Saturday, December 26, 2015


It is my own fault, I suppose.  I should have known better.  But if you are a parent you can forgive me my blindness.   I am sure you've suffered the same blindness from time to time.  Let me confess from the start that I consider myself a fairly terrible parent.  I won't go into details, but let's just say I have no illusions concerning my parenting skills. If it wasn't for my wife I think things would have been many times worse.  But that out of the way I have always tried to raise my children in the way they should go.  I've also tried to live the life God calls me to live.  Not perfectly, but I think with a fair amount of integrity.

I thought, wrongly I see now, that if I raised my children reading, studying and living the Word of God; if I prayed for them and our family, taking them to church with me and raising them in a godly environment (we even home-schooled all six of them) that they would just follow Christ themselves.  I realize that some interpret Proverbs 22:6 to mean "raise a child into what they are gifted for and tend towards and they won't depart from it".  To clear the air let me state in unequivocal terms that such and interpretation is a great example of terrible exegesis.  Not even the context supports such and interpretation.  The fact is the passage leads one to believe that doing the right thing results in the right outcome because that is precisely what the passage seems to be saying.  I know now that this isn't true.  At least not a lot of the time (and in all fairness Proverbs was never meant to be read that way).

I am sure now it was a self imposed, but I was blind to what the Scriptures was really telling me.  Jesus told us that because of him the children would turn against their parents.  We were told by the apostle that in the last days children would be haters of their parents.  I grew up in the "focus on the family" era in which child psychology guided our exegesis so I can't be faulted entirely for my mistake.  But regardless of who I blame, the fact is the Scripture makes it clear that the "normal" outcome will be non-christians hating true followers of Christ.  And in some cases this will be a battle between children and their parents (in both directions).

This doesn't mean that we as parents are exempt from doing everything we can to raise our children in the right way.  But it does mean that we need to be honest with ourselves up front.  We need to brace ourselves for the very real possibility that our children will choose to not follow our Savior and rebel against us as they continue their rebellion against God.  I've watched too many parents (mostly mothers) have meltdowns when it came to their children.  Their spiritual walk either ceases or becomes some tragic, desperate spiritual parody as they enter a lifelong grieving for their wayward children.  I am not saying that grief is wrong or that we should not do what we can to rescue our children, but the fact is we are called to follow Jesus unto our own salvation.  Yes, we must evangelize, but in the grand scheme of things our children may not be the priority we thought they were.  Jesus even rewards those who forsake their wives and children!
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.
(Matthew 19:29 ESV)
I think we American Christians need to take a serious look at our theology and instead of asking "How should I worship God?" ask, "How does God want me to worship Him?"  These are slightly different questions but different in a very important ways.  Too often we construct our theology around how we are most comfortable interacting with God.  Sometimes we go so far as to construct a completely new god.  Other times we have the right God but we decide how to interact with him on our terms.  Either way the results are turning out to be disastrous for the modern Church.

How does God want us to worship him?  How does he want us to follow him?  These questions are answered in Scripture but also in history.  Simply look at the first thousand years of the church and you will (as I have) come to the startling realization that the pre-reformation and premodern church was very different than the church we see today. You will see over and over again parents choosing to follow Jesus and the children refusing to do so (as well as the other way around).  But instead of continually trying to build little christian kingdoms out of their families as we seem to be all about today, these individuals had a laser focus on the lamb who was slain almost to the shunning of everything and everyone else!  Oh they loved others, but never more than their own Savior.  Their salvation was more than just avoiding hell (again, a modern construct), salvation was about being filled with and saturated with the God whom they loved with all their heart, mind, soul and strength.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Bring it!

[Note: this post is directed to my brothers and sisters here in America.  In other countries where persecution against Christians is a fact of life the words here are almost meaningless]

I am glad Christianity isn't popular any more and getting less so by the day.  I'm glad it is no longer the status quo. I'm glad there are people who hate Jesus and hate his followers.  I'm glad people have no idea who Jesus was or is (even when they claim they do because their claims and their lifestyles demonstrate their ignorance of him).  I'm glad people hate the Christian hell, the Christian heaven, the Christian God, and the Christian church. In my humble opinion nothing is really worth having unless you're required to have it with all your might.

What we are starting to see is what true followers of Christ and even Jesus himself saw.  What we have had in America has been, for the most part, artificial.  Jesus said the world would hate his followers because the world hated him.  He said we should expect persecution as normal.  He said we should take warning when people love us and speak well of us.  He said we must (must!) take up our cross and follow him.  Have you never read what they did to him?

While we were busy focusing on the family we were forgetting Jesus' words that our families would turn their backs on Him and on us.  The Scriptures make it abundantly clear that family is important and we, as believers, are to provide for them materially and spiritually. If we don't provide for them the Bible calls us worse than unbelievers.  But that doesn't mean at all costs.  Jesus didn't mince words.  Our enemies will be the members of our own household.  So why are we surprised when they turn their backs on us and our Savior?  Why do we make our children the focus of our efforts and our dreams to the apparent exclusion of our Savior and his lordship?

What we are seeing today is separation of the chaff from the wheat and the sheep from the goats.  No longer can people hide behind the name "Christian".  True Christians will not only wear that name but they will become that name and nothing anyone says or does to them can change that. Not because we are strong or smart or powerful but because greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.

People all the time romanticize about the early church.  "I want to find a church that is like the first believers" they say.  "I want to live like the first believers lived" they opine.  Really?  Are you sure? The early believers not only died for their faith they literally ran to their deaths.  They not only said, "I will suffer for the cause of Christ" they said, "Bring it on!"  They laid themselves upon crosses, they volunteered to go to the lions, they declared their allegiance to the one true God before their judges and executioners.  Given opportunity to recant and be saved from death they instead declared their love for the lamb of God who could save their souls and then they died, some of them singing while the lions ripped them and their friends and families to shreds or the flames choked their voices.   So think long and hard before you ask God to help you live like the early believers.  They didn't live.  They died.  Are you ready for that?

If you want to know what the early church was like look around you. Open your eyes. You will see it soon enough. If you aren't seeing it then perhaps you are asking the wrong questions.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas wish list from the University of Tennessee

Guidelines for celebrating the day formally known as Christmas a la University of Tennessee.  The university revised the guidelines to a minimalist three paragraphs after receiving substantial negative feedback from Republican lawmakers, but not before the Washington Times snagged a copy (I'm copying it here because the click bate on the WT site is so prodigious that the page barely loads).

I particularly like #1.  Got to watch out for those tricky Christians who have nothing better to do than seduce unsuspecting party-goes into attending a Christmas party in disguise.  Also notice how #1 and #5 contradict each other.   Did anyone even edit this thing before it went up?  The university insists they were only trying to be inclusive and not bar anyone from publicly celebrating Christmas according to their own cultural and religious preferences.  But again I must ask, did anyone edit this list before it went up?  Indeed, did anyone even read it before it was published?

This is the same university, mind you, that made suggestions for the more  inclusive pronouns  “Ze, Zir, and Xyr”.  So in keeping with their track record of the absurd here is the list and a very Merry Christmas to you.

  1. Holiday parties and celebrations should celebrate and build upon workplace relationships and team morale with no emphasis on religion or culture. Ensure your holiday party is not a Christmas party in disguise.
  2. Consider having a New Year’s party and include décor and food from multiple religions and cultures. Use it as an opportunity to reinvigorate individuals for the new year’s goals and priorities.
  3. Supervisors and managers should not endorse, or be perceived as endorsing, religion generally or a specific religion.
  4. If an individual chooses not to participate in a holiday party or celebration, do not pressure the person to participate. Participation should be voluntary.
  5. If a potluck-style party or celebration is planned, encourage employees to bring food items that reflect their personal religions, cultures, and celebrations. Use this as an opportunity for individuals to share what they brought and why it is meaningful to them.
  6. If sending holiday cards to campus and community partners, send a non-denominational card or token of your gratitude.
  7. Holiday parties and celebrations should not play games with religious and cultural themes–for example, “Dreidel” or “Secret Santa.” If you want to exchange gifts, then refer to it in a general way, such as a practical joke gift exchange or secret gift exchange.
  8. Décor selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture. Identify specific dates when décor can be put up and when it must come down.
  9. Refreshment selection should be general, not specific to any religion or culture.
  10. Most importantly, celebrate your religious and cultural holidays in ways that are respectful and inclusive of our students, your colleagues, and our university.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Who are you for?

I am for Paul, I am for Apollos, I am for Cephas, I am for Christ.  Each person, each denomination, each group declaring their allegiance to a particular person.  It isn't that honoring a person is wrong, but when it is done to the division of God's church it is damnable.  Leaders don't make it any easier.  Some seemingly want people to follow them.  Sing their music, listen to their talks, read their books, study their commentaries!  They produce and expect the sheep to consume.

Luther hated monasticism and sometimes for good reasons.  But we sure have come a long way from the quiet brothers and sisters who ran from the accolades of men, writing in secret and teaching small numbers and then running to a new hiding place when popularity grabbed their throats with its cold, dead hands.  Instead we capitalize on the popularity and actually believe God is doing it for his glory.  I'm reminded of the rich man whom our Lord turned away.  The disciples gasped to hear Jesus say, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven", thinking that no one could be saved.  Why did they think this?  Because in their minds the rich were the ones whom God was blessing and therefore if the ones whom God blessed could not enter the kingdom how could they, poor as they were, enter the kingdom?  But Jesus didn't see it this way.  He said, "Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who week, blessed are the hungry".

When Luther and his Reformation destroyed monasticism (or attempted to) they  were not just razing an institution they were removing safeguards long in place since earliest times to protect the Church from the backwards slide she would continually find herself in.  How can those who live "in" the world possibly understand that they are becoming "of" the world if they judge themselves by themselves?  They need a standard.  They need a picture of what they were meant to be (albeit in its extreme) in order to see how far they have drifted.  Then, inspired, they will fight to regain what they once had: their first love.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Be a nobody

I am not saying don't be a hero or don't do great and wonderful things.  I'm saying don't worry about being known for them.  Don't let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.  Give in secret.  Give, don't always take. Put the needs of others before your own (maybe not all the time, but you should do it as often as you can).  Stop playing that movie in your head where everyone is glad to meet you and shake your hand, where you are center stage and the savior of the day.  That person doesn't exist.  That person is, like the actor in the movies and television shows, a fiction; a figment of someone's imagination.  The child next to you who wants you to color with her or the elderly gentleman who wants to tell you about his life, or the mother in line ahead of you at the grocery store who can't pay her bill; those people are real and looking for real heros.  They are looking for nobodies.  Nobodies who will be somebody to them but that the world will probably never hear about.  Be that person.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Refining Fire of Pain and Suffering

Unfortunately Protestantism's interpretation of the death of Christ gave rise to a false understanding of suffering.  In fact, there seems to be a taint of Gnosticism in the protestant church that declares flesh and material things as bad and the spirit as good.  This leads to a number of other problems, but the one that is on my mind is that of pain and suffering.

The protestant, reformed view, in a nutshell follows along these lines: Christ died and paid for all our sins legally.  That is, even though I am still a sinner, I am declared guiltless by God because his wrath was satisfied by being poured out upon Jesus on the cross instead of us (provided, that is, we put our faith in that fact).  Eventually some people made the logical extension that if Christ took our curse upon himself, we are healed by his stripes and therefore anything to do with the curse has also been taken away (again, provided we believe).  Pain, poverty, suffering, etc., are all a part of that curse.  If the curse is gone those consequences of the curse are gone as well.

Reformed protestants claim that  Isaiah 53:5 speak only of our salvation from our sins.  1 Peter 2:24 confirms that salvation is definitely in mind here but verse four is used by Matthew to explain why Jesus was healing so many people.  It reads:

And when Jesus entered Peter's house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”

(Matthew 8:14-17 ESV)

So is it unreasonable to apply this understanding to verse 5b as well?

 There is always the propensity for reinterpreting the facts to fit our perceptions, the Reformed and Charismatic theologians not exempted.  One interprets this passage to only refer to salvation and the other to both salvation from sins and disease (and sometimes poverty).  But it is clear from the testimony of Scripture, the Church and all of history since Jesus rose from the grave that God heals but not all the time.  That people are sometimes delivered from their suffering but not usually.  That poverty is a fact for most people in the world, many of them Christian.  So one weakens God by claiming miracles ceased after the Apostles (even though there is not biblical testimony of this and Church history clearly denies this) and that the above passages from Isaiah doesn't speak of physical healing and the other group equally puts God in some kind of theological box by insisting everyone is suppose to be healed and that there is no room for suffering in the Christian.  I am painting with a broad brush here and representing two extremes, but extremes resultant in a misunderstanding of Scripture or a tenacious clinging to one's system.

The fact is God does heal and sometimes heals through other people.  But it is equally true, and more often the case, that God chooses to use suffering to demonstrate his strength and grace through us as Paul tells us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

(2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV)

If we would but look at the history of the Church we would see that, for the majority part, the poor, suffering and destitute were the ones God used the most and to the greatest extent.  Not that he didn't use others, but if being free of pain and suffering and poverty was proof both of God's favor and the persons spirituality, then there were truly not many holy people whom God favored throughout the time until the present day.  

This fact, that God uses the weak, lowly and despised of the world, is exactly why, after the great persecutions ended (for the most part and for the time being) with Constantine, many men and women chose what is sometimes termed "a white martyrdom" by withdrawing to the uninhabitable regions of the dessert into monasteries or a life of complete solitude as hermits.  They knew the world held too great of an attraction for them and without the fire of persecution to burn away the dross and  drive deeply a wedge between them and world they would be lost unless they took desperate measures.  It is too bad Luther and others didn't understand this before they started destroying monasteries and proselytizing their confused inhabitants away into the hailstorm of the Reformation.

This doesn't mean one must become a hermit or a monk in order to die to self and the world.  The monastics would be the first to admit that they withdrew precisely because they were too weak to stay in the world but not of it. But this suffering can come in many ways besides monasticism and persecution.  It can come through poverty, marriage (don't laugh), having children, sickness and disease (both temporary and permanent), fasting and so on.   The source of suffering is ultimately between God and the person, but let's not forget that God is both desiring our sanctification and is at the same time infinitely creative.  So don't be surprised when suffering comes form the most unlikely and least sought after directions.

Am I saying you should always seek suffering?  No. Paul spoke of being "content" (Ph'p 4:11-13).  So there is that.  But sometimes our desire for holiness and closeness to God takes on a more proactive approach.  Sometimes we need to force our flesh into submission (1 Cor. 9:27). Sometimes we need to flee youthful lusts.  Sometimes we need to run to danger instead of from it, embracing the suffering and pain as gifts from an almighty, loving Father.  Yes, he can heal.  But sometimes he doesn't want to.  Sometimes we need to not want him to.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The Difference in being Different

I encourage my children to stand out, to not follow the crowd or do things just because everyone else does.  This is something many voices today are encouraging us to do.  So much so that being different is the new norm (or so we are led to believe).  The irony of a person with face piercings, crazy hairdo, odd (to me) looking clothes hanging out with a crowd of other people that look just like themselves is obvious.  But that is ok.  It is ok to be different within a crowd of people who are different in the same way we are.  Cliques and peer groups can be helpful. They give us strength and courage that comes part and parcel with comradery.  But this is exactly the kind of difference that the world likes for the most part.  It is sometimes helpful but mostly benign.  It can change things, but only if it is led by someone who is truly different. Someone the world fears and especially governments and religious elites hate.   Without these people the crowd is just a crowd and when the crowd reacts it becomes simply, yet horribly, a mob.

When I tell my children to be different I don't mean what the commercials, coming of age movies and young reader books mean.  They perhaps are meaning something more along the lines of being original.  When I tell my children to be different, to not follow the crowd, I don't mean "original" (which is sometimes ok too), but rather to stand up for what is right and stand against what is wrong.  I mean to be a Gandhi, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Smedley Buttler, Helen Keller, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, or the likes.  Not because I agree with everything they believed but because they song something that needed to be said or done and they said it or did it.

Did these people start out with large crowds following them on freedom marches?  Did everyone want to publish their books?  Did people come in droves to shake their hands or come to their defense?   Early on they stood alone or spoke to small crowds or wrote without the hope of ever publishing (or self-published).  They were a crowd of few or one.  But they still spoke up. They were different in the best sense of the word.

We feel that their message or activity is validated but mostly because of the crowds.  How many supporters of King heard his speech or read his material?  How many lovers of Gandhi know anything of his ascetical lifestyle, his heartbreaks his failures?  Rosa sat alone and was arrested alone (though she was not the first.  Do you know any of their names?).  But now the bus from that event is in a museum and people walk by thinking to themselves, "If I were there I would have stood by her. I would have done something.  I would have said something".  Who cares what you would have said?  What are you going to say now?  That is the question we must answer.  When you are in a crowd it is easy to shout the "right" thing.  But what about when you are outside of the crowd and the crowd is shaking its collective fist at you?  What you say or do then is what really counts.

Being different must be done within a context that includes a set of restraints or boundaries.  And this is the part of being different too.  At least it will make you different.  People don't like restraints of any kind, especially in America.  We can't just say, "Be different!", and leave it at that. What good does that do?  A serial killer or pediphael is different but we certainly don't want people to be that.  Everyone has restraints even if they don't like to admit it.  Even hedonists have restraints all the while they are calling for the abolition of them.  Having these also make one different.  They sometimes can be exactly what defines the difference.  We homeschool our children and that is both based upon and creates a number of boundaries and restraints.  And that certainly makes us different even in a day when the popularity of homeschooling continues to soar.   But keep in mind these restraints can also be the thing that causes the crowd to leave you (or you leave it) and make you enemy number one among those who once claimed to be your supporter.  Here, probably more than when you made your initial leap of faith to put yourself forward as a trouble-maker, is where you will need to be strong.   Even Jesus asked his disciples when 500 people stopped following him, "Will you leave me too"?

Yes, be different.  Be original.  But be really different.  Be really original.  Think!  Think hard.  Don't stay silent.  Act!  This will take vigilance on your part.  You can't just coast along but you must always be testing yourself to see if you are now just a member of the "different crowd" or if you truly are following your conscience, doing and saying what is true and good and right. Even if you are alone.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Helping Apollos

In Acts 18:24-28 we are told of a time when Priscilla and Aquila ran across a follower of Jesus preaching in the synagogue.  He was eloquent in speech and very bold in proclaiming the way of the Lord.  We are told that he "taught accurately the things concerning Jesus".  Yet, interestingly, Priscilla and Aquila saw a need for further training.  We are told, "...they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately".

I've been a Christian for almost thirty years. I've taught Sunday school, youth groups, small groups and have preached more sermons than I can remember.  But sometimes I wish I could burn all my sermons and erase the minds of everyone I ever taught both formally and informally.  Why do I feel that way?  Because, even though I knew the Scripture, loved Jesus and had a zeal, I had almost zero real guidance.  No real discipleship. What teaching I did have came from so many odd and, often times wrong, sources.

Twenty years after being called by God to follow his Son my theology had been cobbled together from so many different and competing sources that I found it increasingly difficult to give a one sentence explanation of what I believed.  Reformed, Charismatic, Anabaptist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Wesleyan, Finnian, and more.  Needless to say my teaching and sermons sometimes took on flavors of all these schools with me having a constant battle inside my heart and my head for one system and then another.  Not a few times I despaired.  Not because I was worried that I would never know right from wrong, but because I lamented the fact that what I had once taught (sometimes just a few weeks earlier) was being challenged and I wasn't sure I had taught the right thing.

Now let me assure you, before I continue, that my core beliefs never changed much.  For example, since I was born again I have always believed that I was saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity.  So it wasn't like I was off visiting cultville at any time.  I preached the truth of the gospel.  But I so desperately needed and wish that someone had come along to explain the way of God more accurately.  It would have saved much heartache, confusion and frustration.

Even now I must admit that I still don't have a team Priscilla and Aquila in my corner. I have had to turn to the Internet and a shelf full of dead people to get to where I am today. How do I know I am right in what I believe now?  I am sure I am not right in everything I believe.  However, I do know the things I use to teach which are, according to the entirety of the Bible, dead wrong.   And that is a very good thing.  So I am not saying that the growing will ever be over this side of the veil or anything like that.  What I am saying is that those of us out there who have the ability to teach and an understanding of biblical (dare I say, Reformed) doctrine have a responsibility to disciple everyone and anyone who will submit to being discipled.

Notice in the text Apollos was actively preaching the gospel. This wasn't your Sunday Christian who signs up for membership classes and then never shows up because he forgot about soccer practice or the new convert who can't be bothered to even show up on Sunday.  This is one of those people who just "gets it" and, for good or for bad, jumps in - not feet first - but head first!  This kind of person is every teacher's dream student.  But today many would just let him do his thing, saying things like, "You are so mature for someone who has just started following Jesus".  At least he loves Jesus, right?  At least he loves people enough to tell them the gospel, right?  Wrong! Those things are great, but in the case of our text, at least two people thought he needed more and so they took him aside and explained the way of God more accurately.

It is true that many big personalities out there will not listen to instruction and that typically is what makes them horrible teachers, peddling false doctrine and destroying lives.  But many more are not like that and I wonder sometimes where our churches would be if we had more Priscillas and Aquilas ready and able to teach and more Apollos ready to be taught.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Nine things, yea ten, I wish congregations would tell their worship leaders

My family and I spent a few years living with a very conservative Anabaptist group in the mid-west. We lived communally and although there are a number of things I miss about that life, one in particular was our singing.  Everyone sang together, no leader, no instruments.  I'm not against either leaders or instruments, but there is something to be said for the simplicity and purity of worshiping God in an uncomplicated manner in which the voices of the worshipers are clearly heard.  Whenever I go to worship these days, overburdened with its intricate sound systems, multiple instruments, complicated song arrangements and questionable doctrinal content I find myself missing those days.

What follows are ten things I wish we could finally deal with in our congregations. Leading worship can be a burden and I don't want to add to it but these things have been heavy on my heart for quite a while and, in a way, I'm hoping I am not alone.  I believe something has got to change, and perhaps drastically, if we are going to see true reformation in our churches.

Let me also offer somewhat of a qualification here.  I love music. All types of music. There are very few genres of music I don't like.  On top of that I've been playing the guitar and piano since I was young. I've written songs and sung in front of both small and large crowds for churches, weddings and other gatherings, solo and in groups.  I'm not here indicating that there is not place ever for instruments and various types of music in our worship of God.  I am addressing a very specific circumstance and setting;  specifically the Lord's day.

There has been a well intentioned if not misguided teaching in the church over the past fifty years or so in which some have argued that the church gathering should be like any other gathering and where we should be free to express our love for God and each other the same way we do all week long.  This idea began  as an attempt to remove the two story separation between the sacred and the secular by bringing the sacred back into the secular of everyday living. Although this was good and important as the split was artificial and contrived in order to remove God from having any influence in our society by secularists, proponents attempted to go one step further in order to fix what could be argued as not really needing to be fixed in the first place.  That is, when it came to the gathering of God's people they brought the secular into the sacred.

"There is a difference between a private devotional life and a corporate one. Solemnity is proper in church, but things that are proper in church are not necessarily proper outside, and vice versa. For example, I can say a prayer while washing my teeth, but that does not mean I should wash my teeth in church."  C.S. Lewis

This move manifested itself in the ditching of the suits, ties and dresses, the removal of the pulpit, the renaming of things like the chancel to the stage, the narthex to the welcome center and the sanctuary to to meeting hall or auditorium.  We got rid of the organ and, many times, the piano and brought in worship bands.  We stopped using  hymns and wrote music that would sound more like what we were hearing on the radio every day, often times substituting the rich theological message of the hymns with a doctrinally anemic one.  The pastors, worship leaders and elders started dressing in jeans and t-shirts, sandals, sneakers and shorts.  Tattoos and ear rings became common place and  the exposition of God's Word was replaced with vignettes and skits, sprinkled with jokes, personal stories, and rants augmented by lights, video clips and power points.  Social justice became the focus of the church and soon replaced in part or in whole her original mandate (Matthew 28:19, 20).

Not every church is doing all of these things but many or most have seen quite a few of them and make it into their ecclesiology.  These changes were not necessarily sinful in and of themselves and, as I've already mentioned, they were  done with the best of intentions (most of the time).  But now that we've had a few years to see the effects are we happy with the state of the church today?  Are we satisfied with the results?  More importantly, are we sure God is happy with the results?

I have more I'd like to say about this subject, but I'll save that for future posts.  For now I am dealing with that thing we call "worship" and, more specifically, congregational singing.  So let me simply give you the list to chew on and we can discuss it later after we've both had time to digest it.

1.  We want to worship together, not watch you do it.  If we wanted to go to a News Boys concert we wouldn't be worshiping with you on Sunday we would be listening to the News Boys.

2. Just because a song is popular doesn't mean it is singable.  Syncopation is notoriously difficult to sing to (if you don't know what syncopation is you may want to pick a different ministry), especially as a group, so if you notice that most of the congregation is listening and not singing you may need to evaluate the songs you are using for worship and see #1,

3. Stop stealing the show. There is nothing more irritating then for a whole congregation to be singing together only to have the worship leader continually break in with exhortations or loud harmony or repeating phrases and bits of the refrain above everyone else.  Not only is it distracting but it comes off as self glorifying.  How we long for the days when the leader/director got the congregation started and then stepped back from the mic, letting the beautiful sound of God's people fill the sanctuary, the director coming forward to the mic only to start the next verse or help keep the singing unified.

4. "The music is too loud!"  You've probably heard this from not a few people you brushed off as being too old to ever get with the program.  But you may want to give a second listen.  They may be right.  Not only have I found a lot of worship "bands" painfully loud, but even the ones which are not are loud enough to mask almost any sound of the congregation singing (see #1...again).  If we want to listen to loud music we'll just put in our earbuds.  We really don't care how fancy you are, what great rifts you can burn on the guitar, what radical rhythms you can churn out on your huge drum kit, or what Jerry Lee Lewsesque  things you can do with your keyboard.  We want to worship our God. Not you and your talents.

5.  Quit lying to yourself.  You say you only want to lead God's people into true worship but you start right off by doing the very thing that will disqualify you from worshiping the God of truth:  You lie to yourself.  What you secretly desire is for everyone to see how grand you are.  It isn't entirely your fault though.  We call your group a worship "band", we call what you stand on a "stage", we have all of the lights pointing at you, we pay money to have good (even great) sound systems put in for you and we put you right in front of the entire congregation where you are what everyone sees and hears for the next half-hour.  So it is no surprise that you've gained an elevated sense of self-importance.  But here's your chance to fix it. Don't let the church you are a part of or the "band" you are a member of get away with it.  Get out your Bible, get on your knees and fix it.

6. You aren't needed.  Don't get me wrong, we want you, we truly do.  But let's face it, congregations have been worshiping God without a worship leader or, at least, without a "band" for a very long time.  You are really icing on the cake, as it were, and aren't essential to what we really, really want: to worship our God together.

7.  We aren't Vulcans, but neither are we hedonists.  We may not always act like it, but we know that emotions can be very deceptive.  You sing a song that tugs our heartstrings (you know which songs those are and when to bring them out) and we get all teary eyed and declare that God is among us.  But deep down we know that our emotions really haven't much to do with it.  So please stop toying with our emotions.  Don't worry if the song makes us shout, or raise our hands or cry or laugh.  How a song makes us feel is a terrible reason for choosing it.  There are far better reasons (continue reading).

8.  If a song is popular, fun, sounds great and makes us feel good but is the doctrinal equivalent of singing "B-I-B-L-E" or the Happy Birthday song, then it really is useless so please don't make us sing it again.   We need songs that will teach us and introduce us to the one, true God.  Songs that aren't just doctrinally correct but also theologically rich.  You don't have to sing just hymns, but you may want to take a look at the great hymns of the past to discover what truly made them great.  It wasn't just their catchy tunes.

9. Do you know who wrote the song?  We don't, but we are trusting you.  It is ok if you don't know and we understand not every great song came from an equally great Christian.  But if you are singing a song by people who are members of heretical groups or cults (think Phillips, Craig and Dean or Jesus Culture) could you please choose something else?  We say this for two reasons.  First, you are indirectly promoting those people or organizations, even if that isn't what you intend.  Second, the "Jesus" and "God" they wrote about is clearly not the one we are worshiping.  Besides those reasons, there are so many perfectly good songs by truly orthodox Christians that will suite the goal in mind here.

10.  We don't care if you are culturally relevant.  We really don't.  The shorts, earrings, tattoos t-shirts, scruffy beards (on the men), miniskirts (on the women), skinny jeans, what have you don't help.  In fact...most of the time it hurts.  It just draws attention to you (see number...oh forget it). There is nothing more culturally relevant than God, so direct everyone's attention to him.

Let me close with a Bonhoeffer quote from his book "Life Together":

"There are some destroyers of unison singing in the fellowship that must be rigorously eliminated. There is no place in the service of worship where vanity and bad taste can so intrude as in the singing. There is, first, the improvised second part which one hears almost everywhere. It attempts to give the necessary background, the missing fullness to the soaring unison tone, and thus kills both the words and the tone. There is the bass or the alto who must call everybody's attention to his astonishing range and therefore sings every hymn an octave lower. There is the solo voice that goes swaggering, swelling, blaring, and tremulant from a full chest and drowns out everything else to the glory of its own fine organ. There are the less dangerous foes of congregational singing, the "unmusical," who cannot sing, of whom there are far fewer than we are led to believe, and finally, there are often those also who because of some mood will not join in the singing and thus disturb the fellowship."

Perhaps a bit over the top, but point well taken.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

On original writing

Good, original writing is difficult to come by. I think you know what I mean by "good".  Although the adjective is subjective, beauty being in the eye of the beholder and all, and sometimes, like a good wine, writing takes time to become good even if it is deemed dull and not worth a second glance at first pass by the critics, overall you get my meaning.

Original, on the other hand, may take some explaining.  Anyone can write something truly horrid and still be original.   By original I don't mean to say that it is completely foreign to the history of writing. Perhaps the first writings ever could be called somewhat original, but even in that case the thoughts themselves most likely were not. No, by original I mean the same thing a wine taster (wine appears to be an apropos analogy when it comes to writing) might mean when he notes a wine as being original.  How can it be?  Wine is simply grape juice fermented over time in a cask. Yet just the right mixture of various factors such as location, temperature, time, etc. make a mostly banal list of ingredients into something original and praiseworthy.  The same can be said of original writing.  An author takes in life experiences, including the writings of others, lets them ferment for a while in their "cask" and if everything is just right the outcome can be very original and refreshing.

I've read writings by others that have been more an anthology of other writers than original thought of their own.  The book is full of quotes and footnotes and although the arrangement and commentary can be interesting, the writing can hardly be said to be original unless the author completely misrepresents the people they are quoting (which happens surprisingly often these days). Clearly in the case of biographies and anthologies I doubt people are really looking for original thoughts.  They want to know the thoughts behind the character or characters being written about and not necessarily those of the biographer or compiler of the anthology.  But I'm not really talking about that here. And it is true that a bio (although I don't think I can say the same for anthologies) can be original of presented in a certain light.  But this is tricky and often times results in something original and false. However, I think it is clear that that is not what I am meaning when I use the word original.

In the case of original writing quotes can be good if, like spices on a good meal, they are used to enhance the flavor not change it.  However I suspect many times people quote others because they themselves have very little in the way of original thought themselves.  Or, perhaps, they feel compelled to include quotes because they are afraid their writings lack authenticity otherwise.  That somehow the critics and the reading public will not take them seriously unless they do so.  That they don't have the strength to stand on their own literary two feet.  And the may be correct in some sense. How often do I see a book written by a "nobody" endorsed by a number of nobodies.  The endorsements make no real difference and adds nothing to the work.  But publishers and writers alike know that by self-endorsing (i.e., getting someone else to toot your horn) they have a better chance of selling the book.  Note, I didn't say "read" but "sell".  Selling is, unfortunately, the end game for most publishers and not a few writers (I would snark here a bit by suggesting such are not real writers, but that's not the purpose of this post, so I'll shut up now on that matter).

When I read an original writing, no matter what media form it is in, I mean that it consists of the thoughts of this writer that are purely from their own mind.  Even if the base ingredients are not, these they write from have been processed, fermented, percolated, churned, mixed, dissembled and reassembled and have truly become their own.  They own these thoughts and now they are presenting them in their own unique setting.  They are fresh and their originality is refreshing.

These sorts of writings don't come along often.  One reason is that we miss them.  They may seem so odd and counter-cultural, so antithetical to our perception of reality, so anarchic to acceptable procedure, that we dismiss them out of hand.  Another reason is that people typically lack the patience to allow these thoughts to form.  It take time and effort to let all the ingredients do their thing inside of our heads.  Many writers are chomping at the bit to express their opinions to the whole wide world that they blurt it all out before the real work is done.  They vomit instead of digest (much like this post).

Original writing comes at a cost both to the writer and to the reader.  The writer must be ready to both allow the time necessary for the ingredients to coalesce into a final product for real consumption and the reader must be ready to take each work at face value and think outside the box for a little while.  Take each writing and set aside prejudices and preconceptions for a moment in order to hear the writer speak for himself or herself.   This doesn't mean you don't pick those things back up again or that you read completely devoid of a moral framework or personal-historic setting, but only that you give the writer a chance to speak without immediately being shot down as uninspiring and unoriginal (as critics are wont to do).

Perhaps I should rephrase what I said earlier about the rarity of original writing.  Perhaps it is best to say original writing is rare because it comes with a rather high price tag both for the writer and the reader.  I think I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


I just read one more of those, “Let me tell you what a great calvinist I was and all the [famous, superstar, big name, author, leader] calvinists I know or rubbed shoulders with or am related to, but I saw the light and [grew up, moved on, got saved] so you should listen to me”.   Get this: I could care less who you know, what you’ve done or where you’ve been.  If what you are believing is [unbiblical, anti-God, false, heretical] everything else you might have said concerning your relationship with God or your council as to my relationship with God means so very little.  So please just stop talking.  You weary me.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Cart before the horse

I'm not sure what caused it or the whole procedure of it; perhaps the cart was set before the horse or maybe it is simply a wrong headed reaction to a bad situation.  Either way it is all wrong.  The church has gotten into its head that works are more important than good and right theology.  It may seem strange to some, but the church has always done good works more or less.  Take a look at how many hospitals and charitable organizations are named after saints or run by church or para-church organizations.

Now I won't argue that the church could be doing more good works, but it shouldn't be assumed she has never done or is not now doing them.  Good theology without good works isn't merely dead theology but bad theology.  On the other hand bad theology with good works is mere activity and will save no one. Salvation, the spreading of the gospel, is the first work of the church here on earth. Without that we are worse than nothing for we have the truth which has been vouchsafed to us and we are hiding it from the world.

The church must take her responsibility to teach true doctrine about the one true God to the sheep, making sure they understand it well and put it into practice. She has all but set aside this emphasis for a show of it to those they think are watching.  She entertains and focuses on being culturally relevant while her lack of teaching correct, biblical doctrine makes here wholly irrelevant.  But this is what the world really wants.  As long as we keep our mouths shut or, at least, sound like we are agreeing with the world, we are left alone.  We are not a threat so the world and the enemy will not soon bother with us.  But give me one prophet who can't keep his mouth shut and a crucifixion is sure to be on the program.

This teaching is the responsibility of everyone, but especially leaders.  And not just the elders of the church but also the fathers or, if the father is unavailable, the mothers or grandparents or guardians. In Deuteronomy 6:6-7 God commanded the Israelites:

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.


You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

(Deuteronomy 11:19 ESV)

The Bible is full of the results of Israel's failure to do this.  And likewise the church, who equally has a mandate to teach God's commandments, has demonstrated abundantly the results of our failure in this area.

It is true that faith without works is dead (as I've already agreed to above), but the American mentality is that if one isn't working and doing many things he or she is lazy or somehow lacking in diligence.  Ours is the culture of the workaholic.  And what has it gotten us?  Over ninety-percent of the world's wealth and the most powerful country (read: bully) on the planet and little else of lasting benefit.  Broken homes, psychological disorders, violence, millions of murdered children, a culture spiraling into moral decay unprecedented in history and more.  And the church has followed after the world like the adulterous fool spoken of in Proverbs 7.  But boy is she busy.  So busy and yet the sheep die for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).

It is time that all of God's congregations get back to the centrality of the teaching of God's word.  No more topical sermons centered around the cleverness of a good public speaker.  No more movies.  No more pep-talks.  No more concerts on Sunday morning (we get it already; you are a cool church with a really radical band.  But your sheep know nothing about true worship!).  It is time to preach the Word of God and not the opinions of men.  It is time to take a break from all your running to and from and sit at the feet of the Master.  It is time to choose the better part. It is time to get the horse back in front of the cart.

Monday, July 06, 2015

False prophets and false prophecies

[The following article appears here.  It is an important read.  I am currently writing a post along the same lines but haven't finished editing it yet so I'm posting this as a lead-in to some of my thoughts. This post is by John MacArthur and is copyrighted by Grace to You 2015, appears in its entirety, and used with permission.]

Unleashing God's Truth, One Verse at a Time

False Prophets and Lying Wonders

Selected Scriptures

Code: B100111
John MacArthur

Have you noticed that no matter how many times charismatic televangelists make outlandish false prophecies, they never lack for followers, and they don't stop claiming the Lord has spoken directly to them?

Benny Hinn, for example, made a series of celebrated prophetic utterances in December of 1989, none of which came true. He confidently told his congregation at the Orlando Christian Center that God had revealed to him Fidel Castro would die sometime in the 1990s; the homosexual community in America would be destroyed by fire before 1995; and a major earthquake would cause havoc on the east coast before the year 2000. He was wrong on all counts, of course.

That did not deter Hinn, who simply kept making bold new false prophecies. At the beginning of the new millennium, he announced to his television audience that a prophetess had informed him Jesus would soon appear physically in some of Hinn's healing meetings. Hinn said he was convinced the prophecy was authentic, and on his April 2, 2000, broadcast, he amplified it with a prophecy of his own: "Now hear this, I am prophesying this! Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is about to appear physically in some churches, and some meetings, and to many of His people, for one reason: to tell you He is about to show up! To wake up! Jesus is coming saints!"

Hinn's failed prophesies are more outlandish but nearly as memorable as the notorious claims Oral Roberts began making about three decades ago. In 1977 Roberts said he saw a vision of a 900-foot-tall Jesus, who instructed him to build the City of Faith, a 60-story hospital in south Tulsa. Roberts said God told him He would use the center to unite medical technology with faith healing, which would revolutionize health care and enable doctors to find a cure for cancer.

The building, completed in the early 1980s, was a colossal white elephant from the very start. When the City of Faith opened for business, all but two stories of the massive structure were completely vacant.

By January of 1987 the project was saddled with unmanageable debt, and Roberts announced that the Lord had said unless Roberts raised eight million dollars to pay the debt by March 1, he would die. Apparently not willing to test the death-threat prophecy, donors dutifully gave Roberts the needed funds in time (with the help of $1.3 million donated at the last hour by a Florida dog-track owner).

But within two years, Roberts was forced to close the medical center anyway and sell the building in order to eliminate still-mounting debt. More than 80 percent of the building had never been occupied. The promised cure for cancer never materialized, either.

A list of similar failed charismatic prophesies could fill several volumes. And yet, amazingly, the "prophets" who make such fantastic claims now appear to have more influence than ever—even among mainstream evangelicals. And the idea that God routinely speaks directly to His people has found more widespread acceptance today than at any time in the history of the church.

The charismatic movement began barely a hundred years ago, and its influence on evangelicalism can hardly be overstated. Its chief legacy has been an unprecedented interest in extrabiblical revelation. Millions influenced by charismatic doctrine are convinced that God speaks to them directly all the time. Indeed, many seem to believe direct revelation is the main means through which God communicates with His people. "The Lord told me ... " has become a favorite cliche of experience-driven evangelicals.

Not all who believe God speaks to them make prophetic pronouncements as outlandish as those broadcast by charismatic televangelists, of course. But they still believe God gives them extrabiblical messages—either through an audible voice, a vision, a voice in their heads, or simply an internal impression. In most cases, their "prophecies" are comparatively trivial. But the difference between them and Benny Hinn's predictions is a difference only of scale, not of substance.

The notion that God is giving extrabiblical messages to Christians today has received support from some surprising sources. Wayne Grudem, popular author and professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary believes God regularly gives Christians prophetic messages by simply bringing spontaneous thoughts to mind. Such impressions should be reported as prophecy, he says.[1]

Similar ideas have found sweeping acceptance even among non-charismatic Christians. Southern Baptists have eagerly devoured Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King, which suggests that the main way the Holy Spirit leads believers is by speaking to them directly. According to Blackaby, when God gives an individual a message that pertains to the church, it should be shared with the whole body.[2] As a result, extrabiblical "words from the Lord" are now commonplace even in some Southern Baptist circles.

Why do so many modern Christians seek revelation from God through means other than Scripture? Certainly not because it is a reliable way to discover truth. All sides admit that modern prophecies are often completely erroneous. In fact, the failure rate is astonishingly high. In my book Charismatic Chaos I quoted one leading "prophet" who was thrilled because he believed that two-thirds of his prophecies were accurate. "Well that's better than it's ever been up to now, you know. That's the highest level it's ever been."[3]

In other words, modern prophecy is not a much more reliable way to discern truth than a Magic Eight-Ball or Tarot cards. And, I would add, it is equally superstitious. There is no warrant anywhere in Scripture for Christians to listen for fresh revelation from God beyond what He has already given us in His written Word. In fact, Scripture unsparingly condemns all who speak even one word falsely or presumptuously in the Lord's name (Deut. 18:20-22). But such warnings are simply ignored these days by those who claim to have heard afresh from God.

And not surprisingly, wherever there is a preoccupation with "fresh" prophecy, there is invariably a corresponding neglect of the Scriptures. After all, why be concerned with an ancient Book if the Living God communicates directly with us on a daily basis? These fresh words of "revelation" naturally seem more relevant and more urgent than the familiar words of the Bible. Is it any wonder that they draw people away from Scripture?

That is precisely why modern evangelicalism's infatuation with extrabiblical revelation is so dangerous. It is a return to medieval superstition and a departure from our fundamental conviction that the Bible is our sole, supreme, and sufficient authority for all of life. In other words, it represents a wholesale abandonment of the principle of sola Scriptura.

The absolute sufficiency of Scripture is summed up well in this section from the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men (1.6, emphasis added).

Historic Protestantism is grounded in the conviction that the canon is closed. No "new" revelation is necessary, because Scripture is complete and absolutely sufficient.

Scripture itself is clear that the day of God's speaking directly to His people through various prophetic words and visions is past. The truth God has revealed in Christ including the complete New Testament canon is His final word (Heb. 1:1-2; cf. Jude 3; Rev. 22:18-19).

Scripture—the written Word of God—is perfectly sufficient, containing all the revelation we need. Notice 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul tells Timothy:

From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

That passage makes two very important statements that pertain to the issue we are looking at. First, "All Scripture is inspired by God." Scripture speaks with the authority of God Himself. It is certain; it is reliable; it is true. Jesus Himself prayed in John 17:17: "Your word is truth." Psalm 119:160 says, "The entirety of Your word is truth."

Those statements all set Scripture above every human opinion, every speculation, and every emotional sensation. Scripture alone stands as definitive truth. It speaks with an authority that transcends every other voice.

Second, The passage teaches that Scripture is utterly sufficient, "able to make you wise for salvation ... [and able to make you] complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." What clearer affirmation of the absolute sufficiency of Scripture could anyone ask for? Are extrabiblical messages from God necessary to equip us to glorify Him? Certainly not.

Those who seek fresh messages from God have in effect scorned the absolute certainty and absolute sufficiency of the written Word of God. And they have set in its place their own fallen and fallible imaginations.

If the church does not return to the principle of sola Scriptura, the only revival we will see is a revival of the superstition and darkness that characterized medieval religion.

Does this mean God has stopped speaking? Certainly not, but He speaks today through His Word.

Does the Spirit of God move our hearts and impress us with specific duties or callings? Certainly, but He works through the Word of God to do that. Such experi­ences are in no sense prophetic or authoritative. They are not revelation, but the effect of illumination, when the Holy Spirit applies the Word to our hearts and opens our spiritual eyes to its truth. We must guard carefully against allowing our experience and our own subjective thoughts and imaginations to eclipse the authority and the certainty of the more sure Word.

[1]. The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testa­ment and Today (Wheaton: Crossway, 1988).

[2]. (Nashville, TN: LifeWay, 1990), 168.

[3]. Charismatic Chaos (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 67.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Word of the Day: Love

  Three phrases I hear over and over again, "God is love", "Love your neighbor" and "Don't judge me" (or some variation of these).  I've heard these phrases slung at me or the Church when it comes to divorce and remarriage, to sexual relationships outside of marriage, to drug use, to worshiping other gods, worshiping no god and on and on.  With the latest, tragic ruling by the Supreme Court, I'm hearing these phrases used in relation to "gay marriage" and homosexuality in general.  In this post I want to focus on the word "love".

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me:  I believe the Bible is the Word of God and in it God says homosexuality is a sin.
Them: That isn't very loving and God says to love your neighbor.  Why aren't you practicing what you preach?


Them: God is love.  I don't believe God would ever send a homosexual couple living in a monogamous, loving relationship to hell (Apparently, according to these people, he will send unmarried homosexuals to Hell).

[Note that I hear these arguments from those claiming to be Christian as much as I hear them from anyone else]

Since the accusation of not being loving is coming from those who are attempting to use the Bible to defend their position or counter mine I think it only fair that we use the Bible's definition of love (even if you don't think you are quoting the Bible it is important for you to understand my definition nonetheless.  This is the definition the Bible and the Church uses and it is the one I will be using whenever we talk about love).  So here you go:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

(1 Corinthians 13:1-7 ESV)

The first thing to note is that love, as the Bible describes it, is an action.  It is something we do or, in some cases, refrain from doing.  In short, love is not an emotion.  Because of this confusion I typically find the word "love" used like a crowbar with which to beat someone over the head in order to stop any meaningful dialog. You made me feel bad therefore you are unloving.  You have told me something that has hurt my feelings therefore you hate me.  But this isn't love at all.  This is merely blind emotionalism.  Although love can be emotional, emotion does not equate to love.

The second thing to note from the above biblical definition is that, among other things, love rejoices in the truth. Love that doesn't tell the truth isn't love.

If we are honest with ourselves we must admit that experience teaches us this very thing;  that love is a something we do or refrain from doing and not an emotion and that we show love by being truthful and honest with one another.

For instance, although we were disciplined as children do we honestly believe our parents always felt good about it (I realize not everyone came from a good home, but work with me here)? We certainly didn't feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they disciplined us and I don't always feel all cheery when I discipline my children. Yet our parents still loved us.  Nothing speaks of a lack of love louder than a parent who refuses to discipline their child.

How about when you or a friend or family member were told by the doctor that the diagnosis was cancer?  Are we to believe the doctor was so twisted that he actually enjoyed that pronouncement? Of course not. No one, when told by the doctor that they have cancer, screams "You are such a hater!  If you loved me you wouldn't say such things!"  Just like our parents, he knows it will hurt and that we won't feel good about the diagnosis, but he also understands he has a responsibility to tell the truth.  I could go on and on with examples, but I think these two are sufficient to demonstrate that we already know love, true love, (not the false, sappy, Hollywood stuff) is honest and doesn't always feel good.

Sometimes we do and say things, not because they feel good, but because they need to be done or said.  We do and say them because we love the other person and, in a mature relationship, the other person will understand that what is being said or done is a function of true love even if neither party feels so good about it at the time.

So with this definition of love in mind let me ask you to pretend with me.  I'm not trying to trick you into agreeing with me or anything, just to pretend for a few moments.  Ok?  Here we go:  Let's pretend for the moment that because the bible everywhere, from Genesis to Revelations (those are the first and last books in the bible, for those not in the know) expresses marriage as the union of a man and a woman and nothing else; that this is what God intended for marriage.  That when God, the prophets, the apostles and Jesus himself speak of marriage as only including a man with a woman, that this means God never intended anything else (I know, you may not like that, but we are pretending here).  Let's further pretend that when the Bible condemns homosexuality (which it clearly does) that it isn't a mistake, or a cultural thing, but that God really means what he says and says what he means.  Finally, let us pretend that when God says those who practice homosexuality will not be allowed into the kingdom of heaven that it also means they will spend a mournful, terrible, lonely eternity in a place called Hell.

Got all that? Now remember, I'm not asking you to pretend the Bible says all of that.  It clearly does, regardless what you've been told. I would be glad to show you someday, but that isn't the point of this article, so moving on.  I am asking you to pretend that you agree with my assessment of what the Bible says concerning marriage and homosexuality.  If what the Bible is saying is true (and it is saying that), would it be love or hate if I refused to tell you what the Bible clearly says?  Would it be love or hate if I knew that what the Bible says is true, but instead chose to tell you nothing.  Or worse yet, to tell you something contrary to what I know is clearly revealed in Scripture?

Let me put it in different terms.  I know the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong.  I know that the Bible clearly, unequivocally states that marriage is between a man and a women.  I know that by opening my mouth and merely assenting to what the Bible says is the truth on this subject I will potentially lose relationships with friends and family whom I care deeply about.  I know that in the future expressing what I see as the clear biblical teaching on this subject will quite possibly cost me more than just my friendships.  When I, with all of this in mind, tell you what the Bible teaches is it love or hate?  Even if you don't agree with my assessment, am I telling you what I am out of love or hate?  I am not asking if I am feeling love or hate.  Love is not an emotion. I am asking you if I am doing love or hate.

You can accuse me of being a fanatic. You can accuse me of being crazy (wouldn't be the first or last time). You can accuse me of being wrong, thickheaded and stubborn.  You can accuse me of a whole lot of things.  But the one thing you simply cannot accuse me of in this instance is being unloving.

When I tell you what the Bible says it may make you feel bad or angry or frustrated.  But that does not mean I am not loving you. Trust me when I tell you that when I take time out of my day to share with you something I believe to be of the most utmost importance concerning your welfare, all the while knowing the price it will cost me, I am doing it out of love.  Otherwise I simply wouldn't do it.

It is a fact that some people are just hateful and many don't show love the way they should (myself included).  I know there are people out there who are simply haters.  They want to hurt people and force their views down the throats of other people just to make themselves feel better.  This includes people in the Church as well as the LGBT communities.  But that isn't what I'm talking about here.  I love my friends and family, and because of that love I must share the truth of God's Word with them.

To do anything less truly would be unloving.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

When the time comes to call it

A couple of news items were brought to my attention this past week.  But they all have somewhat of a similar theme to them.  The first was the news of Tony Campolo's coming out of the closet, sort of speak. He has come to the shocking conclusion (not really that shocking) that the Church should be more welcoming to gays and gay marriage.  You can read his statement here.

Shortly after that David Neff, a former editor of Christianity Today, came out in support of Tony's statements.  To which the current editor-in-chief of CT, Mark Galli, offered a very well written and thoughtful rebuttal (here). Yet, as much as I loved his rebuttal he closed with a very odd statement:

"We’ll be sad, but we won’t panic or despair. Neither will we feel compelled to condemn the converts and distance ourselves from them."

I'll comment more on this in a moment.

Finally, on the same day as Tony's statement an article appeared in the New York Times titled, "Evangelicals open door to debate on gay rights" in which we learn that Matthew Vines, an ardent proponent of gay marriage and the inclusion of gays in the Christian community, himself claiming to be a Christian, is meeting with evangelical leaders in order to open the door to amicable debate on the subject.

In this article I was struck by one line in particular:

During the closing prayer, Mr. Sontag laid his hand on Mr. Vines’s back. Mr. Kaltenbach called Mr. Vines a “brother in Christ.”

This is where I would like to tie everything together.  What the CT article and the NYT article have in common is that they both introduce us to people who seem to be very confused as to what the biblical response should be towards people claiming to be Christians and yet do or teach very unbiblical things. In case you can't figure it out let me state it plainly: Expel the wicked brother from among you (1 Corinthians 5:13 NIV).

I agree that we need to reach out to unbelievers and even invite them into our churches so that they may, by any means possible, hear the life changing, soul saving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And we should do this regardless of their sin.  However we are not dealing with unbelievers here.  We are dealing with those who claim to be followers of Christ.  Yet the Church and leaders within the Church who should know better are continually patting these people on the back and basically telling them that everything is O.k. and that God loves them just the way they are.

When Israel was being formed into a nation God, their God, gave the following commandment:

If your brother, the son of your mother, or your son or your daughter or the wife you embrace or your friend who is as your own soul entices you secretly, saying, ‘Let us go and serve other gods,’ which neither you nor your fathers have known, some of the gods of the peoples who are around you, whether near you or far off from you, from the one end of the earth to the other, you shall not yield to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him, nor shall you conceal him. But you shall kill him. Your hand shall be first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hand of all the people. You shall stone him to death with stones, because he sought to draw you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. And all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you."

(Deuteronomy 13:6-11 ESV)

Was God being mean?  No. God knew how dangerous it was for his chosen people to flirt with sin. The history of Israel should be enough to silence any doubt. Would it be tough?  You can't read the above words without realizing that it would indeed be tough.  Perhaps this is part of the reason Israel, for the most part, ignored this command. Choosing between God and everyone and everything else continues to be tough.  Sometimes that choice is the hardest choice we will ever make.

Obviously we aren't suppose to be killing people today. We are to love our neighbor and do as much as we possible can to see them enter the Kingdom.  But the above passage underscores two points that have never changed.  Sin must be dealt with in the life of the Church and that dealing will not always be easy.  In fact, most of the time it won't be easy. In fact, it may seem, at the time, so cruel that it can be likened to killing our brother or sister.

In the New Testament church there are two reasons for expelling the wicked brother or sister.  The first reason is so that somehow they will be saved (1 Cor. 5:5). Perhaps they will see what they've done is wrong.  Perhaps they will dive so deep into their sin that they will suddenly come to a realization of how far they've fallen and call out to God for rescue.  God only knows.  But the second reason, which I believe is even more important than the first, is mentioned above. It is so that "all Israel shall hear and fear and never again do any such wickedness as this among you". It is so the Church will be protected.  To ignore God's process for dealing with sin within the camp is to put the Church in great peril.

Unfortunately, I am afraid that we are simply seeing Israel's sin repeated in the modern church.  The way God has called us too is too difficult so we have thrown out his rules and made up some of our own.

Chesterton once famously wrote, "Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried."

Perhaps in our day and age we could amend that quote to say, "it has been found difficult and dropped".

It is time the Church got serious about the issue of sin in her midst.  Just as in Israel's history we too are seeing that to put this off, for whatever well-intentioned reasons we may have for doing it, the end results are disastrous.  

Saturday, June 06, 2015

The Prophet

An interesting article appeared in the NYT recently titled "The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion" by Clyde Haberman.  It is eye opening not because it points out that the myth of the population explosion is just that, a myth.  I knew that already (and hopefully you did too).  It was, and still is, the favorite cudgel of pro-abortion advocates, chemical companies selling GMO's, pesticides and birth control and apocalyptic environmentalists, doomsayers and prophets.  But it is all bunk.  Turns out humans aren't so easily extinguished after all.

[I guess an argument could be made that all the fear mongering caused a lot of changes that were for the positive.  At least for the humanists.  If you call the murdering millions of babies while making food so cheap and plentiful that those who are left are dying off from diseases related to rampant obesity "positive".]

What really caught my eye in the article was the coverage of the originator of the population explosion myth, Paul Ehlrich. He made a number of dark prophecies, including mass starvation, 65 million of which would be Americans.  He predicted the demise of England and India. So desperate was the situation that in the 1970's he said that the end would come within the next fifteen years.

It doesn't take an overly observant person to see that by any definition Mr. Ehlrich got a couple of things wrong. In fact, he pretty much wasn't even in the ballpark.  So bad were his predictions that if he lived in the Old Testament we would have God's permission to stone him.  Oh, ok, so he wasn't claiming to speak for God.  So stoning's out.  But if he had said "Thus says the Lord!" we could stone him. If we lived in the Old Testament.  Which we don't.  So still no stoning.

Anyway, two things to point out.  First, Mr. Ehlrich claims that his predictions were not wrong, just misunderstood by the uninitiated (i.e., you and I - the nonprofessional schmucks on the street).  And second, people are still listening to him.  The reason I find these two things interesting is that many Christians today treat the modern day "prophets" in the Church the exact same way.

According to Scripture when a prophet who is claiming to speak from God is wrong, either because what he predicted never comes to past, or he attempts to lead others away from God, then this person is a false prophet and should be killed. Allow me to quote two of these passages in full:

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.  (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 ESV)

Here the question isn't whether or not the "prophet" can actually do prophety things.  He (or she) can. But these prophet has an agenda.  He wishes to lead others away from Christ to follow other gods. The point here isn't about serving false gods (although that is a point, just not the major one) but that he will attempt to lead a rebellion against the one true God so that the people live in a way that God hasn't commanded them.

The other passage gives us another test of a false prophet:

But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the LORD has not spoken?’—when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him. (Deuteronomy 18:20-22 ESV)

Here if what they speak does not come to pass they are a false prophet.  How easy is that?

Sadly, we know from Scripture that Israel indeed succumbed to these false prophets. From what we read in the New Testament things got little better in this regard (See 1 Corinthians 11 and 12 and Galatians for starters). When Paul was with the church at Ephesus he gave the following ominous warning:

I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.  Therefore be alert….” (Acts 20 29-31a)

Yet we see that at some point people claiming to be apostles were busy leading the church at Corinth away from sound doctrine. Paul's concern was the same as it should be for all pastors/elders in the Church and, I believe, the very concern God had for his people and the reason behind the words quoted above in Deuteronomy:

For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.  (2 Corinthians 11:2-3 ESV)

The reason false prophets are treated so harshly isn't because they are necessarily evil.  Yes, under the adamic curse we are all evil and presuming to speak for God or leading people away from God are sins, but what I mean is these passages aren't making judgements upon the personalities of the false prophets.  In other words, they may be genuinely nice people.  False prophets come in all shapes and sizes.  When reading the Law or the Old Testament as a whole, we tend to read in a very binary fashion.  The people doing wrong are evil, demonic, green-eyed, greasy, drooling, skulking characters that reek of badness.  Only a dolt would miss these people standing in a crowd of truly nice people (like ourselves).

I can't really tell you what a false prophet looked like in ancient Israel or even in the New Testament Church.  However, I believe I might not be too far off base in assuming that people back then were very much like people today.  That is, really nice people do really bad things with very good intentions.  They rarely wake up one morning and declare, "Today I shall become a false prophet, say things in God's name that aren't really from God and lead God's people astray.  But first some coffee!".   Oh, I'm sure some false prophets truly are green-eyed, drooling, skulking characters, but I'm going to guess that quite a many of them are very, very nice people.

But that isn't the point.  God isn't telling us that false prophets are despicable people and that we probably wouldn't want to hang out with them anyway.  He is telling us that these people are wrong and that ultimately they will lead God's people away from him and because of this they are quite dangerous. They are so dangerous, in fact, that under the Law they were to be put to death. In short, they were not to be tolerated.

When it comes down to it the Israelite's situation was like the New Testament Church's situation which is like our current situation.  There are many people out there calling themselves "prophets" who are leading people astray.  Some are teaching overtly false doctrine.  Others are presuming to speak for the Lord. Some are making predictions that aren't coming true.  And what is the Church's response?

For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough. (2 Corinthians 11:4 ESV)

Yep.  We tolerate it.  We make excuses, we explain away the "mistakes", we ignore the motives, we justify the false teachings, we read their books, we watch their shows, we listen to their sermons.  We say things like, "Prophets today can't be held to the same standard as prophets back then. We need to give room for growth and grace".  We do everything but hold people to a biblical standard of behavior; a standard God laid down.  

It is time believers and especially those who are leaders start "killing" the prophets.  No, I don't mean literally killing them.  I mean we stop tolerating them.  We point them out for what they are:  false. But let me give a fair word of warning here. There are a number of reasons false prophets are able to continue doing what they do.  Let me give you two of them.  First, they sound good.  They mix just enough truth in with the false so that it sounds like it really is from God.  So if you stand up to them you will appear to be fighting God.  Second, they are typically nice people (as mentioned above).  So you will almost always come off sounding like a meany. You can do everything humanly possible to be as nice as possible, but in the end you will look like the bad guy.  Let's face it, killing always seems kinda mean, even if done for the right reasons.

There has been a pattern repeated throughout history and it will be no different for us today as it was for those who have come before.  It goes something like this:  False prophet shows up.  God's man condemns false prophet.  People put to death God's man.  Bleak, yes.  But sometimes, when no one expects it, God's people actually listen and turn out the false prophet, stop listening to the lies, and turn back to worship their God in spirit and truth.  No, really, it happens.  It really, truly does. 

Monday, May 25, 2015

From reality T.V. to reality

The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. (Proverbs 18:8)

Recently the shocking news broke that one of the Dugar's molested some children when he was a young teenager. Other than that there really isn't much more information to think over.  It was terrible, sinful and in this country anyway, criminal.  I think everyone involved knows this, including Josh.

Normally I would just ignore this kind of stuff.  I never took much interest in the Dugars. I have six children of my own and I just couldn't see the point of ending my week by watching someone else go through the exact same struggles I go through every day (When I was an RN I refused to watch E.R. as well).

Part of me just wants to tell everyone to shut up and mind their own business.  In doing that I take the very real chance of being accused of approving of the act.  I'm not.  But really, who's business is this anyway?  How does this concern %99.999 percent of Americans?  It doesn't really.  It is just gossip and nothing more.  But that is difficult for most to see because of the Dugars' standing as a reality T.V. superstar family.  People have lived their lives vicariously through this family for years and now with this new revelation they feel betrayed.  So it is only natural, after watching this family grow up in their very homes over T.V., that they continue to live the fantasy that they are somehow entitled to an answer.  How could one of our own do this?!

The fact is it wasn't one of our own. We really know virtually nothing about this family as this current situation proves.  Nothing of importance anyway.  We know nothing and are entitled to nothing. So shut up already. What could you possibly add to the conversation anyway?  A gasp?  A cluck of the tongue?  A shake of the head and a mumbled, "How could he?".

Of course, there are others who could care less about the Dugars and their T.V. show.  The news is simply another tidbit in a long line of smut that comes across their twitter feeds and facebook posts and they can't help but repost, retweet, regurge (whatever we call it) because it is a juicy, tasty, lovely morsel of gossip and we just can't help ourselves.  

Others, Christians, brothers and sisters, will forward the "news" with the weak excuse of informing others so that they can "pray" for the Dugars.  Really?!  It saddens me to think there are Christians that are so immature.  Gossip is gossip.  If you dress a pig in your Sunday best, it is still a pig.  This is probably the worse gossip there is because it takes what is clearly sinful and wraps it in a the guise of something as holy and beautiful as prayer.  We've all done it and we all know it is wrong.  So stop it.

This story simply proves what the Bible has said from the beginning.  That sin is a terrible taskmaster.  It eagerly crouches at the door and we must conquer it or become its prey, Something our distant cousin, Cain, discovered.  The story of Cain isn't merely about him making the wrong choice.  He represents the pattern the entire human race would take until the final judgement.  The third chapter of Romans isn't just about bad people.  It speaks of all people, all of which are bad.  But in true Adamic form we try to point to others who are badder than ourselves (at least by our estimation) in order to get God's eyes off of us.

Jesus told a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector (tax collectors were the icky, sinful, bad people of society back then).  I'll quote this parable in full because I think it is important we all get the point:

Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

(Luke 18:10-14 ESV)

I'm not saying that the situation with Josh Dugar should be ignored.  What I am saying is that he is part of a family who is a part of a church which is a part of a wider community complete with law enforcement and they are all more than qualified to deal with the problem.  We need to be concerned about our own camp or, as Aslan put it to the children in Narnia, our own story. If someone forwards you stories like this and you truly feel compelled to do something, pray for them.  Then delete the post and start beating your own chest.