Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Veteran Retired Economist Tells the Real Story

Since he is no longer on the job, Greenspan offers a realistic insight into the country's economy.  His vast experience through decades helping the US economy grows gives weight to his opinion.

Click here for Greenspan's latest comments.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Should Bible Believing Churches Recommend Thomas Kempis?

Thomas Kempis is one of those famed writers in mid Christian history.  His book Imitation of Christ was in the past one of the best selling books besides the Bible.

It should be said there are portions of The Imitation of Christ that sound good.  In fact, one could get some great ideas out of a page here or a page there.

It should also be known that if Kempis wrote the book, their community lived faith idea is important.  A group of friends sought to live godly lives.  Others have definitely taught this, but in general we can commend this.

But on the whole, what should we think?  Is it worth making a recommended book to friends?

I've come to the conclusion that there are some serious reasons for a Christian person to avoid recommending Kempis' writing...

1. First of all, there is a question of who wrote it.  This complicates what is said in the book since it may not be someone's devotions.  This article will still refer to it as written by Thomas Kempis, but some speculate it was written by others as a dogmatic theology book.  This means it is not as neutral as one might be led to believe.  That in itself isn't a bad thing, it's just that seeing it as purely devotional writing assumes way too much in its favor.  Some of the possible authors of the 15th century AD were not so great Christian figures.  So this should caution us on why it was written, and how much of it is well-backed by a robust life.

2. Second, and a major point, the book repeatedly references Christ dying on the cross each day, which is a false doctrine.  Kempis argues extensively in Book IV that Jesus dies on the cross regularly in churches on their altars.  This is not found in Scripture, so we find then that the author Kempis is taking a long portion of his book to argue for false theology.

Instead in the Bible we see differently:  Christ died for our sins once for all, says Peter in 1st Peter 3:18.  That was a sufficient work then, it is not repeated.

Then also God says through his writer in Hebrews 9:28 Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was once for all time, not a repetitive act.  It is not ongoing or daily.

More importantly, the action verbs around these do not indicate an ongoing sacrifice of Jesus, but a one time sacrifice Jesus worked on the cross at Calvary.  The Bible often shows ongoing action when God wanted to convey that.  But it doesn't here.

3. Third a minor point in relation to size of his work, Kempis seems to think that suffering without consolation from God is a moral good.  This is found for instance at the end of Book II.  I'm not sure how that getting to a place where you need no consolation from God makes sense, but would not endorse that for another reason beyond Christian experience.  God often in the Bible instead of what Kempis says, actually comforts His people in trials.  Since Kempis seems to contradict Scripture on this, I disagree with Kempis urged goal for his readers to see no comfort needed from God in Christ. Kempis frames his statements in a nice sounding spiritual way, but they just do not match our authority, Scripture.

4. Fourth, while Imitation of Christ was written before the Reformation and the Back to the Bible emphasis, so we may cut Kempis or the actual author some slack on some things (like St. Augustine, etc.), we should not then see that work as so timeless that we need it now.  In other words, there are other places to find good devotional material for one's walk with Jesus.  Sometimes the bad so outweighs the good that something loses its value, like an old car.  It just gets to a point where a new one is needed, even after best efforts to still use it after a while.

5. Penance.  In one sense we all suffer for Jesus, but tying that to our relationship with God the way someone from Kempis' background does is FAR different than the way a modern day contemporary Christian in a non Catholic background would.  It is found scattered in here in the negative sense, not the positive St. Paul one.

6. Sixth a bigger point in favor of not using it much as devotional material, the continual focus on a Blessed Sacrament.  This for those who do not know, refers to the Lord's Supper in a certain religious group's teachings.  So they do not call it Lord's Supper but Blessed Sacrament.  The reason they call it something different however departs from God's revealed teaching in the Bible.

This terminology change is important as it provides a way to conceptualize what Kempis is teaching people to believe about God.  Kempis and his background mean way more than a person on the street would think is meant by that loaded terminology, Blessed Sacrament.

It is not just the Lord's Supper for Kempis but a system of being and remaining saved.  If you keep taking the Sacrament regularly and remain in line with his group's teachings, then by your works and deeds of doing that you are contributing to your own salvation regularly.  In fact, he would argue, you are adding merit to your acceptance before God; something which Scripture does not allow a real Christian to do (Ephesians 2:8, 9).

His system shared in devotional format may sound nice but it is not God's revealed will at all.

For Kempis or whoever wrote this thing, the Blessed Sacrament refers to in taking the Lord's Supper much more in a negative way than a reverent act to remember Jesus by faith.  Imitation of Christ in Book IV relays that the Lord's Supper has the ability to ensure "all vices are cured, all passions are restrained, all temptations are overcome and diminished; by it grace is sent."  Grace he previously said is "special grace" implying that the sacrament has salvation power.  That contradicts the idea that salvation is wholly of God, and heavily implies salvation is partly by our doing works, such as taking the so-called Blessed Sacrament.  This is a contradiction of good Bible doctrine on so many levels.  See Bible-driven theologian Wayne Grudem (Systematic Theology pages 991-994) on why Kempis makes a mistake here.  It has to do with Kempis thinking that grace instead of being a state we are in, where we are saved by God, that one has to add good deeds like taking sacrament to store up enough grace if you truly mean it in your heart to be saved.  That is tradition not Scripture speaking.

When we speak of the Lord's Supper we should view it as a symbolic representation of what Jesus did for us.  (Just as Scriptures like Luke 22:20 are not referring to actual cup becoming a covenant, so we know the cup's contents and bread is symbolic, not a literal saving grace again).  We should not think that it becomes Christ's body and blood again, which Kempis seems to hold to unfortunately.  It is blessed to a Bible driven Christian in that it is remembering the great love Jesus has for us and the church community.  It is not blessed to us because it becomes another act of going to the cross right there in a church building somewhere.  It is not blessed because it

Now can a holy, but still only symbolic remembrance of Jesus' work on the cross ensure all vices are cured.  No.  God's saving grace does that, but it is not through a symbolic act we do in church.  It is through God's Word changing us (Romans 12:1-2) that our personal sins / vices are dealt with properly instead.

Now is Jesus present spiritually?  Yes!  But this is different than what Kempis means.  Kempis thinks you are earning your salvation "special grace" in the taking of Lord's Supper, which any normal Bible following believer would immediately recognize as not what God has said about it.

Now does taking the Lord's Supper provide an opportunity to reflect on Jesus' work and love for us?  Yes!  But we know those things not from the symbolic act of taking the Lord's Supper but rather entirely from Scripture/the Bible explained!  It is not fair to say that that ordinance itself has power unexplained by Scripture.

7.  More info:  I cannot fully go through everything in Imitation of Christ without having to invest as much time as several sermons would take (25 hours each).  Here is an interesting read, including on why earning the "love of" God is a thing in Kempis which contradicts the Bible.  Click here for this.  What is happening is Catholic theology collapses sanctification and salvation together into one thing, so you can be less saved so to speak.   Whereas in Protestant theology, salvation is entirely worked by God for you, you just receive it by faith God grants you.  Sanctification is also important, but if you don't take Lord's Supper enough in Protestant theology you are not "less" saved.  This is a big difference.

So in summary from what I can gather, Thomas Kempis is not a book we ought to recommend for devotional reading in the Christian life.

God bless!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pilgrim's Ties to a Historic US Church

This is an interesting article that is worth the read on Thanksgiving.

Click here for history of an American church branch to the Pilgrims of Plymouth.

Have a happy and blessed Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 24, 2014

First Things magazine article

First Things magazine serves as a kind of cultural engagement piece for pastors around the USA and even in the Western world.  Many Christian thinkers and teachers read it to know what is going on, what current discussions are, and other insights.

An editor named RR Reno of First Things, recently published a shocking type tone article/piece for such a major US cultural engagement magazine (click here for this).

In it he argues for a sort of fall back to the lines approach, where we look out for those in and coming to churches rather than the whole US culture's well-being.  This is more a 'defensive' Christian teaching/praxis posture as the coverage uses that word.

For more generalist coverage of it, see (here).  The thinking behind such an article seems to have really fully taken over some large evangelical denominations, such as the SBC with Russell Moore, head of its division the ERLC, where seeing Christian values in laws or society has taken a backseat to more of a defensive position strategy while still claiming to be doing offensive mission on ethics.  One might wonder if First Things too would want to still be considered changing the cultures of the US, but is leaning to a defensive position where they have to grapple with that tension.

However, the main article is written for a very broad gospel believing audience, of many denominational affiliations and backgrounds.

The main article from First Things magazine has Reno arguing a so-called Benedictine option, and this is a protect our Christian families and churches approach, instead of a broad cultural assistance approach.

The reason I'm posting this is to more or less post something that remains a BIG point of debate right now in pastoral circles and Christian colleges.

I do not necessarily agree with everything in it, but there is a sense in which we have to admit as Bible-affirming believers around the US that the culture is way, way off of Christian moorings. They argue (probably correctly in the article) that whatever the US does cannot be labeled 'Christian' as it contradicts historic Christian teachings (unless one defines Christian in a non biblical sense as just an American who should be a 'nice' person which is -not- the way Scripture does).  So pastors should refuse to be functional enablers of 'state' theology on moral questions.

Regardless of what one thinks of that article, it is worth being aware of if you are any type of Christian leader, because media you listen to and read is influenced by that magazine in our circles.

Indeed this cultural collapse around us is not news to any American, but as the historic faith seems to be at best neglected and at worst legally prosecuted in much of the US we may need to have these church discussions.  Holding to historic Christian positions can get a person fired from private or public employment, reprimanded at others times there, de-friended in more ways than just Facebook such as in clubs or community, and doors slammed in one's face.  What then do we have in common with American culture when the gospel of Jesus Christ looks so different?

Since this odd state of affairs is where we are at as Americans, we should be cognizant as churches that God's will is not always the State's will.  Certainly God's will is rarely even given a glimpse, so our way of talking at least should change to admitting that how one group/government/institution defines something moral, like "marriage," should not be seen as how we as Bible based Christians define things, like "marriage."

In the end, this is a hot discussion that you'll at least want to know about out there.

God bless!

Billy Graham...

From a work by Rev. Franklin Graham on his evangelist dad's sayings, maybe this will help someone out there:

"What is the authority of your life?  Is it your selfishness?  Your lust?  Your greed?  Or have you turned it all over to God and said, "Lord, You are going to be my authority"?  When you are under authority, you are then able to assume authority."

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Things to Be Reminded of or Learn from The Lord's Prayer dba Luke 11:1-4

When it comes to the Lord's Prayer, there are few things in Christian life people feel they know better, but maybe miss some key points on.

1.) The Lord's Prayer is a community prayer, or a prayer of an individual but who lives in community.  It is from Jesus' plural (you) and the several "us" remarks a prayer of someone who lives in Christian community.

2.) The Lord's Prayer is not a public prayer.  It is a disciples prayer.  Actual Christ following people.  It is not a generic prayer for Christendom.  I purposely avoid using, for instance, in a city council or commissioner's court prayer.

3.)  The Lord's Prayer is about kingdom provision.  When we say "give us our daily bread" God in His great love for you boldly invites us in to almost (but not quite perhaps) come as close to a extremely bold statement.  Old Abraham asked God "do not be angry, but what if" when pleading about Lot's city.  But The Lord's Prayer Jesus taught us with "give us" is an imperative verb.  It is still approaching a superior (God) so it is respectful, but very bold.  Many miss this.  The ask is for kingdom things though.  Every whim and expense we may wish may not be God's will.  We have to realize that God knows better than us what is best for us and He love us.  PtL.

4.)  The Lord's Prayer is designed to make God's renown or reputation our big focus.  If you think about it, Father, as a title is a family title.  God as our Father means we have a family lifestyle.  We are asking that, not a worldly family lifestyle.  The prayer both changes our focus and God uses the prayer to change us too in His power.  Life is better when God is the focus anyhow.

5.)  The Lord's Prayer is realistic.  We live in God's mercy and grace, amen?  That is surely the reality behind forgive us our sins and then leads us not in temptation.  The idea that we serve God, or even approach Him, in our own greatness is purely foreign to doing anything more than rote prayer of Luke 11:1-4, the prayer.  We must not set ourselves up inside, in our soul, for a mental, emotional and indeed spiritual fall, that comes by trusting in ourselves.  God's grace sustains us.

6.)  The Lord's Prayer is hope.  Hallowed be your name.  This is setting one's life apart to God.  He is about success stories and redeeming tough situations for His glory.  We can rejoice in this attitude of making it about Him.

7.)  The Lord's Prayer is daily.  Without getting all technical on you, there are verbs and words that indicate instead of worrying, we approach God daily, knowing we can handle praying about that interval and God sets that outline there.  Each day has enough of its troubles, aka don't worry.  God loves you.  Things will work out brother or sister in Jesus!

God bless.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Radical Changes to Church Planting and Established Church Invite Methods

There is a new study out published in a Barna book, called Churchless, which explores this topic in the headline.  It finds that receptivity to direct mail, social online media, tv, radio, and newspaper ad invites to church among those not in a church is very very low.  And dropping.

What does this mean for churches?  See study here.

In sum, churches should expect that advertising as a main driver of church growth, or a grand opening launch, or a special event will be very unimpressive.  Indeed, our church has realized this and stopped spending nearly as much on advertising in our area.

However, I loved how Barna brings this national perspective that the trend is not just North Texas.

That is so useful to others, so they as church laymen and women or leaders can benefit from that VALUABLE knowledge on kingdom resources.

In short, save your ad money, it's just not so much worth it to see people in church.  The unchurched don't care much about your ads and they actually begrudge them.

One caveat to the Barna findings is this, however:  As Dr. Darrell Robinson says in his evangelism book -- "In the first place, we do not go because they want us to come, but because he (Jesus) has sent us.  Second, lost people do not know what it will take for them to reach Christ.  When I was lost, if you had asked me, 'Do you want a Christian to come to your house and talk to you?' I would have strongly said, 'Absolutely NOT!'  But that is exactly what I needed...."

So in this we should not equate advertising ineffectiveness with other things.  We should never give up personally going to people who are friends and neighbors.

God bless!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Subversive: Living as Agents of Gospel Transformation by Stetzer - a review

Ed Stetzer the well known church leadership and data researcher shares insights in his book Subversive that are spot on.

The book served me as a pastor differently than it might another Christian.  For me it was more of a confirmation book of trends and correct ways to view things within church rather than an eye opening book.  For some it could be an eye opener.  This book was especially useful not as an idea book for me, but as a way post on the road preaching through the Gospel of Luke, kind of like someone saying "right on, keep it up" on certain passages.

Much of Subversive pulls from the radically subversive nature of Jesus in the Gospels.  He is not comfortable with people staying in the status quo spiritually, but actually living for God instead of their culture, their homespun religions, or themselves.

One thing which I strongly do not like in books is a conversational style, because of course, while you may think of reading as a conversation, it really is not.  This is distracting at best, reading it as though in a conversation like a fiction work/novel.  Stetzer's book has large conversational style sections.  But I judge a book more on content than format, so moving on....   The work as well doesn't come across (in its strength) as a research book either, but more of a praxis book.  In this book's purpose this shows the author's skill and he has to be satisfied this is an accomplishment for an accomplished researcher like Dr. Stetzer.  He could easily write a book in that style and it would be great stuff, but probably that would be for a different audience type.

The book will best serve most genuine Christians as a breath of fresh air. You're able to be challenged to be obedient.  It's not mere cultural commentary.  It is about your walk with God making sense.

This explains the title and the ending sentence:  "stay subversive."  If you just live like everyone around you that is not any new kingdom you are in in faith in Jesus.  If you live differently, you are seen as subversive.  That is the goal, to call Christians out of the wide path/the wide way and onto more of a Christian path of obedience.

A few minor things:  One, not a fan of NorthWood Church in DFW that he references in the book.  While there are some great things there, the missions approach they have doesn't include just reaching lots of people (which is cool, who could disagree with that!), but helping to build/construct mosques with Christian volunteers and money.  NorthWood advocates the viewpoint that you should never plant a church unless you also help out with a local mosque or synagogue.  This is embarrassing by the gospel/NT standards, where Paul never did such a thing with any of this many missionary/church planting teams.  Shame on Ed Stetzer for endorsing that kind of agenda.  It's known that the less informed, less Bible rooted church starts in Dallas-Ft Worth associate with NorthWood, not realizing it is not God's will for them to use church funds to build mosques.

Also second other minor thing, much of the book is what you could get just by reading the gospels on your own.  Jesus' words have power.  Many pages of this book are just quotes.  That's great in one sense, but it is akin to just picking up your Bible instead too. I think Stetzer knows this, it is no mistake, he realizes most Christians in churches rarely open their Bibles, but they might use his book for a "small group" or "Sunday School," thereby learning the Bible still.  This would result in a step in the right direction for maturity, getting a taste of what they must be reading for maturity to come.  So it has a wise planning side to it's fact in the work.

The book has a strong point of being church-centric.  So often people see the church as unnecessary for spiritual growth and for walking with Jesus.  Dr. Stetzer shows how Jesus took a different view, that the church is what He works through.  Stetzer also points out how the local bodies of believers (churches) in the New Testament (NT) are said to be supports of the truth.  He also points out how the Scripture talks of not forsaking being in worship and discipleship through a church.  So the book is incredibly encouraging and insightful in this area, where most in our country would miss these truths in a normal life not probed or thought through.

There is a good emphasis on the already-not yet aspect to the kingdom.  That we reflect it here, but it is later in heaven.  This is great theology.

There is great spiritual advice in relationships, turning the other cheek and so on.  These are well placed to where they flow with the whole.  I trust God will use this book in your spiritual life too, wherever you are with Jesus now.

Overall I would definitely recommend this book to someone.  You'll walk away from reading it a stronger believer in Jesus.

God bless!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Who Are You Following Today Christian?

There is an encouraging word from discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

(Taking up) "The only constant factor throughout is the sameness of Christ and of his call then and now.  His Word is one and the same, whether it was addressed during his earthly life to the paralysed or the disciples, or whether it is speaking to us today.  Here as there we receive the gracious summons to enter his kingdom and his glory.  ...  All we have to do is to hear the word and obey the will of Christ, in whatever part of the scripture testimony it is proclaimed.  The Scriptures do not present us with a series of Christian types to be imitated according to choice:  they preach to us in every situation the one Jesus Christ."  (p 228; Cost of Discipleship)

God bless you!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Some good Friday thought...

Today it has really stood out to me that we too often make Christianity about a culture in America and that really we must be cognizant of Christ's daily call to follow him.

Consider.  It's been said before:

"A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing."  --Martin Luther.

There is a lot of truth to this when you think on passages like the Gospel of Luke, chapter 9, verses 23 to 24...

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Did Jesus Get Raised or Raise Self from the Dead?

A common misconception from a limited study of the New Testament is this:  Jesus either raised himself from the dead or he was raised from the dead by God the Father, not both.

In church before as a pastor I have heard this, when I deep dig a passage and bring out that in one case Jesus was raised from the dead (God does as in God the Father in NT lingo; Luke 9:22), that someone may have only heard the other side.

But we see both.

Passively raised up by another member of Christian Trinity verses:
Luke 9:22 God the Father.
Romans 8:11 God the Holy Spirit.

Actively raised self up from dead verses:
Luke 24:46; Acts 10:41; Acts 17:3

(Separate but also same verbal idea pt., Luke 16:31)

Be blessed in the context of Scripture friends!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Church Locality - by Jim Tomberlin and Tim Cool - a review

In the practical book Church Locality, Jim Tomberlin and Tim Cool offer insights into current church building trends and rules.  Some of these rules include how much children's square footage you will need for a building renovated or a build project.  (pg 115-116)  There are very helpful pointers on chairs per square feet for planning a new location.  This kind of common sense advice is hard to come by and is appreciated in such a book.

Other rules include how cities tend to interact with churches today and community perception of churches coming into their area with a building.  There are practical suggestions such as having a parking lot ministry.  This is not strictly tied to having your own building, but also any situation such as being in a portable church scenario.

A good portion of the initial advice is for those starting multi-site or church plant locations that are rental.  If you are in the early stages of church planting this will be new info that makes the book worth a great deal to you, if not, it won't be especially useful and you'll find yourself jumping paragraphs to the advice for your situation.  On multi-site advice, even a small or medium sized church can see some ways to implement what the authors suggest.  Since multi-site could in my view be an option in many life stages of a church, I think most readers in church leadership would see wisdom in those pages.

To some extent, this is a book for mega-church pastors, lay leaders or staff, thus it has a very limited audience especially for a publicly published knowledge.  This mega lean though is tied to the multi-site phenomenon again and again.  It is not just a mega-church trend, but certainly that is the bulk of multi-site worship venues hinted at in the book.  Drawbacks of those are not covered too well, with the fact that many prefer not to leave their living room just to go watch a tv screen of a pastor in a room with other people, etc....  The typical church pastor or associate pastor or lay leader then will not find about 1/4 to 1/3 of the book applying to their situation or questions directly.  You can still extrapolate out advice from the thoughts though, so I would still recommend it to leaders.

On the flip side, the other gold nuggets of advice in between all of this make the book still worth the read on trends.  You get a good picture of what is going on today in church planning and real estate necessary choices.  Plus, at least you will know what the mega-church 35 minutes across town is thinking too if you read the book.  Church planters of most church plants will not find this book directly relates in summary, but will be able to fill in gaps to use some of the advice.  Those considering church planting will greatly benefit, and those administrating multi-site planning will find this book helpful.  There are tips of the hat as well in summary to various wise strategies of church ministry, just practical tips, that are mentioned worth an immense amount to a leader.  However, sometimes they are not fleshed out enough to run with them exactly.  A wise peer or veteran who has been through the minefields though can fill in the "how to" perhaps.

God bless!

The Cost of Discipleship

In a Christian classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer states of believers:  "they simply bear the suffering which comes their way as they try to follow Jesus Christ, and bear it for his sake.  Sorrow cannot tire them or wear them down, it cannot embitter them or cause them to break down under the strain; far from it, for they bear their sorrow in the strength of him who bears them up, who bore the whole suffering of the world on the cross."

Christian, does this describe you today?  Are you letting Christ bear you up?  I pray you will.  Be strong in the Lord!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Russell Moore's ERLC Mistake on Worship Music Selections

In the US, a large church denomination has a group called the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission as a part of its "missions" giving.  This is a group tasked with speaking what churches should see/think about certain questions of the culture and moral questions as well.  It is headed by Russell Moore, a Molinist who studied under Dr. Bruce Ware, who studied under a Process Theologian.  Who cares?  Great question!  Most do not, but they should think twice.  Your beloved pastor or church may be turning to him for their advice.  Therefore what you hear is "God's will" for your church from your pastor or key lay leaders should be checked both for its spirit and for its aligning with reality.

Recently a Christian singer some have heard of named Vicky Beeching has come out as a lesbian.  Now this may not surprise anyone in our current American culture.  After all, what does the church have to say to those who are not claiming to seriously follow Jesus as Savior and Lord?  People say and do all kinds of things that do no line up with many sections of Scripture, but that doesn't jump out anymore.  It's a constant stream of scandals, revelations and shocks that no longer shock the American public.

This is different because the person represents a one churches are paying lots of money to so that they can go on claiming this.  God's people's money, given to his name, is funding someone living contrary to his name claiming to live a solidly Christian life.

Artist Vicky Beeching is claiming to follow Jesus as her Savior and Lord.  She says that her lifestyle of lesbianism is consistent with the Jesus of the Bible, the living Jesus Christ.  She feels she can be a lesbian and also not have to change (that part being the key aspect) anything about that to be in line with God's will for her life.  Now this comes to the church's attention.

Russ Moore tells pastors it doesn't matter, keep paying her to say that and live that way, churches.  (emphasis on churches, not just some place, or some random person buying an mp3)

Consider Scripture on her claim that God thinks she can go on that way and be ok:

Romans 1:26-27 makes clear that the blessed life is not the life she is saying is blessed for a Christian who is trying to follow the God of Scripture.

1 Timothy 1:10 also makes clear that the blessed life both now and in the hereafter is not what she is saying it is.  That is not heaven, but separation from God awaits someone who does not have an attitude of change about such things.

Jude 7 makes clear that the OT examples of Genesis 19:1-11 still challenge Vicky as wrong on that point of it being God's will for a practicing Christian.

Now all of this truth in those verses is considered foolishness to someone whose mind has not been enlightened by the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

I mean this: who cares what the authorized messengers of Jesus think in the Bible, if one is not practicing following that one true and living Jesus.  Maybe they follow a modern British or French or American 'Jesus,' who affirms all things and promises a new Mercedes Benz every three years and warm feelings while singing those songs.  Who knows.

It doesn't matter in one sense, because although we are called to reach out to all with the gospel of Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20), yet we know many will not respond.  We are called to both use love and truth.  This whole God loves anything I say and do thing has gone off the deep end in the West.  Many will live how they like and that is not on us as practicing Christians to judge about.  A big unless:  Paul tells us we are to judge those who are in the family of faith, not those outside of it.

So we try to love everyone, as far as it depends on us, but there will always be some who reject the gospel message of Jesus and his appointed messengers the apostles.  Therefore they will reject the NT message (in part or whole) and also the OT likely as well.

So what about worship music?  What about churches funding an anti-gospel with weekly offerings?

As it turns out ERLC's Russell Moore gets it wrong on churches going ahead and playing songs by just whatever Christian artists.  He endorses that churches sing even songs written by heretics, with gusto.  He himself thinks that is how we should look at things.  Based on what?  A serious Scriptural case?  No.

He appeals to a few of a previous generation's hymns as an example of the modern church's behavior that means we too should sing songs by people who rejected the living true Jesus.  The churches sang hymns by people who became heretics, he reasons.  Notice in that Russ Moore does not appeal to Scripture, but just how churches acted in the late 19th and early 20th century.  Tells you a lot doesn't it!

But that's not the main point.  The main point is that in Scripture we are not to do evil.  We are not to do evil which means not to promote it.  This also means we do not pay for evil by choices we make that we can make.  If this cannot be said of the people of God assembled for worship, how do we expect them to be morally exemplary during business and family decisions during the week?  Why cannot our friends in churches spend money on open promoters of evil too?  Church does, right Russ?

Here's the rubber meets the road: Churches pay royalties to the Christian song authors, via a thing called CCLI.  They pay it based on how often songs are used by churches.  Thus they pay for lifestyles of 'Christian' artists.  This is a mandatory, cross denominational thing, this CCLI.

Churches by choices are paying for the message that you can live as a perpetual liar, heretic or whatever chosen favorite thing a person might claim who writes a song and then radically changes their life for the worse.  Is that right?

So churches should not keep singing songs that are written by someone who actively promotes a lifestyle contrary to the gospel message.  It's that simple, this is where Russ Moore goes wrong in a big way.  Now everyone is a sinner.  That includes all of us.  But we should not going around declaring as churches that a person saying a lifestyle of sin is "ok with God" should be endorsed.  It's not ok.

Positively, it matters what songs we sing in churches.  You and I pay for the songs we sing in church.
Maybe that is new to you, but it is true.  Your church endorses the lifestyle of contemporary Christian artists, by paying royalties on an ongoing basis to such persons.  Therefore when a church is surveyed on what songs it sings, it should be careful to not be caught singing the wrong ones, so as to endorse what is wrong in Jesus' view. (Luke 8:18)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

How to Love Jesus More...

This is a great article from the Grace to You ministry website.  Perhaps you can love Jesus Christ more after thinking about these ideas too:  click here.

God bless!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Effective Pastors Do...?

Here's a great article for any interested on an effective pastor's time use.  It is by Dr. Thom Rainer of LifeWay ministries.  He was also a researcher and professor at Southern Seminary before taking the lead role at LifeWay, so he has some great insights all around.  Blessings!

Click here to link to it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Gospel Brings People Together

There is a conference called Together for the Gospel.  What an apt title though in general for the work of the Spirit of Christ among God's people?  God calls people from every tribe, tongue, and people group.  More than any conference, the gospel crosses barriers beyond backgrounds and countries of birth and denominations.  So when the church assembles anywhere in the world, it is a refreshing thing, because God overcomes barriers that man or woman might set up such as "how they were raised," and instead replaces our petty issues with the greatness of His Son, Jesus and the doctrine of His person.

It is a great reminder in Scripture when Paul, a Jewish educated semi-well off man in seasons of life, writes to his friends the Philippians from the city of Philippi who were doing ok, but definitely not Jewish, "therefore my brothers whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved."  He speaks as if they are family, though they are from very different cultures and backgrounds.  He speaks as though they have value, though people naturally in the world do not value those who are different.

Paul is able by focusing on Jesus Christ to love those unlike him in so many ways.  He can then ask two people who do not get along, to get along, in the Lord right after that Scripture.  He can say "let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand...."  Wow.  Such a radically different picture we see here, of unity around Jesus Christ.  It is a great application to our lives to live this out.

Likewise Jesus in what we have recorded of his living Word in the Gospel of Luke, says in chapter 7, verses 36 to 50, that the woman who was a "sinner" is welcome to come to worship Him as Savior.  She is completely (verbal form meaning started and continues indefinitely with effects to present tense) forgiven of all her sins (same for us once we believe, forgiveness continues).  She is an outcast in society, and yet she manages to get into a place where Jesus is, where she would not be welcome in that home, but Jesus welcomes here.  He commends her example of stepping out in faith to worship, despite a societal reason she would not be accepted.  She wanted to be where Jesus was at work.  May that not be a great thing to be said about all of us?  Wow.

Clearly the most common proof of this gospel bringing people together is the command to take the good news to all peoples (or all nations).  As the gospel is in every nation, it is typically taken that Matthew 28 refers to all people groups.  We are to teach people to worship God, no matter their place or family or country.  How amazing is that.  God is truly a great and awesome God to unite completely disparate people groups in worship.  Amen.

ISIS requiring Christians to pay Muslim Law Tax for "Protection" as Muslims Have Demanded over Centuries

In the newly captured territory of ISIS, Christian residents are being called and told they only get protection if they pay a special Islamic tax that Muslims do not have to pay.  This tax is part of the teaching of Islam, and it is against non-Muslims of the Christian faith.  This is unjust, immoral and a witness against following all of Islam's teachings (obviously in the West, as a minority group of the population, such a tax is never brought up nor can it be forced).  In places throughout the centuries taken over by Islam, this same tax has been forced upon Christians in many places and times.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Job 7:7 "remember that my life is a breath...."

Today I attended the funeral of my last grandparent who was alive, my Grandma Alice.  What do you do with a funeral?  As Christ followers we believe in the resurrection of our bodies from the dead when Jesus returns, so that we may reign and rule with Him.  But we talk at funerals much too about how a person lived, as a witness this side of heaven.  My grandma, born in the early 1930's had a perspective many had of that generation.  It is one that is just hard to find today.  She was for instance very optimistic, which showed as she exuded a welcoming and outgoing personality that was uplifting whenever you would visit her.  She believed the best about a lot of people, and would really have her heart go out to them.  Alice would reach out to anybody and make them feel at home with hospitality.  There are so few people like that in our hurried society.  Perhaps there are lessons in this about hospitality and kindness and patience (1st Cor. 13).  It reminds you of the importance of setting an example and calls you back to things that matter...

Her funeral was held at a church she attended from another era, complete pipe organ, old style wooden pews, and 1970's lights.  This is not my style of worship, but I can appreciate its pointing a worshipper to transcendence, which I value.  That church building built very recently in the past decade is entirely new, but it was built in a previous style to attract older members and people in the aging area of Richardson, Texas.  It was a strategic choice, no accident.  The funeral hymns reflected that style she liked, so much so that they were not hymns I recognized or most under 45 would.  Ironically, she also listened to very modern music, people like Bruce Springsteen and Billy Joel.  She had met them too.  Irony exists in that, and in that generation too; with their church style versus personal music.  Today the funeral video tribute showed family in generations past as they grew up, people I knew in another time, another world almost.  Today we discussed her legacy, what is remembered, and how it changed us.  How did she help us relate to God and others.  What were her struggles, such as becoming a single mom due to her husband dying at a very young age, while raising seven, yes seven, children.  It reminds you of the importance of setting an example and calls you back to things that matter...

The most powerful thing a Christian funeral does is point to Jesus, who has risen already from the dead, so that we can reflect on our hope in the same.  I attended a Pakistani funeral service in North Texas recently, and the message (being a Christian one) did the same.  I always am awed by the power of the resurrection especially in connection to a dear saint's hope.  This is when the man or woman most deeply feels the tentativeness of life, and the raising from the dead makes the most sense, not as a wish, but as a sense God placed in our inner man or woman.  A funeral can be an excellent time for someone to consider the claims of Jesus and become a genuine follower of Him.  It's the nature of it, what do you speak, what do you believe?  How does it fit the reality of suffering and death, which the Bible says, comes as a result of the choice of sin by Adam and Eve.  A funeral of a loved one:  It reminds you of the importance of speaking beliefs and calls you back to things that matter...

Funerals remind you that you need to cling to God.  As dear family members are taken away from you, it is a lesson too in that God does not change (Malachi 3:6) and that He loves you (John 3:16) and so you can cling legitimately to Him.  This is mainly the realization that you cannot hold onto anything in this world forever. This world is passing away, therefore you and I must pursue the eternal things of Jesus' will more consistently.  The belief that God is worthy of your trust and leaning on is not foolish, He is Creator, so this makes full sense.  Who else can sustain you, since He sustains all creation at the word of His power and through Jesus Christ (Colossians 1)?  Such a truth is not a hope in a foolhardy way, but a real way to live to be most effective today (research history of Colgate family, Isaac Newton, Colonel Sanders, James P. Boyce family, Borden family, missionary Lottie Moon, and Adoniram Judson, John Knox, Martin Luther, and Jean Calvin, many successful people and companies in the West, etc to see this principle).  This fact reminds you of the importance of holding beliefs dearly and calls you back to things that matter...

And yet my grandma, as your relatives whom you love are not perfect, was not perfect.  The minister who did the funeral service whom she had gone to his church, really tried to play up how great she was, and how influential.  He almost overplayed it.  I love my grandma and wish she was still with us.  However, a tendency we all have to over exalt or over judge someone is risky.  The fact is she had sins and need for growth in some areas, as do I, as do you, as do your family.  Yet this truth that we are imperfect is practical:  This too teaches you to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.  The fact is this too is a reminder of the importance of living in a walk of trust in Jesus and calls you back to things that matter...

Family differences.  In any family, there may be one or two or more who do not get along.  Add in a big family and you just have more opportunity for that.  Funerals have a way of forcing people to get past themselves and come together.  It can still be awkward, absolutely.  But in the midst of that, there is a pointer that there are things bigger than us, and it points toward how things should be, how people should come together despite differences, which is like in some ways the Old Testament Hebrew idea of shalom, or peace.  Peace that makes whole.  Heaven is a place of peace where negative differences and sin do not reign.  Funerals have a way of reminding you of the importance of your faith in practice and call you back to things that matter...

What are you living for?  What attitudes do you let rule in your heart?  Do you want to change the world instead and leave a legacy and be an example of beliefs applied to real life?

When I lived in Kentucky for several years, the grocery stores up there all over seemed to have scenes from a previous era on the walls above the food and fridge cases.  I think it was meant to give some Kentucky charm.  However, that is a slight reminder of the full sense at a funeral you get, that this earthly life does end.  Then the question will be:  what kind of legacy did you leave, and who did you reach out to and bless, and how did you point them to God?  Funerals remind us not only of the raising from the dead of the deceased in a church, but also that your life is but a breath....

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Myth of High - Easter - Attendance at Church ... Why Easter Is Not Special to Those Not in Church

It seems like every year I get numerous emails and fliers encouraging our church to go all out inviting people to attend worship on Easter Sunday.  This is said to be the most sure thing there is among those who are not feeling really connected to a church.  They are said to be guaranteed to feel the need to show up on Easter at least.

For context, I live in an area made up of small suburbs of Dallas, Texas.  If you add up all of the suburbs and also the small towns, and edges of larger nearby cities in reach, such as a slice of Plano, Texas, there are 194,000 or so teens and adults according to several reliable sources near us (edge of Northeast DFW).

In 2011, 2012, 2013, and now 2014, we have "gone big" for Easter.  Several of these years we have sought out the best set of advisers and coaching available to figure out how to see people reconnect at that one particular day that everyone in the coaching world says is so "great" for reconnecting.  Other years we have still done a strong push as well, largely correctly according to most advice out there on such things.  Some of the key components include:

Leading Up to and on Easter Weekend and Sunday:

We have prayed to the Lord most importantly that many would come and be blessed in worship and lives would be changed by Jesus.

We have used resources God entrusted to us to reach out and invite many thousands to worship several different ways.

We have saved on purpose to make that happen, including it in part of our budgeting and planning.

We have mobilized our congregation to invite their friends and family and given tools to do so.

We have special banners made to let people know going by that they are invited to a great Easter service.

We have also before or on Easter had the Easter Egg Hunt events to reach kiddos.

We have tied a sermon message series to the day.

We have done everything short of the proverbial helicopter drop of Easter eggs that always seems to make the local news and Metroplex (DFW) news.

Yet and here is the amazing thing year in, year out, one method bathed in prayer, another method bathed in prayer, we have never had a rock the house Easter.

Our really good days to reach those not regularly connected to a church home are at completely other times of the calendar year.

Our Easter worship service is made up mainly of regular attenders and then 2nd/3rd time guests.  Some regulars attenders are out at relatives (grandma's, mom's, dad's church in another city), and then important to this article:  the new 1st time guests do NOT show up.  As mentioned, we have had plenty of 2nd, 3rd time guests on Easter, but never the coaching / best written advice out there that some set of proverbial 1st time guests who are just waiting for an "invite" to come to church on Easter will show up.  Where are they?  I would love to meet certain ones of them. They do not exist even for an intentional church like ours in our situation.  I have some ideas why below, but we'll get to those in a minute.

I have run this phenomenon by pastoral peers in nearby cities.  This unofficial poll includes First Baptist or Methodist Churches and more. These peers include leaders at both established churches and church plants. They too (both established church and church plant) do not see many new guests on Easter, and their attendance remains in fairly normal size.  They too have done some crucial things to be prepared to be available for whomever may come, but do not really see much impact from so much effort for Easter Sunday.  This has really stood out to me now for about two years as a red flag against the standard mantra that Easter Sunday is such a great day to get new friends to come worship Jesus with you.

So who is peddling this coaching of churches, pastors, lay leaders, that Easter is a big day for reconnecting to worship and God's people, and for others to come to know Christ Jesus?  The list is long, take my word for it.  It's enough advisers to make you dizzy, really.  But today it is pretty much any church leader advice that encourages this mentality.  Why are they peddling this?  Perhaps because there's nothing else to grasp at, to promote in their coaching at that window of time, or perhaps it is group think, everyone is saying it?

Most importantly, what are some probable reasons those who are away from church, or who have turned their back on church, but do not come on Easter, would not come on Easter in DFW?:

1.) Hardness of heart.  The Bible records God's prophets teaching consistently that the human heart just does whatever it wants.  If you add in life/marriage/work difficulty along with that, it means that they won't come for a spiritual reason on Easter.  An invite to church is not the gospel.  We still do invites to church, but an invite to church simply is NOT the gospel.  Nor is including several verses on a postcard or TV ad or flier enough.  The Bible says that all of us, everyone in the church, everyone not in the church, all people, are fallen in sin and are dead (not just injured) in our trespasses and sins.  Why would someone who is walking far from God decide to come to your church on Easter just because you invited them?  Answer:  they won't. Why?  It takes God sending them.  God sends people who do good (Jesus in John's Gospel says, James also, etc) (Satan also sends people to churches who are secretly wolves, see the New Testament for more on that, such as Jesus' teaching on the weeds among the good crop).  Maybe the Lord God doesn't like what Easter has become in American churches.  Or maybe He wants all of us churches and pastors to see that the Word of God brings change, and someone at home, without the Word intake in their life (the Bible), will not be moved to move out of their chair or lawn on Easter more than any other day.  A true Christian cannot believe that everyone is just "neutral" and "unbiased" and will come just because you invite them.

2.) Church events like Vacation Bible School, and in this case Easter Egg Hunts, even if they include a gospel sharing component, seem to only attract churched people.  That is they attract those already going to church often, regularly type of people.  I cannot tell you how many times I've seen this proved, or heard it from others in large cities (an exception to the rule seems to be very small Texas towns several hours out of a large Texas metropolis).  I also do not think the old "memory" of church in one's past works with the current generations that would actually visit a new church.  Many of them had no church background, and if they did it was at a place where the good news was not fully declared (my past for instance, includes many friends and I who only heard about the resurrection of Jesus, never the cross; which in hindsight looking back at my childhood meant that church way back then didn't share the whole gospel).  For those of us who had partial gospel type mainline churches when we were young kids, we didn't even enjoy their Egg Hunts and VBS's and ski trips.  They were not gospel driven, so that generation wouldn't see the point.

3.) Megachurches.  Just like the story Billy Graham told of going incognito to a several day revival to sit in the crowd the night before he too would share the gospel the next day:  He had a heavy hat and big glasses on to hide his identity.  The call to respond to the Word of God preached went out the day before he was to speak by another evangelist.  Billy sitting in the audience was moved, and he asked someone next to him, "hey, are you going forward?"  And the man said, "no, I'm waiting until the big guns get here tomorrow with Billy Graham."  There was Billy Graham sitting right next to the man, calling the man forward, but he didn't know it!  That man's public "profession of faith" whatever it was (telling in itself about our church memberships with someone like this steering some church somewhere), was little more than a people pleasing comment about some kind of experience.  A lot of times today, American church is more about the biggest circus show in town or largest sporting event, and has little to do with Jesus.  Whoever has the most lights, fog machines, and the most spectacular 100k dollar Easter plays gets the guests.  Here in North Texas the Easter "shows" at such churches probably take in some of those who only go on Easter to church.  This seems logical, since if someone is thinking in a worldly way about what church to visit, they will just go where the world's biggest circus show is.  If we're honest, this is a word to most of us as church leaders to never make church a show.  I have actually had Lakepointe Church staff, for instance, flat out tell me when we were planning to start a church (in 2010) a few cities away from their nearest campus, that they would not help us with any initial start up costs as a missions work because we were competition and they considered that their turf too two cities away.  Well, that pretty much sums up the megachurch mentality.  Even if you live several towns away from one, they're going to put on a big enough show to get them to drive 35 minutes each way to a show.  The thing is though, and we know this too from basically the same pop church wisdom, that if you have to put on a show (like they do) for Easter, then you have to keep putting on a show -- to keep them -- there.  Since no church, no matter how large, can afford that, inevitably people who are only coming for the show only come when there is a $100k show, such as at Christmas time and Easter.  But we at our church as many others hope to see Easter as worship, and not a show.  We want the Bible to be declared and worship to touch lives for change.  So perhaps in a lot of ways, for us, we are really not at all sad that such persons just don't come on Easter.  After all, the rest of the year, Jesus' example not to be served, but to serve others, will be ignored by such a person.  This shows a misunderstanding of the gospel, no matter how many shows one attends, since the rest of Mark 10:45 says that Jesus gave his life as a ransom (payment) for our sins also as -- an example (in part) -- of the extent of his love for us -- by serving us.  This of course differs from the entertain me mentality deeply, but the gospel always has differed.

In closing, if the average person looking at the expense and effort put into Easter were to see the so-called results they would wonder why churches keep doing it.  For us, we have sort of learned our lesson, that expecting 1st time guests on Easter in a suburban US city may not be realistic advice even if all the coaches keep saying so loudly year after year.  People on the ground actually leading and planting churches are starting to see the failure of such advice.  Perhaps this will help some other church lay or full-time leaders somewhere thinking through their situation.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

ERLC's Russell Moore - Houston we have a problem...

As a representative of thousands of churches small and large, effective and ineffective, some type of names other type of names, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission led by new president Russell Moore is tasked with speaking up on the Christian view (positive and negative).

The ERLC is tasked with speaking to many various issues we actually face in our time (not theory issues). This speaking on issues is meant to instruct churches not just to know, but also to act according to God's wisdom in standing firm in faith.  Yet, by definition, the ERLC will have certain strengths and weaknesses due to any president's ability, wisdom, and spiritual walk.

For instance, Richard Land the former president had some good views, but also in many's eyes had some weaknesses in something he said that led to his moving on, and Russell Moore's replacing him.

I know Russell Moore personally from days in graduate school at the same institution.  It was a Bible believing graduate school with a rich historic faith.  Men and women from all backgrounds attended there for advanced degrees (Masters/Doctoral) so as to represent the kingdom at large in pastorates, Christian schools, Christian missions and relief, and Christian journalism.  The vast majority of students and faculty truly have a heart to help people and also to speak truth using normal Bible study methods.

So given this historic kingdom of God role, you suspect that Russ would be supportive of Christian radio.
However, recently he has been called on to take back comments he made regarding it as a bad gospel witness for Christian faith.  See one article here on the comments, and then his 'explanation' of what he meant, at this link:  here.  This link from Christian Post shows how he attempted to walk back the comments, even though the original statement pretty clearly generalized.

In my opinion as a Christian, there are times Christian radio is very useful.  I admit there are times I definitely turn it off and listen to many other stations.

But I would not throw all Christian broadcasters under the proverbial bus in front of a delegation of Christian pastors and theologians like Russ did recently several times.  His recent radio generalizing is a risk for some North American Christian progress, since his position will be seen as abandoning their support.

It also raises the question:  how can Russ rule out good commentators and some great interviews of people like well-respected theologian Wayne Grudem on stations across North America?  What about Focus on the Family programs?  Unfortunately, what is going on with Russell's comments is a backing off of truth in part, and it is not especially a new thing with him (others have noted it on separate issues I'm not interested in in this article) (see also WSJ on Moore, and also Huff Post interviewers who say he is backing off truth in their view while listening to an interview).

The whole situation matters since Russell Moore as the president of ERLC is assigned to speak for Christian churches (and inevitably in some minor ways himself).  He is essentially influncing the next generation of Christian leaders in an area of Christian life.  During his planned out/prepped conference lessons he has used a serious logical fallacy:  a hasty generalization of many agents of God's kingdom in our time that reflects less about Christian radio and more about Russ' view on the world.

Russ basically stated he would hate Christianity if he only listened to Christian talk radio to see what it was. Wait, really?  Everyone on Christian talk radio? Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University inspired radio programs?  Even his old former mentor, Dr. Albert Mohler when he was on the radio declaring positive and negative parts of the gospel of Jesus?  This kind of statement made at a meeting of the ERLC is unfortunate because it is so easily seen as false, but it is his style to take down those who make a stand for truth, and avoid the whole message in some settings.

One important article is here on the stir explaining what Dr. Moore said that created the situation.
Another commentator is here at this link from YouTube.
A major Christian radio figure here at this link has a call for Russ Moore to take back his comments.

On those comments, a logical fallacy is the culprit.  Hasty generalizations are dangerous because they may sound nice, but they do not reflect reality.  These fallacies generalize a class of people in a way that the speaker should know otherwise is false.  For instance, saying all people who love the color red are dishonest is such a fallacy in logic. Likewise, labeling all Christian radio as counter productive to the kingdom is dangerous for a figure who is supposed to be at the forefront of cultural issues and engagement by definition. This is why he has had to walk back his comments.

It's also a hugely telling statement that Russ Moore cannot well engage on Christian radio.  He is disdainful of it.  But yet his job requires him to engage those millions.  Does he plan to circumvent them with the web? Why would he disdain them like he has several times over?  The ERLC president must reach millions upon millions so as to influence for good causes Christian people and Christian churches.  Ah well, Christian radio in his view is a joke altogether, literally.

His generalization against Christian talk radio was what well known commentator Janet Mefferd has called 'firing' on our own people.  I'm not a huge huh rah Janet Mefferd fan, but she has built me up with useful info on the Christian news, and I'm sure built up others in Christ spiritually before in some programs.  Russ has this sensationalist angle to him though.  It will likely happen again soon.

I agree Russell Moore's comments went too far, if, he is claiming to represent churches rather than himself by and large.  Churches, you see, must walk the fine line of being the heralds of truth, positively (amen), and also negatively too (probably what Moore sees as the main problem, the negative).  Christian radio commentators contrary (180 degrees) from what Dr. Moore said, do in fact often share the gospel message of how to be saved during their programs.  They express God's mercy.  Maybe some could do this better, but to write them all of is not right.

Jesus saving someone is a self-realization from God that we are both sinners (negative) and yet declared free and guilt removed in the Cross of Calvary (positive).

Since being redeemed (aka bought by the blood of Jesus) we know personally as well as affirming objectively that the gospel is both a positive and negative message.

Therefore, knowing this as a belief and then also reflectively, a wise Christian lay person/leader should not agree with Russell Moore about Christian radio being largely useless.  Christian radio even if it were largely a problem then would need to be updated, repaired, changed, or improved (which in some ways I agree with).

In this situation, contrary to Dr. Moore, I agree with well known commentator Janet Mefferd that the front lines of the gospel are often these days on Christian radio so that there are some aspects of sin that have to be brought up.  This may simply be so that believers know what is going on.  Many people are very busy and disconnected from current events.  Major news networks do not carry this news on purpose.  So Christian radio fills a knowledge gap in the gospel awareness, how it applies in our time. Why does it have to do this?  I agree, many of our church pulpits and discipleship groups have grown silent on half of the gospel.  We need an ERLC president who understands this critical role that Christian radio plays while people are on the move, in their cars, commuting, taking kids to soccer practice, and so on.  Real life stuff.

The truth is some radio programs are useful.  I cannot imagine writing off most or all of the marriage advice and tips from Focus talk.  There are great teachings from Criswell College radio on ethics for Christians on tricky questions, like end of life, etc....  There is useful financial help to people for free to help them retire with dignity and honor God by not becoming debtors.  These talk programs help people and they point to Jesus' work on the whole (I agree it needs to more, in that part of Russ' critique).

At the end of the day, Russ Moore probably is - not - the right person for the ERLC.  This is not because what he says is always untrue or off most of the time (besides the recent comments).  He should leave the ERLC because he has a history of not speaking parts of the gospel (such as God's judgment) in public settings.  He is now attacking Christian radio for doing exactly what he ought to be doing himself, thus confirming his pattern of this.

He may write about something on his blog, but what about when he is in the spotlight on a television program, on a production piece for mass appeal, Russ hides back from pushing back darkness in culture, even if he does in fact tell Christians what they should speak to more.  Then amazingly, Russ throws people under false hasty generalizations that disagree with his modus operandi.  If he won't speak up part of the gospel (Romans 5) too often saying it is embarrassing or negative, then at least he can leave those who do when they are at the mic or on tv free from harassment, right?  This goes beyond the recent flap he is in hot water over, and that's why I'm writing this beyond that one flap...

Russell Moore has a hesitancy to declare God's truth in its fullness on some issues of note:

1.) In my experience at the same graduate school with him though a different program, Russ was scared to speak up on gospel issues in the state of Kentucky.  I know this because I helped tipped the balance along with another student in favor of biblical teaching and leadership at the state church association level.  Kentucky had for decades a gospel rejecting entrenched leadership team.  This was not a small matter, it was over a large state convention of churches and they were doing harm to gospel teaching.  Things needed to change.  Cultural and ethical issues were absolutely in play.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in education and help assets were in play as well.  People knew this, but a few of us finally after a long time of people having given up, acted on it.  There were many who were satisfied with doing nothing out of fear, lack of knowledge, or what not.  This particular church convention needed change, and yet could be changed easily. Despite this, Russell Moore told me in front of others verbally, he was afraid of "getting in trouble" by allowing believers (such as pastors in classes) know what was going on in the gospel meets culture near him in that convention.  This was said on the job while he worked for SBTS, a very large and influential Christian seminary.

That kind of reclusive attitude against taking action, in favor of just talk, is exactly what the ERLC has taken up recently in interviews and in training guidance. You can boldly-prophetically lecture Christians in Russ' view, but if it comes to taking a stand in the culture on the news or at large or doing something, you just have to retreat backwards allowing darkness to fill in the gaps on the front line.  This is not appropriate to the ERLC historically or in its calling.  It needs to lead in what we do as well, as Richard Land did historically in his tenure.

Ultimately the president of a group dedicated to standing firm in the culture with the gospel has to have a president willing to do that, not just to state views and do nothing but talk.  At least some of the Christian radio commentators are calling people to action while they share the gospel too.

2.)  In his interview on C-Span as the newly appointed ERLC president, he avoided declaring what God is against.  At the time, I thought to myself, 'Ok..., just wait and see what he does in the future,' but I was uneasy just to myself.  I decided at that time (a while back now) to just wait and see in the future, after all, that was just one long interview and the future may differ.  This uneasiness because his stand was not strong on what we believe God is also against remained but was silent on my part.  When it came to what was not morally correct there was a limited stand by Russ, and thus he only stated half the gospel in an interview setting.

Only half of the message in public is a risk.  Both New Testament and Old Testament preaching include a positive and negative element which we must have.  Moreover, recently, famous and well respected evangelists like Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Ravi Zacharias, James White, and others teach us that we also call out sin enough to connect with people where they are so as to call people out of it.  We do not labor on it but we do mention it deliberately as they have.  We go on immediately to the cross, but we do not hesitate to speak to what is wrong as well.

Indeed, the founding of Christianity Today and Dr. Carl F.H. Henry the partner in much of this would not hold back part of the message in public settings like Moore has.  In God, Revelation and Authority, Dr. Henry refused to speak only what he did believe, but also shared at length (talk show-ishly really, in great irony) what he saw was sin against God.

Russ Moore at the ERLC is a problem largely because Christian ethics being sold out to Jesus also includes stating then what God is against.  That's not all we are about, but it is a part of the message, and has been historically in God's church throughout the ages.

3.)  In addition, another situation that was very public is worth mention.  When it came to light that Starbucks was openly advocating with finances for homosexual marriage in several areas as the CEO was making radical statements, Russell Moore publicly rejected calls for Christians to dine and shop elsewhere.  This was despite the call being very successful without Dr. Moore (itself insightful).  In the US, Starbucks noticed this press back big time through their bottom line.  Since then they have backed off of much of the rhetoric.  Time will tell what they do again, but the - only - reason Starbucks paused was because sales were hit in part of the US at a noticeable level.  But no thanks to the ERLC under Russell Moore who would have us just pay people to bash our churches and our views.  If we are honest, that is what their CEO was doing and if we do not make a choice about where to shop for a set time and a set place, we tacitly allow the evil to continue. This element of social action taken by key figures in Christian life before is very much missing from Dr. Moore's ERLC.  There is in its place a lot of talk, a lot of generalization, and a lot of change at the ERLC that seems to yet have an effect.

4.)  Another situation highlights the problems:  In Louisville, KY, there are two large churches, Ninth and O Baptist Church and Highview Baptist Church.  Highview is much larger than Ninth and O.  Russell Moore was a member and Sunday school teacher at Ninth and O Baptist Church for years.  He baptized people there and helped with some things.  When it became clear that it was politically advantageous to switch churches and speak at Highview Baptist Church, he went for it.  This was clearly a popularity move.  This tendency to jump ship with what is popular should be seen as indicative of the kind of direction the ERLC may want to go at his direction.  Whatever is popular will win out.  This is a real risk for churches like ours paying for the ERLC to help them in turbulent times know what to research and how to move forward on the Bible's terms instead of just what is popular (if the two cross paths, so be it).

5.)  Beyond this, Christ following churches should be wary of what Russell Moore, a former Democratic political figure in the South, might want to do to biblical church's voice given his national opportunity at the moment.  Perhaps his tendency is to take up positions that may or may not fit the biblical mandate, due to his committed background.  It is not clear to the churches exactly what Dr. Moore will do as a result.  This last one is not as yet clear, but it is worth noting.

For these and moore reasons, we should expect more leadership on ethics issues.  Even the name ERLC partly stands for ethics, and distinctively Christian ones at that, and ethics that don't do anything do not matter at all in the end.

For the weaknesses of Richard Land, we may be much worse off now with Russell Moore.  If Russ is backing off key Christian issues of engagement in favor of 'talking to the choir,' and also attacking Christians like Christian Radio commentators and interviewees who have been on that radio who are trying to help people in guidance and encouragement, then we have an issue long-term with him.

Short-term he will have no noticeable impact.  Unless there is a change of direction, it is very clear that the wrong choice in a gospel of engagement was made in appointing him as head of the ERLC.

In writing about this, I do have a measure of hesitancy.  It is not fun to describe these things, and it would be better if I could say other pastors were already doing this.  This kind of topic is not what I like to spend time on, yet it does trickle down to churches practically in time.  Someone has to point the problem emerging out and say we need a restoration or change at the ERLC.

If no one says anything, the horizon of what is possible in the wrong direction may increase way beyond what is repairable.  This has been the case in the past with many denominations, and it starts with not being cautious who is at the top.  In the end, I'd rather see churches helped and also Christian radio improved rather than rejecting part of our North American witness in these areas slowly but surely.

Monday, May 12, 2014

...with Illiberty, Injustice for half the country... HGTV values

HGTV has some great programming.  I have really enjoyed watching it over the years.  True, the shows do get old sometimes, as they air repeats quite a bit, but as a young family house hunting from time to time, we have enjoyed it for ideas.  Sort of a tv version of Architectural Digest for ideas.  Recently I have had to cancel HGTV though.  It's not that I have no use for it. Actually I'd prefer to keep HGTV, but I cannot as an American or as a Christ follower.  HGTV has become intolerant of democratic values and also of Christ following values from the New Testament.

The issue for an audience at large is HGTV does not believe in democratic values.  They believe in selective justice.  The recent cancellation of a pair of brothers, who to me are no one, people I have never met personally nor know, is a real issue for true Americans and also true Christians.  This is why I have cancelled HGTV.  Democratic values include liberty and justice for all.

Recently, however, HGTV has taken the new trend which is to give liberty and justice only to certain subsets of American culture.  So they cancelled the show of David and Jason Benham.  These were not for on air or on the job comments.  The cancellation of a show was due to personal comments they made in their past.

Despite how I would not personally do or go where they have been in expressing their views, I have to support their right to free speech.  Any true American or true Christ follower should in my view do the same, and I recommend it.  By continuing to support HGTV, you are endorsing the removal of a pair of brothers with #1 a right as Americans to also have a personal life when they are off the clock.  One day when you are off the clock and speak to something you believe in, that millenia of human history's democratic valuing societies (not per se democracies though) has believed in, and then you lose your job for it, who will be there for you then?  Likewise, as a believer if you state that one sin or another should be repented of, and then you lose your job, who will be there for you?

The truth is a large minority of the USA is being put on notice, agree with us or your job will be lost.  This is reverse bigotry and reverse intolerance.  If you ignore it now, someday one of your opinions that is widely held may cause you to lose your job too.

You can start by letting HGTV know that you disagree with their cancellation of the Benham's tv show.

If they don't respond that they'll give liberty and justice for all and reinstate the Benham's then take your money elsewhere and cancel the HGTV channel, or drop cable altogether and go with internet tv which is better anyways.  You'll end up saving money anyhow in the switch to internet tv.

Why care about this?  Values matter.  Every person regardless of their religion or supposed irreligion has values.  In the US, values are supposed to be something we can discuss, hence the reason for the 1st amendment.  You shouldn't have to lose your job due to comments that nearly 50% of the US agrees with, which in itself is the very discrimination at work that supposedly tolerant employers are to avoid using on people.  In this case it is intolerance of their religion and HGTV can be sued for discrimination if they persist in going against employment laws.  Also as a believer, you want to provide for your family a living peaceably. Given that these Benham brothers seem to be expressing one small part of the gospel's total message, would you be comfortable for being fired in the future for believing part of the gospel of Jesus?  This makes clear you can be, unless you stand up and say that is not ok now, before it happens even more broadly.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Pray for Persecution?

In the United States, a great deal of what is considered the church is actually not made up of born again believers who have faith in Jesus.  It is a cultural Christianity, very weak, with similarities to the Europe that Kierkegaard faced in his time.

Much of Christian faith is more of a prosperity gospel or political liberalism, loosely tied if at all to the gospel of Christ dying for our sins, so we could turn from them in faith to Jesus, and be saved.  The prosperity gospel is popular in people who still struggle with or who are sold out to an idol of the heart, greed.  Despite Jesus and Paul both having times of provision and lack, such persons are told that if you have faith God will give you much all the time.  This same prosperity gospel is a problem in Africa today, as in the US.

The political liberalism that changes a church's doctrine away from the gospel is most common in numbers of adherents within United Methodist churches and liberal Baptists (Baptist General Convention of Texas, Virginia's General Baptist Convention, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, etc), many American (though not all) Episcopals, Evangelical Lutherans, United Church of Christ, etc.  It killed the European churches, by replacing what following Christ means, with a useless set of philosophies which can be summarized in Freud, Nietzsche, and others (later resulting in secular forms of existentialism, etc).  Political liberalism finds its source of knowledge in human reason or ideas as ultimate.  It does not submit to God.  It is therefore subject to fluctuations in human culture (good, bad and ugly), of whatever is celebrated, its churches end up celebrating.  It also dethrones God and raises the words of men and women to the same level or above God.  However this liberalism does not have substantial roots in Asia or Africa or Latin America (at least outside it's Catholic churches which might have some liberation theology peeps).

The well respected Barna Group has found that about 40% of Protestant church attenders are not giving an answer associated with saving faith.  The number is higher in some denominational tribes broadly speaking.

Given such a large group of confused, misled, or outright false professions of faith, many feel it is a good thing if persecution comes to the United States and Canada.

The argument in Christian circles, friend to friend, acquaintance to acquaintance, is that if we just had more persecution then the true and false believers would truly stand out.  Maybe you have heard this too.  An early church leader in explaining to a governor why persecution does not work said something to this effect too.  He said:  "The more often we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow, the blood of Christians is seed."

But is it true always?  No.  An excellent article here shows some examples within it where that does not hold.  To Russia and Albania where that was not true, we can add Japan where Christians were persecuted and which to this day remains apathetic or outright against Christian faith in any substantive form.

1st Thessalonians 4:11 instructs us rather to live quietly and mind our own business as believers.  We are not to get excited about attracting attention that leads to persecution.  Nor are we to give up our business, which is to serve, and to share verbally often, the way to be saved in Jesus.

1st Timothy 2:1-3 gives us insight that we pray for our governing officials so that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives.  Paul does not have in mind saying nothing, but rather being about the gospel rather than about things of the world.  This fits with his admonition elsewhere to be a good solider of Jesus Christ, not distracted by civilian affairs of the world.

In the background of 1st Timothy 2:2 may also be a request from the Roman government to pray for Caesar, but we do not know that for sure.  It was something requested of our Jewish forefathers in the Old Testament however, so it would not be surprising that a Messianic Jew Paul would encourage the same looking back on Israel's exile for the church in his time.

Indeed, while Paul the Apostle was both stoned and beaten with rods for the name of Jesus Christ in his day, he did NOT seek out persecution.  Consider that while seeking to speak boldly (which also we cannot give up) Paul in Acts 9:25 and also 2nd Corinthians 11:33 is said to have been let down in a large basket out of a cities' walls so that he would not be persecuted or killed.  So it is hard to imagine Paul (though it is an argument from silence, but not entirely since we can do a trajectory of his example) praying for persecution.  Likewise Jesus acknowledges persecution will come but does not pray that it will happen.

Paul does rejoice in sufferings, which is a part of his call from the Lord Jesus, but he does not view it as something to pray for in itself.

I agree instead with the statement that faithful living for Jesus probably will draw persecution wherever you are.  You and I are not to seek it out, but it will rise up.  It will vary in how strong by the lost nature of the culture.

Monday, April 7, 2014

A Great Children's Resource for Your Family or Future Kiddos

Sometimes as a parent, when you get fed up with pop books being too bland, and God convicts you to lead well, you seek out those books that are a great fit to tell kids about Jesus.  Once your kids get to a certain age they love hearing stories and you can bring in God's wisdom from the Bible with this resource below.

There are shortened stories that summarize chapters of the Bible for young children in this.  It makes a good bed time read.

Available at Barnes and Noble by clicking here.

Here is the cover of this item:

Also, you might be looking for something useful for really young kids who are just starting to outgrow Duplo blocks, but also wish they could have Legos in advance.  There is a Lego Bible book we have that our four year old loves.  It is called The Brick Bible.  It is pictured below, and you can click here to get it at Barnes and Noble as well:

On the Brick Bible one, you will have to choose which stories you want to share, and there are detailed descriptions of what is going on.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

God Is Present to Bless You

Do you ever doubt God?  Be sure you have the right 'god' in mind.  God by definition as the one true God will be there to bless you.  In the Old Testament, God helped Israel as a people see that he was the true God because he actually answered prayers in his way.  Thus, from God's view, an idol by definition cannot move to help, or hear, Isaiah 46.  God states plainly (and He would know):  "for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me."  This is right after having said that alternative 'gods' of the people of the earth do not truly exist because they are unable to deliver.

Today you should walk in the promise when you read this, God's promise:  "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose."  (emphasis mine)  The way to remember this is to remember what happened to those who sinned (Isaiah 46:3, 8, 10, 11b).  This will help you when you feel the tendency to wander off from righteous living to return to God, and know that He alone can deliver you.  Then going forward, the God who does ALL of his purpose will bless you who are His people through faith in Jesus.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Leading as a Husband - from Dr. Stuart Scott

On the web people come across things that impact their life for good or ill.  I hope you've stumbled on this and it will be a blessing from God to you, especially today to Christian husbands.

In Dr. Stuart Scott's book for small group use, couples study or counseling, called Exemplary Husband, he lays out the difference between a husband living in natural, fallen leadership versus spiritual, in Christ leadership.  You can find it at Barnes & here.

The natural, fallen man is the only one making his decisions, enjoys commanding others, motivated only by personal considerations, and so on.  The spiritually wise husband is confident because he's confident in God, not himself, he knows God, he seeks to find God's will and info on decisions, is motivated by God's love and love for man, and so on.  That's an excerpt from the way one of the chapters in the book, on leading, starts out.

This style of leadership a Christian husband is to have some checks then on authority.  He'll be cautious to seek God's will when he has to confront his wife, he will be wiser about how he addresses situations, and he will seek out order and leading in his family actively rather than being an average passive American dad.  He will provide vision on where they are going with finances, how his family will serve Jesus locally, giving stability to his family, and planning provision long-term.  These are a few of the differences between a passive husband, who lets his wife do it all, or most of it, related to the finances and kids and direction of their family.

Using the example of Jesus as a shepherd, Scott recommends how you can lead well.  You'll have to buy a copy of the book to get all of the info, but at least you can see what you're getting into if you've stumbled upon this good resource for your Christian living.

One powerful example that lots of dads benefit from in studies I've led, is in the leadership chapter on how "a shepherd is involved."  You have to have courage, faith in God, and trusting the Bible that you'll succeed for God's glory.  You need to reject busyness or fearing a lot of work or what not, and instead step it up to lead.
The chapter closes out with a word of encouragement.  That is how you need to walk as a Christian husband, encouraged God is for you, and that you must take action to actually lead in a Christlike way.  God will bless that effort as part of the walk of faith.

Grace and peace to you.

Loving Your Wife - from Dr. Stuart Scott

In an excellent book on marriage, Dr. Stuart Scott, formerly of Grace Community Church with John MacArthur in California, but now serving in Louisville, Kentucky, he challenges husbands on their love.
The book is The Exemplary Husband.

If you are a husband seeking to better love your wife as God would have you, go ahead and buy this book at Barnes & Noble or a local Lifeway Store, you will see a pay off from the investment.

Scott tackles what you've probably felt at some point, from a combination of the world's encouragement, your own sinful leanings, and bad advice:  false views of love of a husband for his wife.

Examples in the book:
1.) Romantic feelings defines all of love.  Some people get this wrong, he elaborates on it in here.
2.) Physical attraction defines all of love.  A lot of people today end it when they don't "feel" attracted to their spouse.  That is not God's plan, since love then would be pure selfishness.
3.) Sex=love.  While sex is a part of love, that is not all of it.  This is a shallow love if that's all it is, and there's ways in the book to go beyond it alone.
4.) Needing=love.  Dr. Scott hits this nail on the head.  Many people feel initially they cannot live without a relationship, but that can change, and it is not a biblical definition of love.
5.) Benefitting defines all of love.  This a dangerous love to think of as God's will for you husband.  It's the "I like what you do for me," selfishness disguised as love again.
And then jumping on so you I don't reveal them all, 8.) Being in love=love.  In God's truth the Bible love is a commitment, a choice, an action; it is not a state.  Falling in and out of love is not speaking about love in marriage as God intended.

The author gives a number of examples of what biblical love is, a few samples are:
1.) Is initiated by the husband.
2.) Is enduring.
3.) Is not based on performance.

The Scripture and more info on these are in the book.
One of the best things you'll find if you pick up a copy of this is a series of practical charts on what is a wrong example of love, and the correct one right next to it, side by side.
For instance:

Proud thoughts to put off Dr. Scott suggests, an example:
"Why doesn't she think of me more?" or "Why isn't she doing ____ for me?" can be replaced (Romans 12:1-2) with "How can I think of her now?" or "What can I do for her?"

Bitter thoughts to put off Dr. Scott suggests, an example:
"I've had it.  If she does ___ one more time, that's it." vs. "I will keep loving her.  Jesus Christ loved me when I didn't deserve it.  My love is [going to last], no matter what."

More could be said, but if you're wanting to step up your love for your wife husbands, definitely read through this chapter in Exemplary Husband.

Grace and peace to you.