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 Taz.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

No Wonder

I was going to let this pass, but I can't. I have to make some comment.

Is it any wonder that Evangelicals have lost credibility in the world? I read where Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) is going to begin to offer a degree (yes, an accredited degree) in Christian Homemaking.

Now I am a big believer in education. Education is power. It dispels ignorance. It sheds the light of knowledge on the things of our world. I believe everybody ought to have as much education as they can get. But this is .... well .... just silly.

I am reluctant to criticize those who have more education than I do, especially within the realms of their expertise. But this is one thing that just leaves you scratching your head like you do when you see something, and you are sure of what you saw, but you just can't believe you saw what you saw. You know what I mean?

Well, mark this one down ... Southern Baptists did it first.

A Pet Peeve and a Challenge

In the early days of this blog I made a post (no, I am not inclined to hunt it down and link to it) in which I argued that calvinists have a high doctrine. And having a high doctrine brings with it added responsibility. If our doctrine is as good and as pure and as God-glorifying as we claim it is, then we ought to be the best examples of Christians that are alive. That is, if we are living out the things that we say we believe.

But, let us be honest, a lot of times that is not the way it is. Now, let me caveat this post by admitting there are good calvinistic Christians who ought to be held up as examples to us all. The names of Christians like John Piper, Albert Mohler, Tom Ascol, and others should be familiar to us for their examples of true Christian living. But instead of living what we say and following the examples of scripture and of the good men and women the Lord has gifted to us, too often our high doctrine is an occassion of pride and sin to us. Paul warned us not to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

And I write today about calvinists, but I think this charge can rightly be made of many Christians, not just calvinists. The more pure you think your doctrine is, the closer you ought to come to getting Christianity right. But what are calvinists (and more broadly Evangelicals) known for? For pride, schism, anger, meanness, shrill voices, anti-intellectualism, harsh treatment of people, slander, rumor mongering, and so on. The very things we should not be known for are the very things people often attach to our names.

I offer these few suggestions, and yes, I speak to myself here, because I am often known for the very things I hate as much as I am known for the things I love. First, we need to remember that Christianity is a life to be lived, not only a doctrine to be professed. We say "Right belief leads to right living." And so it does. But note this thing, the two items are connected. If there is right belief there must be right living. They are not separate things or divorced from each other, but integral parts of each other.

Second, knowing that the first thing is true, we must determine to live our profession, and I would start with this ... simple Christian courtesy. I mean, can we not start by simply learning to be nice to people? We live in a day when civility seems to be a foreign concept. Young people have forgotten (or never have been taught) what common courtesy is all about. I confess many older people have forgotten too.

Third, I offer a reformation of the mind. Let's set our minds on things above, on heavenly things. Let's practice thinking the best of people and assigning pure motives to people. We have become worldly in our thinking and in so far as we have let our minds become filled with worldly things we have taken to ourselves the world's way of reasoning. We think the worst of people and assign perverse and profane motives to everything we see. Instead of being pure minded we let our minds live in the gutter. If we are inclined to think the best, we will be quicker about demosntrating that simple civility I mentioned a moment ago.

I am sure many other things can be mentioned, but what a change could be made if we did just the few things I have mentioned here! The world and the Church is filled with false professors and hypocrites. Isn't it time we started to become the people we say we are? I say yes. I have heard the term "Christian statesmen" used. I have also heard that there are so few of them around today. But I think every one of ought to be a Christian statesman, if in fact, we are followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Our homes, our workplaces, our cities ought to be better places because we are Christians. Calvinists and non-calvinists, I implore you, let's make it so.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Reformation Day

On October 31st, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesises to the door of the city church in Wittenburg, Germany. Luther, an Augustinian monk and priest, disagreed with the way the sellers of indulgences (official writs promising the forgiveness of sin) were seeming to sell salvation for money. Thanks to a benevolent prince and the movable type printing press, Luther's document became the spark that ignited the Protestant Reformation.

It is good and right that we remember him and his work on this day. So much of the day is given over to Halloween and the festivities of darkness. Fantasy, make believe, ghosts, goblins, and ghouls make up the day in the minds of most. But Christians can rightly look at the day as a celebration of the recovery of the biblical gospel from obscurity.

The true gospel had been preached in the Roman Church. We see this by the many reform movements that had sprung up from time to time. But each reformer, without protection and without a way to get their message out to all corners of the Church, each was isolated and cut off. Each one was martyred. Eventually, the Roman Church became drunk with secular power and greed. The gospel was a dim flicker that might have been extinguished.

Then comes Luther. The torments of this monk's soul opened him up to the truth of the scriptures when he saw it for himself. That flicker of truth became a wildfire of light. The course of world history was changed by it. It was Luther's exposure to the word of God that showed him this gospel truth. One of my favorite Luther quotes comes from his audience with the Emperor at the Diet of Worms. He said "My conscience is captive to the word of God."

Later reformers would expound on how God works by word and Spirit. The Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures are the instruments of God's work in men's hearts. Luther saw this and reminded the Church of what they should have known all along. Many heard and today there are hundreds of thousands of Christians who worship in churches that trace their spiritual lineage to the Reformation started by Martin Luther.

This October 31st, let's all turn our minds to the things of God and remember the simple gospel of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. A gospel recovered for us by a little German monk in a small city in eastern Germany. The right man, at the right place, at the right time. Truly, God works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Mississippi Valley Baptist Church

Well, by now it is no secret that things did not work out at the church that hired me and brought me to Davenport. After five weeks of work I resigned after being hit with a firestorm of criticism I had no warning was on the way. You had to be there.

But I believe all things happen for a reason. I believe God moved me to Davenport and left me with no church for a purpose. This past Tuesday as I prayed the idea of planting a new church in Davenport began to grow in my mind. I started making some contacts and researching resources and found that such a thing was more than possible. Today, I started touching base with those folks who would form the center of the "core group" at the church. I found no barriers at all to the work. Everyone I talked to was enthusiastic to support it.

In Davenport and Bettendorf, the two cities on the Iowa side of the Mississippi River, there are two Southern Baptist churches. There is one in Davenport, and one in Bettendorf, reaching approximately 200,000 people. I saw the possibility to plant a new work and never compete with either of the two existing churches.

There is much work yet to do. I have to talk with the Associational Missionary and the folks at the state convention office. Friends of mine from all over the country are already praying for this new work.

So, sometime before December, we will hold the first services of the newly forming Mississippi Valley Baptist Church in Davenport. I will be shifting from being a full time pastor to be a bi-vocational pastor/church planter. These are big changes for me and my family. Pray for us as God brings us to your mind. Our intent is to grow the church mostly by evangelism and missions. I have received initial commitments from about 20 people who are willing to be involved in this new work. Pray for them. There is a lot to do but then, there is a lot to be done for the Lord. Pray for me. I am not young and making a change like this at my age is not an easy thing. Hold us (my wife and I), I beg you, and the congregation of the new Mississippi Valley Baptist Church up in your prayers. Lord knows, we need it.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Reflections on Elections

That is, speaking of the political elections coming up in a couple of weeks. This time of year (near election time) is always interesting to me. The TV and radio ads, the print ads, the debates and the stories about each candidate's positions fascinate me. I don't have too much to say about elections, but I wanted to toss in my two cents for fun.

Our duty as Christian citizens of the United States is to pray and to vote according to our consciences. To make an informed vote, we need to be familiar with the candidates and the issues involved. We need to carefully read the initiatives on the ballots and vote with the knowledge of what we are voting for (or against).

Above all, we need to remember one important thing... we cannot change America through the ballot box. I was around for the "Contract with America" when the Moral Majority helped bring Newt Gingrinch and the Republican Party into power. I will tell you the truth, in all the time the Republicans have run things, it occurs to me that they do things a lot like the Democrats do things. They talk about the social issues that are deemed important to Christians, but we have not seen any substantial moral gains being made. Republican politicians don't seem to be any more moral than Democratic politicians. Through the Presidencies of Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush, we are still talking about the same issues we were discussing 20 years ago. We cannot look to government to make a better America.

We cannot make America a Christian nation by putting the right party into power. No, America does not need Republican leadership or Democratic leadership. If we are going to see lasting moral change in America, it must come from within the Church. Now, I mean we are going to have to get on our faces and pray and beg God for a fresh awakening of His Spirit. Then we need to get out to a lost nation and share the one life giving, life changing message of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. One heart, one life at a time, we can see America become a better place. Not through politics, but through the life changing power of the word of God.

These are a few things we need to remember as we approach the voting booth in a few weeks. Some trust in Presidents, and other trust in Congress, but we will trust in the Name of the Lord our God. And for a Christian, that's the way it ought to be.

Monday, October 23, 2006

A Day of Fasting and Prayer

Songwriter, preacher and Christian statesman Steve Camp is calling on Christians to set aside October 31st as a day of fasting and prayer for reformation, repentence and revival among the churches of the Lord. October 31st is well remembered, not as Halloween, but as the day in 1517 that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesises on the church door in Wittenburg, effectively beginning the Protestant Reformation. It is a good day to choose for an undertaking such as that proposed by Brother Camp.

Author Brian Edwards, in his book Revival! defines revival as a people saturated with God. I have always been moved by that definition. I add my voice to others who encourage all who read these words to set time aside on October 31st for fasting and prayer. May God hear our prayers so that we can once again be "a people saturated with God." Amen?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What Exactly Is A Calvinist?

Much has been written all over blogdom recently about calvinism. Reading various sermons and blogs leaves me with the impression that few people really understand what calvinism really is. Now, smarter people than me have addressed this topic and my meager offering in this blog may not add much to the discussion. However, I really want to say these things.

Calvinism is known by various names. It is also called reformed theology because John Calvin was a second generation Protestant reformer. Reformed theology is set apart from the two sister streams of the Reformation, Lutheranism and the Radical Reformation under Ulrecht Zwingli. Calvinism is also known as the doctrines of sovereign grace or the doctrines of grace for short. But it is most often identified by the name Calvinism after the man who brought this system of theology together in one place for the first time, John Calvin. Calvin was a Frenchman, a lawyer and humanist who found an interest in the writings of Martin Luther. (Calvin was 8 years old when Luther nailed his 95 Thesises to the church door in Wittenburg). In fact, Calvin had been travelling to try to meet Luther when he was sidetracked and brought to Geneva, which would be his home for much of his adult life.

But, that tells us a little of the man but does not answer the question "What is a Calvinist?" Let me offer this beginning definition "A Calvinist is a Christian who strives with his or her all to see God given all the glory for all things." This includes seeing God glorified in scripture, in worship, in our salvation, in our homes, in our work, in our everyday lives, indeed, in all things. A Calvinist sees man, compared with God, far, far, beneath God. Calvinism then is a way of thinking, a worldview. It colors and filters everything we see, hear and process.

Calvinism is best known however, by the 5 points of calvinism. These are 5 doctrinal positions formulated at the Synod of Dortrecht (in Holland) in response to a 5 point argument made by the followers of a Dutch theologian, Jacob Arminius. Arminius felt that Calvin did not give man's free will enough credit for it's (free will's) ability to resist God. After Arminius had died, his followers formed a Remostrance, a petition to the Dutch church requesting that certain points of reformed doctrine be replaced with those set forth in Arminius' writings. The Synod examined the Remonstrace and determined that Calvin's position was the biblical one. So, against the 5 points of the Remonstrance, they set the Canons of Dort. These Canons are also called the 5 points of calvinism. They are (with a short explanation) as follows:

Total depravity: Because of Adam's sin in the Garden of Eden, man is completely infected with sin in every one of his faculties. His mind, body, will, emotions, desires ... every part of him, is infected with sin. Therefore, man is completely unable to assist in his own salvation. Any work we would offer to God would be corrupted by sin. In short then, all we have to offer God is sin. If salvation is going to happen, it is going to have to come from God first.

Unconditional election: God has chosen, out of the mass of sinful humanity, to save some. This election or choice by God is based on nothing from man. Man has nothing to offer. God's choice is based on His own gracious love and if there is a condition on those He has chosen, it is hidden in the secret counsels of God and is not known to men. This group, called the elect, the sheep, the Church and other names, is a numberless multitude that no man can count. It is drawn to Christ from every language group, every tribe, every nation, every people on earth. A vast people given to Christ for the purpose of bringing glory to Him (Christ) first on earth, then eternally in heaven.

Limited atonement: This doctrine says that when Christ came to the earth, he intended to make an effectual atonement for the ones God had chosen to save. Since Jesus is God, his death has infinite value, however, it's application is only to those who believe. Many calvinists prefer the term particular redemption rather than limited atonement. A favorite saying is that Christ's death is "Sufficient for all; efficient for the elect."

Irresistable grace: God comes to those He has chosen in an act of grace, that is, not us first coming to Him, but Him first coming to us. Through the agency of the Word (Holy Scripture) and the Spirit, God (who is God) works in the hearts of His chosen to bring them powerfully to Himself. Though a person may seem to resist God for a time, God's purposes will ultimately prevail and the sinner will come to Christ. God makes the sinner willing in the day of His power.

Perseverence of the Saints in God: God's work will persevere to the end in the life of the person whom the Lord has saved. Therefore, the end of our salvation is dependent on God and not on us. Thus, God is the Author and Finisher of our faith. The true saint, the one who is genuinely born again, cannot ever be damned to hell.

Many who are not calvinists rail against these five doctrines. They argue that man is more powerful than what is allowed for in these doctrines and that man must cooperate with God in coming to salvation. Jonathan Edwards, the 18th century New England puritan said it well when he said that "God does all and man does all. All that God calls for a corresponding response from men. Yet, at no point can man act without God so that man cannot credit himself for his own salvation at any point." But the critics of calvinism are wrong is saying this a cooperative work. God acts, we respond. But it is not God doing part and man doing part. It is God working and man receiving by faith the work that God has done.

One can see then, that calvinist doctrine leaves man utterly dependent on God for his salvation. In this, the calvinist sees the fulfillment of the Latin term soli Deo gloria - to God alone be the glory. It is this desire to see God glorified for all things, in all things that marks the calvinist above all other things. The calvinist is a helpless worm of a sinner who has nothing to offer God except the filth of sin and his own wretchedness. The calvinist knows that if he is saved, it is because God has loved him in spite of what he is and that God sought him out and drew him to Himself. The calvinist knows that God has miraculously changed him and made him into something new. By God's power, by God's love, God saves sinful men. The one who knows this ... that is the calvinist.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Roaring Lion Seeking to Devour

The devil is described in scripture as a roaring lion going to and fro seeking for someone to devour. This is a seriously true statement. Satan, I think, does not seem to bother those Christians and those churches that do not seem to be bothering him.

But there are churches and Christians that are strong in the things of God. They are busy for the kingdom and are people of prayer, of scripture and united in the love of Christ. It is these churches that would be the targets of the devil's schemes.

Paul says we are not ignorant of the devil's devices. We need to look among us (yes, the greatest attacks on the church have come from within), and look for evidences of the devil's work. Beloved, hear me. Slander, gossip, rumors, anger, pride, self centeredness, hard hearts, frustration, and so on ... these are the tools of the devil. Recognize them for what they are. Our God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all. Beware then of things done in the dark. Secret meetings, back room deals, cover ups and so forth ... these are not the tools of one who is walking in fellowship with the Light. These are the tools that will tear up a church.

So, what do we do? Learn what these tools are and purpose in our hearts to have nothing to do with them. We are ambassadors of Christ, not tools of Satan. When you see a brother or sister falling into one of them, confront them about it and remind who they are emulating at that moment. Pray for your brothers and sisters and always look for ways to enlarge your heart with love towards them. The tools of the devil find it hard to gain a foothold in a loving heart.

Churches are to be known for the quality of the love that Christians have for one another. This will never be so long as we give Satan free reign among us to use his tools on us. Sooner or later, someone ... maybe you ... has to stand up and say "Devil, you're not using me! You'll find no foothold in my heart!" I pray you'll make that commitment now.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Church For All Nations

God spoke through the Prophet Isaiah and said that "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:7). I have always enjoyed that verse. It spoke to my heart. But I wonder if that is the way it really is?

It has been said that 11:00 Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in America. We tend to go to churches made up of people who are just like we are. Whites end up in white churches. Blacks end up in black churches. And so it goes. Now, before you mention it, I admit a part of that is because of culture. However, my post today goes to the heart of the Christian.

The book of Revelation says that God is calling people to Himself out of the world "from every tongue, tribe, nation and people." God's people are being gathered from all over the world, out of every people group on the planet. And we are all bound together in the bonds of love by the Holy Spirit. If that is so, our hearts need to be open to all people.

Ask yourself, what would be your reaction if, next Sunday, every empty seat in your church was filled with someone of a different ethnic background than yourself? Let me be more specific. If your church is predominantly white, consider all the empty seats in your church and imagine if next Sunday morning, every empty seat was filled with a black person. Or a hispanic person. What is they were filled with prostitutes? What about gang members? The number of mixes and matches of people groups are endless.

Most churches would be so far out of their comfort zone that they would drive the invaders (or so they would be treated) "out from among them." See ... they say they are open to God's people but they really want people like themselves to populate their church. They really don't want "outsiders."

But if we are going to be the churches that God intended us to be, we need to be churches that belong to God above all else and be houses of prayer for all nations. If we are going to survive as churches and as Christians as the 21st century progresses, we are going have to stop segregating ourselves from other peoples in our church fortresses. We are going to have to open our doors and our hearts to every body. Good grief ... isn't it about time?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Mature Christian 1

Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3, that no matter how good you are at everything else, if you don't have love, you are nothing. John MacArthur calls love the characteristic of a mature Christian. I actually count two other things in that list ... holiness and an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ. But love is what matters most in this particular post on this blog.

Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another." From that I note the following things...

The love that Christians have for one another is different in kind than the love the world displays. Secondly, love is seen. People see the love Christians have for one another. Third, it is by the demonstration of love that the world will mark us as followers of Jesus Christ. If you put all that together, the quality of love displayed between Christians is of such a quaility that even unsaved people can see how we love each other and mark us as Christians.

Too often though, love is set forth as a theory in our churches. It is something taught about but not often practiced. We talk about the things of the Spirit but we live in the flesh. But it is easy to live in the flesh. Living in the things of the Spirit is work. It is easier to default to the effortless way. We default to worldly behaviors.

But doctrine without application is worthless. Brothers and sisters, we need to stop being hearers of the word and begin to be doers. We need to be lovers of our neighbors, just like Jesus told us, and lovers of our Christian brethren above all. Isn't it about time?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Lordship Salvation - My Two Cents

In late 1988, the Air Force sent me to be stationed at a small Air Station in northern Germany. When I arrived, I found an American Missionary Church. It was a Baptist church being pastored by a missionary from the US. I remember on the first Sunday I attended, on entering the main room, I was asked (first thing) "What's your stand on "MacArthurism"?" I was at a loss as to how to answer. I knew I had listened to John MacArthur when I was in the US on his Grace To You radio show. I knew his books had blessed me. But I did not know that MacArthur denied that the blood of Jesus saved us and that he taught a works based salvation that negated grace.

Now, as Paul the Apostle would say, I speak like a fool. MacArthur does neither of those things. But such was my introduction into the Lordship Salvation controversy. In short, the controversy is this ... is the act of taking Jesus as one's Lord and God a separate act from receiving Jesus as your savior? If you say "yes" you are on the "anti-lordship" side. If you say "no" you are a lordship salvation advocate. MacArthur said "no." After many years of study and having attended churches led by proponents of both sides, I am convinced that MacArthur was right.

The Apostle Paul told the Philippian jailer "If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ you can be saved." In this passage Paul connects believing in Jesus with believing he is Lord.

A friend once asked me what I thought was the mark that identified a Christian. I thought about it and decided that a desire to be obedient to God was the mark that was first and foremost in every Christian's heart. Not only the mature Christian but also the brand new Christian wants to be obedient to God. The taking of Christ as savior and Lord is instinctively true with us.

Yet, the anti-lordship side says that if you tell a sinner they need to take Christ as savior and Lord you are mixing works with grace and therefore, negating the gospel. They argue that one first takes Jesus as savior and then later chooses to take him as Lord. The name they have for a Christian who has Jesus as his savior but not as his Lord is carnal Christian. They will say the best circumstance is if one would take Jesus as savior and Lord at the same time, but that this is not a requirement to be saved.

Believing on Jesus means to believe in who he is and what he has said he has done. Jesus is the Son of God and God the Son. Part of being saved is believing that Jesus is God. Taking Jesus as your savior is an acknowledgement of Jesus as your God. This is a basic nod towards trinitarian theology. You cannot separate Jesus' work as savior from his divinity. They go hand in hand.

The puritan preacher Joseph Alleine said "No one takes Jesus in parts. One takes all of Christ or one has not taken any of Christ." Read that again. That man has spoken truth.

Beloved, beware of this carnal Christian teaching. It is found nowhere in the Bible and it works against God's plans for your salvation. Take Christ and take him completely. Take him all and hold nothing back in doing so. If you are going to be a Christian, then BE a Christian. It is what we are.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

An Old Misconception Revisited

It is often said (and believed in many places) that a belief in the doctrines of sovereign grace (nicknamed "calvinism") will kill an evangelistic and missionary spirit in a person. The truth is that the exact opposite is true.

Now, there is a thing out there called "hyper-calvinism." I have written about it before. Hypers do indeed lack an evangelistic and missionary spirit. That is part of why hyper-calvinism is heretical. Let me be perfectly clear. Hyper-calvinism is a heresy. It is bad. It goes beyond what the Bible says and therefore it draws unbiblical conclusions. Avoid it when you find it. It has no place in Southern Baptist life.

But "Biblical Calvinism" does. Biblical calvinism is the calvinism of Charles Spurgeon, John Brodus, James Boyce, Albert Mohler, and others. It is biblically founded and warmly evangelistic. It is a calvinism against which no one in our great Convention would argue. It is the type of doctrine that we all (in my opinion) should aspire towards.

Biblical calvinism is compelled by the scriptures to go into the world preaching the gospel. In fact, it is this kind of calvinism that gives us hope for success. Since God's elect can be found among people of every tongue, tribe, nation, and ethnic group, and since the Spirit works through the hearing of the scriptures, if we are faithful to go with the word, there are people who will eventually believe and be saved. Everywhere!

Also, Christ commanded his people to go and make disciples. This command is mentioned, in one place, in the Great Commission. This alone is enough to send a biblical calvinist into the streets with the gospel because the desire of every calvinist is obedience to God.

And yet there is another reason. Calvinists understand that God called us out of the world to be a people who are set apart to Him alone to bring glory to His Name. Yet, there are places in the world where the Name of Christ is unknown and therefore, He is not glorified there as He ought to be. God seeks those who worship Him in Spirit and in truth. How can they worship Him who they do not know? Therefore, for the glory of God we are driven into the highways and byways, to every corner of the globe to make the Name of Christ known among the nations. His glory compels us.

The myth is that if you are a calvinist and believe God has an elect people that He Himself has chosen, then you must be against missions and evangelism because (they say) there is no reason to go into the world with the gospel. But a biblical calvinist knows that God works through the word and the Spirit to bring people to Christ and they go bearing precious seed (the word of God). Men like Charles Spurgeon, Dr. Livingstone, Hudson Taylor, William Carey, Luther Rice, and many other missionaries and evangelists have been calvinists. Even though this myth is given a wide hearing and is beleived, even among the well educated in our Convention, it ought to be challenged and dismissed wherever it is found. The only biblical calvinist is one who is not only doctrinally minded, but evangelistic and missions minded too. And that's that truth!