Saturday, February 28, 2009
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
It is hard to believe it is already 2009 in spite of the fact that I have felt the same surprise at the beginning of each New Year for the past decade. I'll catch on eventually. Nevertheless, as I thought about setting goals for the New Year I had to reflect on how influenced I have sometimes become by the world’s bankrupt way of thinking without even realizing it. This influence rears its ugly head in the most subtle ways through television, political talk shows (yes, even the conservative ones!) the media, etc. It is important to know that as Aristotle, said, "Man's problem is that of a fish in water." We spend our entire lives enveloped by the world just as a fish is enveloped by water. As a result we inevitably become versed in the world's way of thinking without realizing it. Swimming down-stream with the rest of the world is a problem because we are commanded in Scripture to "love not the world" (I John 2:15).
After confessing this sin of worldliness I saw in my own heart, God challenged me to get serious in not being conformed to the world’s way of thinking, but to instead be transformed by Christ’s way of thinking (This is a concept taught particularly in Romans 12:2, Philippians 2:5). This is an easy New Year’s resolution to make because it isn’t really an option; it is a command clearly laid out in Scripture. For this reason it is a goal every one of us as Christians should have. As a pastor, renewing the mind and putting on Christ's mind is a goal I must do everything in my power to help those in my congregation grow in even as I grow alongside them.
You may be asking: "how do you go about renewing your mind by putting on the mind of Christ? " That is a hard question to answer with just a few sentences, but here are a some thoughts to start with: first, the only way to see the life transforming work of a renewed mind is to push away from the buffet table of the world and feast on God instead (Colossians 3:1-6). Second, the only way you can know you’re even hungry for God is when your hungry for His Word (I Peter 2:1-3). Finally, you will never grow in your hunger for God’s Word unless you are radical about setting aside the time necessary to plant your face in it.
To help Christians at True North grow in this area we are setting aside Wednesday nights to renew the mind in 2009. Each week we will be learning just how effective the Bible is in dealing with the issues our world throws at us. We want to know how Christ would respond to the things we all face living in the Twenty-first century. We will cover everything from: how to pray biblically, to: how to respond to the threat of Islam with the mind of Christ. Check out the calendar below to look at what we will be learning on a month to month basis. If you're in the Jacksonville area and would like to attend, you will find more information at: www.TrueNorthBaptist.org.
January – February
Can you describe God to someone correctly, or would your description be something you just pulled out of your imagination? What things does God love? What does He hate? Does He look like you and me? We will let the Bible answer some of these important questions, but will start by laying a foundation for understanding God’s nature: What does it mean to say that God is a Spirit (John 4:24); that He is Triune (John 1:1-18, I Peter 1:2); that He Is Holy (Isaiah 57:15)?
The Crescent In Light of the Cross:
Is Islam a religion of peace as our President and the media have been telling us over and over? Or, are they telling us lies? How should we as Christians confront this religion with the love of Christ? We will do the work of an Apologist and answer these questions from the Quran, History, and the Bible. Don't miss out on this informative time.
April – May
Teach Us How To Pray!
Have you ever struggled with not feeling confident you even knew how to pray, much less
what to pray? You’ll be comforted to know that Jesus not only commanded us to pray; He
taught us how to pray. This will be a great study on prayer because we will learn from
Matthew 6 how we are expected to pray. We will also learn lessons from some of the
greatest prayer warriors who ever lived, particularly Moses, David, Daniel and the early
church in Acts.
Playing God: The Brave New World of Bioethics:
Our culture is now committed to the belief that there is no universal standard for
right & wrong. The result is that respect for human life, which was assumed a
generation ago is now quickly fading. National leaders scowl at the destruction of
trees but promise more tax-dollars to fund the destruction of unborn babies. We
will learn from Scripture why all human life is sacred in light of how devalued human
life has become through practices such as abortion, assisted suicide and euthanasia.
July – August
What is Revival?
We live in a spiritually dry land where the church is in desperate need of revival.
However, many churches have the strange notion that you can somehow schedule revival,
when, ironically, they seem to have trouble defining it. We will open God’s Word and
learn why you cannot simply pencil God into your daily planner. We will also find out
what revival is, how its occurrence has changed the course of history, and why we should
pray fervently for it to take place in our lifetimes.
Does God Believe In Atheists?
What are the arguments against God? Can they be countered biblically? What are
the most biblically sound arguments for God? How can we learn to discern fact from
fiction? All of these are important questions to deal with as Christians living in a land
where every realm of society is influenced by the Church of Darwin.
October – November
Setting Sail in Scripture (Acts 20:26-32)
Is the Bible sufficient? Can it be trusted to handle the everyday problems life throws at
us? Or, should we look to the world’s wisdom instead when it comes to real-world
stuff? We will unfurl the sails and look at several passages of Scripture to prove it is
sufficient for all of life. We’ll also look at what the Bible says about the rewards for
obedience as well as the temporal consequences for disobedience.
December (first two weeks)
Go Tell It On the Mountain!
What does recorded history tell us about the birth of Christ and does it fit with the
biblical account? Was the star that the Magi followed really just a star? How has
Christmas been celebrated by the most devout Christians throughout the centuries?
How should we celebrate Christmas in ways that will invite others to celebrate with us?
Saturday, November 8, 2008
It is safe to say that we have taken the “in the world” part of Jesus’ words to the extreme. This is embarrassingly seen in how desensitized we have become to the senseless killing of more than48,500,000 helpless, unborn American citizens since Roe vs. Wade was passed in 1973.
Should we abort children with defects? The world wants to define life in terms of Eugenics (this term literally means “good gene” and is the science of creating a more genetically fit race of people), namely those who have good genes or who can contribute to the greater good. The world now wants to play the role of God, determining who is fit for life, and who is unfit. Because an unborn child is deemed unviable, at least at the time of gestation in the womb, the child is not human and can be shamelessly discarded.
One German doctor named Bernard Moeller was recently denied permanent residence in Australia because his 13 year old son, Lukas, has down syndrome and is deemed too big of a financial burden on the Australian nanny state. This was in spite of the fact that Dr. Moeller moved to Australia to help out the country due to their huge deficit of doctors. Lukas himself was denied Australian citizenship simply because of his physical condition, reflecting the trend towards Eugenics. Oh, by the way, Eugenics is making a huge comeback after it spent years in disrepute. But you might be interested to know that the last big Eugenics experiment was Hitler's Holocaust during WWII, during which time Dr. Mengele, thought of many cutting-edge ways to help Darwin's process of natural selection along. Killing 6,000,000 Jews was the one that received the most attention, but obviously did not succeed in creating Hitler's master race.
We as Christians do not have the luxury of playing the role of God and determining who is fit for life, and who is unfit. We are told in Psalm 139:13-16, Jeremiah 1:5 and Ephesians 1:4 when life begins. It does not begin at birth, nor does it begin at conception. Instead, we are told that it begins for every one of us before the foundation of the world was laid. We were created by God and are encouraged to know that before we were even formed in the womb of our mother, God not only knew us, but charted out His plan for our lives.
Many Christians will always remember how maligned Sarah Palin was by the mainstream media. We know how powerful they have become at making or breaking someone’s reputation. It is no wonder that many Christians do not take any stand for the unborn because they are scared to death of being lumped in with the handful of misled people in all of history that have committed terrorist acts at abortion clinics.
Many Christians have studied the list of politically correct, convenient untruths and now see global warming as the more pressing issue. Young people are now wearing political agendas as fashion statements. The problem is, the Pro Life cause isn't so trendy with the Hollywood elite, or the Leftist effete, so they shuck it off for something more fashionable. We often put on the superficial façade of standing up for something important when we are really just conforming to the popular culture.
This was clearly seen in a recent poll I saw taken among young "Christian" college students, a high number of whom ranked global warming as a more pressing issue than abortion. The headline praised them in their maturity, having grown beyond the narrow-minded issues of their parents. I however, saw this poll very differently from the liberal media, sadly recognizing it as a declaration that their master is now public opinion, not the Lord Jesus Christ.
If we do not follow this example by speaking up for the rejected members of the human race, speaking up for those who cannot speak, and calling abortion what it really is, "murder," then we are among those who sugar down the truth because we care more about not being an offense to sensitive ears than we do the offense they will face in Hell.
We are among those priests who were rebuked by God for telling the wicked that they were at peace with God when in reality, they were at war with God because of their sin (read Malachi 2:17).
The photo above is of Samuel Alexander Armas, a child who had been in the womb for just twenty-one weeks, and was undergoing a risky surgery to correct spina bifida, a condition that develops while the child is in gestation and usually results in the child being paralyzed for life.
Samuel’s mother, Julie, believed that this child was created in the image of God, and therefore chose life over death. Instead of aborting her child because of the inconvenience he might become, she was determined to honor life and give birth to Samuel. This was a first-time operation performed at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center and was risky. Yet, the results were successful. Today, Samuel is a healthy nine year old boy, who can walk with little aid.
You can see Samuel’s hand reaching out of the uterus in the photo. Many have called this the “hand of hope.” When Dr. Joseph Bruner made the incision into Julie’s uterus, Samuel, obviously sensed the opening and out of curiosity, thrust his little hand through the opening and in the process took everyone’s breathe away.
Even when the unborn child is determined to be non-human, whenever a child is aborted it always recoils at the intrusion of those metal jaws we call forceps. Aborted children suffering abortions have been filmed twitching, jerking, and fighting for their lives, but to no avail. Tell me that this child fighting for its life really has no life at all and I would like to sell you oceanfront property in Arizona.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
When my baby girl was born and I finally met her live and in person, I sang the words of King David: "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Out of the mouth of babes and infants, you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger. . ." (Psalm 8:1-2).
Everytime we behold the miracle of new life coming into the world we are witnessing a reminder of Christ, who through the miracle of childbirth entered our world and chose to establish His strength in shuting the mouth of every foe (Hebrews 2:14-15). We witnessed a beautiful reminder of His strength at 10:44 p.m., August 28, as my wife, April, gave birth to a beautiful 7 lb. 6 oz. baby named Kiersten Eliana Blythe.
I have prayed long and hard recently about the challenges of raising a child to glorify God in this godless age. Ironically, as a pastor, I find myself offering counsel to parents, who like myself, are faced with the same challenge, but who are much further along in the experience of raising a child. What you are about to read are some points I think are crucial for any Christian parent to be convinced of.
Remember, while I have been a student of the Bible for some time and hope these points carry helpful insight, I have only been a club member (parent club) for a month. That being said, if you have a word of constructive criticism concerning the following eleven points, it will be welcomed with listening ears.
1. Sit down as parents as soon as possible and decide what type of discipline will be properly tailored for your child: We know from Scripture that failing to discipline your child is not an option if you care anything about his soul. Solomon clearly links one’s eternal destiny to a matter as simple as whether or not he was disciplined as a child. “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod you will save his soul from Sheol” (Proverbs 24:13-14). It is vitally important that as parents, you intentionally sit down and discuss how this important practice should be implemented.
2. Make sure discipline is both positive & negative. Effective discipline cannot consist only of punishment. This will only discourage your child. Make sure it consists of both punishment and reward; punishment to deter wrong behavior and reward to promote proper behavior.
Positive: Make a chart with all seven days of the week on it. Place it on the refrigerator. List underneath it some of the good things your child can do. Whenever they do something good; place a star on that particular day. When they earn ten stars, reward them by taking them out and buying them a gift. This will promote good behavior in addition to offering your child due attention for doing what is right.
It is important, however, to teach your child that they should obey God’s law regardless of whether they get a reward. The Bible commends the idea of giving rewards (Proverbs 3:27), but also teaches us that we should do good, not to be praised by men, but to honor God. Teach your children that God sees what is done in secret, not what is done openly for the applause of men (Matthew 6:1-13).
Negative: Children usually misbehave in order to get your attention. Whenever they act up, remember that the most effective punishment consists of taking attention away from them, not giving more. Putting children in time out is surprisingly effective when followed-through by the parent.
3. Never discipline a child out of anger! Always affirm your love for your child even when they are being punished. If you are angry, remove yourself from the situation until you have prayed and have a clear head. If you find yourself guilty of punishing your child out of anger, or of yelling at your child, go to them and ask for forgiveness.
(If you struggle with anger issues, read Proverbs 16:32, 25:28, Ephesians 4:26, and James 1:19-20).
4. Be honest about your sin nature: If you show your child a parent who is a sinner seeking to bear the fruits of repentance, they will grow up to humbly admit that they too are sinners who need repentance. When you are willing to humble yourself and go to your child for forgiveness, this helps them see a parent that is real and human just as they are.
Admitting that you are not perfect is important in getting your children to relate to you. They will never relate to a parent that seems perfect and will only reject the Christian faith, deeming it a religion beyond their ability to live up to. Letting them know we are real people; and have all fallen short of God’s glory is key. This will point them to Christ, who alone lives up to perfection (II Corinthians 5:21, Hebrews 4:15). On the other hand, if you lead your child to think you are perfect, the day will come when they will inevitably see your imperfections exposed and be shattered. Having placed you on a pedestal as the model Christian, they will reject Christ because they were wrongly led to believe that a follower of Christ is to be perfect.
5. Never give punishment without first giving understanding! Sit down with your child before you discipline them to explain why what they did was wrong and why it deserves punishment. When possible, show them from the Bible why their actions deserve punishment. Let them know for example that stealing is wrong because the 8th Of the Ten Commandments is: “Thou shalt not steal” (Exodus 20:15).
6. Be consistent! First, never say you are going to punish your child and not follow through with it. Be a person of your word. Second, if you punish them for a particular offense once, do not let them get away with it the second, third, or fourth time. If this occurs, when you finally to get around to punishing them again they will only be confused, not knowing if their actions are wrong or right. If you let your child get away with something just because you are too tired to deal with it and then punish them randomly, this will only provoke your children to anger (Ephesians 6:4). Most visibly, however, they will become beyond your ability to control because you have taught them by your inconsistency that you cannot be taken seriously.
7. Make sure both of you are on the same team! Don’t play good cop bad cop! You should never allow yourself to be the stiff disciplinarian to make up for a spouse who is too laid back. Nor should you let your children get away with everything to make up for a spouse who only lays down the law. This will confuse your child because they will see two conflicting standards for right and wrong. Mom says one thing and Dad says another. In the end, the child who is confused about what is right and wrong will become lawless, not knowing the difference between the two. Kids often play one parent’s word against another. They will ask one parent’s permission to do something and if they do not get the answer they want, they go to the other parent hoping to get it. This type of manipulation is dangerous for two reasons. First, it will destroy your child’s conscience. You will allow them to grow up believing that there really isn’t a universal standard of right and wrong; only one person’s opinion against another’s. Second, it will foster the notion that they can always manipulate to get whatever they want. If this becomes a pattern they may never learn to develop lasting relationships because they will be too selfish to put the other person’s desires above their own.
To guard your child against this destructive tendency you must be quick on your feet. If your child asks permission to do something, ask them if they have talked to the other parent. If they reluctantly admit they have, ask them what the other parent said. In this scenario the answer will obviously be the one your child did not want to hear. What do you do? Simple! Always back up your spouse.
But wait a minute! What if you ask your child what the other parent said and find that their answer is one you cannot accept? This scenario should be extremely rare. But if it happens, do not say anything that conflicts with what your spouse has already said. Whatever you do, do not talk negatively of your spouse in front of your child. Instead, tell your child that you and the other parent will have to discuss your decision privately.
If you are the one with the stronger will you must go out of your way not to strong arm your spouse into agreeing with you. In these matters, some parents completely relinquish their responsibility as parents by letting their spouse make all the decisions (more often than not it is the father). Do not let the lazy parent off the hook. Take time to affirm them and let them know that it is important for them to care about this decision making process. Be sure to discuss both angles and reach a consensus based on what you are both convinced is most biblical. Then, when you have come to a consensus answer your child as one voice.
8. Never put your child above your spouse: (Usually it is the mother, through her God-given, nurturing instinct that has this propensity). This is really one and the same with the idea of being a team. Always back up your teammate and never let your child hear you denigrate them! Having two parents that are in love with one another is essential for a child’s proper development. It gives them the security of knowing there will never be fear of a split, leaving them with the broken pieces of a shattered family. Remember, the way you as parents treat one another may be the only model for marriage your child will ever learn. Not surprisingly then, the way you treat your husband or wife is likely the way your child will treat their own future spouse. Therefore, to fail as husband and wife is to fail your child (Read Ephesians 5:22-30 concerning God’s design for marriage. What does it mean to cherish one another as one cherishes his own flesh in verses 28-30?)
If you put your child above your spouse and everything else, you are giving them a distorted view of reality. You are teaching them that the whole world revolves around them. This will set them up for failure because when they get out into the real world, they’ll find out too late that such is not the case. They’ll be aghast that everyone else is not clamoring to give them the attention they thought they were entitled to and will act out in unhealthy ways, often manipulating people to get it.
In the end your neglected spouse is not the loser. Your child is! Whoever enters a relationship with your child in the future will likely give up on them for two reasons. First, your child will remain egocentric, demanding that everything in the relationship be done with only their welfare in mind. The other person will constantly have to fill the role of parent, or even entertainer rather than companion. Second, they will never develop the ability to truly love someone, not for what they can give, but for who they are. Selfless love is not something your child is born with. It must be learned as your child matures to understand that there is more to the universe than them only. They must come to the realization that they and all creation were formed for the purpose of bringing God glory, not the other way around (Read Isaiah 43:6-7 and Revelation 4:11).
9. Model for your children what it means to love God by loving His Word: For your child to grow up with a good understanding of right and wrong, give them one standard; God’s Word. Also, make sure that both of you as parents are of one heart and one mind, united in upholding the standard of God’s Word. In the end, your child will believe the Bible because it was the standard they always knew growing up.
Parents are commanded to have three priorities in Deuteronomy 6:5-9. First, love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. If we love God this intensely the second and third priorities will naturally follow. Second, hide God’s Word in your heart by meditating on it day and night. Third, don’t keep it hidden. Teach God’s Word diligently to your children. Moses understood that children pay little attention to beliefs we rarely, if ever talk about.
History proves that if our beliefs are treated with such unimportant status they will only be mocked. However, if we love something with all our heart, soul and might, it will be obvious! Our children will know it when they see us light up with joy whenever that thing is discussed. They will know it when they see us push everything else aside to spend time, money & resources on that thing. After telling us to teach God’s Words to our children, Moses tells us, “Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up” (Deut. 6:7). He is telling us that God’s Word should be the thing we push everything else aside for.
Children know that no matter how busy we are, we’ll make time for what we love (a relationship, our favorite team, musical artist, etc). It is no wonder that when people have told us they just don’t have time for us we knew they were really saying: “get lost.” Hence, Moses is telling us that the only way our children will know we love God, especially when we are busier than ever is when they see us go to the extreme, keeping God in the rank of Number One.
In an age of shameless hypocrisy the greatest legacy you can leave your children is to love God . . . and really mean it.
10. Deter wrong behavior by modeling the right behavior: The word “discipline” comes from the same root as the word “disciple.” It means to teach them how to be a disciple of Christ as one who submits to Christ’s Lordship. Learn to teach your children the way Jesus taught his disciples: through example. When Jesus’ first disciples came to learn from him, they asked, “Master, where dwellest thou.” Jesus replied, “come and see” (John 1:38-39). They went on to dwell with Jesus for the rest of the day and watched the way He lived. The way He lived served to back up His every word.
Most children learn to act out in negative ways because it is learned behavior. They may throw temper tantrums because of a father or mother who loses their temper and does the same. They may want to argue and yell because they learned it from a parent who argues and yells, etc. Model for them the right behavior and they will naturally learn the right behavior. Remember, your children are still very impressionable; they will learn more from your actions than they ever will from your words (II Timothy 2:1-2 on the meaning of discipleship).
11. Don’t throw in the towel: Never give up on proper discipline. Following all of these steps will not turn your child into an angel over night. Discipline will take love, energy and consistency. To give up on proper discipline is to give up on your child because we are told clearly in God’s Word: “Discipline your son while there is hope; don’t be intent on killing him” (Proverbs 19:18). There are two truths in this verse that cannot be ignored. First, if you are asleep on the job when it comes to discipline, there will come a time when there is no longer hope and his ways will be incorrigibly set. Second, for you not to lovingly discipline your child would have much the same affect as killing him; the only difference is: killing your child is quick, but neglecting the task of discipline is slow and painful.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
I was recently asked by a good friend whether Christians risked creating a modern day Talmud by quoting and revering the Reformers. The Talmud is a collection of Jewish writings which give interpretation and commentary on the Old Testament Law. Many who have studied the Talmud, known as the Mishnah in its writtin form, would say that it was became stricly adhered to that it came to be viewed on equal par with the Law (as if the 613 commands in the Old Testament already wasn't enough already). Dealing with this question of whether or not we risk inadvertently adding to the Law of God through quoting the Reformers is an important one to answer; especially for those of us who are influenced by the Reformers and consider ourselves Reformed.
If comparing those who study the Reformation to those who studied the Jewish Talmud sounds absurd, the following question will make a lot more sense. Were those who erected theological systems based on the writings of the Reformers guilty of deriving such systems from the Reformers while neglecting a close investigation of God's Word? (We all know that the Five Points of Calvinism were drawn up without Calvin. He was dead! They were instead drawn up in what people believed to be an accurate sumation of Calvin's Soteriology).
We as Reformed thinkers must humbly ask, "how did I arrive at this Theological system?" If we can honestly conclude that it was from our own illumination into God's Word, then we are not just Reformed; we are biblical. However, if we arrived at this Theological system simply because it was "cool" in the circle we ran with at the time, or if we arrived at it based on our reading of the Reformers, we may be guilty of erecting what the Reformers sought to tear down. Namely, an extra-biblical authority no less severe than the Jewish Talmud.
Creating an authoritative tradition similar in extent to the Talmud was the exact opposite of the Reformer's intentions. Their intention was to decry any authoritarian voice that would claim a monopoly on truth, or executive power on interpreting Scripture.
Many people deride the fact that there are so many denominations today. But this diversity in the church is largely the result of the Reformers, who'se doctrine can be boiled down to two ideas:
1. The Priesthood of the Believer: This doctrine affirmed that each believer is
their own priest and can approach God without any human mediator but Christ
alone (I Timothy 2:5.). This was revolutionary because it did anything but set
up ecclesiastical authority. It began the long process of dismantling
ecclesiastical authority. The Catholic church today is a nominal, weak belief
system because the Reformers were successful at questioning and
challenging the authority of Rome.
2. The Perspicuity of the Scriptures: This affirmed the biblical understanding that
because each believer was indwelt by the Holy Spirit, they had the
illumination to interpret the Scriptures for themselves, without having to defer
to church tradition (I John 2:27). It was this hallmark doctrine that opened the
door to Scriptural translation. Many Reformers, such as: Jon Huss of and
William Tyndale, of England, were burned alive for believing
that each believer could be trusted with his own personal copy of the Word of
If it were not for the Reformers of the Sixteenth Century, it is almost certain that the hegemony of the Catholic church would have continued to wax stronger in quelling any freedom of thought through the ongoing Inquisition. It is also probable that there would have been no ensuing Enlightenment. This is a valid point because if it were not for the Reformation, there would have been no rebirth of literacy based on the drive multitudes had to read the Scriptures in their own tongue. There also would have been no precedent set making it acceptable to question authority as the Enlightenment did. Guttenburg's invention of the printing press was largely spurred on by the same sentiments knowing how influenced he was by this movement. The writings of the Reformers being launched into orbit by the printing press became the catalyst in teaching common men to read. If there were no rebirth of literacy, the framework would not have existed for the French philosophers to transmit their thoughts effectively via the printing press.
There is no equivalant to the Jewish Talmud today in the Protestant church. You have to understand that the Talmud dictated the Jewish way of life down to the minute detail. For example, there are twenty-four chapters in the Talmud just dealing with Sabbath laws alone, dictating what it was lawful, or unlawful to do on the Sabbath. The Reformers never came close to this type of imposition in the everyday affairs of life. Instead, they sought to do away with this form of legalism that had gradually crept into the Catholic way of life.
The question still remains, what about those who quote the Reformers today and wind up deriving their Theology from these men, rather than the Scriptures which drove these men. If such is the case; if today's teachers are guilty of erecting theological systems based on the teachings of the Reformers and not directly from the Scriptures, then one thing is certain; today's teachers have had to climb over the Reformers to erect such Theology. The Reformer's last intention was to draw the most avid adherents to themselves, they sought to point adherents to the Bible, often spilling their blood to do so.
The Protestant movement heralded freedom of thought when studying the Scripture. In fact, the freedom we as Christians have today to apply the Scriptures to our life situations is not a freedom that any Jewish or Catholic adherent could ever celebrate. The Jews had their own doctors of the Law who dictated it's meaning. The Catholics have their own clergy who are alone bequethed with the privilege of interpreting texts.
Notice how Luther supported the use of reason when responding to dr. Jan Eyck at the Diet of Worms. Remember, Eyck demanded that Luther fall into line with the Church's doctrine and recant all of his writings. In response, Luther uttered words that would drop like a bombshell on everyone's Theological playground:
"Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, I do not accept the authority of Popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe-- Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen."
Notice that Luther did just the opposite of paving the way for a new Christian Talmud or Mishnah. He dismantled any framework for defering to tradition by questioning the authority of tradition. Even in the face of death, Luther sought to strip authority from the Catholic Church and placing authority within every reasoning Christian as they are individually held captive to the Word of God.
Think about it! The freedom we have to question and critique Luther, we owe to Luther. He was ranked as one of the top ten people of the Millenium by Time Magazine because even in Liberal circles today, Luther is associated with sparking the freedom of conscience that led not only to the Protestant Reformation, but also to the Enlightenment of France in 1789.
One of the best books I have read by Luther is The Freedom of a Christian. If you read this book you will hear the heart of a man who's motives are far superior to any revisionist thinker of the Twenty-first century who would seek to impugn him. His major thesis of the book is profound as it set forth the freedom of a Christian as no one had articulated it before:
"A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, servant to none."
"A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, servant to all."
Luther, more than any other defended both the believer's freedom, not only from the condemnation of the law, but also from the papal hegemony of those who would strip him of the ability to think as his own free moral agent.
Bringing the Reformation home to the Twenty-first century. I don't think they would mind being quoted because they themselves began drafting the chatecisms as a means of teacing Christian doctrine. These chatecisms were meant to be memorized as didactic devices, much like the two lines I previously quoted above.
However, these same chatecisms were never meant to be viewed on par with Scripture because they themselves were written to affirm the sole authority of Scripture.
We should never assume that when somoene quotes a Reformer or a chatecism written by a Reformer that they are somehow adding to the Scripture as the Talmud did (read Mark 7:6-7, Jesus referred to this tradition when he spoke of the rabbis "teaching for doctrines of God the commandments of men.") The Talmud originated as commentary on the Law, but soon became viewed on par with the Law, setting forth its own laws. One could even say they were adding to Scripture. However, if someone quotes a Reformer or chatecism, or statement of faith, they are affirming the Reformers belief in the sole authority of Scripture.
The chatecisms and confessions then are a means of holding us accountable to the Word of God, not an addendum to the Word of God.
You cannot quote them wihout demoting them. That is, you cannot quote them without affirming the sole authority of Scripture, seeing that one of their main purposes is to teach the authority of Scripture. A good example is the Westminster Confession of Faith which opens with the following words:
"Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God's revealing his will unto his people being now ceased."
A better example is question number two of the Westminster Shorter Chatechism because it was intended to be memorized. In closing, I want to reproduce it here to further corroborate that even the faithful followers of the Reformers sought passionately to point people to God's Word, not merely to theological systems:
"What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?
The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him."
Wednesday, August 6, 2008
You have heard by now that Olympic gold medalist Joey Cheeck has been denied a visa to attend the Beijing Olympics this week because of his outspoken concern for the Darfur region of Sudan, which is systematically and gradually being force-converted to Islam by the Janjaweed militia. Or more humorously, you've heard of the incident where athletes arrived at the Beijing airport with black masks, purportedly to protect them from the cities' notorious air polution.
But it may surprise you to find that Christian citizens of the People's Republic of China are not only being denied any access to the Olympics, but have been forced from their own homes and expelled from Beijing by Chinese police altogether. One Christian named Shi Weihan, was recently arrested and is currently dying in police custody. His crime? He owns a Christian bookstore, and although he has registered it with the government, his mistake is that he is suspected of distributing illegal publications that they do not want to be found at the 2008 Olympics. You don't have to rack your brain long to figure out what devious publication these might be.
Another, Hua Huiqi, who is a Christian rights advocate, had the front door of his home smashed open with hammers and all of his furniture thrown onto the street as China's way of saying, "you are the dirt that must be cleaned up before for the Olympic games can begin." He and many others have been relocated elsewhere. For more recent news on these incidents, a good website is: www.compassdirect.org.
All of this is taking place as Bush hob-nobs with Chinese officials in Beijing and planning to visit the proud, state-run church this Sunday. I would love to hear the eloquent sermon preached at this Chinese approved, state-run church. Every word of which will no doubt receive praise and nodding approval from the same government that is simultaneously incarcerating thousands of Christians nationwide for no other reason than that their sermons weren't so eloquent. Probably because they included the praise of one vulgar man, Jesus Christ, who embarrassingly does not meet government approval.
As a Christian, the question you must ask is, how should I react to this? Below, you will see that I have laid out five ways a Christian should respond to this issue biblically. The easiest thing to do will be to turn on the tube and enjoy the Olympics as countless other Americans will be doing. Will it be too fanatical to speak a word of criticism? Will it be too much for you to spoil everyone else's fun by saying a word to show disgust at the fallen world stage, which by their silence in the face of blatant human rights abuses, embarrassingly reveals that they are much concerned about being liked by the fastest growing world power than they are those who are unjustly having every freedom stripped away.
Proverbs 17:15 tells us plainly that to justify those who commit ungodly acts and to condemn the just is an abomination to the Lord. To “justify” means to give “approval.” But we live in a subtle, new world that Solomon couldn’t have envisioned, don’t we? Many of us gladly listen to the name of God being blasphemed as we recline in our living rooms. Yet confusingly, we would beat our kids senseless to hear them saying the very same things and would immediately order anyone else out of our homes. Are we schizoids or is this just good ol’ Twenty-first century Christianity? A Christianity Solomon just didn’t foresee.
Many of you will feel the adrenaline rush you have always felt when watching athletes and governments from all over the world gather together in unity. Only this time they gather to pour millions into the pockets of a nation that has brutally martyred Christians, Buddhists and many other religious people groups in ways some of us are too lazy to so much as pick up a book and read about; persecution that stretches all the way back to the Boxer Rebellion more than a century ago. And yet if the same thing happened in our own neighborhood we would bravely take up arms to their defense. Or so we hope.
When Jesse Owens competed during the 1936 Olympics in Germany, few people had any knowledge of the atrocities that were already being planned against the Jews. But we Christians today do not have the same comfort of ignorance. We have an obligation not to fall into the easy road of mindless, Orwellian group-think that most other Americans have indifferently resigned themselves to.
Please hear me well. I am not saying that Christians should ostracize themselves from the 2008 Olympics. Nor am I saying that we should not watch the Olympics. (Gasp! Most would think it unconscionable).
However, if you can watch it without any discomfort; without any conviction to speak on the behalf of persecuted Christians, you are either part of China’s wild fetish with sadomasochism, or you are not a Christian at all. Actually, both choices seem to fit into the “not a Christian at all” category don’t they?
I hope that with the following words I can justify such a bold indictment.
What Should I As a Christian Do?
Let me give some biblical precedent for how I believe a Christian should respond to the mindless conformity that most Americans will adhere to during the 2008 Beijing Olympics. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that it seems to be as much discomfort for an American not to be liked as it is for a Chinese Christian to be ejected into the streets.
All of us as Christians feel this pressure and therefore the temptation is to shut-up and do nothing; to indifferently go along with the multitude when Moses commands us not to follow a multitude to do evil (Exodus 23:2; this verse speaks specifically of following the multitude in perverting justice and condemning a poor and righteous man). Hence, Christians must be willing to do something that may cause them not to be liked if they are going to separate themselves from the multitude and go against the fad of the day.
First, the Bible commands us to pray for those who are being persecuted (Hebrews 13:3). We should pray that God will give Chinese Christians boldness to speak the Word in the face of prison and death. This is what the Christians of the first church in Jerusalem did when they went door-to-door with blood dripping down their backs after being beaten, preaching the same message they were arrested for preaching in the first place, and rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Christ’s name (Acts 4:29, 5:17-42). Yep! We would call these people fanatics.
Second, we have an obligation to rouse other Christians to “remember those who suffer bonds as being bound also ourselves with them” (Hebrews 13:3). There is no way possible we can be comfortable watching the Olympics when many Christians have been ejected from their homes in order to make Beijing a friendly place for the Olympics. Some, such as Shi Weihan, are languishing at death’s door in prison simply because they are the Christian dirt that had to be cleaned up before the games can begin.
I Corinthians 12:26 confirms this attitude of solidarity by telling us that if one member of the body of Christ suffers, all the members should suffer with it. Can we belt a shout of “go go go” to the American runner with all the gusto we can muster when we know the unjust suffering Christians have sustained paving the way for it to take place?
Third, Don not wear a political agenda as a fashion statement. We cannot be so deluded as to think that because we put a bumper sticker on our car that says “FREE TIBET” we are somehow helping to free Tibet, especially when we cannot even point to it on the map as many in this category have ironically proven to be the case. What this scenario reveals is that many Americans find it fashionable to sport a political view that is the current rave. They often cannot tell you any details to prove they even know what they are talking about. But it’s popular in Hollywood to jump on a cause such as, “Free Tibet” when Buddhists in Tibet are still being converted into fertilizer. We must be careful not to insult Christians in China by wearing their cause as a fashion statement in order to be thought “cool” or “smart.”
Fourth, Study! That’s right! Study up on the issues confronting Christians all over the world so that you can properly pray for them, and so you can properly inform others on how to pray for the persecuted church as well as raise awareness on their behalf.
Remember the sons of Issachar in the Old Testament. They were praised because they were men who understood the culture and political currents of the time in which they lived and were faithful to keep Israel informed (I Chronicles 12:32). Oh, how we need the sons of Issachar today who will be willing to think, and overcome the blind-spots that everyone else is unaware of.
Fifth, be angry as God is angry. Wait a minute! Christians are supposed to have a huge smile pasted on their faces at all times, right? You might be surprised to find that the Bible presents God as angry at the wicked every day (Psalm 7:11). Nothing repulses the heart of God more than our rebellion and sin. Revelation 3:14-17 even pictures God as so nauseated by our sin that it causes Him to vomit. This is hardly a fat, dump and happy smile isn’t it?
What about the Christian? Psalm 15:4 says that the one who dwells with God is one who is angry at evil doers just as God is angry, and is one who honors those that fear the Lord. This should cause us to question who we set up for our children as role-models. Do you respect those that fear the Lord or are you instead excited by those that blaspheme?
Do not misunderstand God’s anger against evil-doers. This does not mean you do not love evil doers, as we all were ourselves. We should remember that we too are sinners and must pray that God will have mercy on other sinners just as He had mercy on us (Lamentations 3:22-23).
This anger simply means that you have a heart for God; you despise the sin of evil doers even as God Himself despises such evil. Fellowship with God cannot go unbroken when His law is so shamelessly broken by all men (Psalm 5:3-5).
We live in an age when everything no matter how sacred, is stripped of any sacred meaning and reduced to a joke or a skit to be laughed at on our favorite variety show. Christians have to see this blind-spot of de-sacralization in American culture and be counted as separate (II Corinthians 6:14-17).
By all means, we should laugh at entertainment that is honoring to God, although we may have a hard time finding it. But we can no longer laugh at evildoers as we have been so used to doing almost every time we have turned on the television set. We must be those who will join the heart of God in rejoicing not at iniquity, but who will instead rejoice at the truth (I Corinthians 13:6).
People will know what you care about not based on some dry, dusty belief that you rarely, if ever talk about. They can only know what you care about based on your passion. They know what subjects cause your face to light up like a child’s. They also know what subjects cause your brow to furrow in disgust.
In short, you must rejoice at what is good and be repulsed by what is evil for good and evil to have any meaning at all (Hebrews 1:9, this is Christ’s example). In fact, when people see that you rejoice at what is good and are repulsed by what is evil, you will accurately reveal to them the heart of Christ because He does the same. By expressing disgust at evil, you will reveal His heart more accurately than you ever could by simply pasting that huge greasy grin on your face like so many Christians do in order not to offend. If we are not repulsed by evil how can we expect sinners to be convicted of evil? (I’ve been accused of having a greasy grin myself so don’t feel so bad).
Please do not misunderstand what this admonition is about. These thoughts are not intended to ban the Olympics. You can watch the Olympics and celebrate the athlete without celebrating the country that is hosting the athlete. However, you cannot watch it and be silent, and for you to choose not to watch it may be such a willing alteration of plans on your part that those around you will know you are serious.
Are you going to follow Christ’s example during the 2008 Olympics or will you mindlessly follow the multitude? Will you to call China out as being the fox that it is even as Christ did to the ruling king of His own day for his debauchery (Luke 12:32)?
Pray for God’s grace! Pray for His grace because you can only follow this bold example if it is Christ who animates you (Hebrews 6:3).
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
We'll answer for the Christian to the left in a moment. But first, you ought to know this post is a follow-up to an incendiary charge I made last week. Namely, if someone calls themselves a Christian, and yet holds such an indifferent disposition about the direction our present world is headed in they have not even begun to understand what those in Antioch meant who coined the term "Christian." This disposition of indifference is often hinted at when someone says, "The world's going to Hell, thank God I'm not going to be around to see it." Or for the more sanctimonious, "I'm outa' here, Jesus could come back at any moment" I don't take issue with the biblical fact that Jesus is coming back. What I do take issue with is for any Christian to resign themselves to such a cold, callus & compassionless response to the lost condition of our world. Hear me clearly, I am not saying that a Christian should't be cold, I am saying that someone this cold is not a Christian, and. Rather, they are the reason our world is so cold at the very mention of the word "Christian." Ouch! I'm obnoxious enough to have my own talk radio show.
All of us as Americans are lurching dangerously close to falling into this category. So I must state that what I am saying is not so much a rebuke as it is a confession. We hear news items everyday that speak of tragedy: the cyclone in Myanmar, the recent earthquake in China, the flooding of the Midwest, etc. We hear these items ad nauseum. Pretty soon, we hear "25,000 killed" one second and are ordering our spouse "pass the bowl of peanuts" the very next second. we are conditioned like pavlovian dogs to be indifferent when most of what we hear has no affect on our day to day lives.
This may sound innocuous to you. But I'm going to share some biblical texts that will hopefully rouse us to the realization that to view the world as an armchair spectator is not an option for the child of God.
I'm currently teaching verse by verse through the book of Romans and have learned a lot from this book. I used to think that the hardest passages to teach would be the ones dealing with election in chapters 9. But now I've found that ironically, the hardest text of all is in Romans 8; the chapter that many point to as the most encouraging chapter in all the Bible.
This week, I examined Romans 8:16-18, whih says: "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us."
Notice how difficult v.17 is. Paul does not say that suffering is a sad misfortune that most Christians should never have to experience. He doesn't present God as the pansy parent who sues the school because his kid got a scrape on the playground. He gives us this black & white, conditional statement, "we are fellow heirs with Christ" . . . "If we suffer with him" (KJV). Stating it conversely we could also say, "If we do not suffer with Christ, we have no assurance that we are joint-heirs with Christ." That is a bold assertion. It is important to note that Paul does not present suffering as a precondition for salvation. Instead, we should see it as the inevitable fruit of salvation. It is the same as saying, "We do not perform good works to be saved; we perform good works because we are saved."
Paul is taking it for granted that if you are a Christian, you will suffer persecution. It's as simple as that. He corroborates this idea in many places. In particular, II Timothy 3:12, which says, "Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
The disheartening thing about Romans 8:17 is that it doesn't even register with most of us. We don't even know what suffering is. We may be led to think that if we got cut off in traffic today, or if we had to pay $4.35 a gallon for gas, wer'e somehow suffering with Christ. But most of us who are the sad victims of pseudo suburban suffering don't even know what Paul is talking about.
Let me give you a brief timeline of events that have already taken place in 2008 to show that many Christians alive today are all too aware of what Paul means by suffering "with Him":
-February 17, a pastor named Neil Edirisinghe, of the House Church Foundation, was gunned down and killed by two assailants outside his home in Ampara, Sri Lanka.vPastor Edirisinghe was engaged in the Lord’s ministry in Ampara for many years. The attackers also shot his wife in the stomach. At last report, she was in the hospital in critical condition. Their 2-year-old son who received a minor injury in the attack is also suffering from trauma.
-February 28, Christians in Iraq have called for prayer after gunmen kidnapped Chaldean Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho, in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, on February 28. Three Christians were shot and killed during the kidnapping.
-March 18, Laotian officials arrested 15 Hmong Christian families in
Bokeo district, Laos. According to Compass Direct News, the arrests occurred a day
before a court sentenced nine Hmong church leaders to 15 years in prison
for ‘conducting Christian ministry and meetings that had grown beyond acceptable
levels for Communist officials.’
Compass reported, “The day before the sentencing, Laotian authorities arrived in
Bai Sai Janrern village in Bokeo district with six trucks in which they hauled away
eight Christian families. Authorities also arrested at least seven families from
Fai village three miles away.” The arrested families make up a total of 58 Hmong
-April 13, China Aid Association reports that the Chinese Communist government recently launched a strategic campaign against house churches in Xinjiang
Autonomous Region. 46 Christians were arrested by Public Security Bureau (PSB)
officials on April 13, during a Bible class and worship service in Kashi city,
-April 15, Pastor Vic Vicera, his wife, Beth; and another Pastor were shot at when an unknown assailant stormed Pastor Vicera’s home in Mindanao, Philippines. Pastor Vic had four bullet wounds to the body and was killed. Pastor Vic got four gunshots, two at the upper part of the knees that went through his navel and two shots to the lower part of his knees, the bullets remained in his stomach. Beth, his wife, got two gunshots, one in her palm and one in her leg. Pastor Saturnino got one shot in his leg; the bullet went through his leg.” Pastor Vic was killed, and Beth and Saturnino are being treated by doctors.
-June 17, You have probably wondered who this man is that's pictured above. His name is Rachid Muhammad Essaghir, who has already been convicted of blasphemy and evangelism in two separate cases this year. Essaghir is an Algerian Christian who recently went on trial in west Algeria for a third time tomorrow, again for evangelism. An evangelist and church elder for a small community of Muslim converts to Christianity in Tiaret, Essaghir believes that local police have targeted him for his religious work. Police stopped Essaghir and another Christian in the vicinity of Tissemsilt in June 2007 and discovered a box of Christian books in their car. The two men said they were transporting the literature from one church to another. Under Ordinance 06-03 passed in February 2006, Algerians can be fined up to 1 million dinars (US$16,405) and sentenced to five years in prison for printing, storing or distributing materials intended to convert Muslims away from Islam.
(I encourage you to learn more about how Christians all over the world are living up to the words of Paul. Some good sources are: www.persecution.com which is the official website for The Voice of the Martyrs. You can also go to: www.compassdirect.org)
If you continue to read stories just like these, which are popping up every day dealing with persecution in most parts of the world, at least you can begin to realize that not everybody has this idea that we should just keep our mouths shut and let the world die in their sins so we can be at least be peace with the world. The Christians we have just read about are often drug away from their homes for so much as possessing a Bible; or as a recent incident in Iran indicates, possessing a Christian music cd. The question is: why are they suffering? In short, these Christians were guilty of having their mouths open when the Word of God was a death sentence. We are guilty of having our mouths shut when speaking the Word of God might make you the joke in one of Bill Maher's endless rants. The two are hardly comparable and still the sad thing is that many Christians are bold in the face of death when many others cower in the face of laughs. We have to ask, "Who is our God?" Who are we out to please; man or God. Paul says that if our aim is to please men, we should not call ourselves the servant of God (Galatians 1:10).
Think about this; If the Christians mentioned above were concerned more about their own creaturely comforts than they were the fate of a lost world, do you think for a second that they would be so stupid as to identify with Christ?
It is obvious that when they read Romans 8:18, they see a vision of something far greater than any comfort this world could ever offer. It is the vision that Paul had when he wrote, "I reckon (reason) that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us" (v.18). These suffering Christians are able to care for a lost world because they have the leverage to reach down to pick up one who is drowning. They have he leverage to reach down and lift someone else up because something far greater is holding them up. It is the hope of glory they will one day lay hold of when they see Christ face-to-face (Colossians 3:1-4, I John 3:1-4).
I have to come back and develop this amazing text in Romans 8 some more tomorrow. But it is of great importance to begin to think about Paul's words. How can Paul assume as he does in Romans 8:17 that one of the most sure evidences of being a child of God is suffering? Do not be so deluded as to think that this idea of suffering for Christ is a relic from the ancient past. There are many Christians today that care about the direction our world is headed in; Christians that prove they are children of God because they care enough to say with Paul, "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (II Corinthians 5:11); Christians that can't help but speak of an awesome God even when talk of such a God is illegal, even when it is in the face of death.