Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Daily Devo - Wednesday, March 26, 2008

When the ten heard about this, they were indignant with the two brothers. – Matthew 20:24 (NIV)

There is an old saying, power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Greed, lust for power, and desire to control and manipulate others is nothing new. Ambitious leaders are frequent characters in Hollywood productions and novels, and every page of world history is dotted with such individuals. Some want power to do evil; others want power because they think they can do good. Both suffer the same problem: a very unhealthy view of their own worth and abilities.

In Jesus’ day there were good leaders. The Romans excelled at promoting the virtue of noble leadership and wrote much on the subject. The Diaspora Jews (those Jews living outside of Palestine in Jesus’ time) greatly respected pagan rulers who were benevolent toward Judaism. But the overwhelming number of tyrants, regimes, and empires throughout history demonstrates that the quest for power generally produces something ugly, if not evil.

Those who desire power are still enslaved to the harsh master called self-centeredness. The two brothers were certainly consumed with themselves, but many times we miss a very important point. The other 10 were angry that these two had made such a request. David Dickson, puritan expositor and preacher in the 17th century, wrote that “Men will be angry at others for a fault whereof they themselves are guilty”. Perhaps they were thinking, “Who do they think they are?” Or even, “What makes them think they are qualified?” Inside these thoughts lay deeper, darker thoughts. One thought may be “I am more qualified than John”, or perhaps “I would never have asked such a thing”. Notice the language? Getting away from prideful self-centeredness is difficult indeed.

I am learning not to get angry at the sin I see in others. It is hard; believe me—especially when it is directed at me. I am trying a different approach. When I see another’s sin (even if it takes the form of an arrow pointed at me), I use that as a reminder to search my heart for my own sinfulness. If someone slanders me, I try to remember if I have slandered anyone recently. If someone screams at me, I recall times when I have screamed at my children for little reason. By remembering who I am, and what I am, I find myself becoming less indignant with another’s sin, and more indignant with my own.

J. I. Packer's legacy of leading with humility

Evangelicalism & Leadership:
J. I. Packer's legacy of leading with humility

A few years back I attended a conference celebrating the 300th anniversary of Jonathan Edwards. J. I. Packer was one of the keynote speakers and I was eager to get a book autographed by him. I purchased a hardcover 20th anniversary edition of Knowing God, and made a beeline for Packer after the conclusion of his presentation. For 30 minutes after his speech he was swarmed by scores of young men, some asking questions, others seeking advice, most simply listening, all seeking to have him autograph something. Two things happened during that time that I will never forget. The first is something Packer wrote, the second is something he refused to.

What Packer wrote: Finally getting my turn, I thrust my copy of Knowing God into his hands and awkwardly asked for him to sign it (for some reason the pubescent voice-cracking of my Junior High years decided to resurface just at that moment). His eyes danced as they met mine, but faded into a dull resignation when I asked for his autograph. He took the book, signed it, and quickly moved on. Only later, in the hotel room, did I come to understand what had occurred. Beneath his name he had written a single scripture reference: Psalm 7:3. After looking it up, it read:
O LORD my God, if I have done this,
if there is wrong in my hands... (ESV)

What Packer didn't write: After I had my my book signed, many more pressed him. He signed books as he answered questions. The insight he provided into the Puritans in those few minutes still have a lasting impact on me. During the conversation, a young man (my age) approached Packer with a newly purchased ESV Bible (of which Packer was a general editor). Excitedly, he asked Packer to sign it and handed it to him. For a few moments Packer held the Bible in his hands, and quietly returned it to the young man. He said, "Son, this is God's book. If you want it signed you will need to ask him."

When I turn to the leadership manuals, books, and seminars so prominent within Evangelicalism I rarely find anything that describes a man like Packer. Current Evangelicalism's obsession with leadership is seen in my own Alma mater's motto, "building His kingdom one leader at a time" (by the way, Christ brings about his kingdom. We do not "build" it). Books such as Good to Great and The Effective Executive are offered as the obvious model for what a leader should look like. A leader is decisive, a central figure, someone to 'rally the troops'.

Yet my brief encounter with Packer showed me a very different kind of leader. I met a man who awkwardly stepped into the spotlight, and then only because he felt compelled to by God. A man who was scared that signing his name in my book would displease his Lord and God. A man who recoiled at the thought of his name being on the Creator's inspired Word. A man who wished his name would decrease into order that his Master's name would increase.

Those who know Packer better than I can certainly point out his faults. I certainly cannot agree with all of his decisions (particularly regarding his involvement with the Anglican church). Yet I remain solidly convinced on one point: when I met J. I. Packer, I saw what biblical leadership was meant to be.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Daily Devo - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

“Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?” “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father.” - Matthew 20:22b-23 (NIV)1

Over the years I have intentionally established relationships with believers around the world. I regularly correspond with believers in many different countries. There insights into the gospel from their cultural perspectives have helped me remove some of my western “blinders”. One thing I repeatedly here from these dear brothers and sisters is that “American Christianity is obsessed with God’s blessings but is no longer willing to endure God’s suffering”. As a pastor in India put it, “American Christians are spiritually lazy”. We rejoice in the blessings God gives and actively pray for them. We want the rewards of service, but somewhere along the way we ceased serving. We desire payment without laboring for our King.

As we discussed in yesterday’s devotional, Salome wanted her sons to be in positions of honor in Jesus’ new kingdom. Back in 19:28, Jesus told the disciples they would sit on twelve thrones. Now he asks them if they think they can really “drink from his cup” (i.e. live like the Messiah). Foolishly, they say ‘yes’, and Jesus informs them that they were more right then they realized. This wasn’t a threat, it was a promise. Jesus isn’t informing them that punishment is on its way, but rather that they will share in the glories of advancing the Kingdom through their sacrifices. They were thinking of the blessings, Jesus was thinking of the miseries that lay ahead. Humanity seeks to avoid suffering whereas Jesus calls on his followers to embrace it.

James and John did drink from Jesus’ cup. Acts 12:2 records the martyrdom of James and church traditions tells us of the torture and banishment endured by John (cf Rev 1:9). They wanted glory, and they received suffering. They wanted recognition, and they received shameful deaths. They wanted power, and they became powerless. Yet, because of this the kingdom of Christ continues to advance.

Regarding this passage, Matthew Henry writes, “We do not know what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown, and ask not for the grace to bear the cross on our way to it”. Don’t stop praying for blessings, but do start praying for the grace (and willingness) to suffer for Jesus.

1 Many Greek manuscripts add, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (the KJV retains this rendering). More than likely this was an assimilation to Mark 10:38-39, as the earliest and most substantial manuscripts of Matthew’s gospel do not contain this clause.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Daily Devo - Monday, March 24, 2008

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him. “What is it you want?” he asked. She said, “Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.” “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said to them. – Matthew 20:20-22a (NIV)

James and John were a bit on the cocky side. Their father, Zebedee, was moderately wealthy and owned a fishing company (Mark 1:20). Their mother, Salome (Mark 15:40) was active in Jesus’ ministry as were her two adult sons. Apparently, her sons inherited something of her aggressive nature because they received the nickname “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). Despite being a bit overbearing and overconfident, we see here an example of a faithful, Christian family. There is no hint in this passage that Salome (or the boys) lacked faith in Christ and she certainly had a high view of Jesus. She recognized his divinity and worshiped him (notice her kneeling down). The problem was that she also had too high a view of her sons.

Pushy parents should see a warning in this text. So many times Christian parents, who truly love God, tend to honor the wrong thing. Certainly a mom is always to be loving and proud of her children. Yet, Salome went well beyond this, as do many parents today.

Moms run their children all around town so they may participate in endless extra-curricular activities. Dads work overtime to pay for more ‘stuff’ for the kids. Ask any public school teacher and she (or he) can tell you endless stories of pushy parents (I have been that parent). “My child should be able to sing in the Christmas play”. “My son should be playing short-stop”. “My daughter should have received an A on that class project”.

Yes, such sentiments are motivated by genuine love. Parents like these truly want the best for their child, but therein lays the problem. For Salome, the “best” meant exalting her sons to Jesus. Though she taught her boys to believe in Christ, she also allowed the subtle sin of self-centeredness to take root in their hearts. She saw the “best” as being positions of power. God sees the best as being Jesus himself. Though still disciples, Jesus ceased to be the perfect center and focus of their lives. Salome exalted her sons to Jesus when she should have exalted Jesus to her sons.

Parents, the best thing you can do for your child is to teach them the magnificent glory and splendor of Christ.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Daily Devo - Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard
Matthew 20:1-16

The parables of Jesus are some of my favorite sections of the Bible. They are "earthy" in the sense they present truth in a way that I can relate to everyday life. The most profound truths are embedded in the simplest of stories. As stories, they contain what could be called "Narrative Power". Narrative power is the power of a story to 'pull you in' (so to speak), and allow the reader to see herself within the story. By identifying with the story, it becomes real to us. In essence, it becomes our story.

In this parable there are three groups of people with whom the owner of the vineyard interacts. Certainly the vineyard owner is God the Father, and Jesus clearly alludes that the first group of workers (those hired in the earliest portion of the day) are Peter and the other initial disciples. The third group of workers (those hired at the latest portion of the day) are presumably those disciples who come long after the initial twelve. In this parable, Jesus is issuing a warning to the first group: do not become puffed up and begin to think you are more deserving than the last group.

All well and good. I get it, and up until that point the story makes sense to me. However, lately I have begun meditating on the silent middle group. In the middle of the day, the vineyard owner meets a group of people and puts them to work. They have no speaking role so we don't hear their voices or comments. Presumably they were with the other two groups (those hired in the morning, and those hired in the late evening) when it is time to collect their pay from the vineyard owner. Even here this group is silent. The first group doesn't complain about them, and they don't join the first group in complaining about the third group.

As contemporary Christians, who are we to identify with? Certainly not the first group, as we clearly are not one of the original twelve disciples. In the several sermons I have listened to on this passage, most seem to identify modern day Christians with the last group. Thus, the sermons are celebrations that Christ stands ready to accept all who come to Him. However, I do not think that is what the story is trying to communicate (even though that is a truth). Christians today are the middle group hired in mid-day.

The middle group remains silent because they have no bragging rights, but they also have the privilege of watching this scene play out. They hear the vineyard owner rebuke the first group, and see Him give lavishly to the third. Within this story there is a subtle message: if the original twelve are not allowed to become 'high-n-mighty', we certainly are not allowed to.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Daily Devos

"Do not anyone despise you because of your youth..." - I Tim 4:12

In my two trips to India there was one sight I always looked forward to: elephants! These massive creatures were used by the villagers in the outlying areas in the same manner which we use bulldozers. A grow elephant can uproot mature trees, demolish building, and heft large boulders over their shoulders. They can accomplish feats that 50 grown men could not accomplish. If an elephant takes a walk and a tree is in the way, he makes the tree move! Sitting on an elephant is an amazing experience because you can feel and sense the raw power that is moving under you.

Yet despite this power many times they are led and directed by a little child. Even more ironic is how they keep the elephant from escaping (or otherwise roaming and causing mischief) when not working. How can you cage an animal that can rip steel doors off hinges, tear apart massive chains, and knock down brick walls? It's simple, just use a piece of twine and a small stake in the ground. You see, an elephant is taught from childhood that if something is attached to his rear foot, he cannot escape. At first they use massive chains when the creature is too small to break them. Over some time, the size and strength of the chain is reduced until all that is needed is a small twine. It is the mental shackle, not the twine, that is really keeping the elephant in captivity.

In the passage above Paul urges Timothy to not let people look down on him because of his youth. This includes Timothy as well. God has granted our youth culture so much potential. they have energy, strength, and endurance. In many ways, they have massive power and ability. Yet so often they shackle themselves to some little bit of satanic twine, some worldly thing that has captured their heart and mind and made them ineffective for God's service.

Certainly this is not a problem isolated to youth, but frankly I am getting more and more pessimistic of the older generations (including my own 30-something generation) finally securing the resolve to break the twine and begin serving Christ effectively. I pray they will, but I also look to the younger generation. Most are turning from Christ in droves, but there is a growing movement of young men and women desiring to break their shackles of twine.

These are the new, emerging leaders whom we should not despise. Find them, embrace them, disciple them, empower them.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A prayer for pastors before we study

[Note: What would sermons be like if pastors prayed this prayer every time they studied? Can you imagine how such sermons would change our congregations?].

Ineffable Creator

Pour forth a ray of your brightness
into the darkened places of my mind.

disperse from my soul
the twofold darkness into which I was born:
sin and ignorance.

You make eloquent the tongues of infants,
Refine my speech,
and pour forth upon my lips
the goodness of your blessing.

Grant to 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.

Who you are true God and true Man,
Who live and reign, world without end.


Abbreviated. Thomas Aquinas, The Aquinas Prayer Book: The Prayers and Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas (Sophia Institute Press, 2000), p 41-42.

EXPLORING CANAAN - Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism

On February 8, 2007 a group of scientist and secularist scholars produced a document called a Declaration in Defense of Science and Secularism [see here for document]. Based in Washington D.C., the group is called The Center for Free Inquiry. Their mission statement states they exist to "advance critical thinking, freedom of inquiry and humanist values through education, outreach and social services." Furthermore, "the particular focus of [their organization] is on defending the values of scientific naturalism and secular humanism in the context of U.S. law and public policy".

Notice the following statement: "Science transcends borders and provides the most reliable basis for finding solutions to our problems. We maintain that secular, not religious, principles must govern our public policy. This is not an anti-religious viewpoint; it is a scientific viewpoint. To find common ground, we must reason together, and we can do so only if we are willing to put personal religious beliefs aside when we craft public policy."

The signers of the document want personal religious beliefs removed from consideration when constructing public policy. But what is religion? How are we to define that term? Tim Keller, in his book The Reason for God, offers an helpful definition. He notes that it will not do to say that religion is a belief in a personal God, because that definition will not fit Zen Buddhism. Others will define religion as belief in the supernatural, but that will not fit Hinduism which denies the existence of a supernatural realm "beyond" the material world (rather, it sees a spiritual realm within the present world). Keller states that a religion is a "set of beliefs that explain what life is all about, who we are, and the most important things that human beings should spend their time doing" [1]. This is commonly referred to as a "worldview".

Applying Keller's definition to the statement above, it is easy to see the problem with the secular humanist argument. They advocate for the removal of religious belief from consideration, yet openly declare their belief that "science transcends borders and provides the most reliable basis for finding solutions to our problems." By their own criteria, this belief must be excluded as well. Thus, their own logic is self refuting and philosophically absurd. In essence, this declaration declares that all personal worldviews must be excluded from consideration with the sole exception of their own.

When challenged with this, such secular humanists generally appeal to the "greater good" to determine which worldview should be dominate within a society. Thus, the good of the individual (which the individual may determine to be rape, murder, or theft) is outweighed by the good of the group. Thus, instead of a transcendent God standing over the individual, humanists offer a transcendent community. But notice a key statement found within the document. They cite the following statistic: "A recent poll by the Pew Research Center revealed that 64% of Americans are open to the idea of teaching intelligent design or creationism in public schools." The declaration goes on to decry this as an ignorant position that must not be allowed to control public policy. Yet, if the group determines morality, shouldn't the individual scientist be forced to comply to the group's standards? More alarming, what happens when the group advances a similar ideology to Nazi Germany?

To solve this problem, the declaration appeals to science. They write, "we cannot hope to convince others that it is wrong to compel women to veil themselves when we deliberately draw a veil over scientific knowledge." Yet what test tube can offer evidence that something is "wrong"? Millions of people (Muslims) find joy in a system that elevates men over women. Science can only tell us the "is", and never the "ought". That is, it can only discover what human behavior is, yet it is powerless to suggest what it should be. If anything, a man dominating over a woman is a natural expression of survival of the fittest (as would be rape, murder, and theft). The very concepts of "good" and "evil" only find a consistent, universal basis in theistic religion.

Yet the effort to remove theism from the public square continues. Sadly, many Christians succumb to this mindset and urge other Christians to keep their faith-perspectives a private matter. Secular humanists illogically derive their values from theistic religion (most particularly, Christianity). Sadly, many Christians illogically derive their thought processes from secular humanists. If you refuse to take your faith with you into the public sector, it may be because you have no faith to take at all.

[1] Tim Keller, The Reason for God (Dutton, 2008), p 15.

Exploring Canaan is a series of post that explore aspects of secular culture from a Christian point of view. Moses ordered the 12 spies to explore the land of Canaan to analyze both its dangers and wonders. Pastor Josh Gelatt writes from the point of view that we have the bible's liberty to embrace those aspect of secular culture that can be beneficial for God's people, while also following the bible's command to shun those aspects which are detestable in God's eyes.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

FAITH QUESTIONS: Are blacks cursed?

FAITH QUESTION: My pastor recently taught that black people are cursed by God. Is this true?

I need to be very honest here: immediately find a new church to attend. Racism is a heinous sin that is incompatible with true Christianity. It is not simply that racism is something Christians should avoid. Rather, if one demeans or devalues another human being on the basis of color or ethnicity then that person’s very salvation is called into serious question. A true disciple of Christ can be a racist about as legitimately as he can be an abortion doctor.

All human beings are cursed because of our sinfulness. This includes blacks, but it also includes whites, Hispanics, indigenous peoples, and every other people group under the sun. Because we are all equally cursed, we all stand equally in need of Jesus’ salvation.

Frankly, your pastor will stand before God one day and be judged for his satanic, racist ideology that was authored in the darkest corners of hell. He is a false teacher, a pawn of Satan, and a heretic. By this teaching he has distorted the doctrine of humanity, the doctrine of the church, and even the doctrine of redemption. Scripture teaches that we are all created in the image of God (doctrine of humanity), the church is comprised of every tribe, nation, and tongue (the doctrine of the Church), and Christ is no respecter of persons who redeems all who accept him as Lord (doctrine of redemption). The center of the Gospel is the message of the love of Christ. Looking down on others, and elevating ourselves above others, is a mark of hatred and pride. These lead to death and hell, and are the very things Christ came to save us from.

Scripture teaches us that Christ came to call all peoples unto himself. The Old Testament declares, "Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, That all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him" (Daniel 7:14). The gospel is preached "to those who dwell on the earth--to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people" (Revealtion 14:6). John's vision of heaven was one of "a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands" (Revelation 7:9). There is no room in Christianity for those who would deny the very center of the Gospel.

My African-American fellow believers are my brothers and sisters in Christ. We once stood equally guilty before God and equally deserved hell. Now we stand equally forgiven before God as equally loved children.

They are no longer cursed, but your pastor may very well still be…

You can also follow Pastor Josh on Twitter: Questions about faith, scripture, theology, or daily Christian living can be submitted via Email. "Faith Questions" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Pastoral Pontification, or fellow co-servant of Christ?

Some time ago I started a series of posts called Ask the Pastor. My intention was (and still is) to help others interact more with Scripture's teaching on a variety of issues. I firmly believe the Bible is God's revealed message for us today, and in it we find new life and the plan God has for our lives.

However, I believe that through that series of posts I have begun to communicate something I never intended: namely, that I am somehow an expert regarding God. The very title of the posts implied that the ignorant masses only need to come to me for a better understanding. I hold the answers, I am the guru to be followed.

As much as I wish that were the case, reality keeps hitting me square in the face. Before God, we are all equally foolish, equally ignorant, and equally in need of His wisdom and guidance. Yes, the Bible does talk about a teaching office and the Spirit grants the gift of teaching to some. A few say I have that gift (and perhaps a few say I don't). Regardless, truth isn't given to one indiviudal--it is given to the community of God's people. We discover God's truth together, not individually.

In order to accentuate this concept, I will henceforth retitle my posts. The basic format will not change. I will still take and respond to questions, offer my opinion and give what I firmly believe Scripture says. But I also will attempt to take the stress off me and to put it where it belongs: the Word of God. Within its pages are new life. I am simply a former dead man who was brought to life through its wonderful message. By doing this, I seek to balance two extremes: one says that I hold the answers, the other that no answers can be found. Both are nonsense. I believe in the certainty of truth, and I believe Scripture is the divinely given truth that can be studied and known. Together, let us journey towards that truth.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Daily Devo - Monday, March 10, 2008

Then Peter said in reply, "See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?" Jesus said to them, "Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. - Matthew 19:27-30

The average church in America is full of people who can't seem to get along. They argue, bicker, back-stab, and discourage. At least, this is the popular conception of most churches. Rightly or wrongly, this is what the pagan world around us believes, and sadly it is what most disenchanted Christians assume.

Jesus' idea of church is radically different. Our fellow Christians are first and foremost family . Paul uses the term brothers over 65x in his letters. We are the family of God, and the joint sons and daughters of God. Jesus is saying the above words to Peter and the other apostles who gave up earthly families to follow Jesus. Perhaps some of them were disinherited from their family systems. Perhaps wives walked out on them. Perhaps parents shunned them. If they lost family, the closest earthly relationships in the world, what reward would Christ give them?

The answer: he will give them a new family. Our physical families only last for a lifetime, but the family of God lasts for all eternity. Sharing bloodlines is an important bond, but not nearly as important as the bond between those who share the blood of Christ. When we gather together we are not simply co-disciples, we are to be intimate, faithful, loving brothers and sisters in the faith. This is why the authors of the New Testament rank the sins of grumbling and sowing discord right next to murder and adultery, because murmuring and grumbling destroys family!

Jesus also wants us to look at each other with kingdom-eyes. Yes, a fellow believer is a brother. But, he is not merely a brother. He is also a divinely bestowed reward. My fellow believers are the reward Christ has given me for my commitment to him. When we look at each other, we are to say, 'thank you Jesus for giving me Tom as a brother in Christ. Thank you Lord for the presence of Sue in my life.' Family irritates. They bother. They get under our skin at times. But we are to remain profoundly thankful for their presence. They were brought into your life for a purpose---to reward you for service to the king! Treat them like the reward they are.

ASK THE PASTOR - Question about Apostasy

Question from Regina

ASK THE PASTOR: If someone renounces his faith, is he considered an apostate or does the church just say that he was never saved to begin with and is treated as a non believer?

The term 'apostate' is used to designate one who has, wholly or in part, left the true faith to embrace a false belief [1]. It is different in meaning from the term 'heretic'. A heretic is someone who distorts or misconstrues the central beliefs of Christianity while simultaneously claiming to represent true faith. An apostate is someone who voluntarily and absolutely denies and abandons the faith. In church history, the term is most specifically applied to the Roman Emperor Julian. Though a nominal Christian when he ascended to the throne, he quickly renounced his Christian faith and used every means in his power to re-establish paganism within the empire.

The New Testament contains a host of images of apostasy, including a plant taking root among the rocks but withering under the hot sun of testing (Mk 4:5–6, 17 par.), or those who fall prey to the wiles of false teachers (Mt 24:11), heretical beliefs (1 Tim 4:1; 2 Tim 4:3–4), worldliness and its defilement (2 Pet 2:20–22), and persecution (Mt 24:9–10; Rev 3:8). The Christian apostate is pictured as a branch that does not abide in the vine of Christ and thus withers and is cast into the fire (Jn 15:6). Animal behavior is evoked in a dog returning to its vomit or a clean pig returning to the mire (2 Pet 2:22) [2].

The Apostle Paul predicts a time when there will be a mass falling away (e.g. apostasy) from true faith (cf 2 Thessalonians 2:3). Though he does not specify this time, he envisions it being in the last days. But he also warns believers in his own day to be wary of that possibility in their own lives. In 1 Corinthians 10:12 he writes, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall!”. For Paul, apostasy is a real threat and he continually urges believers to examine their commitment to Christ. Apostasy is a serious sin. For the author of Hebrews, apostasy is the spurning of the Son of God and a profaning of the blood of the covenant (Heb 10:29). That verse ends by saying such apostasy "outrages the Spirit of grace".

Now that we have understood apostasy, the next question is whether or not such apostates were true Christians to begin with. Scripture speaks directly to this issue. The Apostle John, writing about apostates in the last days, clearly indicates that they were never true believers. He states, "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us" (1 John 2:19, NIV). John 6:64-71 describes how many of Jesus' "disciples" left him because they could no longer embrace his teaching. Though scripture uses the word "disciple" to describe those who rejected Christ, it also makes clear they were not true disciples. Although they looked like followers of Christ for a time, ultimately their rejection of Christ proved they never gave their hearts to Him.

[1] McClintock and Strong, Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclessiastical Literature: Volume 1: A-B (Baker, 1981 reprint), p 308.
[2] Ryken, Leland; Wilhoit, James C.; Longman III, Tremper, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, (InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.

Friday, March 7, 2008

California bans homeschooling

In a stunning decision, the California Court of Appeals ruled that parents without teaching certification do not have a constitutional right to homeschool their children (see San Francisco Chronicle article) . Over 166 thousand children are homeschooled in the state of California. The Second District Court of Appeal ruled that California law requires parents to send their children to full-time public or private schools or have them taught by credentialed tutors at home.

In the written decision the judge said, "A primary purpose of the educational system is to train school children in good citizenship, patriotism and loyalty to the state and the nation as a means of protecting the public welfare." This educational philosophy is quite ancient (for example, this is a main thesis in Plato's Republic), but it is also one of the greatest historic enemies to human liberty. While the government arguably has a right to ensure the education of it's citizen's children, it does not have a right to enforce a particular ideology upon children without parental consent. In a free society, enforcing loyalty to the state smacks of fascism, and forcing a particular curriculum upon families strips them of their most fundamental liberty.

Al Mohler, president of Southern Theological Seminary and homeschool parent, responded by saying, "This is a controversy that demands the attention of all parents. After all, if parents have no constitutional right to educate their own children, what other aspects of the parent's choices for their own children lack protection?" Can a mom spank her child? Can a dad teach his son that homosexuality is a sin? Can parents require their children to attend church services with them? In all three examples, parental rights have been legally called into question.

I am an advocate of the public school, and I am honored to serve on my local school's elected Board of Education. As supportive as I am of public school education, I am more supportive of parental rights. A parent has the right to ensure the education for their child that they deem most appropriate. For many, this will be private or religious schools. For Christian families, I would strongly recommend the Christian school as an alternative to public education. For others, homeschooling would be the most appropriate option. The core issue is who has the ultimate responsibility for the training and equipping of the child: the parent or the state? When the State usurps the parent, democracy dies.

In my opinion, this decision of the California Court of Appeals is the single greatest threat to democracy and the family we have seen this decade.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Discerning Luther

Martin Luther (1483-1546) has always been a controversial figure. For hundreds of years Luther has been loved or hated. The Catholic church of the Reformation era tried to kill him and political rulers sought to silence him. He was viewed as a heretic both by the Roman Catholics and the Radical Reformers. Luther himself was a brash, outspoken German prone to colorful outbursts and abusive language. His vernacular alone was potent enough to secure the hatred of many.

Yet to most Protestants Luther is rightly viewed as the bold reformer who stood up to the corruption of the Church--both in terms of its morality and doctrine. While his language could be colorful and abusive, it could also be warm and pastoral. The same fire that burns flesh also warms hearts.

Now it seems Pope Benedict XVI is seeking to unite the lovers and haters of Luther. A recent news story reports that Benedict will gather with a group of Catholic theologians in September 2008 where he will argue that Martin Luther wasn't actually a heretic after all. One of those theologians, Cardinal Kasper, said: “We have much to learn from Luther, beginning with the importance he attached to the word of God.” Luther challenged the authority of the papacy by holding that the Bible is the sole source of religious authority. In his own time, Luther was declared a heretic, (see the papal bull issued by Pope Leo X) who was simply a "druken German" who would "change his mind when sober”.

Many Protestants will no doubt welcome Rome's reassessment of Martin Luther. The spirit of dialogue between Catholics and Protestants (most specifically Evangelicals) is an important and historic development. Those who oppose this dialogue quickly forget that Martin Luther yearned for such opportunities, though he never received them.

No, dialogue between Catholics and Evangelicals is essential and non-negotiable. But because it is so important, it is also so dangerous. The danger is the contemporary tendency to trivialize the substantive. As they embrace the more general and non-controversial elements of Luther's ideas (e.g. the importance of Scripture), the Catholic Church will most certainly ignore the key differences. Thus, many Catholics and Protestants will claim that the differences of the groups have moved closer to resolution where in reality they have simply been obscured.

Prayer for dialogue, but pray for genuine dialogue.

Daily Devo - Thursday, March 6, 2008

And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day. – Matthew 20:17-19

Imagine yourself walking with the Savior. You, and a small group of like-minded friends, have been granted the privilege of accompanying Jesus on a walk upon a country, unpaved road. You see his humanity, yet sense his divinity. He speaks ever-so-softly, but it is as if the mountains tremble as the words are pronounced. You recognize your weakness even as you recognize his undeniable strength.

But now Jesus goes and messes everything up. Just as you begin to glimpse his sovereignty he begins to speak of his suffering and death. You feel his power, yet he talks about a coming powerlessness. You see his regal qualities, but he speaks of his lowly humiliation. The Lord has a habit of doing this throughout the Gospels. Just when things are going pretty good, he sneaks in a side comment foretelling the coming terror. We wish to live on the spiritual mountaintop, but Jesus sometimes pulls down to the hellish valley.

Perhaps the reason for this is that Jesus recognizes that mountains can only be scaled by first walking through the valley floor. We can only receive spiritual hope and encouragement by joining Jesus as the foot of the cross. David Dickson, the 17th century Puritan preacher and expositor, said that the Gospels’ “often fortelling of our Lord’s passion, doth serve to confirme us of the resolute willingnes of the Redeemer to suffer for us.”1 In other words, a Christian never “gets beyond” the cross. In Jesus day he was constantly pointing his disciples forward to the cross, just as now Scripture constantly points us backward towards it. There, in the death & resurrection, we find assurance. There we find salvation. There we find strength. There we find hope. And, most importantly, there we see the Redeemer accomplishing our redemption.

Spelling original.
David Dickson, A Brief Exposition of the Euangel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew, 1647.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Daily Devo - Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Some years ago I had a difficult ministry experience. Though no ‘bridges were burned’, the ministry we committed ourselves to proved to be a poor fit. A year earlier we left family, friends, and home and moved to embark on a new journey for the Lord’s glory. A year later we returned penniless, virtually homeless, and unsure of our next step. Frankly, it was rather humiliating. By God’s grace, our church family of over 10 years was supportive and unconditionally loving through this dark period. I returned to seminary, poured myself into my studies, and began volunteering considerably at church. The dark cloud began to lift…or so I thought.

I received a phone call from a friend telling me he and his wife had purchased a new home and he couldn’t wait for us to come over and see it. As we walked through the home, he excitedly showed off its many impressive features. Large rooms, finished basement, formal dinning room, ample kitchen, efficient heating system, attractive professional landscaping---it was a beautiful home. During the tour I felt something growing inside me. Jealously is the wrong word, because what I felt was pure rage. I made an excuse and quickly left. I remember gripping the steering wheel on the ride home, my eyes burning with angry tears. I didn’t have a home. My ministry ended in failure. I had three children who knew nothing of stability because I had not yet “arrived”. I wasn’t even sure how I was going to pay rent that month. Though he was my dear friend, in that moment I hated him…jealous of the blessings God had bestowed upon him. I knew it was wrong, but at that moment I didn’t care. I couldn’t rejoice in my friend’s joy because an evil had clouded my vision. My “eye” had become evil.

In the passage quoted something similar has happened. Faithful servants of the landowner have become jealous of his generosity to other employees. They felt they were more deserving. Someone once said that jealousy is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. It festers inside us and, like a cancer, begins to consume. Like me, those servants believed they deserved God’s blessings—at least more so than others. We enter spiritually dangerous territory the moment we begin to think we deserve something because of our time, diligence, or commitment to Christ.

Soren Kierkegaard understood something of the proper attitude believers. He once wrote, “I am a poor wretch whom God took charge of, and…I only long for the peace of eternity in order to do nothing but thank him.” (Kierkegaard, The Journals). The cure for jealousy is the proper understanding of our condition (we are “poor wretches”). As I have embraced this view of self I am noticing something wonderful: I am now capable of rejoicing in the blessings others receive. I am thankful for the blessings the Lord gives. They are wonderful, but I don’t need them. I have all I’ll ever need----I have him! For all eternity I shall thank him for that precious gift.

Sunday AM Sermon - 2008.03.02 - "Faithful Following" (Romans Part 2)

Listen to part two of our overview of the book of Romans called Faithful Following. This is part of series called Sincerely, Paul which is a look at the 13 letters (or "epistles") of the Apostle Paul. In this sermon Pastor Josh describes faithful following, and teaches how the Lord has faithfully been providing for His people from the beginning of creation until now. In return, He calls on His people to faithfully follow after Him.

[Special thanks to Jim Ackerman at Destination North for hosting these sermons]

Sermons online

Jim, a good friend over at Destination North blog, has volunteered to host many of my sermons online. Eventually, we plan on redoing the church website to allow for more consistent hosting of the sermons there. It's on the "to-do list", but it's not exactly a high-priority.

If you have an interest in hearing me drone on and on, please feel free to visit the site.

Jim has also posted sermons of a few other men here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Daily Devo - Tuesday, March 4, 2008

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.” - Matthew 20:1 (NKJV)

One of my favorite church buildings is a Greek Orthodox building in Southwest Michigan. The sanctuary is oval shaped with several massive windows around the exterior. Within each window is a stain-glass icon of one of the twelve Apostles. Worshippers presumably assemble each Lord’s day to hear the Apostle’s teaching (i.e. Scripture) while being visually ‘surrounded’ by the Apostle’s themselves. If I could build a church building, this would be it.

Many of my Baptist brethren would take issue with me on this point. Some would sense that such images of the Apostles smack of Catholicism or show inappropriate reverence of mere humans. However, Revelation 21:14 clearly teaches that the wall of the Celestial city will bear the names of the twelve Apostles for all eternity. If such decoration is good enough for Heaven, I’m sure it should pass our standards on carnal earth. But my detractors do have a point—and a very important one. Namely, at the foot of the cross all must bow down. None are ‘more worthy’ than others in the eyes of Jesus.

In the parable of the landowner, Jesus is trying to counterbalance what he has just told the Apostles in 19:27-30. There he informed them of the great privileges they would have for being the first and chief responders to the Gospel. Now, in the first several verses of chapter 20, Jesus explains the true nature of how rewards work in the Kingdom of Heaven. He gave an equal reward to those who had worked one hour in the cool evening and those who had “borne the burden and heat] of the day.” Jesus is telling the Apostles that those who would come after them and express belief in Christ (you and I) would be equally rewarded with eternal life and blessings. It was not the dedication or hard-work of the Apostles that Jesus was rewarding, but rather the reward flowed from his own generosity.

The Apostles should be admired and held out as examples for living the Christian life. If given unlimited funds, I would still have twelve stained-glass windows bearing their image in my “perfect” church building. Despite this, I recognize that they must bow before the foot of the cross as I do. In that place (and in that position) all thirteen of us recognize who is truly worthy of admiration.

Pastors, continue to clean up your language

I liked my sermon this past Sunday. I thought it was laid out well, adequately prepared for, and delivered with sufficient passion and competence. Don't get me wrong, I am not bragging since it is a rarity that I actually like my sermons. I am a very harsh self-critic. Still, despite my "success" there were noticeable weak points. I still get too wordy in the opening (consuming precious sermon time), am prone to lose my train of thought, or forget to include material that helps tie my points together. I am, after all, still a novice.

But in my last Sunday morning sermon I said something that, upon further reflection, is possibly theologically wrong. During the invitation (a rarity in my sermons) I asked the hearers to examine their hearts and come forward if they desired a relationship with God. Speaking on Romans 9-12 (with its strong emphasis on election), I indicated that many are called, but few are chosen. I told them that God was calling all sinners to repentance, but he only chooses his elect. I asked the audience to look deep within and determine if God had chosen them for eternal life.

Now, at this point my Arminian friends will cry foul. Fair enough. Just understand that I try, above all things, to be uncompromisingly biblical. If a text "sounds" Arminian, I let it sound Arminian. If it "sounds" Calvinistic, I let it sound Calvinistic. Though I am a committed Calvinist, I believe we should let Scripture speak for itself and do my best not to force a particular passage into any "system". While some may take offense at what I presented above, know that I do not.

It is what I said next that bothers me. I told the people that if they felt drawn to Jesus that means they are one of God's elect. There is a degree of truth in that statement, but it is a simplistic statement, and simplistic statements are always prone to misunderstanding and misapplication. A chief problem is that the language smacks of God-speak; that is, it assumes a God's-eye view. The statement also offered potentially false assurance. What if someone felt "drawn to Jesus" in a mystic or formalistic sense? What if they felt drawn to him because they feel "like a better person" for going to church? According to my statement, they could then rest assured that they are indeed one of God's elect. I would like to think that the rest of my sermon made clear the radical demands that Christ makes upon his followers, and perhaps I am over analyzing my statement.

However, as a minister of the Gospel I do feel the massive weight and responsibility of accurately communicating the faith "once for all delivered to the saints". In the pulpit there is no room for overly simplistic or vague statements. If we are clear on nothing else, we must be clear on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Pastors, continue to work on "cleaning -up" your language--constantly making it more accurate, more precise, more biblical. We have been chosen for just this purpose.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Raising Children God's Way

As a licensed professional counselor people often seek my opinion regarding whether their children should be diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficient and Hyperactivity Disorder). Strictly speaking, that is a question more for a psychologist than a counselor. Yet, ADHD is a real disorder and the successful identification and treatment will help any individual face life more effectively.

However, in the opinion of many professionals this label is wrongly applied to millions of children, most particularly to young boys. A recent advertisement posted by the University of Nebraska serves as an example of this tendency. They ask parents to see if their children have the “symptoms” of ADHD (see ad below). These include difficulty paying attention in school, being easily distracted, losing things, having trouble taking turns, and being fidgety. Frankly, I am not sure if they are defining ADHD or simply childhood in general! This description fits 99% of every boy in America. Every sector of society pushes this diagnosis onto families. Pressure comes from the schools, doctors, psychologists, relatives, and counselors.

Loving parents, seeking to do the best for their children, listen to these voices. The professionals promise a better child for only the cost of a small pill. As a result, an untold number of children walk around drugged up in a massive effort to keep them from being children. What’s worse, this robs mom and dad the opportunity to be the parents God has called them to be.

Scripture offers another method. I need to be very honest with you here: the Bible’s method for parenting is much harder than giving your child a daily pill. Proverbs 22:6 commands parents to "train up a child", implying that parenting requires a plan and that it will be hard work. Next it says "when they are old" which means there is no such thing as “quick fixes”. Negative behavior in your child will only be fixed by a consistent, long term commitment. God expects parents to set boundaries and give consequences for wrong behavior in a spirit of love. Children wiggle, squirm, and disobey. A pill won’t solve that problem, God never intended it to.

HT: Al Mohler