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Thursday, November 25, 2010

For the Beauty of The Earth: A Thanksgiving of First Importance

Today, I would normally be telling you all of the people, things, and places for which I am thankful...

But thanks to Francis Chan, that won't be happening...sort of.

You see, I began reading his book, Crazy Love, this week. In the first chapter, Chan says that where we should began is to stop praying. In other words, stop talking at God and see him for who he really is as he has revealed himself through the created order of the universe (Romans 1:20). I began to think on this quite a bit. Then I ran across this passage:

"Or what about the simple fact that plants take in carbon dioxide (which is harmful to us) and produce oxygen (which we need to survive)? I'm sure you knew that, but have you ever marveled at it? And these same poison-swallowing, life-giving plants came from tiny seeds that were placed in the dirt...Whatever the reasons for such diversity, creativity, and sophistication in the universe, on earth, and in our own bodies, the point of it all is His glory. God's art speaks of Himself, reflecting who He is and what He is like." (Psalm 19:1-4)

Never would have expected what happened next to happen; I was struck by the profundity of God's act of mercy and redemption via a junior high science lesson. Not only that, but also how little do I truly understand worship. I was given this body as an instrument of worship (Romans 12:1), and yet many times my senses are barely engaged in the endeavor (at least as much as they could or should be). I say all of this because it leads back to gratitude. If I have a low idea about the world around me and what its function and purpose is, then I can almost with absolute certainty guarantee that I'm not going to be able to see the Creator for who he is. Once I had read the statement by Mr. Chan and engaged my whole body in the observation of both images and words, I became so struck with amazement that I made this notation:

"Plants point us to the Savior; the attributes of a merciful God shown through his creation (Isaiah 53:1-12; 2 Corinthians 5:21)".

There are so many distractions in life that can cause us to lose our focus. Like crazy kids at Christmas time, we receive gifts only to run off and play while taking for granted the magnitude of the sacrifices that were made in order for us to have said things in the first place. So, my goal is to encourage us all to thank God for the friends and family, our jobs, homes, our health, etc.

But most importantly, we should thank God for Himself. For it is through all of these things that he reveals himself to us (John 1:14; James 1:17; Hebrews 1:1-2).

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.
- Psalm 100

Happy Thanksgiving!!!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Broken Bone Hymns by Paul David Tripp

It’s a bit of a strange word picture, the kind that causes you to wonder and to feel just a bit uncomfortable. But it says volumes about what you need and about what it is that God is doing. If you’re confused about what God’s agenda is in your life, or if it doesn’t always seem like his promises are being fulfilled, then this strange little prayer from Psalm 51 is helpful and clarifying. In his psalm of repentance after his sin against God, Bathsheba, and Uriah, David writes this provocative little prayer, “Let the bones that you have broken rejoice.” What in the world is he talking about and how in the world can it give perspective and hope to you and me?
Let me begin to answer with a personal confession. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, but I have a low tolerance for difficulty. I confess that I am a project-oriented person. I tend to have a specific agenda for each day. I awake knowing exactly what I want to accomplish and what a successful day will look like. I don’t want to have to deal with interruptions or obstacles. I want the people, circumstances and locations to willingly submit to my sovereignty and participate in my plan. All of this means that it’s counterintuitive for me to view difficulty as something beneficial. I have little time or tolerance for “broken bones.”

But I have a problem. My Redeemer is the redeemer of broken bones. Now, maybe you're thinking, “Paul, what in the world are you talking about?” Well, here it is. “Broken bones” is a physical word picture for the pain of redemption.

In case you failed to notice, God’s work of delivering you and me from our addiction to self and sin and transforming us into his image isn’t always a comfortable process. There are times, in order to make our crooked and fickle hearts straight and loyal, God has to break some bones. I will again confess, I don’t like broken bones!

Now, you have to ask, “Why would a God of love ever bring pain into the lives of the people he says he loves?” The difficult things that you experience as God’s child that may seem like the result of God’s unfaithfulness and inattention or anger are actually acts of redemptive love. You see, in bringing these things into our lives God is actually fulfilling his covenantal commitment to satisfy the deepest needs of his people. And what is it that we need the most? The answer is simple and clear throughout all of Scripture: more than anything else we need him.

Yet this is exactly where the rub comes in. Although our greatest personal need is to live in a life-shaping relationship with the Lord, as sinners we have hearts that have a propensity to wander. We very quickly forget God and begin to put ourselves or some aspect of the creation in his place. We soon forget that he’s to be the center of everything we think, desire, say and do. We easily lose sight of the fact that our hearts were designed for him and that the deep sense of well-being which all of us seek can only be found in him.

We very rapidly forget or ignore the powerfully addicting dangers of sin and think we can step over God’s boundaries without personal and moral cost. We think we are stronger than we really are and wiser than we actually prove to be. We assess that we have character, discipline and strength that we don’t really have. So God, in the beauty of his redeeming love, will “break our bones.” He will bring us through difficulty, suffering, want, sadness, loss and grief in order to ensure that we are living in pursuit of the one thing that each of us desperately needs—him.

It’s time for each of us to embrace, teach, and encourage others with the broken-bone theology of uncomfortable grace. Because as long as each of us still has sin living in us, producing a propensity to forget and wander, God’s grace will come to us in uncomfortable forms. Perhaps you’ve been wondering where the grace of God is in your life at the very moment when you have been getting it. But it has not been the grace of comfortable relief or release; no, you have been receiving the uncomfortable grace of rescue, restoration, transformation and refinement.

So, if you are God’s child, if you’ve ever prayed that God would be near you and would do what he has promised in and for you, then resist the temptation to doubt his goodness in the middle of your moment of stress. It’s time for you and me to stop thinking that we are going through difficulty because Satan is winning or God is punishing us. If you are God’s child and you humbly recognize and admit that the battle with sin still rages in your heart, then tell yourself that those difficulties are the sure sign of his rescuing and redemptive love.

God hasn’t forgotten you. He hasn’t turned his back on you. He isn’t punishing you in anger. He surely isn’t withholding the grace that he has promised from you. No, you’re receiving grace, but it’s grace that is willing to break bones in order to capture and transform your heart. This grace is unrelenting. This grace has no intention of giving up. This grace will not be satisfied with the status quo. This grace does not get discouraged. It will never compromise. It will never become bitter or cynical. This is loving, patient, perseverant, powerful grace.

In those moments when you are tempted to wonder if God has forgotten you, may you preach to yourself of this relentless, transforming grace. May you remind yourself that you are being loved with real love and showered with real grace. And as you limp to his throne once more to thank him for his unyielding grace, may the bones that he has lovingly broken sing a hymn of praise to this One who alone blesses you with his amazing grace.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Against Heresies: Why we still need to learn from Francis Schaeffer

As an undergraduate I read almost everything written by J. I. Packer, John Stott, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Francis Schaeffer. For all their discernible faults, these four men rank among the foremost spiritual giants of the twentieth century and the great moulders of classical evangelical theology, ministry and evangelism in the last sixty years. If you know anything of their lives and ministries they also appear to be conspicuously out of step with the glitzy celebratory culture that pervades twenty first century evangelicalism. Colin Duriez has done a remarkable job of recording the life of Schaeffer. His biography Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life has the virtues of being interesting, honest and accessible. Francis Schaeffer was a fascinating human being; born in 1912, he was an only child and grew up in a working class home in Pennsylvania. The story of how he was brought to faith, his call to pastoral ministry, his early encounters with and love of music, art and philosophy, make for fascinating reading. I will in due course write more about the man, how he was moulded by God (including the secondary causes and relationships that shaped him), and his thought and influence. Francis Schaeffer has a lot to teach us about true authenticity in ministry today. We have temptations that he can help us with, sub-cultural maladies that he can help us identify and avoid. There is an ugly superficiality in evangelical ministry, a grubby clamouring for recognition, a lip service paid to our usefulness to God outside of the spotlight. Here are some of the themes that I want to explore in future posts: Schaeffer was a man with an unseen ministry for most of his life, his public significance came very late on. What can we learn from this faithfulness in obscurity, and in working with small groups of people, in an age where usefulness and importance is confused with the size of the church you lead and the conferences you speak at? How did we ever get into the mess of thinking that the best men to follow are easy to spot because they occupy the biggest platforms? Schaeffer was a man of remarkable integrity. In the early 1950s he faced up to the painful lack of reality in his own experience and that of the separatist circle that he was part of. He faced it with courage and honesty and was not afraid to re-think everything he had believed and stood for. In the preface to his book True Spirituality he wrote: I told Edith that for the sake of honesty I had to go all the way back to my agnosticism and think through the whole matter. I'm sure that this was a difficult time for her, and I'm sure that she prayed much for me in those days. It was a crisis of authenticity, and a far cry from the kind of authenticity applauded today that merely apes secular mores. Schaeffer was a man of marked compassion toward people. He was a man who cared for the despair of the Western world, and a man who cared enough to do the hard work in order to understand the thinking and feeling of unbelievers. But beyond that, anyone who has watched his series How should we then live? can see in his eyes and hear in his voice a great sensitivity for those who live without God and without hope in this world. His love for people, for individuals, his ability to speak to large audiences just as if he was speaking to one person sat on a chair opposite him, is something that can teach us a great deal. There is a warmth and a humanity, a sadness and a depth of feeling, a winsomeness and love in his communication of the truth of God that is, in many ways, the missing note in so much apologetic ministry today. The tears of Schaeffer in telling the truth of the gospel are worth more than smugness and hardness that sadly can accompany our own efforts. Pick up and read the books of Francis Schaeffer and the Colin Duriez's biography of the man.

Schaeffer has played a significant role in my spiritual development. Christians should be well advised to take up and read his works. He offers much in the way of having a robust Evangelical worldview up and against a postmodern humanist culture, and how to reach the lost.

Soli Deo Gloria,


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Q & A: General Revelation/The Substance of Atheism

These two questions are sort of linked together, so I decided to post answers to them at the same time...I'm sure there will be more elaborate post on these at another time. Hope you find these answers helpful. Enjoy!

Q: Why is general revelation insufficient for man's needs?

A: General revelation is able to point us to the fact that there is a God, but lacks the ability to communicate to us what the Lord requires of us. Things such as the knowledge of sin, salvation, repentance, the Gospel; these things can only be known through specific or special revelation as God reveals them to us.  In short, within general revelation we may come to know that God exists, but it is in special revelation that we discover what the Lord requires, the depth of our sins, and how God reconciles us to himself (Romans 1:19-23, 3:9-26).

Q: Is it theologically plausible to argue that there are no real atheists? If so, on what grounds?

A: We would have to say, yes, based on the evidence of Scripture given in Romans 1:21-25:

 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Claiming to be wise, they became fools,  and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

 Therefore, the argument can be soundly made that Atheism is really just a delusion of a darkened mind that is bent toward idolatry. They may say that they believe in no god, but in fact are gods unto themselves, or they craft one of their choosing.

 “Atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man.”  - Francis Bacon

Hit me up if you have any discussion, questions, or comments.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Reformed Theology Vs. Hyper-Calvinism by Michael Horton

Before the average believer today learns what Reformed theology (i.e., Calvinism) actually is, he first usually has to learn what it’s not. Often, detractors define Reformed theology not according to what it actually teaches, but according to where they think its logic naturally leads. Even more tragically, some hyper-Calvinists have followed the same course. Either way, “Calvinism” ends up being defined by extreme positions that it does not in fact hold as scriptural. The charges leveled against Reformed theology, of which hyper-Calvinism is actually guilty, received a definitive response at the international Synod of Dort (1618–1619), along with the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms.
Is God the Author of Sin?
The God of Israel “is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he” (Deut. 32:4–5). In fact, James seems to have real people in mind when he cautions, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). Sin and evil have their origin not in God or creation, but in the personal will and action of creatures.
Scripture sets forth two guardrails here: On one hand, God “works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:15); on the other, God does not — in fact, cannot — do evil. We catch a glimpse of these two guardrails at once in several passages, most notably in Genesis 45 and Acts 2. In the former, Joseph recognizes that while the intention of his brothers in selling him into slavery was evil, God meant it for good, so that many people could be saved during this famine (vv. 4–8). We read in the same breath in Acts 2:23 that “lawless men” are blamed for the crucifixion, and yet Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God….” The challenge is to affirm what Scripture teaches without venturing any further. We know from Scripture that both are true, but not how. Perhaps the most succinct statement of this point is found in the Westminster Confession of Faith (chap. 3.1): “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;” — there’s one guardrail — “yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established,” and with that, the second guardrail. The same point is made in the Belgic Confession of Faith (Article 13), adding that whatever God has left to His own secret judgment is not for us to probe any further.
Is the Gospel for Everyone?
Isn’t it a bit of false advertising to say on one hand that God has already determined who will be saved and on the other hand to insist that the good news of the Gospel be sincerely and indiscriminately proclaimed to everyone?
But didn’t Christ die for the elect alone? The Canons of Dort pick up on a phrase that was often found in the medieval textbooks (“sufficient for the world, efficient for the elect only”) when it affirms that Christ’s death “is of infinite worth and value, abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world” (Second Head, Article 3). Therefore, we hold out to the world “the promise of the gospel … to all persons … without distinction ….” Although many do not embrace it, this “is not owing to any defect or insufficiency in the sacrifice offered by Christ upon the cross, but is wholly to be imputed to themselves” (Second Head, Articles 5–6).
Here once again we are faced with mystery — and the two guardrails that keep us from careening off the cliff in speculation. God loves the world and calls everyone in the world to Christ outwardlythrough the Gospel, and yet God loves the elect with a saving purpose and calls them by His Spiritinwardly through the same Gospel (John 6:63–64; 10:3–5, 11, 14–18, 25–30; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:28–30; 2 Tim. 1:9). Both Arminians and hyper-Calvinists ignore crucial passages of Scripture, resolving the mystery in favor of the either-or: either election or the free offer of the Gospel.
Grace for Everybody?
Does God love everybody, or is His kindness simply a cloak for His wrath — fattening the wicked for the slaughter, as some hyper-Calvinists have argued?
Scripture is full of examples of God’s providential goodness, particularly in the Psalms: “The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made …. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:9, 16). Jesus calls upon His followers to pray for their enemies for just this reason: “For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:44). Christians are supposed to imitate this divine attitude.
The doctrine we are talking about has come to be called “common grace,” in distinction from “saving grace.” Some have objected to this term (some even to the concept), insisting that there is nothing common about grace: there is only one kind of grace, which is sovereign, electing grace. However, it must be said that whatever kindness God shows to anyone for any reason after the fall, can only be regarded as gracious. Once again, we face two guardrails that we dare not transgress: God acts graciously to save the elect and also to sustain the non-elect and cause them to flourish in this mortal life. While it is among the sweetest consolations for believers, election is not the whole story of God’s dealing with this world.
When we, as Christians, affirm common grace, we take this world seriously in all of its sinfulness as well as in all of its goodness as created and sustained by God. We see Christ as the mediator of saving grace to the elect but also of God’s general blessings to a world that is under the curse. Thus, unbelievers can even enrich the lives of believers. John Calvin pleads against the fanaticism that would forbid all secular influence on Christians, concluding that when we disparage the truth, goodness, and beauty found among unbelievers, we are heaping contempt on the Holy Spirit Himself who bestows such gifts of His common grace (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.2.15).
Is Calvinism a License to Sin?
The first thing we need to say, with Martyn Lloyd-Jones, is that if we are never accused of preaching antinomianism (that is, grace-as-license), we probably have not preached the Gospel correctly. After all, Paul anticipates the question, “Shall we then sin that grace may abound?” precisely because his own argument from 3:9 to this point has pressed it: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more” (5:21). At the same time, some Reformed Christians, especially those liberated from legalistic backgrounds, seem to end Paul’s argument at Romans 5:21, concluding, in effect, “God likes to forgive, I like to sin — the perfect relationship!”
The difference between being accused of antinomianism (literally, anti-law-ism) and being guilty as charged is whether we are willing to follow Paul on into chapter 6. There the apostle answers this charge by an announcement of what God has done! At first, this would seem to favor antinomians, since they place all of the emphasis on what God has done and reject, or at least downplay, the importance of imperatives. Yet in fact, what Paul announces is that God has accomplished not only our justification in Christ, but our baptism into Christ. His argument is basically this: being united to Christ necessarily brings justification and regeneration, which issues in sanctification. He does not say that Christians should not, or must not, live in sin as the principle of their existence, but that they cannot — it is an impossibility. That they do continue to sin is evident enough, especially in chapter 7, but now they struggle against it.
The fathers at Dort recognized the charge that the Reformed doctrine “ leads off the minds of men from all piety and religion; that it is an opiate administered by the flesh and the devil,” and leads inevitably to “libertinism” and “renders men carnally secure, since they are persuaded by it that nothing can hinder the salvation of the elect, let them live as they please” (Conclusion). Yet they would neither surrender the comfort of justification by Christ’s righteousness imputed nor of sanctification by Christ’s resurrection life imparted. Perfection of sanctification in this life is impossible, but just as impossible is a condition known today as the “carnal Christian.” One is either dead in Adam or alive in Christ. Again, some wish to resolve this mystery: either we can be free from all known sin, as John Wesley taught, or we can be in a state of spiritual death, as antinomianism teaches. However satisfying to our reason, such an easy resolution in either direction ignores the clear teaching of Scripture and robs us of the joy of such a full salvation.
So the two guardrails on this point emerge from the fog of legalism and antinomianism: justification and sanctification are not to be confused, but they are also not to be separated.
In addition to these other charges, Reformed theology is often regarded as “rationalistic” — that is, a system built on logic rather than on Scripture. However, I hope we have begun to see that the real rationalists are the extremists on either side of these debates. The wisdom of the Reformed confessions is that they refuse to speculate beyond Scripture and insist on proclaiming the whole counsel of God, not simply the passages that seem to reinforce one-sided emphases. It is not a question of where the logic should lead us but where the Scriptures do lead us. It might be easier to resolve the mystery in simple, either-or solutions, but such a course would certainly not be safer. So let us too strive to read all of the Scriptures together, keeping a sharp lookout for those guardrails!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Sunday, August 22, 2010

What's So Good About Great?!

"Strive for greatness."

That's what I recently saw on a billboard by the freeway. Then, coincidently enough, I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, where he was trying to help me reach my "full potential" with a pep talk that finished with:
"You're good. But you don't just wanna be good...be GREAT!"
"Right", I nodded. I don't think that he believed me though, because he looked at me like I was the biggest loser in the world. I think it had to do with the fact that I didn't seem too enthused with the notion of greatness.

The conversation bothered me, and at first, I didn't really know why. Was it because he was simply regurgitating what he had been spoon-fed by someone else? Was it because he sounded like Tony Robbins or Joel Osteen on crack? I just didn't know. I just sat there on his couch, zoned out for the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out why I was stewing over this. However, as I was driving home later, it hit me;I don't want to be great. Color me an under-achiever, but it's true. I'm not built for it...

I also started to notice how things change as we get older. Think back to when you were a kid. Everyday before you left the house, got on the bus, or got out of the car to go to school, you always heard the phrase, "Be good", or "Have a good day". But, somewhere along the way, good just wasn't good enough anymore. We treat goodness like old clothes that we've outgrown. But, truth be told, I believe that the shift from good to great is due largely in part to what we began to realize as we age; and that is that it is much easier to attain a high level of "greatness" (in a human sense) than it is to achieve the smallest amount of true goodness. From Samson, to David, to our modern day heroes; most individuals that we consider great at something, are usually extremely flawed. When it comes to good, we have to severely lower our standards of what that means to even put it in the same sentence with another human being. I remember a time when I was watching a prison documentary. They were talking to an inmate on death row who had killed his mother and step father in cold blood, but he still considered himself to be "basically, a good person". Yet, even though we lower the bar, the standard remains the same (Matthew 7:11). For us, we use greatness as a cover for our lack of goodness. You can be a great lover, a great athlete, a great teacher, great communicator, great leader, or even all of these great things combined, and still not be a good person. Examine for yourself: How many times have you seen or heard about someone who was "great" at something, yet they weren't a good family man/woman? How many times have we seen great athletes commit some of the most detestable acts, only to have our history books, memories, and legal systems let them off the hook? We have done this for so long that we are now beginning to think that the two words are synonymous, but a quick look at a dictionary will prove that to be very wrong.

The reality is, there is only One who is great (Isaiah 40:9-26). He is great because he is truly good (James 1:17). And while he doesn't share his greatness with anyone, he bestows his goodness on us all, even those who don't care for him (Matt. 5:45; Luke 6:35; Romans 5:6-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). This is the best news of all, because if you're like me, you probably realize by now that no matter how good you try to be, you just can't be "good enough" (Rom. 3:11-12, 21-26). So the real question is, why aim for something I can never be when I can't even attain what I was meant to be (Genesis 1:31)?!

So, I don't strive for greatness, but for gratefulness. I don't need to be great...I need to be good. For that, I need GRACE! (Romans 12:2; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 Timothy 1:12-17)

If I'm good, I'm straight. That's what is truly great (Philippians1:6)...

"Nobody knows how bad they are until they have tried very hard to be good." - C.S. Lewis

Soli Deo Gloria,

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Church Growth and the Sovereignty of God by Burk Parsons

It seems that every time I meet a pastor from another church, he asks me the common, unsolicited, ecclesiastical question of the twenty-first-century: “How big is your church?” Most pastors are usually a bit confounded when I respond: “I don’t know.” It’s only when I am pressed for an answer that I provide him with the number of families in our congregation. But if I am in a good mood I may simply explain that our church consists of people of every color and language and is as big as the world-wide church of Christ. It is my hope that in some, small way I might help other pastors obtain a better perspective on the size, growth, and health of the church, locally and globally.

Just this past week I had the opportunity to assist in a Lord’s Day service at Saint Andrew’s Church in Mzuzu, Malawi, in the southern part of Africa. At the beginning of the service nearly 200 were present, but before the two-hour service had concluded, more than 2,000 Malawian worshipers filled the sanctuary. Many walking from miles away in the dense, early morning fog, they dressed in their finest clothes and carried their tattered Biblesif they were fortunate enough to own a Bible. I could not help but smile throughout the entire service except for a moment when I was brought to tears as they sang the classic hymn of the former slave trader John Newton: “Amazing Grace.”

At the end of the first verse, when the congregation sang the familiar stanza that I have sang more than a thousand times — “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”— it was at that exact moment I remembered that our sovereign God has already settled the entire matter of church growth. God will seek and save those who are lost by the very means He has appointed in His inspired Word. He is the sovereign Lord of all creation, and He certainly does not need to rely upon the cleverly-devised, cultic tactics and trendy, “seeker–sensitive” techniques of Madison Avenue to woo those who are blind to His Gospel. In fact, when such carefully-contrived tactics are used, the blind are usually led by the blind who lead them not to the God of the Bible but to the god of some romantic biography in which that god will do anything he must to win the affections of those he has helplessly lost. May it never be. Rather, may God continue to use the clear, unvarnished preaching of His Word by His people to seek and save the lost so that they may see His glory and live coram Deo, before His face forevermore. 

In the age of mega-church madness, this is a refreshing reminder of how the church of Christ is truly multiplied (Acts 2:44-47).

Soli Deo Gloria,

Posted via email from THE CENTER (ROOM 116)

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Upon This Block I Will Build My Church...?" (The Church From A Distance)

Late last week, I was driving along on the way back home from where I work.  Maybe it was something in the air that day, or maybe it was something that I ate -- but as I drove, I started to notice something that I probably should have noticed before:

I noticed that the closer and closer I got to my home, the more and more churches I began to see.  All kinds; and not little ones either.  I wouldn't say they ALL fit into the "Mega-Church" category, but let's just say that you wouldn't be hurting for leg room in one of these structures.

Now at this point, you're probably thinking, "Wow.  So What?".  Well, here's the "what "-- I work in an area of Houston, Texas that is a low-income, high crime, "minority"-based area (or what would commonly be known as, "the hood" or "the ghetto").  But I live in a sprawling, middle to high-income, predominantly Caucasian (which I am not, by the way) area, roughly 25 minutes away.  Something in me sparked and I asked the question to myself, "Why are there so many more churches being built in the suburbs than there are in the city (or more particularly, the inner-city)?"

As Tim Keller points out in his latest series, Gospel in Life, the city is where cultures, ideas and people merge.  In other words, it is where you will undoubtedly find the greatest cross-section of people.  So why is it that the churches seem to be running away from this?  Is this not exactly where you would want to be?  So what's the problem?!  Why are churches in "the hood" so scarce when the area is so densely populated?
Answer: I propose that it is because we think to small.  We have a microscopic view of a telescopic expansion. It appears that too many ideas that are not based on Scripture have crept in  and made a home hearts and minds of many on the topic of  "Church Growth".  No matter how big the building, the Church itself becomes too "small".

Small Demographic
Most churches nowadays spend a whole lot of time trying to find a niche' audience.  This process helps to breed what I would term as a "country club" mentality; only certain types of people can get in and/or are accepted.  You have to look the part and sound the part, or else you can't take part.

Small Evangelism
Due to the fact that you only focus on a certain group of people who meet specific criterion, the act of evangelism begins to go the way of the Do-Do bird.  Since your main attraction is ultimately looking the part and sounding a certain way, then there is really no need to go into the "gory details" (sin, repentance, salvation, atonement, Jesus, etc.) of the Gospel.  Robust salvation in Christ is in danger of becoming easy-believer theology at this point.

Small Preaching
This is where everyone begins to operate on assumption.  "Since they're here they obviously believe", so the need for the preacher to dig his heels in and give doctrinal teaching and preaching becomes unnecessary because everyone's "been there and done that".  The "gospel" that is delivered is most often downgraded to the felt needs of the particular group. (i.e. Movie sermons, political preaching, etc.)

The Cause
You may be wondering what could cause such a mentality to creep in and begin to contaminate the sweetness and beauty that is the True Gospel?  First and foremost, it's fear.  I remember a time at a church that I was attending where the life within that small community was vibrant and full of eagerness to hear the Word.  Bible studies there were always engaging and sound.  But when it came time to go "across the tracks" and promote VBS and witness in a less than desirable neighborhood, you would be hard pressed to have anyone show up.  When the few of us (about 10) that went showed up on site to go to work, we were told in no uncertain terms by an officer that it was indeed a rough area to be in and there was the possibility for harm.  After this announcement, some of the workers opted to wait by their cars.  Then, there were five.

I give this illustration not to criticize, but to show just how powerful a tool fear can be for the Devil to use to lull us back into our comfort zone.  After all, is this not what he did to Jesus when he was in the wilderness?  The Enemy wants us to take every opportunity to circumvent peril and discomfort, no matter how big or how small.  The smaller we are willing to go to achieve comfort, the harder it will be to shake us out of our complacency to reach those who are not like ourselves.  In other words, it becomes easier to become a racist or an elitist under the guise of Christianity, rather than love those who Jesus loves.  Don't believe me?  Then how do you explain the Ku Klux Klan or Black Liberation Theology?

The Cure
Here in the United States, even though we will claim to have made progress by leaps and bounds in the area of race relations, Sunday mornings are still one of the most segregated times of the week.  Well, it doesn't have to be this way.  We need to return to the source of the Scriptures; where we learn that God is no respecter of persons, status, or wealth.  We see in the writings of Paul that more often than not, God chooses the low, the downtrodden and weak, to confound our silly preconceived notions.  The Gospel is not to be discriminatory, but promiscuous in the nature of how it is to be shared.  My prayer is that the Lord would give us new eyes and a new vision of the His Church -- that we would see it through His eyes. The Church of Jesus Christ is not to be a building of bricks and wood, but living stones -- the people themselves.  I've said before and I'll say it again:

People, not a place, do the Church make.

It's not built on my "kind", my country, my hood, or my block.  It's built on the Rock.  The World is our neighborhood.  Therefore, the Church is bigger than we think...where everyone is welcome.

And they sang a new song, saying, 
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”  - Revelation 5:9-10

Study References:

Matthew 16:18, 28:19;  John 6:37, 7:24, 17:15-21;  1 Corinthians 1:26-29; 1 Peter 2:5;  1 John 2:2

Soli Deo Gloria,

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday, April 04, 2010

True Blood, New Life

If I would've been there, I would've done the same; open him to ridicule and put him to shame.
I definitely would've been the one who hated him the most. So he did what he had to do...
He Killed us both.
And when he rose up, he brought me along; to drink of his cup and sing a new song.
Truest blood shed from his wounds now covers my deepest stains - I'll never be the same.
Now I'm alive in Christ; his death my gain!!  - S.W.

(Isaiah 53:1-12; Romans 6:1-11; Colossians 2:12, 3:1)

And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?
- Luke 24:5

He is risen!!!

Soli Deo Gloria,

Monday, March 08, 2010

"...How Sweet the Sound!"

"So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ." - Romans 10:17

Something...Someone...a voice of some kind that whispers in my ear and moves me like a hurricane. From the top of my head to the bottom of my feet-- urging...pushing...compelling...conversing with me...


Becoming alien to friend and foe alike - a totally different creature than yesterday; I now understand. Transmission to transmission...there is no end.

Comprehend or perish. When He speaks, I listen.

(Genesis 3:8; 1 Kings 19:11-12; Matthew 7:24-27, 17:5; John 1:14; 3:8; 10:4-5; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Hebrews 1:2)

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Less Religion Means More Government

by Anthony B. Bradley Ph.D.
 Soviet communism adopted Karl Marx’s teaching that religion was the "opiate of the masses" and launched a campaign of bloody religious persecution. Marx was misguided about the role of religion but years later many communists became aware that turning people away from religious life increases dependence on government to address life’s problems. The history of government coercion that comes from turning from religion to government makes a new study suggesting a national decline in religious life particularly alarming to those concerned about individual freedom.
 The American Religious Identification Survey, published by Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., reports that we should expect one in five Americans to identify themselves as having no religious commitments by 2030. The study, titled “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population,” reports that Americans professing no religion, or Nones, have become more mainstream and similar to the general public in marital status, education, racial and ethnic makeup and income. The Nones have increased from 8.1 percent of the U.S. adult population in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008.
 According to the study, 22 percent of American 18 to 29-year-olds now self-identify as Nones. For those promoting dependency on government to handle the challenges of everyday life, as well as those who wish to take advantage of a growing market for morally bankrupt products and services, the news of declining religious life is welcome.

The increase in non-religious identification among younger generations highlights a continued shift away from active participation in one of the key social institutions that shaped this country. It may also come as no surprise, then, that according to the research firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, voters under 30 are more liberal than all other generations. When asked about their ideology, 27 percent of those under 30 identify themselves as liberal, compared to 19 percent of baby boomers, and 17 percent of seniors. Pragmatic utilitarianism, favorable views toward a larger role for government in helping the disadvantaged, and a lack of ethical norms characterize this young segment America’s population.

The most significant difference between the religious and non-religious populations is gender. Whereas 19 percent of American men are Nones only 12 percent of American women are. The gender ratio among Nones is 60 males for every 40 females.

The marketplace and society in general will both reap the consequences of high numbers of male Nones. If more and more men are abandoning the religious communities that have provided solid moral formation for thousands of years, we should not be surprised by an increase in the explosion of demand for morally reprehensible products as well as the family breakdown that follows closely behind. With consciences formed by utility, pragmatism, and sensuality, instead of virtue, we should expect to find a culture with even more women subjected to the dehumanization of strip clubs, more misogynistic rap music, more adultery and divorce, more broken sexuality, more fatherlessness, more corruption in government and business, more individualism, and more loneliness.

Alexis de Tocqueville cautioned in his 1835 reflections on Democracy in America, that the pursuit of liberty without religion hurts society because it “tends to isolate [people] from one another, to concentrate every man's attention upon himself; and it lays open the soul to an inordinate love of material gratification.” In fact, Tocqueville says, “the main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.” Religion makes us other-regarding.

Historically, religious communities in the United States addressed the needs of local communities in way that were clearly outside the scope of government. For example, as David G. Dalin writes in “The Jewish War on Poverty,” between the 1820s and the Civil War, Jews laid the foundation for many charitable institutions outside the synagogue including a network of orphanages, fraternal lodges, hospitals, retirement homes, settlement houses, free-loan associations, and vocational training schools. These were also normative activities for both Protestant and Catholic religious communities on even a larger scale in communities all over America before Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal.

The reported decline in religious life is an omen that virtue-driven local charity will decline, the passion to pursue the good will wane, and Americans will look to government to guide, protect, and provide. As we turn our lives over to government control, our capacity for independent thought and action are compromised. The real “opiate of the masses,” it would seem, is not religion but the lack of it.

via acton.org

Ideas have consequences. This is a notion that needs to be heavily considered here.

Soli Deo Gloria,

Thursday, February 18, 2010

How to Kill and Be Killed 101: Teach the Gospel, Save the World!

"The fact of sin in Christ's scheme of redemption is fundamental and must be kept to the front. Men must not be allowed to forget the fact that they are sinners and that the wages of sin is death. This is a doctrine that men don't like to hear about. They know that they are sinners, but they try to forget it. This is why often they plunge into all kinds of frivolities in order to get away from the serious thought of sin and its fatal consequences. This is why, unfortunately, in order to comply with or not to offend that kind of sentiment, many pulpits have little or nothing to say about sin.

One thing we may be sure of: as this aspect of man's condition drops out of our preaching, things will steadily grow worse, and men will become more and more set in their evil ways. For if there is no such thing as sin, or no evil consequences to follow, then there is no reason why we shouldn't open all the floodgates of passions and evil inclinations and desires and let things go at full speed, no reason why we should not adopt as our philosophy of life the motto, 'Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.' It is to save men from that stupid, foolish delusion that Christ makes imperative in His plan of rescue the necessity of stressing, and stressing with ever-increasing emphasis, the fact of sin as man's most serious problem...

And here we are directed not only to teach but what we are to teach...

In this campaign for saving a lost world, for bettering conditions, the contents of this Book [the bible] must be carefully studied and taught, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, in season and out of season. Thus we should understand and see that careful provision is made, under compotent teachers, for the study of the Word of God...and yet how often we find men in our pulpits searching heaven and earth for something new to preach about, while this treasure-house of wisdom and knowledge, of things necessary to salvation, is neglected, passed by, and overlooked...They have preached on almost everything except Jesus Christ as the Lamb of God whose blood alone cleanses from sin. The thought of sin, from which we need to be saved, has largely dropped out of most of our preaching...

People attend the churches, but rarely are their consciences pricked. They attend the churches but hear little about their sins and shortcomings. They attend the churches, but their self-complacency is never disturbed by what they hear, or at least rarely. They hear and go away feeling no sense of lack on their part and no wish or desire to live more worthily than they are living. Divine unrest rarely stirs within them; no welling up of great and ennobling desires is awakened within them. The people listen and go away to gossip, to tattle, to keep on in their evil ways...

The question is often asked, what is to be the future of Christianity as it comes into competition with other religions and with Communism, Nationalism, Capitalism, and all antagonistic forces? To my mind there is absolutely no need to worry about that matter...The only thing that we need to be concerned about is to see that we carry out faithfully the instructions of our Lord; that we be true to the solemn trust committed to us; that we go on teaching His word, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, in season and out of season, and give ourselves no concern about its future. Its future is assured. God is behind it. It cannot fail. 

Let us stop worrying about the future of Christianity and get down to the hard work in carrying out the instructions of our Lord."

(Mark 16:15; 1 Peter 1:18-19; Romans 8:3-4; 1 Corinthians 1:17-24; Matthew 16:18; Revelation 1:17-18, 6:2; Zechariah 4:6-7; Daniel 2:34-35)

 Excerpts from Francis Grimke`, Christ's Program for the Saving of the World (February 28, 1936)


Soli Deo Gloria,


Posted via web from THE CENTER (ROOM 116)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Truly Overcoming: Putting Grace Before Race (Revisited)

I originally posted this a few years ago. I'm reposting this, due to the fact that I still think that it contains some things of first importance that need to be said. In a nation that has witnessed the inaguration of the first black president of the United States, there is even more of a reason to keep these things before us. As a Christian first and an African-American second, there is a burden on my heart to speak plainly and clearly about what it means to truly overcome the sins in our society. Using the Word of God and a long forgotten figure in the history of Black America, I seek to accomplish this task. Regardless of race, I pray that all who read are challenged, convicted and encouraged.
Soli Deo Gloria...

'Twas mercy that brought me from my pagan land
Taught my benighted soul to understand 
That there's a God, that there's a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew
Some view our race with scornful eye,
'Their color is a diabolical dye'
Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain
May be refined and join th' angelic train.
-On Being Brought from Africa to America, by Phyllis Wheatley (America's First Black Poet)

In light of our most recent holiday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day) and with Black History month speedily approaching, there's no better time than the present to reflect upon the struggles and accomplishments of African-American people in this country, right? However, in our reflections, sometimes perspective gets lost in the spirit of the chase. We tend to take mantras such as "We Shall Overcome" and "Free At Last" and we rob them of their glory by our shortsightedness. This is why I find it appropriate to reflect on Ms. Wheatley's 'On Being Brought from Africa'. This poem's primary focus is on the overarching sovereignty and purposefulness of God in all of life.

Wheatley says that it was 'mercy' that brought her from her 'pagan' land. She was kidnapped and brought to America on a slave ship when she was about seven years old. Yet, she calls it mercy. Today, this statement may be seen, even in the Christian community, as controversial. Yet to Wheatley, this is a good thing because it brought her to salvation, despite the means that were used to attain it. After all, as she states, it was by this act that her 'benighted' soul was taught 'that there's a God and a Saviour too'. In her biography it states that she was bought by a Boston family that took her in as one of their own and taught how to read and write (Greek and Latin as well), and even more particularly taught her in the way of Scripture. Wheatley, in her reflection upon the events of her life, clearly connects the dots for us. She is well aware that if not for the Hand of Providence putting her on that ship to America, she never comes in contact with the Wheatley family. If she never meets the Wheatleys, she never hears of God or Jesus Christ. This theme of sovereign mercy is unrelenting, even as it turns to the social tensions of her day.

Many saw blacks as being sub-human and evil because of their native ways and skin tone. Wheatley does not shy away from this at all as she recalls:

"Some view our race with scornful eye, 'Their color is a diabolical dye'."

Now, take note of her admonition in the final stanzas:

"Remember, Christians; Negros, black as Cain, may be refined and join th' angelic train."

Notice that the petition is not to all of "white America” or even to the government. Her appeal is to the Christians; Wheatley's primary concern for her fellow Africans is not emancipation, but evangelization. Wheatley understands that the only way for them to be truly free is through the redemptive work of Christ on the Cross. Even as she herself was freed by her family, in the legal sense, all other forms of freedom are subordinate and secondary when it comes to the liberation of the soul through the Gospel. The reference to Cain helps to drive this point home. Cain was "marked" and "blackened" as punishment for the murder of his brother, Abel. Yet, while this was a curse, it was also God's way of showing mercy towards Cain, as it would protect him from the same fate that he had dealt to his brother. If anyone is to murder Cain their punishment will be sevenfold. The color of his skin gives him a chance for redemption; to repent of his sins and find peace with God, with whom, at the moment, he is at enmity (sadly, he does not). Wheatly, being a student of the Bible is well aware of what this imagery conjures up with the Christian family. She is appealing not just to the darkness of Cain's skin, but to the greater darkness of his heart, which is the way of all men who have never encountered Christ. While true that Africans had been "marked" for slavery by the whites due to the color of their skin, behind the horrific history of the slave trade is a glorious history of redemption that is to be unfolded. This is the urgency in Wheatley's message. Seeing the work of Salvation through Christ in her own life has prompted her to seek true liberation of her enslaved people; a liberation by which no government can deliver. So, she restricts her message to the Body of Christ, urging them to remember the darkness that they once knew; calling to remembrance that while they were still in sin, darkened in their understanding, God reached out and saved them by washing them clean in the blood of Christ. Sin is the ultimate "slave master" from which she wishes to free her countrymen; once freed from sin, they will be free to be the bondservants of Christ.

Though short in length, this piece is pregnant with imagery and insight. This summation of it all is this: Even as we look back today, we cannot deny that much of this sentiment has been lost. I believe that Phyllis Wheatley gives us an accurate model of how we should see all of the atrocities of our world from a Christian perspective, be it racism or any other forms of social injustice. Although they exist, we must understand that Providence is at work behind every action, though we may not understand or see it at that moment. Also, we must not lose sight of the fact that all of the wrongs of this world, are brought on by our own inherent sinful natures. We are all 'black as Cain' and 'benighted in our souls' apart from the redeeming work of Christ, regardless of our status or position in the world. It is the church's job as those who have been called out of the darkness, to take the light of Christ back into the darkness, understanding that Christ, and only Christ, is the answer to changing of the hearts and minds of men. Putting grace before race is the only way liberate all men and restore human dignity among the various peoples of the world. No matter what advancements are gained by any group of people or individual-- without Christ, they are still in bondage.

In the words of former slave trader turned Christian hymn writer, John Newton:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound! That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see. ’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, And grace my fears relieved; How precious did that grace appear The hour I first believed! Through many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.  -Amazing Grace

Scripture Study References:

Genesis 4:1-16; Psalm 82:3-4; Proverbs 31:8-9; Genesis 50:20; John 8:34-36, 12:32; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Philippians 3:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

 Posted via web from THE CENTER (ROOM 116)

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