Friday, December 30, 2005

The Quest for Biblical Blogging

This is a post that I feel very compelled to write. Its importance is of such a level that I will probably include it in my "Rules for this Weblog" page. But before I get into the main substance of this post, let me first say that this weblog (The Armoury) has been a helpful tool for a number of reasons. First, it is a helpful resource for me as a pastor because it enables me (with ease) to provide Scriptural lessons for our flock on a regular basis - the lessons of greatest importance I post on our calendar and e-mail to our members - this has been very helpful. Second, in all my time spent reading and researching, I find that this weblog has become a personal resource that I use to store important current events (secular and religious) to use at the appropriate time, whether on this blog or in my preaching - or most likely in both. By itself, this has become one of the greatest advantages. Third, it has opened a door to meeting other like minded brethren who I would love to meet in person someday - I am refreshed to hear about others who love the Lord and His people, and have a great desire to see the lost come to Christ. Fourth, it has provided an opportunity to spread the seed of God's Word to those who do not know Christ. There have been only a few such opportunities thus far, but if only one were converted through this weblog ministry then I can assure you, that it would be important enough; even all of Heaven would rejoice over such a work of God (Luke 15:3-7)!

So while I can say that this “weblog” forum is a helpful one, I must also say that there are a lot of potholes out there on the internet. On the one hand, there are a number of weblogs that are honoring Christ and bearing a Christian testimony - for this I am thankful to the Lord; but on the other hand, there are some weblogs that frankly taint the testimony of Christ through bitter argumentation, unwholesome words and even a callous approach to the lost. The kind of autonomy that the internet gives us as individuals has produced a kind of virtual fellowship that is devoid of any oversight. In a very distant sense, it is even like a church that is without godly elders. To some extent, it smacks of the Corinthian problem, because many in that church there were doing what they believed was right in their own eyes, and the lack of godly leadership there only nurtured further chaos and recklessness. What I see as a modern trend is the perpetuation of ungodly blogging, that is to say, e-conversations which seem to lack the charity, grace, maturity, humility and sobriety that is consistent with Christian discipleship - and it is not excusable simply because "it is the way of most blogs." The electronic venue itself offers no excuse for believers whatsoever. I can't blame my keyboard, nor my computer, for making posts which spew pugnacity, arrogance and pride: computers are mindless machines - they only produce what we humans give them. This post is an open letter that is designed to give a word of encouragement and a word of rebuke wherever it is needed. Concurrently, it is offered up as a warning to myself, lest I might degrade into the kinds of conversations which bring shame to the fair name of Christ.

After monitoring the activities of several popular blogs, I have become concerned that a casual attitude is being fostered in the manner in which believers speak with one another, and with the lost. I have even seen instances in which non-Christians have been treated with very little grace and compassion. In one particular case, a non-Christian entered into a rather unfortunate rant on a Christian blog and in frustration queried if this is what it means to be a Christian. When I read this, it grieved my spirit - Is this how brethren want to manifest the glory of Christ in this world? But in addition to my own sense of grief, I couldn't help but to consider the wonderful value of this man's question. His question was worthy of a very serious answer - but instead, he was only mocked for what he had to say.

I mention this man’s circumstance (his is one of several examples that I could have mentioned) because his question is really the reason for this post. It is sad when the non-Christian community can see our weaknesses better than we do ourselves. In the following paragraphs I will offer a series of thoughts that have to do with godly discourse - among brethren and within this world. The Scriptures have a great deal to say about our words - so much so, that we must remember that these principles don't cease to exist once our fingertips make contact with our keyboards, and therefore, they should impact every aspect of our interactions with brethren and unbelievers - no matter what venue we converse in:

1. In America we have many freedoms, but as Christians our freedoms are established by a very different standard: Here is a first principle that is very broad and far reaching. It is one that I believe is crucial for “American Christianity” since it seems that in the United States, our sense of patriotism can become confused very quickly. We are very thankful for our many freedoms that we have in this nation, however, we must measure our use of those freedoms very carefully. In the matter of the internet and weblogs, it is important for us all to be careful about the liberties that we take in our posts. Here in America, we are free to do and say just about anything - however, as Christians, we need to be careful to use our freedom responsibly:

1 Peter 2:16 Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.

From the standpoint of American law we all have a great deal of freedom to say just about anything that we would like to - however, this is not the ultimate standard for the believer. Our freedoms need to be measured by the greatest of all standards - the standard of Christ; therefore we must carefully measure our words in view of our privileged position as the bondslaves of God.

2. This is the WORLD WIDE WEB, not your private living room: Weblog dialogues are not private conversations - they are public conversations which are being conducted on the World Wide Web. Because of this, we should keep in mind that a very wide variety of people are constantly listening in on what we are saying (typing):

1 Peter 2:12 Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may on account of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

Peter is not calling us to some false form of showmanship, rather he is reminding us that unbelievers are constantly watching us because we are in the world. Therefore, our words and actions ought to be a continual form of evangelism such that they might see the fruit of the Spirit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; rather than the deeds of the flesh, which include outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions and factions.

3. Self control includes our tongues: One of the greatest diseases within the church is the uncontrolled tongue. Like a small rudder and flame, the words spoken by our tongue can foster great ungodliness and corruption (James 3:4-6) if it is not used for edification and encouragement (Ephesians 4:29). It is too easy to become reckless with our words and thereby wreak havoc by our speech, rather than offering godly encouragement or a discerning rebuke. Proverbs 10:19 reminds us of our frailty in this matter:

Proverbs 10:19 "When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise."

By these principles, let us be reminded that restraint, moderation and wisdom are always a good standard for any conversation, whether conducted in person or in cyberspace.

4. Some conversations must be held in private - period: Clearly, if a brother has sinned with his words, our response must be measured carefully in view of Matthew 18:15:

Matthew 18:15 "And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.

Christ says, literally - metaxu sou kai autou monou (between you and him alone). If an offense has taken place between two brethren, then they ought to give careful consideration to settling the matter in private rather than in public. In this world of communications technology, it amazes me that the blog-world has nearly replaced the telephone, e-mail or personal discourse - important forms of private communication. While blogging might be easier, that doesn't make it the better form of communication in all contexts. But not only is private discourse important in times of conflict, it is also a matter of wisdom and self control to privatize our conversations for the sake of accurately conveying our motives and intentions to those with whom we speak. John, the Apostle of love, applied this himself:

3 John 13 I had many things to write to you, but I am not willing to write them to you with pen and ink; 14 but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face (See also 2 John 12).

What John wanted to say, he desired to say to their faces. Both pen and ink are very important - this is the historic manner in which the Lord has revealed His precious Word to us - however, in dealing with personal relationships, we ought to be able to discern the relative value of public notices versus private counsel.

5. Some conversations (blogs) ought to be avoided altogether: We must all remember that when we participate in a blog discussion, we become the willing participants of that conversation. Whether a public or private conversation, we have to consider whether we want to be associated with such a discussion or not. Paul warned Timothy that there will be some conversations that should not be dignified through personal involvement, but must be shunned and sometimes rebuked:

2 Timothy 2:23 But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord's bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all...

Titus 3:9 But shun foolish controversies and genealogies and strife and disputes about the Law; for they are unprofitable and worthless.

By participating in conversations that are "unprofitable and worthless" we, either knowingly or haplessly, fuel the very fires that should be otherwise snuffed out:

Proverbs 26:21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife.

Let us, therefore, pick our conversations carefully and with the Lord's wisdom above all. If you find that you are in the midst of a discussion that is becoming unprofitable, then bow out. If everyone applied this principle, then many unfruitful conversations would simply die out through a lack of fuel.

6. The testimony of brotherly love: The love of the brethren is a great part of our testimony to the world that we are the disciples of Christ:

John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

When brethren manifest the sweet aroma of grace, patience and love for one another - they manifest the very image and likeness of Christ Himself; but when we engage in name calling with one another, then we evidence great foolishness - or in the worst of all cases, a disingenuous faith:

Matthew 5:21-22: 21 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever shall say to his brother, 'Raca,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever shall say, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell."

The word "Raca" comes from the Aramaic word reyka' which can be translated as "idiot, blockhead, numskull, or even fool." And the word "fool" comes from the word moros (from which we get the word moron) and is a strong synonym to raca. Both terms speak of a person who is disdainful, whether by ignorance or by volitional foolishness. In either case, the Savior called these hateful terms. By this text, we should understand that believers must be warned about calling other brethren such names. If you're tempted to do so, it is time to take a blogger's time out & pray for grace and humility to do much better than this.

7. The testimony of faithfulness and truthfulness: Paul, as we all know, was accused by the Corinthians of being a hypocrite. They charged that he was a kind of chameleon who was willing to write things that he couldn't back up in person. But Paul rebuked this charge in the following manner:

2 Corinthians 10:11 "Let such a person consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present."

Paul was a man of great consistency and faithfulness. What he was in letter, he was in person - in other words, he wasn't a two-faced man. When believers place their fingers on the keyboard, they ought to consider what they are about to type and ask themselves this question: "would I be willing to say these same things in person?" If you wouldn't be willing to make such remarks to someone's face, then put a lid on it.

8. As the advocates of sovereign grace, we should be a most gracious people: Let me not say anything here - the text speaks for itself -

Ephesians 4:25-27, 29-32: 25 Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not give the devil an opportunity...29 Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.

Conclusion: To the brethren reading this, let me encourage you to think very carefully about these principles from Scripture; as the little children’s song goes: “O be careful little hands what you do.” Perhaps we could revise the words in this way - “O be careful little hands what you type...” I can assure you that at the moment our fingers touch the keyboard, the principles of Scripture do not change - because they never change. There is indeed a time and a place for public rebukes - but we ought to be very sober and serious minded when doing so. Biblical errorists should be rebuked, but when such a need arises, we ought to be humble and very grave about the matter. Finally, to those who are reading this who are not Christians, let me say this: if you find yourself at a blog that names the name of Christ, but that seems to be many miles away from the above principles, then let me encourage you to move along to something else. The folks at such a blog may be having a bad day (yes, Christians sin - we’d be fools to deny it, 1 John 1:8), or you may have come to a place that only names the name of Christ, but has nothing to do with Christianity. In either case, let me encourage you to find a blog which is practicing the above principles - at a place like that, I would be more confident that you would get what you truly need.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

If The Lord Wills, We Shall Live

The following article will appear (Lord willing) in the Winston-Salem Journal in their “Message of the Week,” Friday December 30th. It is both an exhortation to believers and it is a call to non-Christians to look to the Savior for the forgiveness of sin, true life and true joy. The article was corrected in two places before its Friday publication, however, prior to this I was given the following pdf version of what it will look like in the paper: If The Lord Wills, We Shall Live. It has been a great privilege to write these articles - may the Lord use them for His glory.

*************Message of The Week***************

If The Lord Wills, We Shall Live

It was during this same week last year that the world beheld a great tragedy which claimed over 200,000 lives: On December 26, 2004, a massive earthquake struck off the coast of Sumatra, unleashing a tsunami disaster that the modern world had never before witnessed. For that entire week the death toll had to be revised daily as only estimates could be offered in the wake of this massive calamity; and through it all, the entire world was paralyzed with grief and shock as many considered their own frailty, the brevity of life, and even the uncertainty of the future.

Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a calamity like this for people to think this way at all!

Within the human heart there is this great tendency to deny the fact that none of us have the promise of life on this earth tomorrow, or even for the next hour. With that in mind, it is probably the case that those who perished in the 2004 tsunami were probably going about their lives as most people do in the world; there was no sense of imminent danger; in most areas affected the weather was quite beautiful and they were just a few days away from entering into the dawn of a new year. All was well, and life seemed to be quite normal, and yet in one brief moment their lives had ended without much of a warning at all. Now, one year later, life goes on, a new year approaches and within the calm of daily life many are making their plans and New Year's resolutions for 2006 - just like those who perished just last year. I can assure you that when it comes to learning the lessons of life, if even through a calamity, we all tend to have a short memory and thus we too often live with the presumption of tomorrow; but such an attitude as this is very dangerous. The Bible warns us about such attitudes, as in the case of this exhortation from James chapter 4:

James 4:13-16: 13 Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit." 14 Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. 15 Instead, you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that." 16 But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.

James reveals the true heart of mankind when he mimics those who say "today or tomorrow, we shall go to such and such a city, and spend a year there..." He refers to this presumptuous living (of which we are all prone to do) - "boasting in...arrogance" and then he calls it all "evil." James wastes precious little time in getting to the very heart of our human weakness - we all tend to live presumptuously, assuming that tomorrow, next week, next month or next year will certainly come. However, James corrects such thinking by reminding us all of our frailty as humans, calling us a "vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes." But James does more than just identify our tendency towards error; he offers us some very important medicine by pointing us to the necessity of having genuine faith and trust in God, for he says: "Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we shall live and also do this or that.'" Yes: If the Lord wills, we shall live. Think about that for a moment. That is not the confession of an arrogant, presumptuous person, rather it is the humble cry of one who trusts the Lord and understands that all that we have in life, we have by the gift of God Himself (James 1:17). With this in mind, allow me to break from tradition for a moment and wish you, not a "Happy New Year," but a "Happy New Day." You see, while it isn't sinful to make plans per se, it is sinful for us to presume upon the Lord that we will be able to fulfill those plans in the future (Proverbs 16:9). But instead of presuming in this manner, we ought to say "If the Lord wills, we shall live" and if He grants us another day of life, then we ought to give thanks and use every moment for His glory. So in view of this important truth from God's Word, I do wish you a Happy New Day and offer you the following New Day Resolution: "behold, now is 'THE ACCEPTABLE TIME,' behold, now is 'THE DAY OF SALVATION'" (2 Corinthians 6:2). Please remember, you don't have the promise of tomorrow, and thus I ask you - what will you do with this day that has been granted to you as a gift from God? Call upon the Lord Jesus Christ today for the forgiveness of your sin and for eternal life and joy in Him. This I can assure you, that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved (Romans 10:9-13)! Pilgrim Bible Church, Pastor M. J. Beasley, 336.945.4208

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What Child is This?

This Christmas hymn is simply one of my favorites. It asks the question that must be answered, but is often ignored. Clearly, there is a lot of mere religion involved with this holiday season, but as believers we need to ask people this important question - exactly what child is this? What I especially appreciate about this hymn by William Dix (1865) is that it answers the question wonderfully. In fact, it is frankly dripping with opportunities to communicate the Gospel message. Let me encourage you to consider how you might use this hymn, or any other Gospel rich hymn, to share Christ with others. We often find ourselves with unbelieving friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers during the holidays - in contexts such as these, a hymnal can provide a firm platform for presenting Biblical truth. A few years ago I developed a Gospel tract based upon this hymn. The contents of the tract are in the post below, and you are welcome to download a trifold tract version here - just print it, fold it and give it to someone who doesn’t know the Savior.

What Child is This?

Have you ever seriously considered this question - Who is this child so commonly celebrated at this time of year? Consider for a moment that familiar hymn of the same title: “What Child is This”. This hymn answers this most important question in every verse:

Verse 1. What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping? This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring Him laud, the babe, the son of Mary.

This hymn refers to Christ (Jesus Christ) as the King of whom the angels sing. How important this opening verse is, for it affirms very clearly the truth of the Bible, that Jesus Christ is the King of kings and the Lord of lords (Revelation 19:16, Philippians 2:5-11); it is this Christ Who is to be adored and worshipped (Hebrews 1:5-6). But how can it be that a child should be adored and worshipped? What is so special about this Christ Child? Consider the next verse of this Christmas hymn, for it further answers our questions:

Verse 2. Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding? Good Christian, fear: for sinners here, the silent Word is pleading. Nails, spear, shall pierce Him through; the cross be borne for me, for you; hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

This hymn calls Jesus Christ “the Word made flesh” just as declared in the word of God:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)

When the Scriptures declare that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...”, it is clearly saying that the Eternal One (called the Word) came down from heaven and became a man. This Eternal Word was God Himself, as prophesied in Isaiah:

Isaiah 9:6: 6 For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Jesus Christ is God the Son who dwelt in human flesh so that “nails, spear, shall pierce Him through: the cross be borne for me, for you.” Those who believe in Jesus Christ the Savior will never perish, but have forgiveness of their sin and receive eternal life. Those who deny or ignore Him are judged already (John 3:16-18):

John 3:35-36: 35 “The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

The child who is called “Mighty God” (Isaiah 9:6) came in order to die on a cross for the sins of men, in order that those who believe in Him may have eternal forgiveness, life and joy. Is it your desire to entrust your life to the Savior - to believe in Him and be forgiven of your sins? The Lord is gracious and full of mercy. He freely forgives and saves those who come to Him in faith. If you have a Bible, please look with us at the following passages in the New Testament:

  • As Creator and Master of the universe, God deserves all of our love and obedience: “Worthy are You [God] to receive glory and honor and power, for You created all things” (Revelation 4:11)

  • Sadly, mankind has sinned and rebelled against this worthy God. - Romans 3:23 “..all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Because of man’s sin, he is eternally separated from God and -”..the wages of sin is death..” Rom 6:23.

  • Man is eternally separated from God and faces the severe consequences of eternal death - though man deserves this death (because of sin) something must be understood - “ ..God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8.

  • Christ paid the debt that men owe by living a perfect life and dying on a cross in the sinner’s place. Having been raised from the dead He now freely forgives all who place their faith and trust in Him. But how does one receive this wonderful pardon and life in Christ? - “..if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved;” Romans 10:9. Jesus said “..God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). The Lord Jesus also said - “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).

Seek the Lord in prayer today and give your life to Him in faith. If you have any questions about this most important commitment, please contact us at May God richly bless you and your family! May you have the true joy that is in Christ alone:

Verse 3. So bring Him incense, gold, and myrrh, come, peasant, king, to own Him, The King of kings salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him. Raise, raise the song on high, the virgin sings her lullaby; joy, joy for Christ is born, the babe, the son of Mary.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Enter His Gates with Thanksgiving

A few weeks ago Deacon Burnie Little shared some thoughts with me about the recent news concerning those churches that are closing on December 25th. I thought that his insights were very profitable and had asked him to consider writing them out in a post. Thanks Burnie for this. To all who read this, let it be a word of warning and encouragement to all of us, lest we too take lightly our privileges to assemble and worship the Lord:

Churches Closed for Christmas: This Christmas season has been filled with much controversy… from the politically correct manner of greeting one another, to store advertisements omitting the word Christmas (as if somehow it is bad to disassociate the name of Christ from the latest sale at the mall), to government schools that ban parties with red and green decorations… the list goes on.

However, there is one supposed controversy I initially found disturbing, but am now quite thankful for. It seems that some churches are closing their doors on Christmas day!

According to a recent news story carried by CBS/AP the reasons for closing vary and include "… that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources" (Willow Creek Community Church) as well as allowing volunteers "the chance to spend Christmas with their families instead of working" (Southland Christian Church).

The closing at Willow Creek is further justified by reasoning that if their mission is to reach the unchurched, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning? This may certainly be true, although the principle reason for holding a worship service ought to be just that-worship. Perhaps the real reason is that these churches are not focused on glorifying God and preaching the word to equip the believer to go out into the world, but rather they are intent on tickling the ears of men… and if someone wants to spend Christmas day sleeping in with the family, so be it.

The seeker sensitive church, in its attempt to reach the world with all of its musical and dramatic production-the stages, the lights, the theatre-is ultimately no different from the world it purports to save.

While it should not be the primary purpose of the church service to evangelize the lost-this is a duty for the Christian so equipped-there may be many who are lost and who will attend a church service on Christmas Sunday (many for the first time this year, or second if they attended at Easter.) Perhaps they are wearied of the glitter and gold of the holiday season-the decorations, the gifts, the parties, the food, the "all-holiday-music-all-the-time" radio stations (which incidentally seem to play music with Christmas as a theme-I haven't heard any holiday songs about Kwanzaa, Chanukah, the winter solstice or New Years… hmmm). The last thing these lost souls need is more of the same from a church service comprised of music and drama which ultimately entertains the masses rather than worships God. They are in need of Christ and Him crucified as revealed in His Word.

So thank you, all of you mega-seeker-entertainment-ear tickling churches who will be closed on Christmas Day. May the Lord direct those who truly are seeking, because they are called by Him, to a fellowship where the Word is preached and lived out in true Christian fellowship-on Christmas Day and everyday. If it is true that "what you win them with is what you win them to", then may they be won by God's Word to everlasting life found in Christ and Him alone.

As for those pastors who take the "day off" from work… remember "your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." 1 Peter 5:8. Will you so readily lay aside your duties as an undershepherd for the sake of a holiday?

To those who "volunteer" at church and consider it "work" and would rather spend the day with your family… is your service to the Lord drudgery that you gladly take leave of for the sake of a holiday? And do you not consider time spent with the saints of God, whether blood relative or not, time spent with family?

And to those who feel it is not an effective use of staff and volunteer resources for just a few who would show up, might I suggest you read the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15. Thanks be to God that He did not consider it a poor use of resources to send His Son to die on a cross for sinners-for that ultimately is what Christmas is all about.

Burnie Little

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Doctrine of Radical Amputation...

...Or, The Importance of Squashing those Big Stumbling Blocks in Life.

Like the Greek and Roman mythological figures in Christ’s day, we too have our idols that have been attributed with many god-like qualities. In fact, we have in our day that grand character - Santa Claus, who makes Zeus, Baccus and Hermes look like the three stooges. After all, old Saint Nic is attributed with the qualities of omniscience (he sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake); omnipotence & omnipresence (he delivers his goods to billions of children throughout the world in one night); he is the moral basis for righteous living (he knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake) and he doesn’t seem to die... well, not until he was violently squashed by a 727 jet airliner...oh well, so much for his immutability.

Santa Claus has become the chief mascot for the retail industry and is, therefore, the most popular figure during the Christmas season for those whose heart is set upon playing stool-ball, rather than worshipping Christ. Contemporary idols such as Saint Nic should remind parents that we must be very careful about what we set before our children during the Christmas holidays - or any time:

Matthew 18:6-11: 6 “...whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it is better for him that a heavy millstone be hung around his neck, and that he be drowned in the depth of the sea. 7 Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! 8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out, and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than having two eyes, to be cast into the fiery hell. 10 See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.” 11 [For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.]

The Lord’s call to cut off whatever causes one to stumble is sometimes referred to as the doctrine of radical amputation, and for obvious reasons. We are not to take lightly those things which get in the way of our pure devotion to the Lord - they must be “cut away” for the sake of Christ. Nor are we to tolerate the abominable practice of causing little ones to stumble in the same way. The Savior’s “woe to the world” is a severe warning.

Such a reflection ought to remind us of the godliness of Paul and Barnabas when the natives of Lystra believed that Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. Rather than offering to adorn themselves with costumes and thus play their resptective roles (if even for the sake of the little children), their response was a violent one - like the doctrine of radical amputation:

Acts 14:11,12,14-15: ...they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes...14 But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God...”

These men would have rather died than to place an idol before those to whom they ministered. For them, it was Christ alone or nothing. Rather than seeing the idols of Zeus and Hermes as being tools to communicate Christ to them, they understood that these idols were an abomination - a stumbling block, and they needed to be cut off immediately.

Let me encourage all to take our celebrations of Christ very seriously, for the glory of the Savior and for the sake of our testimony in this world. The world watches us in ways that we often cannot know or assess, therefore let us show them that we celebrate the 1st Advent of Christ - that is, when the eternal Son of God came to this earth, rather than when Santa Claus is coming to town.

When Christmas Comes Early

Well, it seems that Christmas came early this year via two gifts from the brethren @ PBC -

1. A - T.U.L.I.P. Tree Ornament: Many thanks to Scott and Amanda for their PERSEVERANCE in finding three lovely silk tulips and bringing them together into an ornament that is absolutely IRRESISTABLE. Of course, they were gracious enough to give us this ornament UNCONDITIONALLY, however, because they had generously determined to make the one ornament, we were thereby LIMITED to converting one tree... no more, and no less. Beforehand we considered our tree to be TOTALLY worthless, but now it is a new kind of Christmas tree...yes, we like our T.U.L.I.P. Tree. Thanks a bunch...

2. A Maxwell House Ornament: Well, this week’s Maxwellbucks™ award goes to brother Burnie for secretly smuggling more of that imitation coffee (Maxwell House) into our house once again. Just when I thought I had settled a truce with the Maxwellites in our midst, I find that the they are once again invading my turf and polluting the pure java supply. The most recent coffee crime involves some of our Christmas decorations. We have a miniature Starbucks coffee shop replica (lighted) along with other miniaturized houses, people and streetlamps - a fun thing that we have the kids setup every year. Well, this peaceful landscape was rudely interupted Wednesday night when an invader arrived on the scene.

Thanks brother - now I owe you one...

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Confessions of a Christmas Grinch

When the Lord redeemed me in 1982, I remember being like a child in a toy store - I was so joyful to be surrounded by the abundance of His grace and the riches of His truth that I realized that there weren’t enough waking hours in a day to take it all in. I would exhaust myself on a daily basis by digging into the treasuries of His word, fellowshipping with His people and praying for continued grace to grow in Him (I’m still like that kid in the toy store - but at my present age, I now go to bed a wee bit earlier). Now there is one thing that I did in my spiritual infancy that would require a slight adjustment in later years - and that has to do with the Christmas holidays. You see, when I was first saved I cynically became like...

...the Grinch who stole Christmas...only without the green skin...

The Grinch hated Christmas!

The whole Christmas season!

Now, please don't ask why. No one quite knows the reason.

It could be that his head wasn't screwed on quite right.

It could be, perhaps, that his shoes were to tight.

But I think that the most likely reason of all

May have been that his heart was two sizes too small.


Whatever the reason,

His heart or his shoes,

He stood there on Christmas Eve, hating the Whos,

Staring down from his cave with a sour, Grinchy frown

At the warm lighted windows below in their town.

For he knew every Who down in Who-ville beneath

Was busy now, hanging a mistleoe wreath.

Well, actually, I didn’t hate anyone who celebrated Christmas - but my zeal for a pure devotion to Christ had become imbalanced and without good wisdom...and thus:

Every vestige of Christmas I removed from my presence

And refused to engage in the sharing of presents (alright, now I’m rhyming - enough of this already)...

Over time, I began to realize that many of the ancient roots of Christmas (which are primarily pagan) are almost entirely unknown to most people. For example, I have not had anyone compliment us on our “Druid Tree” yet. Besides this, I began to realize that the Christmas season often affords many opportunities to share the Gospel. In other words, it is a wonderful opportunity to speak to others about the Christ of “Christmas” - no matter what the world does with the holiday. I am often reminded that it is this time of year that affords the unique opportunity of standing on someone’s porch and singing Christ-centered hymns - I.e., caroling. In fact, several weeks ago we were invited to come to one of our local (public) libraries in order to sing Christmas hymns. Some folks from church joined with us, and we all had an opportunity to share the Gospel. One of the hymns that we sang was - “What Child is This?” Verse two of this hymn provided a wonderful opportunity:

Why lies He in such mean estate, where ox and ass are feeding

Good Christian fear; for sinners here the silent Word is pleading.

Nails, spear, shall pierce him through; the cross be borne for me, for you

hail, hail the Word made flesh, the babe, the son of Mary.

Verse two provided a blessed opportunity to present a very simple Gospel message - the verse itself is a roadmap for the Gospel indeed. By God’s grace events like these have been very fruitful in terms getting the seed of God’s word out. Through opportunities like these, I have come to learn that it is possible to enjoy Christmas, and to even use the holiday as an opportunity to share Christ with others...

But this would not have been...

...had I remained on the top of Mount Crumpit...

proudly determined to take Christmas and dump it.... (this post really needs to end soon)...

My exhortation to all is that we should seek every legitimate opportunity to communicate Christ to others, telling them about the hope that lies within us - even if such opportunities are to be found during a holiday season that most in the world celebrate, but very few understand. That is our mission and calling - to bring Christ to this lost and dying world.

P.S. As for our Christmas tree (or as some of you might think of it - Druid Tree) - we’ve reformed the thing - be sure to have a look.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Happy Stool-Ball Day to All, And to All A Good Night

The modern controversies over “Happy Holidays,” “Merry Christmas” and “Seasons Greatings” have reached a fever pitch. In Sacramento, as many as 50 protesters visited a local Wal Mart in order to protest the store’s failure to use the term “Christmas” in their retail practices - yes, “Christmas” that 12th century expression derived from the Roman Catholic tradition of mass/transubstantiation - i.e. “Christ’s Mass,” not necessarily a favorite expression for every Protestant on this planet. One of the protestors was pastor Dick Otterstad, of the Church of the Divide, who donned a Santa Claus costume and greeted shoppers with the message: “Don't forget about the meaning of Christmas.” Yes, you read that correctly, a pastor in a Santa Claus constume with a “Merry Christmas” sign... that’s really nailing down the “reason for the season.”

All this vocabulary-venom is poisoning the true message of the Savior, and it leads non-Christians to believe that Christianity is all about retail marketing and overweight men with white beards in their red pajamas. Brethren - we need to rise above it all and make sure that we communicate Christ to others - on December 24th, 25th, 26th... that is, on every day of the year.

But I truly wonder how the modern day Christmas Combatants would fair with the likes of Mr. William Bradford, the leader of the Pilgrim settlers of the Plymouth Colony (who later became the Governor of the Plymouth Colony). Actually, I don’t think that most people today would have enjoyed spending “Thanksgiving” Day or “Christmas” Day with him or most of those early Pilgrims. To the Puritans, Christmas was a pagan celebration that was grounded in secular tradition and thus represented the remnants of the church of England, more than anything else. And with this, the tradition of Christmas was often filled with partying, drinking and reveling of all sorts. For the believers in Plymought Colony, December 25th was just another day, unless of course it fell on the Sabbath - otherwise, it was simply a work day. The following excerpt from Bradford’s “Of Plymouth Plantation [1620-1647]” helps us to see the early Americans’ view of “Christmas”:

“And herewith I shall end this year. Only I shall remember one passage more, rather of mirth than of weight. On the day called Christmas Day, the Governor called them out to work as was used. But the most of this new company excused themselves and said it went against their consciences to work on that day. So the Governor told them that if they made it a matter of conscience, he would spare them till they were better informed; so he led away the rest and left them. But when they came home at noon from their work, he found them in the street at play, openly; some pitching the bar, and some at stool-ball and such like sports. So he went to them and took away their impliments and told them that was against his conscience, that they should play and others work. If they made the keeping of it matter of devotion, let them keep their houses; but there should be no gaming or reveling in the streets. Since which time nothing hath been attempted that way, at least openly.”

By the way, pitching the bar and stool-ball were both common games in their day. Pitching the bar is thought to have consisted of throwing a stick in some fasion, and stool-ball incorporated the use of a milkmaid’s stool and some rocks - based upon an old game enjoyed by young milkmaids who threw rocks at each others’ stools in order to knock them down; the defensive object of the game was to prevent your opponent’s rock from hitting your stool - using your bare hand...well, that sounds like a lot of fun.

Now an observant reader may be thinking many thoughts after such a quote - perhaps regarding Puritan work ethics or sabbatarianism; possibly even how very bored those milkmaids must have been. However, my only focus in this reference concerns the exhortation that was made to those who insisted that they observe Christmas, which was this: if, for conscience sake, you wish to reflect on Christ this day, then do reflect on Christ as a matter of devotion to Him instead of using this time as an opportunity for the flesh. These Christmas celebrants apparently were newcomers to the colony (from England) and may not have been believers; and thus their desire for Christmas was not centered on Christ, but instead they desired to use their holiday as an opportunity to play stool-ball. In some way, these Christmas game players of the past are like many in our culture today. In the modern era, many demand their right for a Christmas holiday, but then they only fill their day with games and activities which have little or nothing to do with Christ Himself.

It would be like a young person who anticipates Christmas mainly because he expects to get that expensive X-Box game, so that he can play...stool-ball on it for hours without end...

...or something like that.

As the Apostle Paul often said: me genetai - may it never be.

P.S. After the last two posts - please know that I am not trying to abandon the expressions “Merry Christmas” or even “happy holidays” - I’m just advising people to have wisdom regarding their seasonal dogmatics: More will be said about these phrases later.

And just to put others at ease, we do have a Christmas Tree in our living room; however this one has been somewhat reformed - even sanctified in a way. More on that later as well...

Friday, December 16, 2005

On Celebrating Christ’s First Advent

I think that it’s fascinating that the Savior warned us about the leaven of the Pharisees (Parushim), rather than the leaven of the Chaberim.

I’m sure that you’ve thought that too.

Who were the Chaberim, and why bring it up? Well, I wanted to talk to you about being a God-honoring neighbor during this busy time of year. In Christ’s day the word Chaberim was used to denote a godly “neighbor” but with an interesting twist: This term Chaberim was actually the name that the Pharisees used for themselves to depict their spiritual practice, i.e., they were the true assembly of Israel due to their unparalleled obedience to the law. Emil Schurer, in his work “A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ” says it this way:

“This gives us however a deeper insight of the self-estimation of Pharisaism. It so far stands on a level with general Judaism of the post-exilian period, that to it also the population of Palestine is divided into two categories: 1. The congregation of Israel, I.e., the Chaberim, for chiber means simply “neigbbor,” fellow countryman, and 2. the people dwelling in the land. In the eyes of Pharisaism however the former term is restricted to the circle of those, who strinctly observe the law together with the entire paradosis ton presbuteron [tradition of the elders]. Only the circle of the Pharisaic association represents the true Israel, who perfectly observe the law and have therefore a claim to the promises.” [Schurer, History of the Jewish People, pp. 23-24.].

Though the Pharisees used this term Chaberim for themselves, you’ll notice that the Savior never used it to identify them. His term was parushim, that is, the separatists: To refer to the Pharisees as “neighbors” would have been ironic at best, for by their conduct, they proved themselves to be nothing of the sort. Instead, they were separatists; that is, they sought to separate themselves from the world so much, that they almost avoided it altogether. And rather than separating themselves unto God’s word alone (which they believed they did [John 5:39-47]), they had sadly set themselves apart unto the traditions of men - and not only this, but they sought to bring others with them in the process [Matt. 23:15]. This tenstion between the actual attitude of the Pharisees, versus their publicity spin as the “Chaberim” may have had some basis in the parable of the godly Samaritan, where at the end of that parable the Lord asked this question:

Luke 10:36-37: 36 Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers hands 37 And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, Go and do the same.

The parable of the good Samaritan is actually a response to a lawyer’s question in Luke 10:29, where he asked: “and who is my neighbor?” The true neighbor was the one who, in genuine godliness, showed mercy. It is interesting that those men who had a reputation for being religious were ultimately rebuked by the life of one who showed compassion to a man who disdained the Samaritans. Yes, it was a Samaritan, of all people, who proved himself to be a genuine neighbor.

The lessons that we can draw from all this are very crucial for our own souls. There is within Christian faith and duty a constant tension that exists between our need to separate ourselves from worldliness, while at the same time being careful not to forsake our ministry of mercy and compassion in the Gospel of Christ. In all our striving to avoid being of the world we cannot forsake our privileged duties that we have while in the world.

During this time of year, I often find myself feeling frustrated over much of the hoopla that surrounds the celebration of Christ’s birth. Frankly, there is much that we should not be associated with, for a great deal of it is simply an advancement of materialism or mysticism - or both. Because of this, we don’t want to find ourselves in association with those things which mar the glory of our Savior, who came in the flesh in order to die in our stead. But in saying this, I would also encourage you to think carefully about not becoming a separatist after the pattern of the Pharisees, such that we might miss some important opportunities to minister as a godly neighbor to this lost and dying world. This time of year often yields some interesting opportunities for believers to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that has yet to hear about the real meaning of Christ’s incarnation and death. Here are some ideas that might be helpful for you to extend yourselves to your own community for the sake of the Gopsel of Christ:

  1. Try charoling in your neighborhood & bring some Gospel tracts with you.
  2. Consider having a get together with several neighbors for a dessert/coffee time.
  3. Give thought to having some people over who might be alone this season (singles, widows, divorcees or young couples) - folks who don’t know Christ and don’t have anywhere to go.
  4. Should you endeavor to do any of these things, be sure to bask it all in prayer, asking the Lord to open doors of opportunity for sharing the truth of Christ.

This is a strange time of year - it is a time where many believe (mystically) that the season itself can bring true joy - just like magic. As believers, we know that there is only one true source of all peace and joy, and it is found in Christ, who was born in Bethlehem and died on Calvary for our sin. May the Lord grant us multiple opportunities to be neighbors, not after the pattern of the Pharisees, but after the patter of Christ Himself.

P.S. If you are thinking that by the above picture I am taking a shot at the word “holiday” as it might relate to the “seasonsgreetings-happyholidays-merryChristmas” debate - I’m not, but I will be posting on that one later...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Beware of the Strawman: Exegetical Issues Part II

There has been a recent discussion concerning the advocacy of continuationism - which teaches that the Apostolic sign gifts are still present with us today. The forms of this teaching will vary, but the sign gifts that are normally thought to be continuing to this day are: tongues, the interpretation of tongues, prophecy and miracles. The advocates of this doctrine are not new on the block, but have a heritage of advocacy that is rooted in the Pentacostal/Charismatic movements from the early 20th century to the present. For an excellent article related to this discussion, be sure to read Pastor Jason Robertson's (at Fide-O) work entitled: The Revelatory and Confirmatory Gifts. David Kjos at The Thirsty Theologian has been faithfully linking many other discussion on the matter, and there has also been an interesting interview between Tim Challies and one of the leading advocates of continuationism - Dr. Wayne Grudem.

I have included this post in the Strawman series, because I believe that this issue is becoming very dangerous for the church. Many advocates of this teaching have been entering into the ranks of the Reformed community and the result is that the Charismatic movement is taking root right in our own backyard. The issue is important for (at least) two reasons:

  1. The hermeneutic behind this teaching is quite wreckless and therefore establishes a dangerous precedent of Scripture being a matter of one's own interpretation.
  2. The infallibility of God's prophetic message is reduced to that which is fallible (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Concerning the second point, I believe that this strikes at the heart of the Christian's confidence and hope (Hebrews 6:13-20) - for the Lord's revealed oaths and promises are sure and immutable. As I have already indicated, one of the leading advocates of this argument of continuationism is Dr. Wayne Grudem. His primary argument for continuationsim is rooted in his interpretation of Ephesians 2:20 which advocates that Paul's mention of "apostles and prophets" is, in fact, a reference to one group of people. In other words, apostles and prophets do not constitute two different groups, but one - that is, apostles = prophets. By this argument, Grudem is then permitted to say (as he argues) that there is another prophetic office - that is, fallible prophets. This is what he has to say about the "apostles and prophets" mentioned in Ephesians 2:20:

"...the grammatical structure clearly allows for the possibility that one group with one component is meant, for there are several instances in the New Testament where one definite article governs two or more nouns joined by kai and it is clear that one group." [Wayne A. Grudem, The Gift of Prophecy in 1 Corinthians (Washington: University Press, 1982), p. 97].

In a sense, Grudem's argument is established upon the foundation of a faulty grammatical interpretation. In Daniel Wallace's summary of the misapplications of Sharp's rule in "Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics" pp. 284 - 285, he uses Grudem's teatment of Ephesians 2:20 as an example of a misapplication of Sharp's rule:

"As we have seen, there are no clear examples of plural nouns in TSKS fitting the identical group in the NT, rendering such a possibiity here less likely on grammatical grounds."82 [footnote 82] - "In Grudem's study he mixed singular TSKS constructions and plural participial TSKS constructions in with Ephesians 2:20. But the semantic patterns of each of these constructions do not match noun+noun plural TSKS constructions: There are no clear examples of plural nouns displaying identity, while all singular and virtually all plural participles fit this category."

All in all, the disjointed interpretation which says that the apostles and prophets are identical then leads Grudem to conclude that there is another group of prophets - prophets who were fallible. Not only does Wallace reveal the error of this, but he copiously lists a number of articles which address this same issue in footnote 81, on page 285. These issues are important and should not be carelessly tossed aside. Without trying to adjudicate motives or intentions here, let me just say that this is a serious issue, because the Bible does identify another kind of prophecy other than what is mentioned in Ephesians 2:20, and it is nothing to play grammatical games over. You see, the Bible refers to errant prophets as false prophets, and the church is to beware of such men, rather than enfold them as a part of God's program for the church (1 John 4:1, 2 Peter 2:1).

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Beware of the Strawman: Exegetical Issues, Part I

In his introduction to Dave Hunt's book "What Love Is This?" Tim Layhaye offers his praise and commendations for a work which confronts that "dreadful doctrine like Calvinism," referring to the ancient doctrines of sovereign grace as "the false God of Augustinianism and Calvinism."

I would like to thank Mr. Layhaye for his honesty.

I can at least respect someone who doesn't pull any punches about his convictions, even if he is beating the air - and that, with all his might. What I can't thank him for, nor especially Mr. Hunt, is that they are advancing a work that is disingenuous, hostile, exegetically weak and is filled with enough strawman arguments to constitute a fire hazard. Why is it that the opponents of God's absolute sovereignty always feel obligated to attack John Calvin? Why not engage in a discussion where only the Scriptures are unveiled, and church history is somewhat of a parenthesis?

Answer: Because John Calvin is not here to defend himself - that's why.

All this brings me back to thoughts of my youth. When I was a very little boy I used to play basketball in our family's backyard. My specialty was to play in two man contests, up to 40 points. I was so good at it that I always won in these contests - yes, you heard me right: always. Of course, my opponent was an imaginary one, but let's not get bogged down with details here - I always won! It's easy to defeat an opponent who isn't there to compete against you or defend himself - what is a real challenge is to get in a real match where the rules are not established by the players, but by an impartial referee whose standard is true in every way: enter in the Lord himself - who is the judge and arbiter of all our words and discussions. God's own word is the sole standard of measurement for everything; without it, we could never hope to have any theological contest adjudicated rightly. In view of this, let me offer the following segment from Mr. Hunt's book so that we can consider it in light of the Word of God. In chapter 11 of his book (Sovereignty and Free Will, What God cannot Do To Save Man), Hunt offers the following statement:

"God cannot force a gift upon anyone. That fact also shows that salvation for the elect cannot be by predestination. Salvation can neither be earned nor merited--it can only be received as a gift from God. And the recipient must be willing; the gift cannot be imposed by the giver against the recipient's will. Finally, even God cannot force anyone to love Him or to accept His love."

This statement is unfortunately filled with semi-truths and outright errors. What it certainly doesn't do is adequately represent what most advocates of sovereign grace would say. The word "force" carries with it the thought of wrote mechanism - a process that would exclude the transformation of the one being drawn by God's grace. But the Scriptures clearly teach us that it is the Lord who "caused us to be born again" (1 Peter 1:3), and yet by this gracious work we are thus made to be the willing worshipers and lovers of God (1 Peter 1:8). The word force makes the advocates of sovereign grace sound as though they teach a grace that is mechanistic - even robotic. Yes, the sheep of Christ are sovereignly drawn by the Father to Christ (John 6:44), but His drawing is a work that inclines the heart and mind of man to genuine and willing discipleship, not to a mechanistic compliance (John 10:26-27). But when Hunt says that "God cannot force anyone to love Him or to accept His love" I would suggest to you that he gives us the clarity of his error. The only ones who come to Christ are those who are drawn by Him and those to whom it has been given:

John 6:44: 44 "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

John 6:65: 65 And He was saying, "For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father."

Apart from the Father's sovereign act of drawing and His sovereign gift ("granted" ~ dedomenon - having been given), no one can come to Christ. Despite these clear texts, Hunt still feels compelled to deny that God sovereignly draws us and gives us a faith and love for Him. Consider the following passage:

1 John 2:29: if ye know that he is righteous, know ye that every one doing the righteousness, of him hath been begotten. [Young's Literal Translation]

Everyone who is presently doing righteousness, of Him hath been begotten [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. John's statement here is very clear and important. John lets us know that those who presently practice righteousness [pas ho poion ten dikaiosunen - all the ones presently doing righteousness], do so because of an antecedent work - God's work of regeneration [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. That's pretty clear. Disciples are made, not by their works; rather they perform righteous deeds because God has brought about new life within them (click on the diagrams below to expand):

Mr. Hunt might even agree with this principle. If not, he would have to argue that Christians labor in righteousness for a reason other than the initial work of God in them. There is really nothing to debate - the structure of John's statement is indisputable. But what about our love for God? Does John address this matter at all? Consider the following text with nearly identical structure:

1 John 4:7: Beloved, may we love one another, because the love is of God, and every one who is loving, of God he hath been begotten, and doth know God [YLT]

Here we have, in like manner, another statement given to us by John which shows us that those who presently love the brethren and God, do so because they have been begotten of God [gegennetai - Perfect Passive Indicative]. Once again, the structure of his statement leaves us no room to cry foul:

John clearly teaches us that righteous living, faith (1 John 5:1) and love all have their root in the gracious work of God from the very beginning. By the way, this is why the Christian can give God all the glory and praise for his salvation. And we can thank God that our wretched hearts have been turned from our rebellion against Him, to a love that cherishes Him above all else:

1 John 4:19: 19 We love, because He first loved us.

The Laodicean Legacy Part IV

This is a very sad post - one that is hard to believe in one way, but is somewhat predictable in some other ways. Earlier, in The Laodicean Legacy Part I, I said that churches have become religious entertainment centers, complete with theatre seating, drama, puppet shows, rock bands and stand-up comedians who try to impersonate Gospel preachers. With all that I mentioned in the above list, I forgot to mention - clowns. It stands to reason that if the world's entertainment is to be an important basis for the ministry of the "church", then why not clowns? I have heard, here and there, of churches having clown ministries of some sort - it all fits in with the venue of drama and puppet ministries etc. But what I have posted below is something that is both shocking and disturbing. If anyone reading this post doesn't know Jesus Christ as his/her Savior, then please remember that the activities of Trinity Church-St.Paul's Chapel (below) have nothing to do with Biblical Christianity. I Can assure you that when the Apostle Paul made the reference to the "foolishness of God" (1 Corinthians 1:25) he was using irony to point out the exceeding foolishness of men. The following is very sad.

New York City church holds 'Clown Eucharist'

Looking like refugees from Clown Alley at Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, ministers and many parishioners participated in a "Clown Eucharist" at an Episcopal church in New York City.

Earlier, the rector of Trinity Church-St. Paul's Chapel Trinity Church, the Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper, encouraged the parish family to come to church "in clown dress, big hats, floppy shoes or some sort of foolish garb. Those watching on the Internet might even be foolish enough to put on some white face or a big grease-paint smile as we worship God and learn about the structure of the Eucharist by being the circus which came to town and to church on that day."

The Rev. Dr. James Herbert Cooper breaks the bread during communion at Trinity Church in New York City during a 'Clown Eucharist' service.

The church bulletin's order of worship for May 22 states:

"The Procession-Entry of the Gladiators arrangement by Owen Burdick: The Ring Master, Choir, Acolytes, and Clergy enter the Church."

Someone mimed the Old Testament reading, and three people mimed the Gospel reading. Then, the bulletin states, "The Ringmaster directs the Sacred Ministers to the front of the altar."

After that, listed under The Offertory, the bulletin states: "The alms, oblations and other offerings of the People are presented. The Celebrant blesses the gifts, the altar and the People. The People respond to the blessing with their noise makers."

During The Breaking of the Bread, according to the bulletin, "The Celebrant breaks the Bread. At the cue of the Ringmaster the People respond with noise makers."

And, during The Retiring Procession, as the ministers retire to the narthex, the bulletin states that, "The People toss their streamers into the aisle."

After the service, as people gathered outside for a parish picnic, one parishioner in clown makeup said, "It's okay to be happy."

In a letter posted on the church's Web site before the service, Cooper said that the church would celebrate Trinity Sunday with the Clown Eucharist, "'doing church' as if we were a circus come to town. We will celebrate the Eucharist and learn about the basic traditional outline for Eucharistic worship by experiencing it and participating in it from a new perspective."

While he admitted that it might "be a surprise to see clowns inside Trinity Church," he asked church members to think about "how we perceive the world in light of our relationship with Jesus could rightly be called foolish. Jesus looked at things in a new and strange way - a foolish way. But, as St. Paul said, the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of the world. Paul declared himself a fool for Christ's sake."

According to Cooper, "clowns represent the underdog, the lowly, the remnant people. Their foolishness is a call to unpretentiousness. They take incredible risks - balancing on tight ropes, eating fire, keeping silent, being poked by others or getting soaked in water. Clowns are parables in themselves, spending great amounts of energy uncovering small things, then showing forth the hidden treasure of life (like the kingdom of God) and, surprisingly to us, giving their most cherished possessions to others. … Clowns look at the world, like parables, inside out and upside down: the last shall be first, the smallest seed is the greatest tree, and those who work all day get paid the same as those who worked an hour. To the world, this is foolishness.

"Yet foolishness - the foolishness of God - is wiser than man. It brings light, laughter, joy, renewal, salvation, and life. Whose fool are you?"

Note: When believers herald the cross of Christ as the most serious reality in their lives, then we are counted as "fools for Christ." But when men act like worldlings in the name of Christ, they are counted as the religious fools of this world who hold to a form of godliness, but deny its power (2 Timothy 3:5). This mockery of Christ and His table is beyond description. Let us be warned concerning the dangers of approaching the Lord's table in an unworthy manner (1 Cor. 11:27). While this is an extreme example of approaching the Lord's table in an unworthy manner, we must not be arrogant in our hearts - we must all herald Christ with greater sobriety and earnestness, lest we too be guilty of His body and the blood:

1 Corinthians 11:28-29: 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself, if he does not judge the body rightly. 30 For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep.

May the Lord have mercy...

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Laodicean Legacy Part III

I began the series "The Laodicean Legacy" with a quote from Mr. Bill Hybels, and then later from Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church, as follows:

Hybels: "There [used to be] a barricade mentality, a let's huddle and separate-ourselves-from-this-terrible-awful-world thing. There's none of that left. Those churches have closed down or have been merged with a church that has a more positive vision."

Parkinson: "...our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church..."

I presented these quotes in order to do two theings: 1. To unveil the truth about the mindset of the seeker sensitive movement and 2. To issue a warning to us all concerning our own natural tendency to want to become ear-ticklers in order to gain the approval of men (2 Timothy 4:3-5). Let me repeat that second point in a more fully expanded way: By exposing the errors of the modern church in this way, I have no desire to foster attitudes of pride or arrogance in anyone - in any way. We must not boast in our hearts and declare "we don't do that at our church - we would never do that in our church." Brethren - pride comes before destruction (Proverbs 16:18), therefore we ought to be humbled and warned by these observations and look to the godliness of a man like Paul whose ministry was truly patterned after that of Christ Himself:

Galatians 1:10 For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.

We must all consider our own hearts as we approach the assembly of the saints to engage in corporate worship and ask: "am I seeking the favor of men or of God?" When we actually think that we are exempt from such questioning, we are in great danger. This again is a needful premise to yet another quote harvested from Dan Kimball's book - "The Emerging Church, Vintage Christianity for New Generations."

"...late one night I happened upon the band the Cranberries playing an Unplugged concert on MTV. It was an all-acoustic performance. The stage was draped with a dark, rich fabric and lit by candelabras. It looked more like a grandmother's attic than a rock-concert venue, and I was struck by the simplicity of it. No fancy light shows or drum-set risers. I also noticed how close the audience was seated to the musicians. There wasn't a giant separation between the two groups. Rather, they were sort of all together in a 'community.' I immediately felt that there was something very interesting to this 'unplugged' approach. MTV obviously studies culture and knows their audience, so maybe they were on to something here. Besides, going unplugged would be a heck of a lot easier than gearing up for our usual Wednesday night full production. So a few weeks later, as summer began, we tried an unplugged experiment for our midweek meetings. Instead of all the flash and lights, we set up only candles. I felt that this would add a sort of catacombish feeling to our meetings, reminiscent of the early Roman church in hiding. I played up this catacombs angle to the high schoolers as we launched this new approach...when one of the unplugged nights ended, one teenager waited to speak with me...he smiled and gave a nod of approval. 'I like this,' he said. 'This was really spiritual.'" [Dan Kimball, The Emerging Church, Vintage Christianity for New Generations, pp. 34-35]

When I first read this over a year ago, I remember doing a double take on this one. Besides the insensitive reference to the catacombs - a place where dear Christian brethren from the past buried their dead and hid from Roman persecution [i.e., "a catacombs angle"], I was most amazed at Kimball's reference to...MTV. MTV? Did Kimbal really say that he was getting his cues from MTV for his youth services? Absolutely he did - one must remember that if you are seeking to provide what the culture wants and desires, then sure, television would be an important place to start; and if the golden egg to church ministry is to be found in researching the preferences of popular culture, then MTV is the goose for you - I suppose. Kimball then continues to explain how they furthered their research by "gathering several young adults, both believers and nonbelievers, for a series of brainstorming sessions," a revelation that lends itself to the repeated philosphy of importing the world into the church. While there is nothing problematic with acoustic guitars and candles per se, the question is this: What will be fashionable tomorrow? Juice harps and lava lamps? Had Kimball conducted his research in the Bible, he would have found that men are restless creatures who are forever in the pursuit of what they believe is "new" and "novel" (Ecclesiastes 1:8-11). All human beings, by nature, are like those loiterers on Mars Hill, who continually spoke and listened to things that they believed were "new" (Acts 17:21). However, by getting his cues of ministerial direction from the world, Kimball is essentially strapping his followers to a bucking bronco - and where that beast will be tomorrow, nobody knows. But Paul did not ascend Mars Hill dressed as Zeus or Hermes in order to more effectively reach his audience (wait, Barnabas would be Zeus and Paul would be Hermes - Acts 14:11-18). Rather, instead of catering to their desire for something new, Paul preached the ancient truths of creation, redemption and coming judgment, reminding them that even one of their own "novel" poets revealed nothing new about the Creator's universal dominion over all humanity (Acts 17:28). But what he did tell these novelty seekers was this:

Acts 17:29 "Being then the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man."

Paul teaches us that we "ought not" or literally [ouk opheilomen] we are indebted or obligated not to take the liberty to think of God according to the art and thought of man. In other words, the pursuit of our own wisdom and creativity is a dead end when it comes to the pursuit of God and the worship of God. This is how Paul dealt with a culture that continually sought out that which was "novel" and "new."

Should we be pursuaded to do anything different? By God's grace, may it never be.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Do You Know These First Advent Songs?

This is from a resource that was given to me years ago - what are the real names of these songs?

1. Move hitherward the entire assembly of those who are loyal in their belief.

2. Listen, the celestial messengers produce harmonious sounds.

3. Nocturnal timespan of unbroken quietness.

4. An emotion excited by the acquisition or expectation of good given to the terrestrial sphere.

5. Embellish the interior passageways (not a first advent song).

6. Exalted heavenly beings to whom harkened.

7. Twelve o'clock on a clement night witnessed its arrival.

8. The first - first advent song.

9. Small municipality in Judea South of Jerusalem.

10. Omnipotent supreme being who elicits respite to ecstatic distinguished males.

11. Tranquility upon the terrestrial sphere.

12. In awe of the nocturnal time span characterized by that which is set apart for God.

13. The first person nominative plural of a triumvirate of far eastern heads of state.

14. In a distant location of existence of an improvised unit of newborn children's slumber furniture.

15. Proceed forth declaring upon a specific geological alpine formation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

The Laodicean Legacy Part II

In the last article "The Laodicean Legacy Part I" we looked at the problems that are inherent with a belief that our duty as the church is to cater to the norms of the world. In that article, we talked about the difference between the prepositions "out" and "in" as it relates to the church's Gospel mission. I wanted to expand that a bit by looking at yet another news item that showed up this week. Perhaps you have noticed that much of the secular media has picked up on the report that several megachurches will be cancelling their church services on December 25th. It always interests me when the secular media becomes interested in "religion" - it usually happens when there is a controversy, or even a perceived controversy of some sort. This story is revealing in many ways because CNN continued by saying that many main line "churches" will be open on that day - Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran and Methodist etc. By the time I read that line, I was reminded that our culture does not know what the church of Jesus Christ is. Defining the church is no small matter, for without a right understanding of what the church is, we would have no hope of comprehending what it is supposed to do. Therefore, let me offer the following summary about the church's calling in Christ: Without a doubt the "church" (ekklesia) is the assembly of the "called ones," that is, those who have been called and redeemed by God. The true church is comprised of those who are the spiritual members of His household, as His children (Ephesians 1:19); we are called the "saints" (hagion) because we have been separated out of the domain of this world and have been set apart in Christ. As the true church, we have a clear mission of serving Him in such a manner that we would be the "pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15); and our assembly as the children of God is so important and needful that we are not at liberty to forsake it (Hebrews 10:24-25), if even in the face of persecution (Hebrews 10:32-39). And as the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3), we assemble together under the teaching of the Word of God for, without God's Word we will become spiritually emaciated and weak:

John 21:15-17: 15...Jesus *said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?" ... "Tend My lambs." 16 He *said to him again a second time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" ..."Shepherd My sheep." 17 He *said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love Me?" ..."Tend My sheep.

Like Peter, all those who are called to shepherd Christ's sheep (His church) are not at liberty to do as they please according to their own whim and pleasure - they are commanded (three times) to shepherd and feed Christ's own possession, which He purchased with His own blood. The simple point is this: the church is the assembly of God's people (His sheep) and it comes together for the equipping and building up of its members for the work of service:

Ephesians 4:11-12: 11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;

Now, back to our prepositions (out & in). The primary duty of a pastor is to feed, equip and build up those in the church (Christ's sheep) so that they can do the work of service, which includes going out into the world with the Gospel message. None of what has been said here eliminates the fact that unsaved people will attend church services (1 Corinthians 14:24-25); however, the principal objective of the local church is to build up believers through the teaching of sound doctrine, so that they can carry out the ministry of serving the Lord in all contexts. This simple definition of the church has been steam rolled by the modern "seeker sensitivity" movement. Instead of making Christ's sheep the highest priority, the unbeliever is given pre-eminence, as is revealed in a recent CNN article:

Cally Parkinson, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, said church leaders decided that organizing services on a Christmas Sunday would not be the most effective use of staff and volunteer resources. The last time Christmas fell on a Sunday was 1994, and only a small number of people showed up to pray, she said.

"If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched, basically the people who don't go to church, how likely is it that they'll be going to church on Christmas morning?" she said.

As the expression goes: "that's a big 'if.'" Parkinson's premise reveals a great deal concerning the philosophy of ministry found in the seeker sensitive movement: "If our target and our mission is to reach the unchurched..." A philosophy of ministry such as this reveals to us all that it is not the sheep of Christ who are the focus in their services, rather, it is the "unchurched" as they say. And in view of the fact that in '94 they only had a small number who came to pray, this is offered as a good reason to cancel their services this year. Can you imagine if Peter had cancelled the assembly of the disciples in the upper room in Jerusalem (Acts 2) because he felt that their small number could not justify the use of their "staff" and "volunteer resources"? In mentioning these things, I am not trying to legislate what kind of meetings churches should have on December 25th, what I am concerned about is the overall attitude that the contemporary "church" has over what Christ says is His church (Matthew 16:18). To forsake the assembly of the saints because of what "unchurched" people might do on that day is a grievous proposition. On the contrary, our unique devotion to the brethren, and our fellowship with one another, is what Christ says will be used to show others that we are of Christ and not of this world:

John 13:35 "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another."

Brethren - these things I mention so that we would be on guard in our own hearts, lest we degrade in our own thinking about Christ's church. And let us be careful to employ biblical language so that we can view our world in a right way. Instead of thinking of people as being "churched" or "unchurched" - we must consider whether they are saved or unsaved people (just as Christ distinguished between the sheep and the goats Matt. 25:31-46); by this we can be reminded of the lost's true and urgent need: they need Christ rather than a program. At this time of year, we often have a greater opportunity to reach out to others for the sake of the Gospel of Christ - may the Lord use us as His instruments to show them the glory of the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.