Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Daily Devo - Tuesday, July 31, 2007

"You are the salt of the earth..."
Matthew 5:13a (ESV)

Today, salt is found in every restaurant and every dinning table in America. It even comes in disposable packets in McDonald carry-out bags. We use salt without even thinking about it.

In the ancient world, salt was something that preserved life itself. Yes, salt was used to add flavor, just as we do today. Yet it also preserved fish and meat to enable nourishment during lean months or for long cross-country treks.

Why would Jesus use this peculiar metaphor for those who followed him? Most likely, Jesus had both these uses in mind when he told his follows that are to be like salt in the world. Believers "add something" to the world. We give it "flavor". Because we follow Christ, we demonstrate to the world the grace, truth, and love of God. Without us, the world would know nothing of these things.

We also preserve this world. Think about that. It is our presence that arrests corruption and slows down the spread of moral decay in this world. Remove the presence of believers, and all the world has left is its sin and misery--and God's severe judgment.

Do you realize that your presence (along with all other believers) is the only thing that keeps unbelievers from facing the judgment of God?

Don't pray to leave this world too soon--until you have finished to job God has called you to do.

Be his salt. Preserve this world, and add something to it while your at it!

Prayer

Merciful Father,
You have chosen me to be your servant.
May I show this world just how loving
you truly are!
Amen.

Why I Joined the Local Ministerial Association: Part 2

I originally planned to publish only two posts on this topic. On further reflection, I believe this issue is important enough for elaboration.

In part 1, I gave a brief history of Baptist separatism, showing that from our beginning Baptists fellowshipped with differing denominations, and many even held fairly positive views of those churches with whom they severely disagreed. It wasn't until the rise of Landmarkism, and movements of similar extremism, that Fundamentalism began to adopt a severe separatism.

In part 2, I wish to give one of the major reasons why participation with such groups is important and necessary, one important reminder regarding the nature of the Ministerial Association, and one clarification.

ONE REASON: Participation with other ministers fosters both 'Theological humility' and 'Theological confidence'.


Willingness to fellowship and converse with Christians who hold differing theological positions fosters a sense of humility and a sense of confidence:

It fosters humility because when one interacts with different opinions, you realize how difficult the task of interpretation really is. The old idea that "I believe what the Bible says" is simplistic and foolish--because what that person really believes is their own personal INTERPRETATION of the bible.

It fosters confidence because as one interacts with these other men, you realize the common threads that tie the Bride of Christ together. While there exists today a movement to do away will all propositional truth, this concept simply does not square with historic Christianity.

I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton's famous statement:

"...what we suffer from to-day is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction; where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed."

I in no way disagree with Chesterton. "Theological humility" is not a code word for doubting truth. What is meant by that term is the realization that genuine believers come to varying conclusions on what the Bible says. "Theological humility" must be balanced by "Theological confidence". As we survey historic Christianity, particularly as expressed in the early church creeds, believers saw the need to articulate the core doctrines of the faith. Despite what our old liberal (and current emergent church) friends may say, there are some things that cannot be doubted if one wishes to truly be a Christian. Chesterton's quote is in reference to the historic and major truth claims of Christianity (it is interesting to note that Chesterton was a dogmatic Roman Catholic, so Protestants who quote him wouldn't want to press his statement too far).

Local ministerial associations are populated by men who hold to different theological positions. One will find Arminians, Calvinists, Dispensationalists, padeobaptists, post-tribulationalists, Charistmatics, High Church, Low Church, Liturgicalists, etc. However, a good ministerial association (the only kind a true believer should be part of) will be comprised of people who hold to the historic Christian essentials.

ONE REMINDER - Remember what a Ministerial Association is, and what it isn't.

A church does not join a ministerial association, a minister does. As such, it is a professional network of ordained Christian clergymen, not a fellowship of churches. It contains both active ministers, as well as retired or unemployed ministers. Let's face it, very few people understand the complexities and difficulties of leading a local congregation. As loving as one's local church may be, they cannot understand what they have never experienced. Gathering together with other men who truly understand your struggles and joys as pastor is precious and strengthening.

ONE CLARIFICATION - All Ministerial Associations are not created equal.

Each area ministerial association is different. Some are very conservative, some are very liberal. Some are very involved in the community, others are more like 'breakfast clubs' that do little more than gossip and tell jokes. I am blessed in that my particular association is comprised of men who firmly hold to the historic essentials of the faith. We have not faced a situation where someone wishes to be part of us who denies these historic essentials. Many associations have written statements of faith to which members must adhere. While my local association does not, we have discussed the possibility of drafting such a statement in the future if the need arises (for example, if a Mormon or Jehovah's Witness wished to join the group). Whether or not one joins a ministerial group is largely dependent on the nature of that particular group.

Monday, July 30, 2007

America's Next Pastor

Do yourself a favor and follow this link to see a very funny video. It is a sarcastic (though very funny) look at the state of the mega-church/seeker-church/emergent church models now popular in evangelical Christianity.

You'll die laughing, but then you might cry afterwards when you realize how accurate the video depicts reality.

Why I Joined the Local Ministerial Association: Part 1

It is rare to find conservative and/or fundamentalist Baptists within ministerial associations. I have decided this is both biblically unwarranted, and perhaps even a violation of biblical teachings.

In part 1, I shall give what I believe are the reasons for the "Great Baptist Withdrawal", some of which are understandable and even praiseworthy.

In part 2, I will defend why I believe--at least in some cases--such participation is both important and essential for following Christ. It's possible I may even turn this into several posts.

PART 1: A BRIEF HISTORY OF BAPTIST SEPARATION:

It should be noted that separatism predates the Baptist movement (sorry you Landmark Baptist types, the Baptist movement does not go back past the 1600's--the "Trail of Blood" theory is nonsense). It was the Congregational churches--influenced heavily by the Puritans--who believed in the necessity of separating themselves from apostate churches and persons. The chief enemy at this time was the Anglican church. However, the separatists themselves disagreed over their view of the Anglican church. Some saw this church as completely apostate, others saw it as a true--though seriously defective--church. I mention this merely to underscore the point that since the beginning of separatism there were many who still held a partially positive view of the churches from which they separated. The Baptist church rose out of this larger separatist/puritan movement, and was likewise marked by the differing veins of separatism.

In antebellum American, Baptist churches regularly opened their pulpit to visiting Presbyterian and Congregational ministers. Even until the early 1900's this was still a common practice. The early years of the Fundamentalist movement carried on this practice. Our Baptist forefathers did not separate from different denominations, but rather from individual churches and persons who denied the core doctrines of the Christian faith. As such, most Baptist ministers saw no problem with inviting padeobaptist Presbyterians (among others) to their pulpits.

However, there arose in the south a movement within Baptist churches known as Landmarkism. Though plagued by many strange and extreme beliefs, for our purposes today we will focus only on their extreme view of separatism. To Landmarkers, even other Baptist churches that were not part of their movement were viewed as apostate. For a large period, it looked as if this newcomer to the Baptist world would take over the entire Southern Baptist Convention. Though they failed, their influence was massive and continues to this day.

Added to this was the onset of the Charismatic movement in the early years of Fundamentalism. Though Fundamentalist on virtually every issue, the Baptist and Presbyterian (and others) within the Fundamentalist movement were embarrassed by the Charismatics and sought to distance themselves from them. The more extreme separatist--apart from any logic or biblical foundation--demonized the charismatics and viewed them as apostates (even though Pentecostals were almost identical in belief with baptists on every issue except the spiritual gifts).

In time, Fundamentalism itself came to be associated with the more extreme separatists alone. Any difference, no matter how minor, came to be seen as blatant apostasy.

But it is also important to understand how the fundamentalist movement was birthed, and what continued to fuel it. A movement, brought to the American shores from European intellectuals, known as "Classical Liberalism" swept through the American churches. Though the word "liberal" today is used by fundamentalist to disparage anyone who disagrees with them on minor issues, such was not the case in our early days. A true Liberal was someone who denied the core doctrines of the faith: such as the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the inerrancy of Scripture, the miraculous works of Christ, etc. The Liberals had a very clear--and vocal--agenda: take over the American denominations, Seminaries, and Bible school. Denomination after denomination fell to their grip. Over time, the Fundamentalists developed a combative and suspicious mindset--brought about by the reality of a very real threat.

In the end, what started as a noble stand against the forces of unbelief degenerated into refusal to fellowship with any who differed ever so slightly from one's own theological position. Also, since the educational institutions were viewed as suspect, entire generations of fundamentalists refused rigorous theological training. In time, this condemned our movement to be led by intellectual lightweights who couldn't comprehend the nuances of theological discussion/debate--and thus separated from anything which they lack the skill set to understand.

Sadly, it also condemned us to an inability to sense the legalistic and theological heresy that arose from within (KJV-onlyism, simplistic and anti-biblical easy-believism, pelagianism, gnosticism, and platonic-dualism).

Instead of separating from other ministers, perhaps fundamentalist baptists need to separate from themselves.



Saturday, July 28, 2007

Be appalled, O Heavens!

Friends, family, and fellow bloggers, and fans:

This post is very difficult for me to write. The unthinkable has happened. A tragedy has befallen the People of God. A sin has been discovered within the household of faith , a kind--as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians--that is not found even among the pagans.

No, I am not referring to some fallen church leader.
No, I am not referring to a new heretical sect that has formed.
No, I am not referring to the latest Joel Olsteen sermon.

Apparently early this week a Baptist associate pastor was seen throwing away precious biblical & theological reference works in his church's dumpster.

I'm not talking about tossing a few copies of John Eldredge or Rick Warren, and I certainly don't mean throwing out the latest droolings from the postmodern church. I'm talking about a young pastor actually throwing out the complete set of Spurgeon's sermons, Calvin's 22 volume commentary set, 14 volumes of Ironside commentaries, and much, much more. Right in the dumpster, along with the Sunday potluck scraps, the office paper scraps (that should have been recycled), and the old diapers from the nursery.

Jeremiah the prophet once declared: "Be appalled, O heavens, at this, be shocked, be utterly desolate."
Ahhh....I miss the old says when you could just shoot people or torture them on the rack for something like this.

My dad was apparently visiting my uncle (both ministers and/or interim ministers of baptist churches) when he saw one of my uncle's associate pastors do the evil deed (it seems the young man was cleaning out his office for less than ideal reasons). My dad is in his late 60's and in poor health, and my uncle is considerably older and recovering from recent open heart surgery). Neither of them have actually spent much time reading Calvin or Spurgeon (their a bit to "Calvinistic" for their tastes--Ironside is more up their alley), but they sensed the horrid sacrilege that had just taken place. These two men actually climbed into the dumpster, removed and cleaned the books, and brought them home.

I would have paid money just to watch them!

The good news is that I will now be the proud owner of a least 1 of these sets (I had asked for all of them--without being offered any, by the way. I know it was tacky, but I threw caution to the wind and got greedy). I am still negotiating with them regarding which set I will get.


The worst part of this story......

....some of the books didn't make it. My dad confessed there were several books at the bottom of the dumpster that just had too much of Aunt Betty's baked beans on them to salvage (or was it Baby Billy's diaper deposit??). I was a bit offended. After all, in war you don't just leave your comrades behind. Two of Calvin's commentaries lost the good fight (I'm still checking on how many Ironside works there are supposed to be).

Friends, it's a dark day on the Baptist 411.

Fractured Foundation #2: EDUCATION



FRACTURED FOUNDATIONS (Areas in Which Baptist Churches Must Grow):

#2: Education

To the Evangelical world, the words "baptist" and "educated" are not generally used in the same sentence. Unless, of course, one adds a little something to the last word; such as: uneducated or poorly educated). Baptists, rightly or wrongly, are not seen as intellectual giants within the denominational community.

To be honest, our history has never been stellar when it comes to the promotion of rigorous biblical and theological training. Baptist churches flourished in antebellum America partly because Baptist congregations saw no need to wait for theologically trained pastors (of course, this perhaps did more harm than good in the long run). The "High Church" denominations generally stressed the importance of thorough training, coupled with a lengthy ordination process.

The term "High Church", while properly and historically used to refer to the Anglican Church, is also used to refer to those protestant and reformed churches that make a clearer distinction between religious items, people, practices, institutions and authority; and their secular counterparts. As it relates to the clergy, those in high church tradition tend to see clergy as intrinsically different in role, nature and authority from other members of the congregation. Those who take a "low church" view tend to see the clergy as one "calling" -- albeit distinct -- among many essential roles within the congregation. Since the distinction between pastor and people was greater in High Church congregations, so was the felt need for producing men of profound intellect, expansive knowledge, and classical educations.


The second fractured foundation within the Baptist movement is our lack of concern for theological and biblical scholarship. Yet, this is not to say that Baptists have nothing to be proud of as it relates to academia. We have a heritage that includes many learned church leaders, and have founded several baptist schools of higher learning (Baylor, Southern Theological Seminary, Mercer, etc). Baptist were also prolific at creating bible schools--many of which provided a good, though not necessarily rigorous, exposure to biblical and theological study. It would not be until the rise of the hyper-fundamentalists movement (which has all but over-taken and choked the proud heritage of the fundamentalist movement earlier this century) that the baptist bible schools would be known for shallow, shoddy education. These "schools" no longer have the right to the title "educator", as they have become academic prostitutes--teaching little but handing out "masters" and "doctorate" degrees just the same.

What the 'fractured foundation' statement above does suggest, however, is that Baptist--from our very inception--have struggled to define the place and importance of rigorous education within our movement--and that many Baptist movements of the present have completely turned their backs on such education. These groups have become intellectual ghettos--producing a whole lot of nothing and proud of all of it. To be sure, such circles actually are suspicious of good education as being "liberal".

Whether or not the high church was right in its more pronounced distinction between pastor and people is a matter of debate for another post (there are, to be sure, many down sides to such a distinction). Currently, I would like to look at one of the positive effects of such a distinction. As mentioned above, it did create a culture in which rigorous theological and biblical study was valued and considered essential for the life of the church.

This morning, I attended an all-day conference on church history sponsored by a Lutheran church in a nearby city. The guest speaker was a church history professor (and professing Christian) from Western Michigan University. The seminar was both informative, and marked by careful research. While I have been invited to take part in many special programs in Baptist churches, to memory I can never remember having heard of an academic lecture being given at a Baptist church.

What is the difference? The difference, I believe, is the value the high church places on theological and biblical academics. When is the last time a large Baptist church hired a "Theologian in Residence", or "Pastor of Biblical Research"? Many high church congregations have such positions. How often does a Baptist congregation set up an endowment to create a professorship at a Baptist seminary? How about an endowment to create a scholarship for a seminary student (while I was enrolled at Calvin Theological Seminary--a Christian Reformed institution--there was an exhaustive list of Reformed congregations that did this).

If the Baptist movement is going to survive in any viable form it must embrace (1) strict requirements regarding the theological training of its ministers, and (2) its role in aiding and advancing biblical and theological scholarship for the good of the greater Christian community.

As it relates to #1, this need not imply that a pastor must be a graduate of a theological seminary (though, in most cases it should). There is a place for the concept of pastoral mentoring and self-study. How one receives biblical/theological training is not as important as that it is received.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Daily Devo - Thursday, July 26, 2007

Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes,
and see that the fields are
already white for harvest.
John 4:35 (ESV)

The phrase "white for harvest" has long baffled scholars. There is no known produce grown in the Middle East that whitens when ready to be harvested. Wheat was known as the "golden harvest". For years, biblical scholars assumed this referred to some unknown harvest that was ripe and ready to be brought in (in fact, the NIV assumes this and changes the word "white" to the word "ripe").

Some time ago, a man by the name of H.V. Morton visited Israel. He writes, "...as I sat by Jacob's Well a crowd of Arabs came along the road from the direction in which Jesus was looking, and I saw their white garments shinning in the sun. Surely, Jesus was speaking not of the earthly but of the heavenly harvest." If this is the case, the harvest Jesus was referring to was the harvest of human souls.

Other scholars theorize that Jesus was referring to the garment worn by workers in the field. In this theory, Jesus is telling the disciples to join the process of harvesting that is already underway.

Regardless, the main message is the same: the time for harvesting is now! Who in your life needs to be brought to the Savior? Who do you need to go out of your way to meet in order to share with them the good news of Jesus?

Today, are you willing to go out into the fields and evangelize for the glory of God?

Prayer

Merciful Father,
I am your servant;
you have empowered me;
bought me;
directed me;
healed me;
commissioned me;
and trusted me.
For your glory I will share with
all the love you have bestowed upon me,
and invite them to likewise
share in that love.
Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Fractured Foundation #1: SALVATION



FRACTURED FOUNDATIONS (Areas in Which Baptist Churches Must Grow):

#1: Salvation

This is the beginning of a multiple post series exploring areas within Baptist life, polity, and theology that need reexamination. It is by no means meant to be exhaustive, nor is it meant to explore each area in full. Rather, it is meant to simply highlight areas of concern within the "baptist world" and note my personal exploration of these issues.

Baptists have a proud history. I am personally thankful for that history, and blessed to be part of this movement. However, there are problems within our foundation. I chose to call this series "Fractured Foundations" because many of these problems have been with us from the very beginning. While Baptist groups certainly do suffer from issues that were not part of our earliest expressions (such as hyper-fundamentalism), there are certain theological and methodological errors that are sadly part of our original DNA. If Baptist are to be able to honestly claim the cherished title of "biblical", we must rid ourselves of these errors and repair this faulty foundation.

The first fracture is in the Baptist concept of Salvation. Rising from our hyper-individualism, salvation in the baptist sense means little more than escaping this present world and experience eternal life with God in heaven. In actuality, this hyper-individualism did not exist in its present form in the earliest expressions of Baptist thought. The earliest Baptists (those of the 1600's) were thoroughly Calvinistic (and non-dispensational). The concept of escapism was not present in that era, though the seed of individualism, and the waters of hyper-independence inevitably birthed such a shallow view of salvation. According to the Baptist view, "salvation is seen as the escape of the individual souls into heaven, instead of the rebuilding and resurrection of this world under the influence of heaven" [See Note 1].

Cornelius Van Til writes,

Would that all Christians saw the logic of their Christianity! They would not then seek haphazard, nervous methods of revivalism, of individualistic preaching and teaching that thinks of salvation for eternity alone and thus fail in large part to accomplish what they set out to do. in covenant education we seek not to extract the human body from his natural milieu as a creature of God, but rather to restore the creature with his milieu to God. Incomparably wiser is this method since it transplants the plant with, instead of without its soil [See Note 2].

Jesus himself taught about salvation in terms of the Kingdom. In the great prayer, Jesus teaches us to pray Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, the goal of life is not to escape this world to glorious heaven, but rather to live out a glorious heaven here on earth. Baptists have reversed, and thus muddled, the whole thing.

"Salvation" is reduced to a few verses pulled out of context from Romans. It is shallow, and doesn't have the power to produce real, genuine, lasting change within a person's life. Baptists need to return to a Biblical and Reformed view which sees salvation in terms of the inauguration and eventually fulfillment of Christ's Kingdom. While salvation certainly does include the profound concept of escaping sin, this is not to be confused with escaping God's creation. Salvation is not our ticket to heaven. It is our becoming the train which brings heaven to earth.

Note 1: p ix, The Failure of the American Baptist Culture.
Note 2: p 143. Essay on Christian Education.

Daily Devo - Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The memory of the
righteous is a blessing,
but the name of the
wicked will rot.

Proverbs 10:7 (ESV)

Mother Theresa is rightly regarded as a model of the Christian virtues of love, compassion, and mercy. Very few would be brave (or foolish) enough to criticize someone like Theresa. For her entire adult life she lived out Jesus' command to love God and love others.

Even today millions of young women look to her as an example, and all of Christendom sees her as a role model. Though Theresa is dead and gone, her memory lives on as a pointer to the life and message of Jesus Christ.

But, there is another way to live. I once went to a funeral of a woman who was known to be mean, bitter, and prideful. She alienated her family and friends. At her funeral, there were only 4 people present. The funeral director (who got paid to be there), her lawyer (who got paid a whole bunch to be there), only one of her 3 children (who was contesting the will--in other words, he wanted to get paid to be there), and me (who was NOT paid to be there). Though the funeral was announced in the local paper, and everyone was informed of her passing, no one bothered to show up. She was forgotten before she was put in the ground.

When we live out the truth and grace of Christ we become something worth remembering. When we fall short of this, our legacy rots with us in the grave.

Today, how will you live?

Prayer

Merciful Father,
May I live in such a way as
to point people to you.
May my memory be a blessing to
those who follow after me.
Amen.

The Resurgence of Calvinism

The rise of strong Calvinism among 20-30 somethings is a phenomenon that everyone appears to be noticing. Some months back, Christianity Today ran a feature article on this issue. Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church and founder of 9Marks Ministries has jumped into the discussion and seeks to answer the question "why?' He explores 10 reasons (he just posted #7) that in his opinion help explain the rise of Calvinism.

For the most part, I think Dever is spot on. I might offer one slight critique of his post on Evangelism Explosion--something that to me seems periphery, at best, to this issue of accepting theological Calvinism.

If you wish to understand why this movement is happening--and growing--then take a look at his posts. Click Here.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

VBS 2007 Pictures

Our church just finished its week of Vacation Bible School. We choose
Group's Holy Land Adventure curriculum (this year's theme being Galilee-by-the-Sea.

Special thanks to Donna Powers for taking the photos, and to Shawn Powers for getting all of them on the web. The picture datebase has been greatly expanded, and moved the church's website.

Click here to see the vbs photos.

Brew haha over Baptist outreach program

Pastor Darrin Patrick presides over what appears to be a successful church plant in St. Louis. The church's name--The Journey--as trendy as it is unoriginal, is part of the Missouri Baptist Convention (Southern Baptist).

In an attempt to 'reach' people who are actively opposed to Christianty, The Journey began an outreach program called "Theology at the Bottleworks". Participants meet in a local brewery, grab a cold one, and discuss politics or theological/spiritual topics. Discussions range from a woman's role in society to animal rights.

The problem is the Missouri Baptist Convention is getting angry. They recently loaned the church of 1,500 congregants $200,000, and they are none too pleased to have discovered that they have indirectly supported a beer-drinking endeavor. The Southern Baptist Convention has historically championed alcohol abstinence.

Two battles are brewing, only one of which is confined to the Missouri Baptist Convention. Vocal angst against The Journey continues to rise, with calls for the SBC to sever all ties with the church. However, another battle is brewing which has already spilled over onto the Baptist landscape. Namely, the issue of the use of alcohol.

Christianity Today--whose most recent edition included an article on the MBC/Journey controversy--quotes Timothy George (dean of Beeson Divinity School): "There is a growing discontentment, people saying that we shouldn't be mandating things that aren't spoken clearly about in Scripture. It's hard to argue that the Bible requires total abstinence."

It seems there are really to different issues within this larger debate.

First, is it appropriate for Christians to partake of alcohol in light of Scriptural teaching?

Second, regardless of the answer to the first issue, is it appropriate for a church to use beer (or allow it to be used) as an outreach ministry?

Tell me what you think

Friday, July 20, 2007

Daily Devo - Friday, July 20, 2007

Therefore, do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?'
or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?'...
...but seek first the kingdom of God and all theses
things will be added to you.
Matthew 6:31,33 (ESV)

Several chapters after speaking these words, the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' miraculous feeding of 5,000 people. It is an amazing story of God's provision for and blessing upon his people.

Yet in the Christianity community today there exists a horrible and sinful teaching called the "Health and Wealth" gospel. While this is most popular among extreme sects of Pentecostalism, versions of this teaching can be found within many denominations. It claims that if we truly follow Jesus, we will be granted abundant material blessings. In short, we will become healthy and wealthy.

Is this what this verse teaches us? No, not at all. Just prior to this event, Jesus received news that his friend and forerunner John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus wanted to be alone to deal with the pain of this news, but the crowds kept following him. Instead of slipping away to have his own needs met, he demonstrated that he cared more about the needs of others than about his own.

This passage certainly teaches us that Jesus cares about our physical needs (note the word needs, I didn't say wants). But it also teaches us something more. It provides a clear example of how we are to live. We are to follow the master, and live our lives sacrificially in order to care for the needs of others.

The health & wealth gospel is a selfish, greedy, perverted version of discipleship. Instead, Jesus calls us to live as people who fully trust in God's provisions, while we zealously live to meet the needs of others.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Grant me the privilege of living according
to the example of your son.
May I be more concerned with the needs of others,
and leave my needs in your capable hands.
Grant me not wealth, or health.
Instead, grant me your gracious provisions.
Amen.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Music Puritan Style

“Music wars” are nothing new. In fact, the church has been fighting about music for over 1,800 years. Some believed all forms of music were wrong, others felt only psalms could be sung, other that psalms only could be read, and still others felt it was ok to introduce new musical styles into the church.

In the Puritan era, a rule called the Regulative Principle won the day. Puritans felt that the Psalms reflected the God-ordained style of worship, and thus only allowed these portions of scripture to be sung in the church service. It was their heart-felt belief that the service was primarily for the teaching of the Word—and little else.

While the Puritans certainly were too restrictive in their approach to worship, they have been badly misunderstood. In fact, they were very open to newly invented forms of music and regularly used them in private worship. They took prayers & theological poetry and set them to contemporary tunes. They enjoyed these in their homes and small group gatherings.

The strength of their music, however, was in their words. Their songs were marked by deep, reflective thought on the majesty of God and the sweetness of the Gospel. Their music was profoundly theological. For the past weeks we have been beginning the service with written puritan prayers. Several of the special music numbers come directly from these prayers—most particularly the prayers contained in a book called The Valley of Vision, and set to more modern musical styles.

At IRBC, we are open to many styles of musical expression. But we recognize that worship is ultimately the words, not the notes. Many in our church family prefer hymns. Others prefer choruses of the 70’s & 80’s. Still others prefer contemporary praise.

We must begin to look past the musical style, and concentrate on the words. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if the music is the gingerly played piano, the continually strummed guitar, or the rhythmic beating of a drum. The real question is whether God has been worshipped & glorified with the words. Read them, sing them, pray them, worship through them. Worship isn’t simply for our benefit, but is a gift to our God.


Daily Devo - Thursday, July 19, 2007

But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
Psalm 3:30 (JGV)

As a teenager we once purchased a beautiful Golden Retriever. My brothers and dad had begun breeding these dogs a few years back, and we decided it was time to purchase a male from exceptional blood lines. On paper, the dog was everything we could ask for. It came from several generations of field and show champions, and had an excellent pedigree. The dog was physically stunning, with no flaws or defects.

But it had one major problem. Every time it was in the presence of a human it would cower and place its head and chin on the floor. The sight was ridiculous, almost as if the dog was bowing in servitude. In all my years breeding and raising dogs, I have never seen any animal do this. Later, we found out the former owner liked his dogs "bowing" in his presence, and beat the poor animal until it learned to always strike this pose.

For years, every time we were with the dog we would gently bend down and lift its head off the floor. Over and over again, we would lift its head high. While it always struggled with this "bowing", it eventually began keeping its head high.

Do you realize the gracious Lord continually lifts your head high? He protects us from our enemies, and he is the source of our confidence and strength. Today, be proud of who you are--a child of the living God.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
In my weak moments I have little self-esteem,
but thank you Father for lifting my head high.
Teach me that you are my hope and glory.
May I never be ashamed of my identity in you.
Amen.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Daily Devo - Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Matthew 7:12 (ESV)

On a mountainside in an unknown region of Galilee, described the characteristics that he expected of those who followed him. On other occasions he spoke to small crowds, but here he spoke to a large throng of people. People came from all over the region to sit at his feet and listen to his words. Through his teachings, he immediately set himself apart from the other rabbi's of the time. Those who listened knew that Jesus had authority from God.

Are you listening to Jesus? We may not be sitting at his feet on a mountainside, but he is still speaking to us today. Through his teachings we understand that he desires we be compassionate, caring people. On this day, will you treat others with warmth, care, and tenderness. Certainly there is more to being a Christian than these things, but certainly Christianity is no less than these things.

Today, obey your master and offer your hands in love to another person.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Grant me the privilege of obeying
your Son. Today, may I be an
agent of love and compassion.
Amen.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Daily Devo - Saturday, July 14, 2007

"So you are no longer a slave, but a son..."
Galatians 4:7 (ESV)

When the civil war ended the slaves within the United States were freed. Slavery was abolished, and all men--black or white--were granted political liberty. However, an interesting phenomenon took place. It wasn't large scale, but it occurred in many places.

What was this phenomenon? ...some African-American former slaves didn't want to leave. The very concept of freedom scared them, and they preferred slave status on the plantation. Due to years--generations--of the sin of white oppression, these African-American individuals came to see themselves as slaves, and only slaves.

How many times do we act this way as Christians? Christ has freed us from slavery to sin, yet we live as if we were still in bondage! Arise, O Church of God. The Oppressor no longer owns you. Rebuke your former bondage, and claim the freedom that is now yours.

We are free...so perhaps we should start living like it.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
You have freed me from sin and death,
the chains have been removed,
the whip has been destroyed.
You are my Liberator and my Lord.
Amen.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Sabbath Rest

Today I am taking a personal sabbath...

...well, ok not really. I'm still in the office, but I am trying to make it a lighter day. I'll be back posting tomorrow. Blessings.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Daily Devo - Thursday, July 12


"For the word of the Lord is living and active,
sharper than any two-edged sword..."

Hebrews 4:12 (ESV)


Everyone likes advice. It offers us wisdom, guidance and direction. It grants us the ability to see a situation through the eyes of someone else and approach something from a different angle. Usually advice is free, which is another bonus. Occasionally advice is sought after, and is all the more rewarding when it is acquired.

But we
also like advice for another reason: there is no requirement that we act upon it. We can choose to ignore, or even choose to respect & value the advice yet fail to implement it. Today, many Christians treat the word of God as if it were a book of advice. Does the Bible advise? Certainly yes, but it also does much more than that. It offers us the commands of the living God, and reveals to us the demands the Christ makes of us.

This very day, pick up the word of God and recognize that you are called to live according to its teachings.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
I praise your name, and thank you
for your life-giving eternal Word.
It is my light, my path.
Through it I find you,
the great & glorious prize.
Amen.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Daily Devo - Wednesday, July 11, 2007


"Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you.
Not as the world gives you
do I give to you."
John 14:27a (ESV)

The world may have wonderful homes, beautiful cars, and mountains of riches; but none of these things are to be compared to that blessed peace which Christ gives to his followers.

His peace is founded upon reason, light, and truth. He teaches us to see true reality, and he allows us to the the radiance of his beauty. His throne is the well-spring of peace. The world's peace is founded in blindness and delusion. It hides God, and therefore the very source of peace.

His peace is unfailing and eternal. The fountain of his comfort will never be diminished, and his comfort and joy is like a living spring in the soul. The world's peace is temporary and fleeting.

His peace is a rest of the soul. His peace touches us in the very place where earthy comforts never can. This world can make my body comfortable, and can even put my mind at ease; but it can never fill the void within my soul. Christ alone fills me with his exquisitely sweet presence.

His peace is virtuous and holy. The peace that the Lord offers not only comforts the saints, but it also transforms them. It is part of their newfound beauty and dignity. The world's peace seeks only comfort, and resists inward, deep change.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Thank you for the peace the Christ brings.
I am made in your image, and am being
remade in the image of your Son.
As such, you have allowed me a share
in your eternal peace. Praise be your name.
Amen.




* Some material of this devotional taken from: Jonathan Edwards, "The Peace Which Christ Gives His True Followers" (in the Soli Deo Gloria title The True Believer).

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Daily Devo - Tuesday, July 10

"...forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you."
Ephesian 4:32 (ESV)

Hillary Rodham Clinton once reportedly said, "I forgive, but I also keep a record". Humans want to remember hurts. Within most of us there is a sense of justice and fair-play. The problem is that within all of us there is a stronger sense of selfishness and self-interest. It is so easy to keep a record of the wrongs of others, but who among us wishes others to keep a record of our wrongs.

Failing to forgive is only a symptom of a larger problem: pride. 'I have been hurt'. 'I have been misled'. 'I have been slandered'. 'I have neglected'. 'Who does he think he is talking to me like that'. Notice the language?

Pridefully holding on to offenses and wrongdoings against us only fosters bitterness, anger, and possibly even depression. I have seen wonderful saints of God poisoned by bitterness----effectively ruining any chance of allowing their lives be used for God's glory.

God has another plan. He says let go of it all. Let go of the pain, let go of the offense, let go of the deep, inward pride. Instead, forgive and experience the freedom of walking with God.

Prayer:

Merciful Father,
Teach me to hold no record of wrongs.
May I love others, friend and foe alike,
as you have loved me.
Amen.

New research project announced

Not that the world cares about my personal study interests, but as of today I am beginning a research project on the biblical teachings concerning church government. Central to this study will be an in-depth look at the concept of congregationalism. Baptists have historically been starch congregationalist, some even radically so.

Currently, I serve in a church which leans heavily towards congregationalism. Previously I served in a church that practiced "elder-rule" (meaning the congregation never novted). As with most things, I'm somewhere in the middle.

Give me a few weeks, and I'll post my position paper.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Family-Friendly Blog

Online Dating

Wow! I guess I'm not that controversial after all. Click on the rating above to rate your own blog.

Daily Devo - Monday, July 9th


"...take up his cross and follow me..."
Matthew 10:39 (ESV)

A while back the music industry released a secular song. It's composition was predictable, it's vocals unimpressive, and it's lyrics less than poetic. Yet after several years I can still remember the main line of the song"

If I could walk 500 miles, then I would walk
500 more, just to be the man who walked
a thousand miles to fall down at your door.

The young man was willing to endure great hardship because of the prize he was following after. The pain of the journey paled in comparison to the delight of the prize! Christ makes many demands of his followers. He asks for every part of us. He demands are complete allegiance. He asks us to die to our desires, our dreams, our loves, and sometimes even our families. Boldly, he asks that we die to ourselves.

Why would any rational person do this? We do this because of the prize. Christ does not just command us to "take up our cross". Instead, he commands us to "take up our cross and follow him". He has a destination--and not just a journey--in mind. The journey may be difficult, but it is nothing compared to the delight of the prize.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Your Son is my prize.
I follow after you, never seeking
riches, health, or abundance.
I seek only the presence of
my Savior. He is my prize,
my jewel, my everlasting possession.
Amen.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Wedding Fees - Token of respect, earned wage, or ministerial prostitution?

"...you received without payment, give without payment." (NRSV)

As is customary, most ministers either charge a fee to perform a wedding, or at the very least encourage an honorarium for their services. This is longstanding. While I haven't studied this phenomenon historically, I do know it has been practiced in the United States at least for the last 100 years. (If any of you historical buffs don't mind doing the leg work, let me know what you find out about this practice historically).

In my local ministerial meeting recently this topic came up. Some flatly refuse to accept any money for this service. Some are against charging a fee, but will accept a gift. Some set a standard and required fee.

According to a quick internet search, pastoral fees range from $100 to $500 or more. For pastor's who refuse to set fees and only accept gifts, these range from $25 to $200 (usually on the lower end).

I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of accepting, let alone charging, money to perform a wedding. Don't get me wrong. Weddings are time consuming. I require at least 6 sessions of pre-marital counseling. Then there the numerous phone calls, overseeing the rehearsal, and the numerous hours taken up on Saturday (by the way, if your not in church ministry, let me underscore how absolutely essential Saturday is to a pastor who is trying to prepare for the Sunday services. That is the worst day possible for a pastor to do a wedding). Frankly, if I were still in professional counseling at charged my hourly rate of $85, my fee would be over $750.

Yet I have long felt uncomfortable with this practice of fees/honorariums. Recently, a few events have brought this issue back to the surface.

1. This is wedding season, so the requests are numerous. I recently performed two weddings, both of which gave me monetary gifts (I told one "no", but they did it anyway. I didn't even discuss it with the other and they sent me a check)

2. Several weeks ago I was preaching through the above passage on Matthew. I made the point that a congregation doesn't pay its pastor. It freely gives him resources in order that he may be freed to do the work of the Lord. As such, I was not hired by my church (called, yes; hired, no), nor do I receive a paycheck from them. If I truly believe this then it is wrong for me to accept fees. I am to offer my service for free, as Christ offer his service to me on the cross for free.

3. I was taught a lesson by the local Franciscan catholic priest. While having breakfast with the local clergy group one Monday morning (at which he was present), I mentioned that I needed to buy one of those "communion kits" so I could provide communion to some of our shut-ins. To my surprise, a few weeks later he gave me a kit that he had purchased after our last conversation. When I tried to pay him for it, he refused the money and instead told me to "put something in the poor box". While the Catholic church is many times accused of being money hungry by some Protestants, this priest demonstrated a very valuable lesson in ministry. Freely have we received, freely give.

While I may put myself at odds with my fellow clergyman, I have decided to flatly refuse any fees or honorariums for weddings. If I don't have the time to do the wedding, I will simply say so. No more fees, no more honorariums. Ever.

However, I will urge the couple to make a gift to the poor, or one of our benevolent or scholarship funds in the church. In fact, I am even thinking of making this mandatory (say, require $200 to be given to the 'Bible Camp Fund' to help poorer children attend bible camps). I'm still toying with that idea. The problem is not them paying, the problem is me receiving.

Prayer:

Merciful Father,
Help me to live like you.
Having freely received your goodness,
may I likewise offer it without cost.
My debt has been paid.
Amen.

More on the issue regarding American Flags within the church

Here is an interesting post that has received a lot of attention in the blogging world. I find very little in it with which I disagree. Also be sure to read the comments section. It is good to know that many other conservative churches wish to rid themselves of idols within the church of Jesus Christ.

With that said, I do think there is a place for patriotism within our churches. The honor, commitment, and sacrifice of our soldiers is praiseworthy, and the freedom of worship our country affords us is a gift from God. I think churches can find low-key ways to show thanks and appreciation without compromising our worship of the Triune God.

After all, our God is a jealous God.

To read the intriguing post, click here.

Fundamentalists abandon ministries of mercy!

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God."
- Micah 6:8

"Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father,
is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,
and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

- James 1:27

"...Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger
or naked or sick in prison, and did not minister to you?
Then He will answer them, saying,
'Truly I say unto you, as you did not do it to one
of the least of these, you did not do it to me.
And these will go away to eternal punishment...".
- Matthew 25:44-46

Fundamentalists seem to have some sort of internal need to pass resolutions (or, positions) on just about every conceivable thing. Some of these are humorous, other sad. Some are occasionally on target, and some are downright heretical. This year one of the latter was passed by the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International. It was on the topic of social ministries (food to the poor, medical missions, relief of poverty, providing clean water, etc), and clearly portrays the fundamentalist's near complete abandonment and intentional denial of the biblical teachings regarding mercy missions (praise God many Fundamentalists, like Jerry Falwell, did not hold this view).

Read the resolution below and decide for yourself. While they correctly note the importance and primacy of evangelism and discipleship, they have stripped the Gospel of any relevance to the suffering of the poor ("orphans and widows").

To the FBFI: While I am trying to retain respect for your organization, I am alarmed at your blatant disregard for scriptural teaching on this issue. The Gospel has 3 great pillars. Take any one of the pillars away, and we are left with a perverted, God-dishonoring, and potentially soul-damning human counterfeit. The pillars of the Gospel are (1) Evangelism, (2) Discipleship, and (3) Social Action (or, better stated, "ministry of mercy"). If we don't preach (and practice) the whole Gospel, it isn't the Gospel at all.


Blog readers, decide for yourself. Read their resolution below...............................

Resolution 07-01: Concerning Fundamentalism and "Social" Ministries.

The FBFI warns its members that history teaches us that many social programs have led to theological compromise or have ended up as all social and no Gospel. The singular purpose of the church is to glorify God through world wide evangelism and discipleship, and there is no social mandate for the organized church parallel to the gospel. Realizing that there is disagreement over the propriety of churches involving themselves in evangelistic outreach through social programs, and realizing that many Fundamentalist churches are reaching people for Christ through such programs, the FBFI encourages Christians and local churches to practice individual soul liberty and refrain from condemning each other unnecessarily over the application of these principles. We express our full confidence in the power of the gospel to transform individual lives and as society as a result.


Prayer:

Merciful Father,
Grant us the boldness to evangelize;
grant us the willingness to disciple;
grant us the courage to be agents of mercy.
This is your life-giving Gospel.
May we always cherish it.
Amen.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Pictures of our 4th of July float - themed to VBS

Picture










Daily Devo - Friday, July 6

"...and they may escape the snare of the devil..."
2 Tim 2:25
(ESV

A few years ago I began to minister as an associate pastor in a suburban parish. One of my first duties was to visit Gerald. Well into his nineties, he had just lost his wife of almost 70 years. Their life had been full of adventure, which included military service, surviving the Great Depression, and a near lifetime of missionary service in Papa New Guinea.

Not really knowing what to say, I asked the worst question imaginable. "Gerald, how are you feeling?" Tears welled up in his eyes. His response was both gracious and forgiving, "The important thing is how she feels. She is now free...free from the foul hand of the Devil."

That answer came from a lifetime of humble submission to God. Even in their last years, perhaps more so, they were painfully aware of the snares and temptations of the great Deceiver.

How about you? Have you realized that Satan lies awake at night dreaming of ways to trap you? Run from his foul hand, and into the loving and powerful hands of your great God.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
Save me from the foul hand of the Devil.
Let me walk humble with you.
In your hands I may find rebuke,
but I shall also find unending love.
Amen.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Daily Devo - Thursday, July 5th

"...the glory of the LORD entered the temple by the gate facing East." ESV


The Golden Gate (called "Beautiful Gate" in the New Testament) still stands in Jerusalem. In Jesus day this was the most important gate in Jerusalem because it led to the holy place of the Temple.

Christians proclaimed that Jesus would come a second time and enter Jerusalem through that gate. To ensure no such event occured, Muslim leader Saladin had it sealed in 1187. As you can see, it is sealed to this day.

No matter what power sets itself against our Lord, nothing will stop his triumphant return. If He returns today, have you lived in a manner worthy to receive the king of Kings?

Prayer

Merciful Father,
You are the King.
I am the servant.
Help me to remember that I am
to live in a manner pleasing to you.
Amen.


THE THINKING CHRISTIAN -- Tozer, Yancey, Bennet

Recommend books to sharpen the mind,

encourage the heart,

and strengthen our walk with the Lord

The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer (HarperSanFransico)

This is one of the most powerful devotional books written in our time. A.W. Tozer meditates on the attributes of God in a deep and majestic manner. Though a mere 117 pages, it is soaked with sage wisdom. Pastor Tozer once said that he wrote this book while on his knees in prayer. This is perhaps the single most important devotional work ever written—and one which every Christian should read. But don’t let its small size fool you—it is so deep and profound that you will quickly become overwhelmed with the glorious God about whom it speaks. Get this book, then get on your knees and prayerfully read your way through it.

What’s So Amazing About Grace Philip Yancey (Zondervan)

In What’s So Amazing About Grace?, award-winning author Philip Yancey explores grace at street level. If grace is God’s love for the undeserving, what does it look like in action? If Christians are its sole dispensers, how are we doing at lavishing grace on a world that knows far more of cruelty and unforgiveness than it does of mercy? Grace is the church’s great distinction. It’s the one thing the world cannot duplicate and the one thing it craves above all else—for only grace can bring hope and transformation to a jaded world. Grace does not excuse sin, says Yancey, but it treasures the sinner. True grace is shocking and scandalous. Grace shakes our conventions with its insistence on getting close to sinners and touching them with mercy and hope. Grace forgives the unfaithful spouse, the racist, the child abuser. Grace loves today’s AIDS-ridden addict as much as the tax collector of Jesus’ day.

Valley of Vision, Arthur Bennet—Editor (Banner of Truth)

The Puritans recognized that prayer and doctrine are not to be separated. In their prayers they kept the two together. In fact it was their doctrinal understanding which produced such deep and lasting prayers. Theology instilled a thorough passion for prayer. Likewise it is prayer which sinks us deeper into the mysteries of God's self-disclosure of himself. It is prayer which furthers our theology. This collection includes prayers from great men such as Richard Baxter, John Bunyan, Isaac Watts, Charles Spurgeon, and others. A powerful aid to your own prayer life.

A growing Christian is a reading Christian

Books Currently on the Top of the Stack

My chief reading currently is in the Minor Prophets, partially as preparation for an upcoming sermon series and partially for devotional reasons. Other books of Scripture are The Gospel of Matthew and my ongoing personal study on the letter to the Hebrews.

As far as fallible human authors, I am digging through Church Polity, edited by Mark Dever. In addition to 3 introductory articles by contemporary Baptist pastors, the book contains 10 historical articles by eminent Baptist divines of former centuries. Baptist have historically been greatly concerned with church polity (finding scripture's teaching as to how to conduct and govern the church), and these articles are some of the best articles on the subject from that era. Sadly, most baptist churches don't even consider biblical teaching when it comes to church governance, opting instead for some secular leadership model.

I continue my ongoing reading through Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, which is definitely a life-changing book. His wisdom and solid biblical analysis are superb.

Sadly, my reading of Jonathan Edwards has been nonexistent lately. However, a friend--who is new to Edwards--just bought two books on Edwards (one of which was given to me....gold!). The friend bought a copy of Jonathan Edward's The End for Which God Created the World. Personally, I think this is his greatest and most profound work.

Also, I have just finished Philip Yancey's What's so Amazing about Grace? As with most modern books, its writing style is conversational, heavy on illustrations, and light on content. However, it is an important little book for those beginning to wrestle with the biblical doctrine of Grace. Yancey's book doesn't really define grace, and it leaves the reader with a "warm and fuzzy" version of it. However, its a good place to begin and its storied approach makes it easy to wrap one's mind around the subject.

Prayer

Merciful Father,
as I read grant me keenness of mind,
capacity to remember,
skill in learning, subtlety to interpret,
and eloquence in speech.
May you guide the beginning of my work,
direct its progress,
and bring it to completion.
You who are true God and true man,
who live and reign,
world without end. Amen.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Christianity Today & Evan Almighty


I am going to try to do an occasional piece titled "Discerning Evangelicalism" in which I critique current events, trends, and/or happenings within the evangelical world.

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I've been a bit behind in my periodical reading, and I've finally gotten around to looking at this past months copy of Christianity Today. I was rather shocked to see the movie Evan Almighty featured on the front cover (from what I understand, the cover was actually a paid advertisement, and not a true "cover").

However, I still need to ask, "what in the world was Christianity Today thinking?" Did they leave their discernment at home that day? (Or maybe that's not one of the spiritual gifts taught at Willow Creek).

The first movie was less than reverent, and came complete with the starring character using his newly acquired divine powers to give his live-in girlfriend an orgasm. So.......naturally Christianity Today felt the sequel was a wonderful thing to put on their front cover. Wow! Even more appalling, the "ad/article" was even pushed as a ministry outreach.

I'm all for contemporary significance. I believe it is appropriate to be relevant, and too many churches are hidden (and slowly dying) in the cave of cultural irrelevance. However, far too often those citing "cultural relevance" have simply prostituted themselves before a morally baseless culture. In our attempt to be "cool", we have become unfaithful. I believe the Old Testament prophets would have referred to us as "whores" ---but I wouldn't want to use that non-relevant language less I be considered "uncool".

Christianity Today, remember your roots. You began as a conservative alternative to liberal-dominated Christian media that had accommodated itself to the world. Where are you going?