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.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"Do Unto Others ..."

This is a reprise of a post I wrote a little bit over a year ago.

Scripture tells us "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." (Matt. 7:12). And most people interpret this passage straightforwardly enough. Whatever you want other people to do you, do that to them. Or, put another way, treat other people the same way you want them to treat you. If a person were to do just this much, they would be doing well.

But I was reading the puritan commentator Matthew Henry on this passage and he added a whole new level of meaning for me. In Henry's thoughts, to be able to do unto others, you first have to put yourself into that person's position and then treat them as you would want to be treated if you were them. Let me explain further. In deciding how to relate to a single mother of two children, first we would have to put ourselves in the place of a single mother of two children and then treat her the same way we would want to be treated if WE were a single mother of two children.

Once you let your mind wrap itself around this idea, the implications can be unsettling if not outright frightening. How would we relate to a prostitute? A skid row drug addict? A teenager struggling with an unwanted pregnancy? A ex-con? The list is endless. But the answer is this ... that we must first put ourselves in their position and then treat them as we would want to be treated if we were them. Then we Christians would come to learn how to "love our neighbor as ourselves..."

It is not enough to simply treat someone well. That is a surface response to Jesus' words. Surface responses are for baby Christians. But the mature believer must go beyond the simple meaning of the words to the intent of the words. To be able to do unto others as Jesus commanded we have to be able to empathize with them. We need to know who the others are before we can do unto them we want to have them do unto us.

Too often communication breaks down because people talk at each other and not to each other. To really communicate we need to be able to "walk a mile in the other person's shoes." When we can see a situation from their point of view, then we are ready to decide how we are going to relate to them.

In my mind, Matthew Henry hit the nail right on the head. He shows us what it really means to go out and obey Jesus' command to "do unto others whatsoever we would have them do unto [us]." In this area, it is time for Christians to quit behaving like children and begin to walk like mature believers.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Who is my Neighbor?

That is the question, isn't it? There is no question at all about the meaning of "love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength." But then there is that "love your neighbor as yourself" line that gives us trouble. It begs the question "Who is my neighbor?"

Many Christians attempt to limit the meaning of "neighbor" to mean only other Christians. Now it is true that we are supposed to love our brothers and sisters in Jesus. Matthew Henry reminds us that the Holy Spirit in us calls out to the Holy Spirit who indwells our brothers and sisters and since God's love for himself is the greatest love of all, the Spirit in us causes us to feel genuine love for those who are also indwelt by the same Spirit.

But according to Strong's concordance, Christ has not given us this option. Not really. According to Strong, Christ intends for this word "neighbor" to mean (to the Christian) any person with whom we are acquainted or any person with whom we might come into contact with. In other words, our neighbor is anyone we know or anyone we come to know. Pretty much any person you have contact with.

Jesus told us that it is easy to do nice things for people who do nice things for us. He said even sinners do the same. But it is harder to do nice things for people who treat us badly. That is the Christian thing to do. Likewise, it is easy to "love" or at least have a genuine fondness for, those who are close to us. It is harder to love those who are unlovable to us yet who the Lord brings into our lives. But that is the Christian thing we are called to do.

The point I want to make with this post is this ... we are most comfortable loving people we are comfortable with. In that, we work hard to shrink the circle of who is our neighbor. We try to make it so that less and less people are our neighbor, so there are less people we have to deal with in order to be obedient to Jesus. But this is a great error. Instead of shrinking our circle, we should be trying to enlarge it as much as we can. We should be liberal, yes, very liberal, in the exercise of our love given to our fellow human beings.

Our neighbor is not a small few whom we have to deal with. It is everybody who crosses our path, no matter how briefly. Our neighbor, frankly, is everyone we meet.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Weapons of our Warfare

Some people just don't get it. I am thinking of two groups of people. One group of people would try to further Christianity and slow the spread of evil by trying to get the right people elected into political office. The other group would try to slow the spread of evil by killing or bombing those they think perpetrate it. Both instances are groups of so called Christian people.

But in all seriousness, we cannot win the world by taking up the weapons of the world. Politics has proven it's inability to help the Church. Not too many years we had a Republican Congress and a Republican President. These were people who all said the right things that Evangelical voters wanted to hear. I was there. I was moved by the rhetoric. But years later, nothing in the nation had really been changed.

Then when you look at the people who think that killing abortionists or blowing up abortion clinics is the way to fight that particular evil. But we still (as a nation) put to death over a million babies a year. And violence has only further hardened the world to the message of new life in Jesus Christ. But even discounting that, for all the ones that have been killed, and the clinics that have been blown up, nothing has really changed.

I recall a quote that said "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." Obviously, using the world's ways has accomplished nothing. Perhaps it is time we started to fight with the weapons that God has given to His Church.

The Church's only weapon against the evil of this world is the Holy Bible. God's Holy Word is truth. The gospel is our message. It is the "power of God unto salvation." We seem willing to trust everything else except the scriptures. We are quick to trust our own wiles and our own power and ignore God's wisdom and God's power. We engage the culture through argument and debate. We write, we teach, we discuss, we debate and we hammer home the truth contained in the scriptures.

Christian, if you feel the need to be armed against the world, don't take up a gun, take up your Bible. The power of the word preached backed up by a holy lifestyle is an argument the devil himself can't refute. We Christians are in a war. We are in combat every minute of every day. Charles Spurgeon once told his church that the Christian life was a battlefield not a playground. We are only given two weapons by God to help us win in our combat, prayer and the preaching of the word. Pity that so few use them.

Antithesis

One thing you don't hear much about in Christian circles is the problem of worldliness. Worldliness is defined as having thinking, actions, or motivations that are the same as those of the unsaved world. Actions, of course, include all sin. But any action motivated by the same motivation as the world (no matter how good or moral that action may be) is a worldly action. Thinking like the world is pretty much self-explanatory. Motivations of the world are allowing your decisions to be caused by the same motives as those that drive unsaved people. Greed, power, hatred, racism, prejudice, lust, and all the attendant other motives are those that make lost people do what they do.

We are called to be different than the world. It is more than simply saying we ought to have higher thinking, actions, and motives as the world has. In the Kingdom of Heaven what is weak in the world is powerful there. What is powerful in the world is weak there. We are supposed to think with the mind of Christ. Our actions are supposed to come from a heart that is free from the slavery to sin. Our motives are to come from the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts shown to us by the Scriptures.

The heart of the Christian is the antithesis of the world. Humility, peace, joy, love, faith, purity, good, right actions, justice, care for the poor, championing the helpless and beaten down. These are the things that drive us. The Christian heart is turned outward. It gives of itself. Above all, we give ourselves to the glory of God. We give ourselves to our fellow Christians, then to our fellow humans, finally we give ourselves to ourselves. But it is us last of all.

This is exactly the opposite of the way the world thinks. Everything is our world screams of self centeredness. But everything is the Kingdom of Heaven screams of "other-centeredness."

I suggest there are times when we need to step back and do a self assessment to make sure we really do think with the mind of Christ, that we really behave in a Christian way, and that our decisions really are based on God-centered motivations. The power of the Church is not to be as much like the world as we can be (and still call ourselves "Christians"). Our power comes from God, who is the antithesis of the world.

Monday, August 11, 2008

May It Never Be Among Christians!

This post is going to be short and to the point.

I was reading my local newspaper late last week. As I turned to the nation section I saw a headline at the top of the page. The headline announced that racism is expected to increase if Barak Obama is elected President. I gave that one a lot of thought.

Racism is to discriminate against a person or group, in any way, based on the color of the person's skin. Christian, listen to me .. may it never be named among us!

Scripture, in Revelation 5 talks about God gathering people to Himself. They come from every tongue, tribe, nation, and people. What is not mentioned there is race. There is only one race of people on the earth ... the human race. We are all descendants of Adam and Eve. We are all children of the sons of Noah. It doesn't matter what color a person's skin is, we are all related to each other. We are all of the same race.

I have a quote on a card that I keep framed on the wall of my office. It is supposed to have come from Pastor Church Swindoll. It says "All of life is 10% what happens to us and 90% how we react to it." Christian, whether Obama is our next President is in God's hands. But whether we choose to hate, or to hate black people or white people or some other people, that is up to us. We have the indwelling Holy Spirit. We are joined with every other Christian in the world. We hear the voice of God. Racism is a sin that ought never to be found in the Christian heart. "Love your neighbor as yourself" ... these are the words of our Sovereign Lord Himself. Let THIS be what we are known for.

If Obama becoming President is enough to make you start wanting to hate black people (or some other group of people) then you seriously need to spend some time on your knees before God's throne. And that is all there is to say about that.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Historical Faith

One charge against Protestant Christians that is often made by Roman Catholics is that Protestants have no connection to a historic faith. They believe the doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and the doctrine of soul liberty (every soul is competent before God to worship for him or herself) create conditions that allows every professing believer to invent a Christianity of their own. In a sense, this is true. But that is a topic for another post.

But the way the Roman Catholics argue it, it is not true. They are arguing that Protestants have cut themselves off from history and therefore, they have no connection to the church of the apostles. I spoke to this topic some months back and I wanted to repost that original post. I find that not only do Roman Catholics get it wrong, but many Protestants are confused about the relationship of tradition to the faith of those who hold to sola scriptura.

In light of that, I offer this explanation again...

Why do we quote the writings of other preachers in our sermons? I have noticed a disturbing trend among some groups of Christians recently. It is disturbing because it opens the door to serious error coming into the Church. It is the tendency to cut ourselves off from church history. When we are cut off from church history then we can't learn the lessons of the church and we do not know the traditions of the church throughout it's history.

Yes, I used the "t" word ... tradition. We Protestants have a bad feeling about that word because of the Roman Catholic teaching that "Sacred Tradition" holds an equal authority over the Church as "Sacred Scripture." But we Protestants hold to sola scriptura (scripture alone) which tells us nothing is binding on the Christian for beliefs and life that cannot be proven from scripture. But there is a tradition of the Church, and yes, we test it against the Bible, yet, we let it also help guide us in our interpretations of the Bible.

If I am reading my Bible and I interpret my Bible a certain way, how can I know my interpretation is an orthodox interpretation? I am defining an orthodox interpretation as an interpretation of scripture which has been allowed as being within the true stream of Christian faith throughout the history of the Church. If I develop an interpretation of the Bible that agrees with a position which the church has held to be heretical, then I need to rethink my interpretation. If I develop an interpretation of scripture and I look back on church history and find that the church has allowed it as an orthodox interpretation, even if it is a minority position, it is still within the boundaries of orthodoxy.

So, why do I quote other preachers when I preach? Because it is important to my people to know that I am not teaching new doctrine. Jude, in his letter, speaks of the "faith once and for all delivered to the saints." There is a body of truth that comprises the "apostolic faith." I want my people to know that what I preach is Christian orthodoxy. By connecting my teaching with the teaching of other credible Christians from the past (and present) I can demonstrate that our teaching and our church is part of the faith stream of historic Christian orthodoxy.

Today, we live in a time when people have a "blender Christianity." People take a little Bible, a little Dr. Phil, a little Oprah, a little what sounds good and fair to them, toss it into a blender and mix it all together, and voila! Personalized Christianity. In my personal experience, much of this blender faith is sub-christian. Some of it is outright heresy. How can we oppose it without a way to know what is right and acceptable? Some will say "We have the Bible." It is true that we have the Bible. But both orthodox Christians and non christian cultists claim to base their beliefs on the Bible. How can we tell the difference? What makes the Baptist way of interpreting the Bible better than the Mormon way of interpreting the Bible? Because the Baptist way falls within the historic orthodox faith and Mormonism does not. If two people both read the Bible and come to opposite conclusions about what it teaches, the difference between right and wrong is what is acceptable to the church. Otherwise, you are left with each person doing what is right in his or her own eyes.

This sense of connectedness with church history is critically important to us today. I will tell you the truth... every ancient heresy is today taught in evangelical pulpits in the United States. People who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it ... and we see the truth of that saying in our churches today.

That is why I quote preachers and theologians from the past and present. I connect my teaching with the historic church's teaching. The first church, first of all, devoted themselves to the apostle's teaching. It is not my goal to be teaching new things to my church but rather old things, the faith once and for all time delivered to the saints. Because to be outside of that faith is to be outside the church.