12/23/2013

The True Meaning of Christmas

12/23/2013 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
What is the true meaning of Christmas?

This is a question one hears a great deal this time of year.  Usually it is asked as some form of rebuttal to the idea that Christmas is all about getting newer, bigger, better, faster stuff.  Of course, there are almost as many answers to the question as there are people asking it.

One of the most given answers is that Christmas isn't about getting but about giving, especially to those less fortunate than ourselves.  Generosity is the true meaning of Christmas.

Another very popular idea is that Christmas is all about family.  We should forget all the petty squabbles and disagreements and come together to celebrate and be thankful for one another.

One might also hear that Christmas is all about putting other ahead of yourself.  Selflessness is the true meaning of Christmas.

All those ideas, generosity, family, and selflessness, are worthy things to pursue.  Certainly we could all stand to demonstrate these traits in our lives more consistently and not just during the Christmas season.

But none of those things are the true meaning of Christmas.

No, the true meaning of Christmas is much greater than all those things.  The true meaning of Christmas can be found in Philippians 2:6-8.


  who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Christmas is about celebrating the mind blowing grace and mercy of our God who would leave His glorious throne in heaven to become human, die a criminal's death on a cross so that He might redeem all who believe on Him.  The true meaning of Christmas has very little, if anything at all, to do with us and everything to do with Jesus.

Remember that Jesus wasn't obligated to come, wasn't obligated to save any of us.  As a matter of fact, had He chosen instead to condemn us all for our wicked rebellion against His holiness He would have been just in doing so.  However, in His great mercy condescends to put on the very flesh of the creatures who spurned His goodness and to set about rescuing all the Father had given to Him (John 6:37-39).

So, this Chrismas season as you gather with your family and experience the joys of giving generously to others, remember the true meaning of Christmas: that Jesus left glory and became a man to seek and save that which was lost.

Don't let the Christmas tree obscure your view of the Calvary tree.


3/05/2013

Just Do It

3/05/2013 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus No comments

Evangelism is one of those areas of the Christian faith that nearly everyone affirms as vitally important.  For those of us holding to a reformed view of scripture it is especially central to our lives as disciples.  We believe that God has elected  His church  from before the foundation of the world and that He has called us to be the means by which He calls and redeems His church from the world. The method we use to accomplish that task is the proclamation of the gospel. It is evangelism.

And yet despite that nearly everyone also affirms they aren't nearly as faithful as they should be when it comes to the mission of evangelism.  We know the Great Commission and many can quote Matthew 28:19-20 from memory.  But actually putting feet to our knowledge seems to be very difficult.  The move from knowing the Great Commission to carrying out the Great Commission causes many a Christian to falter.

9/03/2012

Important.....Or Maybe Not So Much

9/03/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
I had an interesting conversation with a friend this weekend about importance.  More specifically how you can tell what is really important to a person.

Because, let's face it, we all say things are "important" to us that really aren't so much.  What we really mean is "I prefer that thing, but really only if the getting of it is fairly convenient for me".   The way we can tell if something is actually important to a person is the lengths to which they are willing to go to obtain that thing.

So I may say that it is important for me to exercise more.  But if I don't exercise because in order to do so I would have to get up much earlier in the morning than I am accustomed to and drive to the gym or run in sometimes inclement weather....then getting more exercise isn't really that important to me.  And it is certainly less important than the things keeping me from exercise.

I am afraid this is an all too often occurrence among Christians.  We say things are important to us but our actions tell a different story of different priorities.  I think this is partly because we know the things we are saying are important to us as followers of Christ should be actually important to us.

So.......

We say sharing our faith is important......but we rarely do it.

We say spending time reading the Bible and praying is important......but we don't get up early enough or set aside time to make it happen.

We say fellowship with our church family is important........but we only go on Sunday mornings and sometimes we sleep in and miss that.

We say this is important........but we do that instead.

The very simple (and very convicting) truth is that we are already doing the things that are important to us.  So if we want to know what is really important to ourselves or others, all we have to do is look to see what we spend our time doing.  This truth is what spawned sayings like "Talk is cheap" and "Put your money where your mouth is".  We know that we can say anything, but our actions prove what we say to be either true or false.

We can see this truth illustrated very clearly in the life of Jesus.  What He said was important to Him was the same as what He did.  Here are a few verses where Jesus explains what is most important to Him.


Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work." - John 4:34

For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. - John 6:38

but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here. - John 14:31

Jesus makes it very clear that He has come to do the will of His Father who sent Him.  And if we keep following the story we will see Jesus in Gethsemane on His face before His father pleading for another way to accomplish the Father's will if it is possible.  Jesus knows the pain and agony that awaits Him if He continues to do the will of His Father.  He knows that at the end of that road is a cross and His death.  And yet we know that Jesus tells His father "Not My will be done, but Yours" and that ultimately He faces the torture and humiliation of death on the cross.  Despite knowing the pain, the agony that was coming Jesus proved that obeying His father was the most important thing to Him by doing it, by actually obeying the Father's will.  His actions proved His words to be true.

So......

If sharing our faith is important.....we will build relationships with lost friends, family, and coworkers and share the gospel with them.

If spending time reading the Bible and praying is important.......we will find the time to do it even if it means getting up early or staying up late.

If fellowship with our church family is important.......we will spend time with our church family when the church has events to encourage that (even if they are not on Sunday mornings) and we will invite our church family to spend time with us in our homes.

If we say this is important.....we will find a way to do this, not that.

8/12/2012

Please, Go Make Disciples

8/12/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus , , No comments
While perusing the interwebs Saturday morning I came upon this post by David Mathis over at The Gospel Coalition website. David references a quote from Robert E. Coleman's book The Master Plan of Evangelism  that he says changed his life.  Having read Coleman's book (and been challenged and impacted by it myself) I got out my copy and discovered that I had highlighted the very same section that David quoted.


Here is where we must begin like Jesus. It will be slow, tedious, painful, and probably unnoticed by people at first, but the end result will be glorious, even if we don't live to see it. Seen this way, though, it becomes a big decision in the ministry. We must decide where we want our ministry to count---in the momentary applause of popular recognition or in the reproduction of our lives in a few chosen people who will carry on our work after we have gone. Really it is a question of which generation we are living for. (The Master Plan of Evangelism, p.38)

My fear is that too many churches and Christians have made that big ministry decision without the next generation in mind, choosing instead the momentary satisfaction of recognition and applause. And in one sense, I get it, I really do.  Making disciples is hard work.  It involves one imperfect person trying to help another imperfect person learn how to completely surrender their lives to Christ.  It is filled with frustrations, failures, and fatigue.  And even when things are going fairly well, it is an extremely slow process.  (Let me say  here that I realize there are churches out there who are devoted to the gospel and to disciple making.  But there are way to many who aren't.)

So I get why churches end up abandoning this process or never give it a chance at all.  It is not likely to rapidly grow your church or get you invited to speak at the latest and greatest conferences.  Pastors from around the country won't seek you out to learn your secrets to success.  So I get it......

Except I don't get it at all.  This is the mission Jesus Christ has called us to fulfill.  This is the Great Commission.  This is the reason we are still here on this Earth.  We have been called to pour out our lives in pursuit of this call.  So you will understand, perhaps, if I am not impressed with your fancy signs, your slick website, your state-of-the art facility, and your edgy worship.  Or if your relevant messages don't ring true to me.  I understand why you do these things.  I know you want to entice the lost into your facility and you think this is the way to do it.

But you are wrong.  The best way to entice non-believers into your church is to make disciples that love God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength and then unleash them back into their homes, communities, workplaces, and schools.  Let those Christians be the ambassadors for Christ they are called to be.  Our job as pastors and teachers is to equip them to do the work of spreading the gospel (Ephesians 4:11-12). I know this is the best way because this is what Jesus calls us to do.  This is what the Bible teaches.

So stop reading all the latest books on how to be a great leader.  Stop spending so much time worrying about achieving just the right environment k for the next Sunday morning "experience".

Preach the whole council of God to your people.
Equip them to be ministers of reconciliation.

Please, go make disciples.

4/11/2012

Bonhoeffer on Discipleship

4/11/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus
I ran across this paragraph as I was studying today to teach.  So convicting......


If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as an ordinary everyday calamity, as on of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary life and a life committed to Christ. -- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, p. 88-89



4/06/2012

The Day God Died

4/06/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus ,
Good Friday.

The day that God died for me.

Think about that for a moment.  The only reason you and I can stand here on this day and thank God for redeeming us is that Jesus Christ, the perfect, spotless, holy, Son of God, died.

The bible says that in our sin we were storing up wrath for ourselves (Romans 2:5).  One way or another that wrath had to be poured out.  As sinners we blasphemed God by worshiping His creation instead of Him as Creator.  We did not love Him and honor Him as God.  We deserved to be condemned and punished for our sin.

Instead of consigning us to our deserved fate, God, in His infinite mercy, sent His very own Son to stand in our place.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved. -- Ephesians 2:4-5

Jesus Christ came to this earth and in His perfect innocence willingly gave up His life and absorbed the wrath of God that we had been storing up.  Every drop was poured out on Christ on our behalf.  Because of that we will never know God's wrath (1 Thessalonians 5:9).

Instead we get salvation.

Not because we deserve it.
Not because we earn it.
Not because we choose it.

Only because on this day centuries ago, God died.



4/03/2012

Whom Have I In Heaven But You?

4/03/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus
I don't know about you, but David is one of my favorite people in all of scripture.  Besides being a remarkable testament to the grace of God (what besides God's grace could turn an adulterous murderer into a man after God's own heart?) David never shies away from letting God know exactly what he is feeling.  If he is overwhelmed by God's goodness and mercy he tells God. If he is frustrated and confused by God's seeming reluctance to punish evil then he tells God that as well.

In Psalm 73 David's frustration is one that too often I call my own.  David looked around him and saw those who did not love God and did not obey Him seeming to prosper and find success in all they did.

But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.  For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. -- Psalm 73:2-3

David found himself being envious of the wicked and their lifestyle.  It appeared to him that they were actually prospering and making their life easier by ignoring God and His commands.  David felt like he was diligently pursuing righteousness for nothing.  What was the point?  These other men cared nothing for God or His ways and they were living the good life while David devoted his life to his God and his life was difficult.  He says as much in verses 13-14:

All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.  For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. 
David could not understand what God was doing (or not doing).  He says in verse 16 that trying to understand these things seemed to be "a wearisome task".  When did David get a glimpse into what God was doing?  When he "went into the sanctuary of God".  Then and only then was he able to perceive what the end would be for these seemingly successful wicked people.

What God reminded David of in His sanctuary was that everyone far from God will ultimately perish and only those who are near to God will live.  David forgot that the greatest blessing that God bestows on His children is Himself.

I needed to be reminded of this today.  The events of the last 18 months have sometimes left me right beside David in wondering "Why do the wicked prosper?".  I have even found myself sympathizing with David's lament of feeling like all his efforts to please God have been in vain.

If we are honest with ourselves and with God I think we will admit that we feel like this sometimes.  Why are people around us who ignore or mock God succeeding while we are struggling so much?  For those of us in positions of leadership in the church the question even follows us there.  Why are churches who place such a low priority on God's word growing while our church struggles as it faithfully preaches the word?  I find, like David, understanding these things to be a wearisome task.

And then God, in His word, reminds me, just as He did David, that I already have all that I need or could ever desire.  I have Him.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus I am now a child of God and my Father has promised to never leave me or forsake me.  No amount of worldly or ministerial success could ever equal that.  Sometimes our heart and flesh fail us and we envy the wicked around us.  Thankfully for us God is our strength and portion when that happens.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. -- Psalm 73:25-26

All too often my heart and strength fail me. Praise God that when that happens He is my strength and my portion forever.


3/23/2012

Is This Success?

3/23/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus
Consider the story of this hypothetical Christian leader:

At a fairly young age he begins to serve an immensely large congregation.  When he accepts leadership of this congregation, he knows that there is a specific goal that God desires him to lead the people to accomplish and that the accomplishment of this goal will take much time.  His decades of leadership are marked equally by the faithfulness of God proving Himself to the leader and the congregation as well as the repeated failure of the congregation to faithfully follow God.  The stubbornness of the congregation results in a decades long delay in the reaching of the God given goal for the people.  As the leader ages he appoints a Godly man whom he has mentored as his successor.  As the last days of his time leading arrive, he turns the ministry over to his successor knowing that this young man will lead the congregation to the completion of the goal that they have pursued for so long.  Once the now former leader is gone, the people reach their goal under the guidance of their new leader.  Almost immediately upon reaching this goal, they turn from God and begin to follow the teachings of  false religions and cults.

Now answer this question:  Was this hypothetical leader successful?



3/22/2012

Inigo Montoya and Christian Liberty

3/22/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus
One of the marks of the young, restless, and reformed movement has been a renewed emphasis on Christian liberty.  Now let me say right from the start that I am a big fan of Christian liberty and the freedom we have in Christ.  After all, it was the apostle Paul who, in his letter to the Galatians, told us that it was "for freedom Christ has set us free" (Galatians 5:1).  But I think there is a misunderstanding of what liberty and freedom mean in the context of following Christ.  Or as the great philosopher Inigo Montoya once said, "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means."


Listening to some evangelical leaders speak of their freedom in Christ will quickly lead you to the conclusion that what they mean by "freedom" and "liberty" is that they are able to partake in any behavior or speech that is not forbidden by scripture.  So since the bible does not forbid the drinking of wine, it is ok for me to drink wine.  Since the scripture does not forbid me speaking or teaching explicitly about sex within the context of marriage then I am free to do so. And so one and so forth.....


The problem, as I see it, with this view of Christian liberty is that it isn't what the scriptures describe as our liberty as believers.  The apostle Paul is very clear, both in Romans and 1 Corinthians, that our freedoms are bound both by our conscience and our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  So even if scripture does not forbid us from doing, going, or partaking, it is still sin for us if our conscience condemns us.


Even is scripture is silent or approving and our conscience is clear, it is still sin for us to exercise our liberty if it causes our fellow believers to stumble or to grieve. So we must curtail our freedom in some cases for the sake of weaker brothers so that their faith will not be hindered by our actions.


Ahh....but what about when we are trying to win the lost?  Even if our exercising of our freedom is somewhat troubling to some weaker believers, surely that is a small price to pay for the chance to proclaim the gospel to someone who is lost.  According to Paul the offense you give to your brother is more troubling than potentially missing a chance to proclaim the gospel to a lost soul.  How does that make sense? There is no better evangelical tool than to demonstrate to the lost the great love that we have in Christ for our fellow believers.


Christ did indeed come to give us freedom.  But it is not a freedom to do and say anything we please at anytime.  We are not free in Him to cause harm to His church, His bride.

In Him we are free from our bondage to sin.
In Him we are free from the condemnation we deserve for our sin.
In Him we are free to delight in the triune God.
In Him we are free to live a life devoted to His glory.

So go live in the freedom that Christ purchased for you on the cross.  Only remember the words of  the apostles:

Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. -- 1 Peter 2:16

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. -- Galatians 5:13


Use your freedom to glorify Jesus Christ by loving and serving your brothers and sisters in Christ.

2/02/2012

Who Can Ascend God's Holy Hill?

2/02/2012 Posted by Sheldon Clowdus ,

Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the Lord
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
 who seek the face of the God of Jacob.

The selection of scripture above is what I read yesterday in Psalm 24:3-6. As I read it, a sinking feeling began to form deep in my heart.  You see, I want to ascend the hill of the Lord and I long to stand in His holy place.  Only as I read this Psalm I knew that I could not.

I did not have clean hands.
I did not have a pure heart.
I do sometimes lift up my soul to what is false.
I swear deceitfully.

I am not worthy to ascend the hill or stand in the holy place and no amount of effort or work on my part will ever change that.

What hope is there for a sinner like me?

There is hope only in the cross........
There is hope only in a God who became flesh.......
There is hope only in a High Priest who bore the wrath of God for me.......
There is hope only in a perfect Savior who gives me His righteousness.......

I am not worthy to ascend the hill or stand in the holy place and no amount of effort or work on my part will ever change that.

Praise God that Jesus Christ is worthy!
In Christ I can ascend the hill.
In Christ I stand in the holy place.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. -- 2 Corinthians 5:21