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January 03, 2007

This is an oldie but a goodie. I looked all over and couldn’t find an authoritative account of where it came from and neither could I track down an “official” file. I suspect it is fairly old as from the sound quality it seems likely that it was taken from a cassette. Because it was already uploaded on several servers I went ahead and uploaded it to mine as well. If anyone can point me to an official or copyrighted version, I’ll gladly link to that one instead of this one!

In the meantime, I give you a sermon on “hairology,” the theology of hair. Dr. G.I. Barber delivers what is an exceptional sermon (and fairly short one, thankfully) on what the Bible has to say about hair.

January 03, 2007

A Letter to The Learning Channel

To Whom It May Concern,

I write today to offer your television network the rights to what I am convinced will soon be the most popular reality show on television. Reality television has offered the discerning viewer much entertainment and so many opportunities to learn. We have learned how to dress, how to cook, how to build motorcycles and hotrods and even how to build beautiful rooms using plywood, staple guns and glue guns. We’ve seen what it takes to make it as an executive for the world’s leading corporations. We’ve seen the inner-workings of families of dwarfs and families of rock stars and have marveled at the skill of tattoo artists. But there is one area that has received shockingly little attention. I offer exclusive rights to an exciting new program to The Learning Channel.

I offer you Reformed Eye for the Arminian Guy, a new production currently filming pilot episodes in New York City. This exciting new program will offer theological assistance to those men who need it most. In each episode a fabulous team of Reformed men will track down an Arminian guy and offer him the makeover of a lifetime. Each of the five team members is an expert in a different field. Each will assist the subject of the program in a unique way.

Klaus is the library expert. He will examine the person’s personal book collection, weeding out any books that are deemed unworthy of a Reformed library. Graham, Yancey, McLaren and Lucado will be replaced by Edwards, Spurgeon, Calvin and Luther. Paperbacks and fancy hardcovers will be replaced by handsome leather-bound volumes, leaving a library that is both beautiful and theologically-correct. The subject will be provided with a library of commentaries, Reformed confessions, and a full collection of the writings of John Calvin.

Jonathan serves on the team as personal stylist. He will ensure that the subject of the show looks Reformed. The subject will be provided with a new wardrobe, complete with several handsome suits and a variety of sweater vests. He will be encouraged to wear a tie or other formal apparel at all times. He will learn the importance of always carrying pocket-sized Bibles and copies of Reformed confessions. And, of course, he will learn of the unsuitability of t-shirts, track pants and idolatrous accessories such as crosses. Tattoo removal will be offered to those who need it.

Marcus is the team’s theologian. His task is to help the subject understand the tenets of the Reformed faith. Marcus will offer an intensive, day-long overview of Reformed theology, beginning in the Old Testament, continuing to the New and then passing through the lives of Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. From there the course will survey the teachings of the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards and move to more modern times with Warfield, Hodge, Murray and the leading Reformed teachers of our day. The subject will be trained to refute the common objections to Calvinism and to uphold the principles of TULIP.

Charles is a renowned expert in Reformed decorum. He will help the subject learn to act Reformed. He will offer training humility, wonder, awe and spite. He will be told how to hold himself in times of public discourse and evangelism.

Bruce will assist the subject in his friendships and church affiliation, ensuring the subject heeds the admonition of Proverbs 25:19 that “Trusting in a treacherous man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth or a foot that slips.” Bruce will interview the subject’s friends, deciding which of these friendships is worth pursuing and which must be abandoned. He will also seek out an appropriate church for the subject to attend.

After his makeover, the subject will be revealed to his family and remaining friends in a brief but meaningful ceremony.

Once this program has proven successful, we hope to expand the franchise to include a variety of similar programs built around similar themes: Protestant Eye for the Catholic Guy is currently under development and this will be followed by Cessationist Eye for the Charismatic Guy and Complementarian Eye for the Egalitarian Guy. Because of the theological difficulties inherent in women’s issues, we do not anticipate expanding the franchise to women.

I am sure you are as excited about this program as I am. I look forward to hearing from you very soon and eagerly anticipate working with you to add Reformed Eye for the Arminian Guy to TLC’s Fall lineup.

Yours respectfully,

Tim Challies
Producer, Reformed Eye for the Arminian Guy

January 03, 2007

The 2007 conference season is fast approaching. If you are looking for just one conference to attend this year, you probably will not do any better than the Ligonier Ministries National Conference in Orlando, Florida. Contending for the Truth will be held from March 15-17 and will feature addresses by John MacArthur, Al Mohler, John Piper, Ravi Zacharias and, of course, R.C. Sproul.

It is easy, when looking at conferences, to just skip over the name or theme. But I think with this one it is worth pondering the words “Contending for the Truth.” Words like “sin” and “evil” have already fallen out of favor in our culture. “Truth” is sure to follow. Yet we, as Christians, cannot downplay or minimize truth. We must stand for it and must contend for it. This conference will equip us to do just that. I will be there to provide liveblogging and am anticipating a time of spiritual challenge and growth.

The national conference, held annually in Orlando, Fla., is the largest conference Ligonier hosts. Dr. Sproul highlights the gathering as he, along with other prominent pastors and theologians, speaks on issues pertinent to the health of the modern church.

In Orlando, Fla., on March 15-17, 2007, Ligonier Ministries will celebrate twenty years of national conferences with a seminar focused on defending the faith. Contending for the Truth will equip believers to answer the false claims of postmodernism, naturalism, and our culture’s other atheistic theories.

Joining us are outstanding apologists and preachers - John MacArthur, Al Mohler, John Piper, and Ravi Zacharias. We will devote ourselves to refuting the claims made against the biblical worldview and to arming believers for the cogent presentation of orthodox Christianity.

Past speakers have included John MacArthur, Ravi Zacharias, John Piper, Ligon Duncan, Sinclair Ferguson, Derek Thomas, Joni Eareckson Tada, and many others on such topics as the role of church in the world, spiritual growth, and the character of God. This is the conference that arms clergy and laity alike with the materials and sound teaching needed for them to be better witnesses for Christ in today’s world.

Registration for this conference has already exceeding 2500 and is well on its way to the capacity of somewhere around 5000.

I am giving away four registration certificates for the conference. Each one is a $188 value and includes conference registration and all meals (dinner on Thursday; breakfast, lunch and dinner on Friday; breakfast on Saturday). Anyone is invited to enter the giveaway, but please only enter if you will be able to attend (and that means you personally. Please do not enter on behalf of another person)! If you would like to attend the conference with your spouse you can enter to win two admissions. In this case you will still have only one entry, but it will be for two admissions so you can both attend for free.

To enter the giveaway, simply visit this page and in the form provided, enter your name, email address and the answer to the following question:

What is the title of the first book published by Reformation Trust Publishing?

I will stop accepting entries on January 5 at 9 AM EST and will randomly select four winners at that time.

January 01, 2007

Now that I’ve hit thirty years of age it seems more silly than ever to create all kinds of New Year’s resolutions. After all, what would I resolve to do other than what I’ve resolved to do every other year in recent memory: spend more time reading the Bible, more time praying, more time with my family and, of course, shed a few pounds by dedicating more time to exercise. And yet there is something valuable about resolutions, I think. At the very least it is useful to reflect on the past that we might think more deliberately about the present and the future. In a biography of Roger Nicole I read some godly wisdom on the importance of musing about the past:

There is a biblical injunction about musing: Deuteronomy 8:2 - “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way…” More than fifty times in Scripture, we are challenged to remember, perhaps supremely in the Lord’s Supper: “in remembrance of Me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Thus our knowledge of the past must serve us in our decisions in the present. Our experience in the past is an important element in our preparation for the future. It should help us to avoid repeating the mistakes that we made previously. Memory is the bond that unifies the series of experiences and decisions that constitute our life.

If resolutions are made on the basis of memory and the basis of truly wanting to serve and honor God, I am sure that they can be valuable, even if they do not last a full twelve months.

A couple of years ago, as I reflected on the dawning of a new year, I came across Psalm 90, a prayer of Moses, the man of God. It may perhaps be a strange choice to begin a new year and some would even consider it a depressing Psalm that speaks of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death. Yet primarily it speaks of the power of God, that He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is the same now as He was two thousand years ago when His Son was on the earth and He is the same now as He was the day He brought forth the world by His word.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

You return man to dust
and say, “Return, O children of man!”
For a thousand years in your sight
are but as yesterday when it is past,
or as a watch in the night.

You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning:
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.

For we are brought to an end by your anger;
by your wrath we are dismayed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your presence.

For all our days pass away under your wrath;
we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
The years of our life are seventy,
or even by reason of strength eighty;
yet their span is but toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger,
and your wrath according to the fear of you?

So teach us to number our days
that we may get a heart of wisdom.
Return, O LORD! How long?
Have pity on your servants!
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love,
that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us,
and for as many years as we have seen evil.
Let your work be shown to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and establish the work of our hands upon us;
yes, establish the work of our hands!

I spent a part of yesterday wondering what Bible verse would serve as an appropriate reflection to begin yet another year. And then I was treated to a wonderful sermon by my friend Julian who preached at our church yesterday. His text was Matthew 6:19-24:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

These three sayings of Jesus provided an excellent basis for meditation. Any goals I set for the new year must involve laying up treasures not here, but in heaven. They must involve serving my heavenly master and not any earthly one. And they must involve looking towards that master and heavenly treasures rather than looking towards and dreaming of earthly treasures and earthly masters. Surely such resolutions cannot go far wrong.

I wish you and your family a blessed new year. May 2007 bring you many rich blessings as you seek to honor and serve the Lord. Maranatha! Come quickly Lord Jesus!

December 31, 2006

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers. Every week (in reality it actually tends to be every second week) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my left sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making my readers aware of other good sites.

This week’s recipient of the award is titus2talk, a fairly new blog, having made its first appearance in September of this year, and one that originates on the other side of the Atlantic. Though the blog is young, the contributors have already invested a good deal of effort in it and are crafting a site that will surely make a unique contribution to the Christian blogosphere. The site is targeted specifically at women, but there is no reason a guy can’t browse it every now and again as well.

“Maybe you’re wondering what our titus2talk blog is all about? Titus 2:3-5 [‘Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.’] provides us with some of the things which we, as women aspire to and seek to encourage all women to. Whether you are younger or older, single or married, busy at home or in the workplace, we invite you to share with us as we look to discover and recover God’s identity for us as women. So join us as we enter into discussion on biblical womanhood & other fun stuff. View our posts, consider the books we like, read our reviews, listen in on sermons and talks we’ve found helpful, & enjoy!”

In the coming days you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over the site and look around.

I continue to accept nominations for King of the Week. If you have a site you would like to nominate, feel free to do so. Thanks to those of you who nominated this week’s honoree.

December 30, 2006

“Saddam Hussein, among the world’s most brutal dictators, struggled briefly after American military guards handed him over to Iraqi executioners. But as his final moments approached, he grew calm. Dressed in a black coat and trousers, he clutched a Qur’an as he was led to the gallows, and in one final moment of defiance, refused to have a hood pulled over his head.

After a quarter-century of remorseless brutality that killed countless thousands and led Iraq into disastrous wars against the United States and Iran, Saddam was executed before sunrise Saturday.” (link)

I sat almost transfixed last night, waiting for the news to be released—news that Saddam Hussein had finally been executed. I was struck by the thought that it is easy to see men like Hussein as somehow more than human. Or maybe less than human. It is interesting to watch the video footage taken shortly after his capture by U.S. forces. A doctor is poking and prodding him, peering into his mouth and looking through his hair. His beard is long and untrimmed, his hair wild and askew. And then there is the footage of him being led to the gallows (footage that is available at any major news web site). It is easy to feel a bit of sympathy watching another human being forced to his death. Suddenly this tyrant appears so human, so frail.

It is difficult to know how to react to something like this. How is a Christian to react to the death of a man such as Hussein? As I thought about this, it seems that we have cause both to mourn and to rejoice.

We can rejoice in the fact that justice has been done. Hussein’s atrocities are horrendous (you can read a list of them here) and impacted countless millions. He made a mockery of the position of power he was given. The Bible tells us that it is God who assigns leaders to the nations and Hussein violated the position of authority, using it to enrich himself, to enslave others, and to reign with brutal terror. The moniker “the Butcher of Baghdad” was well-earned.

We can also rejoice in mercy. It is in mercy that God has given the power of the sword to governments so they can act in restraining evil. These governments are charged with punishing those who do wrong so they can restrain further acts of sin and violence and so they can bring to justice those who have forsaken the laws of God seen dimly in the laws of the lands.’

We can rejoice in God’s goodness. It was God’s goodness that allowed a new government to take the place of Hussein’s and to bring an end to his reign of terror. And it was justice that caused them to end his life. God’s justice is never in conflict with His goodness. Tozer says, “To think of God as we sometimes think of a court where a kindly judge, compelled by law, sentences a man to death with tears and apologies, is to think in a manner wholly unworthy of the true God. God is never at cross-purposes with Himself. No attribute of God in in conflict with another.” To rejoice in the death of Saddam Hussein, to rejoice in the execution of justice, is to rejoice in the justice of God, the goodness of God and the mercy of God. When the Iraqi authorities, having weighed the evidence and proven that Hussein was guilty of crimes deserving death, brought an end to Hussein’s life, they imitated God in these attributes (though they surely had no idea they were doing so).

And so we can rejoice in the execution of this tyrant. We can rejoice that justice has been done. At the same time, we must not rejoice wrongly. We must take no wrongful pleasure in the death of another person. Death is an unnatural state for humans and one that should always remind us of our state of fallenness. Were it not for our sin there would be no death. And always we must remember that the sin that filled Hussein is the same sin which lives within all of us. Were it not for the restraining hand of God, were it not for His grace, any of us could commit acts equally horrific.

We must never make light of the fact that Hussein is, in all likelihood, in hell now. And, as difficult as this may be to believe, all the pain and torture and devastation Hussein caused in his life, either directly or indirectly, is as nothing compared to what he is experiencing now and what he will experience for all of eternity. We must never, ever make light of hell as the eternal destination of any man.

Hussein’s death is a testament to the depravity of humans, but it is also a testament to the justice, mercy and goodness of God. It is a time to mourn at the state of mankind, but also to marvel at the power and sovereignty of God.

December 29, 2006

Here are two prayer requests that have come to me via the blogosphere.

Rick Phillips at the Reformation 21 blog asks for prayer for Dr. D. James Kennedy.

Please pray for Dr. D. James Kennedy, his wife and daughter, and Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. Dr. Kennedy is in grave condition following a heart attack last evening.

Jim’s health has deteriorated markedly in the last several months, and he has manfully continued his ministry to the best of his ability. During all my interactions with him even during this trying time, he has exhibited his characteristic good cheer, charm, and force of mind. Along with being a man with great vision for the kingdom of Christ, Jim Kennedy is a true Christian gentleman. Please pray for God to restore him to full health and give him grace as his situation should require.

And from Albert Mohler’s blog comes another request:

Dr. Albert Mohler is recovering at Louisville’s Baptist East hospital following abdominal surgery. Dr. Mohler was admitted to the hospital on Wednesday after experiencing abdominal pain. During a three-hour procedure, surgeons removed scar tissue from a 1980s operation. Dr. Mohler is expected to be released from the hospital next week and will continue his recovery at home. Dr. Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology and Senior VP for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, will host The Albert Mohler radio program until he is able to return to the air. Dr. Mohler’s blog and commentary posts will resume as soon as he is able. Please join the Southern Seminary community in praying for Dr. Mohler’s quick and total recovery.
December 26, 2006

I’ve often wondered if children in school continue to read Huckleberry Finn. It is a truly great story by a master storyteller and is a book I enjoyed a great deal when we read it in the eighth grade. I can still remember my teacher, who also happened to be the school’s principal, reading the story aloud to us and helping us understand it. While it is a great story, it is also one that has a certain word appear many times. It’s that word that has only recently, I believe, come to be known as the “n-word.” Just uttering that word these days is enough to end careers and destroy friendships. And yet, even a few decades ago, it was considered acceptable in a story. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Huckleberry Finn is no longer read in schools simply because of that word.

Words come and go. There are thousands of words that have fallen out of use or have had their meanings changed as time has passed and the language has evolved. And, of course, many thousands more have been introduced into the language, some coined to express something very specific (i.e., “metrosexual”) and some to describe a new object or technology. Sometimes it is good for words to pass out of common use, and the “n-word” is one of these words. Hurtful, derogatory and laden with bad memories, there is no benefit to maintaining this word. But there are other words that we need to maintain, we need to keep in our common lexicon.

One of these words, a word we need to hold onto, is “sin.” This word is found only rarely now outside the bounds of the church, and sadly, almost as rarely within. In the past few weeks I’ve read several books which speak of errors, mistakes and bad judgment, but never of sin. All of these books are written by and about Christians. In his autobiography, Shawn Alexander writes about making many mistakes in his life, but never of committing sin. When writing about Joel Osteen, his biographer admits mistakes in Osteen’s life, but never charges him with sin. Dr. Phil’s wife, Robin McGraw, has done many dumb things, but to the point of the book I’ve read, has not sinned. And so on. Humans seem eager to admit mistakes and error, but loathe to admit sin.

There is something about this word, this little “s-word,” that offends people. We are not offended by mistakes. We are offended by sin. The problem is that sin and mistakes are not the same thing.

I’ve thought about this for a while now and it seems to me that the reason we are afraid to admit sin lies in its definition. Where a mistake is something like “a wrong action attributable to bad judgment or ignorance or inattention”, according to the Shorter Catechism, “sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” Mistakes are inevitable in this life and, while they may be a product of the Fall, they are not necessarily sinful. I may make a mistake about the time I am to pick my son up from school and arrive fifteen minutes late. This is not sinful, but it is a mistake. I have made a mistake and my son has suffered just a little bit as he had to wait a few minutes. And so I apologize to my son and the situation is over. But when I sin against my son, perhaps by snapping at him when he is inquisitive and I am tired and grumpy, I have not made a mistake; I have sinned. I have offended both my son and God. I have offended my son but have ultimately offended God. David says in Psalm 51:4 “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.” Of course David had also sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah and the whole nation of Israel. And yet he knew that his ultimate sin was against God.

And so it seems that we are afraid to admit sin because it requires that we admit we have offended God. And when we admit to offending God, we admit that we are deserving of His punishment. We are deserving of His wrath. We are deserving of hell. And who wants to admit this? To admit to this is to go against our sinful natures and all that we believe about ourselves.

When we refuse to utter the “s-word,” and worse, when we refuse to view ourselves as sinners, we refuse to admit our need of a Savior. We tacitly suggest that we can remedy our own mistakes rather than relying on the Savior who has paid for sin.

December 23, 2006

The Original Love SongChurchMerch is a new feature here at Challies Dot Com. Under this heading I intend to examine some of the merchandise that is being and will be marketed to Christians. I will expand a little bit beyond merchandise and may also examine movies, television shows and other media targeted at the “faith and values” crowd. As this audience grows, so too does the amount of material intended for it and we will no doubt see the good, the bad and the ugly of ChurchMerch.

Today I will take a brief look at The Original Love Song, a CD recording of the Song of Solomon.

The Original Love Song brings The Song of Solomon to life with a masterful blend of sensuous dialogue and musical imagery… tastefully weaving the most famous love poems of all time into a compelling theatrical style story with an enchanting score by Academy and Golden Reel Award winning film composer, Alan Howarth… Each line of The Original Love Song was hand-picked, word-for-word from six different translations of the Bible, retaining the charm and poetic flow of the old-world vernacular. Every verse is then complimented with its own enchanting musical composition; capturing the message and essence of the spoken word with compelling aural imagery… The Original Love Song makes a perfect wedding gift, a thoughtful anniversary gift, and a wonderful Valentines Day gift… as well as a way to help rekindle romance, share your feelings, or get couples communicating in your marriage ministry.

In other words, The Original Love Song is a recording that attempts to capture a sensuous, erotic feel with both the spoken word and the background music. According to the producers, “The Original Love Song is a moving and sensual interpretation that deals with intimacy and virtue… [that] literally whisks the listener off to a very special place of sensual innocence and spiritual passion; a place so deep and so real, that many come away deeply moved, yet spiritually and romantically invigorated.” The Tampa Tribune says “Couples who want to put a little spiritual spice in the bedroom can get it from a breathy recitation of Song of Solomon, accompanied by mood-setting soundtrack.” The words are spoken in a sultry tone clearly intended to convey sexual desire. The music contributes to this atmosphere.

The CD booklet contains a separate section for men and women, each offering gender-specific advice. For example, for women it suggests “Compliment him often. In tracks 3 and 11 in The Original Love Song, the Shulammite calls Solomon a ‘stag or hart.’ In today’s language, stag means stud. So once or twice a week when your husband comes home from work, say: ‘How are you, Stud?’ He is a stud! He’s the only stud you’ve got. I guarantee you, he’ll like it.”

Like any good ChurchMerch, The Original Love Song is available in multiple versions and with multiple options. The CD is available with two different covers, there is a Wedding Bundle (which includes “an excellent book on spiritual bonding entitled ‘A Marriage After God’s Own Heart’ by noted Christian author Dr. David Clarke” and comes bundled in a royal blue velvet pouch, de-bossed with the ‘One Flesh’ male / female symbol. There are also gift pouches that can be purchased separately.

You can learn all about it www.originallovesong.com. You can read descriptions and reviews, meet the contributors and listen to audio samples. And, of course, you can buy it for yourself.

My opinion of this piece of ChurchMerch is that there is really nothing inherently wrong with it. The Song of Solomon is clearly intended to be a book about love and sexual desire. I don’t see anything unbiblical about setting it to a bit of music and reciting it in a tone that would convey much of the book’s intent. This is not to say that I enjoyed it. The fact is that I found it more than a little corny and certainly could never use it the way it is intended. If you can listen to this without rolling your eyes or giggling with embarrassment, you’re a better man than me. I give it points for originality and for quality of presentation, but little more than that.

If you know of some ChurchMerch I absolutely need to examine, feel free to drop me a note.

December 21, 2006

Last night our church gathered, divided into small groups, and went door-to-door in the neighborhood surrounding the school in which we meet. We went caroling and delivering copies of a book and an invitation to our Christmas Eve service to each of the homes in the immediate area. On the whole our efforts were well-received. While only a fraction of the people were both home and willing to open their doors, those who did seemed genuinely pleased to hear a Christmas carol and to receive a small gift. As we went through the streets I was struck by two thoughts that have been rattling around in my head over the past couple of weeks.

The first of these is one that came to me as I was thinking about the people in our neighborhood and pondering just how much I desire opportunities to be able to reach out to them with the gospel. I was recently praying by name for some of these people and realized that it is entirely possible, likely even, that many of these people have never been prayed for, or not by someone who is actually a Christian (and thus someone whose prayers are heard by God). As I’ve said in the past, we live in a neighborhood (a townhouse development) with around 100 homes in it. As far as we know, and we have met at least half of the people, we are the only Christians. We have never heard anyone else speak of church and have never seen any of them go to church with the exception of a small migration of the few “Christmas and Easter” Catholics on Christmas Eve. In all the years we have lived here we have been approached countless times by Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, but only once have we had Christians come to our door to invite us to their church. The fact is, Canada is largely a pagan nation. Churches where the gospel is present are few and far between. There are fewer and fewer Christians. And so I wonder who would ever have prayed for people in this neighborhood? Who will pray for them now?

It strikes me as a heartbreaking tragedy that so many people will never have been held up before the throne of grace. It is so sad that so many people have never had anyone to plead for them before the Lord. As we walked through the darkened streets last night, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people have never been brought before God, have never had anyone plead for their salvation. I wonder how many unbelievers live their whole lives without ever once having a Christian ask God to use them to bring these lost souls to Him.

As I thought about this, I was reminded of something which I will share briefly and as an aside in case it interests someone. For a short time there was a man with a gift for evangelism who attended our old church. He would head to the train station many mornings and attempt to sit and talk with people, even if only for a few moments, to share the gospel with them. He was one of these people I admire so much who can evangelize to anyone anywhere and at anytime. At one point he and another man in the church walked through a neighborhood for thirty or forty consecutive days. Every morning they would pause briefly outside each house and pray for the people in that home. At the end of this time they knocked on every door and asked the people to join them for a street party. And when that party came they had an amazing turnout. They had many opportunities to share the gospel with these people. It was brave, unashamed and effective evangelism. I have often wondered how God used their prayers and will continue to use those prayers as these men prayed for individuals who had probably never been prayed for in the past. May God grant me such faith and such courage. And may He continue to burden me to pray for individuals in the homes I can see right now from the window of my office.

There was something else that struck me last night, and this first occurred to me last Saturday when we had many of the people in our neighborhood into our home, the adults just to hang out and talk, and the children to decorate gingerbread houses. We invited people just to come, just to bring themselves, and yet everyone brought something with them, whether a plate of food or a tin of chocolate or even just a card. No one could come empty-handed. And we are the same way. When someone invites us to their home, Aileen’s first question is always “Did you ask them what we can bring?” I typically have to admit that, no, I didn’t ask. I assume that if people are inviting us into their home they are doing so from a desire to extend grace and hospitality to us and that we are not obliged to bring something. Aileen, though, considers it rude to not at least ask if we can bring a salad or dessert or something (anything!).

It seems that humans have a problem with accepting gifts. Humans have a problem with grace. We never want to accept a gift without providing something in return. Last night people would receive the book we gave them and respond by saying, “Are you collecting money? Can we donate to something? Can we at least give you a candy?” So few people were willing to simply accept the gift as a gift, even if it was a gift they did not particularly want. So few could believe that we would give them something and expect nothing in return. They wanted to repay the gift, to repay grace.

And that’s just the way humans are. One of the greatest testaments to the truth of Christianity is in its “otherworldliness.” No human being could conceive of a religion that offered grace and demanded no repayment. No human being could create a religion that was all of grace. Without the work of the Holy Spirit no person can believe, accept and treasure this grace. And even after we have been granted it, so many of us, so often, try to repay grace. We feel that we need to be obedient to God in order to repay Him for the salvation He has given us. But we are not to live lives of obedience in order to repay God. Rather, we live in obedience out of gratitude for his amazing grace. James White writes, “Since faith comes with empty hand, it finds in the grace of God all that it could ever need or want…. Only the empty hand fits into the powerful hand of grace.” We come to God with empty hands, offering nothing, receiving everything.

From Christ’s fullness “we have all received, grace upon grace.” As those who understand grace and who have received it, Christians ought to give and receive grace in return. Grace should mark us as distinct from others just as it distinguishes Christianity from all of the world’s counterfeit paths to God.

I will close with some wise words from the pen of Charles Spurgeon. “Grace is the first and last moving cause of salvation; and faith, essential as it is, is only an important part of the machinery which grace employs. We are saved ‘through faith,’ but salvation is ‘by grace.’ Sound forth those words as with the archangel’s trumpet: ‘By grace are you saved.’ What glad tidings for the undeserving!”

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