secure, safe, and tender and caring. 
Exercising gentleness with others is evidence that God’s Holy Spirit is working in you.  This trip to Haiti has called for great gentleness, a firm belief in God and His love for us in Jesus Christ, and a tender love and mercy for those in need. My hope, my prayer, is that we as a team, as the Church, can show this gentleness (quiet strength and tender mercy) as we continue to grow in God’s Spirit.
SDG

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Sorry, not a lot of pictures tonight, WIFI issues at the Hotel. 1st world problems in a 3rd world country.

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Haiti Mission 2014 – Day 7 – Faithfulness

Day 7 ends with our mission team packing up and getting ready to return home. Today was another day of hard work – welding, cutting, plowing, painting. Amy even got in some piano and voice lessons. We finished 6 new bunkbeds, prepped another 6, and cut out and started 10 new desks. We are all hot, tired, weary from the work, thoroughly exhausted – but so very blessed to have had the opportunity to serve and work alongside such wonderful people.
Tomorrow we say goodbye to all the beautiful girls at the consolation center. It will be hard, but we can’t leave without seeing them one more time. Then we’re on the road for Port-au-Prince and hopefully some sightseeing before we return stateside.
Today our mission team discussed Faithfulness as one of the characteristics of the Fruit of the Holy Spirit. Faithfulness is a rare but valuable virtue these days. People make promises they never intend to keep, contracts are broken with impunity, commitments mean little. It is hard to find a friend who will stay true, hard to find someone to trust who has integrity and will always stand at your side. It’s hard to be the friend who will stay true, hard to be the one with integrity.
It is not so with God. The Word of God over and over again declares that God does what He says He will do. Numbers 23:19 says, “God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?” And James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.” God is faithful and true, utterly trustworthy. And such should be the character of those who name the name of Christ.
Obviously, none of us will ever be perfect in this area. We will fail people just as they will fail us. But we should be known as people who are trustworthy and dependable in an ever-increasing measure. These character traits serve as a powerful testimony in today’s world and bring glory to the God we emulate.
As I said at the beginning of the post, it’s been a long day. It’s been an exercise of faithfulness just to put together this blog today – I think I’ve dozed of once or twice. I’ve added some pictures for your perusal. Thank you for your faithfulness in reading, and in your faithfulness in prayers.
SDG

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Haiti Mission – Day 6 – Oh, My Goodness!

As day six of our Haiti Mission comes to an end, I sit outside this evening on the patio, listening to the waves crash in to the shore, a gentle breeze in the cool(ish) night air. It’s been a long day of hard word and the only thing that would make this evening absolutely perfect would be to have my family here with me now. At times this place seems like paradise – though when the day begins tomorrow, we’ll return to paradise lost.
Our team spent the day hard at work. Matt and Bruce farmed all day, plowing fields in a tractor our team helped repair. The ladies of the team, Amy, Donna, and Dawn, helped with the girls school work today. I cut metal and welded – all day long. I was covered in black metal dust when finished – I miss the quiet, reflective work of my Pastor’s Study.
There is a new boys orphanage opening this Friday. We have three bunk beds made, and another 9 started. Our plan is to hopefully get them all finished on Thursday, and maybe even get some desks for the girl’s school rooms cranked out too.
We’ve accomplished quite a bit in the short time we’ve been here. It’s been hard work, but all of it has been good work. There’s so much that we can do to help those in need, the widows, the orphans, the poor, and the hungry. As we reach out to those in need, what seems like an inconsequential action – holding a baby while she sleeps, folding clothes with a young mom, preparing a meal for a hungry family – to those who receive such kindness our actions are tremendous, transforming, life-changing.
Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, calls His disciples to a life of goodness – a goodness that glorifies God. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16). As disciples of Christ, we are called to share the Gospel, the good news of salvation for a broken and dying world – and to adorn that gospel as “models of good works” (Titus 2:7-10). While, as good Reformed Protestants, we know that we are not save by good works, we also know that we have been saved for for good works, and that a faith without such works is dead (James 2:18).
The problem is, how can I even begin to do these good works when I am so full of sin? I know my heart and I know my own sinfulness. I don’t need to hear Isaiah or Paul saying my righteousness is like filthy rags, that I have fallen short of the glory of God – deep in my heart I know that to be true. My motive to do good works is more often than not self-seeking, self-promoting, “Hey look at me, I’m doing something nice!” Everything I do is laced with, burdened by, my own sinfulness. So how can I be good?!? How can I even begin something called “good works”?
Well, I guess its simple, really. By faith.
By faith I trust in Christ’s perfect goodness and righteousness to cover my sinfulness. By faith I trust in Christ’s perfect atonement upon the cross that restored my relationship with God – that it might be as if I had not sinned, and I am “good” in the eyes of God. By faith I lean not on my own power, but I wholly trust in the power of God’s Holy Spirit to produce in me goodness, the very goodness of God that is seen in the good works to which I have been called.
As God works Hi goodness in me, I am strengthened and encouraged to engage in the good works that would adorn His Gospel.
May the world see, through this broken life made new; through this sin-stained soul made pure; through this godless heart made good; may the world see the amazing grace of our wonderful God, and give glory to Him forever!
SDG
A big thanks to Donna Amundson for the pictures on today’s blog. Not a lot of photo-worthy moments at the cutting table.

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