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, January 26, 2007

Ecclessia Reformata et Semper Reformanda

Those words are the Latin phrase for "The Church reformed and always reforming." It was a motto that came out of the Protestant Reformation. Many however, have forgotten that it is one of the most important principles that the Reformers taught.

In the 1500s, the Church of Rome had become corrupt and filled with all error. The decrees of the Council of Orange, that set down the fact that sinners were utterly dependent on God for His grace and their salvation, had been ignored in favor of a Pelagian like doctrine of man and God cooperating together through the sacraments of the Church to bring men into a right relationship with God. Priests and monks, oftentimes, could not write or read and so had little access to the Bible and any type of Bible scholarship. Therefore they taught what seemed right and good to them. Because of this, error and superstition was rampant in the Church. Beyond all this, the Roman Church had subjugated kings and princes from every nation so that each paid homage to Rome. Therefore the Roman pontiff ruled the world through the Church and was drunk on wealth and political power.

Into this mix came one man with a tormented soul who was looking for the way that a condemned sinner could be made right with God. Martin Luther said that when he saw the truth of Romans 1:17 "The just shall live by faith ..." it was like light from heaven had pierced his soul. He saw the great Bible truth that salvation was by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. When he realized that the indulgence preachers were, in effect, selling salvation, he challenged them to show their practices were legitimate according to the Bible. Luther understood that men are sinful and corrupt and therefore we need a source and standard of truth that does not come from men. We need one from God Himself. And we have it, in the Bible. Thus Luther was able to say once, "If a man would hear the voice of God, let him read scripture." At the Diet of Worms (pronounced Dee+eet of Vorms) he confessed "My conscience of captive to the Word of God."

Luther and the Reformers who came after him began a movement of "protest" against the system of the Roman Church. They wanted to re-form the Church under a biblical authority instead of the Popes. Thus came the doctrine of sola scriptura, that nothing is binding on the beliefs or life of a Christian unless it can be plainly proven from scripture. When Rome countered this reform movement and condemned it at the Council of Trent, a breach or schism occurred with the Protesters leaving the Roman Church and taking the gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone as the banner of their movement. They began to move the Church under the authority of Jesus as He has given us His word through inspired writers in scripture.

But the Reformers knew that the work of reform is never finished. It is not enough to begin, but the work is always ongoing. Men, in their depravity, will corrupt everything they touch. So, everything, and I mean everything, has to be tested against the standard of truth, the Bible. Every doctrine and every practice had to be tested (and still has to be tested) to see if it conforms to what the scripture requires. That is part of what it means to be a "people of the Book."

But the work of testing every belief and practice against the Bible is impossible if people do not know what the Bible teaches. This is where we find ourselves today. There has never been a time in America when so much of the population is so biblically illiterate. I laughed when I read of school students who thought that Joan of Arc was Noah's wife. But the statement is more tragic than funny. The other part of being a people of the Book is that we have to be students of the Book. John Bunyan was a prince among puritans. It was said of him that if you were to prick him anywhere, he would bleed "bibline." He would bleed Bible. I wish that could be said about us today.

The Reformers brought a high view of the Bible back into the Church. They gave us expository preaching and verse by verse expositions of scripture. They taught us the deep things of Christ. They reformed the Church back closer to a New Testament model. But the work they started must be continued by us today. They have passed the baton of reformation to us and we need to wonder what kind of Church our children and their children will have (if the Lord tarries) if we are careless and drop the baton of reform.

Beloved, take up your Bible. Read your Bible. Love your Bible. Learn your Bible. Live your Bible. Test every thought, action, doctrine, teacher, preacher, and leader against the standards of scripture. Let us stand with Luther and confess to all "Our consciences are captive to the word of God!" so that one day it might be truly said of us that if we were to be pricked, we too would bleed Bible. Let us go forward bringing every part of ourselves and our churches under the authority of scripture so that we can become living embodiments of the motto "Ecclessia reformata et semper reformanda" "The Church reformed and always reforming." Amen?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Sacrifices of Church Planting

It is a hard thing to plant a new church where one does not currently exist. It is hard for a number of reasons not the least of which is the sacrifices that have to be made to make it all happen.

We, North American Christians, have become used to doing church in a certain way. That "way" colors all our thinking about what is a "real" church. We are used to padded pews and large choirs. There are pianos and organs and arranged music and power point presentations. If any of these elements are missing then we really don't feel like we have been in church.

But a church plant is another kind of experience altogether. Often you sit on what you have. You meet in people's homes, or in unused garages, or in rented buildings. You sing out of left over hymnals given to you by other churches who have worn them out and moved on to buy new ones. Your offering plate is sometimes a cereal bowl. The pews, so called, are not padded. The music is not well rehearsed and accompanied by a multi-piece ensemble. You make due with what you have. You learn to work with what has been given to you. As Clint Eastwood said of his Marines in Heartbreak Ridge ... you learn to "improvise, overcome, adapt."

A lot of people are not willing to give up the safe and comfortable church buildings in order to see a new church raised up. But then again, there are some who are willing to make those sacrifices. They are willing to sit on a floor and sing A Capella and put an offering into a cereal bowl and still call it "church." Jesus promised where two or three were gathered together in His Name, there He is among them.

Church planting is hard work. But it is the type of work that makes one entirely reliant on God. And it is very satisfying to see a new local body arise where one was needed and where it did not exist before. May the Holy God be praised for His Spirit bringing His people together.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Evil on the Loose

Many years ago when I lived in Nebraska, I was the vice president of our local pro-life group. I did then and still do consider abortion to be a great evil that is loose in our land. I do not believe that we can do enough to see abortion erased from the laws of our country. Killing babies, for any reason, is a great moral evil.

But I have become aware of another evil loose in the land. This one is every bit as depraved and corrupt as abortion. But it is one that has not gained the kind of attention that the abortion issue has gained. It is the evil of human slavery, especially the slavery of women and girls to be used in the international sex trade. Let me be more clear. There are women and girls who are being kidnapped from their home countries, or enticed to "volunteer" to be taken from their homes with the promise of jobs and better lives ... who end up being transported across international borders to be used in seedy sex shops in other countries. Much to our national shame, the United States is the recipient of a good percentage of these sex slaves each year. One article I read had the number as high as 30,000 women and girls a year.

But I tell you friends, even 1 is too high a number. This is not a conservative problem. It is not a liberal problem. It is neither Republican nor Democrat. It is a moral problem and therefore, it is a Christian problem. It is a well known quote that "all that is required for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing." Let me suggest a few actions that a concerned person could easily take.

1. Learn about the problem. Ignorance is strength to evil. Knowledge is the power to make changes. Become knowledgeable. 2. Write your senators and congressmen. Tell them you expect to see action taken to make it harder to smuggle women and girls out of and into the United States and that you expect to see harsh penalties enacted for those who do such things. 3. Write the President and tell him you would like to see this problem mentioned in a major speech so that bad guys both inside and outside the US know that the highest authorities in America are aware of what is happening. 4. Preach or teach about this evil in your church. Teach your people what the term "righteous anger" means.

Evil gets by because people do not like to get involved and so evil deeds are rarely confronted. But evil works best in darkness. The more evil is exposed, the harder it is for it to continue "business as usual." We are Christians my friends, we are lovers of truth and we are light in the world. Let's turn our light onto a modern day evil that ought never to be allowed to continue to exist.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

B.A.S.I.C.

The acrostic B.A.S.I.C. was developed, as far as I know, by the folks at Voice of the Martyrs. They are a watchdog group that tracks incidents of religious persecution around the world. The acrostic stands for Brothers And Sisters In Chains. In other venues, it may also stand for Brothers And Sisters In Christ. However, when VOM uses it, it means the former, not the latter.

As I was reading the blogs today, I saw that several had mentioned Christians who were suffering for their faith in Christ. One brother in a Middle Eastern country was sentenced to life in prison because he had gone to the bathroom in a public restroom near a mosque while wearing a cross necklace. Another was sentenced to three years in jail in China for murdering his brother, when his brother had been killed by the police in a beating given for being a Christian.

We can add to that the stories from last year of the Christian girls in Indonesia who were beheaded as they walked home from their Christian school. One picture that was recently shown on the Internet showed a girl whose face had been severely cut by a machete. She escaped alive but her three friends were hacked to death by a mob wielding machetes. Many, many more such stories could easily be found to continue writing about.

There is a cost to being a Christian. The idea of suffering for taking a stand for Jesus may seem foreign to our American way of thinking. We have freedom of religious worship guaranteed to us in our Constitution. We can witness to lost people about Jesus without fear of reprisals. We can find the latest Christian books and music at the local Christian store. We can attend conferences led by the top names in American Christianity almost weekly if we wanted. We can send our children to Christian schools and Christian universities. Through the Internet, we have access to the greatest (and the not so great) Christian writings from 2000 years of Church history. The idea of suffering for Jesus seems like something out of a by gone era.

But there are many in the world for whom such suffering is the reality of their Christian lives. When they took a stand for Jesus and professed him as their Savior and God it cost them. These young (in the faith) have been beaten, jailed, lost jobs, lost families, lost their homes, some have paid for being a Christian with their very lives.

As we look forward to a 2007 filled with promise and advancement, let us not forget our brothers and sisters in chains. Take time to learn about the persecution of Christians around the world. Become aware of what is happening. The Voice of the Martyrs website is a perfect place to begin. http://www.persecution.com/ Pray for your brothers and sisters around the world. Pray that their faith will stand up in the day of testing. Finally, let their example be a catalyst to deepening your faith. Let their faith help to challenge and grow our faith. Let their sufferings help make us better Christians. Amen?

Friday, January 12, 2007

Real Total Depravity

Some years after the death of John Calvin, in Holland, the followers of a Calvinistic theologian named Jacob Arminius presented a document to the state church asking for certain points of doctrine to be reviewed and replaced. This document was known as the remonstrance, and those who presented it were known as the Remonstrants. The document was centered around the writings of Arminius, especially his belief that the work of the Holy Spirit in a person could be effectually resisted by the exercise of the person's free will choices. The document argued for 5 doctrines that the Remonstrants felt needed to be changed in the state church's official doctrinal statement.

The Church of Holland called together a synod, a meeting of church leaders and theologians. After the careful study and debate, the Church issued a document called the Canons of Dort. It was called that because the synod met in the city of Dortrecht in Holland. There were 5 canons, each one addressing one of the 5 points of the Remonstrance. Today, we remember these 5 canons by the acrostic TULIP. This is an English acrostic with each letter standing for the main thought of each of the canons. Since the Dutch Church affirmed the Protestant theology articulated by John Calvin in his book The Institutes of the Christian Religion, this acrostic has come to be called the 5 points of Calvinism. But Calvin himself had long before gone to be with his savior before the 5 points were ever formulated.

The "T" stands for total depravity. It is a teaching that the fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden affected all the parts of the human being. Our minds, our bodies, our wills, our emotions, every part of us was touched by the fall. Hence, it is "total." It is depraved in the sense that the fall sets us against God. We are sinners by nature. We do not become sinners by sinning. We sin because we are sinners.

But I fear that today, the Christian church has come to trivialize total depravity in our handling of it. In my paragraph above, I say "... the fall ... affected all the parts of the human being." It is easy to say and one misses the massiveness of the idea behind it. But in our modern discussions of total depravity, that is what we do. We reduce it to a few words and fail to impart to our hearers the massive break between us and God that is taught in the doctrine of total depravity.

This was brought home to me a few years ago when I was teaching a study on prayer in our church. The author of the study asked if you had ever felt a desire to pray, almost like an inner compulsion, but instead of following through, you went and did something else. I could identify with that. Well, he said that the flesh does not want to do anything holy or pleasing to God and therefore, that desire to pray had to be given to us by the Holy Spirit. It was there and then that an understanding of total depravity came to me. In our flesh we are at enmity to God. There is nothing good in our flesh. We don't want to pray, or read our Bibles, or go to church, or witness, or do any holy thing. If left to ourselves, we would not ever do any of those things. That is why the biblical writers often exhort us to stay close to God and to depend on Him for every good thing. Everything around us and even in our lives, can be used to pull us away from God if we do not cultivate a close, intimate, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly Father. And a humble, loving, obedient walk with God is the only way to live it out.

We are sinners by nature. We can corrupt any thing, even holy things. We are idol worshippers by nature. Therefore, recognizing this, it is all the more important to stay close to the Living God and to stay humble, open and loving to His leading. Total depravity tells us how bad we are compared to God. But far from driving us to despair and hopelessness, it drives us to the foot of the cross where we find a savior who is mighty to save. We do not come to Jesus claiming some sort of right to be saved, but as humble beggars, seeking mercy, we come. As the old hymn says so well "Nothing in my hands I bring, but only to thy cross I cling." Jesus did not come to save the righteous, but he came for sinners. Total depravity tells us what great sinners we are. Great sinners need a great savior. And we find him in Jesus Christ the Righteous. In the end, understanding total depravity brings us to our need for Christ. Honestly, all our doctrines ought to lead us to Christ. Wouldn't you agree?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Into All The World ...

Now that we are nearly a week into 2007, I thought I'd make my first post of the new year. I considered many topics, which is why it took so many days for me to actually post this. But I think the topic of reaching the world for Jesus is probably the post that I want to start the new year off with.

When we think of reaching the world, more often than not, our thoughts go out to foreign mission work. That is good and right. There is a lost world out there who needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Hear me friend, no one gets saved without hearing the gospel and believing it. And, as 1 John 2:2 tells us, there is no other savior for the world except Jesus Christ. Every single day, people die and when they do they will go to one of two places. And there is no hope of eternal life apart from saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We have got to be serious about reaching the world for Jesus.

But there is also another world out there to be reached. It is a world that is almost invisible to most Christians. Maybe it is invisible because our minds have trouble thinking in certain ways. Maybe we just don't want to see it, by and large. It is the world at our doorstep. Beloved, when you walk out of your church at the end of the Sunday service, you step out into the mission field. Our own towns, and cities, and communities are a mission field waiting to be reached. Most of the people you interact with on a daily basis need Jesus just as much as the Arabs, or the Chinese, or the _________________ (fill in the blank). "Behold," Jesus said, "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will send laborers into the field." The fields are all around us. Our families, our co-workers, our friends, and acquaintances are also people who need Jesus. I pray in 2007, the Lord will open our eyes to the opportunities all around us.

As I think about this, there is another thought which intrudes into my head. We seem to see people (most of the time) who are very much like us. But when we look to the life of our Lord Jesus, we see that he spent his time among sinners. If the world is going to be reached, then we Christians are going to have to move out of our comfort zones to reach it. Beyond our families and friends and co-workers and acquaintances, there is another world that needs to be reached. It is the world that no one goes to. It is the world of the drug users, the prostitutes, the criminal, the homeless ... those who are not like us, but who also need to hear the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians can be extremely snobbish in our choices. Calvinists are often chided that they worry about the doctrine of election because we want to pick who we will witness to. As though we go around thinking "this one is elect and this one is not..." As though any human knows that. But I have known many Christians who are extremely selective in who they witness to. Usually, it is people they would "like" to have sitting in church with them on Sunday. Too often the divorced, the single parent, the poor, the infirm, the elderly, those kinds of people who might "bother" us by their presence in "our" church ... they are too often passed by. I tell you ... it is sin to pass them by.

Jesus told us to "go into all the world" ... think! ALL the world. In Revelation we are told that there is a numberless multitude gathered around the throne of God. It is made up of people from every people group on the planet. Every group! God is not going to be glorified as He ought until we get serious about reaching everybody for Jesus ... the desirable and those we (sinfully) consider undesirable.

As we begin 2007, I challenge all who read these words to be serious about reaching the whole world for Jesus Christ. Let's reach out to those near and far, high and low. It is for God to decide who His people are, not us. I pray God will enlarge our hearts so that we don't consider any soul too removed from us that we pass it by with the gospel. May God open all our eyes to His harvest fields and send us as laborers into the fields. Wherever the lost are, that is where we need to be. I pray it will be so. Will you pray too?