Monday, June 28, 2010

Computer Bibles

I have been using computer Bibles for many years now. A good computer Bible provides all kinds of resources for Bible study. The ability to search for certain words or phrases has made concordances all but obsolete. Along with the computer Bible (including original language and multiplied translations) I have various coordinated computerized aids including commentaries, lexicons, maps, parallels, etc.

A good computerized Bible speeds up Bible study and broadens Bible study. I can search the Bible instantly and consult various commentaries and resources in a fraction of the time it would take to get down the various volumes from my study shelves.

But I think there are dangers in the computer Bible.

For one thing, the computer Bible makes it so easy to find a passage based on few remembered words that I am tempted to give less effort to remembering the references. Why memorize what I can easily look up? Because it is I who needs to know the Bible, not the computer. For preaching and teaching and personal conversations I need to know the references and the verses so I can retrieve them at the speed of thought without even turning on the computer.

For another thing, the Bible has a certain geography that can become unfamiliar when you use a computer Bible too much and a paper Bible too little. When you are leafing through a paper Bible you move from front to back, from beginning to end, from top to bottom. As you look at the open book before you, you see more than just the verses you are looking for. You see the surrounding verses and paragraphs and may be reminded of contextual elements that might not have become apparent in your use of the computer Bible. It is possible to do a word search and see the results a long list of single verses, each of which contain that word. Such lists can be misleading and weaken our understanding of the scriptures. Even when you are looking at a passage of scripture on your computer, you are limited to a window with a few verses at a time. But I can't see the whole page or two pages at a time to discern the "geography" at a glance.

Finally, I think that paper Bibles have more gravitas than computer Bibles when used in interpersonal settings. I have some powerful computer Bibles on my smart-phone. They are great for studying when I am away from home - or have something to look up quickly. But when I am studying the Bible with someone, I think it is more powerful to show them the book. They don't need instructions on how to use it. They know what the book is - and are not suspicious that I've just pulled these verses out of thin air.

I am in favor of computer Bibles. They are a great tool and a blessing. But watch out for the temptation to become lazy and let the computer do all the work. We should work hard to know the Bible through and through - from cover to cover - every page should be familiar to us.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Evangelism Paradigm

I had an interesting sales call from AT&T today. The lady on the other end of the line wanted to sell the church yellow-pages advertising, both in the "big book" and on the internet. She had tremendous statistics about how many people in my area have searched on the yellow-pages site for churches, baptist churches, spiritual guidance, etc.

I told her I was not interested. I do not want to move money from the church's bank account to AT&T's bank account in an effort to move people from some other Baptist church to this Baptist church.

For one thing, a simple Google search of "Baptist churches canton ohio" instantly yields over 49,000 hits. In spite of the fact that our church's name begins with "W" we are the third church listed. Go figure. I am not convinced that someone who is "looking for us" on the internet will have any problem finding us.

But my objection goes much deeper than that. Advertising ourselves as a "Bible Believing, Bible Preaching Baptist Church" (or something along those lines) is not going to attract the people we want to find. The paradigm is wrong from the start! The only people who would care about those descriptors - or others like them - are people like us. And people like us are already going to church somewhere else.

Too many of the churches around here depend almost entirely on putting down other churches in their efforts to attract new people (or keep their current people.) They cite everything from Bible versions to music styles as reasons you should attend their church instead of the church you are currently attending. (Why are there so many churches around? Mainly because there are so many people - ignorant about the Bible, theology and church history - who think they have discovered some new secret to Christian orthodoxy. They must, of course, start a splinter group and that group grows up around that factor until someone in their group splinters off with some other "new" thing.)

I am not interested in advertising to people who already believe like we do. Evangelism is not about luring sheep from other sheepfolds to ours. Evangelism is about reaching new people with the Gospel of Grace, seeing them converted by the power of God, then discipling them through preaching and teaching and the life of the church.

I would rather have five people added to the church by biblical evangelism, than to have five hundred people who are think of themselves as "consumers" and who are shopping for the perfect church. Such people will soon be unhappy here (we are not perfect by any measure) and they will move on to greener pastures.
(1 Corinthians 1:18–24) ¶ For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”
20 ¶ Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Jesus Tells The Truth

(John 8:31–32) ¶ Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Notice that Jesus was speaking to people who professed to believe in Him. Do you find it interesting that this statement by Jesus made them mad? Soon they are accusing Jesus of being born of fornication (v.41,) and of being a demon possessed Samaritan (v.48.) Jesus goes on to say that in spite of their profession of belief in Him, they are unbelievers who are seeking to kill him, that they are still in slavery to sin and that they are of their father, the Devil.

Jesus would not have made it onto Oprah. His message was too confrontational. He was too careless with people's self-esteem.

Jesus would not be invited onto the platform of many modern churches that claim to be Christian - much less the stages of many made for T.V. churches. Why? Because His message is too exclusionary and negative. Making people mad will result in low ratings and declining attendance. Offerings will certainly drop off.

Too many churches are happy to clean people up a little bit and help them feel good about themselves, while carefully shielding them from the truth. Churches today will help people manage their money, lose weight, overcome their addictions, do good things and enjoy an upbeat celebration they call worship. Unfortunately, those same people - more financially secure, lighter weight, clean from addictions and feeling good - are STILL going to die and go to hell unless they come to the TRUTH.

We are willing to lie to people to make them feel better. We let people think that they will be o.k. when they die as long as they are superficially religious in this life. As long as they profess faith - and pray a certain prayer. As long as they are "spiritual" (whatever that means.) As long as they go to church somewhere. As long as they beat back their addictions - more or less. As long as they do some good works like work in the soup kitchen or habitat for humanity or a foreign missions trip. Then they must be o.k.

In truth they can do all of these things and still perish and go to hell. In fact, doing all of these things is probably anesthetizing them to their very real danger. In this regard being superficially religious is worse for people than if they were completely down and out.

What we need is the approach that Jesus took. It is the proclamation of the truth. We need to tell people that they are sinners who deserve to go to hell. We need to tell them that they are lost in their trespasses and sins. We need to point out that there is no comfort for them in any of the best things that they have ever done or will ever do. We need to reveal to them that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness. We need to tell them that sincerity and "spirituality" are worthless without the truth. We need to urge them to humble themselves before God - to acknowledge their wretchedness - and to cling to God's one and only provision for salvation - the Lord Jesus Christ.

They don't need to be cleaned up... they need to be converted, born again, made alive from the dead. That is something that is really beyond their ability - but it comes to people such as them through the proclamation of the truth of the Gospel. It will never come through the modern lies that pacify people in the things that they CAN do themselves.
(John 8:31–32) ¶ Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Bible People Read

Some people are very concerned that people use only one Bible translation and no other translations.

Admittedly, some translations are better than others in communicating the word of God to us. Some translations follow the text very literally. Other versions are really paraphrases, that is, someone's version of what the Bible says in his/her own words.

Most translations fall somewhere in the middle, attempts to bring the meaning of the original language into the idiom of the English speakers.

What interests me today is that no matter how wonderfully exact a Bible translation is, it is of no value at all if people don't read it, understand it and apply it to their lives.

We have the original language version of the Bible available to us. (They are readily available - I even have them on my phone.) You cannot get more exact than these - the very words of God that the translations are trying to communicate. But unless you can read New Testament Greek, Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic, these will not do you any good.

If you think the KJV is the best translation around - that's fine. But if its 17th century English prevents you from reading it - or hinders your understanding of it - it doesn't do you any good.

In general I don't like paraphrases like "The Message." But I would rather have someone reading a paraphrase that they understand and applying biblical truths to his or her life than to have someone keep a very good literal translation on the top of their refrigerator all week.

People are unfortunately more eager to fight over which Bible they think is best than they are eager to deal with the truth that is in the Bible. It is not the Bible you have in your house that matters - it is the Bible that is in your heart.
(John 8:31–32) ¶ Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.
32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

On Praying

(2 Corinthians 12:10) ...For when I am weak, then I am strong.

As a pastor I am expected to be more or less articulate - particularly in the pulpit or when teaching a class or giving counsel. It is important that I be able to communicate clearly.

It seems to me, however, that in my private prayer life this is turned upside down. When I am most intense in prayer - when I am most desperate for God's intervention - at those points I am most inarticulate. I get to the point where the best I can do is to say, "O Lord, HELP!"

If anyone ever reads my prayer journals, I am sure they will be unimpressed by what is written down. But the most significant parts of my prayer life are where the page goes blank, the ink is blotted, the paper is stained and salty.

Praise God that He doesn't require articulate speeches in prayer - or good grammar. He knows our hearts. He wants us to throw ourselves on Him.
(Romans 8:26–27) ¶ Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Work & Rest

(Mark 4:26–29) And He said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed on the ground,
27 and should sleep by night and rise by day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he himself does not know how.
28 For the earth yields crops by itself: first the blade, then the head, after that the full grain in the head.
29 But when the grain ripens, immediately he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

At the 2010 T4G meeting John MacArthur spoke on the theology of sleep from this passage.

We work in the daytime - planting the seed of the gospel. We sleep at night. Whether by night or by day the seed sprouts and grows. - We do not know how.

This is comforting in that we can sleep peacefully when we have completed our daily work. Staying awake is not going to help. We cannot make the seed sprout or grow. We can only wait.

There is a time to work and a time to rest. The real struggle is to do the work we should do in the time to work. There are many things to distract us. In this information age we could spend all day everyday reading news and articles and blogs and never plant even one seed of the gospel. I am sure that we all spend too much time on entertainment - T.V., Internet, Radio, Newspaper, Magazines, Mobile Phones, etc. (These are a bottomless pit.)

So - during the day we should be studiously working on planting seeds of the gospel. Planning human interaction - conversation - messages - hospitality - meetings - whatever we can that will plant seeds of the gospel. We should labor over that - at work, at home, at school - everywhere - every waking hour.

But then, we take comfort in the fact that it is God who makes the seed sprout and grow. We can take our rest, confident that God can make it grow and God will make it grow.

We keep on planting - everyday. We keep an eye on the fields - watching to see the sprouts. (I love that point where the fields have their first faint blush of green!)
(1 Corinthians 3:7) So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.

I don't need to worry and fret - but I do need to plant the seed and water it. Why would there be a sparse harvest? The only reason is a sparse planting. God will not fail in His part.
(2 Corinthians 9:6) ¶ But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.

Work and rest. Day by day. God will give the increase and the time will come for harvest.
(Galatians 6:9) And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Excitement On Rainy Days

It has been a rainy day all day today. But even rainy days can be exciting.

The first excitement was when my grandchildren (aged almost 3 and almost 5) were watching our miniature poodle, Tiny, take his morning constitutional in the back yard. It had just started to rain and suddenly there was a flash. (I actually turned to see if my daughter was taking a picture!) Then BOOM! The thunder rolled, the children squealed and the dog ran back to the house.

The next excitement was that on a rainy Wednesday morning a young couple brought their three young daughters (ages 7, 6, and 4) to church. They had misread the sign. We don't have services on Wednesday mornings. The four year old was especially disappointed. She was ready for CHURCH! But we gave them the tour, showed them the auditorium and the classrooms where the kids would have Sunday School and Junior Church. They looked at the bright Vacation Bible School decorations and got excited about that. It was a rainy day, but their visit was a bright spot.

The final excitement was when I went over to the parsonage for some coffee this afternoon. At that point it was raining hard. I went out on the back porch and realized my downspout was clogged (again.) A waterfall was spilling from the gutter next to the porch with a roar like Niagara Falls. So I got my rain coat and my ladder and climbed up in the rain to open the gutter. I was amazed at the large volume of water that continued to flow down the spout for several minutes after I cleared the plug. (I was already wet - so I might as well stay there and observe for a few minutes.) I was comforted to see that the plug was due to the big seed pods of the silver maples - the trees that were taken down two weeks ago. Perhaps we will be spared from future floods of this sort.

Is that all of our excitement for the day? I don't know. But I know that God is in my life. He will provide everything I need. Everything that comes will ultimately accomplish His good purposes.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Faith & The Gospel

(Romans 1:16–17) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.
17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

After my last post I received the Grace Evangelical Society mailing from Robert Wilkin & Zane Hodges and was stirred up even more about this topic.

According to these men repentance from sin is not a required part of saving faith. (Peter and Paul should have been more clear about this in Acts 2:38 and 26:20.) According to Wilkin and Hodges, a person who at anytime in their lives has made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ is eternally saved even if he subsequently turns back from that profession, denies Christ, disavows even a belief in God and lives out the rest of his days in immorality and blasphemy.

Wilkin and Hodges are at the extreme edge of Arminian theology. They have just released a two volume commentary on the New Testament to explain away the many difficult (to them) passages that seem to require perseverance and sanctification in genuinely saved people. The twist is that where historic Arminianism suggested you could lose your salvation by apostasy, these men say you cannot ever lose your salvation - no matter what you do.

They see faith as a human work that binds God in an unbreakable contract with an individual to assure his or her eternal salvation. From their perspective, salvation is an instantaneous onetime event that depends on the autonomous individual's belief being correct at that moment. Consequently, they may argue about the content of that faith at that moment but they cannot conceive of false professions of faith where that content and the person's sincerity are in place.

In biblical fact, however, salvation is not dependent on the autonomous individual but on the sovereign God. Salvation is truly by Grace - not of works - not even the "work" of having the right content of faith. Salvation is a new birth (John 3) - it involves a baby but is not brought about by the baby. Salvation is a new creation (2Cor. 5:17) - the new worlds exist, but they didn't bring themselves into existence.

What should we do? Preach the word of God and pray for the salvation of the lost!
(Romans 10:17) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

How much of the Gospel do people need to be saved? We don't know exactly - it's a God thing. They are saved when God opens their blinded eyes to the light of the Gospel (2Cor. 4:3-6). They are saved when God raises them from their spiritual death and makes them spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1-10). The are saved when they are born again "who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:13)

Some are saved with a very little information about the gospel. Some are saved with advanced theological degrees. Some are saved as small children. Some are saved in their old age. Some people with developmental disabilities are saved. Some people with massive intellect are saved.

But all of the saved people have faith in Jesus Christ.
(John 5:24) “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.
(John 11:25–26) Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.
26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

Wilkin and Hodges are fond of these verses, but they are not exact in their interpretation of them. In these cases (and many like them) the word translated "believe" is a present tense participle in the Greek. The Greek present tense is used to indicate a continuing action - rather than a one time act. John 11:25-26 could correctly be translated as, "he who is believing in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and is believing in Me shall never die." But Wilkin and Hodges treat these as if they said, "he who once believed in me..."

Truly saved people come to faith and they keep on believing. They believe what they start with, and they keep on believing as they learn more. They believe when it is easy and they believe when it is hard. They start out by faith and they end up in faith. Their salvation is secure - not because God is bound by contract to save them, but because their salvation is God's sovereign work. The evidence of that work in them is their continuing perseverance in believing.

What about those who walk away from their past tense faith? The scripture says that "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us." (1 John 2:19)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I heard a well known preacher on the radio today who boasted that he has been identified as one who preaches "Easy Believism." According to him, this is a badge of honor since there is no such thing as "Hard Believism." According to him, eternal life is a certainty to everyone who simply believes that he is a sinner and that Jesus Christ can save him from the penalty of his sins.

According to this famous preacher, to suggest that you must also believe that Jesus is Lord or God or must make any commitment to follow Jesus in obedience, is to make the gospel dependent on works rather than faith. According to this preacher, to suggest that people who evidence no change from their previous sinful behaviors might not really be saved is to preach a salvation of works, rather than of faith.

I am certainly not famous, nor have I attained the honors this man has attained, but he is definitely wrong about this. It is not difficult to demonstrate his errors from the Scriptures.

1) Salvation is certainly by God's grace and not through human works.
(Ephesians 2:8–9) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.
2) Grace means "free" and God's grace is contrary to human works that would merit salvation for the worker.
(Romans 11:6) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
3) Faith is believing and is not at all contrary to works. In fact, the only sure evidence of genuine faith is ACTION that is consistent with the content of what you profess to believe.
(James 2:14) What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?
(James 2:17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
(James 2:26) For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
Is there a "Hard Believism?" Consider the words of Jesus.
(Matthew 7:13–14) “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and DIFFICULT is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus warned people to "count the cost" of following Him.
(Luke 14:26–28) “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—
What about the rich young ruler who came to Jesus for eternal life, but went away sorrowfully because Jesus said he needed to get rid of all of his riches and come follow Jesus? (Matthew 19:16-22) Presumably he believed in Jesus' ability to save him, but evidently he was unwilling to pay the price that would have signaled saving faith in Christ. What was Jesus' evaluation of the situation? Hard Believism!
(Matthew 19:23) ¶ Then Jesus said to His disciples, “Assuredly, I say to you that it is HARD for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Apostle John makes it clear that a profession of faith in Jesus is a lie if there is no evidence in the life of the person.
(1 John 1:6) If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

The person who has saving faith also has a changed life. The two go together.
(1 John 3:3–6) And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him.

So what about "Easy Believism?"
It is true that salvation is a free gift of God's grace. All of the work of salvation was accomplished by Jesus Christ in His sacrificial death on the cross. He has atoned for our sins and He provides us with His righteousness. The gift comes to us free - apart from any merit. We don't deserve it. We could never earn it. We will always be unworthy of it.

The preachers of Easy Believism are sincere in their desire to keep the gospel pure, but they are making a fatal mistake. Easy believism makes "faith" into the one work that brings salvation. They then agonize over what must be included in (or excluded from) the content of that "faith."

As we preach the gospel, we urge people to believe and be saved. But what do we mean by "believe?" We had better mean EVERYTHING the Bible means.

When we are urging people to believe we are urging dead people to be alive.

Salvation is not by works - not even the supposed work of believing. Instead, believing is what happens when a person is regenerated by God. One moment they are dead in treaspasses and sins - the next moment they are spiritually alive and believing in Christ. What does that include? Repenting from sin! Trusting in Jesus! Taking up your cross! Following Jesus! Turning to God! Turning From Idols! Calling on Jesus!
(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.