A Lone Voice

I always thought that you would have to be old to look back over your life and see substantial cultural change. But now, we have seen a major cultural change over the last few years.

In 1991, Magic Johnson was diagnosed with HIV. Isaiah Thomas began to question whether Magic was a homosexual. In 1991, it was obvious why Magic Johnson would have been offended that his friend was questioning whether he was homosexual. I seriously doubt articles were written rebuking him. For the vast majority of men around in the 1990s, having someone doubt that you were 100% heterosexual was very offensive.

But sports writers today don’t see it that way. For example, this guy says:

It doesn’t matter how you got [HIV]. It doesn’t matter if some people thought you were gay, because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. It’s as ridiculous as freaking out over whether or not people think you’re secretly left-handed.

Today, the big sports news is that Jason Collins announced he’s homosexual. He plays for the Boston Celtics. We are being assaulted with sports writers and newspapers falling all over themselves to applaud Jason Collins.

There is one exception to the deluge of accolades Collins is receiving. Chris Broussard had this to say on ESPN:

I think he did a great job answering the question.

As seemingly uniform as the honor Collins is receiving is the disdain Broussard is receiving.

For example, ESPN says, “We regret that a respectful discussion of personal viewpoints became a distraction from today’s news. ESPN is fully committed to diversity and welcomes Jason Collins’ announcement.”

It seems they’re not as excited about the diversity that Broussard brings. Some of those who pride themselves on their tolerance of perversion, cannot find it in themselves to tolerate Christianity, and are calling for Broussard’s career as an NBA commentator to be ended. This obvious inconsistency is because we all have a God-given conscience, and when Broussard calls sin a sin, he’s hitting the raw nerve that we all have–our conscience. For those who hate God, that is just too much to deal with, so they lash out at the messenger.

I doubt Broussard thought about whether he was putting his career at risk. Will those of us who do have the opportunity to think about what we’ll say choose career suicide and possible poverty or will we deny Christ and the truth? I think that we will all have to make that decision as the culture becomes more evil, but we should all make it today if we haven’t already. As for me, I choose Christ.

Matthew 16:26 says, “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?”

Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

Hippety-hop, There Goes Peter Rabbit!

Have you ever seen this scenario take place?

A good friend calls you to tell you that they are struggling with their current church and wants your advice on how to work things out. Your heart sinks as you realize that what he or she is wanting is not what they are asking for. The first or second time the phone call took place, you may have encouraged them to speak with the pastors or elders to try to work out any differences or resolve any issues. Now, the real reason they are calling you is not to seek your help and guidance in seeing relationships restored. What they really want is for you to say that it is acceptable for them to don their Peter Rabbit suit and hop to the next church that might or might not make them happy.

desertisland01I am reminded of the old joke about the ship that stops at what they thought was a deserted island only to discover that an old man lives there as a castaway. Taking a tour, the man proudly shows off his little hut where he lives and takes the captain into another little building that has a steeple made of coconut palm leaves. He informs the captain that this is his church where he worships God. Thanking them for coming, the island castaway walks with them back down to their ship. However, the captain is intrigued about a third building that the man had said nothing about, so he asked him what it was. The old man replied, “That’s the church I used to go to!”

Sadly, hopping from church to church often becomes the normal pattern for many Christians. Instead of considering what may be wrong in their own life, the fault is always placed at the feet of the church that they used to attend. The sad reality is that even if they were to attend by themselves, like the old man on the deserted island, they would eventually find a reason to leave.

I have long contended that the reason people go to a church is more times than not the very reason why they will leave. As an example, if you go to a church because they have a great music program, when that ministry fails or begins to struggle, you will look for another church. The same is true if you go because of the programs or all the ministries designed to keep your children happy and entertained. If the really hip, cool, relevant youth leader leaves and the youth group dries up, you will soon be on the search for a new place to worship.

For the record, I am not discounting leaving a church because the church refuses to address sin, or because of a change in teaching to a doctrinal position that is clearly not in line with Scripture. I am speaking about the plague that has infiltrated churches to the point where members are switching from one church to another faster than they switch fitness clubs or switch from the latest diet to the next.

Now as honesty is the best policy, I am afraid that in the beginning of our marriage, I was there. We hopped so many times that I had a custom-made Peter Rabbit suit that I would wear before I even attended the first service. While I was ensuring that my family was with me, I was certainly not being a spiritual leader.

The normal routine was to schedule an appointment with the pastor. In that meeting, I would grill him on the usual “important” issues like the KJV Bible, or if they used CCM in their services, whether they had adequate programs to babysit my children when my wife and I wanted a break, etc., etc., etc. Yes, I remember playing the spiritual card of “We just want a place where we can serve and where our family can be fed!” That would normally score points with the pastor and his wife.

However, it may have been a week later, month later, or even a year later, we would become discontented with something that was being done and we would “miss” a Sunday to see if somebody came to visit or to call us. Eventually, my standard phrase became, “Well, I think we should be looking for a new church because we are not getting fed at this church! What do YOU think, Sweetheart?” That was always a good indicator for me as to whether she was unhappy with the church as much as I was or whether I was just looking for an excuse to leave so we would not have to become too committed.

I can remember a conversation with my father one day while we were in the midst of yet another church hop. His comment was, “Son, I’m sure that every church around your area can’t be bad! What is it you are looking for?”

That was a good question and the standard answer was usually, “mumble-mumble-mumble-just don’t feel like I am getting fed-mumble-mumble-mumble.”

Looking back, I realize that not all churches and pastors we visited or were part of it for awhile were preaching false doctrine or involved in covering over issues of immorality. Some of the churches were struggling works or small and it was just easy to come up with excuses about how we “need more teaching for ummmm…yeah, more teaching for the kids.” That was the answer! Some of the churches were large though and the excuses then would be, “well, we feel like we are just a number and our needs are being overlooked!”

peterrabbitsuitBut the truth is that until I was willing to find a place that was first and foremost doctrinally sound, the rest of what we were looking for was actually irrelevant. Further, when we found a place where doctrine was the focus along with expositional ministry of the Word, I should have been thankful that somebody cared enough to feed my soul and my family as we worshiped together. However, this was rarely the case because doctrine was not as important to me as I thought it was or as I pretended it to be. You see, if doctrine was really important, THAT would have been the reason why I remained instead of looking for another excuse to run to the next place.

So instead of focusing on learning and how I could be a blessing to others, I simply became Peter Rabbit again and laid the blame for the next hop on the previous pastor or church we were attending.

However, this plague that is devastating to churches is a problem that occurs for two main reasons. It is often these two reasons or a closely related one as to why I and others like me would have hopped from church to church, or even why you or somebody you know is still getting plenty of usage out of their Peter Rabbit outfit.

First, pastors and elders have made it too easy to be part of their social club. Having been there as a pastor, I can recall how great it felt to finally get some visitors to come in to service. Of course, in our desire to see them back again, we would invite them to lunch to get to know them. While there is nothing wrong with taking guests home for Sunday lunch, there were times when during the conversation I would be listening to all the things they would tell me they had done in their previous church and how eager they were to find a church where…yep, you guessed it…where as they would put it, “We just want a place where we can serve and where our family can be fed!” Hmmmmm, where had I heard that before?

My problem was that I was focusing on numbers instead of disciple-making. What I should have been asking was WHY were they leaving their previous church? Was it a doctrinal difference or was this another church hop? Then, I could have clarified WHAT kind of doctrinal difference would cause them to initiate an upheaval in their family and leave their local fellowship behind. When it got to the point where they were expressing an interest right at the beginning, I should have taken the time to contact my fellow brother and colleague to verify there were no hidden issues.

The problem would become compounded if there were issues or if the family was not leaving their previous church due to moral or doctrinal problems, and by accepting them into our assembly, we were choosing to overlook the issues hoping that our church would be the catalyst that might throw them into a better relationship with God. Sometimes that does happen, but I am afraid that accepting problems from one church is only going to add to the problems that already exist in your own ministry. By accepting the problems when a person is leaving for an unbiblical reason, we have not helped that previous church or pastor, nor have we helped the family looking to join, nor have we helped our own church.

Another sordid example from my own life came home to roost when I first pastored in England. Like the times when we would leave a church for the wrong reasons, we had some folks do the same with us where I was pastoring. It caused quite a bit of turmoil, and while they left because in their words, “We prefer to go somewhere that we can hear nice, fluffy messages,” they simply ran right down the road and were accepted into membership there. I never received one phone call, but neither did I attempt to contact the other pastor. As far as I was concerned, “He could have the problem if they want members that bad!”

Now I recognize that not all leavings fit into this category, but I have found that many do. It is hurtful and does not portray a unity within the body of Christ to those who watch us from the world.

Today, my ministry is different and I hope there are a few areas in which I have grown considerably. Numbers are not so important any more and I try to be content with those whom God has placed in front of me each week at each meeting that I have the privilege of opening His Word. When I speak with a person now, I want to know the answers to those hard questions that I should have been asked and that I should have asked in prior ministries.

And if our assembly accepts somebody into the fellowship, my prayer is that it will be for the right reasons and that they will be coming for the right reasons. I do not offer programs with the hopes that more will come and I have no desire to present people for acceptance if they look like they are hopping to avoid problems that they refuse to address either in their own lives or that might just be a minor difference or even based on a personality conflict. I do ask them if they have sat down with the leadership at their previous church and spoken about their concerns. If they have not, I do tell them that I will contact the leadership to see if we have their blessing to work with the family and if there are any concerns of which we need to be aware.

As a little side note, there is something to be said for the “letters of commendation” given from one church to another as mentioned in 1 Corinthians 16. I am NOT talking about the little postcard sent when people transfer their membership by letter either. But that should probably be a post for another day.

church hopping 1Now on to the second problem for the plague of church-hopping and it is fairly simple. Members today have little to no commitment for the hard things of God or His Word. As long as they do not have to be committed, nor are expected to be committed, they will continue donning the Peter Rabbit suit as often as it suits their whims or desire for the latest and greatest programs racing the church circuits.

Commitment seems to be a dirty word in many circles. It requires that we give up our pet foibles and whims in an honest desire to share fellowship with brethren around what is important. What is important is what is clearly stated in Scripture, and not the latest battles raging today over minor issues like Bible versions, style of music, or a whole host of other concerns that are separating brethren that are not worth the fight and only make us look foolish to the watching world.

To conclude, my encouragement to fellow pastors and elders is to be careful who we consider allowing into our midst. Sometimes wolves start off looking like nice fluffy little pups. We are to guard our flocks in our calling as overseers and this will require taking a more proactive stance on dealing with issues like the perennial Peter Rabbits. Brothers, we are not islands to ourselves and should be working to fellowship with others who are like or simmilarly minded in doctrine and teaching. Our churches profit little if all we are doing is growing by sheep-stealing.

And, to my fellow brothers and sisters, from past personal experience, the Peter Rabbit suit is not all that it is cracked up to be. It is uncomfortable to wear for you and your family and to those you keep leaving behind. Wearing the suit will normally only serve to get you all hot and bothered. Then you will end up looking for fellowship in all the wrong places and for all the wrong reasons. It is time that we take the suits off and don’t bother hanging them back up in the closet to wear another day. It is time they were destroyed and that we started seeing commitment to God and His Word, and to have a heart to deal with the problems as they arise.

In all this, our one desire should be 1 Corinthians 10:31, “Whether you eat or drink or whatsoever you do, DO ALL TO THE GLORY OF GOD!”

ABSOLUTE Predestination

ABSOLUTE Predestination

I just finished reading Jerome Zanchius’ book that a dear brother was so kind to give me. Wow! I Clipboard01wept and rejoiced and thanked the Lord for faithful men who have gone before. Thanks be unto God for the dear brother who worked to bring this book back to life. Absolute Predestination is an awesome work explaining systematically and biblically why this doctrine is true, what it means, and why it must be preached. I will treasure this book until the Lord deems my days are done. What follows is a short review and exhortation for my brothers and sisters to take this book and read. You can buy it here: http://www.heritagebooks.org/absolute-predestination-introduction-by-joel-beeke/

This current publication is from Free Grace Press and includes a very informative introduction by Joel Beeke. Zanchius was an Italian who lived in the early to mid 16th century, grew up as a Roman Catholic and served as a monk. It was during this time he read some Martin Luther, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin and was soon converted into a Christian. He lived the balance of his life studying, teaching, and writing and was widely considered a highly valued author of Reformed theological studies – all of which were in Latin. Nearly 200 years later, an Englishman ran across his Latin writings on predestination. Augustus Toplady was converted in his teen years and held to the free will teachings of his contemporary, John Wesley; until “an old man challenged him to stop arguing long enough to ask himself: Did he have any part in obtaining God’s grace? Wouldn’t he have resisted God’s grace if the Spirit left him to his own will? These questions from a Wesleyan brother stabbed him to the quick.” And so Toplady began a study on the sovereign grace of God, learned Hebrew and Greek, and embraced the sweet doctrines of grace commonly called Calvinism.

Toplady served in many churches as pastor, but initially held back from preaching on sovereign grace – focusing his sermons on justification by faith and holiness of life, as was taught by Wesley. “People liked his preaching, but few were converted. When he began preaching predestination as the eternal source of our salvation in Christ, many were angry with him, but many other were truly converted to Christ.” Amen! This is how the true gospel works – it was how the Apostle Paul experienced it. The true gospel (for there is no other gospel) is preached. Some will hate you for it, others will rejoice and beg to hear more. Those who have been given ears to hear will hear! Praise God!

As time went by, Toplady conversed with Wesley and denounced his old teacher. As A.W. Pink turned a bit sharp in his criticism of dispensationalism once he left that theological train wreck, so did Augustus Toplady in his critique of the spiritual ship wreck of Arminianism.

Toplady translated Zanchius’ book into English and, by his own admission, heavily edited it in places to as to provide a more complete treatise on the topic. It is hard to tell where one writer hands off to the other, as the reader works his way through this book. With that, here’s a brief review of this most excellent little book. Zanchius lays out each chapter as a progressive argument, moving through myriad positions as he documents six key areas that help us comprehend the sovereignty of God and our need of Him.

The Preface is written by Toplady and titled Observations on the Divine Attributes. We are quickly introduced to this author and this work by two stark statements. “I cannot help standing astonished at the pride of impotent, degenerate man. … The Scripture doctrine of predetermination lays the axe to the very root of this potent delusion.” Having personally left Wesley’s doctrine behind, Toplady declares that this book is needed because “Arminianism is the grand religious evil of this age and country.” We can only imagine what he might have said in response to Charles Finney! In bringing his preface to a close, Toplady reminds us that words have meaning, or else they are worthless, and then defines predestination as “God’s determinate plan of action.” And then he reservedly reveals his opinion on the theological construct he had left behind – “He that made all things either directs all things he has made, or has consigned them over to chance. But what is chance, but a name for nothing. Arminianism, therefore, is Atheism.”

Zanchius’ first chapter has the same name as Toplady’s Preface – they are not the same! In this opening chapter, our servant of God desires us to know more about the Lord, acknowledging He is beyond our comprehension, but not entirely; and that He wants us to know Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. Zanchius’ pen will help us better understand: (1) God’s eternal wisdom and foreknowledge; (2) The absolute freedom and liberty of His will; (3) The perpetuity and unchangeableness both of Himself and His decrees; (4) His omnipotence; (5) His justice; and (6) His mercy. Without these attributes explained, Zanchius claims the doctrine of predestination cannot be properly grasped. While every argument in this chapter is worth careful reading, the series of statements and expositions under (2) cannot go without special mention. Here is the summary paragraph from the end of that section:

“From the whole of what has been delivered under this section head, I would observe that the genuine tendency of these truths are not to make men more indolent and careless, or lull them to sleep on the lap of presumption and carnal security, but (1) to fortify the people of Christ against the attacks of unbelief and the insults of their spiritual enemies. And what it so fit, to guard them against these, as the comfortable persuasion of God’s unalterable will to save them, and of their unalienable interest in the sure mercies of David? (2) To withdraw them entirely from all dependence whether on themselves or to any creature whatever; to make them renounce their own righteousness, no less than their sins, in point of reliance,and to acquiesce sweetly and safely in the certain perpetuity of His rich favor. (3) To excite them, from a trust of His goodwill toward them, to love God who has given such great and numberless proofs of His love to men, and, in all their thoughts, words, and works, to aim, as much as possible, at His honour and glory.”

Is this not the goal of Christian exhortation and life? What Christian would be opposed to this?

In chapter 2, titled Defining Terms, we are given biblically based expositions on The Love of God, The Hatred of God, Election, Reprobation, The Purpose of God, Foreknowledge, and Predestination. This last is presented with a four-fold definition. (1) God did from before time determine and ordain to create and dispose of all creation with the over-arching reason to bring glory to Himself. (2) As relates to mankind, God created Adam in His image and allowed him to fall and take all humanity (and creation) with him as the federal head. (3) As relates to the elect, God chose before time to redeem some in time by faith in Christ. Such are justified, adopted, sanctified, and preserved safely to the end of this age. (4) As regards the reprobate, it is God’s eternal sovereign and immutable will whereby He has determined to leave some men in their sin to be justly punished.

Chapters 3, 4, and 5 discuss predestination as it relates to All Men, to the Saints, and the Ungodly. It is most useful to see this doctrine discussed in detail in these three distinct applications, as much confusion reigns among men when important terms are not defined and applied properly. In the 3rd chapter, Zanchius shows from Scripture that God has predestined the ends of men, that He decreed The Fall, that the elect will be saved, the reprobate damned. Each of these is explored in detail after a brief introduction. The chapter closes with a wonderful quote from Augustine: “Brethren, let us not imagine that God puts down any man in His book and then erases him, for if Pilate could say, ‘What I have written, I have written,’ how can it be thought that the great God would write a person’s name in the book of life and then blot it out again?”

Predestination of the Saints, chapter 4, ought to give everyone born of the Spirit joy and supreme assurance of being safe in the refuge of Christ – it is full of Scriptural support for the monergistic saving act of God in the life of every saint. Zanchius includes two excellent bits of counsel as he wraps us this most important chapter – Christians ought to believe the redeemed standing of other Christians (based on sober reflection of evidences that bear witness to same). For how, he asks, can we love one another rightly if we do not believe they, also, are loved with same everlasting love as we? Then he remands us to never judge any man to be a reprobate. He says that we may infer the election of some by the marks and appearances of grace in their lives, but we cannot know sure enough to claim that any person is damned while he yet breathes – because a man who is a reprobate today may have been chosen before time and decreed to repent and believe upon Christ tomorrow! Presumption is sinful and we ought not walk in it; we are, rather, to walk in humility and love – proclaiming the saving gospel to dead men everywhere.

Chapter 5 presents Predestination as it relates to the Ungodly – something I dare say most of us have not thought of. But just as there will be those on the Lord’s right hand on that great day of judgment, there will also be those on His left hand (Matt 7). In explaining predestination to the Romans, Paul reminds us what God had said – “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated”. So in Matt 7, when Jesus is telling those on His left hand that He never knew them, He is saying, “I have always hated you.” How differently we tend to discuss the enemies of God in our day! Our mantra is, “God loves everybody” or “God is love”, as if He had but one dimension. There can be no true, biblical love from God if He is compelled to love everyone. He cannot be holy if He accepts those who are not justified. God does not “hate the sin but loves the sinner.” He is angry with sinners all day long! While some will hate this talk, it is the revelation from God Himself – and redeemed saints ought not to shy away from uncomfortable truths.

The last chapter is Predestination as it Relates to the Preacher. In this surprising (to me) chapter, the author makes the case that preaching this doctrine is necessary for the spiritual health of God’s people that He has gathered in each local church. He warns, “Let it, however, be preached with judgment and discretion, i.e., delivered by the preacher as it is delivered in Scripture, and no otherwise.” This doctrine is such that men twist it and deny it – meaning that the wisdom of man is totally insufficient to explain or defend it. So Scripture alone is the rule. Further, since “Election is the golden thread that runs through the whole Christian system,” any gospel preached without it is not the gospel!

Zancius invites us ponder Matt 11:25 & 26, in which he declares that “Christ thanks the Father for doing that very thing which Arminians exclaim against us is unjust, and censure us as partial.” And in Matt 24:22 – 24 the Lord “teaches (1) that there is a certain number of persons who are elected to grace and glory, and (2) that it is absolutely impossible for these to be deceived into total or final apostasy.” Preachers must preach predestination and the sovereignty of God because “Whilst a man is persuaded that he has it in his power to contribute anything, be it ever so little, to his own salvation, he remains in carnal confidence.” This may be the biggest concern in churches in our day – so many men convinced they are “OK with God” because they chose Him! They think God did His share and they must do theirs – not realizing that this system leaves them on the wrong side of the Tiber river. Predestination gives sinners a more accurate picture of both God and man, showing the grace of God – which stands against human worthiness. A footnote shows from Scripture why this doctrine must be preached, for the good of the saints – “do not my words do good to him that walks uprightly?” (Mic 2:7)

There truly is too much good and godly counsel in this book for me to comment on it all. But let this review close out with this glorious exhortation from this dear brother from another century.

“How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer! (1) There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God. (2) He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present (if I had but eyes to see it), many and signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace. (3) This love of His is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it. (4) Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting, consequently (5) my afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight and measure, (6) The very hairs of my head are (every one) counted by Him, nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination. Hence (7) my distresses are not the result of chance, accident or a fortuitous combination of circumstances, nor of Satan getting ahead of God, but (8) the providential accomplishment of God’s purpose, and (9) designed to answer some wise and gracious ends, nor (10) shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet. (11) He who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it. (12) All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore (13) “The cup which my heavenly Father hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?” Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He has or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, whose purpose cannot be overthrown, whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will.”

At the end of this book, I was left undone by the glorious mercies of God, in choosing to save His enemies – and me being counted among the redeemed. If that last paragraph does not cause your soul to rejoice in wonder and praise and adoration – you need to examine yourself to see if you be in the faith. Christ is all glorious, all powerful, and victorious. By His blood he has purchased a people to be trophies of grace that He will present to our Father on that great and terrible day when all the deeds of men will be judged. The earth and sky will try to flee from the face of God and the wrath of the Lamb, but there will be no place to hide. But ALL whose names were written in the Lamb’s book of Life before the foundation of the world shall be welcomed to the wedding feast when the Lord consummates His eternal plan of redemption! Christ is our refuge and strong tower – He is sufficient! We need no other plea. Run to Christ, cry out for mercy. Seek Him while it is yet today.

The Disconnect of Evangelicalism

While we alluded to this briefly in a previous post, I believe it is beneficial to give further consideration to an epidemic of massive proportions that is prevalent within evangelical churches throughout the west. The epidemic has caused much heartache but few seem to see it for what it actually is. The reason for this is at least two-fold. First, the epidemic is not considered a danger because living with it has become normal within many circles. Second, some would stand forth and while they would proclaim the dangers, many ignore them or consider them to be religious fanatics.

Psalm 133:1 reminds us that it is good for brothers to dwell together in unity. Yet, this is rare. Dwelling together in unity seems to be either a bygone relic or conjures up the idea of living in a commune with other Christians.

we-gather-togetherLet’s consider a far too common scenario in the average evangelical church that goes something like this. People get up on Sunday morning, rush around, and show up late for one service. Many mouth the songs projected on the wall while their minds wander to the events that will need to transpire during the coming week. The pastor/teacher stands with a prepared word of exhortation and edification while a few more either doze off to sleep or make further plans for the next week. Finally the service is over and many bolt for the back door before somebody catches them, especially the pastor!

Jumping in their vehicles, the majority leave almost before the strains of the benediction have died away. The rest of the day there is no further thought of those with whom they were just “worshiping.” The entire week is filled with various activities that are designed and orchestrated by the world to keep us from interacting with one another. So, the week rolls quickly by and we fall exhausted into bed late on Saturday evening only to get up and run through the same routine again on another Sunday morning. Patting themselves on the back, they justify what they have just done because everybody else does it.

For those who fail to submit to the normal protocol, we might even loudly proclaim in a self-righteous tone and/or demeanor, “Well, Hebrews 10:25 says, ‘not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.'” (ESV)

However, is one rushed service on a Sunday really assembling ourselves together? Is such behavior among the people of God truly permit us to proclaim to the world that we are not neglecting one another? To ask further, how is little to no interaction throughout the week and certainly none on Sunday actually “encouraging” one another?

Surely, this cannot be all that the writer of Hebrews was exhorting and encouraging the believers to do was a small one hour window on a Sunday morning. Is this all that is required? At what point did we fellowship.

The teaching elder may have even stood and reminded us that worship is not just something we do on a Sunday morning between 10:30 and 11:30. Our corporate interaction is to be a direct reflection of our own personal, private, and family worship throughout the week being manifested before the world and our brethren of the wonders of the triune God.

But, was our corporate worship truly a reflection of the worship in which we were engaged throughout the week? Or, is our Sunday one hour offering all that we can manage to give because it conflicts with our overwhelming pursuit of the Great American Dream?

This is compounded by the fact that in our coming together, we give little time for prayer which should be another uniting factor. The requests normally mean nothing to everybody but the person giving it because we actually know little of those with whom we are worshiping. Prayer time can often be lifeless or another ritual that we go through because the Bible commands we pray without ceasing.

Yes, there is the rare church fellowship where most seem to sit in preassigned seating and everybody walks out full but with no greater knowledge of their brothers and sisters than when they came that morning.

Oh yes, we also have the time of a bereavement when everybody shows up with the never-ending green bean casseroles. We sit around awkwardly wondering what to say either to the family that is suffering and then with a quick whispered, “We’ll be praying for you,” we fade back into the twilight until the next event that “pulls” us all together again.

While their doctrine is wrong and damning, we could learn much from groups like the Mormons, the Muslims, the Amish and others. They spend a great deal of time together. They laugh together. They mourn together. They build their homes together and they see each other throughout the week. Weddings, funerals, or normal every day activities are not the cause for their fellowship. These are simply products of who and what they are. Their connections are strong.

But along comes the evangelical seeking to share the gospel with a person from one of these groups. The invitation is extended to pay the local church a visit and every now and then, the invitation may be accepted. Walking out of a cult that shows preferential treatment to every person within their midst, the cult or religious person walks in and observes – well, nothing extraordinary. People sitting off to themselves and most do not seem to know one another.

The prayer time is a perfunctory measure that sounds lifeless, there is no fellowship, and there seems to be no encouragement to interact with others throughout the week. But wait, yes, there is a house group that meets during the week. Maybe that will be different from what was seen on Sunday.

Accepting the extended invitation, the person shows up and listens to talk about everything from the weather to the latest job news. The conversation covers the scores from the professional ball games since last Sunday, and again, sadly, all of the communication seems so lifeless. There are little to no connections between those who have gathered together. A quick prayer and short Bible study later, everybody departs still not really having a clue as to who the brother or sister sitting next to them may be struggling with or whether they might have something in which they may rejoice together.

fellowshipcrossThe beloved apostle recorded the words of the Lord Jesus Christ in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” He writes again in the epistles of 1 & 2 John that it is not a new commandment, but an old one that we are to love one another.

How can we say we have love for one another when we cannot stand to be with one another for more than one hour per week? How can we say we love our brethren when we very little about them? How can we attest of our love for each other to the world when visiting with each other throughout the week only works if we live within a 10 minute drive from each other, and everybody outside the 10 minute drive is too much of a chore to visit because anything more is an inconvenience?

Whatever happened to the older men and women teaching the younger? I venture to say that so many churches are either catering to the young people or a small group of old people sit week after week wishing and hoping that some young families will come and visit. When the young families visit though, all they receive is a quick handshake and a “Hope to see you again” and we are all off on our merry way again. The young families never come back again and we proclaim that they obviously wanted the latest and greatest programs for their children.

Is it possible that what the young family really wanted was an opportunity to be connected with somebody who would love them, welcome them, and make them feel like they were truly part of a family? Maybe they want a church where the older gray-haired couples will assume the role of surrogate grandparents and help encourage their children in the ways of the Lord. I guess we can never know when we never extend the offer of help, love, friendship and fellowship that extends beyond a one hour window on a Sunday.

I welcome your thoughts and comments. How can we (or even how do you) bridge the widening gulf of no fellowship that is so prevalent in evangelical churches? Instead of placing the blame on the pastor, elders, deacons, or anybody else, what should each of us be doing to exhibit the love of Christ that has been shed abroad in our own hearts to a world that is lost and dying with the Savior?

Blood Work

Blood work – this is a common phrase used in the medical industry. Every critical medical procedure must be based on BLO01BH_200x1000accurate blood work – the chemistry demanded by the body relies on the right delicate balance and the blood work reveals what that chemistry mix is, so the doctors can proceed safely. The body depends on blood work.

In a recently released book, Anthony Carter documents in thirteen short but deep chapters how blood work is crucial to the health of the body of Christ. The book, Blood Work – How the Blood of Christ Accomplishes our Salvation, takes a refreshing and humbling look at the death of Christ and how His blood avails for us. The body of Christ depends on the blood work of the cross.

The Bible has more to say about the blood of Christ than the cross and the death of Christ. Though all three of these are intrinsically linked, it is the blood of Christ that is most often mentioned as being critical to our spiritual health, such as in Rev 12:11 – And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.

The blood work of Jesus Christ reconciles sinners to Holy God. Our eternal safety and security depend on His blood work.

Carter tells us that our religion is a bloody one – not because of the renegades who wrongly shed the blood of men in the Crusades, the Great Inquisition, and other sinful actions by professing Christians. Christianity is a bloody religion because the perfect Lamb of God was predestined to be slain to take away the sins of people throughout the world – as many were called and believed on Christ.

In his book, Carter reminds us that we are purchased by the blood of Christ; cleansed by the blood of Christ; ransomed, justified, redeemed, sanctified – and more! – all by the blood of the Lord Jesus, who is the Christ. Rather than shrinking back from talking about the bloody cross of the Lord, we are encouraged to embrace and proclaim it! His blood avails for each of His chosen ones and without it none of us can be reconciled or brought near to God. It is foolishness to the world and all who are perishing – but the cross of Christ is the power of salvation to those who are being saved.

This book reminds us of what is essential for the body of Christ – we need good blood work. And there is none better than that of Jesus Christ. It is a bloody cross to which we cling, it is that blood spilt on Calvary that cleanses us from sin – all other blood stains us. Proclaim the blood of Christ – without His blood work none will be justified or reconciled to Holy God.

O precious is the flow

That makes us white as snow.

No other fount I know,

Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This book available here in several formats.

Suffering is a Blessing from the Lord

depression I have been out of circulation for a little while due to some rather difficult circumstances my family has had to face. While I will not discuss the details of this, suffice it to say that God has been blessing us through the furnace of the refiner’s fire. In the last year we have faced a great number of difficulties. As a result, there have been days where we have wept because of the suffering we faced. There have also been days where we rejoiced in our pain that we serve a great and powerful God who knew exactly what He was doing, even if we didn’t. Through all this time, my faith has been tried in ways I never expected. Even today, as I write this post, I know that in my heart, despondency and depression are close at hand. If I did not admit this, if I tried to tell you that we have been all smiles, never doubting God for even a moment, I would be a terrible liar. Yet, I write this, not to complain so that people will comfort me. I write it to be a comfort to you.

2 Corinthians 1: 3-4 tells us “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” What this is teaching us is that God allows us to endure suffering and affliction and that He comforts us in that affliction. In turn, we then can comfort others in their suffering, with the same comfort we received from God. That is to say that one of the reasons we endure suffering is so we can be comforted and in turn we can comfort others who suffer.

It sounds like a crazy revolving door, yet it makes a lot of sense. If the world were just one giant accidental cosmic burp, as evolution teaches us, then there is not one thing in which we can find comfort in our suffering. In fact, suffering and affliction should be exalted because it is what culls the weaker of the species off. We should not seek to comfort those who are hurting; we should let them die off because they are too weak to handle the harsh realities of life.

Yet, it is in the gospel that we find the reason for comfort. God created the entire universe, this massive, seemingly endless expanse. And tucked away in one tiny portion of it, He created a planet where He placed mankind. There, He placed the breath of life into man and gave him dominion over all His creation. God gave man but one command, to not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet, Adam, in his wanton rebellion, ate of the tree, ushering in death and forever tainting mankind in sin. The creation was perfect, no suffering, no death, and no affliction. Yet, the perfect creation was forever marred by the sin of man. Now mankind must endure suffering because of the wickedness of his heart.

God then promised Adam that from his descendants would one day come a Seed that would defeat death and redeem fallen man. In that promise was comfort. It was a promise that despite what man brought upon himself, God would one day rescue him from it. That promise was fulfilled when the Son of God came down from His throne and took on humanity. Jesus Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to the law of God, yet He willing received the wrath of the Father at the cross and took the full punishment that all sinners deserve. Following His death, Christ was buried in the tomb, yet rose Himself three days later, defeating sin and death. God promised comfort to those who would recognize their sinfulness before a holy Judge, who would repent of those sins and throw themselves at the foot of the blood stained cross, crying out in faith to the One who had died for them. That comfort was given when sinners were made sinless in the eyes of God, being given the righteousness of Christ in exchange for the sinful burden He nailed to the cross.

All those who have ever trusted in Christ – those looking forward from the promise made to Adam in the garden and those looking back at the finished work of the cross – have the comfort of knowing that their sins are forgiven and that they will experience eternal life in the presence of their Savior. But they also have comfort in knowing two other things. One, that when they enter into that eternal life, all pain and suffering will come to an end. And that, two, while in this life, all the pain and suffering they endure will happen only because the sovereign will of God has allowed it. No momentary affliction, no matter how intense, will be felt without the express decree of God. And in that is great comfort, because if God has willed it, then it is for His glory and our ultimate good.

How can pain and suffering be good? First, it reminds us that this life is only temporary. This world, as beautiful and amazing as it can be, is a fallen, busted wreck. It is tainted by the effect of sin brought into it by man. Because it is in this state, one day, God will destroy it all and create a new heavens and a new earth. Suffering in this life reminds us that God’s sovereign decree is that one day He will bring all things into judgment. Only those who have repented and placed their faith in Christ while be spared His righteous wrath, poured down in fire from Heaven. Suffering causes us to long for that day when He will restore His creation, and reminds us to hold onto this world with very light hands.

Secondly, suffering causes us to realize we are not in control of our lives. There is nothing that happens to us that God has not ordained. Therefore, no matter how hard we try to orchestrate the events of our lives so that we have the great success and most comfort possible, only God can determine what the next day (or hour, or even minute) will bring. Suffering humbles us and causes us to understand that we cannot for even one moment be in complete control of our lives. We wholly depend upon God for life and breath. Therefore, suffering makes us cling tightly to the Master of our destiny, knowing that everything He does is right and good. It frees us from trying to be the ultimate director in the play that we try to write for ourselves. It causes us to rest in Him who ordained it from the very beginning.

Of course, such rest does not come easily for us sinful beings trapped in this tainted flesh. That is why God continually allows suffering and affliction to tear us from the grasp of wretched and rebellious world. With each new trial in our lives, if we will but cling to the Master, the pain we feel will be comforted by the very One who brought us into that suffering. And as He carries us through it, we can look back and see where He has refined us into a fine and precious tool, created for His workmanship. Then we can know that the suffering we endured was for His purposes, and for our ultimate good.

I implore you know, if you are going through a terrible trial, cling to the Lord. Know that He is using this time to make you into something He will use. It is not easy, it is most certainly painful. If you will but trust in Him alone, not so that you may gain something from it, but so that you may bring glory to Him, then you will find that one day you can be a comfort to someone else who is enduring a time of testing. You can testify to how God used your pain to strip away those things that kept you trapped in a sinful mindset. How He humbled and purified you, how He made you fit for His use. During this time, do not cry out as if this suffering never should have occurred to you. Know that, were God to give us what we truly deserve, this light affliction would be nothing compared to His judgment. So glory in His mercy that this time of hurting is His work in you, and find comfort in knowing there is not one thing God has allowed in your life that is not a blessing from Him

To Love a Terrorist?

As I write this post, the news channels are inundating our senses with the latest on the suspects from the Boston Marathon bombing. Ever efficient, reporters from every media outlet have descended on the Boston, Massachusetts area, in order that we might know every single gritty detail of the tragedy making front page headlines.

On my part, my heart goes out to those who were injured and the families who are also in the process of planning funerals for their loved ones.

However, there are a few things with which I am struggling. Please bear with me as I point out some deficiencies in what we are seeing and hearing played out in front of us. This article is not meant to demean the suffering of those injured or the grief of the families of those killed in anyway.

BeslanrosesFirst, let’s consider a little history lesson. The media has already found out that the suspects are of Chechen heritage. During the breakup of the USSR in the early 1990’s, Chechnya became its own self-proclaimed republic, but during the second war with Russia, it was brought back under control of the Russian Federation. The predominant religion of Chechnya is and remains Islam. Down through the last twenty plus years of fighting between Chechnya and Russia, we have heard of the extremist and separatist movements within the country as well as the acts of terrorism that have been perpetrated upon neighboring countries. The most notable was when a group of terrorists (which included Chechen nationals) took over an elementary school and eventually killed 334 children and staff before being killed.

Secondly, many within the Muslim communities of America are frightened right now because they fear that this will reflect on their heritage and their so-called peace-loving religion. In fact, before the media even found out about the current suspects, they were interviewing members and leaders of the Muslim community, who in turn stated that as soon as they heard of the bombing that they were hoping that the bombers were not of the Islamic faith. This is always of great interest to me because the Quran (Koran, etc) allows for the subjugation and killing of infidels.

I found it interesting that the media was able to find the father of the two current suspects overseas. In a recorded interview he commented that if his sons were killed in the manhunt that “all hell would break loose” upon those who killed them. Hmmmmm, doesn’t sound very peace-loving to me?

Why would the Muslims be afraid that a follower of Islam would seek to follow the dictates of his conscience and of what are considered to be the holy writings of this religion? Islam has long built a slavish following by the use of a bloody sword across great swathes of Asia and Africa. Many in the media and our government would have us to believe Islam a peace-loving religion and that extremists, separatists, and terrorists are a rare breed that just uses the Quran and Islam as a means to justify their killing and mayhem. Yet, this is not rare.

TROPIslam enslaves over a billion people in the world. Women live in fear and bondage across many countries in Asia and Africa. Christians are being slaughtered in a vain attempt to stop the growth of Biblical Christianity from spreading in many countries on these two continents.

Third, despite the fact that the current suspects are Muslim, I have yet to read of any Muslim leaders giving interviews condemning the killing of innocent civilians. In fact, I cannot recall any interviews given by Muslim leaders living here in the “Great Satan” called America casting condemnation against the brutalities of their fellow brethren around the world. While they sit here and enjoy every privilege and protection afforded natural-born US citizens, their caustic and hateful rhetoric against America continues to grow month after month.

It is to the point now that our government finds itself in a similar situation to countries in Europe that have a new breed of terrorists – home grown ones. These are people who were born here, raised here all their lives, sound just like us, played American sports, gained great educations, lived the American dream, etc.

Why is this? Very simply because their religion permits whatever means is necessary in order to enslave the people of the world to the dictates of Islam. If you don’t believe that this is the underlying intent and purpose of the religion of Islam, then I invite you to take a trip over to Africa or Asia. Proclaim at the border of a country whose laws are based on the religion of Islam that you are Bible believing Christian and a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. Or, just wait until you arrive at a local marketplace. Stand and proclaim boldly that Jesus Christ is the ONLY way to heaven and find out what happens.

Another reason you will not hear any condemnation and that we will continue to see an increase of terrorism is that those who adhere to Islam are not Americans first, they are Muslims first. This is not surprising for this is the way of many religions. A Catholic is expected to give allegiance to Catholicism, a Buddhist to the tenets of Buddhism, and a Hindu to the teachings of Hinduism. Even true biblical Christianity believes and teaches this. We sing, “This world is not our home and we are just passing through.” We claim that we are but pilgrims and sojourners passing through and that our primary allegiance is to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. The difference though is that biblical Christianity cannot and NEVER has been able to gain converts through the use of force. A person does not become a true believer in Christ at the point of a sword.

Sadly, I am not convinced that we have seen the end of terrorism here in America. I believe it will continue and we may very well see more acts of terror and in larger scale. As long as our country fails to admit the realities of the ideologies that separate many Americans from those in the Muslim faith, no direct action will ever be forthcoming. Muslim terrorists will continue to infiltrate our country and civilians will lose their lives while the media and the government attempt to put whatever spin they can on the situation in order to keep the gullible public from knowing the truth, and also to keep them from thinking that there is an enemy that has been permitted to reside in our midst.

Now, having stated a few facts about Islam, the question for us is what can we do about this problem? No, I am not referring to picking up guns or swords and beginning another crusade against all foreigners who hold to Islam. The problem is much larger than winning a few battles, and it will not end even if all the current haters of America were killed by our troops and bombs overseas. Another batch of haters would soon arise and the war would begin again.

The biggest issue by far is how we we as true Christians approach these people who are our neighbors. Do we ignore them and hope they will one day “go back to where they came from?” In a recent post, I shared a few thoughts about who is our neighbor, and I am convinced that Muslims are also our neighbors. We should go out of our way to not only see them as a neighbor, but to also seek to show them the grace and love of God that has been shed abroad in our hearts.

Reality hurts when we realize that we are not that far removed from those who seek to use terrorism to further their cause. Currently, we have troops in several different countries. They have been killing enemy forces but there have also been many confirmed civilians killed by our forces. If we had enemy troops here in America who were killing innocent civilians, I am certain that we would also probably revolt against such invasions of tyranny. Yet, our government somehow thinks that it is above the laws and protection that it imposes on its own people yet denies to the civilian populations of other sovereign countries.

Regardless of what our government is doing and the anger that they fueling in other lands and in the hearts of those who hold to a religion other than Christianity, again, the question is – what are we doing?

Do we fuel our minds on the news that talks about how “at least 3 dead” but fail to give one moment of concern for the killed civilians in foreign lands who are going directly to hell without having heard the gospel even once? These were husbands, wives, brothers, and sisters of somebody just as were the victims of those in the Boston Marathon bombing. We weep for those we do not know because they were Americans, but fail to weep for those killed because they are lost and bound for a Christ-less eternity.

Few probably wonder what difference it might have made if those who came here looking for a new life of freedom had found the open arms of biblical Christians waiting to welcome them. I myself have to wonder what difference it would make if I spent as much time not only praying for their salvation but also showing the truth of John 3:16 instead of fueling the depravity of my own heart with the gory details of how one more Muslim killed some civilians. Again, this is not meant in anyway to demean the heartache being suffered by the families in Boston.

This post is simply an attempt for us who are Christians to give some consideration as to what should be our priorities. Either we believe that Christ came into the world to save sinners, or we believe by our actions that He only came into the world to save Westerners and especially white Americans!

Yes, without a doubt, Islam is a bloody religion. More will continue to die and some will sacrifice their own lives in order to obtain a reward that is not going to be awaiting them. However, Christianity is a religion that should be showing forth that Christ has provided forgiveness to our own hearts. We as true believers should be spending much time showing to the world that we are able to forgive those who do wrong against us, that we are striving each day to learn to love our neighbors, and that our goal is to fulfill the second greatest commandment given by Christ.

We must stop hating people because they hate the policies and practices of the American government. We must show them that the real reason we can love them is because we have been forgiven for our sins that are no less or no greater than the ones they have committed. Our faith, not the flawed policies of our government, must dictate the direction of our hearts and our actions. If this world is not our home, then our marching orders proceed from our Commander-in-Chief through the pages of the Holy Scriptures.

Loving those who come from a background of terrorism will never be easy, but the real enemy is NOT Islam. The real enemy is not an Iraqi, an Iranian, or an Afghani. The real enemy is the enemy of our souls – the evil one, Satan himself. As long as he blinds the hearts and minds of unbelievers (either American or foreign), there will be no peace. However, when the Holy Spirit makes a man or a woman a new creation in Christ, all the old things will pass away and all things will become new.

To conclude, I am saddened not only for the families who are suffering, but also for the families of the suspected terrorists. They will never have the hope of hearing their loved ones have placed their faith in Christ. Yes, they chose their own deceptive path, but the reality of hell still awaits them. Judgment Day has arrived for them when they take their last breath. In the meantime, I have to wonder how many true believers these men may have met, and further, how many of them spent time praying for these individuals or even seeking to show them the love of Christ.