Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Eve Thought

On this Christmas Eve, I thought I'd share this story, which first gripped me in 1972:

"Once there lived a king who had power over all nations and people. His courts were of richest-splendor; his tables were heavy with finest food. Music and laughter and gaiety floated from his castle. Peasants - in their valley of violence and hunger - stopped and looked at the castle for a long while, wishing they might know the king. But none were able to reach it.
In the cold of winter, the king's tailor entered the royal chambers with the latest additions to the king's wardrobe. He had selected the finest materials and woven them into the most beautiful garments that eyes had ever seen.

ut the king was not pleased. He ordered his tailor out, vowing to make his own clothes. The door to the throne room was shut and locked. Weeks passed. The royal court waited with anticipation to see what the king would make for himself. They knew they were bound to be blinded by the glory of it. Finally the awaited day arrived. The door opened and the king appeared.

veryone, especially the tailor, gasped in surprise. His Majesty was dressed in the simplest, cheapest, most unkingly garments imaginable. He had the choice of the world's finest materials, but he had chosen to wear the clothes of a begger.

I am going into the valley,' he said quietly." (by Michael Daves)
And He did go into the valley... our valley. Imagine the shock in Heaven when the plan became clear: Emmanual - God is to be with us. It is The Miracle of Christmas... Jesus left perfection to be one of us.

How can we grasp the enormity of this wonderful Truth? What captures the depth of the sacrifice made for our benefit? Let me ask you this... would you:
  • Leave comfort, power and position behind to identify with people in trouble?
  • Give everything away to identify with the poor?
  • Become homeless to reach homeless people?
  • Accept punishment for people who didn't deserve your help, didn't know and didn't care?
Those examples don't begin to capture the sacrifice God Himself made on our behalf. What does it say about the God of the Universe, that He would stoop so low as to become a human being? Jesus, the God-Man, "... though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God as thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." (Philippians 2:6-7)

And why did Jesus do this? He did it for the Glory of God... and to our eternal benefit.

I can't comprehend it all - what Jesus gave up, and why He did it. But I do know this: Your sin and mine created the problem... separated us from God. And the distance was so great, the problem so severe, the burden on us so impossible that only the initiative of the God of the Universe was enough to bridge the gap and offer us hope. And like the King in the parable above, He became like us - to our eternal benefit.

Amazing, isn't it? Yes, it is. If you don't know Him, seek Him - the One who gave up EVERYTHING for you. That's the real meaning of Christmas. May "the eyes of [all of] our hearts" be enlightened (Ephesians 1:18) to see Him as He is - and the incredible love He has shown towards His chosen ones - this Christmas Eve... and throughout the year.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Heresy from America's "Most Popular Preacher"

If you caught Fox News Sunday today, you got this piece of wisdom from Chris Wallace's guest, Joel Olsteen:

WALLACE: And what about Mitt Romney? And I've got to ask you the question, because it is a question whether it should be or not in this campaign, is a Mormon a true Christian?

OSTEEN: Well, in my mind they are. Mitt Romney has said that he believes in Christ as his savior, and that's what I believe, so, you know, I'm not the one to judge the little details of it. So I believe they are.

And so, you know, Mitt Romney seems like a man of character and integrity to me, and I don't think he would — anything would stop me from voting for him if that's what I felt like.

WALLACE: So, for instance, when people start talking about Joseph Smith, the founder of the church, and the golden tablets in upstate New York, and God assumes the shape of a man, do you not get hung up in those theological issues?

OSTEEN: I probably don't get hung up in them because I haven't really studied them or thought about them. And you know, I just try to let God be the judge of that. I mean, I don't know.

I certainly can't say that I agree with everything that I've heard about it, but from what I've heard from Mitt, when he says that Christ is his savior, to me that's a common bond.
Now THAT's discernment for you. He had lots more GREAT stuff to say, including an explanation of his humanistic, power-of-positive-thinking mumbo-jumbo and a laughable answer to the question of why he doesn't "...go deeply in [his] sermons into scripture." And millions are flocking to listen. It breaks my heart.

Lots of other websites point out this stuff, and I usually stay out of the fray. When I listen to this guy, Galatians 1:8-9 or maybe the book of Jude usually come to mind. But just in case you're listening, Joel, here's my reaction:

I think I speak for all of us when I say: For The Love Of Everything That's Holy, PLEASE SHUT UP!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Here's a Gift Idea!

Everywhere I look I get input - ads, commercials, billboards, fliers, etc. - telling me what people need for Christmas. But what do we really need, anyway?

Consider these thoughts from Oswald Chambers. He points out that Jesus came to Earth with a gift - but not quite what people think of these days. And this particular gift addresses our greatest need. Jesus came with this:

"I came not to send peace, but a sword." Matthew 10:34

Jesus came to make things wrong. He came to cause trouble. He came to create a problem.

Let me say it this way: Christmas is popularly viewed as a time to recognize the basic goodness of all men. Think A Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life... they make us feel good about man's goodness, which sometimes gets hidden in the business of life. But Christmas ought not be that at all! It's a time to remember how desperately bad we are - so much so that we need a Savior, and the only one who would do is the God of the Universe Himself! Jesus didn't come to comfort us, but to stir us out of our comfort - into the painful realization that we have an unbelievable problem in that we are sinful, separated from God and eternally lost!

When we've received that gift - the gift of the truth about ourselves - then (and ONLY then) is the Gospel of Jesus' atoning work and sacrifice really "good news".

Perhaps you're spending time this season with people you love who don't know Jesus... in a season when the whole American culture turns its attention (however briefly) to Jesus, consider asking the Holy Spirit to give this uncomfortable gift to those you really love. Oswald Chambers said it this way:

"...There must be a sense of need before your message is of any use. Thousands of people are happy without God in this world. If I was happy and moral till Jesus came, why did He come? Because that kind of happiness and peace is on a wrong level; Jesus Christ came to send a sword through every peace that is not based on a personal relationship to Himself."
We can participate in giving the greatest gift of all to those we love... the gift of an eternal relationship with the God of the Universe through His Son. But be a faithful messenger in the process - tell people the truth. All of it. Don't give "peace" to those apart from Christ... give the a sword. Make it hurt! Show them the reality of the problem, and the Holy Spirit will make the solution the most wonderful news in the world to them.
"...If God has had His way with you, your message as His servant is merciless insistence on the one line, cut down to the very root, otherwise there will be no healing. Drive home the message until there is no possible refuge from its application. Begin to get at people where they are until you get them to realize what they lack, and then erect the standard of Jesus Christ for their lives - 'We never can be that.' Then drive it home - 'Jesus Christ says you must.' "But how can we be?' "You cannot, unless you have a new Spirit." (Luke 11:13.)
It is the "poor in spirit" - those who realize they are lost and have nothing within themselves to bring to God - those whose eyes have been opened to the truth of their sinful and lost condition - those are the people who are drawn by the Holy Spirit the Son, for the Glory of God.

What do people need for Christmas? Apart from Christ, we all need the business end of a sword. If you need help understanding this truth, see (just for example)Romans 1-3.

The gift of the Truth about ourselves: It's a painful thing... and it's not peace, but a sword. It's what people REALLY need this season, and always. Merry (ouch) Christmas!

Quotes from Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest, "WHAT TO CONCENTRATE ON" (December 19)

Sunday, December 09, 2007

A Sobering Day...

I saw this picture today and it reminds me of an uncomfortable truth: Death is real, and it's out there waiting for each of us. Perhaps in the shadows and away from our immediate attention... but it is still there all the same. And while it may seem silent when it is "waiting," the timing of its appointment with each one of us is still uncertain, and likely coming sooner than we plan.

We got the news yesterday afternoon that the father of one of our son's friends died yesterday morning. He was a wonderful guy, 48 years old, friendly and hospitable, a beautiful family, successful in business, in apparent great health... and suddenly - without warning - gone.

We heard the news, and were stunned - shocked. Throughout the afternoon, we prayed that it wasn't true... that there was some awful mistake. Mrs. Doulos made a number of calls to try and get confirmation without success, and we (not so secretly) hoped that we just had it all wrong.

And then, the confirmation. And the sinking, heart-sick feeling as the awful reality began to sink in.

We ache for his wife and children, and the unimaginable road they have in front of them. And what can we say? It's all beyond comprehension, and mere words can't capture the pain and loss. How can we even describe it? How can we get our minds around what this family must be thinking? Loraine Boettner described this condition well in his book Immortality:
"We set out on the journey of life with high hopes and soaring ambitions. Life seems rosy and death seems far away. Year after year life runs its accoustomed course, smoothly and serenely. We read of thousands dying from starvation in India, and of other thousands that drown in China; but those places are far away and the people are not know to us. A neighbor down the street dies. That causes us to stop and think. We send flowers and feel sorry for the family. But still it does not affect us directly, and we soon continue with our work and play. There develops within us a sense of immunity to tragedy and death.

The suddenly the bottom drops out of our world. Perhaps a mother or father, or some other relative or friend is taken, leaving a aching void. Many of us have already had that experience. We have watched the changing face and have listened helplessly to the shortening breath. We have spoken or looked the last good-bye, and then, in an instant, the departing one has passed out of sight and out of hearing, into the world of the unknown... A short time ago the one we loved was here, going about his work or speaking to us; and now, perhaps in one moment, he is gone - gone so very, very far away. What baffling thoughts rush in upon the mind in those moments pressing for an answer! But there is no answer in either reason or experience..."
All of us have felt the TOTAL INADEQUACY of saying or doing anything really meaningful in these circumstances. And we feel inadequate in the circumstance because we ARE in adequate. Boettner goes on to describe it this way:
"At such time it may be that ... [a person] cries out, 'Why did this have to happen to me?' It is hard to answer such questions to the satisfaction and comfort of those who ask it, for the simple reason that at such a time those who ask it are not normal. It is difficult for the mind that is shocked beyond comprehension to be reasonable. The breaking heart wants none of our logic. It wants comfort and peace. Above all, it wants to turn back the page, to recall the life that has sped - and this cannot be. Death is so permanent. There is no recall. It comes to you and yours as it has come to millions of others - it is inevitable. It may come as a thief in the night, or it may approach slowly after ample warning. It may come early in life, or after years of happiness. But come it must. The only way to escape it is never to be born."
So our hearts break for this family... and the horror of death reminds us once more of what's really important in life.

Someone wise said that death was like a clock ticking... heard only on occasion when someone is young, but then as time passes and the reality of life becomes clearer, its tick is heard more often - and the older we get the more that we hear it. Eventually, it becomes all one hears. Perhaps that's a good picture, and why many public clocks in the past were decorated with mottos such as ultima forsan (roughly, "perhaps the last [hour]"). The clock serves as a reminder of the shortness of life - and the inevitability of its passing.

But the truth of that thought doesn't diminish death's shock and horror, or its pain. Boettner wisely pointed out that "...The Bible alone has an answer for the thoughts that come with such perplexity and insistence." And for those of us who follow Jesus, the Bible we believe and the Lord it reveals calls us beyond just shared grief, empathy and pain in response to death. We have the message of LIFE found in Jesus, and the answer to the problem of death. The only question really is this: Will we share it before it's too late?

If we listen, the "ticking of the clock" reminds us of the REAL need of those around us of the reality of death:
  • The spiritual death that we are all born into
  • The physical death that we all must face
  • The eternal death that still waits for everyone apart from those who are regenerated by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ
It's not pleasant. But it is true. And, in the words of one of my friends, it is our unsaved friend's "most urgent need." And Death calls out to us not just to remember the shortness of our own lives, but to remind us of our URGENT call to tell others the truth while there is still time to do so.

Last week I posted the "sobering thought" widget in the right-hand column of the blog... it humbled and reminded me of the need of those around me to be delivered from spiritual death and adopted into God's family through the work of Jesus. It reminds me that God is able to save and deliver, and that He calls me to participate in the process. And today, while I've been drafting this, the counter has run to over 1,500. Today, for me, one of those numbers has a face on it. And -
I'm grieved that one of those numbers is someone that I knew...
I'm humbled that there are so many others where my heart has not been broken... and
I'm resolved again to fulfill my part in God's plan to pray, and to share the truth to those who are in desperate need around me.
So pray with me, if you will, for this family. And pray also with me that "the eyes of our hearts would be enlightened" anew to feel the need around us enough to be moved to new action - for the sake of the Name of our Lord.

Think of this little reminder, if you will, as a voice from the shadows.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Another Caption Contest....

I saw this today - is this a sign of the Apocalypse or what?? I'd love to hear your suggested captions, and here are the catagories:

1. Current American Culture

2. Christmas Commercialization

3. Economic Theory and Practice in Middle-America

4. Today's Evangelicals' Interest in Biblical Truth (that only makes sense if people are leaving the building)

The winning caption get's the NPB4S Guest Blogger Award!

Friday, November 23, 2007

God's Plan for Suffering?

Listen to the testimony of this man and his experience with suffering. His name is John Farese, from Coconut Creek, Florida. John, who is my age, is one of the oldest persons living after having been diagnosed from birth with Spinal Muscular Atrophy. He is bedridden and uses speech recognition software to operate his computer system, which enables him to do everything from reading the Bible to creating Web pages for his customers on the Internet.

From his website, he says this:
"He has turned for me my mourning into laughter, and my desolation into joy, and made my heart rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory. He drew me when I struggled to escape from his grace; and when at last I came all trembling like a condemned culprit to his mercy seat he said, ‘Thy sins which are many are all forgiven thee: be of good cheer.’ I bear witness that never servant had such a master as I have; never brother such a kinsman as he has been to me; never spouse such a husband as Christ has been to my soul; never sinner a better Saviour; never mourner a better comforter than Christ has been to my spirit. I want none beside him. In life he is my life, and in death he shall be the death of death; in poverty Christ is my riches; in sickness he makes my bed; in darkness he is my star, and in brightness he is my sun. Jesus is to me all grace and no wrath, all truth and no falsehood: and of truth and grace he is full, infinitely full."
John's testimony is a powerful commentary to the truth Jesus told in John 9 when asked the reason why a man suffered with blindness, when he answered:

"It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him." (John 9:3)
God IS good... ALL the time. Even when we suffer. Comments?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

How Do We Present the Gospel?

Here's a question: What is the Gospel? What do we as evangelicals say when presenting the Good News about Jesus? What do you think is important for people to hear?

Or maybe more precisely, what ISN'T said?

Do yourself a favor and watch this brief video... and tell me what you think about the ideas presented here. I'm not pointing at any one church, but I believe that there is no denying that the ideas in this video do NOT represent the thinking of most evangelistic messages in Evangelicalism these days. I'm wondering... Why not?

Let's discuss. Comments are open.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Here's One For The Books!

Here's my mentor experiencing spiritual growth at a recent musical event in Virginia Beach!
Ok, my questions:
1. Just when did "raised hands" become the universal Evangelical symbol for worship?
2. Just when did "christian music" become synonymous with "worship"?
Comments are open... insight is sought. Don't let me down, Anonymous commentors!

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I Can't Help Myself...

I know this is very out of character for me, but I'm wondering if anyone would like to suggest a caption for this picture:

Comments are open. Do your best! Back to something more eternally significant tomorrow.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Things That Make You Go Hmmm.

Here's a thought-provoking quote from David Wells, from his book No Place For Truth or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? If you haven't read him, do yourself a favor get started. This is a great place to start (and a good answer to my anonymous commenter pal from my last post).

In Chapter 6 ("The New Disablers" - ouch!), Wells says this:

"Two models of pastoral ministry have been vying for the Protestant mind in the twentieth century, especially in its evangelical expression. Each arises from its own culture. In one case, it is the culture of theological truth, and in the other case that of modern professionalism. Each has its own distinctive way of thinking about the ministry - its nature, objectives and methods - and each has its own distinctive way of thinking about the place of theology in all of this.

In one model, theology is foundational, and in the other it is only peripheral. In the one, theological truth explains why there is a ministry at all, what it is about, and why the Church without it will shrivel and die. In the other, this reasoning is marginalized so that what shapes, explains, and drives the work of ministry arises from the needs of a modern profession. And it is my contention that the presence of this latter model in the Church goes a long way towards explaining the growing enfeeblement of the Church inwardly despite its outward growth. This model is ascending, even as the other is declining, and with its ascendancy the attacks upon theology grow more strident and the appetite for it diminishes." (p. 218-219)

Wells, in my opinion, lays his finger on the pulse of one of the great problems in the Truth war in evangelical churches... and one of the reasons that the Truth appears to be losing currently.

As Wells quotes from Richard Baxter (from his classic The Reformed Pastor):

"It is the first and great work of ministers of Christ to acquaint men with that God made them, and is their happiness; to open to them the treasures of His goodness, and to tell them of the glory that is in His presence, which all His chosen people shall enjoy... Having shewed them the right end, our next work is to acquaint them with the right means of attaining it."

Where do you think we stand relating to this standard? Which type of pastor do you have? Why are we trending the way we are? I'm open for comments.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

A Thought on "Church Growth"...

There is an interesting quote from John MacArthur over at Old Truth today, which is worth digesting (It's called "Synthetic Church Growth Is Like Cancer"). I especially was struck by the following posted comment comment:
"A year ago September I was Providentially led to a small independent community church in our community. (We live 3 blocks from it.) The church had just hired a new Calvinistic pastor who isn’t afraid to preach the Word. We have gone from two services to one, and people are leaving in droves. At the same time we are having great Bible studies, and the people who are left are growing spiritually. Which model for church growth is better? Water the Word down to get the maximum number of people in the pews, or preach the whole council of God straight up with no apologies and let the chips fall where they lay?

Posted by: Dan R. on Friday, October 26, 2007"

My reaction is that "truth" and "growth" don't necessarily have to be mutually exclusive, but "truth" ought to be the goal and that, while there are happy exceptions, the normal experience of Jesus' ministry and the Church is that when the whole counsel of God is preached without apology, the crowds thin.

I think that the primary corporate focus of God's family ought to be on the clear proclamation of the whole Truth as taught in Scripture. The "good news" of the Gospel is only seen clearly when one understands the "bad news" of our lost condition. Why do churches try to "reach" lost people by self-help type messages, better life messages or otherwise "focusing on the positive" messages? (As if truth has electrical properties!) The answer seems self-evident: It's what they want (or are at least willing) to hear. Where are the "seeker-sensitive" messages about their real need - their totally lost condition, the reality of an eternal hell waiting for them apart from Christ, their total inability to do anything to address their problem - and their absolute dependence on a God who may or may not save them? Where are the seeker messages who warn the lost people to seek the Lord while He may be found? Where are the messages which leave the listener in awe of a most Holy God who is under no obligation at all to do anything for them?

Growth is great... it's important because it is people - but if God is responsible for the growth (1 Corinthians 3:7), can't we trust Him for it? Can't it be His message, His way that we preach? Said another way, why is so much attention placed in today's church on methodology? I think it is very telling that churches today seem to put a very high value "creativity" in methodology, and (at best) assume fidity to doctrinal truth. What other explanation can be given for the loss of esteem for formal training for the ministry? Would you go to a doctor who has been training in marketing, but hadn't gone through medical school?

I'm not saying that seminary is the answer to all of our problems. But the fact that it isn't even viewed by many as a requirement any more is an indication of how little Truth we view as essential. A cursory reading of publications like Christianity Today show that almost everything is viewed as "non-essential" these days. And so, we become a movement of style without substance, and the crowds may come - but for what? Jesus had a comment about this "growth strategy" too:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. Matthew 23:15

My guess is that 99% of all evangelicals would think Dan R.'s comment represents an insulated, selfish point of view, and wouldn't see any merit in his comment at all. I agree with him. What do you think? Tell me why I'm wrong. Comments are open.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

It's Not "Better Left Unsaid"...

I’m sitting in the Tokyo airport, on my way home from a very quick swing through Asia. Chicago to Tokyo, Tokyo to Singapore, Singapore to Langkawi, Malaysia… with 5 hours sleep in a hotel. A conference there, and then 33 hours home again.

Somebody in our travel department apparently doesn’t like me… So, sitting at Narita Airport in my 11 hour layover, I was looking for things to do.

And I did it.

I’ve promised myself that I wouldn’t, but I did. And I really wish that I hadn’t, because it makes me sad. Oh yeah, and angry, too.

What? What did I do?

I’ll tell you in a minute, but first I need to tell you something about the past few days…

I traveled Wednesday and Thursday to spend a day in Singapore on Friday – which was the last day of Ramadan. In Islamic culture, Ramadan is a special month of cleansing the soul, fasting (no meals during daylight), self-control and charity… generally, putting more effort in following the teachings of Islam and seeking to grow closer to God. By tradition, the Qur’an was given to Muslims during this month. On Saturday, then a special celebration known as “Eid” was held (in Singapore and Malaysia, they call it “Hari Raya” or “the Grand Day”). People celebrate, gifts are given to children, special services are held, people feast together during the day, and celebratory traditional costumes are worn in honor of the event. Think Christmas, and you’ll have a flavor of it.

Now I could write about the fact that every store I passed was closed – EXCEPT for the ubiquitous American Fast Food Franchises (Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC). As the only American on the trip, I certainly got an earful from my Muslim colleagues about the cultural insensitivity of America, and it’s participation in the dilution of all independent civilizations into one giant mall-culture (but that’s a different post). I was struck, though, by the fact that Christianity is effectively TOTALLY unknown in the business communities here… oh, I don’t have a “scientific sampling,” but you can get the flavor of it, especially over time. The newspaper I read Saturday on the way to Malaysia was full of holiday news, and especially highlighting the wide ethnic and cultural diversity in their religious heritage, all of which was Islamic (with some small number of Buddhists thrown in for good measure). Christians were not even mentioned. It struck me: We’re not a minority - we’re irrelevant, and the Good News of the Gospel certainly is, well… whispered, if heard at all in many, many corners of this world.

The cultural differences can not be overstated. Within the general overall urbanization of world culture – the “Brand-name-ization” of world society (as David Wells so articulately points out in his book Whatever Happened to Truth?) the residual effects from the religious heritage is very, very foreign. Or at least it should be… let me explain.

The holiday showed me again more of the ways in which this part of the world – 99.9% Islamic – seeks relationship with God. And that, I suppose, is the point: They seek God. Their effort is the focus of their activity in seeking to please him. And the message of Jesus is exactly the opposite – it is God’s activity that is the preeminent one, the focus of everything, and that we are, apart from Jesus, “able to do nothing.” It is Jesus, after all, who is to “save His people from their sin” – who presents us holy and complete before the father as a result of His finished work. Of course we have responsibility, and effort is required. But it is a responsibility that we freely acknowledge that we are utterly incapable of fulfilling in our own effort… it is God’s work in us that we are totally dependent upon. Paul points out this clearly:

"Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure." Philippians 2:12-13 (emphasis added)

We work, but it is God who is working. Our salvation – all of it, from our election and predestination, to our conviction, regeneration and conversion, through the process of sanctification and ultimately at the end, our glorification – again, all of it, is the work of God for His glory and our benefit. That is a very different message from the message my Islamic friends hear.

Are you still with me? OK, back to the Tokyo airport, and my mistake: Like I said, I did it.

I listened to an American sermon online while sitting in the airport. One preached by a guy who is a solid member of the Evangelical community. The pastor talked about our responsibility, our effort, our requirements, our actions… oh, he made passing reference to “God’s grace,” but he was clear in saying that it is our effort which makes the difference. The passage in question focused (in the text) on a request for God to do something. He acknowledged that “God was at work” in the process, but the focus of the message was on a call for us to do something. Oh, and that our failure to do things actually hindered God’s work – especially due to the fact that if we were better, more people would be converted!

And I’m sad, and even angry, that that is increasingly the message I hear in Evangelical Christendom. A message that says, work. Try harder. Expend more effort. Here’s your responsibility, get going. And poor God longs for you to do so, but He’s waiting for Almighty You to get busy and stop thwarting His will and purpose.

Where is the message of our total and complete dependence on God in everything - including serving Him?

Where are the messengers (and the messages) that call God’s people back to the realization that we are to “abide in” Jesus and that, apart from Him we can do nothing? Come on, you may say to me. You’re shadow boxing. You see things that aren’t there. Of course we all understand our dependency on God in the process of sanctification. Don’t we? I don’t think so. As a matter of fact, I’d challenge you to listen carefully for the message… you may be very surprised.

Here’s what I think: The distinctive message of Christianity, the centrality of the work of God rather than the work of man, is being diluted. Perhaps it is out of concern for some perceived inactivity within the Church, or some other problem. But whatever it is, I increasingly hear the argument that we ought to focus on “deeds, not creeds” and that what we believe is secondary to what we do. Few are as crass as, say, Brian McLaren, in expressly denying this and other central truths of the Gospel message, but I believe it is happening nonetheless. And increasingly, the message is getting flipped on its head – that it is Our Ability rather than God’s which is central to the process of living out the Gospel. And that’s a message that, in all material respects, is no different than the world view of my Muslim friends.

In the most recent edition of Modern Reformation magazine, David Gibson has an interesting article called “Assumed Evangelicalism: Some Reflections En Route to Denying the Gospel.” Gibson points out the historical trend of diluting the message within the Church’s history: One generation proclaims the Truth, the next generation assumes the Truth and the third generation denies the Truth. Apostasy and heresy rarely come in through the front door in an open attack on and debate of the Truth; they usually come quietly and arrive more slowly as a generation merely assumes that everyone understands the Truth. And all the while, false teachers “creep in unnoticed” (Jude 4), changing the message and removing its power as a result. Gibson believes that the Evangelical movement today is in the middle stage, the “assumed truth” stage, and that unless corrected, we will head down the same path to denying truth. Gibson writes:

“Assumed Evangelicalism believes and signs up to the gospel. It certainly does not deny the gospel. But in terms of priorities, focus and direction, Assumed Evangelicalism begins to give gradually increasing energy to concerns other than the gospel and key evangelical distinctives, to gradually elevate secondary issues to a primary level, to be increasingly worried about how it is perceived by others, and to allow itself to be increasingly influenced both in content and method by the prevailing culture of the day…. It is extremely difficult to spot… The danger of assumed Evangelicalism is precisely the fact that it has come from somewhere and is heading to somewhere else very distinct but the in-between-ness of it makes it a lot harder to see until you have arrived on the other side.”

There’s more to unpack there than I have time to address today, but I'll say this: I used to be amused by those who criticized Reformed Theology as something which promoted inactivity… any student of Church history knows that it is precisely when the pulpit is used to proclaim both our responsibility and our inability that the greatest periods of lasting productivity have occurred. But we evangelicals aren’t merely post-Calvinistic; I fear we’re also post-Arminian, for even they have historically acknowledged our total dependence on God’s work in and through us – an acknowledgement which was demonstrated in their preaching and action. I believe we are headed towards yet another “Palagian Captivity” in the Evangelical movement. The “Assumed Evangelical” nature of our preaching makes it hard to be sure, but the warning clouds are on the horizon. As a practical matter, for example, listening to many sermons (like the one I heard today) would lead the listener to believe that any man can begin “the faith journey” by simply doing something, and that we “grow in our faith” by doing more, and better. Oh, and that God loves all of us, and He’s patient, come whenever, give it your best shot, etc.

I hear none of the passionate urgency required by the Truth that those who have not been born again are children of the Devil (and NOT God’s children), under God’s righteous condemnation, objects of His wrath and bound for an eternity in hell. ALL of those Truths have been (at best) assumed in the presentations of the Gospel I hear these days from some. And ALL of those statements now are the subject of debate even within the Christian publishing and magazine base and, as a result, the rank and file is growing less certain and more confused about these things over time.

These are Facts:
People aren’t born neutral, capable of being “seekers along a ‘faith’ pilgrimage” until they cognitively understand the example of Jesus and determine to follow it. That’s Palagianism – and heresy.

People aren’t Christian just because they say they are, or have made some "decision." Christians are those who have been born again by the will of the Father – not by man’s “desire or effort.”

And Christians aren’t neutral, spectators in a cosmic battle between God and Satan, choosing sides and, when choosing against God’s plan, somehow thwarting the will and purpose of God.

All of these thoughts, increasingly common in my hearing at least, are a reflection of a philosophical and theological perspective that is at best confused, and which leads paradoxically, to both false confidence in those who are not truly regenerate and false guilt in those who are. And while that may not be “what we mean” to say, the “assumed” nature of our presentation (or lack thereof) of the extent and sinfulness of sin, the totally lost nature of man, the inability to do anything of merit before God, and other “negative” doctrines leaves the unbeliever unwarned and the believer potentially deceived.How are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14)

I’ve just crossed the international date line on the way home. It’s been a turbulent flight… a fitting end to a turbulent week. Our hope is so very different from that of much of the world, whether it is the over-arching secularized worldview or that of any other religious perspective. I worry that we who have the Truth are assuming away the central message of the Gospel – our total dependency on Christ for His work in and through us in every way, and going the way of Ramadan – doubling down, trying harder, doing more, and missing it all in the process. The practical indicators of where we as a movement are in our demonstration “abiding in Christ” are all together too apparent even for us to ignore much longer.

Paul said it this way: “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…” (Philippians 3:3)

We are good at being the ones set apart, and we love to “worship by the Spirit” – do we just assume that everyone understands that we, in our message and in practice “put no confidence in the flesh” or are we on the road to a different belief?

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I know I'm breaking ALL the rules of good blogging - (don't post irregularly, don't take long absences, and especially don't just link to somebody else), but I read something today that is SO IMPORTANT I had to point it out. Saying it much better than I could, this really hits home to me, and maybe others of you who are very, very tired of the "entertainment" focus of today's "worship" service. So, give this a read - I'd love your comment - ESPECIALLY if you are involved in a "worship" ministry!

Welcome Back...

Been gone for a while... doing a bunch of reading and studying. I've had a few false starts along the way, but I'm ready to go again!

I've been thinking a lot about our base-level assumption(s) as evangelicals... on my way there, though, here's a little something that I'd love to discuss with anybody:

More to follow!

Friday, August 10, 2007

What Bible Version...?

...does your church use? Especially in sermons?

Unfortunately, this appears to be the version of the Bible most frequently used in evangelical sermon preparation:

While it's not a new idea (Consider Thomas Jefferson's efforts in creating The Jefferson Bible), it's still a bad idea. We need to seek - and pastors need to preach - the WHOLE counsel of God.

And sadly, that doesn't seem to be happening in too many places these days. Too often, sermon series are designed to make the church "relevant" to "seekers" and center around their needs. The great need of our day - and every day - is for a clear, unfiltered, unedited proclamation of ALL of God's Word. I don't know how you can do that apart from a regular, systematic, verse-by-verse exposition of the text.

I know that most people would rather have a good, energetic, up-beat, practical, positive sermon (it goes well with the rest of the weekly show). God's children, however, long for the Word. All of it. ESPECIALLY where it points out our error - because we want to be like Jesus and we know we've got a long way to go. And those who are the children of the Devil (John 8, especially vs. 42-44) desperately need to hear the same thing - it is their only hope. After all,
"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ."(Romans 10:17)
Ironically, unless things change, the drive to be "relevant" and the avoidance of a pattern in the church of clear, searching exposition and application of the whole counsel of God will likely be the very thing that dooms America to the post-Christian, secular wasteland of History.

Do you study the "erasable bible?" Consider the question next time when we cover another of Jesus' ignored commandments.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Ignored Commandments of Jesus... Part 2

"...a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.'" (Matthew 17:5)

It is amazing to me that people claim to be in relationship with Jesus - and ignore His commandments. Jesus warned His followers about this phenomenon. The power of sin is so pervasive that, apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit, all of us will rationalize away that which is clearly our responsibility. I take to heart personally the warning in Proverbs 14:12 that says:
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death."
Our problem, apart from God, is genuinely frightening! In a culture that values "following your own heart" as defensible, and maybe as the most common life strategy, the warning of the Bible in Jeremiah 17:9 is important to hear:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
So what seems like "the right way" to me may be totally wrong... and I may not see it at all. After all, Proverbs 12:15 says that "the way of a fool is right in his own eyes..." - I don't know about you, but I don't want that to be me.

So what hope do we have (and what does this have to do with Matthew 5)?

Well, here's the first "ignored commandment" of Jesus that I see: (Not first in priority, by the way - just the first in my little series!) When was the last time you did this?
"...if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Matthew 5:23-24
What? This is more important that worship? Yes, it is!

We live in a performance-based, program-oriented sub-culture. And those programs and performances may be ok, but they are not what "church" is supposed to be. It is relatively easy to do... but the call of Jesus is not just to do, but to be. Church is supposed to be a community of people who love and serve Jesus together - and love and serve each other as well.

What penetrates the the blindness of our evil hearts, and helps us see wisdom apart from our own plans? Part (and only part) of the answer lies in community - real, authentic community. The church ought to be a place where people connect deeply in life, and out of that deep connection, are able to encourage each other when they are down, and exhort and rebuke each other when they are going astray.

Here's the rub: Both encouragement and rebuke are hard to receive apart from genuine community. The encouragement feels phony, and the rebuke feels harsh. Our nature rebels against both - but community makes both real and acceptable. The reality of ongoing relational involvement from others within the community of faith - that stands the test of time and repeated demonstrates that its goal is our best interest - is winsome... and it breaks through our defensiveness. It helps us see the truth. But it can't happen if community doesn't develop. And community doesn't develop if relationships stay broken.

That's why our ignoring this commandment is so tragic. It underscores the lack of authentic community that so many of us know as our practical experience. Have you heard the old line
To live above with the saints we love,
Oh that will be glory!
To live below with the ones we know, well -
That's a different story.
It would be funny if it weren't true.

Why is it that people - even within the church - can allow broken relationships to go on for any time at all? Why is it so hard for some people - even church leaders - to be fully aware of practical problems between people and yet come week after week to "worship" without addressing the relational problem? Isn't this in direct disobedience to a clear commandment of Jesus?

Do you know that someone in the church "has something against you"? Why would you wait at all before obeying the Lord and going to that person to be reconciled? What exception clauses do you see in Jesus' command? What do you say?

"The other person is wrong - I haven't done anything..."

"The other person is unreasonable - nothing I do will help..."

"I'm too busy..." "Too important..." "It's no big deal to me, it shouldn't be to them..."

Blah, blah, blah.
In all Christian love and tenderness (and I'm speaking to myself too - I've applied this to myself this week), here's my practical exhortation for you: "Shut up."

Stop defending yourself. Stop rationalizing. Stop excusing. Just shut up, leave church NOW and go make things right. If you think I'm wrong, take it up with Jesus. But I could be wrong, because didn't Jesus say that "the world would know we are his disciples because of the way we hold out until the bitter end, ignoring the feelings of others, pretending that everything is ok even when we know it isn't and holding on to our position until the bitter end?"

Whoops. That may not be the best translation of John 13:35. :) Anyway, what chance does real community have in growing and developing when we ignore the hard work of reconciliation? As people in the pews, what possible excuse would we allow for unresolved conflict? And as leaders, do we really have a biblical mandate to ignore people with issues? Too many churches focus on the front door in getting people to come, but pay no meaningful attention to the back door - with people leaving, forgotten at best or disparaged at worst when they leave.

I can hear the excuses already. "What if I go to them and they don't want to be reconciled?" What if it doesn't "work"? What if they are too stubborn and sinful?

Does it matter? Aren't those the wrong questions anyway?

If the Lord God Almighty, the Sovereign of Heaven and Earth demands that we do this, with all due respect, who are we to say "No"? If He has spoken, ought we not "Listen to Him"?

Here's my point: The person aware of the offense - whether they agree or not, whether they are confident in the result or not - without condition is obligated by this command to initiate reconciliation. Can you imagine what the church would look like if THAT was our pattern? Jesus could... and we should too.

So let's not be like Peter and say "No, Lord" to His command.
Let's put our pride aside and make the phone call - set up the meeting - reopen the conversation - what ever it takes to "be reconciled with [our] brother."

Monday, July 30, 2007

"Special" Music for today

Here's a random thought before I go back to Matthew 5. Take a good look at this video:

You know, I'd laugh if this didn't represent the prevailing view of God these days. I especially appreciate the lyrics (especially at 1:36): "And if you want Me to I'll make you whole - I'll only do it though if you say so."

Hmmm. The Bible says something very different, doesn't it?
"In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will..." (Ephesians 1:11)

Really? All things? Yes, all things. Newsflash - we're not the ones in control! God is.

It is very sad to me that so many today in the church are offended by the idea of a Loving, Holy, All-Powerful God. While in total, our God is truly incomprehensible, He has made many of His divine attributes known. One of these attributes is His sovereignty over all things. Rather than an insult to His character (as this video implies), it is our great comfort and strength. Anyone who knows himself must recognize his own limitations... how much better to trust in an all-powerful, loving God - whom we are invited to call "our Father."

How wonderful it is to trust in the God of the Bible, who:
"...being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. " (Ephesians 2:1-9)
Just to be clear, though, I'm not just referring God's sovereignty in salvation - I'm talking about God's sovereignty over LIFE - all of it. Here's a profound thought: God is God, and we are not.

This video is funny to me because of the musical style (and at one time, I was one of those guys - as a high school/college guy from the '70s, I'm "generationally impaired"). But more seriously, it is a sad reflection of what many believe (without regard to musical style), and because it is a window into a form of christianity that - at its core - seeks to limit God and elevate man.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Ignored Commandments of Jesus...

"...a voice from the cloud said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; Listen to Him.'" (Matthew 17:5)

It happened during a time of increasing clarity - and conflict - in Jesus' earthly ministry. Sides were being taken, and things once hinted at were suddenly being clarified. The Biblical narrative in Matthew 14-17 seems to swing from one side to the other, highlighting the increasing divisiveness of the ministry of Jesus in a sinful, fallen world. Look at the point-counterpoint:

  • John the Baptist beheaded, and Jesus feeds the five thousand, walks on water and heals the sick (Matthew 14).
  • The Pharisees question Jesus' disciples' obedience to God's commandments, and Jesus responds by demonstrating the Pharisees' hypocrisy, healing a Canaanite woman and many others, and miraculously feeding another crowd (Matthew 15).
  • The Pharisees demand "a sign from heaven" in order to believe (as if what has just happened isn't enough), and Peter confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God... and Jesus then tells them that the cost of following after Him is their very lives. (Matthew 16).

The lines are being drawn, the view of Jesus - for those who love Him as well as those who hate Him - is becoming clearer. Jesus' mission is clearer, too. He tells Peter that He is going to be killed and will rise from the dead on the third day (Matthew 16:21).

But Peter then does the unthinkable, the unimaginable. He uses a phrase that men have used with God since the fall - which continues even today. It is the cry of our sin-stained hearts... listen to what Peter said: "Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him saying, 'Far be it from you, Lord!" (Matthew 16:22) Basically, what Peter was saying was this: "Jesus, what You've said has got to be wrong... You've got to be wrong. And I'm going to set you straight. In this area, I know better than You, and I'm not going along with Your program." In other words - "NO, LORD."

No wonder in the next chapter, Matthew records the startling transfiguration of Jesus, along with Moses and Elijah. His radiance is revealed, his authority over the law and prophets is visually established and, if that's not enough, an audible announcement of Jesus' position is made. The point couldn't have been lost on Peter, even after the six days since his "rebuke" of Jesus. Imagine actually hearing that voice! And the message - announcing Jesus' position from the mouth of God, coupled with the command "Listen to Him!" goes right to the heart of Peter's problem... and ours as well.

Now I'm not that smart, but Peter's reaction seems like a bad plan to me, particularly with the Most Holy Sovereign God of the Universe. I would think Peter would have understood that if Jesus was who He said He was - actually, who Peter said that He was - the idea of rebuking Him might not seem all that appropriate! But sin is blinding, and isn't this the condition of our hearts as well? Even when we acknowledge the position and authority of Jesus, we sometimes still think that we have the right - even the responsibility - to contradict Him, and to point out where (we think) He's wrong? We might not say it out loud, but do we, by action, ever say "No, Lord"? No to His plan and stated priorities for us... and even His commandments?

It's happened with me. I'll read the plain teaching of Jesus - particularly practical things that I absolutely know are true, and find a way to wiggle out of obedience - to say "No, Lord." And I know that I'm not alone. Sometimes, to say "No, Lord" is to go along with our churches' established methods of operations!

It isn't enough to have the facts right about Jesus. We need to "hear Him" - really hear Him. Peter heard the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:21, but his response indicated that he didn't really understand. A wise man I once studied under pointed out to me that, when dealing with a sovereign, you really can't say "No." To the degree that they are superior to you, in understanding and responsibility, it isn't our place to contradict - rather, its our place to obey. When you think about it, the phrase "No, Lord" is almost a contradiction, isn't it?

Is it possible that we are like Peter? Do we ever want to be on the Lord's team, but thinking that we know better than Him - and we say no to Jesus' plan and priority for us? The call of Heaven is recorded for us as well... let's not pass by the words of Jesus without really hearing Him. So, is this still a problem today? It really is. But you and I can do something about it - by going beyond listening, and knowing... to hearing Jesus. And we'll know that we've heard Him, by the way, when we obey Him. Isn't this what Jesus meant when He said:

"Why do you call me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do what I tell you?" (Luke 6:46)

OK, I'll give you a couple of examples of what I'm talking about... One in particular from Matthew 5 in my next post.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

This HAS to be a joke, right? Please...

I'm sure this is a fake web-thing, designed to tweak Christians with any sense of propriety at all... Please, someone tell me this is a joke (click start):

Here's the website (and I hate to give it anything that even looks like a plug). Is it possible that people are (1) so hungry for a word from the Lord and (2) so ignorant about the truth that something as obviously silly - and as blasphemous - as this appears even remotely appealing? Here's part of their pitch:

"A history changing event is about to occur. Soon over 2.1 billion Christians worldwide will be able to have private, verbal conversations with virtual Jesus from any phone, anytime, anywhere on a daily basis. TalkToJesus uses advanced speech and AI technology to help millions connect with God personally and hear the Bible read interactively like never before. TalkToJesus will be a personal tool to help those in need...TTJ will have a soothing, caring and inspiring voice. He will learn your name and address you personally. He will read from the Bible, listen to sins and console. Jesus will pray with you interactively, and you will be able to ask Jesus numerous theological questions. TalkToJesus will educate, guide, console, forgive and more. Nothing like this has ever been done before. While millions have heard the word of God and embrace Jesus, TTJ is an extension to help people further in their lives."

Words (almost) fail me. Even if this is a joke, its not funny.

For me at least, I'll just continue to talk to Jesus the old-fashioned way - through reading God's Word, and through the amazing REAL (not virtual) access provided to us into the very presence of God through prayer on the basis of the merit of the shed blood of our Lord Jesus:

Therefore, brothers,since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He opened for us through the curtain, that is, through His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful Hebrews 10:19-23 (emphasis added)

We don't need a "virtual jesus"... we already have access to the REAL JESUS.

He DOES speak to us, through His revealed Word, the Bible (Hebrews 4:12). He DOES speak to us - through the ministry of His Holy Spirit (John 17, especially vs. 13-14).

*He speaks to the world as well (John 17:8-11).

*He gives us forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9).

*He leads His own into obedience (John 10:27).

*He makes His will and purpose known to us. He provides wisdom and direction to us when we ask believing (James 1:5-6).

*He provides real comfort and peace (Philippians 4:6-7).

*And strength (Ephesians 3:14-19).

*And words to speak at the time we need them (Luke 12:12).

All of this and much more promised to us in the Bible, and without failure to deliver. We DO hear from Jesus... if we listen in faith. And there is no "tech support" or registration required - just this word of instruction:

"You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." Jeremiah 29:13

I love the legal fine print on the bottom of the site: "Disclaimer: TalkToJesus is intended for entertainment purposes only. It is not the actual Jesus." No kidding! Well, there seems's to be no limit to what men will mock for "entertainment purposes," and no end to man's desire to play to spiritual hunger and ignorance in man. And while there is, in many quarters these days, a "famine of God's Word" (Amos 8:11), thank God that He is a God who listens to, and speaks with His people. May we be a people who listen to, and speak with Him as well.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Teenage Affluenza

When I first saw this video, I thought it was filmed right here in Mayberry! When you think about it, it is a terrible tragedy that many of the children in our community - yes, even in our little sub-culture - must endure the ravages of this horrific illness.

Please take a look, and think about what you can do to help these poor children.

Monday, July 09, 2007

For What It's Worth...

Just in case you are interested, I've put into a snappy pdf form my series from earlier this year on the state of our little evangelical sub-culture. You'll find it in the "links" section on the side bar, and feel free to read and distribute - or argue - as you think appropriate.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

A Quick Thought...

Here's a helpful reminder for your weekend...

“The devil has seldom done a cleverer thing than hinting to the church that part of their mission is to provide entertainment for the people, with a view to winning them…providing amusement for the people is nowhere spoken of in the Scriptures as a function of the church…the need is for Biblical doctrine, so understood and felt that it sets men aflame.

That's getting harder and harder to find these days in the entertainment-soaked culture (and sub-culture) in which we live, isn't it?

Friday, June 29, 2007

Cambridge today...

I'm spending a relaxing day today at Cambridge University - the "other place" from my last UK university stop. Unbelievable the history... From an American's perspective, it's like walking thought the history class I slept through in college. I wish I had actually learned while I was there!

It should, I think, be required for every student to travel to the location that they are studying. (In technical legal terms, this suggestion would be termed "Duh!"). At so many levels, it is facinating. To walk where Isaac Newton studied, to visit the home of C.S. Lewis' professorship... Fantastic!

I'm having a late lunch at the Eagle in the RAF bar' where the Allied pilots in WW2 met, and left their names on the ceiling. Those men literally left a mark on the world.

In the midst of all this, I"m left to wonder whether, in the brief time I have left in this life, whether my life will be worth remembering... What "mark" will I leave? Not to be remembered by men (a stop on a tour, quickly forgotten after the camera clicks), but will it count from our Lord's perspective?

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past
Only what's done for Christ lasts."

Very true - and very "felt" here on a rainy morning in Cambridgeshire, UK.

By the way, punting on the Cam on a sunny afternoon (hey, the weather changed) - unbelivable! Pictures to follow over at that "other" website after I get home.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Greetings fom London...

It's been a while since I posted, and with good reason... I've been on the road a ton this last month. In the UK for 10 days since the last post, end of the school year stuff with the family, Doulos jr. off to Kenya on a missions trip and Mrs. D getting ready for 2 weeks in Uganda with Compassion International.

For me, around the business trip earlier this month I had the chance to spend a day in Oxford with a dear friend (who was with me on his sabbatical) - we wandered the streets, looked at the history... how could we pass up a chance to visit the old "Inkling" haunt! I was having a pint in honor of the boys there when a group of people from "Harvard of the Midwest" walked through. It figures - more Wheaton people in the pub than locals! Here's a look at my wife's husband in what I understand was CSL's seat:

(I understand that the President's son was ushering through a tour of Wheaties and Moody students. Hope my choice in beverages didn't cause a stir in Midwest Evangelicaldom!)

Amidst the excitement of the trip, I found myself at the spot where Latimer and Ridley were executed in 1555 (and Cranmer in 1556), dying in denouncing the authority of the Pope and, in particular, the doctrine of transubstantiation. I realize that the times, the political landscape and contemporary culture played a big part in the drama of that 16th century scene, but I was struck by the fact that these men were willing to die for their beliefs. And they did... horribly, painfully. And all three of them - following the call of Latimer (and perhaps echoing the voice heard by Polycarp at his martyrdom) did "play the man" - and England still remembers their sacrifice.

Or maybe they do... the monument is there - along with the spot on the ground where it happened. But I was struck by how little it seemed to matter to those who passed by - an old story from a long ago time.

But for me, it was like it had just happened. Maybe it was having just read Light From Old Times by J.C. Ryle... but maybe it was also the reality that there was a day when something was actually worth dying for! I listen at baptism services when people talk about "giving everything" for the sake of following Jesus, but I was struck by the brutality - the finality - the commitment - the heroism - of the sacrifice made by these ordinary men who, in the end, gave an extraordinary testimony. Perhaps Cranmer caught my attention the most... he denied his faith and, in the end, came through with a firm affirmation of the truth. And as the fire was kindled, he stuck out his right hand - the one that had signed the damning recantation of his protestant faith - and put it right into the fire... he held it there while it burned, saying "that unworthy hand!" Wow.

In today's post-modern, relativistic evangelical sub-culture, it feels sometimes like everything is open for debate - 4 views of this, 5 views of that... with "group consensus" as the only thing which holds many congregations together. Doctrine (which, by its nature, divides) is the enemy of consensus and viewed with distain! That's a subject I'd love to discuss more, but how different our time is than the days of Latimer, Ridley and Cranmer! (BTW, for an excellent analysis of this current evangelical cultural phenomenon, I'd highly recommend that you read Chapter 4 of the book Beyond the Bounds ["Why Open Theism Is Flourishing Now" by William C. Davis - along with his devastating anaylsis of key proponents of open theism, his cultural analysis is spot-on and important for all to understand]).

Anyway, the question I'm asking is this: What would I die for? I hope I'm not tested on this soon, but I'd like to think that the rest of my life will increasingly mirror the devotion of these men at the point of their obedience even to death. In a world where truth is denied... it certainly isn't worth suffering for... I want my life to be measured by the unshakable reality of the truth of the doctrine of God revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ. And even if I need to point out that my members are "unworthy" like Cranmer, may I ultimately be found faithful in the end.

What a legacy... what a testimony. What a challenge. What a need today.

Well, I'm back in London again this week, and will head up to Cambridge for the day on Friday. Anybody have any good reformation sites for me to visit?? :)

Friday, May 25, 2007

Is God REALLY In Control?

Before I go any farther, "YES"still is the correct answer.

I've been having an ongoing discussion/debate for some time now with some friends about the scope and extent of God's sovereignty - and its interaction with man's "free will." My reformed friends know both the discussion and the heart ache of hearing the same objections over and over about the clear teaching of the Word. It's a topic I want to discuss further sometime.

But sometimes the discussion isn't just academic. Sometimes, we get a glimpse of real life... and the theoretical becomes very, very personal.

It's that way for me this evening.

A word of history first... when I was the father of very young children, I used to say that the three words I feared most were "some assembly required." When our third child - our daughter - was born, I said the feared three word phrase became "Dad, meet Thor." (BTW, I now have a friend named Thor and he's a nice guy, so I don't think that joke works anymore).

But when my kids were 6, 4, 2 and 11 months, I found the real three words that I feared: "He has cancer." Two of them did. (Check my lone August 2006 post for more detail at Leukemia struck two of my boys in two weeks. Our lives were shaken to the core... and EVERYTHING was up for grabs.

OF COURE GOD IS IN CONTROL OVER EVERYTHING THAT EVER HAPPENS! And I had to ask myself then this question: Is God really in control - of all of the details of my life? And my kids? Does He really control all things? Do all things really work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose?

I have friends who would tell me "No, God is not in charge... we are. Our actions, etc. influence or even dictate God's actions. God's answer is always "yes and amen" - and we choose "no" for an answer, even when God longs for us not to do so. Sickness, poverty, etc. can be defeated and health and prosperity - while not an end to themselves - are all certainly within our grasp if we do and think the right way.

But sometimes, they are not. And I know it can be expected "...because the Bible tells me so."
So when faced with a life crisis, these dear people think that God is NOT, as a practical matter, in control of the problem that they face. Perhaps God is just emphethic, they might say... interested in the outcome, but so "repectful of our freedom" that He limits His sovereign control and hasn't determined the outcome. I believe I understand (and don't agree with) their exegetical argument, but what I really don't understand is why they believe the thought that God's lack of control would be in any way comforting - as if God's plans could somehow "be thwarted" now by the circumstances of life and our choices. (see Job 42:2).

But the truth is still THE TRUTH, whether or not people agree: God is IN CONTROL. The Bible is extremely clear on this point, and I'm consistently amazed at the twisting of the plain meaning of the Bible.

The Bible's answer to the greatest difficulty of my life was great comfort to me then, and now. I experienced God's peace in a way I never would have dreamed possible, resting in the fact - the truth - that God knows all things... is in control of all things... and that NOTHING happens that is outside of his perfect will and plan.

I'm thinking about this tonight because we have dear friends who's son was diagnosed with leukemia earlier this week. It brings back all of the feelings - and all of the same questions I had when my kids were sick. And I'm grateful that the answers are still the same.

My wife and I sat quietly together tonight alone in our house. We ache for our friends, we remember our grief and pain and wish somehow we could take those feelings away from them and protect them. Most of all, we remember the burning, almost irrational wish to take the cancer on ourselves... anything to spare our children.

I hated that time. And, because of the work of a sovereign God, I learned to love Him more through that horrible time as well.

On the "theology" question, you see that I'm not posting a defense of the Biblical doctrines of God's Sovereignty and His Omniscience... I'm not even really open for the "debate." And tonight, I'm not interested in establishing the point... I'm resting in it.

I just feel sorry for people whose lives are not anchored by the TRUTH of God's Hand moving in ALL things, including those things we don't like at the time. Even Job rightly considered himself in God's hands and under His control in the midst of the worst of his trials - and chose well by continuing to trust the Lord beyond his own ability to understand - even when being totally honest emotionally about his life circumstance:

"Though he slay me, I will hope in him, yet I will argue my ways to His face." (Job 13:15)

Paul, when discussing this whole question of God's sovereign control of life, comes to this conclusion:
"Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and how inscrutable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to Him that he might be repayed? For from Him and through Him and to Him are ALL THINGS. To Him be glory forever. Amen." (Romans 11:33-36,
emphasis added)

There is so much there to talk about... and perhaps we will over time. But for me tonight, I'm resting in the sovereignty of God. I'm resting in the promise that ALL things work together for good - not just the ones I understand.

And I'm praying for that same rest for my friends as well. And for their dear son, Matthew. If I can presume just a little further, will you pray for them all when you read this as well?

( - you need to create a user name/password, but look for the carepage of mathewanderson).

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Psalm 138:2 (Conclusion) - Who Do We Want To Be?

“I bow down towards your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness, for you exalted above all things your name and your word.” Psalm 138:2 (ESV)

God really does exalt His Name and His Word above ALL THINGS. His Glory is His highest priority... and His Glory is to be our highest priority, too. We live in a world where everything presses us away our true "chief end" - to glorify God and enjoy Him forever - to any number of other things. Even good things are wrong if they usurp our proper focus on our God. All of the good in the world that we do is worthless and meaningless if we are not exalting God's Name and His Word in what we do. And we've seen how insidious this can be, because we can

  • Do the wrong things
  • Do the right things the wrong way and
  • Do even the right things, but be the wrong people while we do them.

We've been focusing on the church, and the question for us to answer ultimately is this: Who do we want to be?

By the way, this is a question for all of us to answer. Don't leave this up to your pastor, or your elders. By the way, thank God for godly men who lead in our local assemblies - and pray for protection from the ungodly ones who have "crept in unnoticed" (Jude 4). By the way, as in Jude's day, this has not caught God by surprise - notice that they were "long ago designated for this condemnation"... but that's a subject for another post!) What I mean is this: YOU are responsible. You and I are - whether we are "leaders" or "congregants" - we own responsibility for whether or not our "church" follows God's priorities.

We believe in the "priesthood of all believers"(1 Peter 2:5, 9). We believe that the Holy Spirit provides each one of us the ability to learn even without assistance of another (1 John 2:27). I'm not denigrating the importance of the leadership function within a local assembly and especially not the role of teachers, but you must bear your own responsibility for obedience individually - and corporately. And when your leadership is going the wrong direction, I would suggest that you may not ignore that... you will be held responsible for participating in the corporate sin.

So whoever you are, I'm asking you: Who do you want your church to be? Do you want to be part of a body that exalts God's Name and His Word above ALL THINGS, or are you counting on God grading your assembly on a curve, hoping you're doing better than the others?

And by the way, the fact that God evaluates - and punishes - local churches should be obvious to anyone who's read the Bible. Without going any further, I'll say this: Revelation 2 and 3.

So here's my answer to my own question. It has two parts:

1. I want to be part of a "local" church. You heard me... unfortunately, I think that the concept has become very confused these days.

The word for "church" is used at least 3 ways in the New Testament, meaning the following:

  • The timeless, universal body of all whom God will save through His Son. For example, this is what Jesus was referring to when he said to Peter in Matthew 16:18 that, upon Peter's confession, "I will build my church" - see also Ephesians 1:22, 3:10, 5:23-27, 29, 32; Colossians 1:18, 24)
  • The totality of Christians living and meeting in a particular locality or larger geographical area, but not necessarily limited to one meeting place. (See Acts 5:11, 8:3, 9:31, 11:26, 12:5, 15:3, 18:22, 20:17; 1 Corinthians 4:17; Philippians 4:15; and 1 Timothy 5:16)
  • The gathering of individuals who were in community personally - frequently in their houses. (Paul in Romans 16:5 sends a greeting to Prisca and Aquila, and to "the church in their house.")

I'm coming to understand that the Church exists in these three forms: Universally, Regionally and Locally. We belong to a body who's membership spans human history and geography. God is gathering together from all nations a people - the Church. What an amazing and wonderful thought! We also belong to a body of believers alive today, that we can work with to accomplish God's purpose for our time. And, we are to be sharing daily life - to be interconnected - with believers who know us because they live with us.

This is my conclusion: Too often, we miss one or more of these three aspects of the Church. For example:

  • The importance of the Church Universal is sometimes forgotten in a culture that doesn't value its own history, or is so parochial and ingrown that it doesn't recognize God's working outside of its own boundaries. While thankfully, I believe it has changed, I grew up in a church that didn't easily recognize God's working outside of its own denominational borders.
  • The importance of the Church Regional is sometimes forgotten in a culture that values individuality. How many of our communities see a consistent, unified witness even from Bible-believing local churches town? Why is it so hard to work together on areas of common focus?
  • The importance of the Church Local is sometimes forgotten in a culture that substitutes the "weekly worship experience" for a daily lifestyle of real community.

This last point is particularly a problem in my experience. I'm certainly not against "church growth," but the reckless pursuit of numbers in many local churches I've seen has a price - we've traded numbers for community. Sadly, it is increasingly possible in my experience to "go to church" and never really be part of an inter-dependent, accountable, supportive community of believers!

The rise of "mega-churches" furthers the problem. The thinking is that the bigger the church is, the more "resources" it has to offer to those who attend. And while bigger churches support bigger budgets and bigger programming schedules, it becomes increasingly harder to disciple and shepherd those who attend. Pastors become administrators, Elders become trustees, ministry becomes "professionalized" and people become congregants or giving units. Real community becomes something you have to hunt for, and it is far too easy to escape.

I think this is happening too often in the church in middle-America. Or at least in DuPage County. It has become far too easy to be satisfied with the programming provided by the Church Regional while missing out on the community found in the Church Local. "Church" too often has become a service provider, or even an event, rather than the inter-dependent community it was intended to be. Church for many is a one-stop convenience store for our spiritual needs... a religious mall experience. We go there when convenient, we get what we need, and then get on to the rest of our life.

Here's a self-diagnostic question: If you start making bad decisions, who knows you well enough to see them? Who knows you well enough to come to you and confront you? If you are in a crisis, who will come to support you? I don't mean just bringing a meal... who will walk through life with you? Who are you sharing life with? If you don't have names to name, I'd suggest that you don't belong to a "local" church.

Too often in my experience:

  • People throw their energy into the programming of their Sunday morning church experience, helping that organization run... and I'm not opposed to that at all. Good things can happen there, but the bigger the assembly, the harder it is to build community. I am suggesting that if your connection to other believers is limited to the programming of your Sunday morning church, you don't belong to a "local" church.
  • People funnel their giving solely through the budget of their Sunday morning church... and I'm not opposed to giving to your church. After all, a lifestyle of charity doesn't provide tax receipts for your next 1040 filing, does it? But what percentage of your budget goes to supporting the infrastructure as opposed to doing ministry? I'm suggesting that if your giving is limited to what you provide in the Sunday morning offering, I'd suggest that you don't belong to a "local" church.

As for me, I'm thankful for the Church Universal - I look forward to the day that I'll be joined with all who have been redeemed. I'm thankful for the Church Regional - I believe that we have a unique opportunity to reach our communities, and I don't want to denigrate it's importance. But I'm also thankful for the privilege of having people who really know me, and will call me out when I'm wrong, hold me up when I'm weak and cheer me on when I'm doing well. And I feel very sad for those who don't have this experience.

Just to say it, my experience has been that my generation expresses a desire for "local" church... but its money and passion go into the "Sunday morning experience." And the need for local community breaks my heart, and drives me to prayer.

And here's the other thing (I know this is a surprise):

2. I want to be part of a body that exalts God's Name and His Word above all other things.

After all these months of thinking about this verse, I come back to the thought that struck me when I heard this verse mentioned in a sermon: God puts HIMSELF above ALL THINGS - and that's right and good - AND I SHOULD TOO. Individually, and corporately. And here's just one example of what this looks like:

I picked up my oldest son from college yesterday... he gave me a copy of his final paper for his class in Greek New Testament Exegesis (do I sound like a proud father?) :) His text was Ephesians 4:25-32. I'm so grateful for what God is teaching him, and his commitment to study... and his growing love for God's Word. (By the way, I'm still stunned when I hear of preachers who have no interest in reading the Bible in the original language. For a stinging rebuke of this trend - as well as a strong encouragement about the practical benefits of the importance of the ability to read "God's Word in God's handwriting," see chapter 12 of Brothers, We Are Not Professionals by John Piper.) But I digress.

In part, Brad dealt with Ephesians 5:26a ("Be angry and do not sin..."), and points out that the verb translated "be angry" is not a conditional or permissive imperative, but that Paul is using the command imperative form. The point is this: We are supposed to be angry - we are, in fact, commanded to be so. In context, when things are happening in the local assembly that are contrary to the Lord's revealed will, we are supposed to be angry about it - yet without sin.

We live in a culture that says "it's none of my business" - and maybe you've felt that way about this little series of mine. "Who is he to say anything about this stuff? If something really is wrong in the church, shouldn't that be left to God to deal with? Shouldn't we just focus on the 'positive' and leave the rest to God to address?"

The answer, from God's Word, is that it is our responsibility to address wrong in the church. And (here's the really counter-cultural thought) we are supposed to be ANGRY about it. Our anger is not to be in sin, but it is to be anger none the less. This is, by the way, the point of what Paul was chastising the Corinthians for when they had tolerated incest (among other things) within their fellowship.

Now I know that people go overboard sometimes on this, but that's really not the danger I see. I see far too many people who go along, look the other way, give unreasonable benefit of the doubt, and in the end DO NOTHING.

If that's you, don't be that person any longer. Believers must feel righteous anger but not sin because of it.

So as for me, I'm done with the game. God's Name and His Word is too important, our time is too short, and the problem is too big to ignore any longer.

And I'll speak up when I can be heard. I'll plead with those who will listen. I'll do whatever the Lord puts in front of me. And I'll continue to pray that God will choose to step into our paths, and reveal Himself in a way that puts into perspective the silliness and showiness that has substituted for real spirituality in our day.

In a very short time assuming the Lord tarries, someone will write the story about our generation. Will it be that we changed music styles from 40's music to 90's music? Will it be that we grew the average church size from 120 to 450, and increased by a bazillion the number of mega-churches? Will it be that we created a whole new market place for "worship" musicians?

Or will it be that we exalted above all things God's Name and His Word?

Our Lord Jesus set this example for us. He is our example of what it looks like to exalt God's Name and His Word above all things. We ought to hear clearly then from John when he says:

"...This is how we know we are in Him.: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." (1 John 2:5b-6)

If we are to do this, the WHAT, the HOW and the WHO of what we do must be right. And there is still time to do so, even for old people like me. When our time is through, may it be said of us that nothing was more important to us ... nothing was more alluring to us... nothing provoked more passion in us... than the Name of the Lord and His Word. If we really love Him, how can we do otherwise?

Let me love Thee, love is mighty

Swaying realms of deed and thought;

By it I can walk uprightly,

I can serve Thee as I ought.

Love will soften every trial

Love will lighten every care;

Love unquestioning will follow,

Love will triumph, love will dare!