Sunday, December 9, 2007

Marketing the Truth?

MormonI noticed a banner ad on a website the other day promoting the Mormon church (term used loosely). Now, it's not surprising to see the Mormons advertising and marketing themselves and their false religion. They have done so for years through all kinds of means like their missionaries and their "elders" that roam the streets. Frankly, the Mormons are far more mission-minded and evangelistic than most Christians today. Too bad their "evangel" is a false gospel, and far from good news. And it doesn't surprise me to see them using the internet media as a means of marketing, especially right now with so much visibility of Mormonism thanks to Mitt Romney. No, what surprised me was the message that they were using. Their tagline is "Truth Restored." Yep, that's right. Truth. A visit to their website showed that this was the major theme in their promotion. Followed by questions like "How Can I Know This For Sure?", and "Is There A Purpose For My Life?", and the like.

Now this seems very interesting to me on a lot of levels. On the face, of course there's the fact that Mormon teachings and doctrines are far from truth. Mormon theology is just plain wacky and cosmic, and the Book of Mormon is a clear false revelation. But the real thing that intrigues me about this approach is that it stands out so much from most of the messages in our culture these days. We live in a world that questions even the possibility or validity of the concept of truth. The postmodern mindset is in fact skeptical of truth, seeing any claims to truth or certainty as arrogance. For most people today, the pursuit doesn't seem to be about finding truth, but instead finding self-fulfillment or self-expression. So for the Mormons to offer the restoration of truth is pretty counter-cultural.

So then contrast that approach and theme with the message that much of contemporary evangelical Christianity is putting forth. The Church today seems to be doing everything possible to avoid offering people the truth. Even though we are the only people on the face of the earth that possess the real Truth. But instead, what do we offer people? What do we hold out to the world around us as the message of Jesus? Things like "Your Best Life Now", or "The Purpose Driven Life", or any of the other variations on the theme. Rather than being counter-cultural, as we really are called to be, we co-opt the culture and proclaim Jesus, The Truth, as another means of self-fulfillment. We assume that people really don't want to hear the truth, and that we instead have to shape the message to fit the times and make it "relevant."

So does anyone else see the irony in this? Here we have a false religion based on untruth, marketing itself on the basis of being the restorers of truth. And we have the true Church of Jesus Christ, those whom God has entrusted the True Truth to, essentially abandoning that message in favor of a message that would seem more tolerable and favorable to the world. It's absolutely upside-down, isn't it?

See, I think the Mormons are on to something here. I think that in spite of the postmodern suspicion about truth claims, most people deep down really are interested in finding ultimate truth. They may not realize it and likely wouldn't express it that way, but I think we are all wired to be seekers of truth. It's part of the imago dei that we still bear, marred and tarnished though it is by sin and depravity. But it looks like we as the people of God have abandoned the battle for Truth to others, and the Mormons have picked up the torch. The question remains, can or will the true Church of Jesus Christ return to a commitment to the Truth, and abandon it's flirtation with the worldly? Only time will tell.

A Famine of Posting...

Seems I have not had much interest in posting anything here lately. P'raps because there are so few who actually read this blog (if any). Or because I heaven't had anything posty to say. So if you read this and are looking for more, comment and let me know what. Love to hear from you...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Warning: Amazing God at Work

This morning has been a morning of seeing God at work in a variety of ways. And I am still amazed at how and what He does. Allow me to explain.

I went to the Rescue Mission this morning for my usual sessions with the disciples. We are still going through the "Who Am I?" study, and the first group of disciples is nearing the end of the study. The lesson today was on the basis for our identity in Christ - that being that we have been chosen by God. Now, as I have said before, the disciples at the Mission usually have no problem accepting and understanding this truth. They have been through the dung-heap of life lived for sin and self and recognize clearly that if it wasn't for the sovereign grace of a loving God they would never have come to Him. And this group of disciples was no exception. As we read together the word of Christ Himself in places like John 6:44 where He says "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him...", or the words of the Spirit through Paul in Ephesians 1:4 where he states that God "chose us in Him before the foundation of the world...", the Word spoke for itself. And in the midst of reading and discussing these truths, one of the ladies in the group, Donna, with a look of indescribable joy on her face, burst into tears. Not tears of grief or sorrow or repentance or anything of the sort, but rather tears of deep joy and love. She came to an understanding of the depth and meaning of the sovereign grace of God. She saw that He, in His great and grand eternal redemptive plan, had chosen her before the beginning of time and creation to be in an eternal relationship with Him. And not because of anything worthy or special in her, but because of His purposes and His love and His mercy and His gracious pleasure alone. And as Donna came to understand these truths, she responded with the only right reaction any of us must have - humble and infinite joy. A fuller appreciation of the love He Lord and Savior has for her. You could see it on her face and in her tears and hear it in her words as she tried to express it. God's amazing grace. I was blown away as I saw Him at work in this woman's life and heart. Don't ever try to tell me that the Calvinist view of election is a cold, judicial and harsh doctrine with no heart. I know better, and so does Donna.

Then I had a session with another disciple, Brian, who I thoroughly enjoy meeting with and teaching. A guy who has been radically changed by the gospel of Christ and has a sharp mind and a love for Christ and His word. Unfortunately, though, the courts have ordered Brian to spend the next 30 days in a secular alcohol abuse program, so this was the last time we had together for a month or so. So we made the most of it, spending an extended time in prayer for Brian to hold fast to the truth he knows and not be deceived by the man-centered "therapy" he will be receiving. Brian looks at this time as a short-term missions trip, where he can hopefully help point the lost and floundering folks at the treatment center to the One who has saved and redeemed and transformed him, by His grace.

So as I drove to work from the Mission I was thanking Jesus for such opportunities to see Him at work, and to be a part of His work. I was so full of His Spirit, I thought I would burst. What could be better than to be used by the Sovereign Lord in feeding and encouraging His sheep? Well, He wasn't finished yet. Middle of the morning, a co-worker whom I have known for years and am neighbors with stopped by my office, and I could tell she wanted to talk about something. And she did, as she told me that her teenage daughter is pregnant and they are trying to decide what the next steps are - adoption, keeping the child, etc. It was obvious that she was looking for someone to talk with, and was looking for God's plan in the situation. So I listened and encouraged and then prayed with her (yes, right there in my office), for wisdom and guidance and God's purposes to be clear. What a privilege, again, to be a tool in the hand of the Master. I don't think my friend is a believer in Christ, although she and her family are church-goers. So be praying for her, her husband, her daughter and boyfriend, and the child that is coming soon. Pray that God is architecting this situation for their good and His glory.

Now, I wonder what else He's going to do today. It's only 2:30 in the afternoon...

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Indulge Me a Little...

Yesterday marked 490 years since the beginning act that launched the Protestant Reformation against the Roman Catholic church. And what was one of the last straws that prompted Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses against the un-Biblical practices of the Roman church on that day? The selling of indulgences. Good old Roman prelate Tetzel's excessive fixation on the perverted practice of selling indulgences, that were supposed to be a means of lessening a person's time in that fictitious place called Purgatory for the final cleansing of sins. Anyone with even a modicum of Biblical knowledge of the doctrines of salvation should be able to see that this practice is a complete perversion of the truth of the gospel of Christ, and a blatant means of making the Roman church rich while playing on the fears of the faithful.

So here we are in (post) modern America in the 21st century. Far removed from the unenlightened times of the 1500's and the obviously screwy practices of even the Roman church like indulgences, right. Umm, not so much. It seems that at least one Catholic archdiocese, this one in Philadelphia, is offering "plenary indulgences" to parishioners to mark it's 200th anniversary. This from an article in the Philadelphia Enquirer. Now of course these indulgences are not being sold for money, per se. Instead they are being granted on the basis of some sort of meritorious works like making a pilgrimage to a shrine, or praying for the Pope's intentions to be furthered. Here's a few excerpts from the article.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia is honoring its 200th anniversary by offering its members a plenary indulgence, a practice begun in the Middle Ages that remains controversial and often confounding today. An indulgence, according to the church, allows Catholics who perform certain acts to shorten the time after death that their souls will have to spend in purgatory to atone for their sins.

"It adds to the joy of the occasion, it allows each person a participation in the event, and it provides a lasting souvenir," Cardinal Justin Rigali told the archdiocese's 1.5 million members in a recent letter.

Plenary indulgences are relatively rare and typically require a pilgrimage to a shrine. Pope John Paul II granted a worldwide plenary indulgence for the Jubilee Year of 2000. Between now and the final bicentennial Mass of April 13, local Catholics seeking an indulgence must make a pilgrimage to an area shrine or special bicentennial Mass, make an act of sacramental confession and receive communion around the time of a pilgrimage, and pray for the intentions of the pope.

Indulgences do not forgive sin or spring souls from hell, said William Madges, a theologian and the academic dean of St. Joseph's University. "Indulgences kick in for sins that have already been forgiven" by shortening the soul's time in purgatory before reaching heaven, he said.

The Catholic Church teaches that people who have received absolution for their sins from a priest may, through an indulgence, draw on the "treasury of merit" accumulated by Jesus, Mary and the saints to lessen or eliminate the punishment owed to God. Indulgences "are a share in the mystery of the gift of the mercy of Christ," said Thomas, who likened them to "washing the chalk dust from a blackboard after the words - or sins - have been erased." "The general rule of thumb is, finish your penance and get an indulgence," said Robert W. Shaffern, a church historian at the University of Scranton.

Although rooted in early-Christian piety, indulgences became corrupted in the early 16th century when a German monk, Johann Tetzel, began selling them to raise money for the construction of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Tetzel not only created a price list for certain sins, but devised a slogan: "As soon as a coin in coffer rings, the soul from purgatory springs." Tetzel might be long forgotten, however, had not a fellow monk been in endless anguish about his inability to free himself from sin. Luther's outrage at the corruption of indulgences inspired him in 1517 to pen his Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences, better known as the 95 Theses, which declared damnation on those who believed in them.

Four decades later, the Catholic Church condemned the abuse of indulgences, but also replied with damnation of "those who maintain the uselessness of indulgences." Pope Paul VI reiterated that curse, or anathema, as recently as 1967, but the Vatican and the Lutheran World Federation revoked those curses in the 1999 Joint Declaration.

There are many in the so-called evangelical Christian world today who say that the Reformation is over. Their point being that all the differences between Roman theology, doctrine and practice and Biblical Christian theology and doctrine that led to the Reformation by Luther, Zwingli, Huss, Calvin and many others, have been overcome. They say that the Roman Catholic church has changed her ways, that she has come to doctrinal compatiblity with Protestantism, and therefore there's no reason to continue the division. This in fact was a major driver behind the "Evangelicals & Catholics Together" (ECT) document in the mid-90's that was signed off by a number of prominent evangelical and Catholic leaders. But the reality is that the Reformation continues, and will continue as long as the Roman church holds to their corrupted views of justification, their doctrines of penance and purgatory, their worship of Mary and the dead saints, etc. And as we can see here, the practices that these warped doctrines lead to, like indulgences, are still alive and well. Not much has changed in the past 490 years, other that maybe the fact that many of us that are the fruit of the Protestant Reformation have forgotten our roots, have become lax in seeking to understand and defend the Biblical doctrines of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, to God's glory alone. And so we are unable to discern rightly that the Reformation continues still.

God grant us the grace that we would reclaim the fire and truth of the early Reformers, and become modern-day reformers of your Church by your truth.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Appreciating God's Sovereign Grace

God's Grace TrophiesIn my ministry at the local Rescue Mission working with men and women in the New Life Disciple program, I've recently had the privilege to get to know a man named Brian. Brian is much like many of the others that pass through the mission and the program - coming out of a life of drugs, crime, alcohol, you name it. Brian, who is in his late 30's, is an exceptionally bright guy who is really thinking as we study the Word together and asking great questions. He is what I refer to as one of God's "Grace Trophies" - a person who has been radically transformed, both inside and out, eternally and completely, by God's sovereign grace. People who knew Brian before he trusted Christ cannot believe he's the same person now. And the truth is that he isn't the same person - he's been recreated in Christ Jesus, by the Spirit, by the Gospel.

As we've been studying these aspects of the identity of the believer in Christ, Brian has been understanding the reality of his depravity and total inability to please God before he was born again. In fact, yesterday as we were studying the ramifications of being reconciled to God through faith in Christ, and the resulting freedom from the condemnation for sin that we all have brought upon ourselves, Brian asked me about election. He said he had heard of this doctrine and knew that there were some who are vehemently opposed to it, but that it really seemed to make sense to him. In his reading of the Bible, with no pre-conceived teaching or other notions, Brian had come to the conclusion that apart from Christ he was a spiritually dead and rebellious sinner, worthy of God's righteous and just wrath, and that on his own he would never have responded to the Gospel. Brian understood that the life he had been living before coming to Jesus Christ was simply the outward expression of his inward state of spiritual lifelessness. And that it could only have been by God's grace in choosing him, regenerating him and imparting the life and righteousness of Christ to him that he actually did come to Jesus in faith.

I find this over and over again as I work with these disciples, these people who have lived the depths of the depravity that all of us possess in our natural state. They understand clearly that they were dead in their sin, that they were totally unable to respond to God, not even wanting to. They have no problem with the Biblical truth that it was God alone who chose them for His own, who redeemed them from their sin, who declared them righteous in His sight and brought them to faith in Jesus. And they revel in that knowledge. They have no pride, only glorious praise to God that He indeed does show sovereign grace to the likes of them.

And at the same time, I find those people who have the biggest problem with these Biblical truths and doctrines of God's sovereign grace are those who have been in the church for some period of time. I rarely encounter anyone at the Rescue Mission that will argue with me or disagree with what the Bible says about these doctrines, but I constantly have these responses from churched people when I am teaching there. I find the people that seem to be the least receptive to really examining the passages in the Word that refer to God's choosing of us as His people are those who have sat under a variety of Christian teaching for some time. So what does this say about the general bent of today's teaching in most our evangelical Christianity? Obviously that it is Arminian at best, and more likely semi-Pelagian. And that's just those that have actually formed some opinion on the matter. Far more prevalent are those that have never struggled with these hard truths or thought seriously about the source of their salvation. They've simply gone along with the "make a decision" and "accept Jesus" language that pervades our Christian-ese these days.

But when I see those like Brian, who have been snatched from the fire by the sovereign grace of Jesus Christ and are now living as a new redeemed creation and understanding that it is all of God, I am joyful. It is a great joy to see God at work, and to see His relentless gracious purposes recognized and appreciated. To see Him creating Grace Trophies for His glory, that truly do give Him the glory He alone deserves.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Your Best Life...When?

Saw a list last week of the largest and fastest growing churches in America today. Not surprisingly, leading the pack was Lakewood Church in Houston. With a total attendance of 47,000 people, no wonder they had to buy the former Compaq Center to have space for this crowd. Annual operating budget for this mega-ministry business is around $73 million. Obviously Joel Osteen, the leader of Lakewood, is doing something right to attract these hordes. Maybe it's the squeaky-clean and ultra-brite smiling look he has on the front page of all of his books, like Your Best Life Now and Become a Better You.

So here are a few brief excerpts from Your Best Life Now. Read them and think about what kind of message it is that is being preached and taught that is attracting these thronging crowds and dollars.

"Don't sit back passively, hey I'm just looking out for your own happiness when I say, "You do your part and God will do his. Sure we have our faults, but the good news is God loves us anyway."

"If you will simply obey his commands he will change things in your favor. God is keeping a record of every good deed that you have ever done. In your time of need because of your generosity God will move heaven and earth to make sure that you are taken care of."

Joel OsteenSo what is the gospel according to Joel-O? Distill down this positive and affirming message to it's basics and what do you have? Well, it looks to me to be pure and unadulterated legalism and works righteousness. We do the best we can and God will do the best He can. Hey, we're all OK even when we mess up because after all, He loves us! We just have to do all the right stuff, give to all the right places, and God will overlook all the bad stuff we've done and we'll be just okey-doke with Him. We do our part, and God will be obliged to do his. Life is good!!

Sounds so great, so warm and fuzzy, doesn't it? But somehow the whole issue of sin is overlooked here. Somehow the fact that the Bible tells us that we are far from OK with God is not part of Osteen's message. Somehow the truth that we are completely and utterly unrighteous and that all the best things we can do, all of our best attempts at obedience and generosity are nothing but putrid undergarments in God's nostrils is overlooked. The reality that we are all truly the objects of God's just and righteous anger and wrath towards sin just isn't in toothy Joel's gospel.

Truth is there is no good news in Osteen's good news. There's simply a veiled legalism that puts people into further bondage to laws and sin. And that further keeps them from seeing their true spiritual and eternal state and understanding their need for a true Savior.

"Your Best Life Now." An apt title for followers of Smilin' Joel's false gospel. Because they really are living their best life now. All they have to look forward to in eternity is a forever in punishment for the sin that Joel never told them about. Because he wanted to be positive.


I am pooped out tonight. I preached this morning at Shell Creek Baptist, and then also taught Sunday School. I have to say that I think this was the best time I've preached there, I could really sense God at work, and I was much more relaxed while preaching. Lots of very real and good comments afterward, including multiple ones from the Rev. Effa. A sweet old fellow who was the previous pastor of the church and has been in ministry longer than I've been alive. He told me several times how he was glad to hear that I'm supportive of Mike as he pursues preparation for ministry, since his dad was against him going into ministry and wanted him to farm. Consequently it was really hard for him going through Bible college without his fathers support. I can't imagine.

Also had a great time with the folks in Sunday School, teaching on God's omnipresence. It really was a lot of fun now that I've gotten to know some of the people, and feel like we've developed kind of a rapport. When I mentioned that this was the last time I'm scheduled to preach or teach, I had several people tell me that they hoped that wasn't the case and that I'd be back. I hope so as well, I have really developed a love for these folks.

Anyway, once again I am worn out after doing this kind of ministry. Even after taking an extra-long pastoral nap. I guess that goes with the territory. Or maybe it's because Matt and I spent much of the afternoon and evening watching some really classic movies we picked up at the cheapo DVD bin at Wal-Mart. Like Rambo - First Blood, Parts 1 and 2. And Nacho Libre. Yeah, strange mix. Hope I don't have nightmares.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What's the Gospel?

I serve on the board of a gospel rescue mission ministry, and recently this board held a retreat to do some planning and the like. One of the items on our agenda was to discuss and come to a consensus definition of the Gospel. Given that we want the mission to stay centered and focused on the Gospel for now and into the future, and the fact that we as directors come from a diverse mix of Christian backgrounds, this seemed to be a good exercise. And since I am all about the Gospel of Jesus Christ and as much clarity as possible regarding that Gospel, I was looking forward to this discussion. In preparation, I put together a summary of what seemed to be a good bullet-point definition based on the introduction to Mark Dever's The Deliberate Church. Here's the summary:

  • God is our holy Creator and righteous Judge. He created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.
  • But we have all sinned, both in Adam as our representative head, and in our own individual actions. (Romans 5:12, Romans 3:23)
  • We therefore deserve death – spiritual separation from God in hell. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:3)
  • We are in fact already spiritually stillborn, helpless in our sins. (Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:6-8, Ephesians 2:1)
  • We are in need of God to impart spiritual life to us. (John 3:3)
  • But God sent His Son Jesus Christ, fully God and fully man. (Philippians 2:5-11)
  • Christ was sent to die the death that we deserved, and He raised Him up for our justification, proving that He was God’s Son. (Romans 1:4, Romans 5:1)
  • If we would have Christ’s perfect righteousness credited to us, and the penalty for our sin credited to Him, we must repent of our sin and believer in Jesus Christ for salvation. (2 Corinthians 5:21, Mark 1:14-15)
  • This is the only true Gospel. (Galatians 1:6-9)
  • This is the Gospel we are commanded to preach. (2 Timothy 4:2)
Pretty simple, right? Basic stuff that anyone who is serving as director of a Gospel-based Christian ministry should affirm or at least have a grasp on, right? Well, I was sadly disappointed. To cut to the chase, no one in the room could give a succinct and clear delineation of the Gospel. In fact, it was obvious they didn't even want to try. A couple asked, "Why are we doing this?" One threw out the statement that "Jesus is Lord" and said that was all that needed to be said. Then he added John 3:16. When I pushed a little harder, things degraded into some confused doctrinal arguments, ranging from a debate on the preservation of the saints to the need for true repentance and a changed life ("So do we lose our free will when we come to Christ?"). We finally agreed that we needed to move on to other things.

Now please don't misunderstand, I love these brothers and sisters in Christ. I have known several of them for years. I do not mean to malign or discredit them. But at the same time, I was appalled at the utter lack of doctrinal understanding and thought that a group of supposedly mature believers in Christ had regarding such core tenets of what they believe. On the one hand, I had to rebuke myself a bit for expecting too much from a para-church ministry leadership group like this. After all, this was not the elders of a church. But what does this say about what these people bring to the table in the ministries of their own respective churches? All of them are leaders of some sort in their churches, one is a senior pastor and the other is pastoring a church plant. I have to wonder - if they aren't building their churches and their ministries on the clear and solid truth of the Gospel, then what are they building them on?

Blogroll please...

Wow. I feel just like good ol' Naven Johnson (aka Steve Martin) in that classic movie "The Jerk", who got all excited when the new phone books came out and his name was in it. "I'm somebody!" he kept shouting. Well me too, as this blog has been added to the august and rarefied list on the Team Pyro site. Yes, I am a Friend of Sinners, and have been recognized as such by the Pyromaniacs. Please, hold the applause. No, really, it was nothing.

Seriously, the Team Pyro blog is one of the few that I read on a regular basis. Meaty topics, interesting and sometimes diverse comment threads and discussions, and lots of interaction if you want it. So stop reading this drivel and go there. Read them. Think and grow.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Where's Your Head?

I've been working on my next sermon that I am preaching in two weeks, based on Philippians 3:20-21, to wit: For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself.

The big idea of the message being that you can tell where your home is at by where your head is at. And for the believer in Christ, our true home and seat of our true citizenship is in heaven, not on earth. We have been, as stated in Colossians 1:13, “rescued from the domain of darkness, and transferred to the kingdom of His beloved Son.” And this citizenship is evident by where our mindset is focused. Citizens of the Kingdom of God have their heads and hearts toward heaven as their true home and seat of their true government. True citizens of heaven have a heavenward mindset, in contrast to those who have their minds set on the things of now, the things of this present world. True citizens of heaven have a heavenward view, looking and longing for the return of our King. And true citizens of heaven have a heavenward hope, looking forward to our future glorified state and being in the constant presence of the ultimate Sovereign King. The challenge point being, where's your head at? It's been said that a person can be "so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good." I think this passage tells us that we indeed are to be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly good, but rather to be heavenly good, God-glorifying, aliens and strangers in this foreign land. Our citizenship should stand out from among the citizens of this far country we are currently in because our heads and hearts are focused on our true home, and our True King.

And as I was continuing to read Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World by David F. Wells, I came across an excerpt from an ancient text that points out just this fact. This excerpt is from the Letter to Diognetus, an anonymous epistle from the 2nd or 3rd century describing the excellencies of Christianity to a pagan. Read this piece of the letter and think on it for a moment.

"For Christians cannot be distinguished from the rest of the human race by country or language or customs. They do not live in cities of their own; they do not use a peculiar form of speech; they do not follow an eccentric manner of life. This doctrine of theirs has not been discovered by the ingenuity or deep thought of inquisitive men, nor do they put forward a merely human teaching, as some people do. Yet, although they live in Greek and barbarian cities alike, as each man's lot has been cast, and follow the customs of the country in clothing and food and other matters of daily living, at the same time they give proof of the remarkable and admittedly extraordinary constitution of their own commonwealth. They live in their own countries, but only as aliens. They have a share in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign land is their fatherland, and yet for them every fatherland is a foreign land. They marry, like everyone else, and they beget children, but they do not cast out their offspring. They share their board with each other, but not their marriage bed. It is true that they are "in the flesh," but they do not live "according to the flesh." They busy themselves on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws, but in their own lives they go far beyond what the laws require. They love all men, and by all men are persecuted. They are unknown, and still they are condemned; they are put to death, and yet they are brought to life. They are poor, and yet they make many rich; they are completely destitute, and yet they enjoy complete abundance. They are dishonored, and in their very dishonor are glorified; they are defamed, and are vindicated. They are reviled, and yet they bless; when they are affronted, they still pay due respect. When they do good, they are punished as evildoers; undergoing punishment, they rejoice because they are brought to life. They are treated by the Jews as foreigners and enemies, and are hunted down by the Greeks; and all the time those who hate them find it impossible to justify their enmity."

Such was the testimony of Christians in the first few hundred years of the church. I wonder - is the same true of the church today? Would someone today say the same things about the followers of Jesus Christ in this world, day and age? Do our lives and our words stand out because our mindset and our view and our hope is fixed where our true citizenship and identity lies - in heaven? Where's our head at?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Postmodern Propositions = Oxymoron

While traveling to/from San Francisco last week I spent a lot of time reading David Wells' book Above All Earthly Pow'rs: Christ in a Postmodern World. I have to say that this book is the best examination of the causes and effects of modernism, and more importantly postmodernism, that I have come across. Wells does a masterful job of exploring the impacts of these philosophical systems at the grass roots level of our society. Maybe it's because I did so much reading in a short period, but this whole subject of the effects of postmodern philosophy on the people around us in general and the Church specifically has been consuming my mind this past few days. As I read Wells' book I came to understand more clearly that postmodernism is not some strange, alien, academic philosophy that only those that read works from the likes of Derrida and Foucault are embracing. (If you don't know who those guys are, don't feel bad - you just made my point!) No, in reality the tenets of postmodern thought are already the de facto philosophy of most Americans, especially those in the gen X/Y age ranges. The questioning of authority, the rejection of the "big stories" kind of worldviews or metanarratives, the skepticism of objective truth claims, the distrust of logic and rationality, all these and more fundamentals of postmodernism are the stock and trade of our society. They come through our education system, they pervade our corporate cultures, they shape our public and political discourse, they are part and parcel of the media, they are everywhere. Postmodern thought is not so much taught as it is absorbed, bit by bit, insidiously. Of course it's impossible to live as a true postmodern, that would lead to personal anarchy. But there are enough of us that have consciously or unconsciously adopted some or all of the essentials of postmodern thought that for all practical purposes, most people in America (and much of the rest of the world, especially the West) are practicing pomo's.

As I pondered these things and too many more to comment on here, I had to ask myself: "So what?" I mean, OK, so the culture at large is being consumed by a philosophy that inevitably leads to complete loss of meaning and ultimately to nihilism, but that's their problem, right? After all, we true evangelicals know better, we have the objective truth of the revealed Word of God, we understand the right and sanctified use of reason and rationality, we have the doctrines and dogmas down and are safe within our truth-fortified Biblical worldview, right? So what if we are living in a sea of postmoderns? Well, because of precisely that. We are in fact living in a postmodern culture, this is the world and the people that we must interact with every day, this is the dominant thought system of the people that we are called and commissioned to speak the Truth of the Gospel into. And if we don't have a clue as to their presuppositions or their rejection of truth claims as arrogant, if we offer them certainty of eternal life and eternal Truth when the only thing they are certain of is that there can be no certainty, then we will be largely dismissed as irrelevant and "modernist". Which is exactly what is happening.

The other reason why we must seek to understand postmodern thought and influences is to me the more important and dangerous - because it is seeping in the doors of the Church. The postmoderns are not just out there, they are in here, sitting in the pew next to me, teaching your kids Sunday school, writing books that are all over the "Christian" best seller lists, maybe preaching from the pulpit of your church. Subtly, of course, and in most cases absolutely well-intentioned, probably not even realizing the slippery slope of truth dismissal they are on. Contextualizing the gospel to make it "relevant" to postmoderns, as if the temporal culture trumps eternal truths. I firmly believe that this battle for objective truth against the cancerous thought patterns and philosophies of postmodernism is the single biggest challenge that the Church must face now and for the next fifty years. The problem is not the battle against the competing truth claims of other world religions like Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism. Competing truth claims at least have a foundation for debate. Rejection of truth claims as in postmodern thought is a whole other problem. And we are only now just beginning to see the problem.

This was driven home to me in today's Sunday school class, where we are reading through and discussing John MacArthur's The Truth War. MacArthur does a good job of summarizing the basics of postmodernism, and its incompatibility with Biblical Christianity. As we read and discussed these things, it was interesting to me to look at and listen to the responses of the people around the table. All of them intelligent, well-educated, long-time believers in Christ and well versed in the Word. But absolutely clueless that anyone actually thinks like this, that these postmoderns must be somewhere else, on the left and right coasts, a problem far away. That is until one of the ladies in the class began sharing the challenges she and her husband have had with a son that has essentially abandoned the faith he previously professed due to adopting the basic thought patterns of postmodernism. She talked about the utter inability to even have a foundation to communicate with him, that the only "safe" topic they have is football. The effects of postmodern thought are real, and they aren't just "out there." They are impacting real people in real families and real churches in our real world right here.

There are so many more points I want to make, but have not the space or time to do so here. I haven't even touched on the new spirituality that is being birthed out of postmodernism, and the way that many so-called evangelicals are attempting to co-opt and capitalize on that self-driven spirituality by creating the cancerous "conversation" referred to as the Emerging/Emergent Church movement. So here's my recommendation for all of you out there who love Christ and His Church and desire to contend for the truth of His Word: get educated. Read The Truth War. Read D. A. Carson's Becoming Conversant With the Emerging Church. Read Wells' Above All Earthly Pow'rs. Spend some time on a few blogs where these kind of subjects are being discussed. The worst situation to be in during a war is to be in the middle of the battlefield and not even know there's a war on, or worse, that there's an enemy. Don't let that be the situation you find yourself in.

...I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. - Jude 3-4

Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Yep, long time no post. Se here's one.

I came across this statement today on another blog. Read and reflect for a moment.

For the Christian, all misery is temporary.

For the non-Christian, all pleasure is temporary.

That is a profound statement, is it not? That is a statement that expresses the reality of what our perspective as believers in Jesus Christ should be. When we are in the midst of situations that are painful and that seem hopeless and that will never end. When we are tempted to scream out "Why God???" and wonder, as the psalmist did, whether He has abandoned us. When we see those who have no knowledge of Christ living lives of luxury and pleasure and wealth while we struggle by with little. Do we really believe this? Are we fully convinced of the fact that, as the Apostle Paul states in Romans 8, that "the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us..."? Is this our view and perspective and foundation for looking ahead with hope? Can we also say, as Paul continued, "For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it." If we base our view and perspective on the eternal and unchangeable truth and promises of God, as revealed in His Word, and as covenanted in His Son and attested to by His Spirit, then we will be able to do so.

I think this statement should be foremost in the mind and view of every follower of Jesus Christ. "For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Weakest Link?

A situation that came up last week related to a local church "prayer chain" got me to thinking about this whole phenomena. I'm not going to go into the details of the specific event, but suffice it to say that due to poor communication between links in the chain, assumptions made that should not have been, lack of checking facts with someone who would know, etc - a rumor was started regarding a serious health issue affecting one of our pastors, from the prayer chain in another church. Now, the concept of a prayer chain or something like it has probably been around since there have been telephones or likely even before. There are always people in a local church that volunteer to pray for needs that arise within the body, usually emergencies or health situations or similar things. And various means have been set up to quickly communicate these prayer requests through a chain of said prayer volunteers. This is a relatively effective way to get a bunch of people praying in a short period of time when Aunt Betsy's gout flares up or cousin Jed loses his job or the Smith's baby gets the flu. You know what I mean. The usual stuff that prayer groups and the like have been praying about since the apostle John's mother-in-law came down with the croup. It's become just a part of the life of most churches. But I had to ask myself - is it Biblical?

No one would argue that praying for each other as brothers and sisters in Christ is not Biblical. We are commanded over and over to pray for one another. This is a key one-another command given to the church, that we all need to take seriously. And we see the early church in the book of Acts doing just that - gathering together continually to pray together for each other and for the gospel to be advanced and God to be glorified. So praying for one another, regardless of the specific need, is indeed Biblical and good and healthy for a local church to engage in. In fact, I would consider the quantity and quality of prayer among and for fellow Christians to be a major indicator of the health of a church.

But how does the "prayer chain" concept match with Biblical models of prayer for one another? Is this a legitimate Biblical model for prayer in the local church? At the risk of sounding anti-traditional, or even of offending some, I have to say that I am not sure it is. The model of praying for one another seen in the early accounts of the church in the NT seem to indicate a gathering together for prayer and sharing of life in Christ, not a dissemination of prayer needs to many people so they can pray on their own. And yes, modern advances in communications like the telephone or email can quickly get a large number of people praying about a given topic quickly. But is that the real objective – to get as many people praying about something as possible, so as to overwhelm God with the sheer volume of prayer? Again, this view is simply not Biblical. Prayer by its nature is not focused on changing God’s will, but instead on transforming our hearts and minds and attitudes to His. It also does not seem to be in the Biblical model of praying for one another to ask another person to pray for someone they don’t even know or have relationship with, as is often the case. And along those lines, it seems that the “prayer chain” often results in poorly communicated prayer needs at best, and mis-communicated needs at worst (as in the situation last week.) Frankly, in many cases the prayer chain is not much more than a formalized grapevine within the church that does more to spread gossip than meet the Lord’s command to pray for one another.

If you are a member of a prayer chain, please do not take offense at my comments here. I do believe that there are instances where it is right and proper to communicate specific needs in the body to a network of committed brothers and sisters to bring them before the Lord, and to facilitate engaging God’s people in the overall life of the body. If you are part of a prayer chain that does this, that’s great. My experience, however, tends to indicate that this is the exception and not the rule. We all should be developing close spiritual relationships with fellow believers that we can share our needs and prayer concerns with and pray together Biblically about, so that we don’t need to broadcast those needs to a broad group of loosely-connected people that can’t know enough specifics to pray appropriately. If we do that, we will be links in a truly Biblical and Christ-honoring prayer chain. For our good and His glory.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Misguided Compassion

I try to avoid commenting on the cultural confusion that seems to go on in our modern, I mean post-modern world, but today I can't help it. Read a news story about a hospital in Japan that set up a drop box for unwanted children. There had been a rash lately of abandoned infants in Japan, and so this hospital decided to do the compassionate thing and installed a trap door on the side of the building that allows parents of unwanted babies to drop them off into an incubator. No, I am not making this up. So it seems that someone dropped off a child - but not an infant, a toddler estimated to be about 3 years old. And now everyone is all upset about this, and concerned about the trauma that the toddler has sustained.

This strikes me as yet another example of so-called compassion run off the tracks. Yes, it is a travesty that some biological fathers and mothers (I will not call them parents) would abandon their unwanted children. We all should be struck with compassion for the children, who indeed are traumatized by such an act, be they infants or toddlers or even teenagers. But so many today want to act on this compassion by seeking to only mitigate the effects of the act and not deal with the real issue. So they implement ways that in reality make it easier for someone to avoid personal responsibility. In this case, a drop box for unwanted children, making it easy for anyone wanting to get rid of a kid to do so. So rather than serving as a safety net for the children, instead this creates an easy and relatively guilt-free means of abandoning a child. Put yourself in the shoes of a young unwed teenage mom who has just given birth. Struggling with the impacts of being a mother, all the life changes that come with it, wondering how to adapt and deal with the situation. And along comes a simple, easy, no-strings-attached way to dump the child and get on with life. So rather than having to take personal responsibility and make the hard choices to either raise the child, put it up for adoption, etc. - she can just drop him or her off and walk away. And the safety net for the children actually becomes an encouragement to abandon children. The very thing the hospital wants to protect from happening is actually promoted by the ease with which it can be done. Subsidized child abandonment.

This is where our definition of compassion, and how we act on that compassion, has to be informed by our Biblical world view. Jesus Christ had compassion for sinners of all kinds, including you and me. But rather than seeking to help us engage in our sinful behaviors and mitigating the effects, He instead became the solution to our root problem - our innate depravity - and voluntarily sacrificed Himself to deliver us from the bondage we were in. He didn't seek to make it easier for us to sin, He instead sought to make us holy so that we would be free from sin. He didn't remove our personal responsibility, He instead called us to repentance and faith in Him and His sufficient sacrifice. Unless we take this same kind of approach to helping our world and our society deal with the cultural ills brought on by man's depravity, we will continue to see misdirected compassion enable all kinds of wrong behaviors. Giving out clean needles to heroin addicts, handing out condoms to teenagers, drop boxes for unwanted infants - where will we go next?

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Words: Empty or Full, You Decide

Our exegetical team was working today on word studies in 2 Timothy 2:14-19. Wow, what a bunch of rich and powerful words the apostle Paul uses in this passage, many of which are not found anywhere else in the NT. And words are exactly the subject of much of what is stated in this section. In v. 16 Paul says to "avoid worldly and empty chatter". I love the Greek word used here for "empty chatter". It is κενοφωνία, alliterated kenophonia. It's a compound word - keno, meaning empty or vain, and phonia, meaning sound. Literally the term means empty sound, vain noise. What a powerful word to describe so much of the so-called conversation that goes on around us every day. Or more importantly and relevantly, that comes from our own mouths every day. I think I have discovered a term that I will use when people are babbling and talking and saying many words but communicating nothing. "Gee, Bob, that seems to be quite a case of kenophonia you have there. Might want to get that checked out." I wonder if anyone would ask what I meant. Probably think I was referring to some kind of skin rash or medical disorder. Sorry, this one is a character disorder. And I have to say that I am subject to acute attacks of kenophonia from time to time. Like the old Indian (read: Native American) that went to church for the first time and heard a blustery preacher speak, when asked what he thought of the sermon stated: "Much thunder, much wind, no rain." Do people feel the same way after talking to me or hearing me speak? I'm sure at times they do. What about you?

Another of my favorite words is also in this same verse, when Paul warns Timothy not to "wrangle about words" which lead to no use or profit. The Greek word here is another compound, λογομαχέω, or logomacheo. Comprised of logos, meaning word, and macheo, meaning war. Literally, a word war, or war about words. Now, to be sure, words are very important. Words are the way that God has given us to communicate ideas, truth, relationship, everything that is important. Words are a means that God has revealed Himself to us, through His breathing out of the Scriptures. Indeed, Christ is referred to byJohn as The Word, Logos, the communication of God Himself. Words contain and communicate truth, and especially in this age we must defend and fight for the truthful meaning of these truthful words when they are threatened. But Paul here is warning against not this kind of word war, but rather the kind of fighting about words that lead to no profit or value. We are told not to put our energy into fighting a war about words that are not valuable, profitable, essential. In other words (no pun intended), we are not to fight about words that are kenophonia, empty and vain. But isn't this what we do so often? How much time and energy in our society is consumed in examining the empty words that someone says and then deconstructing those words into something to start a war about. In a post-modern world like ours, where the very idea of truth claims is considered arrogant, this is the stock and trade of the cultural talking heads. So more empty words are spoken in a war about other empty words, until we lose all sense of what words are truly important and become deafened by the constant droning of kenophonia and logomacheo.

For the follower of Christ, we need to reclaim the supremacy of words that are not empty but full, those eternal words spoken by God Himself which are true and powerful and contain life and health and peace. We must filter out the empty chatter and the warring about vain words, while being prepared to engage in battle for those words that are weighty and worth fighting for. So how are you doing in this? How's your kenophonia filter? And how's your battle readiness for the truth war? Like it or not, ready or not, we're in it.

And here's hoping that this entire post has not been an exercise in kenophonia. And if you think so, well, I got my logomacheo-gun loaded and ready to fire!

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Believers Security in Christ

Pyromaniacs: Relishing believers' security in Christ

Dan Phillips has posted a great bit of Spurgeon this morning over at Team Pyro, regarding the security of the believer in Christ. Read and think and enjoy.

This is one of those issues that I see many Christians struggling with. They speak of God's grace and Christ's all sufficient sacrifice for them as the only means of attaining salvation. But when it comes to the question of remaining saved, they seem to waffle and fall back to thinking they must do something or perform some way to remain in a state of salvation. Why is this? The Scriptures are so clear on this issue. Could it be that we have too small a view and understanding of God's sovereignty? Could it be that our soteriology is a bit too unformed and therefore influenced by the pop-Christian views that are at best Arminian and at worst Pelagian?

Rest today, believer in the Risen Christ, in the sovereign grace of God who has redeemed you and will keep you in His care all the way to glorification with Him - and even past that. Paraphasing Buzz Lightyear: "To Eternity, And Beyond!"

Friday, April 27, 2007

Homosexual Bishop: Oxymoron

I noted a news story today regarding the openly homosexual Episcopal bishop V. Gene Robinson and his plans to enter into a civil union with his male partner under the pending New Hampshire law allowing such. This whole thing is wrong on so many levels, starting with the tolerance agenda to gain mainstream acceptance of the sin of homosexuality and the acquiescing of the state in sanctioning such abominal relationships. What really pains me, though, is the way that this supposed man of God flaunts his sin, revels in it, claims to be taking the moral high ground in it, and continues to claim that he is on a mission from God as a bishop in the church of Jesus Christ. And when I go to the Word of Christ to see what the requirements are for a man to hold this office of bishop, here's what I find:

It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer (KJV: bishop), it is a fine work he desires to do. An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. (1Timothy 3:1-7)

So what does the Head of His church have to say about these matters? I see no room in this or any other passage of Scripture, either Old or New Testament, that supports the Rev. Robinson's lifestyle, opinions, practices or his holding the office of bishop. I see instead disqualifications on a number of fronts, and in fact I see a man judged and found guilty of a heinous sin against God. Much more so as a purported under-shepherd of the flock of Christ.

Does this bother you? As much as it should? I have a huge commitment to the Body of Christ and its purity and growth. Think of the words of Paul to the Ephesian church regarding the price that Christ paid for His bride, the Church, and the reason He paid that price:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)

The church is to be sanctified, cleansed, with no spot or stain of sin but rather holy and blameless. But when the shepherds of the flock of Christ are themselves unholy, stained and spotted, how can they lead and pastor their flocks to the fulfillment of Christ's plan for the church? How can they claim to represent the authority of Christ when they openly disregard and show disdain for His truth and words? How can they have a good reputation to those outside the church, when they are indistinguishable from the worst of rank pagans in their practices? Yes, we Biblical evangelicals can try to take refuge in saying that, well Robinson really isn't a Biblical Christian, he is just a figure in a dying institutional church. But when we say that we deceive ourselves, since we have to take him at his words and his deeds. The Episcopal tradition certainly includes many, many true believers in Christ. Whether the Rev. Robinson is part of the true Body of Christ or not is irrelevant - he claims to be and has been recognized as such and as worthy of a leadership position.

When the church of Jesus Christ fails to discern sin in her midst, and especially in her leaders, she is no longer the church. She is a harlot that her Husband does not even recognize. Lord, we trust that by your grace you have and will sustain a remnant that is faithful to You.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Sovereign Over All, Even the Tragic

I've been thinking this week about how our belief in the sovereignty of God is tested during times of tragic events, like the tragedy at Virginia Tech. The sovereignty of God is a blessed and encouraging doctrine, one that reassures us that our Lord is completely and absolutely in authority and control of all that happens in the universe. It's a doctrine that we cling to, that gives us confidence in our salvation and the future. God's sovereignty is the power and reality behind the great promise in Romans 8 that tells us that He causes all things to work together for the good of those whom He has called and that love Him. I for one am totally sold out to the doctrine of God's sovereign grace. Apart from it, and from Him, all is lost.

But when we see events like this happen, that seem so senseless and evil and that are not so far away that they seem distant and isolated, then our belief in God's sovereignty and our confidence in His character are easily tested and in some cases shaken. How can the God that we know and love and serve, the God that has saved us because of His love and self-sacrifice when we didn't deserve it - how can He allow something like this to happen? Indeed, if He is sovereign as we say and believe, how can He decree such a thing to happen? How do I reconcile what I know to be true of the character of my Lord and Savior, and the evil of such an act of violence? The unbelieving world struggles with this greatly, and for many it is this seeming dichotomy in the nature of God that they cannot accept. But if we're honest, even we Biblically-enlightened evangelical Christians have the same nagging questions.

There are a lot of ways to answer this question Biblically, but for me I see it as one of perspective. From our human-centered view of the world and events, this is a great tragedy. It is evil, and resulted in the sudden snuffing out of 32 lives for no apparent reason. We see these people as innocent, having committed no deed deserving of this treatment. We view the event from our relative value viewpoint, with no possible way that this tragedy could accomplish a good purpose.

But God calls us to look at the world and the events around us from His perspective. And His perspective is much different than ours. Even a cursory look at the Bible shows us that God has purposes that are far beyond what we can see, and that He decrees and uses events and people that are evil to accomplish these purposes. His value viewpoint is not relative like ours, but absolute and true. And His character is righteous, so that all His purposes are good. And those good purposes find their ultimate objective in bringing glory to Him.

Consider the perspective of the writer of Lamentations: "Who is there who speaks and it comes to pass, Unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High That both good and ill go forth?" (Lamentations 3:37-38). Or that of the psalmist: "But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases." (Psalm 115:3). Or consider God's statement that Paul quotes regarding His purposes accomplished through the person of Pharaoh and the tragedies of plagues and judgements: "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, "FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH." So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires." (Romans 9:17-18). God can and does ordain that evil people and evil deeds will come about to accomplish His purposes. Does He view them as evil and sinful? Absolutely, because they are. Are they beyond His control? Absolutely not, as He decrees them to come about. Is this an easy perspective for us to get a grip on? No, not really. But it's the one that we need in order to continue trusting in the goodness, the faithfulness, the righteousness and sovereign grace of our great God and Savior.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

God Needs To...?

I've caught myself several times recently in prayer starting a request for His assistance with teaching a class, working on a lesson or the like by saying or thinking: "Lord, you need to _____________." I usually stop at that point as I realize how presumptuous that way of addressing God is. Rather than seeking His gracious help, I am essentially ordering Him to do something for me. Consciously I would never say that I am doing that, but my words and thoughts seem to give away my real heart attitude. So I will restart my request with "Lord, I need you to ___________ ." This expresses the fact that God is not the one who has the need, but rather I am the needy one. A minor change in wording, but a major change in attitude and approach to the Lord of the Universe. One much more appropriate for me as a dependent slave of His.

This then started me thinking - what does God need to do? Are there things that God must do, that He is bound to do and cannot do otherwise? As the only self-existing and self-sufficient being in the universe, God has no needs. He is the I AM, who is complete and totally fulfilled within His own self. And He is the only being in the universe with a will that is totally free. As Tozer says, He must be the only totally free being in the universe or He would cease to be the only true God. But is that totally free and sovereign will bound by anything? Obviously not anything external to Him, for then He would fail to be sovereign. If there is anything that in any way limits the free will of God and results in actions that He must do, it has to be internal to Him. In other words, that which determines what God must do is the character and nature of God Himself. For example, God must be holy, for to act in an unholy manner would be contrary to His person and character. God must be loving and gracious and just and merciful and wrathful toward sin, because to be otherwise would be to violate who He is. God's perfect free will is bound by His perfect person and character. In other words, God's will must always act in a manner consistent with His righteous and perfect person.

So the question then becomes: are there things God wants to do that He cannot because of this binding of His will? As Paul might say, may it never be! For God, as the perfect moral being, never has a desire to act or behave in a manner contrary to His perfect character. So in one sense God's will is bound by His character and He needs to act as such. But in reality, His will is perfect so that He is not really restrained by this fact. Again, as Tozer notes, He is the only truly free being in existence.

I guess maybe the passage we've been looking at in 2 Timothy 2:13 has been on my mind, that deals with these subjects: "If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself." God's faithfulness and trustworthiness does not depend on me, but rather on Him and His steadfast and perfect character. For those who have trusted Christ and are in a faith relationship with God, He will be faithful and fulfill His promises to us, for to do otherwise would be to act contrary to His character. As Paul states, it would be to deny Himself. And this is something that God cannot do. He needs to be God at all times and in all His ways.

Isn't that ultimately a very comforting thought?

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism

I came across a reference to a study that was done a few years ago and documented in a book named Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. The study interviewed 3,000 young people from a variety of churches and denominations across the country to determine their beliefs and understandings of their faith. The researchers summed up the dominant beliefs of the next generation of the Church with the following points:

  • "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth."
  • "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions."
  • "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself."
  • "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem."
  • "Good people go to heaven when they die."

The researchers, even being secular, recognized that these beliefs are not even close to being Christianity, or any other existing religious system. Hence they coined a new term to describe this current cultural brand of religious belief that exists at large among our nominally-Christian youth: “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” In short, a works-righteousness based belief in a distant and impersonal God that exists only to make our lives better.

Does this bother you? It does me. Perhaps because of my current stint teaching our high-school youth Sunday school class, I am sensitized to this topic. And frankly because I see this kind of pseudo-Christian belief among our own teenagers in that class. I am seeing that most of these young people, even those who have grown up in the church their whole lives and been the recipients of years of ministry and teaching, are unable to define even key terms of Biblical Christianity. For example, I was using the term grace a few weeks ago in class and realized that I was not connecting with them, so I asked for a definition. The responses I got were not encouraging. And if our youth do not have working definitions of the basic language and foundational principles of the gospel like grace, mercy, justification, righteousness, atonement, etc – how can they put these pieces together to make sense of the person and work of Jesus Christ in their own lives, how can they live these truths out, how can they communicate them to others?

So how can this be? With all the variety of youth ministry, programs, conferences, resources, etc that are in place, how can this next generation of the Church be so – well, Biblically clueless? Remember, we are talking here about teenagers that are actively engaged in their churches, not the fringe kids or the pagan youth culture. Is it because they haven’t learned what has been taught them? Or is it because they have learned what has been taught all too well? I can’t say, although I think the latter is more likely, since my guess is that if a similar survey was done in churches across the land asking adults these same questions, we would find that the dominant belief system of my own generation would also be Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In other words, we are reproducing ourselves in the next generation.

I have also been thinking on these things in light of our current study in 2nd Timothy, where Paul is passing on the baton of the ministry of the gospel to the younger Timothy. He exhorts him to retain the standard of sound words, to guard the trust of the truth of the gospel, and to do so by entrusting these teachings and truth and doctrines to other faithful men. We can only guard the treasure of the Biblical truth of the gospel by passing it on correctly and faithfully and fully to others, and to the next generation. I have to ask - are we doing a good job of passing the torch on?

On a positive note, however, I have seen a few of these young people that are actively seeking to be taught straight Biblical truth and doctrines and have told me so. One of the young men in the class told me, “I really want to be fed and challenged.” So I don’t think it is a lack of desire to work through the hard stuff of Christian theology and doctrine, and that is encouraging. In fact, I have heard stories of churches around the country that have returned to teaching the Bible and doctrine in their youth ministries, and they are packed out with kids that want to learn and grow rather than be further entertained.

I know there are a number of you readers out there that minister to our youth. Do you see these trends, both negatively and positively? What are your thoughts?

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Whither Freedom?

Re-reading a very good book, Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life by J. I. Packer. Here's an excerpt from the first chapter:

  • ...Christian freedom...has to do with surrendering personal independence as one ceases to fight God. ...The freedom for which we were created is only enjoyed under the authority of God in Christ, and the only way we come under that authority and stay under it is by submitting in faith and obedience to what is in the Bible. The path to true personal freedom under God is acknowledgement of the authority of the Bible and its Christ. The gospel finds us rebels, guilty, lost and hopeless, and leads us for salvation to the feet of Christ, who teaches us to live by Scripture, in the power of the Holy Spirit.
Is that a counter-cultural set of statements or what? Freedom, as God has designed it to be experienced and lived out by His human creatures, is in exactly the opposite direction that our natural desires lead us. True freedom as individuals is found not in a complete throwing off of personal accountability and external authority, but rather in turning to Christ in the submission of repentance and experiencing regeneration that results in freedom from the bondage to sin and self. And where do we find this transforming and freedom-giving truth? In the theopneustos (God-breathed) words of Scripture.

As James refers to Scripture, it is the "perfect law of liberty". Didn't Jesus Christ Himself say that if we abide in His word, we are truly His followers, and then we shall know the truth and that truth will make us free?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Saint Who??

I just saw a news article about the former Pope John Paul II's sainthood proceedings. Seems that the final requirement for him to be beatified, which is the last step before being declared a saint by Rome has been met - a miracle that can be attributed to his intercession. Apparently a French nun has testified that she was cured of Parkinson's disease because of the Pope's prayer on her behalf.

Sorry, but every time I come across this stuff it really bothers me. What is a saint, anyway? According to the Roman Catholic church it is someone who's life and writings have been studied and show virtue, and testifiable miracles. Oh, and they have to be dead, too. And most people on the street would have some similar definition of sainthood - a really good person, someone who can always be counted on to do the right thing, someone with unlimited patience and forbearance.

Alright, now let's go to the real source of truth on this one - the Word of God. What is the Biblical definition of sainthood? The word is found in the NASB version 69 times. In the OT the Hebrew word is qadosh, meaning a holy one, one who is set apart. In the NT, the Greek word is hagios, meaning one who is sacred, consecrated or holy. In other words, a person who is holy and set apart for God's purposes. And definitely not a dead person, but a living one. But look then also at how the term is applied:

  • to all who are beloved of God in Rome, called as saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:7)
  • and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:27)
  • Greet Philologus and Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. (Romans 16:15)
  • To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2)
  • Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the church of God which is at Corinth with all the saints who are throughout Achaia: (2 Corinthians 1:1)

OK, enough examples. So does this sound like some special class of super-holy Christian? I think not. In fact the term is used in all these cases and everywhere else synonymously for God's people, those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and their faith in Him. If you have trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then in position before God you are declared a saint. Or as Paul puts in in Romans 1:7, you have been called as a saint. Being holy, sacred, sanctified and set apart as God's own possession is part of the holy calling with which we have been called. Sainthood is not about the virtuous works of our lives or the miracles that can be attested to - although the Bible is also very clear that the true saints will live in a manner consistent with our calling and position. And the very fact that we each have been redeemed and declared righteous by faith is in itself a miraculous work of God. But the whole basis for being a saint - Biblically speaking - rests in God's hands and His works, not in ours. He's the one that declares us to be saints, He's the one that brings it to reality, and He's the one that confirms it by His Word, His Spirit, and His Son.

So rejoice, ye saints of the Lord! You have been claimed by the King of the universe and set apart for His purposes, as His possession, in His Son, for His good pleasure, to reflect His glory. You are no longer identified as a sinner - you were a sinner, you have been saved by His grace, you are declared a holy saint.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Eschatological Scattergories

I've been doing some reading and thinking regarding the whole millennial debate. Trying to come to a personal conclusion as to what seems to be the best position from a Biblical standpoint, as eschatology is an area that I have not spent much effort on developing my own views. It's a complicated subject with a lot of passionate supporters of the various positions. At this point I have to say that I lean towards the classic premillennial view. That being that Christ will return at the end of the tribulation period, resurrect believers that have died, bind Satan and reign for a literal thousand years before releasing Satan for a final battle and the final judgment of resurrected unbelievers. I don't see much if any Biblical support for the popular view that believers will be "raptured" prior to the tribulation, though. So the classic premillennial position seems to be the most consistent with my readings of the Biblical texts and the arguments for & against this and other positions. The amillennial position, even though it does have some points that seem logical, seems to me to be a bit too loose with the literal interpretation of Revelation 20 and some other texts. And the postmillennial view simply seems illogical. So I continue to read, think, study and consider. If you disagree with me, that's OK. Lots of very smart people do. We have to remember that eschatology is a secondary doctrine that should never get in the way of unity over primary doctrines like the deity of Christ, justification by faith alone, etc.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Confident or Arrogant?

Should a Christian be confident of the truth of the gospel and the truth of the Word, and communicate these truths with confidence? What level of confidence in doctrines and truths is appropriate for a teacher of the Bible? At what point does confidence cross over into arrogance? These are questions that have been floating around in my head, and which I think the modern church struggles with greatly.

Let's start with the first topic. If I am a Christian, then I have believed the gospel and received Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term believe is a consistent one in the NT for receiving Christ. It is the objective of much of the writings of the NT. For example, John 20:31 states a purpose for his gospel: "but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name." To believe is to trust, to place confidence in. Therefore if we have truly believed in the gospel and in Christ, then we have placed our confidence in the truth of the gospel and the person of Christ. Therefore, is it not logical that if we have sufficient confidence in these truths for our eternal destiny, that we should also express and communicate them to others with at least equal confidence?

So how about a teacher or preacher? I have seen and heard some teachers of the Word that seem to spend more time qualifying their statements and giving disclaimers for their positions than actually proclaiming truth. They do so in many cases as an expression of humility. But is this appropriate. I think it is false humility. As a teacher of the Word, I must be fully convinced of the truths and doctrines and interpretations if I am to effectively communicate them. And if I am not so convinced, why would I be teaching these things? Yes, I must always exercise humility in my approach to God's Word and the communication of it, but lack of confidence in the message is not humility. And confidence in the message is not arrogance.

To some extent I think this is an error of the emerging movement, labeling as arrogant those that would express with certainty any type of truth claim. In reality, this is exactly what a minister of the gospel of a teacher of the Bible must do. Certainty, tempered with humility, is a mark of the well-prepared and properly motivated communicator of Biblical truth. To be otherwise is to be disqualified as a teacher.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The Church - Love It or...

I read a comment on another site a few days ago that got me thinking. In the comment, the person stated that they loved the church as a community, but very much disliked the church as an institution. I'm sure that this sentiment has some appeal to a lot of us, and actually took me back to an early period of my life as a believer in Christ where I probably would have said the same thing. In fact I basically did, to a number of people, including at least one pastor. All of us have to admit that we have had disappointments, discouragements and disillusionment with the church as an organization. It's much easier to love the church as the community of God's people than it is to love the church as an entity or an institution. But I had to ask myself - is this view Biblical?

The definition of the church in the New Testament is definitely one of a community. We see this lived out in the book of Acts, where the early believers shared their possessions, their worship and their very lives in common. They were a true worshipping community, meeting each other's needs, encouraging one another, teaching one another, praying together and glorifying God. This fits the repeated references to the church as the body of Christ, with each member fulfilling their role and being joined together with the other members of the body. The church as defined in the Bible is an organism, a living and active and growing body. And Jesus Christ is the Head of His body, the source of life, direction and headship authority.

But wait - did I just say authority? Hey, that sounds like leadership, like something institutional. Well, for good reason - because it is. If we accept that Christ is indeed the Head of the church, that in itself implies an authority and leadership structure. The New Testament church is shown repeatedly to not just be a community of believers, but an organizational entity with identifiable leadership, starting with Jesus and continuing down with pastors, elders, teachers, etc. In every church Paul planted, he established leaders and authority. Read Titus, 1st & 2nd Timothy, etc. Read the qualifications given for offices like elder. Reality is that the church by God's design is not just an organism, and not just an organization - it is both. And we are not being Biblically correct if we only accept one of these views. Embracing the church as only a community, or only as an organization, is incomplete.

I have to say that as I have grown as a Christian over the years (17 now) and as I have been involved in church leadership in various roles, my love for this complete view of the church has grown and matured. Even though I have seen the "dark side" of the church as an organization and as a community by serving as an elder (in more than one local body), I have also seen that this is God's plan for His people - to be organized as local congregations under the spiritual care and leadership and authority of a group of under-shepherds. To enable them to live out the life of the organism, the body of Christ. Imperfectly to be sure, sometimes grievously so. But living out the life of Christ as He empowers them.

I'd encourage each of us to cultivate this holistic and wholly Biblical view of the Body of Christ. It is natural to have a distaste for leadership and authority and institutions. But remember that as followers of Christ and members of His body, we are not to be natural - we are to be supernatural.

A New Blog...

I've decided to start up a new blog, in addition to the Xanga site I've been running for quite a while now. Xanga is too limited, and I'd like to branch out a bit more. So stay tuned for what I hope will be some posts that will challenge me and you to think and think Biblically.