Monday, December 30, 2013

Looking To The Future

Psalm 37:1 (ESV) Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers!

It can be hard to follow the advice of Psalm 37. We have a decided tendency to worry; and there is plenty to worry about as we enter 2014. It seems that the evildoers have all the advantages. The news media seem to be on the side of evil. The government seems to be on the side of evil.

Perspective helps. The modern situation is not as unique as it seems. In Isaiah's time there were those who called evil 'good' and who called good 'evil' (Isa 5:20). Amos experienced the same thing (Amos 5:7). In the time of Jesus, evil men, like Herod and Pilate, were ruling the country, while good men, like John and Jesus, were abused and executed.

If such a time is upon us again, we will do well to consider our response in light of Psalm 37.

Fretful anger is not the solution, it tends only toward more evil (verse 8). We should rather direct our eyes to the Lord; we should take delight in him (verse 4). Persistence in worship, rather than persistence in argumentation, is more likely to lead to deliverance (cf. Psalm 73: 16-17). It is those who will be quiet before the Lord (verse 7), those who are meek and delight in peace who will triumph (verse 11).

We do not have to right all the wrongs. We cannot win all the battles. We must learn to delight ourselves in the peace of God. We must honor the blameless and await the future with confident expectation.

Psalm 37:37-38 (ESV) Mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace. 38But transgressors shall be altogether destroyed; the future of the wicked shall be cut off.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

What Is Missiology?

I am glad you asked. Many people see missiology as a matter of social science. They think of missiology as applying the tools of anthropology, sociology and a few other ologies to the study of the efforts of missionaries. I understand why they think that way, but I do not agree. Missiologists study all of the ologies mentioned above (as well as theology, communication, and education). But missiology is not first and foremost about our efforts. It is, or ought to be, first and foremost about God.

Missions did not start with Roland Allen nor with William Carey. Missions did not even start with Barnabas and Paul. The first missionary was God himself. He went to the garden in the cool of the day. Why do you think he went? Do you think that he did not know what Adam and Eve had done? Of course he knew. He knew what they had done and he knew that they would hide from him. But he went anyway.

His mission, throughout the pages of the Bible, has been to reconcile fallen humanity to himself. It has been a long mission effort. It has been an extremely costly effort. But he has not given up.

Has he sometimes used means and methods that seem harsh to us? Yes, of course he has. He has also endured a degree of rejection and of suffering that we cannot fathom.

He knew that he would face rejection in the garden but he went. He knew what he would find at Babel, but he went. He knew how Israel would treat him, but he went to Egypt and saved them. He knew that Bethlehem led to Calvary, but he went to Bethlehem.

It is not your mission or my mission. It is not, fundamentally, the church's mission. The mission in which the church, and every member of the church, must be involved is first and foremost God's mission. As Georg Vicedom has said, "...the Bible in its totality ascribes only one intention to God: to save mankind.... Every task of the church makes sense and has a purpose only as it leads to the mission."

Monday, December 23, 2013

Phil Robertson and the Future of Religious Freedom

I have never been a fan of Duck Dynasty. In the first place, I do not watch television, except for an occasional sporting event. I do not have cable and only saw the show once, when stranded in a Louisville hotel room. Secondly, I had an unpleasant run-in with one of Phil's sons some years ago (before they were famous) and so I am not inclined to get excited about watching their weekly antics. But injustice is still injustice.

Phil was asked a question, gave his honest opinion and lost his job for it. That is not supposed to happen in America.

His comments may or may not have been well worded. I, for one, have yet to see a full transcript of the interview, so how is it that so many people are able to judge him in this matter? Even if he did sound somewhat harsh in what he said, what verbal perfection do we expect of a man with his background? Even a Harvard educated president has occasional difficulties expressing himself. Even if one disagrees with Phil's viewpoint, can America not cut the man some slack for his blunt backwoods style? Is not bluntness supposed to be a part of his persona? If Miley Cyrus has a right to be bluntly vulgar (as so many of Phil's critics claim), then surely Phil has a right to be blunt when speaking up for traditional values.

Somewhere I saw a series of comments on this event that ran something like this. First speaker, "A&E has taken away Phil's freedom of speech!" Second speaker, "He was allowed to say what he thinks, but he has to be willing to suffer the consequences. A&E has freedom too. They exercised their freedom in firing him."

Well I wonder about those two, I especially wonder about the second one. Would Mr. Two (as I will call him) have reacted the same way if the shoe were on the other foot? If an actor were fired by some other network because he spoke in favor of homosexuality, would Mr. Two have said, "The network has a right to fire those with whom they do not agree?" I think we all know the answer. A lawsuit would have been filed before sunset, and Mr. Two would have been calling for blood.

The playing field is not level in this country or anywhere in the Western world. Christian employers dare not fire employees for their lack of sexual morals. But anti-Christian employers are allowed to fire their Christian employees for even the mildest hint that they will stand by their convictions.

It is not completely a matter of religion versus anti-religion. Some religious sentiments can be expressed, depending on what religion one espouses. I know of two incidences recently where Muslim cricket players refused to wear the team uniform, because a symbol on the uniform advertised a beer company. These Muslim players were allowed to modify their uniforms (and I applaud them for taking this stand). But does anyone seriously believe that such tolerance would have been shown to an evangelical Christian who made the same objection?

It is a sad point we have reached. We have fallen far from the ideals of our constitution and the Christian commitment of our founding fathers.

But remember, we have not exceeded the depth of degradation reached in the days of Herod and Pilate. Yes, we Christians face an unfair hostile world. But, if we remember the dishonesty, the cruelty, the hostility faced by the early Christians, we will not lose hope.

By means of patience in the face of persecution and persistence in speaking the truth, they overcame a hostile world. If we really believe in God's grace and power, we will not be disheartened by this event. Disappointed we certainly are, but not disheartened.
I close with three statements by Jesus. I hope they will be of comfort to Phil Robertson, and to all who want the freedom to speak the truth.

Matthew 5:11-12 (ESV) "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
John 15:20 (ESV) Remember the word that I said to you: 'A servant is not greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.
John 14:27 (ESV) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Firm or Flimsy, Which Will We Be?

Isaiah 7:9 (ESV) “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

To fully enjoy life, we must live by faith. The person who half-believes will live an entirely unsatisfying life. Ahaz, the king to whom Isaiah addressed the words cited above, was a person dithering between several opinions. On the one hand, he wanted to be known as a person who trusted the LORD. On the other hand, he attempted to control his own destiny by trying to balance the various political forces of the day. He also worshipped other gods, even burning his own son in sacrifice to a pagan god (2 Kings 16:2-4).

Isaiah is telling Ahaz that such an approach is not workable. As Jesus would say later, “no one can serve two masters” (Mt 6:24). As Isaiah says here, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”

This advice to Ahaz is suitable for us as well. Do we really trust the Lord? Do we really do things his way? Or are we attempting to live by multiple standards? Are we attempting to pledge allegiance to more than one master? We blame the stress and uncertainty of our lives on circumstances beyond our control, but much of the frustration we face is self-inflicted. Because we are not firm in faith, we are not firm at all. Because we are not fully committed to the Lord, we find ourselves pulled in several different directions. Like the people of Joshua’s day (Jos 24:14-15), like the people of Elijah’s day (1 Kg 18:21), like the people of Isaiah’s day, like the followers of Jesus, we need to make our choice and live by it. Half-measures will not succeed. Lukewarm commitment will not be blessed.

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Three Tenses of Salvation

Salvation, some have said, has three tenses. The past tense of salvation, sometimes called justification, is that moment when we came into Christ and were thereby delivered from the penalty of sin. But that hardly completes salvation. The present tense of salvation, sanctification, is the ongoing process of being delivered from the power of sin. The future tense of salvation, glorification, is that still future moment at which we will be delivered from sin's presence.

It is sad to see how many Christians have never learned to view salvation this way. They rejoice to have been delivered from the penalty of sin, but they seem to have no desire to be delivered from the power or presence of sin.

It is perhaps even sadder to see how many Christians who do desire to be delivered from the power and presence of sin seem to expect that this deliverance will be their own doing. How is it that we, so powerless to avoid sin's penalty, so dependent on God for justification, imagine that sanctification or glorification will be by our effort?

It is by his grace, not by our works, that we were initially saved (Eph 2:8). It is by his grace, not our imagined goodness, that our sanctification will move forward (1 Thess 5:23). It will be by his power, not ours, that sin will be forever banished from his presence and ours.

Certainly we are called upon to actively embrace justification, sanctification and glorification. But there is a difference between actively embracing a gift and trying to produce something for oneself. We cannot sanctify ourselves any more than we can justify ourselves. Our whole salvation - justification, sanctification, and glorification - is a gift of God we are called on to embrace. No portion of it is a product of our own skill or effort.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Where We Work, Where We Live

When I was a child, we lived in Painesville, but my father worked in Cleveland. There is nothing unusual about that. A lot of people live in one town but work in another. Since we are all used to that concept, maybe we can use it to illustrate something far more important.

Jesus prayed, "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one" (John 17:15). Our Lord's desire is not that we have nothing to do with the world. His desire is that we be in the world but not of the world, as the old saying goes. His desire is that we see the world as our area of service, the place where we work. But while working in this world we are not to live in the world. Just as my father worked in Cleveland while living in Painesville, so we are to work in this world while having our citizenship, our home, in heaven (Philip 3:20).

Sometimes we get this nearly backward.

All too often we live in the world, conform to worldly standards, pander to our fleshly desires. We become very much of the world, so much so that we offer no fresh alternative to those who observe us. We look like, talk like, act like, are like the world in nearly every way. We do not see the world as the place where we work, but as the place where we live. We are not in the world to make a difference. Rather than transforming the world, the world is transforming us, conforming us to its standards. The world is where we live, not where we work.

Our citizenship is in heaven. We have been placed here to do a job. We are to glorify God on this fallen planet and to call those around us back to the task of living to God's glory. Have we instead decided to make this earth our home? Have we chosen to live here rather than to work here?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Loveliness Of Christ

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) was a Scottish preacher who suffered much at the hands of King Charles II. By order of the King, Rutherford was confined to Aberdeen and forbidden to preach. Unable to visit his friends, Rutherford instead wrote letters to them, letters which are still in print to this day. In 1909 a collection of extracts from the letters of Samuel Rutherford was published under the title The Loveliness Of Christ. The first three extracts from that collection are printed below.

"The Great Master Gardener, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in a wonderful providence, with his own hand, planted me here, where by his grace, in this part of his vineyard, I grow; and here I will abide till the great Master of the vineyard think fit to transplant me.

"If your Lord call you to suffering, be not dismayed; there shall be a new allowance of the King for you when ye come to it. One of the softest pillows Christ hath is laid under his witnesses' head, though often they must set down their bare feet among thorns.

"God hath called you to Christ's side, and the wind is now in Christ's face in this land; and seeing ye are with him, ye cannot expect ... the sunny side of the brae."

Once again in our generation we find that the wind is in Christ's face. If we are by His side we cannot but have it our faces as well.

Christ did promise that his "yoke was easy and his burden was light" (Mt 11:30). That is, he would not burden us needlessly, but rather would ease our spiritual burdens.
But while Christ does not burden us, that does not mean that there will be no burdens. If we are with Christ, Satan will oppose us (1 Peter 5:8). Jesus was opposed by enemies and, at times, even by misguided friends (Mk 3:22-35). We must expect the same (Mt 10:24-25; Jn 15:20).

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Observations On Returning Home

It has been some time since I have posted to this blog. I have been travelling in East and Southern Africa. This first post since returning reflects on returning home.

Ever since I made my first trip to Africa, in 1985, I have had a similar reaction upon arriving back in the United States. Part of the problem is that my first taste of America is normally in one of our high pressure cities. The first trip I reentered at New York. Since then it has often been Chicago. This last trip I noted some improvement, but there is room for plenty more.

We had a serious ticket problem at Matsapha International Airport in Swaziland, but everyone remained calm and friendly throughout. When it was all over, we were all friends.

In Johannesburg there was more difficulty. All flights were delayed by a serious thunder storm. While I would not say that I made new friends, people were calm and untroubled by the difficulty.

In Zurich things are run more efficiently than in Swaziland or South Africa, but they are run efficiently without anyone getting upset or appearing rushed. The mood in the airport is calm. One rarely feels crowded (until on the plane).
Reaching Chicago there was an instant contrast. Everyone was in a hurry. The trains, in contrast with the trains in Zurich, start with a jerk. The security officers, while more friendly than in the past, still seem troubled and on edge. The same could be said for the vendors and ticket agents.

Why mention this? What is the spiritual application?

It just seems that Christians may have a greater opportunity for pre-evangelism here than in many other places. With everyone else living so frantically, calmness of spirit will stand out. It makes a difference when Christians calmly and quietly go about their daily tasks (1 Thess 4:11-12). If we can learn to remain calm, even in the midst of difficulties, it will cause others to ask the reason for this calm hope (1 Peter 3:12-15).

Lemonade is made of lemons. Evangelistic opportunities may often be made by consciously living in contrast with the frantic pace all around us. In Africa, living calmly helps one fit in. In America, living calmly will make us stand out. And as we stand out we can help others find the peace that passes understanding.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Value of Education

Last week the Sylvania Schools mailed their annual report. As in past years, the cost per child in this district is $10,000 per year. That is a lot of money. But we keep reelecting the same people to the school board and approving levies. People in this country seem to value secular schooling.

This week someone forwarded to me a report from Focus on the Family about children leaving the faith. The statistics, while not encouraging, are not nearly as bad as some would lead you to think.

The statistics show that the overwhelming majority of those who leave the church never really had a faith to lose. The majority of the young adults leaving the church come from homes where going to worship once per week was a habit, but there was little in the way of commitment to Christ on a daily basis. Where the Bible was not studied at home, where Bible school opportunities were neglected, where commitment to participating in the total work of the church was lacking, the likelihood of leaving the church was high. Some dedicated Christian parents lose their kids, of course. But 89% of the loss comes from homes where the parents are lukewarm in their participation.

Many years ago a brother and sister asked me to talk to their teenage son. The son was being led astray by the teaching of a well known cult, and the parents wanted me to set him straight. I did not succeed and I am not surprised. That family would come in at the last minute for worship on Sunday morning. That was the only time they were to be seen at the church building. They never came to class, rarely participated in any service activity, and I am quite certain that they never studied the Bible at home.

Frankly, we have our values all messed up. We pay $10,000 per year to train people how to earn mammon and by-pass opportunities to feed on the bread of life. With values like that, no wonder churches are struggling, no wonder this country is broke.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Save By Grace, Saved To Serve

And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?' 40And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' Matthew 25:38-40
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. James 1:27

Salvation is by grace through faith. It is impossible for us to save ourselves. We must be saved by God's grace, not by our own works. Of ourselves, we are spiritually dead and cannot possibly save ourselves (Eph 2:1-9).

But why are we saved? For what purpose are we saved?

We are saved that we might praise God's glorious grace (Eph 1:3-14; Eph 2:10; 1 Peter 4:10-11). We cause God to be praised by means of good deeds (Matt 5:16). We are not saved by our deeds; but if we fail to do such things as Jesus would do, we show that we have not really been born again. If our actions are not in line with those of Jesus, we are failing to show the family resemblance, and one cannot help but question the reality of our conversion.

We may disagree at times about the best way to serve, the best way to evangelize, or the best way to care for widows and orphans. But I hope that we will never question that these things must be done. Such loving actions are fundamental to Christ-like living. Without them we have missed the point of being in Christ; we have missed the purpose for which we were saved.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Personal Salvation or God's Glory

Romans 9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.

This is a passage that amazes most Christians. As far as most Christians are concerned, THE reason for being a Christian is personal salvation. So how can Paul say that he would be willing to be lost for the sake of saving others?

The goal of personal salvation is nearly always prominent in conversion, and there is nothing wrong with that (Acts 2:37-40). But Paul has reached a point, and every Christian should reach a point, where the glory of God is more important to them than their own salvation. Paul being lost would not cause his nation to be saved, but if it were possible, and if their being saved would honor God more than Paul's personal salvation, then Paul is willing to be lost for the sake of this greater good. Of course, Paul wants to be saved, and expects to be saved, but his personal salvation is not the most important thing to him.

It does not disturb me that a newborn baby is self-focused. For the sake of survival a baby must be. There is nothing a newborn can do to serve others. But when a child of eight or ten is still fully self-focused, I get concerned. When a teenager is still fully self-focused, it is alarming. When an adult is self-focused, it is depressing.

It does not disturb me that a new convert is focused on personal salvation. But it alarms me when I meet Christians who ought to have grown beyond that point who are still totally preoccupied with their own salvation. It alarms me because they ought to have enough confidence in Christ that they would not be doubting their salvation; and because they ought to have grown to the point of being more focused on helping others and glorifying God.

Yes, we want to be saved; that is appropriate. But it is not all about us, it is about the glory of God (Isa 43:21; Phil 1:10-11; 1 Peter 2:9; 4:1-11).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013


While repairing the roof we had a major leak. To fix our parking area we have had to remove the old pavement. So often in life we have to suffer a worse situation in order to reach an improved situation.

If we had been unwilling to risk a major leak while repairing the roof, the alternative would have been to suffer on with a lot of small leaks indefinitely. If we were unwilling to tear up the pavement, we would have been forced to tolerate a steadily worsening situation in our parking lot.

Things are not very different in the spiritual realm. To obtain eternal life, we must sacrifice the worldly life. To please God, we risk the displeasing the world.

As anyone who has remodeled a house will tell you, things have to get worse to get better. The result may be well worth it, but remodeling is a messy, at times even a painful, business. Many people need to remodel their lives, but they are not willing to endure the messy and painful part.

There are preachers who will tell you that the Christian life is easy, that God wants you to be comfortable and untroubled. I am not one of those preachers. More importantly, Jesus is not one of those preachers.

Is the Christian life worth the effort? Definitely. Is the Christian life the only life really worth living? Undoubtedly. Is the Christian life often difficulty, messy, painful, challenging? Absolutely.

And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels." Luke 9:23-26

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Every Deed Makes A Difference

The proverbial rhyme has been around a long time. It is often associated with the defeat of Richard III at the battle of Bosworth Field (1485), but it may, in fact, be older than that. The point is still valid whenever the rhyme was written.
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a nail.

Another illustration of the same principle comes from World War II. In October of 1942 the miner's union in Britain was threatening a strike. A strike by the miners at that stage would have given Hitler and Tojo control of the world. Winston Churchill met with representatives of the miners and said, regarding the war effort, "We shall not fail, and then some day, when children ask, 'What did you do to win this inheritance for us, and to make our name so respected among men?' one will say: 'I was a fighter pilot'; another will say: 'I was in the Submarine Service'; another: 'I marched with the Eighth Army'; a fourth will say: 'None of you could have lived without the convoys and the Merchant Seamen'; and you in your turn will say, with equal pride and with equal right: 'We cut the coal.'"

The same is true in the work of the church worldwide and locally. Not all jobs are equally noticed, but all jobs are important. Do your part. See your tasks as part of the bigger picture. Seek a role in the work. Be faithful to your task.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Where He Is, His Servants Will Be

Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. John 12:25-26

Jesus says, "Where I am, there will my servant be also." Then just a few verses later he tells them where he is headed. When he says, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" he is speaking of his death on the cross (John 12:32-33). Jesus is headed to the cross and saying that those who claim to be his servants must follow him and be where he is.

What did we think we were signing up for when we came to Christ? The Christian life has great rewards. The Christian life is the only life really worth having; but no one said that it would be easy.

"Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:12-13).
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)
"They [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (Acts 14:21-22)

If the Bible is true, the preachers of health and wealth, the preachers of the prosperity gospel, are liars. The crown is real, the crown is worth it, but the cross is real as well. If we wish to be known as his servants, we must daily bear the cross of duty and of persecution (Lk 9:23).

Thank God, we have the Spirit's help to bear it; but bear it we must. Let us be ready.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Blood of Martyrs

In reading the news this morning, I thought of Tertullian. He was a Christian preacher from a fairly early stage of Christian history. Tertullian lived from about 160 to 225. I thought of him when I read the news today because the news this week has been full of indications that open persecution of Christians is quickly becoming the norm in our society. We might be helped in facing persecution now if we knew more about how Christians faced it in the past.

Tertullian is credited with having said, "The first reaction to truth is hatred." That is true. That fits with what Jesus said in passages like John 15:18-20. Sometimes people can be brought to see the truth, but their first reaction is almost always hatred.

Historically, Christians expected to be opposed. Christians expected to be hated. Christians expected that many would violently reject the gospel. It has only been in recent times that we have imagined that we could somehow sugarcoat the truth making palatable to the worldly. Anything made pleasing to the worldly is no longer the truth, for the world always has, and always will, hate the truth (John 3:19).

The current trend of our government is toward open persecution. Obviously, that will concern us, but should it alarm us? We have prayed that the kingdom might grow. Tertullian's generation found that nothing spread the faith better than persecution faithfully endured. His most famous quote is "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."

I do not like the prospect of persecution any more than you, but I acknowledge that it might be just what we need. For separating the true believers from the lukewarm, for spreading the true faith instead of our culturally compromised religion, there really may be no alternative to open persecution. It appears to be coming, whether we like it or not, so we might as well embrace it for all it is worth.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Ordinary Guy

And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. Isaiah 22:22

All too often our thinking seems to be something like this, "If the Lord had called me to some great task, I would have done it. But he has not called me, so I will do nothing. He is not working in my life, at least not like he did in the lives of the great ones of long ago."

Really? Please give your attention to the verse cited above. Of whom is this verse speaking? Who is it that will receive the key of the house of David? Who is it of whom it is said, "He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open"?

Those words may later be applied metaphorically to Jesus (Rev 3:7), but they are spoken of an ordinary guy, a servant employed by Hezekiah a man named Eliakim (Isa 22:20-22). If Eliakim had claimed this authority for himself, that would have been arrogance. But he did not claim it. God spoke and it was so. The authority of God's servant does not rest within the servant but within the fact that the servant is doing God's will.

We face an impossible task. We face a world that has lost its mind. We face a world that calls evil good and good evil. We face a world that refuses to listen. We face nothing new (Isa 5:20; Jer 13:10).

We do not have the power to overcome this world, but we do have the power to obey God. We do not have the ability to force the world to listen, but we do have the ability to speak God's word. We cannot control the outcome, but we can do our job.
And who knows, perhaps the Lord will choose to work in us as he worked in Eliakim. Perhaps some door we open will remain open, or some door we close will remain closed.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Quality Materials

Those who build large structures know that they must concern themselves with the quality of the materials they use. The Empire State Building, for example, has stood the test of time because it was carefully designed, skillfully constructed, and because quality materials were used. No matter how well designed a building may be, the materials must be quality materials. If one uses cement, beams, and blocks of inferior quality, even a building with truly superior design will fail.

We make a mistake when we think that we can improve our society by changing society's structures. Some of the structures certainly need improvement, but there is an even greater need to give attention to the basic building blocks of society. The best system of checks and balances in government is of little use if the people serving in government are dishonest. The best designed schools will not provide a superior education if large numbers of the staff are morally lacking. The finest of city planners cannot design a city that will be a pleasant and prosperous place if the families living in that city are lazy, dishonest, or cruel.

We like to blame our problems on the actions of big government or big business. But government and business have become what they are because of the people that run these enterprises. And these people failed to learn proper morals not because of the failings of big government or big business but because of the breakdown of basic teaching that should have begun at home, and that should have been reinforced by the church and the community.

It is impossible to build a superior society with inferior materials. Individual people are the materials. They are fashioned by means of proper homes, churches, and local communities -- or they are not fashioned at all. Unless we learn to devote more time to the proper raising of children -- primarily by means of the institutions God authorized for this purpose (the home and the church) -- the future will be bleak no matter how much we tinker with the structures.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Overcoming Spiritual Paralysis

Through most of human history people were only aware of local events. After the invention of the printing press, newspapers made us aware of national and international events, but in a non-immediate manner. Even the invention of television did not immediately give us the ability to take visual trips to refugee camps around the world. That came only with the invention of lightweight cameras and the connection of the whole world via satellites.

What have we gained by being made instantly aware of disasters around the world?

Crisis giving is up. Humanitarian organizations raise tremendous amounts of money in the weeks following a major disaster. Lots of help is given to remove the rubble. Then the donors tend to move on to the next disaster, often leaving the victims of the earlier disaster to rebuild as best they can.

At some point, as we are made aware of more and more of the world's problems, some people just give up, withdraw into their own lives, and ignore others. The attitude becomes, "I cannot do it all, I cannot even think about it all, so I just won't." Consequently, involvement in local service organizations, like local churches for instance, is down. People go to worship, but not as many volunteer to help in the work as in the past. Many factors contribute to this, but one is certainly this feeling of being overwhelmed by so many needs.

My advice is simple. Pick a couple of projects and stick with them, devote yourself to them. Indeed, you cannot do it all. But you could do something. In the words of Ina Ogdan, "Do not wait until some deed of greatness you may do, Do not wait to shed your light afar, To the many duties ever near you now be true, Brighten the corner where you are. Here for all your talent you may surely find a need, Here reflect the bright and Morning Star; Even from your humble hand the Bread of Life may feed, Brighten the corner where you are."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Strangers Who Meet Once Per Week

Someone has described the modern American family as strangers who happen to have the same last name and the same address. In many cases that description is not far from wrong. Families spend too little time together and know far too little about one another. Cain's question, "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gen 4:9) is answered with a resounding "No" by most people today. Most also add, "And my brother better not try to be my keeper, either."

Something similar has happened in the church. Biblically speaking, the men we call elders are also called overseers and shepherds. But in modern church practice, the idea of these men actually protecting, feeding, and caring for church members, the way a shepherd cares for his flock, is forgotten. I have often heard it said that most church elders are unwilling to do these things. My experience is that most church members are unwilling to allow enough access to their lives so that the elders (or anyone else) could serve them in these ways.

A Christian who takes seriously the idea of the church as the family of God would never make a major life changing decision without asking other Christians to join him in prayer. Yet it happens all the time. Many Christians make all the major decisions of life without seeking the prayers of fellow Christians. Some work hard to keep their affairs secret. How can we be the family of God with people acting like that?

Of course you cannot trust everyone in the church. Some might gossip about you if you told them of the situations you face. Not everything that needs to be confessed, not everything that warrants a prayer request, ought to go in the bulletin. Immature Christians are not helped by knowing everything, nor are they able to help. But there are mature members. The church has elders, who are supposed to keep watch over the members (Heb 13:17). But if members choose to keep their real life secret God's plan breaks down.

We are not to be strangers who meet once per week. We are to be "members one of another" (Eph 4:25). That may not be the way the world looks at the church, but it is how God designed the church.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

That Settles It!

Perhaps you have seen the bumper stickers that read, "God said it. I believe it. That settles it." Those who post such stickers may mean well, but that sticker is not really accurate. The fact is, if God says it, it does not matter if you or I or the Supreme Court or anyone agrees. If God said it, the matter is settled.

God has spoken on the matter of homosexual marriage. There is no such thing. There never has been. There never will be. Those who engage in such perverted activities, and those who support them, will answer to God for their sin. That is not my idea. God said so, and that settles it.

And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:22-24, ESV

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. Romans 1:21-27, ESV

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Willingness and Joy

Then the people rejoiced because they had given willingly, for with a whole heart they had offered freely to the Lord. David the king also rejoiced greatly. 1 Chron. 29:9 (ESV)

There is a close association between willingness and joy. Those things we choose to do, we enjoy doing. Those things we feel forced to do, we do not enjoy. That may be part of why other people tell us how helpful and hard working our children are, while we may not find them to be so at home. At home, they feel compelled and resist. When with others they may be serving willingly and actually end up enjoying themselves.

In the text cited above, the people have just given a large sum of money toward the building of the Temple. And they are happy to have done so. Contrast that in your mind to the attitude most of us take toward paying our taxes. When we are able to give of our own free will toward helping the needy it is a cause of joy. But when we are forced to give toward programs that supposedly help the needy, we feel that we have been cheated. That given willingly leads to joy. That which we are compelled to give leads to resentment.

The church forces no one to give. There is no external compulsion used to raise your contribution of time or of money. We want to you know the joy of willingness. The only compulsion you should feel is the inner compulsion felt by those who know what the Lord has done for them, and who wish to honor his gift by giving.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 2 Cor. 8:9 (ESV)

Each one must give as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Cor. 9:7 (ESV)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Getting Something Out Of It

I have heard it dozens of times - the claim that divorce statistics are just as bad for Christians as for the world. Does that claim smell a little fishy? It turns out that it is all in how you define "Christian".

If you define "Christian" as anyone who claims to be a part of a church, it may well be that the divorce rate is even higher than it is in the world. Nominal members (those who attend sporadically and are not active in the work of the church) are actually 20% more likely to divorce than the national average. But if you narrow the definition, including only those who attend worship regularly and are active in a conservative church, it turns out that "Christians" are 35% less likely to divorce than the national average.

What it seems to boil down to is this. Claiming to be a Christian while not living like one does not help and may even make matters worse. Walking the walk seems to make things better. It seems that we have to put some effort into the faith if we expect to get anything out of it.

What a novel idea!

You can check out the full story on the divorce rate among Christians at Or maybe you would prefer checking out these thoughts:

"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 7:21, ESV

"For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them." 2 Peter 2:21, ESV

"If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Luke 9:23-24, ESV

"So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth." Rev. 3:16, ESV

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Until fairly recently a reading knowledge of German and French was required to receive a Ph.D.. It did not matter what one's area of study might be, most universities required these two languages. The intent of the requirement was long forgotten. Many students complained that it was nothing more than an extra hurdle set up by those who already held doctorates to keep others from obtaining them. Perhaps they were correct.

Sadly, many people look at the things the Lord requires in the same way. They do not consider that the Lord must have some good purpose in what he commands us. The general assumption seems to be that his requirements are just extra hurdles to keep heaven from becoming overcrowded.

The Pharisees assumed this with regard to the Sabbath law. They looked upon this law as a legalistic requirement that one must meet. They ignored the explanation of the intent of this law (Dt. 5:12-15). They thought that God delighted in putting burdens on us. They did not see him as a God who loves us, seeks our good and is trying to keep us from overburdening ourselves (Mark 2:23-3:6).

I am concerned that we have not advanced that much over the Pharisees. It seems that many today still think of the Lord in the same terms that the Pharisees saw him. Many seem to believe that God's commands are designed to take the fun out of life.

The commands of God should be a joy, a delight to his people (cf. Neh 1:11; Psalm 1:2; 37:4; 43:4; 112:1; 119:16,24,35,47,70,143; Isa 58:13). They only become burdensome when we forget his gracious intent.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

In Jesus' Name

In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. John 16:26-27 (ESV)

To ask in the name of Jesus is not to use the name of Jesus as a magic word; it is not an attempt to manipulate God by verbally bringing Jesus into a prayer that is not really molded to the mind of Jesus. When we address our prayers to God "in Jesus' name" we should be doing two things.

First, we should be acknowledging the fact that we have, within ourselves, no basis on which to approach God. We are sinners. Our heavenly Father is holy. Sinners have no claim upon his goodness. We pray "in Jesus name" because, apart from the intervention of Jesus, we have no means of approaching God.

Praying in Jesus name should also be an indication that we are truly making an effort to bring our lives in line with the teachings of Jesus. When Jesus tells the disciples to ask in his name (John 16:26), he goes on to indicate that the Father will receive their requests "because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God". The person who uses the words "in Jesus name" but who does not truly believe in Jesus or love him is making a mockery of prayer. If we are not seeking to be one in heart and mind with Jesus, then we have no right to pray in his name. The proof of our claim to believe in him and love him is in our actions. As Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments" (John 14:15). The willfully disobedient have no right to pray in Jesus' name.

While the exact phraseology is not critical, every prayer should be addressed to the Father on the basis of Jesus mediation, not on the basis of our own goodness. And, while acknowledging that we are sinful and in need of that mediation, we should also be striving to bring our will and our lives into conformity to his will. Otherwise, that phrase "in Jesus name" becomes sacrilege instead of true worship.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Regular Exercise

"...for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come." 1 Tim. 4:8 (ESV)

I am trying a new exercise program. It is actually pretty similar to my old program. I used to walk every morning. Then, for a year or so I did not do anything and I really got out of shape. When I started trying to exercise, I used the equipment that I have in the basement. Some days I managed twenty minutes, other days only ten. Some days I did not do anything at all. Now I am back to walking, but now I am trying to walk twice a day (morning and evening).

The real key, I suspect, is consistency. How I exercise is not as important as how often I exercise. If I really will walk twice per day, that will be better for me than more vigorous exercise at odd intervals once in a while. Although walking is not a perfect form of bodily training, it will do a significant amount of good if it is engaged in regularly over a long period of time.

The same is true with regard to training in godliness.

The most important factor is our regularity in holding the things of God before our minds. Frequent reflection on God's word, frequent interaction with the Lord' people, frequent attempts to do his will, are of more value than sporadic efforts. Although our worship services and Bible classes are imperfect, they do a lot of good IF THEY ARE ATTENDED FAITHFULLY OVER A LONG PERIOD OF TIME. If combined with daily prayer and scripture reading, and a consistent Christian walk, these things can make a huge difference to our spiritual health.

But none of this happens overnight. If you expect to go jogging today and feel better tomorrow, you will be disappointed. But regular training, especially spiritual training, carried out over time will not disappoint in this life or in the life to come.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Will You Love Him In December?

Jimmy Walker was mayor of New York (1926-1932). He was not much of a city administrator. Other than the corruption scandal that ended his time as mayor, Walker is best known for a song he wrote, "Will You Love Me In December As You Loved Me In May?" That song asks a great question.

Many of us love yard work in May. How do we feel about it come August? Many people love their mate in the spring of life when everything is rosy, but have a different attitude as the seasons of life change. Many people seek the Lord when it is pleasant to do so, but are nowhere to be found when there is any difficulty to be faced.

Faithfulness in marriage means that we are there for our mate "for better or for worse, in sickness as in health." Faithfulness at work means doing the job rain or shine, even in the snow. Faithfulness in Christ means confessing our faith in him "in season and out of season." It means bearing reproach with him, standing with him when the world is against him. (2 Tim 4:2; Lk 6:22; Jn 15:18; Heb 13:13)

Those who call themselves "friends" when things are going well, but then turn away when things are difficult, are known as "fair weather friends". Fair weather friends are of less than no value. Fair weather marriages end in divorce. Fair weather gardeners never reap much of a crop. Fair weather Christians are not Christians at all, and they certainly will never reap the benefits of Christianity.

Will you love the Lord in December as you claim to love him in May? I cannot answer for you. The elders cannot answer for you. Only two people know -- you and the Lord.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In the Wilderness

Matthew 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness? What was accomplished by this? What is God's goal when he allows us a time in the wilderness?

We are told that Jesus, as our high priest, is able to sympathize with us because he was "in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb 4:15). One of the ways we are tempted is by loneliness. Most of us have faced, or will face, times in our lives when we feel alone. We may be in a crowded room, but we feel alone, we feel as if no one understands us, no one shares our concerns. Such loneliness is a temptation that Jesus knew throughout his life. But perhaps it was so that we would know that Jesus understood loneliness that he went into the wilderness.

Most of us have faced, or will face, times when it seems that our efforts are in vain, that our lives are barren. This sense of barrenness also Jesus knew throughout his life. We call him a great teacher, but how well did people really understand him? Even the twelve who followed him most closely often misunderstood him. It would have been easy for Jesus to feel that his ministry was barren of results. Time in the wilderness, looking on that barren landscape, was an appropriate way to begin a ministry that would lead not to thousands of converts but to rejection and a cross.

If you feel that you are in the wilderness, if you feel that your efforts are in vain, if you feel lonely in your walk with God, remember that Jesus also passed through the wilderness. Having done so, he understands. And because he understands, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence, expecting to find mercy and grace to help in our time of need (Heb 4:16).

Tuesday, May 7, 2013


 Thomas Oden begins his book Classic Christianity with an unusual promise. He writes, "The only promise I intend to make, however inadequately carried out, is that of unoriginality. I plan to present nothing new or original in these pages." A little later he adds, "I am dedicated to unoriginality. My aim is to present classical Christian teaching of God on its own terms, undiluted by modern posturing."

I have not read far in his book, so I cannot say how well he sticks to his promise. I will say, however, that his promise is a step in the right direction. Our generation is far too enamored with "new and improved." We need to learn more respect to "tried and true."

For Oden, the definition of classic Christianity may be a little too broad. He reads the Bible only through the lens of writers that came after the Bible. That makes no sense. While I will accept light cast on the Bible from any source, it is the Bible itself that reveals the will of God. Other sources may illuminate the text, but there is always a danger that they may be obscuring rather than illuminating (Mt 15:8-9; Mk 7:9).

It is impossible to preach an original Christian sermon. If it is original, it is not Christian. If it is Christian, it is not original. Anything that is Christian is getting close to being two-thousand years old.

While we might occasionally find new ways to express old truths, often we find that what we thought was a new way has actually been said pretty much the same way at some earlier date.

Let's quit worrying about novelty or originality and concentrate on truth.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. Galatians 1:8

Thus says the Lord: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.'
Jeremiah 6:16

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

"You Are The Christ"

Matthew 16:16 Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
All too often, I fear, we can repeat the words but do not have a good grasp of the meaning. What did it mean to Peter when he confessed "you are the Christ"?

The term Christos occurs about 85 times in the Greek Old Testament. We do not notice it when we read the Old Testament because in the Old Testament the translators translate the term, whereas in the New Testament they transliterate it. Basically, whenever we read the word "anointed" in the Old Testament, it is the equivalent of reading "Christ" in the New Testament.

When Peter confessed Jesus as the Christos, he was identifying Jesus with the Old Testament figure who fulfilled the functions of priest and king, a figure who was always to be respected and always to be obeyed. Those who opposed the Christos would suffer for it (Psalm 2). In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter who emphasized the greatness of Jesus by saying, "Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified" (Acts 2:36). Lord is a strong word, indicating that we must obey, but Christ is an even stronger one.

Before our baptism, when we made the confession "I believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of the Living God", we were committing ourselves to live in absolute obedience to the teachings of Jesus. When we were lowered into the water it was symbolic of death to ourselves, of burial of our old life. When we were raised up out of the water it was symbolic of our rising to live a new life -- not a life for ourselves but for him (Rom 6:1-4; Gal 2:20).

Let us strive to be more true to our confession.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Footstompers or Classics of Hymnology

My brother never became rich. Maybe it is a good thing. He liked the "footstompers", the hymns of the 1930s and 1940s with jazzy tunes. He used to say that, when he was rich, he would buy the copyright to Great Songs of the Church, all the copies he could find, and then destroy them. He wanted to rid the earth of the classic hymns in that book (he was, of course, joking).

I am confident that the New Testament church used no footstompers, and nothing like the classical tunes of Bach, Handel, or Haydn. Their tunes were likely very simple. Their songs probably would seem monotone chants to us.

So long as the music is not so complex that it distracts our attention from the words, I sing all kinds of music. Some of my favorite hymns are set to classical music, some to African music, a few are footstompers. I rarely get to lead singing. Looking back at the last two times I led, I find that the dates of the songs I chose were as follows -- 1995, 2001, 1980, 1825, 1976, 1752 (but led to an unwritten African tune), 1958, 1250, unknown, 1862, 1966.

One of the most popular songs among college students these days is "And Can It Be." That song was written in 1739. When we lived in Indiana we used to take song requests pretty often. The couple who most often requested recent songs was Harry and Opal Dill. They were both in their 80s.

We are blessed with several song leaders in the congregation I serve. They do not all know the same songs. On a given Sunday we may have a prevalence of songs from one era. But over time, as we use different song leaders, a wide variety of songs will be used. The only songs we should not use are those with unscriptural messages and those so difficult that we cannot manage them without distracting from the message.

Within the congregation I serve, I do not hear complaints about the date of the songs we sing; but I do hear such complaints from people in other churches. That is sad. What matters is the message. If the songs we sing have a good scriptural message, and are set to a tune we can sing without distracting from that message, that is all that matters.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

We Take The Easy Parts

Someone has said that the government has ruined our economy because for years they have taken easy sounding parts out of two contradictory theories of government and combined them. That may not be a perfect explanation of our economic mess, but it sounds like a very good explanation of the spiritual, emotional, and moral mess we are in.

Christianity (I mean biblical Christianity, not the artificial modern substitute) calls on us to die to our old life, to die to sin and to live by new standards (Rom 6:1-6, for example). We do not change our ways in order to gain salvation, we change our ways out of thankfulness for salvation already gained (Eph 2:8-10), BUT WE DO CHANGE OUR WAYS. That is the teaching of scripture.

We like part of that teaching. The part about how we are saved not by what we do but by what Christ did sounds good. We like that. We will keep that. But we do not like the part about how, in thankfulness for his great mercy, we must allow him to transform our lives. That sounds hard. We ignore that part. We call ourselves Christians because we cling to a part of Christianity, salvation by grace. But we reject another part of Christianity, the call to live a new life.

Flour is a fundamental ingredient in cake, but flour does not a cake make. God's grace is the fundamental of Christianity. His gracious love is what creates not only our salvation but even the possibility of our loving him in return. Christianity begins with God's grace and ends in God's glory. He, not we, is fundamental to Christianity. But we are supposed to respond in submission. Our lives are supposed to change. We do not create the change, but neither are we to resist the transformation he intends for our lives.

Do we really embrace God's grace? Do we really believe that he, in the person of Jesus, died for us? Does that belief demonstrate itself in a transformed life? Or are we just taking a part of Christianity and calling that part the whole?

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Lesson Of Uganda

The only country in Africa that has ever significantly reduced its level of HIV infection is Uganda. In the 1990s Uganda's HIV/AIDS rates dropped dramatically. How did they do this?

I was in Zambia when the program to reduce AIDS in Uganda was begun. I remember the statement released by the president of Uganda vividly. He said, "Uganda has an AIDS problem because it has a morality problem." With those words he began an HIV/AIDS program stressing faithfulness and monogamy. It worked. Uganda's rate of infection fell dramatically from that time until recently.

In 2002 the promoters of condoms were again allowed into Uganda. The predictable result has been that Uganda's rate of infection is once again climbing. Today it is not much different than anywhere else in Sub-Saharan Africa. The gains made between 1990 and 2001 have largely been wiped out.

Everybody wants a way to eat cake without gaining weight, but it does not work. Everybody wants a way to engage in immorality without suffering the consequences, but it does not exist. Even if one is fortunate enough to escape the physical results of sin, the spiritual and emotional devastation remains.

These days, everybody says that immorality is OK, everybody except the only one who matters. God still says it is sin and it is therefore still sin -- no matter what anyone says. It is often deadly to the body. It is always deadly to the soul.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 1 Thes. 4:3

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Cor. 6:9-10

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Cor. 6:18-20

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Won Or Lost Before It Begins

Jimmy Allen was one of the most successful evangelists of the 20th century. He held gospel meetings all over the country. Tens of thousands responded at these meetings. Thousands were baptized.

Toward the close of his autobiography, Fire In My Bones, Brother Allen comments that the success or failure of the meetings was decided before he ever appeared in town. Some of his meetings were a disappointment. In some cities the preliminary work was not done -- arrangements were not made, people were not invited, and the meeting was unproductive. In other places, the work was prayerfully organized and enthusiastically carried out. In those places the meetings were productive. The success of Brother Allen's campaigns depended on the work of ordinary members.

The same is true today.

The growth or stagnation of the church is always in the hands of the members. I have known churches that grew while receiving mediocre preaching, and churches that were stagnant while receiving very good preaching. The churches that grew while receiving so-so preaching did so because the people loved the Lord so much that they made the best of what they had. The churches that stagnated under good preaching did so because people came to worship unenthused and tended not to invite others as they should have.

How healthy is the church where you worship? What might you do to make things better? Do you pray for the work? Are you involved in the work? Do you invite others to participate in the work and worship of the church?

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Uses Of Biography

Bruno Bettelheim wrote a lengthy book on the "uses of enchantment". I just want to say a few words about the uses of biography.

The importance of biography is clearly emphasized in the book of Hebrews. The climax comes in chapters 11 and 12. The "great cloud of witnesses" should inspire us to steadfastness. But long before he reaches chapter 12 he is referring to various good, and bad, examples to help us see how we should live. The Apostle Paul does something similar in passages like 1 Corinthians 10 and in shorter references like 1 Corinthians 16:15-18.

Rules can be hard to remember; laws may be hard to apply; but principles which we learn from examples we usually learn thoroughly. That goes a long way toward explaining what is wrong with our world. Our approach to teaching good morals is to sit the children down and give them a lecture. When the lecture ends they plop down in front of the TV and are taught (by example rather than by lecture) to live contrary to morals given in the lecture. Many of the books they have to read are nothing like the books we had to read as children. In some cases even books that have titles similar to the titles we read as children are now used to promote evil rather than good.

Good biography teaches good morals. That is one use of biography. But there is another use that may be equally important.

Good biography inspires us to keep trying, even when our effort seems to be in vain. On my recent vacation I read two biographies (of John Calvin and of Jack P. Lewis). I found that both of these men, who I thought to have been so successful, often felt that they had failed. They struggled. They made serious errors. Their work often seemed in vain. I needed that lesson, and I suspect that others might need it as well.

The best biographies are in the Bible, of course. Several Old Testament books contain significant amounts of biographical material. The New Testament is roughly half biographical (Matt-Acts). But if you want something additional check with a good Christian bookstore.

Friday, March 8, 2013

A Comment Does Not Make You Visible

Occasionally I get a comment posted to this blog that is not really a comment on the blog but an attempt by an old friend to get in touch with me. That can be frustrating, because making a comment here does not make you visible to me. I am told that you made a comment, but I am not given your e-mail address or any information about you. That is a nice protection for those who want to comment on the blog, but who might not want me to send them a message in reply. But it is not so nice when and old friend writes and assumes that I now have a way to connect with them.

So, comment away, you have nothing to fear.

Forgive me, old friends who have tried to connect with me through this blog, but I have no way to reply to your message (except the very public means of replying through this blog). I do not get your contact information when you send in a comment.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Who Bears The Responsiblity For Children?

by Brad Harrub, reprinted by permission of Focus Press

"Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one's youth." (Psalm 127:3-4)

In this five-verse Psalm, Solomon puts forth God's perspective on children and shows the value we should place on them. God entrusts families with children so that the parents may raise those children unto Him, warriors prepared for spiritual battle. So, it should follow that Christian parents put a high value on the minds and souls of their children.

So, when President Obama introduced his plan to expand preschool enrollment last week, it should have caused us to at least perk our ears up a little to pay attention to what's going on. Not only does the government want to have preschool access for all four year olds, they want to have the ability to influence children "from birth." The temptation will be there for parents to take advantage of it, as it provides ease and less stress. However, God gives children to their parents, not the government. The government will not teach His commands to your children "in your house, when they walk by the way, when they lie down, and when they rise up" - nor should that be expected of them.

We must make sure that our view of the family is in line with God's and not the government's. It's not just about preschool, it's about a battle for hearts and minds that we must win if there is to be a next generation of faithfulness in America.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Oscar Pistorious & Andrew Partington

You have heard about Oscar Pistorious. Have you also heard about Andrew Partington? Mr. Partington cut two gas pipes in the rented house he occupied. He let the property fill with gas and then lit a cigarette. The result was a massive explosion which obliterated his house and the neighboring houses. The body of a toddler, Jamie Heaton, was found under the rubble of one of those houses.

What do Oscar Pistorious and Andrew Partington have in common, besides that fact that they both violently ended the life of another human being? Both were living with a woman to whom they were not married.

I know, I know, the world claims that has nothing to do with anything. The world claims that there is nothing unhealthy or sinful about unmarried people living together. The world claims that there is no problem with sexual immorality in just about any form. The world is wrong.

The sexually immoral are more likely to develop a number of health problems (including serious problems like cancer and AIDS). They are much more likely to suffer violence toward themselves or their children. So why is sexual immorality treated as a neutral personal choice?

Sexual immorality, in all of its various forms, dishonors God, is spiritually destructive, and is physically unsafe. If you do not want to end up like Reeva Steenkamp, do not shack up. If you do not want more children to end up like Jamie Heaton, then be willing to denounce those who defy God's commands regarding sex outside of marriage.

Our government claims to have a right to forbid activities that are unhealthy, yet they encourage forms of immorality which they know to be terribly unhealthy.

Christians ought, at the very least, to speak out against such sins.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

A Strange Decision

According to a review article in the Concordia Theological Quarterly, Zondervan Publishing Company has made a strange decision. Zondervan holds the copyright for the New International Version, which has been the biggest seller among English Bibles for the past two decades. Last year Zondervan (owned by News Corp. -- Rupert Murdock) decided to bring out a "gender inclusive" revision of the NIV. More recently they decided that they will no longer respond to requests for permission to use the older version of the NIV (the one many of you probably use).

This means that authors who want to quote the NIV in published works will not be allowed to do so. I am told that this also means that it will be illegal for churches to quote the NIV in their church bulletins or to project words from the NIV on the screen. I do not understand how that can be the law, but that is what the author of the CTQ article claims, and he might know the law better than I do.

This is surely a strange decision. Here is a company that owns the copyright to the best selling Bible, but they are refusing to sell it. Instead they have substituted a less accurate revision of their best-selling version and removed the bestseller from the market.

As Michael Medved said of Hollywood, "Money explains most of what happens, but not everything." Some people are so eager to push their agenda that they are willing to lose money to push it.

If you use an NIV printed before last year, you better take good care of it. What is being sold now, and marked NIV, is actually different.

I do not say that it would be impossible for someone to get to heaven reading the new revision of the NIV, but I do question why this is happening and where it is headed. When businessmen begin to make decisions like this, we seem to be up against a level of evil we have not experienced for several generations.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Always Straining Forward

H. Leo Boles has been quoted as saying to his fellow preachers, "I read the Bible through every year. I read 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus every month." Brother Boles' point was that men doing the work of an evangelist need to be constantly reminded of the nature of their task. Brother Boles was one of the most respected preachers of his generation, yet he knew that he needed to constantly review the basics.

When a king took office in Israel, he was supposed to make his own copy of the Mosaic law, and to review that law all the days of his life (Deut 17:18-19). Most of Israel's kings were too proud to do this, and it showed in the way they ruled.

The championship is not normally won by the team with the best athletes but by the team that practiced the fundamentals most diligently.

I have been preaching for forty years; but I still read a book on how to preach every year. Rarely do I learn anything completely new. More often I am reminded of something that I was in danger of forgetting.

I cannot understand those who have given up on learning, who are satisfied with the level of service they have achieved. I want to be constantly improving and somehow I think that every person for whom Christ died should have this same goal.

Raymond Kelcy used to tell of a famous artist who was asked, "Of all your famous works which do you feel is your best." The artist replied, "The next one." Might we all have the attitude that we want to be constantly improving in our efforts to glorify God.

Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, ... (Philip. 3:13-15)

Cease to hear instruction, my son, and you will stray from the words of knowledge. (Proverbs 19:27)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Am I A Sinner Too?

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them." Galatians 3:10

We are all sinners (Rom 3:23). Those of us who live respectable lives in the eyes of the world are still sinners. Those of us who attend church services, pay our taxes, and help others are still sinners.

One of the ways we tend to sin is in the area of self-reliance. All too often, instead of acknowledging our helplessness apart from Christ, we think we are saving ourselves by righteous living. Of course, his grace teaches us that we should live righteously (Titus 2:12). Of course, we should be transformed by the grace of God into his image; this is the only reasonable response to his mercy toward us (Rom 12:1ff). But it is his mercy that created the response, not our response that created the mercy. It is his grace that trains us in righteousness, not our righteousness that causes his grace to exist.

I do not know which should horrify us more, the thought of presuming on the grace of God by continuing to live in sin (Rom 6:1ff), or the thought of trying to earn our own way, thus declaring the cross of no value.

God is not glorified when we willingly live in sin. Neither is God glorified when we do deeds of righteousness only to earn a reward.

God is glorified when we live righteous lives out of thankfulness, acknowledging that we are saved only by his grace, not at all by our merit. Only when we live in appreciation of his past mercies, and in hope of his future grace, do we live lives that glorify him. And not only does such a life glorify the Lord, it is also a peaceful, blessed life for us as well.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

This Is Going To Hurt

Years ago I read an account of a surgery performed onboard a 747 as it traveled from Hong Kong toward London. The lungs of a young woman on the plane collapsed. Advised by the pilot that it would take several hours to reach an airport, a surgeon onboard decided that the only way to save the woman's life was to insert a tube into her chest using what he had available (his pocket knife, a water bottle, a wire coat hanger, and some plastic tubing). He used some liquor from the galley to sterilize things as best he could. Then he said, "Be brave, my lass" and went to work. There was no anesthesia.
I am sure it hurt. The doctor was wise in that he did not pretend otherwise. It hurt; but the woman survived. But for the surgeon's willingness to inflict, and her willingness to endure, the pain of having that tube inserted into her chest, she would have been dead hours before they reached London,

That is an extreme case, of course, but the practice of medicine often involves the inflicting of life-saving pain. So does the presentation of the gospel.

Peter had to convince them that they were guilty of murder before the people at Pentecost could be saved (Acts 2). Paul had to convince the men of Athens that idolatry was sin before the message of the death, burial, and resurrection would benefit them (Acts 17). The message of Jesus was always, is always, "repent and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:15).

Those who present a pain free message, a message that promises everything and demands nothing, are not presenting the truth. They are not presenting the gospel of Jesus. They may be self-deceived, or they may be deceivers, but they are not true spokesmen of God.

Are we willing to inflict life saving pain, or do we prefer that our friends, relatives, and neighbors be left to themselves to perish eternally?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who Are We Fooling?

Exodus 32:5 Aaron made proclamation and said, "Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord."

The above statement is from the story of the golden calf. Aaron claimed to be serving the Lord, even as he was disobeying and insulting the Lord. It was not the Lord they were pleasing when they held a feast in honor of the work of their own hands. They were merely pleasing themselves and pretending that it was being done in honor of the Lord.

The odd thing is that they may have fooled themselves. It is funny how we do that. We lie to ourselves and sometimes get to believing our lies. We say, "I am doing this for the Lord." Often we get others to believe it. Sometimes we believe it ourselves. But the truth is that we cannot honor the Lord by means of things he has forbidden.

Idolatry is sin. I did not say so; God said so. He has said it over and over again (Ex 20:4; 1 Cor 5:10; 6:9; 10:7; 10:14; 2 Cor 6:16; Gal 5:20; 1 John 5:21; Rev 21:8). Yet people still venerate idols and still pretend that they are honoring the Lord in doing it. Those claiming this may fool others; they may even fool themselves; but the Lord is not fooled.

Sexual immorality is sin. I did not say so; God said so, over and over again (1 Thes. 4:3; Hebrews 10:26-29; 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 18-20). Yet many people engage in premarital and extramarital relationships and still tell themselves that they are faithful Christians. Those claiming this may fool others; they may even fool themselves; but the Lord is not fooled.

It is time for each of us to take an honest look at our lives. We cannot disobey God and honor him at the same time. If we are disobeying, we are not honoring. If we are to honor him, we must obey.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Living With Purpose

As we begin a new year, perhaps it would be a good time to remind ourselves of why we are here. This year, like any year, will best be lived if it is lived with our purpose in mind.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism teaches that the chief purpose of man is "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." We are often called "consumers", but God did not put us here to consume. We are often told that we are to "pursue happiness", but God never tells us that the path to happiness is a direct one. We will have happiness not when we pursue it, but when we pursue God. We will have enjoyment not when we try to enjoy ourselves, but when we seek to glorify God and enjoy Him. This is our purpose, and we will find the new year a blessing to the extent we stick to this purpose.

Isaiah 43:20-21 The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself that they might declare my praise.

Matthew 5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 4:10-11 As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.