Friday, August 28, 2009

“I have a dream”: 46 years later

Forty-six years ago on this day (I was just 39 days old), Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the march on Washington, DC. Although America has made enormous progress in 46 years, racism against Black people still exists, albeit in a more subtle and insidious form. That’s because racism is symptomatic of the sin which resides in the human soul. When Christ Jesus comes again as the Judge of all humanity, He will eradicate sin, ending racism forever. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.”

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
Now ransomed from sin and a new work begun;
Sing praise to the Father and praise to the Son,
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
The angels rejoicing because it is done;
A child of the Father, joint heir with the Son,
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
The Father He spake, and His will it was done;
Great price of my pardon, His own precious Son;
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!
All hail to the Father, all hail to the Son,
All hail to the Spirit, the great Three in One!
Saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

Saved! Saved!
My sins are all pardoned, my guilt is all gone!
Saved! Saved!
I am saved by the blood of the Crucified One!

—S.J. Henderson

(You can listen to the tune here)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A matter of life or death

Somebody has said, “Sin will take you further than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, cost you more than you want to pay.” I know that’s right…from experience.

But, here’s what God says:

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11).

The sins we allow ourselves to commit “wage war” against our souls. Sin strikes us at the depths of our beings. Sin is deadly: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

Sin will take your soul to hell.

So, how should we respond to temptations to sin? We should run for our lives! Don’t hang around temptation, don’t think it over, don’t sample sin. Run! “So flee youthful passions…” (2 Timothy 2:22). But, God doesn’t want us to just run from sin. The Christian life isn’t as much about the avoidance of sin as it is about the pursuit of that which is pure and right and good: “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22, emphasis added).

Sin is deadly; it will destroy your soul. Rather than flirt with it, run from it. Flee, and then pursue. Run hard after God and the things of God. It’s a matter of life or death.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Family and my mother’s visit

To me, it’s always been a good thing to be with people I’ve never had to officially “meet” or be introduced to, because they’ve seemingly always been there. These are the people who are a part of my earliest memories, who’ve known me all my life, before I ever had a title or a position, before I ever had children or was married.

That’s why I appreciate family. I grew up with plenty of extended family. Grandparents, great-grandparents, great-great grandparents, aunts, uncles and a multitude of 2nd, 3rd and 4th cousins were an integral part of my growing up years. Unfortunately, with the passage of time and the death of the oldest generations, and because we now live so far apart geographically, I rarely get to see my extended Duncan family (I do have an uncle who lives with his sons just a few miles away, but we hardly see him more than once a year, if that. But, that’s another story all together, too long to tell.).

You may remember my father visited for a few days back in March. I wrote about it here. Well, the first half of this week, my family and I were blessed to have my mother, Barbara, in town for a short visit. It was great for all of us to see her again, for the first time in several years, and to spend some time together. I, especially, enjoyed having the opportunity to laugh (my mother, like her late father, is gifted at telling funny stories) and share memories of family in days gone by.

Below are a few photos from my mother’s visit.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Friday, August 07, 2009

How Firm a Foundation

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
“As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.”

“Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.”

“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”

“When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.”

“Even down to old age all My people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.”

“The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake!”

—John Rippon’s A Selection of Hymns, 1787

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Corporal punishment and the discipline of God

I’ve been thinking about God’s discipline. From experience, I know God’s discipline is painful and sometimes severe, but it is always an expression of the Father’s infinite love for His children. In an era when fewer and fewer parents discipline their children, I wonder if, perhaps, many might balk at the idea of God painfully and severely disciplining His children. I was reared by folks who believed in physical punishment. I know what it means to have a parent “whup yo’ behin’” and even go “upside your head”. Because of that, I have no trouble embracing the biblical teaching about God’s discipline.

Now, don’t even bother to tell me anything about child abuse. I know what child abuse is and, as the recipient of my folks’ occasional physical discipline, I can tell you they did not abuse me. Grandma kept an old, worn-out belt in a kitchen drawer (she called it her “strap”) in the event she needed to dish out a spanking to me or my younger uncle (who is four-and-a-half years older than me). In no way do I believe it was wrong for her to use a belt. That belt never left any welts on anyone. And, yes, I did get slapped upside my head a couple times for talking back (I should have been slapped, in my opinion), but I didn’t suffer a concussion or brain damage, and no bruises were left on my head. In fact, I thank God for the few times I was physically punished. I say few, because, personally, I think I got away with too much. If Grandma and Pa Bill had worked on my behind a little more, or gone upside my head a few more times than they did, I think I would have been better off. Now, I’m aware that there may be some parents who have never used physical punishment in disciplining their children and yet have good, well-behaved and well-mannered children. I’ll admit that a talk and a time out might work with some passive, compliant children, but my experience and observation is that strong-willed, hard-headed children (like I was) need more than a mere talk; they need for a responsible adult to lay hands on them (and not just to pray for them!).

Those of you who might be quick to reject physical punishment as a method of discipline need to deal with Proverbs 13:24; 22:15; 23:14 and 29:15. I am quite skeptical of any interpretation of Scripture that would make “the rod” a metaphor for discipline. I don’t believe such an interpretation is warranted in these verses, other than to appease the overly delicate sensitivities of contemporary Americans and Europeans. If you think I’m being extreme, then I also invite you to think long and seriously about what God said in Romans 1:29-32:

They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Did you notice that among those deeds that God considers deserving of death is disobedience to parents? Did you see that? Have you ever considered that children and teenagers who disobey their parents deserve death? Think about that! Is God being extreme?

It is an understatement to say God takes our children’s disobedience and disrespect far more seriously than most of us do. We want to give our disobedient children a “time out”; God says they deserve to die. Who’s right: we or God? I say that if we saw our children more like God sees them, many of us wouldn’t be so squeamish about the need to sometimes employ physical punishment in the disciplining of our children. Loving physical punishment is an act of mercy with the goal of saving our children’s souls from a fate far worse than a spanking or a slap.

This is exactly what God does with His children. Sometimes God gives us a “time out”—sets us aside for a season so we can think on our ways—but, God also inflicts pain. How do I know? Because the Bible says discipline is “painful” (Hebrews 12:11). And, I can tell you from experience that God’s discipline hurts; it will make you cry sometimes, even drive you to your knees and make you cry out to Him for mercy. Yes, discipline hurts, but the writer of Hebrews wrote, “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness” (Hebrews 12:10). God is trying to spare our souls from a fate far worse than the temporary pain of a spiritual spanking; He’s trying to save our souls from spiritual death (Hebrews 12:9).

Above all, God disciplines and inflicts pain because He loves His children. A good parent doesn’t spank his children because of hate; a good parent spanks out of love. I didn’t understand that when Grandma was spanking my behind or going upside my head, but after I became a parent I understood well what Grandma was doing. A parent inflicts physical pain upon their child because they understand that their child’s bad behavior and attitude will lead to misery later on in life. We spank because we want to spare our children from unnecessary grief. And, those of us who accept what the Bible says are also trying to save our children from eternal misery. Those sinners mentioned in Romans 1:29-32 not only deserve death here and now, but the text says God’s wrath is already revealed against them (Romans 1:18). They are destined for hell.

Best of all, God’s discipline is proof that I belong to Him. I don’t go around disciplining kids I’m not responsible for. If I see a child acting up in the mall, I don’t grab that child and spank him (though, I might think about it). I discipline my own children, because they belong to me and I’m responsible for them. In a similar way, God disciplines His own children. If you can’t say you’ve ever experienced God’s discipline, you’d better check yourself and make sure you belong to Him. God’s discipline is an evidence that we belong to Him; it is evidence of His love for us. Unlike some irresponsible parents, God doesn’t let His children run wild. Aren’t you glad about that? Aren’t you glad that He loves you enough to forcibly turn you from the way that is not right?

Read the entire passage from Hebrews (Hebrews 12:5-11) below, and thank God for His “severe mercy” towards you:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Bible is still right

A troubling phenomenon I’ve noticed among some of us who profess to be Christians: Our faith and confidence in the Bible is conditional. That is to say, we believe the Bible as long as it doesn’t demand drastic change from us or condemn those we love.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon most often in the area of sexuality. For instance, someone will say they believe sex is reserved for one man and one woman in marriage until they meet someone they want to have sex with. Or, someone will say they believe homosexuality is sinful until their son or daughter “comes out of the closet”. When the Bible comes into conflict with their sexual urges or the urges of their loved ones, they either ignore the Bible or reason that somehow the Bible is wrong on the particular issue in question.

My friend, we don’t have the right to play around with Scripture this way. When our lives conflict with the Bible, it is not the Bible that is wrong; it is we and our loved ones who are wrong. You do no one a favor when you minimize the authority of Scripture in order to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 3:16), which is another way of saying Scripture is the word of God. If you want to hear God’s voice, open the Bible and read! It is in the very words of Scripture that we hear God. Jesus (who is God) said His sheep—His followers (i.e., Christians)—hear His voice. Christians listen to what the Bible says; and, not only do they listen, said Jesus, but they do what it says. Christians obey the Bible. And, I’m not talking about coercion. No, Christians want to obey God’s word (Psalm 119:174; Romans 7:22).

Jesus, on another occasion, asked, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46). If we will not do what the Bible says, then Jesus is not our Lord. “Let God be true though every one were a liar” (Romans 3:4). Even if it condemns us and our loved ones, the Bible is still right. The way out from under condemnation is through complete surrender to the authority of the word of God.