Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Let God Be God

When I think of idolatry I usually think of some sort of sculpture that represents a deity.  After that, I think of something that is worshiped as a deity - even it there is not statue (like money, for example.)

There is another common form of idolatry that I am calling "managing God."

In this form of idolatry we sinful creatures decide that we have higher standards than the God Who has revealed Himself in the Bible.  This is usually right after we read something in the Bible that we don't understand or don't like.  People say things like:
  • "This can't be right."  
  • "I could never believe in a god who would..."  
Then we invent a god who measures up to our standards.  No matter how sincere or cynical the inventor might be, the invented god is an idol.  The God of the Bible is infinite.  If your god can be comprehended (completely understood) by your finite mind, he/she/it is not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible is holy.  If you think that you have a better idea about how things SHOULD be than those God has revealed in the Bible, you believe you are more holy than God. 

We are troubled by perplexing questions.  Why did an omnipotent and omniscient God allow sin at all?  How can a loving God send people to an eternal hell?  Why would a holy God save ANY sinners?  Why wouldn't an omnipotent and loving God save ALL sinners?

The list of questions is endless.  The answers are not provided.  God only tells us what He wants us to know - He is omnipotent, omniscient, loving, holy, just, merciful and gracious.  But He doesn't tell us how all of these things fit together, other than to say that He "works all things according to the counsel of His will," (Ephesians 1:11)

To believe in the God revealed in the Bible requires faith. 
  • Faith that God is omnipotent - that He can do whatever He determines ought to be done.
  • Faith that God is holy - that He is infinitely good and does what ought to be done.
  • Faith that God is just - that He does those things that ultimately satisfy His holiness.
God is God.  We are but creatures - corrupted by sin and devolved by sin's effects on creation.  We are called upon to TRUST God to be God - and give Him our unconditional praise, glory and gratitude.

Let God Be God!
(Hebrews 11:6 NKJV) But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas

Fear not, for I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people!
For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord!

Whatever you do today.
Whatever traditions you observe.
Whatever gifts you give or receive.
Whatever foods or goodies you eat.
Whatever family you see, or call, or miss.
Whatever you do today, don't miss the main point!

 Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Preach The Word

Exegesis is a biblical word.  The Greek word, εξηγεομαι, means to explain, to tell in order or to interpret.  Exegesis - providing an ordered explanation and interpretation - is the basis for expositional preaching in which one gives an exposition of Scripture.

Exegesis is what Jesus does as the one who gives a perfect exposition of God.  (John 1:18 NASB) "No man has seen God at any time; the only begotten God, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him."  So Jesus could say, "Whoever has seen me has seen the Father." (John 14:9)

Eisegesis is another thing altogether.  You can see the parallel between eisegesis and exegesis.  The difference is the prefix.  Instead of the "Ex" from the Greek word for "Out of," this word has "Eis" from the Greek word for "Into."

The difference in meaning is significant.  Instead of carrying the meaning out of the text and unpacking it in order (as in exegesis), eisegesis means you carry meaning into the text and create a new meaning that was not there.

It has been said that "you can prove anything you want from the Bible."  Well, that is not true if you practice careful exegesis.  In careful exegesis you come up with the meaning that is already there through observing the words in their normal relationships and given their normal definitions and taking into account the bigger picture of the history and context and type of material that is being studied.

But in eisegesis it is true that you can prove anything.  In eisegesis the meaning doesn't really come from the text at all - it comes from the mind of the person who is doing the eisegesis.  That person is reading his or her thoughts and prejudices into the text.  Why should we be surprised that they find their unique doctrine everywhere they look?  One of the telltale indicators of eisegesis is that the interpreter has no problem teaching his point no matter what text he is looking at.  He cannot see a contrary point anywhere - for him everything fits together beautifully!

Exegesis is hard work, partly because of the need to be careful to avoid eisegesis.  As a preacher there is always a temptation to approach a sermon with a desire to make the text support what I want to say.  But the job of expositional preaching is to find out what the text is saying and to preach THAT.
(2 Timothy 4:2–4 ESV) preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,
4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Born Again?

One night long ago a religious man approached Jesus of Nazareth with compliments.

(John 3:3 NKJV) Jesus answered and said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

Why didn't Jesus tell him to believe on Jesus?

Notice that Jesus doesn't tell Nicodemus to DO anything.  He doesn't say to repent, believe, follow, choose, accept, receive or to take any other action.  Jesus tells him that he needs something to happen TO him.   "Being born" is a passive voice verb.

Nicodemus is perplexed.  "How can a man be born when he is old...?  Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb...?"  He has no idea what to DO about it.  And it is interesting to me that Jesus doesn't help him out by making it a simple action that "closes the deal" on eternal salvation.  He doesn't ask him to raise his hand, walk down front, pray a prayer, "pray through," or get baptized.

Instead Jesus confuses him further:
(John 3:5–6 NKJV) Jesus answered, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

And He explains that it is like when the wind blows... you can't see the wind and you don't know where it is coming from or where it is going.  All you see is the results - things are moved because the wind blew on them.  You can't control it, you can only observe it.

Jesus says again - "you must be born again."
Nicodemus is at a loss.  "How can these things be?"

It seems to me there are some important points in here that we would do well to be reminded of.
1) Salvation is not essentially an action that is in man's hands.
2) Salvation is essentially an action that is in God's hands.
3) Salvation is brought about by the Holy Spirit of God.
4) Salvation is not something you can control, but it brings about results you can see.

Too many would-be-evangelists are in a hurry to give people the magic words to say that will cast the spell that will make them eternally secure.  They would do well to remind themselves of the approach of Jesus the evangelist, who started out by telling Nicodemus that he couldn't save himself - that he needed to look to God to save him.

Faith in Jesus is not a prayer you pray that brings you salvation.  Faith in Jesus is the result of the Holy Spirit's work of regeneration, by which people are born again.

It is as thrilling as a tornado!  You are talking to someone about Jesus - about His sinless life, sacrificial death and resurrection.  You are urging them to repent of their sins and to trust in Jesus for salvation.  You can see that they don't get it.  They don't understand.  They don't believe it.  It isn't registering with them.

Then the wind blows through, their eyes widen, they say something profound like "OH!"  Now they believe!  Now there are tears, laughter, prayers and maybe jumping up and down (that's me.)  They have been born again right in front of your eyes!  WOW!

Don't settle for cheap imitations.  Don't rush to give people something they can DO (especially not something they can do whether or not they are born again.)  Remember, they must be born again.  Tell them all about Jesus and let God do the DO-ING in your evangelism.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jesus Is All In All

Life and ministry involve some dauntingly difficult moments.  This morning as I contemplated some of my challenges, the words of this old hymn were running though my mind.  "Jesus is all the world to me."

It is a great reminder that Jesus is always sufficient.  Let Jesus receive all glory and honor and praise! Let me serve Him faithfully, regardless of the task.
Jesus is all the world to me, my life, my joy, my all;
He is my strength from day to day, without Him I would fall.
When I am sad, to Him I go, no other one can cheer me so;
When I am sad, He makes me glad, He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me, my Friend in trials sore;
I go to Him for blessings, and He gives them over and o’er.
He sends the sunshine and the rain, He sends the harvest’s golden grain;
Sunshine and rain, harvest of grain, He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me, and true to Him I’ll be;
O how could I this Friend deny, when He’s so true to me?
Following Him I know I’m right, He watches o’er me day and night;
Following Him by day and night, He’s my Friend.

Jesus is all the world to me, I want no better Friend;
I trust Him now, I’ll trust Him when life’s fleeting days shall end.
Beautiful life with such a Friend, beautiful life that has no end;
Eternal life, eternal joy, He’s my Friend.

Words & Music: Will L. Thomp­son, New Cen­tu­ry Hymn­al (East Li­ver­pool, Ohio: Will L. Thomp­son Co., 1904)  (I found this on www.cyberhymnal.org)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Nice Thing About Being Sick

(James 5:13 NKJV) ¶ Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 
 I have been struggling with a sinus infection for almost a week now.  It isn't any fun.  My nose is sore.  My head aches.  My ears are ringing (well - they always do - but now it's worse.)  My eyes hurt.  I am having trouble breathing through my nose.

So, what's good about this, you may ask?
  1. It may be unpleasant, but it is not serious.  Many people have worse problems than this.
  2. It may be unpleasant, but it is temporary.  A week from now it will be forgotten - no doubt.  
  3. It is unpleasant, but it is not completely disabling.  I can still make phone calls.  I can still study.  I can still do most of my normal work at almost my normal pace.
  4. Because it is unpleasant, it is an occasion for gratitude that MOST of the time I don't have this problem.  I praise the Lord that most of the time I don't have pain in my sinuses and I can breath through my nose without thinking about it!
  5. Another benefit is that this minor suffering of mine makes me more empathetic about the sufferings of other people - some of whom face much more serious and chronic problems.
  6. Because I didn't feel well yesterday, I avoided some of my normal work by cleaning off my desk and getting rid of various stacks of paper and books in my study.  If I had felt well, I would have probably procrastinated that work for another month or so.

So praise the Lord for everything.  Are you well?  Praise the Lord!  Are you sick?  Praise the Lord! 
(1 Thessalonians 5:18 NKJV) in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cold and ice...

(Job 38:29–30 NKJV)  From whose womb comes the ice? And the frost of heaven, who gives it birth?
30 The waters harden like stone, And the surface of the deep is frozen. 

This is our fish pond at 21 degrees. They have an ice wreath! I thought about coloring it with food colors, but decided against it.

I love the different seasons!

(Genesis 8:22 NKJV)  “While the earth remains, Seedtime and harvest, Cold and heat, Winter and summer, And day and night Shall not cease.”

Friday, December 3, 2010

If this is the kingdom...

Amillennialism is the view that what the world is experiencing right now is Christ's Kingdom.  They believe that it came to earth at Pentecost (Acts 2) and continues for an indefinite period of time (so far almost two millennia) until the final judgment and the ultimate eternal state.

While I agree that Christ is the King of King's and Lord of Lord's, I disagree completely with the view that this is or could be His kingdom.  But my disagreement goes deeper.  I don't believe that there is any biblical support for the idea that this should be the kingdom.

For one thing, what we have been experiencing for the past 2000 years in no way conforms to the Biblical portrayal of Christ's Kingdom.  This is a blog, not a book, so I can't go into every detail.  But consider just three examples.
  1. The Lord Himself reigns over the earth with a rod of iron. (Psalm 2:9; Rev. 2:27; 12:5; 19:15) Do the last 2000 years look to you like it has been strictly controlled by Christ?  Pardon me for saying so, but if this is the best He can do, it isn't very impressive.  Just think of the horrible wretched things that have transpired over the past 2000 years! 
  2.  During the Kingdom a person who lives one hundred years will be considered a youngster. (Isa. 65:20)  Certainly it isn't true of our world so far.  People who live to be one hundred right now are considered old everywhere on earth.  This text cannot be talking about the eternal state, because at that point there will be no new births and no more death.
  3. During the Kingdom the world will be free of predation - the lion lays down with the lamb, etc. (Is 11:6; 65:25)  There will be no war - the implements of war will be turned to peaceful purposes, "they will beat their swords into plowshares," etc.  (Is 2:4; Mic 4:3)  Certainly not the world in which we live at this point.
Of course the amillennialists spiritualize the texts I've cited and many others.  They explain them away as hyperbole.  But why?  Do they believe Christ is not ABLE to establish an earthly kingdom?  Do they think that this is IMPOSSIBLE for God?  I think they have their cart before their exegesis.  They first posit that this age IS the kingdom, then they interpret Scripture in whatever fashion is necessary to make it fit the circumstances.

A second problem I have with amillennial teaching is that the Bible makes very plain statements about a MILLENNIAL (1000 year) Kingdom ruled directly by Christ.  Revelation 20 speaks of 1000 years (a millennium) no less than six times in as many verses.  At the beginning of that 1000 years and for its duration, Satan is bound and removed from any influence in the world (vv.2-3).  At the beginning of the 1000 years, the redeemed dead are resurrected and work for Christ in his kingdom (v.4).  The rest of the dead (not redeemed) are not resurrected until after the 1000 year period (v.5).  The resurrected redeemed people reign with Christ for 1000 years (v.6).  At the end of 1000 years Satan is released for a little while (v.7).
  1. Amillennialist would say this is figurative language for a "long time."  But why not just say "a long time?"  Why all the specifics of when it begins, how long it lasts, what happens during the time, and what happens when it is over?  There is no compelling reason to dismiss the 1000 years as figurative.  In fact, it seems to be very specific, to be taken literally.  Repetition is usually a device that emphasizes.
  2. This 1000 year period is completely unlike the period in which we live.  Satan is currently alive and well and is deceiving the nations as I write.  There are no world leaders or government officials who are resurrected from the dead and now are reigning for Christ.
Frankly, if the amillennialists were correct, the whole book of Revelation - with the possible exception of chapter 21 would be pointless.  According to them, chapter 20 is now and all of the judgments, etc. of the previous 19 chapters must have happened before.  Some believe that they are figures for the Roman destruction of Israel that culminated in the destruction of the temple in AD 70.  So what kind of message could it possibly have held for the churches of AD 95 when it was written?  Instead of being a revelation of future events (which it explicitly claims to be) it is just a colorful memory of what has already transpired????

A third reason I reject amillennialism is that it suggests that Christ's rule in His Kingdom is not absolute.  Every Biblical portrayal of Christ's kingdom is that it is absolute - Jesus is the King and the contest is over.  But if this current period is Christ's kingdom, then He shares dominion with Satan.
  1. Individual believers are saved out of Satan's dominion and into the dominion of Christ. If this were Christ's Kingdom, how could Satan still be " the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who NOW works in the sons of disobedience?" (Eph. 2:1-3; Col 1:13)
  2. Believers in this world are "strangers and pilgrims" because their citizenship is in a different kingdom (that is evidently somewhere else.) (Eph 2:12, 19; Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11)
  3. Believers are instructed by the apostles to pray, "Let Thy kingdom come." If the kingdom was already here, it seems strange to suggest that we should still be praying for it to come. (Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2)
No, no, no... I believe that Christ is the King - and that He will literally return to the earth to reign as King - first for a 1000 year period, then for eternity, just like the Bible says in plain language.  That is why the apostles instructed us to keep looking for His coming.  The period we are in is NOT the Kingdom.  We don't know how long this period will last.  All we know is that Jesus is coming and we should keep watching for Him.
(1 Thessalonians 1:9–10 NKJV) For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
(Titus 2:11–13 NKJV) ¶ For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men,
12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,

    Tuesday, November 30, 2010

    The Spice of Life

    We had great food and desserts over the holiday. The credit goes to the cooks, my wife and daughter. But their success depended on the spices they used to flavor the food.

    As I stood here waiting for my coffee from the microwave, I surveyed the spices and thought of the different delights they seasoned. Anise seeds in our traditional springerle cookies. Cinnamon and clove and nutmeg for pumpkin pies. Rosemary and onion flakes for the roast on Sunday...
    There are not many spices you would want to eat by the spoonful. Spices that make a roast taste great would be terrible in a pie. But without spices foods would be pretty bland.

    God seasons our lives. Everyday we have some joys and some sorrows. We have pleasures and pains. We have things that are sweet and things that are sour. There is variety.

    Every hour brings something new. Every day has its own character and composition. Every encounter with people is different.

    Is life sweet? Is life bitter? Actually, life is flavorful! God provides what we need for today.

    As it says above our spice rack, "Taste and see that the Lord is good." (Psalm 34:8)

    Monday, November 29, 2010

    Have Your Cake?

    "You want to have your cake, and eat it too!"

    I was reminded of this saying today...

    That always puzzled me as a child.  What was the point of having a cake, if not to eat it?  Of course I want to have it and eat it!  Doesn't everybody?  It turns out that it means you want to keep your cake whole - and at the same time eat it too.  The two things are mutually exclusive.  You cannot have it both ways.

    But it is true - most people would like to have it both ways.  A little boy steals the cookie, but when his mother appears he quickly stuffs it in his mouth while at the same time he says, "I'm sorry!"  Adults would like to keep on doing whatever sinful things please them - but at the same time be right with God. 

    So they apologize. They quote scripture. They go to church. They profess faith. They are full of humility and religious platitudes.  They say they have come to see the light and the error of their ways.

    O.K. - GREAT!  So how about putting that stolen cookie down instead of stuffing it in your mouth?  How about breaking off your immoral relationship?  How about reconciling with the wife you left?  How about paying your child support?  How about paying restitution?  How about turning yourself in and doing your time?

    No, they are not willing to do THAT!  They want to have their cake and eat it too.  They want to continue in their sin - but have God (and everyone else) forgive them because they said they were sorry.  ("I SAID I was sorry," says the little boy as the mother starts to punish him.)

    Does this matter?  Is it addressed in Scripture?  It sure is!

    (Matthew 3:7–8 NKJV) ¶ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,

    (Acts 26:20 NKJV) but (I) declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.

    Notice that the call to repentance is coupled with a call to do things consistent with that repentance.  You can claim to be repentant, but if you continue in the same sinful behavior as before, you reveal the fact that your repentance is just so many words.

    People can be deceived, but God cannot.  God sees the heart.  He is not impressed with religious activities when the heart is unconverted.
    (Psalms 51:16–17 NKJV)  For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.
    17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise.

    Tuesday, November 23, 2010

    The Secret of His Presence

    (Psalms 91:1–2 NKJV) ¶ He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust.”
    I love the hour before dawn because that is when I spend my sweetest time with God in the study of His word and in prayer.  The house is dark except for the pool of light around my chair.  Interruptions at that hour are rare.  The only sounds are the ticking of our antique mantle clocks and the soft snoring of our miniature poodle who is curled up on the couch.

    This hour is not for planning or for working... it is devoted entirely to reading God's word and to prayer.  To read and meditate on God's word.  To softly sing hymns of praise.  To praise and glorify God.  To desire Him and His will above all earthly things.  To lay out before Him every joy or sorrow - every plan or puzzle.  To revel in His love.  To rest in His love.  To get a taste of heaven's joy.
    In the secret of His presence how my soul delights to hide!
    Oh, how precious are the lessons which I learn at Jesus’ side!
    Earthly cares can never vex me, neither trials lay me low;
    For when Satan comes to tempt me, to the secret place I go,
    To the secret place I go.

    When my soul is faint and thirsty, ’neath the shadow of His wing
    There is cool and pleasant shelter, and a fresh and crystal spring;
    And my Savior rests beside me, as we hold communion sweet:
    If I tried, I could not utter what He says when thus we meet,
    What He says when thus we meet.

    Only this I know: I tell Him all my doubts, my griefs and fears;
    Oh, how patiently He listens! and my drooping soul He cheers:
    Do you think He ne’er reproves me? What a false Friend He would be,
    If He never, never told me of the sins which He must see,
    Of the sins which He must see.

    Would you like to know the sweetness of the secret of the Lord?
    Go and hide beneath His shadow: this shall then be your reward;
    And whene’er you leave the silence of that happy meeting place,
    You must mind and bear the image of the Master in your face,
    Of the Master in your face.  (Poem by Ellen L. Goreh - 1883)

    Wednesday, November 17, 2010

    Virtual Lives

    (Proverbs 6:9–11 NKJV)  How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep?
    10 A little sleep, a little slumber, A little folding of the hands to sleep—
    11 So shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, And your need like an armed man.
    The movie "The Matrix" has come true! 

    The premise of the movie is that machines have taken over the world and only keep human beings alive as a sort of biological battery that generates electricity. The humans are actually kept in dark drawers - asleep - hooked up to life support - in huge subterranean automated complexes.  People experience life in a virtual world - the Matrix - while they in fact are lying in their drawer generating electricity for the machines.  It seems real, but it is really a plugged in experience that happens over the phone lines.

    Isn't this true for many people?  Don't vast numbers of people spend hour upon hour plugged in to machines?  Isn't it true that many people have more interaction with a virtual world than they do with a real world?  People are known in the virtual world by their "nicknames."  They are concerned about their avatar as much as they are about their own appearance.  They experience life vicariously in on-line games - and in many cases care more about success in that world, than they care about relationships and experiences in the real world.  They devote hours of effort earning virtual credits for accomplishing virtual tasks in a virtual world in competition with other gamers who they will never know outside of the game world.

    So what's the problem? 

    Virtual life is not life!  It is a substitute for the real thing.  It is at best a dream, and at worst a delusion.  Virtual life is very attractive - maybe even addictive.  There are less risks in the virtual world than in the real world.  You can do incredible things - fight epic battles - do magic - leap, shoot, jump, kick, flip and maybe fly.  And you don't even need to stretch first.  You will never get a bruise or bump or a torn ligament.  You will not be embarrassed in the virtual world - nobody really knows it is you.  Go ahead and shoot and steal and kill and maim in the virtual world - it is all pretend anyway!  You might even get killed in the virtual world, but you live again a few moments later!

    But the fact that it is not life does not make it safe.  It is certainly entertaining, but it is not profitable.  At the very least it is eating up people's lives.  Instead of really living life, they are pretending to live life while their time on earth slips past.

    Real life involves real people in the real world.  There are relationships to develop and maintain through person to person interaction.  There are real life tasks to be accomplished that take our physical presence and effort.  In the real world our actions affect other people's real lives for good or evil.  We might be genuine heroes - save a life, comfort the distraught or help a little old lady across the street.

    Real life has real risks and benefits.  A real life workout will improve your health, but you have to put up with the sweat and pain.  A real life conversation about spiritual realities might lead a person to an understanding of the truth about eternal life, but it also might result in rejection.

    Jesus Christ said that He had come that we might have life and that we might have it more abundantly.  (John 10:10)  When we face Jesus and give an account, will He be interested in the level of success we had in our virtual games?  Will He be disappointed with the hours we spent entertaining ourselves when we could have been living a real life in His service?
    (Romans 13:11–13 NKJV) And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed.
    12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.
    13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.

    Thursday, November 11, 2010


    (Mark 6:31) And He said to them, “Come aside by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” For there were many coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat. 
     I like Thursdays.

    For a pastor, Sunday is the pinnacle of the week.  It is both the best day and the worst day.  Most of my work is aimed at Sunday.  I usually have two messages (morning and evening) and a Sunday School lesson to prepare for Sunday.  Sunday is full of activity and requires physical, emotional and intellectual energy.  On Sunday I am wound up tight.

    Consequently, on Monday I am wound down.  Monday is my day for taking care of loose ends left over from Sunday - making calls, sending notes - and for planning the week ahead.  It is not a good day for taking a break - I'm too tired and still have too much on my mind.  On Monday morning ALL my work for the week is not even started.  I am too preoccupied with it all to take the time off.

    Tuesday is a utility day.  It is the day when I usually complete the bulk of my studying.  On Monday and Tuesday I am usually cranking out handwritten notes about the Bible passages and topics I am studying.  By the end of the day on Tuesday I want to have the text, context, structure, meaning and special features of the passage all figured out.  I will have read it in the original language and have looked up all of the more unique words.  I will know what the meaning of the passage is, and I will be experimenting with ways to preach it.

    Wednesday allows even more study, but it is also taken up with the Wednesday ministries.  I usually want to have my draft of the bulletin more or less completed on Wednesday - though I won't send it out until Thursday.  I also need to think about teaching the teen group on Wednesday night - and getting prayer requests ready for the people doing prayer meeting.  Wednesday energy is mostly about Wednesday ministries - but I am still mulling over the material I'm working on for Sunday.

    Then comes Thursday!  It is a blessed day!  It is far enough between Sundays that I am fully recovered from the previous one and not yet panicked about the next!  If the week is going well, I can take Thursday morning off to go to the pistol range - without fear that I am neglecting important work.  When I come into the office for the afternoon, I feel refreshed.  Thursday is my most mellow day.  (It helps if my shooting goes well - but even that doesn't matter too much.)

    Friday is another busy work day.  Friday is the day to get everything all together.  Sermon outlines finished, illustrations developed, power-point presentation completed, bulletin inserts typed, etc. Monday and Tuesday are the rough work of sorting through all of the material, and Friday is the fine work of putting everything together.  Friday is the day that I am most likely to feel panic.  If things are not clicking by Friday morning, I am fretting.

    See how the pendulum swings?  At Friday I start getting wound up again for Sunday.  I need to have my sermons and messages and lessons in mind.  I need to know WHAT I am going to say and HOW I am going to say it.  At this point time is running out fast!

    Hopefully I get it resolved on Friday.  Saturday is my family day.  We work together on household projects, do cleaning, do the laundry, work in the yard.  I may glance at my work a few times throughout the day, but usually just for tweaking.  Then on Saturday evening, after supper, I get my computer and head back to the study for my final three hours (6-9) of work before Sunday.  I do my final edits to polish things up, finish my notes and print them out.  Then I go home to bed and go to sleep thinking about my Sunday morning message.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Taking The (Baptism) Plunge

    (Matthew 28:19) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    After church last night, someone asked me about my views on baptizing children.  It kind of caught me off guard since I wasn't thinking about that subject at all.  But the question was appropriate because the Sunday School teachers and Children's Church teachers need to know how their teaching will fit with what I will do with children who come to me about being baptized.

    Should children be baptized or not?  Under what conditions would I baptize children?

    1) Baptism is a normal part of discipleship.
    I believe that baptism is commanded for believers.  After a person comes to faith in Jesus Christ, they should be baptized as a public testimony to the fact that they are identified with Jesus' death, burial and resurrection.  Acts 2:41 says that "those who gladly received his word were baptized..."

    It is correct for us to teach this to children who make professions of faith.  On the other hand, it is not necessarily true that we should baptize a child (or adult) just because they make a profession of faith.  We need to do our best to assure that the people we baptize truly understand the Gospel, know the meaning of baptism and are ready to make the commitments suggested by baptism.

    2) Baptism does not bring about salvation.
    The scripture is clear that salvation is by grace through faith, not of works. (Ephesians 2:8-10)  Baptism is properly thought of as a picture of the person's salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.  While baptism is normal and proper for people who are saved by faith, it is not essential to their salvation.  Baptism is a picture of a spiritual reality - not the cause of the spiritual reality.

    Down the road from me there is a church that would be horrified by my reluctance to baptize children! They believe it is baptism that seals the deal and assures the salvation of a person.  Their basic reasoning is no different from the reasoning of those who baptize infants because they believe it removes their original sin - or that it places them in the covenant of grace.  The Bible does not support any of those views.

    3) Baptism is not urgent.
    We feel a certain urgency to baptize children because we suppose that they will lose interest and will not want to be baptized by the time they become teenagers.  But this is exactly why we should not rush to baptize children.  If their profession of faith is so shallow that it will disappear in a few years, then it is not genuine Christian conversion.

    Instead of rushing to baptize a child, we should encourage him or her to continue in his/her profession of faith and to demonstrate the truth of that profession through continued growth in knowledge and obedience to the word of God.  If they are genuinely born of the Spirit, they will indeed continue and still want to be baptized a few years down the road.

    4) Baptism should require a certain maturity.
    For many children church is strictly a social event limited to Sunday mornings - and this only if there is an entertaining junior church program for them.  For these children, almost everything comes before church.  Is there a sporting event, a concert, a school activity, a family activity, a television show that conflicts with church?  They will NOT be at church.  Are their friends going somewhere else today?  They will not be here either. 

    But they want to be baptized.

    Jesus said that to be His disciple (and it is disciples that should be baptized) one must take up his own cross daily, deny himself, and follow Jesus.  (Matthew 16:24)  This requires a mature decision - a sober choice to follow Jesus whatever the cost.  But many children will stop attending church as soon as they graduate from junior church and are expected to participate in the regular services of the church. 

    I believe that until a person is able to participate in the general assembly of the believers without specialized children's services, they are not yet mature enough to make the decision to be baptized.  I think this is in harmony with the Jewish tradition of celebrating a person's bar mitzvah (or bath mitzvah for girls) at the age of about 13.  While the Bible doesn't mention this specifically, it is interesting that it does tell the story of Jesus staying behind in Jerusalem and questioning the teachers there when he was twelve years old.  (Luke 2:42ff)

    5) Baptism is associated with church membership.
    Not only does baptism identify the person with Christ, it also identifies that person with the other disciples.  Acts 2:41 says that the believers were baptized, then continues to say..."and that day about three thousand souls were added to them."  By submitting to baptism, believers are identified as members of the church.

    The church has a responsibility to screen people who come for baptism to see if they are genuinely converted.  It would be inappropriate for the church to admit non-believers into membership.  With children this becomes more difficult to determine.  Are they professing salvation and seeking baptism because of pressure from adults, parents or peers?  Or are they genuinely born again?  The heartbreaking fact is that 2/3 of children brought up in evangelical churches (baptized or not) will walk away from church as adults.

    Even after a child has graduated from junior church to the adult services, there are important questions to be asked.  Are they there because they want to be, or because they are forced to come by their parents?  Are they eager participants - singing out, paying attention and taking notes - or are they slouched in the back row goofing off and sending text messages?  Are they eager to take part in the service or do they use every opportunity to escape to "help" in junior church or the nursery?

    I think that we should teach children about baptism.  But I think we should teach them that it is a serious matter that requires them to reach the age when they are able to participate in the adult church program and demonstrate by their attendance and participation that they are serious about their profession of faith, their desire to be baptized and their willingness to put Christ ahead of other priorities.

    Putting off baptism does not harm a person who is genuinely born again.  But baptizing a child who subsequently walks away may well inoculate them against the gospel ("I tried that...").  Furthermore, baptizing a person who is not genuinely born again creates a mixed multitude in the church membership that will ultimately cause harm - one way or another.  At the very least there will be the pain of disciplining such people out of membership when they turn away from Christ.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Random Reactions

    I read the following quote this morning in Yahoo.com's "The Starting Point."  Do you see any problems with it?
    "There is no goal better than this one: to know as you lie on your deathbed that you lived your true life, and you did whatever made you happy." --Steve Chandler 
    I gather that Mr. Chandler's motto is "Do whatever makes you happy." So much for moral guidance.  Do what makes you happy - tell the truth or lie, be faithful or betray, be gentle or violent, obey the law or break it, be kind or hurtful, be productive or parasitic.  Whatever makes you happy, so you can congratulate yourself on your deathbed that you "lived your true life."

    There is a positive to this quote.  It is refreshingly honest about the ultimate selfishness of atheistic thought.  Many atheists presume that because they have a moral conscience and are pleased to do things that are good, that means atheism is not antithetical to morality.  All it means is that they are selfishly pursuing their own pleasures - and in some cases that pleasure is found in doing "good."

    I read this yesterday in an article by Clara Moskowitz, entitled "8 Shocking Things We Learned From Stephen Hawking's Book" in LiveScience.com.
    The past is possibility:
    According to Hawking and Mlodinow, one consequence of the theory of quantum mechanics is that events in the past that were not directly observed did not happen in a definite way. Instead they happened in all possible ways. This is related to the probabilistic nature of matter and energy revealed by quantum mechanics: Unless forced to choose a particular state by direct interference from an outside observation, things will hover in a state of uncertainty.

    For example, if all we know is that a particle traveled from point A to point B, then it is not true that the particle took a definite path and we just don't know what it is. Rather, that particle simultaneously took every possible path connecting the two points.

    The authors sum up: "No matter how thorough our observation of the present, the (unobserved) past, like the future, is indefinite and exists only as a spectrum of possibilities."
    How interesting an idea from people who declare in the same book that everything in the universe came to be organized as it is through a determinism based on simple physical laws!

    How would they know this about such complex events in the "unobserved past?"  Not only is creation the ULTIMATE in unobserved events (by humans), but it is also completely unknown in the present.  Nobody has ever seen life spring from non-life.  Nobody has ever seen matter spring from nothing.  Nobody has ever witnessed macro evolution.  But Hawking is sure they happened by purely natural means.

    Of course, what they are really saying is that EVERYTHING is possible in the unobserved past - EXCEPT for SUPERNATURAL THINGS - because they don't believe in supernatural things.  According to them - the organization of the universe and the origin of life have infinite possible NATURAL antecedents that cannot be known for sure because they were unobserved.  From their atheistic perspective, an infinite number of natural antecedents must include the correct formula.

    Hawking's problem is that the origin of the universe WAS observed and is described in detail to us by someone who was there.

    Friday, October 29, 2010

    Broken Cisterns

    (Jeremiah 2:11–13)  Has a nation changed its gods, Which are not gods? But My people have changed their Glory For what does not profit.
    12 Be astonished, O heavens, at this, And be horribly afraid; Be very desolate,” says the Lord.
    13 “For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns—broken cisterns that can hold no water. 
    I had hiked up the mountainside in the heat and dust of the summer.  The biting flies and bees buzzed me.  The creeping vines snatched at my feet. The sun was hot and heat waves shimmered in the distances.  The barbed wire fences were tight and threatened to snag my clothes as I worked my way under them while the scratchy grass threw scratchy seeds down the neck of my shirt, were it stuck in the sweat on my skin.

    But eventually I reached the cool shade of the forest and the mountain stream that burbled and bubbled in its channel.  The fragrance of the wild mint growing on the bank mingled with the scent of the pine woods. That running water was ice cold and clear as crystal.  I laid on my stomach and put my face into a small pool and drank.   There I was refreshed and the heat and discomfort of the journey were past.

    That is what I think of when I read about "living water."  It is the flowing water of a living stream.  The fresh tasting, teeth-freezingly cold water that can refresh you and give you life.

    I remember a long ago trip to Israel.  I remember the deserts on the West Bank of the Jordan near the Dead Sea.  Again, the heat of the sun shimmered in every direction.  We were carried to the top of Masada - a Herodian fortress on the top of a great rock mountain - a place with an amazing history.  Part of that tour took us to giant rooms apparently cut out of the rock.  These rooms might have been storerooms - but at least one was supposed to be a cistern.

    I suppose that the idea was to catch rain during the rainy season and channel it into the cistern.  There it could last a long time in the dark of the cave.  The cistern was carved because there were no natural springs on top of that rock mountain (and few in the surrounding desert) - and people need water to live.

    But I don't remember there being water in that great big cistern.  Maybe there was some mud.  Perhaps the channels that were supposed to direct the rains to the cistern have been plugged.  Perhaps there was not much rain that rainy season.  Perhaps some earthquake cracked the rock of the cistern and allowed most of the water to drain away.  I sure don't know.  But I think of that big empty cavern every time I read Jeremiah 2:13.

    Cistern water is not as good as the living water of a bubbling stream.  It tends to be brackish and tepid.  There might be a scum of algae or mold floating on the top.  Even so, if a cistern did hold water - it could sustain life.

    But the false gods of this world are cisterns that cannot even hold water.  The values of this world - Pride, Possessions and Pleasure are broken cisterns.  They cannot refresh you.  They cannot give you life.

    Only the One True and Living God - the Creator of life - only He can give us what we really need.  But humans have abandoned Him and turned to gods of their own invention.  No wonder people are so miserable!  They are dying of thirst for the true water of life!
    (2 Timothy 3:1–7) But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
    2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
    3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good,
    4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
    5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!
    6 For of this sort are those who creep into households and make captives of gullible women loaded down with sins, led away by various lusts,
    7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.

    Tuesday, October 26, 2010

    If only

    If only I was older...
    If only I was younger...
    If only I had more money...
    If only I had more time...
    If only I had more energy...
    If only I was smarter...
    If only I had more education...
    If only I was stronger...
    If only I was more attractive...
    If only I could speak another language...
    If only I was more disciplined...
    If only I was not in debt...
    If only I had better credit...
    If only I was more articulate...
    If only I was more creative...
    If only I had taken a different path...
    If only I was brave...
    If only I was a people person...
    If only I had better hair...
    If only I was taller...
    If only I was an expert...
    If only I had a bigger audience...
    If only people would listen to me...
    If only I was not so sleepy...
    If only I could forgive...
    If only I had a faster computer...
    If only I were artistic...
    If only I weighed more...
    If only I weighed less...
    If only people would behave...
    If only I had better ideas...
    If only something dramatic would happen...
    If only my life would settle down...
    If only I had less interruptions...
    If only someone would call...
    If only it were a different season...
    If only people understood me...
    If only people were not so bizarre...
    If only I were in charge...
    If only it was warmer out...
    If only it was cooler out...
    If only I had something to wear...
    If only I had the right equipment...
    If only I had the right curriculum...
    If only I had turned left...
    If only I had a GPS...
    If only I had a map...
    If only I had a cooler phone...
    If only I'd prepared better...
    If only I had slept better...
    If only I'd had a quick comeback...
    If only I'd kept quiet...
    If only I were appreciated...
    If only I were valued...
    If only I could go somewhere...
    If only I could stay home for awhile...
    If only I didn't have so many meetings...
    If only I could get some people together...
    If only I knew the right method...
    If only I could memorize easier...
    If only my kids would be good...
    If only I could remember...
    If only I could forget...
    If only I'd kept my cool...
    If only things were cheaper...
    If only I were free...
    If only people were committed...
    If only there was a pill...
    If only there was an app...
    If only they would make up their mind...
    If only they would give me more time...
    If only I had the opportunity...

    If only I didn't have so many excuses...

    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    Your Best Ideas

    This week started out with two days away from home while I attended the annual conference of the Ohio Association of Regular Baptist Churches that was held in Albany, Ohio - at Albany Baptist Church.  I had a great time - a refreshing time.  I came away encouraged, challenged, and tired out.

    While I was there I had some ideas for blogs - but no time to even jot them down, much less develop them.  I am sure that some of them were really great ideas - profound ideas - brilliant ideas.

    What I did write down was, "the best ideas are the ones you don't write down and can't remember."

    Odd how that happens.

    But it does.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    The Meaning of Love

    Last Sunday evening I had occasion to compare Old English word meanings with Modern English meanings for the same words.

    Take the words "suffer" and "let."

    "Suffer" now means to endure pain, but it used to mean to "let or permit" someone to do something.  Maybe the change was related to "putting up with" the other person's actions.

    "Let" now means "to allow," but it used to mean "restrain."  These meanings seem so contradictory that I have trouble imagining what brought about such a complete change.

    That made me think today about the Bible's use of the word "LOVE."  I think there has been a complete turnaround with the meaning of this word too.  But the switch here has been more subtle.  We would still use the same word, but its meaning in modern culture is completely changed.

    Today the word love is used to describe INTENSE LIKES, as in, "I love ice cream!"  Whether it is ice cream or people - love refers to some level of liking.  The phrase "love at first sight," describes an infatuation and, as with other crushes, is just an intense feeling of liking someone.

    Where marriage vows used to include a commitment "to love, honor and cherish til death does us part," modern vows are as likely to say, "to honor and cherish til LOVE does us part."  In the past, we would commit to LOVING someone for a LIFETIME.  In the present, people only commit to the relationship as long as they still LIKE each other.

    LOVE in the Bible is not infatuation, but commitment.  Love in the Bible is not a feeling, but an action of the will.  Love in the Bible is not something you fall into - it is something you decide to do.

    John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son..."  The modern reader is bound to think that God had an intense LIKE for "the world."  But in fact, God was at war with the world.
    (Romans 5:6–8) For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.  For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die.  But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
    (Romans 5:10) For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.

    "For God so loved the world..." doesn't say God liked us.  It says that God chose to commit Himself to us.  He determined to act on our behalf, in spite of our sin, in spite of our unworthiness,  in spite of our wholesale rebellion against Him.  He decided to commit Himself to the salvation of all who will believe - by giving His own Son as our redeeming sacrifice.

    "...that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Pesky Obsessions

    I finished a jar of peanut butter this morning while packing my wife's lunch.  This was a pretty big jar - 40 oz., down to its last PB&J sandwich worth of peanut butter.

    As I was reaching down into the cavernous depths of the jar through the wide mouth opening, I wondered if I should break out the spatula.  For one thing, I don't like getting peanut butter on the handle of the knife - much less on the back of my hand as I work to scrape out the last smears of peanut butter.  Besides that, the spatula will clean that jar out slick as a whistle.

    Here is where I begin to struggle with my obsessions.  I feel like I must use every last drop of peanut butter out of this big jar.  But I have two more of these jars - brand new and full to the brim with peanut butter - just waiting in the pantry closet.  And I have enough peanut butter on the sandwich already - even by my somewhat obsessive standards it is a nice even layer of brown covering every bit of the two pieces of bread.

    I resolved the issue by deciding that even if the jar was not as empty as a spatula might get it, it was as empty as a table knife could get it.  I threw the (relatively) empty jar in the trash and wiped the peanut butter off the back of my hand with a paper towel.

    This drama was over in five minutes - and it wasn't even an extra five minutes.  It was just the normal five minutes that it takes to make a sandwich for Lola in the morning.  But it made me think about how easy it is to give emotional energy to things that don't really matter.  (Did I throw out one peanut or two?)

    It would be easy to obsess about the fact that I threw out the jar.  Why not recycle it?  And it was a plastic jar - why didn't I buy a glass jar?  And I used a paper towel!  Why not a reusable dishcloth or washcloth?

    Do you see where this is going?  People in our society spend far too much of their energy and attention on things that are of minimal importance - and far too little time focused on things that are of vital importance.

    If I am going to be obsessive, let me obsess about knowing God and His revelation of Himself.  Let me obsess about communicating the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people who have never heard.  Let me obsess about how I can please God, my Savior, and bring Him the glory due to His holy name!
    (1 Corinthians 10:31) ¶ Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    Keeping Track

    So much of life is keeping track of things.

    I just added up my checkbook - keeping track of my balance.  I enter the receipts from various purchases and subtract to see what is left. 

    As I work in my checkbook, I try to keep track of upcoming bills.  What needs to be paid next?  Do I have or will I have money to cover these expenses?

    It is Wednesday morning.  I need to keep track of the week.  Counting today I have four days til Sunday.  I need to keep track of my work.  How is my morning worship sermon progressing?  What about my evening worship study?  What about the Sunday School class I will be covering?  Am I on my way to being ready?

    I need to keep track of my work.  Tonight we have Prayer Meeting and I have the Teen Group.  I need to plan to have everything in readiness - lessons, refreshments, materials, technology - for them tonight.  Tomorrow is also the deadline for getting my draft of the bulletin out to Dottie and Dean.  I need to start that today.

    What about my church members?  I need to keep track of them.  One is having a surgery tomorrow.  I will need to call him tonight and plan to see him at the hospital tomorrow.  That changes the flow of my work.  Today is the monthly adult meeting - the "Keenagers" - I plan to attend, but how long should I stay so I can get everything done?  Others I need to call.  Some I need to text.

    What about my family?  My folks are on their way back to Florida for the Winter.  My wife is at work.  My son is working on finishing his CDL.  My daughter and her family are in Indiana.  I need to keep track of them, pray for them and see what I should do to support, encourage or help them.

    There are various chores and projects that I need to keep track of.  The dog needs a bath and trim.  There is yard work to complete before winter.  There are meals to plan, groceries to buy, technology to install, cleaning to do.  These are shared responsibilities, but I need to keep track of them.

    Above all, I need to keep track of myself.  Am I on track?  Am I staying close to Christ?  Am I in His word?  Am I taking enough time for prayer?  Am I sensitive to my faults and repentant for my sins?  Am I bold to witness for Christ?  Am I true to His will?

    It is easy to lose track of things.  We lose track of the time.  We lose track of projects.  We lose track of people.  Paper piles up - some of it is important and most of it is trash - but I lose track of important things in the pile.

    It is not enough to just live from moment to moment - we must be careful to keep track of what is truly important.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010


    Once again I am decaffeinating myself.  I've done it before.  I knew what to expect.  I took it slowly and now I'm down to just one precious cup of delicious coffee at breakfast.

    There are many potential advantages.
    • I have been reminded of how to spell "decaffeinate."
    • I don't feel jumpy or jittery - very calm and peaceful.
    • My precision pistol shooting has improved - less shaking, I suppose.
    • I have cut back on grocery expenses - three scoops instead of four each morning.

    But it is a DRAG to go through.
    • I LIKE coffee - I REALLY, REALLY like coffee.
    • I've had to endure a few minor headaches as I've "dried out."
    • I am "dragging my wagon" these days - feeling a little bit subdued.
    • The weather is cold and rainy - I sure would like a cup of coffee!
    • Tea (decaffeinated of course) is thin and pale compared to coffee.

    My coffee use (like so many things) sort of sneaked up on me slowly.  I had a cup with Lola at breakfast and another during my devotions.  (Coffee drinkers know that "a cup" is really a mug that holds at least two cups.)  Then I would make a full 12 cup (6 mug) pot of coffee in the morning because our son MIGHT want a cup. 

    But he rarely did - and I would drink the extra - my third.  And - on a summer's afternoon an iced coffee would be good!  That would involve another 16-24 oz. of coffee.  Or if I had a breakfast meeting with someone I would drink coffee at home with Lola AND have coffee at the restaurant.  Or, if it was Sunday, I could get another cup of coffee in the fellowship hall before Sunday School!  Or, if I had a lunch meeting at Panera Bread, I could get good coffee there too.  Things were really hopping - and so was my heart rate, I'm sure.

    Then, a few weeks ago, I went to Dublin, OH for an eye exam.  The doctor dilated my eyes - and I wanted to wait for the effects to wear off before heading home on a sunny day.  So I waited at a nice coffee shop where I drank down three big mugs of strong coffee.  This on top of my normal three mugs of coffee at home.  Way too much.

    That's the week that I decided I needed to get a grip.  And now I am down to one cup of coffee a day - and I'm glad - a little groggy, but glad.  I'll be better off for the change - I'm sure.
    (1 Corinthians 6:12) ¶ All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    Eternal Security & Easy Believism

    Every few months I get a newsletter from the "Grace Evangelical Society."  I always read it and I am almost always repulsed and enraged by its sad excuse for biblical exposition and theology.  But it makes me think!

    In the last GES newsletter, Bob Wilkin held forth on the superiority of his easy believism theology from the perspective that it contributes to a sense of security.  In that system, salvation is an instantaneous transaction in which God is bound by contract to save the person who has believed.  The focus of security is that moment in which the person prays the sinner's prayer.  The question is whether or not the person is, AT THAT MOMENT, believing the necessary truths about their sin and Jesus' work of salvation, and if they are genuinely sincere in that faith AT THAT MOMENT.  According to Wilkin, subsequent developments in the person's life have no bearing on the veracity of the person's profession of salvation or the person's ultimate security in Christ.

    In that last newsletter, Wilkin claimed that preaching about the possibility of "false professions" makes people feel insecure - and is intended to make them insecure - about their salvation.  He celebrated the fact that in his home church everyone feels perfectly confident about his or her eternal destiny.  They believe there is no such thing as a false profession of faith as long as the basic content and the sincerity of the moment are not in question.

    I have a few observations.
    1) It seems to me that even if the "easy believism" system was biblical, you could always second guess yourself about the sincerity of your belief at some past moment.  Besides that, it is clear that in that system people are always wrangling about what truths must be included in saving faith.  For example, do you need to believe in the trinity, the virgin birth, and the resurrection to be saved?  Did you understand all of those things when you "believed?"

    2) The biblical language about believer's faith is invariably about present tense - continuing action - faith.  Unbelievers are urged to believe in the future.  Believers do think about when they "first believed."  But once people believe, they are of the "household of faith" and they are "believers."  The believers are not people who believed once in the past.  The believers are people who started believing at some time in the past and are continuing in that faith today.

    3) The Bible contains many instances where people in the churches are challenged to make sure that they are of the household of faith.  For example: (2 Corinthians 13:5)  Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.  Do you notice that the focus is not upon their previous profession of faith, but on their current faith?

    4) The proper basis for security is not some previous point in life where we came to faith, but the fact that we are - in truth "in the faith" and trusting confidently in God to save us.  When we first came to faith we understood something of the Gospel of Grace and trusted God to save us.  As we have continued in the faith we have learned even more about the Gospel - and we have believed that too.  So the content of our faith continues and grows.

    5) Faith is more than believing doctrinal content.  (James 2:14-26)  Saving faith is a commitment to the truth that shows up in our actions.  To believe that the bungee cords will keep you from falling to your death is not the same as believing in the efficacy of the bungee cords AND throwing yourself off the bridge.  Having saving faith in Jesus Christ (a continuing faith) keeps on showing up in the lives of believers. 
     (1 Thessalonians 1:6–10)  And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe.
    8 For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.
    9 For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God,
    10 and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
     6) A believer's confidence is strengthened by the evidence of his conversion that shows up in his life.  There is the fruit of the Spirit.  There is the love of the brethren.  Contrary to Wilkin's assertions, the teaching of what he calls "Lordship Salvation" brings encouragement to people who are genuinely saved.  They know they are trusting God and they see evidence in their lives that God is at work - conforming them into the image of Christ.
     (1 John 3:18–19)  My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.  And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.
    According to the Bible, faith in Jesus as Savior cannot be separated from the way it works out in the person's life.
    (1 John 5:1–5) Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him.
    2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments.
    3 For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.
    4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
    5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 
    7) The most serious problem I have with Bob Wilkin and the Grace Evangelical Society is that he is giving a sense of security to people who should not be secure.  The fact that someone once prayed the sinner's prayer in deep sincerity will NOT SAVE THEM.  That past event is not what the Bible describes as saving faith. 

    People are being encouraged to be confident in their eternal security because of a past event in spite of the fact that they show no evidence of God's work in their hearts and lives ever since.  This sense of security in their present lives is not going to be of any consolation when they face God.  The persons who are teaching this are doing such people a grave disservice. 

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Being A Grown-Up

    I had this thought as I opened the dishwasher to begin unloading it.

    Children like to pretend that they are grown-ups.  They play house.  But being a grown-up means taking the responsibility and initiative to do the things that need to be done.

    Nobody loves unloading the dishwasher or putting out the trash.  But these things need to be done.  Kids might do such things - but usually under pressure from an adult.  Adults see that things need to be done, and they decide to do them because they accept the responsibilities of adulthood.

    Adults get up in the morning to get to work and do the things that need to be done.  Adults go to their job everyday, even when it is difficult.  Adults take care of business, focus on their work and care for their children.  They plan meals, do grocery shopping, do the laundry, mop the floor and fix the broken window.  Grown-ups live in their budget and make sacrifices.  Grown-ups clean up their own mess - and often the messes of others. Somewhere between infancy and adulthood we transition from everyone else taking care of us to being responsible to take care of ourselves and others.

    To some extent this is a constant struggle against our innate selfishness.  We want to be served rather than to serve.  We want to be entertained rather than to expend mental and physical energy on work.  We want to sleep in.  We want to eat, but we don't want to cook.  If we cook, we don't want to clean up.  If we clean up, we don't want to empty the drainer.

    So we sigh.  But because we are grown-ups we go ahead and take responsibility and do what needs to be done.  Maybe we are pretending a little bit ourselves, but we go ahead and empty the dishwasher - eventually.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    Legislating Morality

    "You can't legislate morality."  I don't know where that saying came from, but it seems to me that it has always been part of my consciousness - and I'm old enough that my consciousness stretches way back to the last ice age.  Well - not quite - but definitely back into the 60's and 70's.

    It seems to me that many people that I agree with on conservative social issues have missed the point.  You cannot legislate morality.

    I am not opposed to having laws against things that I consider immoral.  The purpose of civil government is to provide order (versus anarchy) and to maintain peace for the citizens.
    (Romans 13:3–4) For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.
    4 For he is God’s minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God’s minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. 
    I'm glad that the government sets up the laws by which we all drive on the same side and mostly all follow the same basic rules of the road.  I am glad to see the police cars out on the highway encouraging people to restrain themselves and follow the rules.  Not everyone DOES follow the rules, but many people do - out of fear if for no other reason.

    I am also glad that there are laws against murder and promoting self defense.  It doesn't mean that I am absolutely sure I will not be murdered, but at least the police would investigate if I were murdered - and MAYBE that will restrain my potential murderers.

    I believe that abortion is the murder of an unborn child.  I am in favor of laws that would protect the lives of those millions of children who would otherwise be murdered by their own mothers.  It wouldn't save the lives of every unborn child - not by a long shot - but it would save many.

    So, I am in favor of such laws and I will vote that way - for politicians who could make a difference in the laws and the judges who have so much influence.

    But having said that, I will not use the Church as a tool of the political process to influence the vote.  The political process is the political process.  It certainly has an important place.  But the Church is not a political instrument or a political platform.  The problems of our society are moral problems created by selfishness and immorality in people's hearts.  All the laws in the world cannot change the hearts that are at the root of the problems.  The law has temporary and limited effects in people's lives.  It cannot do anything positive - it only punishes those who do not comply.

    But the Church is all about changing people's hearts.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is applied by the Spirit of God to bring about "new birth" -  a conversion from death to life - from spiritual darkness to spiritual light.  The Church is about changing enemies of God into the people of God.  The Church is about ordering our hearts according to the truth as revealed by God to His people.

    God's work in people's lives - of which the Church is a part - is miraculous and eternal.  It goes way beyond anything that can be accomplished in the arena of politics.

    My point is this.  You can't legislate morality.  When you hijack the Church and divert it from it's life changing mission to use it in the political process - THAT is IMMORAL.  If we win the political battles, but fail to do what we have been commissioned to do - to make disciples for Jesus Christ - then we have sinned against Him.

    Keep your eye on the ball.  You cannot legislate morality.  The only real solution to immorality is to have people become genuine followers of Jesus Christ - and for the followers of Jesus Christ to be instructed in the truth of His Word.
    (Matthew 28:19–20) Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
    20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    The Grace To Shut Up

    (Mark 9:5–6) Then Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; and let us make three tabernacles: one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah”— because he did not know what to say, for they were greatly afraid.
    I have great empathy for Peter in this passage.  He did not know what to say, but felt like he needed to say something... and he is ultimately rebuked by God directly from heaven.

    It is too easy to say the first thing that comes into my mind and end up communicating things that I did not intend.  So far I've never received an audible rebuke from heaven, but I am sure that many times God has disapproved of my outbursts.
    (James 1:19–20) ¶ So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
    I should have kept my mouth closed and my ears open.  I should have kept my temper and my pride in check.  I should have rested my confidence in God and held my peace.  I should have thought through the implications of what I was about to say.  I should have been careful about who I was contradicting and where I was contradicting them.  I should have been more careful with what I thought would be humorous - and realized that someone would not think it was funny, or that it was funny at their expense.  I should have had the grace to shut up.

    As I have matured, I have slowly learned that I don't need to express everything I think.  I don't need to correct every error I encounter - and especially not where it will embarrass the other person.  Sometimes, if I listen for a little while longer or ask a few questions, I will learn that I was mistaken in the first place about what the person was saying.  Other times, I need to have longsuffering & mercy on people who have the same problem I do.  They talk too much.
    (Proverbs 17:28)  Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; When he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive.
    I don't want to be a silent fool.  I want to be a person who is often silent because he is wise.  Lord, give me the grace to shut up.

    Friday, September 17, 2010

    Crime & Punishment

    How can there be justice unless the punishment perfectly fits the crime?

    For example, if a thief steals $2.00 we expect a different punishment than if he steals $20,000.00.  If someone accidentally drops a gun and it shoots a person, that is different than if he deliberately shot the person from ambush.

    But how can justice be served in any of these cases?  To have a thief pay back the money is not justice because there is no punishment.  But how much punishment is appropriate?  The Old Testament standard a required 20% penalty in addition to the restitution.  To cut off the hand of a thief (as is done in some cultures) seems overly severe.  The Old Testament "eye for an eye" standard set a LIMIT on punishment so that the punishment would fit the crime.

    Most people would agree that the punishment SHOULD fit the crime, but how can we agree on what that means in any given circumstance?  The requirements of the law might satisfy a majority of the people, but there will be some who think the punishment is too harsh and some who think the punishment is too lenient. 

    Beyond that, the application of "justice" is not necessarily even.  One murdering rapist gets off on a technicality while another gets the death penalty.  There is plenty of evidence that the skin color or the educational attainment or the socioeconomic standing of the person will affect the outcome of the trial and the punishment imposed by the court.

    What of limits on "cruel and unusual" punishment?  If someone kidnaps, abuses, tortures and kills a child, how could society begin to mete out real justice?  If he was sentenced to death in the USA he would still have 30 years or so to live in prison before his appeals ran out.  Then, if he is put to death, it must be painless.  Is this justice?  Some would say he should be tortured to death, but then how are we not stooping to the same level of brutal barbarism as the criminal?

    How can there be real justice?  It is a cinch that real justice - absolute justice - cannot be achieved in our societies.  Only some criminals are caught.  Of these only some are convicted.  Of these different ones will get different sentences.  In every case the court imposed punishment will be imperfect and limited.

    But there is God and He is just!

    While our understanding and power are limited, God is infinite, all powerful and eternal.  We can only catch some - but God will catch all.  Our courts are flawed, but God's judgment is perfect.  We can only deal with people in this life, but God can deal with them for eternity.

    But consider the rest of the story.  While we are concerned with justice for crimes against other people,  God is also concerned with justice for crimes against Himself.  Our crimes against humans are one aspect of that, but the deeper issue is our responsibility to recognize, submit to and obey the one who created humans.  Since God is infinitely good, our rebellion against Him is even more offensive than the most heinous crime of humans against other humans.
    (Revelation 20:12–15) And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.
    13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works.
    14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
    15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

    God's justice is perfect, and we all deserve the ultimate sentence.  But praise God that He provided a way of answering the demands of justice against our sin while granting mercy and grace to those who call on Him in faith.
    (2 Corinthians 5:21) For He made [Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
     (1 Peter 2:24) who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed. 

    In the work of Jesus Christ we have both justice and mercy.  He paid the just punishment for the sins of everyone who will call on Him for salvation.

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    Obscurity Endures!

    The Frank & Earnest comic from 9/14 shows them sitting on a park bench with a dazed look on their faces.  Frank is speaking.  "Fame is fleeting... but obscurity just drags on and on."

    Ha, ha, ha!  That is exactly right!  I will print that out and post it on my study wall.

    I am sure that I am not the only person in the world who was ever bothered by his obscurity.  Human pride shouts, "Look at ME!"  I am special!  I am talented!  I am strong!  I am smart!  I am special!  We spend our time jumping up and down and shouting (one way or another) hoping that people will notice us and we will rise from obscurity to fame.

    Is there any evidence?

    What about blogging?  Here I am blogging!  Why am I blogging?  Well, I have some ideas to share - things I think could be helpful to thinking people.  Do I care at all if anyone reads my blog?  You know I do - and so do ALL bloggers and tweeters and facebook posters.

    Nobody wants to be obscure!  We want millions of followers!  We want fame and fortune.  We want our own reality show!  We want to win "America's Got Talent!"

    We had better get over it!
    (James 4:6) ¶ But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.”
    Fame and obscurity are relative terms.  If you are consumed with a desire for fame, you will never be satisfied, no matter how famous or infamous you become.  (Consider the incredible, self-destructive, made for the tabloids lives of many famous people.  Too much is never enough!)

    You may feel you are obscure - but you are the most important person in someone's life.  Everyone has a sphere of influence in which they affect people's lives.  A kind word or a smile from you can make someone's day.  Your service to the people you know might be the best thing that happens to them this week.  You are famous in their lives.  You are a blessing to them.

    No, you are not likely to be a household name around the world.  (Be thankful!  Who wants that kind of responsibility?)  I am convinced that 75% of the two dozen hits on my blog each day are just computer robots!  (That explains why they never leave comments.  Sad - just two dozen hits and most are not even real people!)

    Oh, well.  I hope that what I have written is an encouragement to those of you who are real people!  That is the secret - do your best to be helpful to the people in your circle of influence.  Don't worry about the fame that this world has to offer.  As Frank says, "Fame is fleeting..."

    But God knows who you are.
    (2 Timothy 2:19) Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.”

    Monday, September 13, 2010

    Running The Race

    (Hebrews 12:1) Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 
    It seems simple. The Christian's life is like a race.

    But it is not so simple.  It is an endurance race that lasts our lifetime.  It is, by its nature, difficult.  Every step requires effort.  Every moment we decide again to stay the course.  Every day reveals new challenges of rough terrain, narrow paths, confusing options and the temptation to give up.

    But we have encouragement from the Lord.  There is a "cloud of witnesses" who have lived by faith through difficult times and whose testimonies are found in Scripture.  They speak with a united voice to say, "The Lord is faithful and sufficient."

    Our perfect example is Jesus our Savior.
    (Hebrews 12:2–3) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
    3 ¶ For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. 
    Jesus never slipped, never faltered and never despaired.  He never wavered, but always obeyed the Father.  By His obedience Jesus faced down our greatest obstacles - sin and death - so that we don't have too.

    Lay aside every weight. 

    The Lord says, "lay aside every weight."  We need to examine each thing we pick up and see if it is part of the race - or just extra weight.  It is so easy to accumulate things that hinder us in our race - physical stuff, entertainment, people, politics, hobbies, interests, fears, pride, loves, jobs, obsessions, hatreds, resentments, grudges, self-pity, ambition, lies, superstitions - the list is endless. 

    When we allow these things to bog us down we are like a distracted driver - talking on the phone, texting, drinking coffee and applying make-up while traveling 70 miles per hour just ten feet from the car in front of us.  We are a disaster just waiting to happen.  There will be a sudden turn, a flash of brake lights, and we will be off the road!

    Hang up and drive.  Lay aside every weight.  Keep your eyes on Jesus.

    Run with endurance - for the glory of God.
    (Colossians 3:17) And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

    Saturday, September 11, 2010

    Notes On 9/11

    Today is the ninth  anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the USA.  I remember the call from my daughter telling me that a plane had hit the first tower and my naive thoughts about what must be wrong with the air traffic control system to allow such an accident.

    The events of that day were certainly horrible by every measure.

    My heart still goes out to those who so suddenly lost people dear to them.

    Death is a certainty - but we expect it to come after some warning.  We expect aging and illness to announce the approach of death.  We expect there to be time to say good-bye and, "I love you."  I am sorry for those whose lives were so rudely interrupted by the wicked machinations of evil people.

    Lessons Learned:
    1. Remember to cherish your loved ones.
    2. Tell people how much you love them.
    3. Don't take a single day for granted.
    4. Make sure you are ready to face eternity.
    5. Note the stark difference between religions that require people to establish their own righteousness and biblical Christianity, which offers God's righteousness to men through the work of Christ, by God's grace, received by faith.

    Friday, September 10, 2010

    BAPTISTS: Elder Rule or Congregational Government?

    I was with a group of Baptist pastors recently where the question of "elder rule" came up.  Elder rule means that the pastor or pastors make the decisions in the church.  Elder rule is the opposite of congregational rule.  The question that was raised was whether or not this was true to Baptist church polity.

    Nobody argued that most Baptist churches in North America have traditionally held to congregational rule.  On the other hand, everyone in this group knew that over the past 50 years many Baptists in North America have moved away from congregational polity and toward elder rule.  This evolution was not generally a matter of doctrinal conviction, but of pragmatic efficiencies.  It is easier to run a church when you don't have to get the whole church together to make decisions.

    Some pastors said that while congregational rule is the norm in North America, Baptists in other countries and on other continents have other forms of church governance.  Someone suggested that church government probably reflects the civil government.  (I tend to doubt that.  Think about it - dictatorial governments, monarchies, etc.)

    Someone pointed out that even Baptists in North America don't include congregational church government in the "B-A-P-T-I-S-T" acrostic that they use to teach the distinctive teachings of Baptists. (i.e., Biblical authority, Autonomy of the local church, Priesthood of all believers, Two ordinances - believer's baptism & the Lord's supper, Individual soul liberty, Separation of church and state, Two Offices - Pastor & Deacon.) 

    Someone else said that congregational rule was much less important to Baptists than local church autonomy.  I think he was suggesting that autonomous churches allow other autonomous churches to tune their polity to suit themselves.  True enough.

    It is absolutely true that individual autonomous churches will vary in their polity as laid out in their constitution and by-laws.  Constitutions and by-laws are not divinely inspired.  They are there to make sure we do things decently and in order.  Different churches will be slightly different.

    It is impossible for churches to be completely congregational.  For an extreme example, a pastor is granted authority to preach and teach and counsel as he sees fit.  He doesn't need to have a vote of the church on every decision he makes.  Similarly, pastor's and deacons and other church leaders are granted some degree of authority for taking care of the business of the church.  Usually they can spend a limited amount of money for the church and make certain business decisions for the church without consulting the congregation.

    The degree of delegated authority will vary greatly from church to church.  I have no problem with that.  But I have a big problem - a theological problem - with moving completely to full fledged ELDER RULE.

    My concerns are centered under the "P" in the BAPTIST acrostic - the Priesthood of all believers.  We believe that all believers are on equal footing in Christ.  All believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit.  All believers have access to the word of God and the illumination of the Spirit of God.  All believers have access to God in prayer.  All believers have the same Mediator - Jesus Christ.
    (1 Peter 2:9)But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
    (Colossians 3:11) where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all.
    (Galatians 3:28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
    (Romans 12:1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. (Note: "reasonable service of religious ministry.")
    (1 Timothy 2:5) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus,
    The point is that there is no Christian leadership class that is somehow more spiritual or has better access to God than another class of believers.  Some believers are less mature.  Some believers are disobedient.  But all believers are on the same ground - disciples of Jesus Christ.  Congregational church government is an expression of this truth.

    I have no problem with a Baptist church having multiple pastors, calling the multiple pastors "elders," or delegating various authority to the elders & deacons to achieve some pragmatic efficiencies in ministry - AS LONG AS THEY DON'T FORGET THAT THE CONGREGATION OWNS THE AUTHORITY DELEGATED TO THEM.

    But when pastors and deacons and church boards operate as if they were self perpetuating leaders with a divine right to rule they are neglecting some important aspects of doctrine that Baptists have traditionally held dear.  Beyond that, they are in jeopardy of falling afoul of the caution given by Peter.
    (1 Peter 5:2–3) Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly;  NOR AS BEING LORDS OVER THOSE ENTRUSTED TO YOU, but being examples to the flock;