Ministerial Meanderings

God centered theology in a man centered world.

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Location: Springfield, Missouri, United States

I was born in Washington D.C. and raised in Laurel, Maryland. I served in the United States Air Force for 20 years then retired. Then God led me to become a pastor. I was converted to Christ in the summer of 1966. I enjoy the company of my wife, children and grandchildren. I live with my three cats Hobbs, Taz, and Chloe.

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Gauntlet is on the Floor

As I was skimming various blogs tonight, I passed by one where the author made a very thought provoking statement. He said that every other religion in the world is busy turning out disciples except evangelical Christianity. As I read, I found that the point he wanted to make was that other religions teach their followers to live what they are. But that is often not so with evangelical Christians.

His statement made my mind leap back to a day I was riding in the car listening to Chuck Colson and his "Breakpoint" commentary. The particular commentary I had in mind was about why Islam will eventually win in the United States. Colson quoted a noted Islamic leader in America as saying that Islam, for a Muslim, is what he is. It is a state of being. He said that is what Americans fail to understand, that it is not simply a doctrine, or a belief, or a system of theology. It is what they are. They will keep on having children and raising them to be what they are and all the while Christianity in America will weaken and weaken. Eventually, the politicians, the teachers, the civic leaders, the TV personalities, and so on will be Muslims. They will simply outwait us.

In all that is a subtle point which I hope you saw ... Islam is what they are. Too many times Americans see Christianity as more of a club, or a hobby. It is what we do on Sunday. Churches are little more than stages for moralistic sermonizing. (In all this, I know I am generalizing somewhat, but many others have studied and written on this.) I know when I was young, I was caught in this trap. I had one set of beliefs and values for Sunday and another for every other day of the week. My Christianity did not impact my life in any appreciable way, except that I tried hard to be a good person. The idea that I was a Christian was foreign to me. To me, I was a Christian because I went to church on Sunday. But there is a saying that is popular today. "Going to church no more makes you a Christian than going to McDonald's makes you a hamburger." There is a lot of truth there.

My friends, Jesus told us in John 6 that unless we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we have no part in him. He said we must be born again. We need to become different than we are. We must become Christians. Christ has to be part of us. Listen! This is vital to everything. Are you a born again believer in Jesus Christ? Good. If you so claim then understand this ... if your profession of faith is true then you are a Christian. It is your state of being. You are a Christian like you are a human being. It is your state of existence. And that being so, isn't it is time we started to live like it.

John MacArthur, that very blessed Bible teacher, has a book out called Thinking Biblically. It talks about developing a biblical worldview. That is every Christian's need. Because that is what we are. We need to be living Christians and we need to develop the mindset in every new believer that they need to become living Christians. We need to raise our children to be tender to the things of God. We need to learn to see the world around us, in every facet, through Christian eyes. Christianity is not our hobby. Church is not a club. Christ is our life.

Beloved, the Church Universal is under assault today from every side. Theology used to be the "Queen of the Sciences" but now is the "Court Jester" of the world. One reason (among many that could be named) is that the world looks at us and sees nothing different from themselves. We are just like they are. And they mock us for our hypocrisy. We stand under the condemnation of Paul in Romans 2 when he said that the Name of the Lord our God is blasphemed among the Gentiles (unbelievers) because of us. But friends, that ought not to be! When Christians quit playing at Christianity and start living Christianity with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, then we will see the Church once again become a "mighty army." The gauntlet has been tossed to the floor. Are we willing to take it up? I pray we will.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Burger King Christianity

The Bible, in the book of Judges, tells us that a generation arose that did not remember the God of their fathers, nor His mighty works among the people of Israel. So each one turned to his own way and "every man did what was right in his own eyes." When that happened God brought judgment on the people to turn their hearts back to Him. It is a lesson worth repeating and one worth remembering. Why? Because in many ways the Church in the United States is just like those ancient Hebrews.

Everyone , it seems, wants a Christianity of their own making. The Bible is a guide to them if it does not infringe on what they want to do. No longer are we to be conformed to the commands of scripture, they say, but scripture is a living document that conforms to the present day and age.

Worse, the Evangelical gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone is jettisoned for whatever makes the so called believer feel good. Faith plus the right church; faith plus baptism, faith plus charitible works; faith plus something else.... the one thing all these systems have in common is they are devised by men trying to make their own way to God.

You see the gospel of the free grace of God is hard for people to understand. How can God take a sinner like me, knowing all the things I have done, and save me and call me one of His own dear children? Certainly, they think, He must want something from me? He must want me to do something? In that line of thinking people spend countless hours trying to figure out what God wants.

In Psalm 51 King David says to God "If you had desired some great thing from me, I would have done it." (My paraphrase). But he concludes in verse 17 "A broken and a contrite heart you will not despise O Lord." The broken sinner, coming to God and admitting he has nothing to offer except to ask for mercy like a beggar, finds that mercy and finds peace with God. Paul says in Romans "Having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."

That mercy and peace is there for every person who comes begging for it. Every single person who asks, finds. But there is a catch. It is not a Burger King Christianity. You don't get to come your way. You can only find it God's way. God made provision for the salvation of every person who believes. He provided that salvation in the substitutionary atonement in His one and only Son Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself told us "No man comes to the Father but by me." Only faith in what Jesus Christ has already done for you on the cross will save. That and nothing else. Anyone may come asking for mercy. But one can only come one way. Only God's way. Through Jesus Christ, and through Him alone.

God's salvation is deep and wide for all who find it. But the only place to find it is through the narrow gate. If you are reading this and have never come to God as a beggar with nothing but sin to offer Him. Let His Spirit break you from your pride today. Beg God to save you and you will learn He is mighty to save to the uttermost. We have Jesus' own promise that all who come to Him, He will in no way cast out. Come today and confess Him as your Lord and Savior. If Jesus has saved you, it is not you who did it your way, but Jesus who did it for you. What a truth to proclaim!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

An Unstoppable Witness

Christianity, and especially the born again evangelical kind of Christianity that is common in North America, is suffering from some sort of thinking disorder. It is a kind of cognitive disconnect that separates holy belief from holy living. I was reminded of this recently while listening to a sermon delivered by Southern Baptist missionary Paul Washer. Speaking to a group of teens he asked "If you say you're a Christian, but living a lifestyle of sin and debauchery, what gives you the right to think you are genuinely a Christian?" It is a good question and it is worthy of a lot of reflection in today's church.

I have always been taught that right belief leads to right living. Orthodoxy leads to orthopraxis. So, we argued, doctrine matters. It was important what you believed. If you believe a lie, you will live a lie. If your doctrine is off somewhere, it will be reflected in your life. So, as a Protestant, an Evangelical, a Baptist, and a reformed believer, I valued the truth. Correct doctrine was vital. I still believe that is true. But there is one thing more to remember...

In today's modern churches, I speak here mainly of the fundamentalist, evangelical, and especially Baptist types, we have come to believe that getting people to make a decision for Jesus is everything. This has become so important to us that one pastor friend of mine quipped once "Let's go out and win some to Jesus, then let's go win some more." The matters of true conversion and discipleship were not seen to be as important as the matter of the "decision for Jesus."

Now, I am not against sharing the gospel with lost people. I have been the Director of Evangelism in two different Baptist associations. I love seeing people come to Christ. But there is an important and vital matter to remember. Our mandate from Jesus himself is not to make converts but to make disciples ! Belief, if it not applied to your life, is nothing! Doctrine without application is dead orthodoxy. (Conversely, application without doctrine is fanaticism). As James correctly says, "Faith, if it has not works, is dead." We seek people with a living faith. A faith that both believes and lives.

The need of our day is for true disciples of Jesus. The churches are filled with people who profess faith in Christ while living daily in their pet sins. Indeed, our churches are bloated with numbers of professing believers who do not bother to appear in church even once a year! As I recently candidated for a church to pastor, I remember seeing the numbers on one church that claimed to have nearly 1200 on the membership roll, yet had less than 100 in average Sunday morning worship attendance. Where is the heart for the Lord Jesus Christ?

Jesus told the parable of the pearl of great price. The pearl was of such value that the landowner was willing to give up everything he had to possess it. The pearl of great price is Jesus! But where do we find those who are willing to give up all to possess him? They seem few and far between. Charles Spurgeon, in a sermon, once asked "Here is the day for the man, but where is the man for the day?" Where are those true disciples of Jesus to be found?

My friends, we live in a time of cheap grace and noncommittal Christianity. Everyone wants to be a Christian if it is not inconvenient for them. But the need of the day is for those who believe right and live what they believe. The need of the day is for those who hold Jesus as their first love, who will possess him at any price. Because the one witness that the devil cannot foil is a person who holds to the truth of the Holy Scriptures and lives a holy life both publically and privately. When orthodoxy and orthopraxis are joined in the same person, you will find a bright light shining before men. The Bible says "This is the day of salvation..." If you have not done so before, let this be the day you settle the issue between you and God. If Jesus is your savior and the Lord is your God ... then let Him be your God. Serve Him holding nothing back, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. Anything less is hypocrisy.

Find the place where lovers of truth are living holy lives and you will find the power of God moving in that place. May it ever be found wherever the Name of Jesus is known.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Lordship Salvation Redux

The other night I had a most unhappy experience. I was in a chat and a friend came in and started talking about the difference between "real calvinists" and fake "modern calvinists." In his definition real calvinists believed that one was justified when they gave assent to the facts of the gospel message apart from any evidence of genuine faith. Thus, assent to the gospel facts was his defintion of faith. This sounded a lot (to me) like the same kind of thing I was reading about on another blog. On the "Free St. Georges" blog the author was discussing "Sandemanianism." This is essentially defined as the same thing my friend was defending in the chat room. And I told him so.

The whole question was debated in the late 1980s in the modern era, with the release of the book "The Gospel According to Jesus" by Dr. John MacArthur. MacArthur argued against the "assent to the gospel facts" argument. He reasoned that "saving faith" was a faith that works. Martin Luther had a quote that would find great affirmation in MacArthur's heart. Luther said "Faith alone saves, but the faith that saves is never alone." No, not ever alone because it has Christian works that accompany it. If one is born again, a child of God, a slave of the Lord Jesus Christ then that person will live like it. If that lifestyle is missing, than what makes one think they have genuine saving faith? MacArthur, in his book, argued that when one takes Jesus as savior, one also explicitly takes Jesus as Lord and God also. If one does not, they have not genuinely been converted.

His argument was aimed at the "carnal Christian" crowd who taught that the decisions to become a Christian and to become a disciple are two different decisions. Thus one could make a decision to become a Christian and be saved from damnation and still choose against becoming a follower of Jesus. So a person could confess Jesus as savior and Satan as Lord. MacArthur argued such things ought not to be! The puritan Joseph Alleine spoke about the danger of thinking one could take Christ in parts. He said one takes all of Christ or he takes Christ not at all. This is precisely MacArthur's argument.

In the parable of the sower, Jesus spoke of four kinds of heart that dealt with the word of God. One received it not at all and nothing happened with the word in the life of that person. Another received it gladly and it took a little root. But the love of sin choked the word to death and it produced no fruit. Yet a third received the word gladly and it took some root. But the cares of the world choked it out and it produced nothing. But, Jesus said, in the heart prepared to receive the word, it took root in good ground and produced fruit, some 30, some 60, some 100 fold. Only the fourth heart was genuinely saved. How do we know? It produced fruit. Some a little (30 fold) and some a lot (100 fold). In the interest of not running on all day, I will only mention in passing the admonitions in the book of James that tell us that faith without works is dead.

Sandemanianism is a bad teaching. It sets up a mindset that allows one to think they are going to heaven when in fact, they are not. It ought to be opposed when it is found. MacArthur was right. One takes Jesus as Lord and savior. Don't be fooled by cheap substitutes. Salvation is a life changing, miraculous encounter with the Living God. Old things have passed away, behold! All things have become new! Mere assent to a set of facts will never produce a heart changing lifestyle. Only an encounter with God can do that. Saving faith is a living faith. Anything less is simply cheap grace.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunrise on a New Day

I have often compared a pastor's time in a church to a day. There is a sunrise and a sunset. When I first started this blog I spoke of the sun having set on my ministry time in Minot, North Dakota. And so it has. By many signs, God made it clear that my time here as a pastor at North Hill Baptist Church had come to an end.

But it is said that when God closes one door He opens another. For me that other door was shown to me last weekend when I travelled to Davenport, Iowa to preach for the congregation of New Life Baptist Church. This was a very gracious congregation who treated me and my son like minor royalty while we were there. They were far more kind to us than we deserved to have them be. While I was there, I heard no one make any negative comments about me being considered for their pastorate. I left with a really good feeling about them.

I have been in prayer all week. Yesterday, the head of their search committe, Brother Dave, called me to remind me that they would call me today (Sunday, August 13th) and tell me if they voted to hire me. I didn't tell the fine brother that my every thought all week was centered on their call to me today around noon.

Just before noon today, Brother Dave called to say that, by a 96% majority, the church had voted to offer me their pastorate. I had already been in much prayer about it and felt that there were many advantages to me and my family by making this move. I accepted their call. So, as of noon today, the sun has risen on a new day of ministry for me.

During the time I have been searching for a church to pastor, many friends have held me and my family up in prayer. To all of you who read this. You have been most kind to think of us and keep our names in the ears of God. I thank you all very much.

Now, I covet new prayers. I have a new congregation. No doubt there will be much to learn. This is a different kind of church than any I have pastored in the past. It will push me to grow and to become more than I am. Pray for me, that wisdom, purity of life and humility at the task will be my possessions. Pray for New Life Church, that God will grant them graciousness in living through my voibles and stumbling as I learn and settle into this new ministry. Pray that we might be a light of truth and of faith to the people of Davenport and the midwestern United States. We have a great God, pray we will believe Him for great things.

Again, I thank all of you for your help and support. May God bless you all.

Friday, August 11, 2006

No Admin in the Room

I have a small confession to make. One of my vices is a fondness for a certain voice chat area on the Internet. I go there and I can talk to friends from all over the world. It is not like the text chat rooms where you have to type everything you want to say into text. In the voice rooms, you speak into your microphone and the others in the room can hear your voice in "real time" chat. It is kind of neat. I have met folks from England, Wales, Ireland, China, Australia, New Zealand and other places. Like I said, it is neat.

Now, each voice chat room is opened by an "admin" who has the power to police the room and make sure people obey the rules. If rules are broken, the admin has the power to "dot" a person, which takes away their ability to talk or post in a text box in the room. If a person misbehaves badly enough, they can be "bounced" or "booted" from the room. This keeps them from returning to that particular room for 24 hours. Repeat offenders can be banned, which bars them from ever coming in again. So, the admins have the power to see that everyone behaves well.

I was in a room the other night when the admin's voice capability went out. He could not hear anything being said. He left the room so that he could reboot the chat program to see if that would fix the problem. The second he left the room though, someone said out loud "There is no admin here right now." The implication was that now that there was no one in charge, we could all behave badly. Now, in the room I was in, we did not indulge ourselves. But it got me to thinking...

Our Christianity is easy to live out when we are around other people, people who can keep us in line. But the real test of a Christian is the type of Christian we are when we are alone. Many of us Christians live with the motto "Out of sight, out of mind" when it comes to God. We don't see Him with us so we tend to do what we want when we are alone. I am reminded here of a Martin Luther quote "You say you are a child of God? Good. Now go live as you wish." Of course, he means go live as you wish in light of the fact that you are a child of God. That ought to be our heart when we are in a crowded church and when we are alone in our cars, or wherever we are at the time. In a crowd or by ourselves, our deepest desire ought to be to live as though we are children of God.

Beloved, we are the people of God. Kings and priests in the kingdom of Heaven. Slaves of the Lord Jesus Christ. His brothers. Adopted children in the family of God. We shouldn't have to have an "admin" to make us behave. It ought to be our nature.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Essence of Worship

The classic definition of worship is to bow oneself down in acknowledgement of the worth of someone compared to oneself. Another way of thinking about it when worshipping God is that in the act of worship you humble yourself and acknowledge how "low" you are compared to God's infinite exaltation. But I want to offer you this ... the essence of worship is obedience to the word of God.

I think of how many times I see and hear about people who read the Bible and then try to change the plain meaning of the verses and passages to allow them to continue in some sin they are attached to. But true worship receives the word of God as a good and holy thing and then (in obedience to the received word) we change ourselves to conform to the word. We are supposed to change to match what the word says ... not change the word to match the favotire passing fancy of the world around us.

Failure to do this is the essence of worldliness, which is the opposite of holiness. We are warned in scripture that friendship with the world is to be an enemy of God. Why? Friendship with the world leads to sin which is rebellion against God's word. And again, scripture says that rebelion is the same as the sin of witchcraft. The cure for worldliness is holiness, which is grown in us as we become more and more obedient to the word of God.

We were not saved to take Jesus as our savior and live with Satan as our Lord. No! We were saved for good works, which God had ordained beforehand that we should walk in them. We were saved so that our light would so shine before men that they would see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven because of them. We were saved to be living epistles to the truth that God saves from sin. We are God's letter written to the world. Our lives are the contents of that letter.

Beloved, let us never forget, we are saved by the Spirit and the Word, and we are changed by the Spirit and the Word. Coming into conformity with what the Bible says is the recipe for growing in Christlikeness. And that is why we are saved.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

An Objective Truth

I saw a liberal Baptist the other day say that one did not necessarily have to believe that Jesus was a real person in order to be a Christian. If one believed in the "idea" of Jesus and followed his teachings as set down in the Bible, then in so far as you were a "follower of the biblical Jesus" you were a Christian. I wanted to dispute that idea. It is fundamentally flawed and I want to show why.

The idea that we can learn to be good by learning to follow the ways of Jesus as told in the Bible finds it's root in a teaching called "pelagianism." Pelagius was a British monk who denied the doctrine of original sin and taught that humans were born innocent. We were sinners because we learned to become sinners by copying the role models we had around us. We could learn to become righteous if we had a righteous role model to copy. He believed that was what Jesus was, a righteous role model for us to follow. In other words, man saved himself by learning to become righteous by copying the lifestyle of Jesus as told to us in the Bible. Pelagius did not deny the historicity of the man Jesus Christ. But you can see that once Jesus' work for us is bound up in being only an example, then the need for there to be a real Jesus falls away. If we have the stories of his life then it does not matter of Jesus the man is fact or fiction. Pelagius was condemned as a heretic, but hsi heresy lay in his denial of original sin and the doctrines he derived from that. It is liberal "Christians" of today that deny that Jesus ever lived.

But man has a real problem. Contrary to Pelagius, man is born in sin and is alienated from God from conception. Our alienation is so thorough that there is nothing we are capable of to remedy the situation. We are (as the Bible says) without hope in the world. But what man cannot do for himself God does for us. God came to us in the person of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus lived a sinless life and died a criminal's death so that he could be the substitute for our sins. Jesus took on himself what we deserved to have done to us. Our sins were counted to him so that his sinless life could be counted to us. We know these things to be true because the resurrection of Jesus from the dead announces God's satisfaction with the atoning work of Jesus. Now for all this to be true, it must have happened in time and space. In other words, not as a fiction, but as a fact. Otherwise the atonement is a sham. It is a story devoid of substance. we would be putting the hope of our eternal souls in a bloody fairy tale.

Our salvation is wrapped up in real events. There is a virgin birth, a babe in a manger, a child about his Father's business, a sinless life that was actually lived, a real atoning death on a real blood stained cross and a real glorious resurrection and real hope of eternal life for all who believe. It does matter whether or not you believe Jesus actually lived. Without a real Jesus, you cannot have a real savior. When the angel announced the miraculous birth to Mary he said "You shall call his name 'Jesus' for he shall save his people from their sins." A real savior for real people. It has to be that way.