For it is by grace you have been saved...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Humanism In The House

“With brains in my head and feet in my shoes, I will walk the path I choose.” So says the sign in front of a local church. I wasn’t’ sure of the origin of this little ditty. I actually had pretty good English Lit. classes in high school and college, and was about to think I was asleep, drooling on my desk the day we read this great literary quote. Then google found it. It’s apparently from Seussical the Musical, where JoJo says: “I've got brains in my head And feet in my shoes,” and the others say, “So steer yourself any direction you choose!” (I apologize if the source is somewhere more profound and I just missed it).

Now, Dr. Seuss has been used before to some positive theological effect (see my friend Rodney’s use of Horton Hears a Who). But here’s the point: why is this sentiment on a church sign? And particularly, during the Christmas season when we are supposed to be celebrating Christ’s coming among us, why are we elevating man’s own effort? It seems this is just one further example of how the humanistic spirit has invaded the church.

I’m not trying to pick on this church in particular. I’m not trying to say that this pastor and his entire congregation are pagan humanists. But I do think it shows how far the man-exalting philosophy has come that we can put that on our church sign during Christmas, and no one seems to notice or mind.

With my brains and my effort I will do what I want. How different is that than the words of God’s Book? How about Proverbs 20:24, “A man's steps are from the LORD; how then can man understand his way?” Or Romans 9:16, “So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy.” Or our Lord’s own words in John 15:5, “apart from me you can do nothing” (all ESV).

Scripture makes it very plain that in with our own brains and effort and will we will end up apart from God, disobedient and rebellious. Isn’t that what Christmas is all about to begin with? That man in his depravity required such a great and merciful gift of grace that could only come through the cross, and so the Word became flesh and dwelt among us to give us grace upon grace? That’s why we sing “Joy to the world” after all, because God came to save us. But according to this church sign, we apparently didn’t need the help after all.

This whole thing just seems to be one more illustration how the “spirit of the age” has infected the church. We could talk about the whole church growth movement which points to entertainment and man made methodologies to bring folks in, as opposed to the simple preaching of the Word. Or we could mention the manipulative invitation system we’ve devised in the last century and a half to get folks emotional and “get ‘em in” the kingdom, as opposed to how things worked the first 1900 years of the church: God drew men to Himself. We could even mention the decline in the basic doctrine of sin; these days folks aren’t dead in their trespasses and sins, they are merely a little sick and misguided and can make their way back to the right path with the right effort and encouragement.

I’m sure all those things are lengthy discussions on their own, and maybe I shouldn’t just open a can of worms like that. It’s just that as the years go by, mankind seems more and more enamored with itself and the church, in it’s desire to fit in I guess, wants to buy in to the whole humanistic mindset.

Puritan John Flavel said that: “Every man, take where you will, and every man in his best estate, or standing in his freshest glory, is not only vanity, but altogether vanity.” I understand that; and I know the world is like that. But I thought the church was different; I thought we were to have the mind of Christ.

We need a healthy dose of the understanding which led another Puritan, William Secker, to say, “’Lord, what is man?’ Take him in his four elements, of earth, air, fire, and water. In the earth, he is as fleeting dust; in the air, he is as disappearing vapour; in the water, he is as breaking bubble; and in the fire, he is as consuming smoke.”

Once we have a clearer understanding of our nature and standing, maybe we won’t be quite as prideful about our brains and feet and the path of our choice. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll depend on Christ; which is why He came after all.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Heart of Christmas

I knew it was time to post something new in this space, though I've not been idle. We have some great pics and things over at the family site. Our oldest daughter told me I should write something on Christmas. Seems a little obvious, doesn't it? But what to say?

In the process of trying to come up with something profound (and not hurt myself in the process) I read a post by my friend Scott Lee. He did such a good job of offering a brief, to the point summary of the topic at hand that I realized the most profound thing I can say is this: Read Pastor Scott's Blog on Christmas.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Shameless Self Promotion

After a brief phone interview, this very blog space led off a front page story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch last Friday. You can read Religion Reporter Tim Townsend's article here, as he looks at Mike Huckabee's growing support for the Republican Presidential nomination; especially among conservative Christians. Thanks for the interview, Mr. Townsend, and thanks for a great article in which I wasn't even misquoted!

Let's keep up the support for Mike Huckabee!

(For the original post quoted by Townsend, click here)

Monday, December 3, 2007

Of Pigskins and Piety

“A Disney song would sound good if you have a good sound system…Maybe we can get a band,” said one man. “We just want to make it a fun, good-time atmosphere,” said another. Both agreed that a new sound system and updated music would go a long way in solving their problems. When people are excited, everything is better, they say.

Are these church members talking about how to reach more people? Better sound, upbeat music, getting people excited as the answer to a lagging performance. Sounds like some church meetings I’ve been in.

But no, these quotes came from Stephen Jackson and La’Roi Glover of the St. Louis Rams. According to them, the Rams' lackluster performance this year (they started 0-8 and are now only 3-9) can be traced in part to the “atmosphere” in the Edward Jones Dome where they play their home games.

In an AP article carried in the Springfield News-Leader on Sunday, Jackson was quoted as saying, “If our fans are not behind us and the music’s not pumping and the players are not excited, you’ve definitely got a lot of reasons why we’re not winning.” So…it’s the fan’s fault and the music’s fault.

My first reaction to that was: You’ve got to be kidding! You guys are paid millions of dollars each year to do what you love: play the game of football. You are on the biggest sports stage in America. And you can’t get excited because of the music. That’s the reason you’re 3-9?!

My second reaction was this: This is exactly the same attitude we see in the church. People in our churches say they know the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. They say they come to church to worship the one they love, He who sits enthroned on the grandest stage in the galaxy. But they can’t get excited because of the music. That’s the reason we don’t have bigger crowds?!

Eerie parallels here. And the reasoning is just as lame. I know there is such a thing as home field advantage in the NFL. I’ve been to games at both the Dome and at Arrowhead in KC. I know there is some electricity in a good crowd. But if the players claim they can’t win without better music and more hyped up crowds, then they don’t deserve the multi-million dollar contracts they fight for. Good fundamental football wins games, not sound systems.

And the same is true in the church. I’ve been to some emotionally exciting worship services; and I enjoy it. But if we claim we can’t worship without better, hipper music and hyped up crowds, then we don’t truly understand the nature of the grace we’ve been given and the awesome nature of the God we worship. Good fundamental theology makes for good worship, not sound systems.

The interesting thing is that many people will hear comments like those of Jackson and Glover and see through those as trivial. But those same people fail to see the trivial nature of the same arguments in the church. We are such an entertainment oriented society that we feel church has to match MTV and HBO and all those other letters in the “fun, good-time atmosphere” category.

Charles Spurgeon once said to “Beware of mistaking excitement for the Holy Ghost, or your own resolutions for the deep workings of the Spirit of God in the soul.” Elsewhere he said: “You who live upon excitement, will be but deceitful brooks; you whose religion depends upon the elocution of the preacher, you whose piety depends on sacraments, you whose godliness rests in your own doings, you may very well become like the dry and stony beds of occasional torrents; but those who depend upon the work of Christ which he has finished, and upon the in-welling power of the Holy Ghost, who shall abide with them for ever, shall renew their strength like the eagle’s; they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

As a long-time Rams fan, I’m hoping for a real turnaround this season. A lasting one that doesn’t come about by hyped up music in the Dome, but a healthy team playing fundamental football. And as a longer-time “fan” of Christ and His church, I’m hoping for a similar lasting turnaround; one based not on hype and hysteria of an entertaining service, but on healthy believers coming before a Holy God in worship based on sound theology and a simple grasp of the nature of grace.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Misguided Compass

"I hate the Narnia books, and I hate them with a deep and bitter passion.” That is quite an ironic quote coming from the man behind a movie that is being promoted as a Narnia-esque adventure. Even more ironic considering the strong similarities in the story lines of Lewis’ classic and this new drivel.

Yet those are the true feelings of agnostic author Philip Pullman, the man behind the book The Golden Compass, which is of course behind the movie of the same title. But make no mistake: this movie is not just another innocent adventure in an alternate reality. It’s not, as the movie company bills it, another Lord of the Rings either. Both Lewis and Tolkien would be highly offended at even being mentioned in the same breath as this anti-Christian rant.

Recently, Focus on the Family’s Plugged In Online carried an article which discussed at length the books (there are three of them), the movie and the author. The conclusion they draw is dead on target: keep your kids away from this movie.

Although Pullman clearly steals many images from Lewis (right down to a little girl hiding in a wardrobe), those stolen images are where any similarities end. Pullman, who declares himself an agnostic, is clearly anti-Christian, anti-Church, and anti-God. He even confessed that the main story line in his books is the “killing of God.” Pullman has said, “But if there is a God, and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and rebelled against.”

It would be bad enough for Pullman to have these views, but they are shared by the heroes of his tales. And he’s trying to bring these views into your home through a “fantasy story.” The good guys in this story repeatedly make disparaging comments about Christianity, while the bad guys are clearly meant to be representatives of the church.

And just in case you’re still wondering if it’s really all that bad, consider this quote reported in the Plugged In article. “(English poet William) Blake said that Milton was a true poet and of the Devil's party without knowing it,” Pullman has said. “I am of the Devil's party and know it.” On his own website, Pullman discusses the idea that his characters have "daemons" and says, "the daemon is that part of you that helps you grow towards wisdom. "

Parents Beware. This is no joke. This is no innocent adventure film. As parents we are charged with the protection of our children’s hearts and minds, which means their eyes and ears as well. We are to set them on the straight and narrow path, directed by God’s Word in all things. Yet, Pullman’s misguided compass will not point anywhere near True North and is committed to leading your children straight to Hell.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

We all have so much to be thankful for. Hope everyone enjoys a blessed day. For a full list of what our family is thankful for, check out our family blog.

Praise God for His grace and providence!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Debate That Won't Die

Baptists and Beer. It won’t go away. Rodney Albert recently posted an article on his blog showing how far removed Missouri Baptists appear to be from our brethren in other states. While they require state Baptist leaders to abstain from alcohol, the recent MBC meeting saw a resolution against alcohol barely even pass.

The truly amazing thing is this. Rod’s previous two posts dealt with the upcoming presidential election: one focusing on Thompson’s lack of pro-life backbone, the other on the selling-out by many “evangelical leaders,” backing candidates with a serious lack of moral fiber and Christian character in favor of “electability.” (I pause to reiterate my support for Mike Huckabee).

Both of those posts rated a total of 7 combined comments. The alcohol post had reached 28 at the time I recorded these words (and I’m sure has well surpassed that by the time anyone reads this). The point: It seems we are more concerned about defending our right to drink than we are about the moral fiber of our next national leader. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

I had previously addressed the issue of alcohol with simple line: drinking makes you stupid. And while I was attempting to be cute, the truth is that wise Christians should see abstinence as the better option.

Those who argue for a Christian’s right to consume alcohol point to the fact that the Bible never specifically prohibits drinking. In fact, “oinos” (wine) is often referred to, consumed, etc. Apart from the fact that the Jewish consumption of wine is a far cry from our feel-good society’s worship of beer and whiskey, the truth remains: Scripture never says “drinking is sin.”

However, the wise Christian must look beyond strict prohibitions to consider the principles which Scripture does clearly teach. We do this in regards to issues like gambling, abortion, etc. No strict prohibitions exist, but the principles are clearly there. Why can we not apply this same approach to alcohol in our culture?

The debate seems to be over the issue of Christian Liberty. Some say, “I personally abstain, but I can’t tell others to.” Maybe not by specific command, but can we not say that wisdom encourages abstinence; that holiness certainly would encourage abstinence; that a basic care and concern for those around us encourages abstinence? Certainly we can say, biblically, that care for our brothers often outweighs our own liberty.

John MacArthur writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians:
But Christian liberty is not unbridled license. It is never freedom to sin, and often it should exclude things that in themselves are not sin but that may become sinful or lead others to sin. Peter says, “Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bond–slaves of God” (1 Pet. 2:16). . . Before we exercise our Christian liberty in a given area not forbidden by Scripture, we should consider how it will affect others, especially our fellow believers.
God never said: Don’t Drink Alcohol. But certainly the principles taught in His Word would lead thoughtful and caring Christians to consider the devastation to individuals and families that alcohol brings, to consider the struggle that many have with alcohol, to consider the harm alcohol consumption can bring to our testimony, and would lead us to a clear conviction that drinking is wrong.

I know the debate will rage on. I know I’m not the most articulate spokesman for the abstinence camp. I simply pray that we can move beyond the arrogance of our own “freedoms” and think of the impact on those around us. And with that, I will leave the debate to the rest of you scholars out there.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Ongoing Missouri Gambling Fight

When is gambling not gambling? When are slot machines not slot machines? Apparently, the answer is: when they come to Missouri.

We shouldn’t be surprised to hear deception and double-speak come from the mouths of gambling proponents. After all, these are the same people who have given us “boats” which have permanent foundations and couldn’t float if they had to. These are the same folks who tried to remove the $500 loss limit in Missouri by hiding it in the Smart Start Scholarship legislation. And these are the same people who promised money for education in our state, and through sleight of hand in the capital all those dollars that would have gone to education are replaced by gambling money and then spent elsewhere. In fact, in the end, every dollar that comes into the state coffers from gambling ends up costing the state about three dollars in expenses for law enforcement, bankruptcy, criminal court costs and help to families of those addicted.

So, it should come as no surprise that these masters of smoke and mirrors have now offered us slot machines that aren’t slot machines. They’re “bingo slots.” What’s the difference? In appearance and function, nothing but the name on paper. But in impact, the difference is huge.

If Missouri Gaming Commission director Gene McNary gets his way, these “bingo slots” would be allowed in any place that currently allows regular bingo. A story in the KC Star a couple months back stated that “McNary acknowledged he's been actively discussing the issue of charitable slots with officials at several affected state agencies, including the Missouri Veterans Commission.” That article shows that the Gaming Commission is also pushing for gambling expansion in several other ways, but is holding back right now because Gov. Matt Blunt opposes such expansion. Thank you Gov. Blunt!

I recently attended a lunch with the folks from Missouri Clergy Against Gambling Expansion (MOCAGE) and Casino Watch. This was one of the issues discussed, but it certainly isn’t the only issue. Folks, the fight against gambling expansion in Missouri is not over, it’s not confined to areas along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and now it’s not even confined to casinos. It could be coming to your back yard.

We need to remain vigilant and be sure that we fight to protect our families from the destruction that comes as a result of gambling and gambling addiction. Keep up with Casino Watch, the Missouri Baptist Christian Life Commission and others who will be watching this issue. And be prepared and be willing to contact Missouri legislators when the time comes to make your voice heard.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Proud Pappa

Most fathers are proud of their children; at least I hope so. God has blessed me with four of the greatest children I could imagine. They are all four so different, so unique, and yet so much like me and Cheryl that we could never deny the relationship.

Forgive the mushiness; I just wanted to take time to brag about my kids. They all decided that it wasn't fair for dad to have all the net fun blogging, so we started a "family blog." So far, each of the girls has offered some of their poetry. Nathanael has added a few pictures he took. And as we go, even Mom and the little guy may have something to add.

So this is a shameless plug. Click here to go to our family site and enjoy the gifts God has given to our children.

And just as a side note (to make this seem like it's a theological article and not just parental pride), wouldn't it be nice if our Father could share this kind of pride in His children. That even though we are each unique, we are enough like Him that the relationship can't be denied. And that we are using our gifts in such a way to bring Him glory that He could say to the world: check them out; I'm pretty proud of them.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Thoughts on Family Worship and the MBC

Well, things at this week’s Missouri Baptist Convention didn’t go exactly as I’d hoped. It seems that the politicking of a few of our larger churches stirred things up sufficiently enough. However, I have faith that if things go far enough, the “little guys” will rise up once more as they have in the past and right the ship.

The brightest spot of the week was the annual sermon by Rodney Albert. If you want to hear an inspiring message on obedience and holiness, go to the MBC website and order a copy. It will be worth your time and money. (I'm told those will be available soon).

The other bright spot for me, personally, was the reporting out and adoption of a resolution I brought concerning Family Worship. It says:

WHEREAS, one recent study conducted by LifeWay Research this year revealed the majority of church-going teens, when asked, could not clearly define that faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation; and

WHEREAS, in a second study by LifeWay Research, 70 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds who regularly attended church during their teen years dropped out of church for at least a year and 35 percent of those said they would never return; and

WHEREAS, over the last several years multiple studies have likewise continued to show a decline in the faithfulness of young people to continue in the church after college; and

WHEREAS, further studies have shown a steady increase in alcohol use, drug use, premarital sex and other immoral behavior by young people, including those in our churches; and

WHEREAS, youth and children’s ministries are not enough for teaching and training young people in the ways of God; and

WHEREAS, according to Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and Ephesians 6:1-4 the clear biblical mandate is for parents to be responsible for the training and nurturing of their children, and for their instruction in God’s Word; and

WHEREAS, church history has many examples of the benefits of a faithful family altar, wherein families gather on a regular basis in the home to sing praise to God, read the Scriptures and pray; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that we, the messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention, meeting in annual session in Osage Beach, Missouri, October 31, 2007, encourage Missouri Baptist families to institute and maintain the practice of family worship in their homes; be it further

RESOLVED, that we teach the importance of family worship and provide training to those parents who are unfamiliar with the practice; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that we covenant together to encourage one another in this practice, seeking to be faithful to the biblical command to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord, equipping the next generation to be faithful men and women of God for His glory in all things.
The issue of Family Worship has become near and dear to my heart over the last several years. This is something I had neglected in my home far too long. I didn’t realize the importance, even the necessity of it.

Spurgeon had it right (as usual) when he said: I trust there is no Christian man or woman here who has a house without a family altar. . .I cannot make out how you live without it. I could not. I cannot understand how your piety gets on, nor what it feeds upon. I do think, wherever there is a Christian family, there should be daily praise in it.

Elsewhere he said: once let the family altar be forsaken, and let parents forget the natural duty of ordering their households before the Lord, and you may guard the church as you will, your labor will be vain.

And yet again: If I came into your house, and heard that you had no fireplace in the winter time, I should certainly advise you to build one; and if I heard that any of you had not a family altar, I should say, “Go home and lay the first brick to-night: it will be a good thing if you do so, I am sure.”

This message has become a passion of mine. I’m glad the messengers of the MBC adopted this resolution, but I am much more concerned that the message of it be taken back to our churches and put into practice. So let me just say to all the husbands and fathers out there: Go home and lay the first brick tonight. It will be a good thing if you do so I’m sure.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where is the MBC Going?

Next week, messengers from Southern Baptist churches all over Missouri will gather at Tan-Tar-A for the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting. What in recent years has been a pleasant experience to look forward to has me a bit apprehensive this year.

The primary reason is the appearance of the so-called "Save Our Convention" folks (read here for my previous comments on that whole thing). One of their agenda items is to propose an opposition slate of candidates to serve as our convention leadership. As my earlier comments made clear, this is not only unnecessary, but plainly points out the fact that this group of "concerned" individuals is merely interested in power and politics.

David Krueger has recently posted a series of "interviews" with the slate of candidates offered by current leadership and I think these are well worth your time to read. (Click here to go to David's site and erad those interviews). Of special interest is the interview with Roger Moran, nominee for 2nd Vice President. Roger is the much-maligned research director of the Missouri Baptist Laymen's Association, a group responsible in large part for the conservative swing in our state's leadership; reaffirming our stand on the inerrant Word of God. While we should be patting him on the back (along with Kerry Messer and others), the SOC folks have set out to villify him.

The reason I point out his interview in particular though centers on this. Roger points out clearly that the decision before Missouri Baptists is one of cultural conservatism to go along with our theological conservatism vs. cultural liberalism. The SOC folks and many others would have us believe that the Emergent Church movement is harmless when it is clearly not (cf. my comments on lack of discernment). No matter what anyone says, using worldly means to "draw crowds" is never right, never biblical, regardless of how orthodox the theology might be once folks "come in."

Missouri Baptists have some decisions to make. Where are we going? Where do we want to be in ten years? Do we want to maintain the course of theological and cultural distinctiveness, or do we want to head down the road of trying to become so "culturally relevant" that we cease to be biblically reliant? I for one pray that saner and more spiritually minded heads prevail, that we see this move by the SOC for the politically motivated thing it is, and that we stay the course, confirming that we not only believe the Bible to be true, but that we intend to live by it.

What Is Success?

Years ago, before going to North Dakota to serve with the then Home Mission Board, I had the chance to visit with a high ranking officer of that entity (very high ranking). I had done some research and wanted his opinion.

Here was the question:
“In Texas, there is one SBC church for every 3,000 people in the state, and we have over 400 HMB missionaries. In North Dakota, we have only one SBC church or mission for every 30,000 people; yet we have less than a dozen people receiving HMB support. Why is that?”

Here was the answer:
“We get a better return on our investment in Texas.”

Fast forward a few years. The Sioux church we served was holding its own, so to speak. A new church plant 60 miles away we worked with only had about 4 families. In both cases we were told by outside sources that these works were not “viable.” In fact, when we left ND, no one was sent to replace us at the new church plant, and it died. (Of course we still brag about the number of “new church starts” but that’s another story).

Once again, I’m finally getting to the point. A dear friend of ours is currently struggling in a “frontier” ministry. Response is very slow, but there are those in whom God is stirring a hunger. Yet his financial backers in another state, who by the way have never set foot on his church field, are telling him it’s time to move on because this is not a “viable” work. I guess they think they’re not getting a good enough “return on their investment.”

How do we measure success? Is it based on the numbers we draw (like a popularity contest)? Is it in terms of how much that work begins to give back financially (like a stock market investment)? Or is there more to it in God’s church.

Mark Dever, in his book Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, gives one of the best answers I’ve read. This is a lengthy quote, but it’s worth the reading:
We need a new model for the church. Simply put, we need churches that are self-consciously distinct from the culture. We need churches in which the key indicator of success is not evident results but persevering biblical faithfulness. We need churches that help us to recover those aspects of Christianity that are distinct from the world, and that unite us,

In a society where Christianity is being widely and rapidly disowned, where evangelism is often considered inherently intolerant or even officially classified as a hate crime, we find our world changed. The culture to which we would conform in order to be relevant becomes so inextricably entwined with antagonism to the Gospel that to conform to it must mean a loss of the Gospel itself. In such a day, we must re-hear the Bible and re-imagine the concept of successful ministry not as necessarily immediately fruitful but as demonstrably faithful to God’s Word.

Great missionaries who have gone to non-Christian cultures have had to know this. When they have gone to places where there were no obvious “fields white unto harvest” but only years andeven decades of rejection, they must have had some other motivation to keep them going. If William Carey would be faithful in India or Adoniram Judson in Burma, it could not be because their immediate success showed them that that they were being obviously relevant. It could only be because the Spirit of God in them encouraged them to obedience and trust. Rural pastors labor in churches amid declining populations, and they do so at the call of God. We today, in the secular West, must recover a sense of satisfaction in such biblical faithful ness. And we must recover it particularly in our lives together as Christians, in our churches.

My prayer is that we will find satisfaction and success in this way. And Brother Gary, if you’re out there, stay faithful, brother. As I told you, it’s all about the calling of God. He’s concerned with your faithfulness not the world’s idea of success. May we all learn that simple truth.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Go, Go, Gordon!

This just in. Jeff Gordon comes roaring back from 34th to 1st, to win at Talladega. This marks the 5th win of the season, 80th of his career, and 12th restrictor plate win (surpassing the late Dale Earnhardt’s 11). Gordon moves back to first place in NASCAR’s “Chase” for the championship, the place he held the majority of the season. The Talladega fans even showed improvement. (see here for my take on their childish/drunken behavior after Jeff’s last win here) All is right with the racing world. Now back to regularly scheduled programming.

Monday, October 1, 2007

A Serious Lack of Discernment

“Don’t you realize those are the Sacred Hoops?” That was the response to my wearing what I thought was simply a beautifully beaded bolo tie. What I thought of as simple artistic design, the Sioux people saw as a symbol for the Indian “life-way,” bringing to mind images of the Ghost Dance, etc. The same was true for the intricately beaded watchband I picked up. What I saw as merely artwork, the Sioux saw as a representation of the water-bird, complete with all the religiously charged symbolism it contained.

For three years my wife and I lived on a Sioux Indian Reservation, pastoring a little church there. It didn’t take long for us to see that not everything is as innocent and benign as we might think. We soon learned that images and symbols run all through the Sioux worldview, and very little can truly be described as being religiously neutral. Everything had spiritual meaning.

At one point, confused over the line between culture and religion, I consulted an older Cherokee brother while at Indian Youth Camp. His response was this: “Hunting buffalo and living in teepees is culture; all the rest is religion.” What I came to realize is that I needed to be very careful about the things I bought, wore, etc. because to me they may be benign, but to the people I was ministering to it had spiritual significance. For me to ignore that showed a serious lack of discernment.

Here’s the point (aren’t you glad there is one?!) The Missouri Baptist Pathway newspaper recently carried a piece about the expansion of Hindu influence in our nation, seen especially in the fact that a Hindu prayer was offered in opening the US Senate this summer.

An addition to that article discussed the offering of Yoga classes at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO. “Yoga with Sarah” is seen as just another exercise class; but is it really so innocent?

That Pathway article even included a quote from a Hindu professor who explained that each of the postures in Yoga was designed to represent a spiritual truth. In his words, to separate the posture from the Hindu meaning “must be challenged because it runs counter to the fundamental principles upon which yoga itself is premised.”

I’m having flashbacks of watchbands and bolo ties. Things are not always as spiritually neutral as we might think. We show a serious lack of discernment if we don’t realize this.

This is but the latest example of Christian people thinking that we can do what the world does with no consequence. This same issue of Pathway included articles on the Emergent Church with its use of alcohol, gambling, R-rated movies and religious inclusiveness all being used as “tools” to “reach people.”

It seems the modern church is suffering from a severe case of lack of discernment. I only pray that God will open our eyes to the truth and remind us that Jesus is the way, the only way, and that we truly need to reconsider what it means to “go out from their midst, and be separate from them” (2 Corinthians 6:17, ESV)

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Value of The Word

The Associated Press recently carried a story about a synagogue in Miami which came up with a rather unique fund raiser. In exchange for a sizeable donation, they are allowing congregants to host Judaism's sacred text in their homes. They call it a Torah time-share.

The article says:

For a one-time gift of $1,800, members of Temple Israel can sponsor a section of the scroll. Each year, during the week before that section is read at Shabbat services, donors can keep the Torah in their home — an event that has prompted families to host scripture studies, parades and dinner parties.
I had two immediate reactions to that story which came to mind almost simultaneously. First was: how pagan to treat God’s Word as a fund raising tool. This particular Torah scroll was about 160 years old, so I can understand some of the value placed on it in that regard. Also, knowing Judaism’s focus on the scroll itself, which borders on idolatry, is a whole other issue. (The rabbi even suggested that the Torah’s presence in the home made that home a more holy place!) But the bottom line was that it was simply used as a fund-raising tool. I was offended.

But the second, again nearly simultaneous reaction was this: I wish our people valued God’s Word that much. Once more, I know there are differences between Jews and Christians in how we view these things. And I certainly don’t want to return to a Pagan/Catholic reverence of the Book as an object of divine worship itself. Yet, still, there is something to be said for valuing the Word of God so highly.

I wonder how many of our church folks would fork over any money at all to “host a copy” of God’s Word in their homes. While I certainly don’t want us to worship the item itself, I also know that most of us take the Divine Text so much for granted that while we may have several copies lying around, we read them rarely and obey them even less. Didn’t someone once say that familiarity breeds contempt? Have we maybe gotten to that point with regard to Scripture?

I think of those missionary stories where people are clamoring to obtain a copy of the Word. I think of the young Belarusian girl we hosted several years ago, and her giddiness when we sent home a Russian language Bible for each member of her family. Why don’t we have that kind of passion for God’s Word? Have we forgotten that these are not just idle words, but they are our very life? (Deut. 32:47)

In a sermon called The Unkept Vineyard Charles Spurgeon said:

“We often say that the Word of God is precious — that every page of it glows with a heavenly light. Do we study it? Friends, how much time do you spend upon it? I venture to say that the bulk of Christians spend more time in reading the newspaper than they do in reading the Word of God. . .

“The last new book, perhaps the last sentimental story, will win attentive reading, when the divine, mysterious, unutterable depths of heavenly knowledge are disregarded by us. Our Puritan forefathers were strong men, because they lived on the Scriptures. None stood against them in their day, for they fed on good meat,
whereas their degenerate children are far too fond of unwholesome food. . .

“Alas, my brethren, too many eat the unripe fruit of the vineyards of Satan, and the fruits of the Lord’s vines they utterly despise!”
Oh, that God’s people would return to a genuine passion for His Word; that we would truly see God’s promises as valuable as David does in Psalm 19:10 - “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”

Our Jewish friends may have missed the point in all this, but I find myself wishing we had their zeal for the Word in this regard.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Mike Huckabee for President

I’ve just realized one of the really great blessings to blogging. I can say what I want about politics! As a pastor, there are those today who would like to gag my political opinions. The liberal powers that be have misconstrued the First Amendment and Jefferson’s passing reference to a “Wall of Separation” between church and state to say that pastors aren’t allowed to have public political opinions.

Of course, this wasn’t always the case. There was a time in this nation when pastors were expected to talk about, even preach about, not only political issues, but even particular candidates. There was a time when they named names. That was of course back in the day, close enough to the writing of our constitution for folks to actually remember what the intent was.

These days, due to memory loss on our part and outright deception on the part of others, we are told that the church should stay out of political matters. And whatever you do, Pastor, don’t ever mention a political candidate by name. I mean come on, you could lose your tax exempt status. (Even though this is all misunderstood, I wonder sometimes if that tax exempt status is even worth it! But anyway…)

However, as a private citizen blogging away in the blogosphere, I can say what I want. I don’t speak as a representative of any church or denomination. I don’t even speak as a pastor; merely a citizen who prays for his nation and for godly leaders to be raised up.

I believe former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is an answer to that prayer. Rarely do we find, in this day and age, a political candidate who claims to be a Christian, and by all appearances actually backs it up with his life! I realize I don’t know the man personally; but then again, I don’t know any of the candidates personally. Yet those who report on such things seem to agree that His faith is genuine, and I haven’t seen or heard anything to the contrary.

I was already leaning toward supporting Mr. Huckabee when I received an email from the Home School Legal Defense Association officially endorsing him. You can read on their site his position on several key issues.

I hope you do your own research. I hope you don’t just fall in with the guy who the party powers say has “electability.” It’s about time Christian people stood up and supported a candidate who is truly doing his best to represent Christ in his life. Wouldn’t it be great to return to a day when the leadership of this nation truly believed in the battle cry of the Revolution: No king but King Jesus!

To all five people who actually read this, tell your friends about Mike Huckabee. Maybe even send him a couple dollars to help out with the campaign. I’m waiting for my bumper sticker to come in the mail so I can proudly say: Mike Hucakbee for President.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Passing Of A Hero

This is a day of mourning for the American church. Today we lost one of the truly great heroes of the faith. D. James Kennedy entered his reward early this morning. A memorial site has been established by Coral Ridge Ministries for more information about Kennedy's life and legacy.

That site begins with a message from Dr. Kennedy himself regarding how folks ought to react to his passing. He says that he wishes for rejoicing instead of mourning, since he says, "I will be more alive than I have ever been in my life, and I will be looking down upon you poor people who are still in the land of dying and have not yet joined me in the land of the living."

As always, his sound theology comes through loud and clear. And yet, with all due respect, this is a day of mourning for many. We have lost one of the true heroes of the faith and one of the genuine patriots of this land. His commitment to sound biblical teaching was matched by his passion for this nation and her Christian heritage. Though with the miracles of modern technology Dr. Kennedy's teachings will continue to be available to the next generation of American Christians, we will sorely miss his voice.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Thank God for Stay-at-Home Mothers

I know I’m going to get flack for some of this (I’m still going on the delusion that people are actually reading this!). But here it is anyway…

Today’s Springfield News-Leader carried a front page story about an 18-year-old babysitter who got into a bit of hot water for, get this – dropping a two-year-old out a second story window!! And listen to her reason: “two children she was babysitting – including the toddler’s 8-year-old sister – wanted her to throw the child out the window.” You’ve got to be kidding me! She told police she thought is was a bad idea, but she did it anyway!

Now, I know this doesn’t reflect the mental capacity of all 18-year-old babysitters. I know that my 16-year-old daughter would show more wisdom than this. And I know that I don’t know the details of why this family’s mother wasn’t at home.

I am well aware that some families are dependent on two incomes. It’s tough to get by out there. (However I know that many of those who say they “need” two incomes only need it to sustain a certain lifestyle that they’ve grown accustomed to). And I know there are single parents out there who struggle day in and day out to make ends meet, etc.

But here’s the point. Thank God for women who have answered the God given call to motherhood and who are committed to that call as a top priority. They aren’t ready to let others raise their children for them while they are off being modern, independent women, or whatever the current phraseology might be.

Again, I know there are certain circumstances that require something less than the biblical ideal in the home. (And yes, I do mean that the biblical ideal is for a mother to have her family and child-rearing as her top priority; let the riot commence). But for most, having mom stay home would simply be a matter of making some choices.

We shop at Wal-Mart and Dollar General. And that’s for the good stuff. For everyday stuff, we shop at garage sales, and second-hand shops. Doesn’t hurt my pride at all, nor my family’s.

We don’t have the newest cars, or the biggest, best house. In fact, after nearly 20 years of marriage we are just now making house payments on our own home for the first time.

Our kids don’t have all the latest and greatest gadgets and gizmos. For electronic entertainment they have a garage sale Sega Genesis (for those who may not know, that is way, way, way out-dated in this day of the X-box and Playstation 3, 4, 100, whatever). But their entertainment isn’t limited to electronic devices that cost millions. They read books!! They play outside!! Imagine that.

Now, I’m not just trying to brag about our kids, as great as they are. Nor am I trying to hold our family up as some kind of super-family. I’m simply saying that we made choices. If Cheryl worked, maybe we could have newer cars, a bigger house, and “nicer stuff.” But at what cost? And is that what’s really important?

I don’t know how my kids will all turn out. We’re homeschoolers by experiment, which means “we ain’t never done it before” and we don’t know how it will all turn out. But I do know this much. Our kids are grounded in God’s Word. They are being given a biblical worldview that will be their foundation for life. They know that we strive our very best to base our family on God’s Word in all things. And they know that their mother loves them more than the new “stuff” she could buy with the income from outside employment.

I know there are more issues involved here than I could address in several days worth of entries; and this is probably already way too long. But reading that article just led me to let out a big prayer of praise and thanksgiving for a godly wife and mother to help raise our children. We may not be perfect. But I’m pretty sure no one is going to get dropped out of a window anytime soon.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Sometimes It's Good To Look To The Past, Part Two

In response to my post about returning to the passion of earlier days, my good friend Rod, a little side tracked by the whole Stryper theme, gave me a good natured rebuke. He told me to “Dust off your Puritan hymnals my friend, and feed your soul the true music of heaven.”

Actually, he wasn’t just being facetious. I do collect antique hymnals as a hobby. And he makes a very good point. The idea of returning to the past and recapturing some of the passion and substance of our forefathers in the faith would apply to the area of music as well.

As I’ve already demonstrated, I have a certain weakness for loud screaming guitars. But there is certainly something to be said for the insightful lyrics of days gone by. So much of today’s “worship music” is weak and insipid lyrically, regardless of the musical style. The hymn writers of days gone by were often much more theologically astute.

One of the favorite pieces in my collection is the 1847 edition of The Psalmist, a nice old Baptist collection which includes many of the Puritan writers Rod refers to, especially Isaac Watts. Consider the richness of Watts’ words in adoration of God’s Sovereignty:

Keep silence, all created things,
And wait your Maker's nod;
My soul stands trembling while she sings
The honors of her God.

Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown,
Hang on His firm decree;
He sits on no precarious throne,
Nor borrows leave to be.

Before His throne a volume lies,
With all the fates of men,
With every angel's form and size
Drawn by th' eternal pen.

His providence unfolds the book,
And makes His counsels shine;
Each opening leaf, and every stroke,
Fulfils some deep design.

Here, He exalts neglected worms
To scepters and a crown;
And there, the following page He turns,
And casts the monarch down.

My God, I would not long to see
My fate with curious eyes,
What gloomy lines are writ for me,
Or what bright scenes may rise.

In Thy fair book of life and grace
May I but find my name,
Recorded by Thy sovereign grace
Beneath my Lord, the Lamb!

Aside from the sound theology of that great work, how many of us would even have the patience to sing that many verses?! Definitely not a "7-11" song. Or how about this humble entreaty from 18th Century Baptist PK, Anne Steele:

And will the Lord thus condescend
To visit sinful worms?
Thus at the door shall Mercy stand,
In all her winning forms?

Surprising grace! - and shall my heart
Unmoved and cold remain?
Has it no soft, no tender part?
Must Mercy plead in vain?

O Lord, exert thy conquering grace;
Thy mighty power display:
One beam of glory from thy face
Can melt my sin away.

Unlike our modern little song books, there are over 1,000 entries in this old book, most of which reflect the same kind of passion and insight. Indeed, looking backward to some of these great old hymns would do us a world of good. It would remind us modern, independent, self-sufficient types of the biblical truth that God is God and we are not. Our pride and ego could use a good dose of these songs.

So thanks, Rod, for the reminder. Though it was meant in jest, you merely confirmed my previous post that there is great value in looking back sometimes.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sometimes It's Good To Look To The Past

I’m a Stryper fan. I can’t help it. No apologies. As a newly saved teen who had been used to listening to AC/DC, VanHalen, etc., I just couldn’t get used to Sandi Patti (and that’s not a knock on Sandi, just a matter of taste). Praise God for folks like Petra, Resurrection Band, and yes, Stryper. Say what you want about the hair and spandex, these guys have talent and they love Jesus.

Although many may think they’ve left the scene, they’re still around. A new album (sorry, CD) came out a year or so ago, and then just recently they released something called The Roxx Regime Demos. For the uninitiated, Roxx Regime is the original name of the band, before they signed a record deal, and before they became the phenomenon called Stryper. This was their original demo album, now released for all of us to enjoy.

I love this CD. It may not have polish, but it has passion. You can hear that this is a bunch of young guys who love Jesus and just want to sing about it. It doesn’t have all the fine tuning of later releases, but that’s not all bad. The passion makes up for it.

Now, this isn’t just about Stryper, however much I might like them (and my good friend Rod might hate them!). This is about all of us. This is about the church, too. Sometimes, it’s good to go back. Sometimes it’s good to return to the days of raw passion, without all the refined polish.

The church today is much like a band that’s signed a major record deal. The producers have taken the raw talent and shaped it, refined it, maybe even edited it, to make it more marketable. The producer wants to sell records. Some in the church want to sell memberships and attendance and so on.

How nice it would be to return to the raw, natural passion of the early church. They didn’t care about marketability. They weren’t concerned with niche marketing and popularity and target audiences. They loved Jesus and wanted to sing about it, tell about it, live it day in and day out.

Some look at the New Testament church as rough around the edges. After all, they didn’t have new buildings with stadium seating. They didn’t have praise bands and light shows. Good grief, they didn’t even have a PowerPoint to play movie clips! But they had passion. They were a family of families who gathered for fellowship, prayer and learning from the apostles’ teachings. That’s what the church is all about.

I know progress can be a good thing. After all, I even use a PowerPoint to display my sermon outlines, the text for the morning, etc. And I obviously love modern musical styles. (What would Paul have said about Stryper? Hmm). But the key is in the motive. Are we looking to produce a polished product that appeals to the masses? Or are we just some folks who love Jesus and want to worship Him, proclaim His Word (however un-PC it might be), and fellowship with His people?

Sometimes it’s good to look to the past. I know all anecdotal preacher stories get attributed to Billy Graham, so I don’t know if this really happened. But I read one time that someone accused him of being old fashioned and setting the church back 50 years. His response was, “That’s too bad; I was hoping for a lot further back!”

Let’s go back and listen to the demos again (i.e. the New Testament). Let’s look at what the church should really be about. Let’s get back the passion we each had when we first came to know Him. Let’s not give into the worldly temptation to focus more on polished productions, and let’s just be the church God intended.


Hard to believe it’s been over a month since I opined in this space. In that time, we’ve had VBS and spent two weeks on vacation; the first one in over 5 years. It was good to be away for awhile, to spend a lot of good, fun, quality time with the family. But it’s good to be back at it, as well.

While I was away, the cloning issue has blown up again. It has been masterfully handled by the ever-vigilant Rodney Albert, among others. Read his comments here and here and here, as well as those he links to for a masterful account of the issue.

And since he’s done so well, I’ll just ease back after my vacation with some less stressful things like the next article to come. It may not have the profundity of the cloning debate, but I promise it will be fun.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An Absolute Must Read!

It’s so discouraging to walk into the local Christian book store and see shelves upon shelves of pseudo-Christian self-help and pop psychology mumbo jumbo. So much of what passes for “Christian” writing these days is based more on a secular humanism and pragmatism than on Scripture. Which is why it’s so exciting to find someone out there who gets it dead on. Voddie Baucham is one of those.

I first heard Voddie by way of a DVD of a message he gave at an Evangelism Conference in Texas. It was so amazing that I immediately ordered a copy for myself and for the first time in my life, I showed a video sermon during a Sunday Morning Worship Service. Much of what he said during that message is fleshed out more fully in this new book: Family Driven Faith.

Every Christian parent in America ought to read this book. Every church ought to have a copy in their church library and encourage it to be read by parents and staff. We have gotten so far off the Biblical path when it comes to seeing parents as the primary disciplers of their children, and the statistics reveal the utter failure that has resulted. We are loosing over two thirds of our young people by the time they finish their first year of college. The current approach to youth and children’s evangelism and discipleship is not working. This book is a much needed wake up call to the church.

I admit I’m a bit biased. This happens to be the area I’m working on for my doctoral dissertation. And I admit that part of me was a bit frustrated that Voddie came out with this when he did, saying so much of what I wanted to say. But let’s be real. Not too many folks will ever read my dissertation (shoot, the prof’s will only read it because they have to!). And this message is desperately needed.

I know my little blog has a limited (very limited) (very, very limited) reach. But please. Everyone who reads this, buy this book. Read it and then read it again. Give it to other parents. Give it to your pastor and youth leaders. If we truly want to reach the next generation for Christ, we must return to the Biblical pattern of fathers and mothers who teach their children daily in the home. The lives and futures of our children are depending on it.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Has America Lost Her Identity?

It was recently announced that for the first time, a Hindu prayer would open a session of the United States Senate. According to the assigned pray-er, he will even include the mystical “OM” at the beginning and the end of the so-called prayer.

Despite what the liberal PC police would have you believe, this is a major departure from our nation’s foundations, and another step down the slope of futility that has led us to a national identity crisis. Sound extreme?

President Woodrow Wilson said at a Denver rally in 1911 that:
“A nation which does not remember what it was yesterday, does not know what it is today, nor what it is trying to do. We are trying to do a futile thing if we do not know where we came from or what we have been about . . .

“America was born a Christian nation. American was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of Holy Scripture.”
America was born a Christian nation, he said; and if we forget who we were, we don’t know who we are. Pretty clear to me.

But perhaps Wilson was too far removed from our nation’s beginnings to have a proper grasp of what the founders intended. So let’s go back a few years to Benjamin Franklin Morris, a well known American historian. Living within the first one hundred years of the nation’s official birth (1810-1867); surely he would have a better grasp of things. He said:
“The state must rest upon the basis of religion, and it must preserve this basis, or itself must fall.”
But wait a minute, that just says “religion.” Surely he would have included Hinduism. Or would he? Morris went on to say:
“This is a Christian nation, first in name, and secondly because of the many and mighty elements of a pure Christianity which have given it character and shaped its destiny from the beginning. It is preeminently the land of the Bible, of the Christian Church, and of the Christian Sabbath…The chief security and glory of the United States of America has been, is now, and will be forever, the prevalence and domination of the Christian faith.”
Hmm… According to Morris’ thought then, having a Hindu open the Senate proceedings would be a blow to the chief security and glory of the United States. But again, he lived almost a hundred years after the founding fathers, right? So let’s go back a bit further.

John Jay was the first Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court. He was a member of the First and Second Continental Congress and served as President of that group. He aided James Madison and Alexander Hamilton in the writing of the Federalist Papers. He was even involved in the actual negotiations for ending the War for Independence. Surely this guy would know what was behind the founding of this great land.

On October 12, 1816, John Jay wrote:
"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
John Jay, founding father. Arguing that this was intended to be a Christian nation led by Christian leaders. How saddened he would be on July 12, when a Hindu prayer is uttered in the halls of Congress. How sad it would be for those men and women who died for the rally cry of “No King but King Jesus” to know that the freedoms they died for have been used to lead our nation into idolatry.

This is yet one more example of how America has truly lost her way. Our “chief security and glory” has been thrown aside in the name of “tolerance” and “inclusion.” We’ve forgotten what we once were, and as a result we don’t really know who we are and what we’re trying to do. Is it any wonder our national politics are in such turmoil and our electorate is confused?

On the heels of celebrating our nation’s birth, we need to get on our knees and pray that God will lead us back to our foundations. Pray He will lead us back to a proud and faithful identity. Short of that return, our national identity crisis may just be terminal.

Thanks to William Federer’s America’s God and Country Encyclopedia of Quotations, (Amerisearch, Inc., 1999) for the historical quotes.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The Value of a Friend

Back in the mid 80’s I was pretty sick of one song in particular. Working at our college radio station, the most requested song was probably Michael W. Smith’s “Friends.” People were singing it at graduations, people would call in and request it to be dedicated to a friend, on and on. Don’t get me wrong; I hold no ill will toward Mr. Smith; I just got sick of the song.

In fact, my radio partner, David King, and I came up with the bright idea of speeding up the turntable (younger readers can ask their parents) and we told people it was the Chipmunk version of the song, just to add some variety. Ironically, some started calling in and even requesting that! (I’m sure we broke several copyright laws or something on that one, and I’m hoping the statute of limitations has run out on that particular crime; if not, it was David’s idea!)

Anyway, those college days and the message of that song were both called to mind recently. My good friend Rodney Albert wrote on his blog of the continuing decent our alma mater has taken into the depths of liberalism, relativism, and about a dozen other –isms (you can read about it here if you want more details). And, bless his heart, he mentions our friendship as one of the few positive results of his time there.

I have to admit I nearly got a bit teary-eyed when I read that. No sarcasm here: I went to college as a new Christian, and God used Rodney’s sage advice (read browbeating arguments) to keep me from falling down into the pit of the neo-orthodox/liberal theology that was being presented into the classroom. He is more than just a friend; he is a mentor, role-model, and brother.

But the whole thing has made me think. How much appreciation do I truly show for the friends God has placed in my life? Sadly, I’ve lost touch with many people whom God used to bring me to His Son. Tina Cantrell, the girl I went to church for in the first place. David Brown, the friend who sat me down at camp and presented God’s truth to me. I haven’t heard from either in years. Not a very good friend, am I?

I’ve even fallen out of touch with Scott Johnson, who was best man at my wedding . . . talk about pathetic (me, that is). Bob Lay roomed with me for three years in college (talk about cruel and unusual punishment!) and likewise stood up for me at my wedding. We occasionally email and send Christmas cards, but is that being a real friend?

I’ve done better with some like Rodney; we try to keep up with each other (if nothing else we read each other’s blogs!). Cheryl and I try to keep tabs on Joey and Jeri Rodgers who adopted a newlywed couple far from home at Southwestern Seminary. But even there, we’ve slipped.

I know those reading this don’t know these people (assuming anyone is even reading this). But I needed to mention the names again, anyway. And I need to take the time to get back in touch; to let them know that God used them for His glory in my life; to tell them I appreciate them, even if I haven’t shown it.

Those familiar proverbs come to mind (all ESV):

Proverbs 17:17 - A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.

Proverbs 18:24 - A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

Proverbs 27:9 - Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel.
We ought to appreciate our friends more. We ought to spend time on our knees thanking God for them; they put up with us after all. And we ought to take time to let them know it. I’m going to try to do a better job of that.

And I might just go home and cue up an old Michael W. Smith record!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Some Flag Day Thoughts

A we proudly fly our flags on this Flag Day, remember these words from Francis Scott Key, author of our national anthem…

The patriot who feels himself in the service of God, who acknowledges Him in all his ways, has the promise of Almighty direction, and will find His Word in his greatest darkness, ‘a lantern to his feet and a lamp unto his paths.’ He will therefore seek to establish for his country in the eyes of the world, such a character as shall make her not unworthy of the name of a Christian nation…
As well as stanza four of our National Anthem itself:
O! thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto, “In God is our trust!”
And the star spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Does The Missouri Baptist Convention Need Saving?

Two weeks ago, 11 pastors from some of the largest churches in the MBC called a meeting (at least some folks were invited; not me) to express their “concerns” over matters in the state convention. The cute little title for this meeting was “Save Our Convention.” One email that went out prior to the meeting (which I obtained a bootleg copy of) stated:
Folks, these are desperate times!
That email went on to say that the main issue was:

…the political agenda of a select group of individuals seeking to control the direction of this convention to the neglect of the voices of the masses. It is our belief that this agenda has culminated in the manipulation of the Nominating Committee process as well as a tightening of the reins in the area of church planting and a lessening of involvement among our fellow Missouri Baptists.

Can you say “fear mongering?”

During that meeting in St. Louis (which I didn’t attend, largely because I wasn’t invited) information was passed out stating the concerns more fully. (Thanks to David Krueger’s blog for posting this information for the rest of us to see; and for a very good commentary on it).

That handout said in part:

What is Our Purpose?
1. To break the power-hold that a small group has on the Missouri Baptist Convention.
2. To halt the spread of a legalistic spirit and allow for diversity of opinion on non-essentials.
3. To include all those who want to work together with the Baptist, Faith and Message as our guide.
Can you say “innuendo?”
Furthermore, the statement laid out these objectives:
Goals for Missouri Baptist Convention
• Elect new slate of officers President 1st and 2nd Vice President Recording Secretary
• Reject Nominating Committee Report if it is not reflective of people who represent the MBC as a whole and adopt a substitute minority report.
• Reject Presidents Nominations for the Nominating Committee if those nominations are power brokers and do not reflect the MBC as a whole.
Can you say “ridiculous?”
If the issue is the political machinations of a small group of men and women (who by the way are named in the report), then how is that solved by replacing it with the political machinations of this group instead?

The question is: Does the Missouri Baptist Convention need saving?
The answer is “Yes” and “No.”

No, the MBC does not need saving from the current Executive Board, which according to the SOC group is a mere ignorant puppet of the reported power mad individuals they list. I know several Board members and know them to be much more intelligent than that.

No, the MBC does not need to be saved from the remnants of Project 1000, the movement several years ago to reclaim a conservative direction in our state. That movement is over and done with. The only evidence the SOC group can point out to the contrary is an article in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which we all know clearly beats with the pulse of the average Missouri Baptist. (Can you say “sarcasm?”)

No, the MBC does not need to be saved from any of these perceived threats, none of which has any factual basis. However…

Yes, the MBC does need to be saved from individuals who spread fear and division.

Yes, the MBC does need to be saved from those who would continue to lead us down a path toward moral relativism (see my previous post), many of whom do seem to be involved in church planting as the above statement maintains.

Yes, the MBC does need to be saved from those whose best solution to “power brokers” is to become their own power brokers. (Read those stated goals again). I guess it’s OK to politick and control as long as you’re the one doing it, right?

Yes, the MBC does need to be saved from those who say they are concerned about the “masses” not being represented when they haven’t consulted those “masses” themselves. The last time I checked, I wasn’t a power broker, which would make me a “mass,” I guess. No one asked me if I was offended. No one asked me if I felt left out. And yet the SOC group assumes to speak for me.

Yes, the MBC does need saving from those who highlight the service of certain individuals on boards and agencies trying to show their supposed “control” while neglecting to mention that several of the SOC members have themselves served on just as many boards. But no one accuses them of a “power-hold.”

The MBC needs our prayers. Our state leadership and our state staff need our support. And we ought to be concerned about our direction as a state. Yet, for some reason, I’m much more concerned about the agenda of the SOC and their misinformation and innuendo than about anything else.

(For a much more insightful take on this, read the blogs by Rodney Albert or David Krueger)

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What Ever Happened To Sin?

From alcohol to pornographic advertising, it seems as though some self-proclaimed conservatives are not as conservative as one might think. On a discussion list for supposedly conservative Missouri Baptists, the ongoing debate is over the use of alcohol (see my previous post for my opinion about that; if you really care about my opinion, that is).

What is so surprising is the large number of pastors on this list who not only have no problem with alcohol in general, but are going to great lengths to support its consumption. And when someone suggested that one argument against alcohol is the predominance of sexual images in its advertising, these same pastors gave a somewhat “oh well” response.

Someone likened it to the overtly sexual ads being run by Hardees these days, which are appalling, and again the response was flippant and dismissive. Derisive comments about “boycotts” were thrown out, as if it would be ignorant of Christians to avoid supporting that particular chain because of its offensive ads. In voicing my concern, I was told, “just flip the channel.”

Is this what the church has become? We no longer oppose sin, we just ignore it and pretend its not there. I understand that we are surrounded by a sinful world system, and it would be impossible to avoid any and all contact with every business that has any connection to sinful behavior in any way. I’m pretty na├»ve, but I’m not stupid.

But that sort of extremism is not what I’m talking about. It’s not a matter of looking in every nook and cranny to find any hint of any sin anywhere. Yet when a company like Hardees or the beer industry flaunts it in our face, mocking us, assuming this is the sort of trash that will encourage people to buy their products, shouldn’t Christian people respond? Shouldn’t we see this as a genuine slap in the face to Biblical morals? Or have I really become that much of a prude? (and even if so, is that so bad?!)

There seems to be a slow erosion of moral values even within the church. People talk about Jesus eating with the sinners, etc. However, I don’t seem to recall Jesus ever speaking flippantly about that sin. Yes He ate with them, but He also called attention to their sin, the seriousness of it, and called them out of it. He didn’t just pretend it wasn’t there by “flipping the channel.”

And whether we like it or not, there is a biblical command to “come out from among them and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:17). Not in a haughty, judgmental way; but in an obviously observable one. We don’t live like the world, we don’t act or think like the world, and we should not accept what the world accepts.

I’m honestly concerned about our Missouri Baptist Convention. Not just about the politicking going on (see Rodney Albert’s blog for a wonderful take on this), but where we are heading on these moral issues. If we fail to stand for the Biblical moral values, I wonder how long God will bless our efforts. As someone reminded me lately: No purity, no power. I pray the MBC will continue to have both.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Another Attack on the Family

In a sick and twisted irony, in the days leading up to the celebration of Mother’s Day, the liberal wackos have chosen to spew forth more offensive anti-family garbage.

British news agencies tell of a recent report from the environmentalist organization Optimum Population Trust which suggests that having too many children is bad for the planet. That’s right, I’m not joking. You’re kids are harming the ozone!

The report suggests that “The most effective personal climate change strategy is limiting the number of children one has. The most effective national and global climate change strategy is limiting the size of the population. Population limitation should therefore be seen as the most cost-effective carbon offsetting strategy available to individuals and nations.”

John Guillebaud, co-chairman of OPT and emeritus professor of family planning at University College London, said: "The effect on the planet of having one child less is an order of magnitude greater than all these other things we might do, such as switching off lights. . . The greatest thing anyone in Britain could do to help the future of the planet would be to have one less child." Professor Guillebaud says that, as a general guideline, couples should produce no more than two offspring.

The report concludes that “having large families should be frowned upon as an environmental misdemeanour in the same way as frequent long-haul flights, driving a big car and failing to reuse plastic bags.”

As an added vulgarity, the OPT website cites the supposed “cost” of each individual child over a lifetime, and then adds: “A 35-pence condom, which could avert that £30,000 cost from a single use, thus represents a ‘spectacular’ potential return on investment – around nine million per cent.”

This is just the further extension of the environmentalist claim that humans are mere parasites on the planet, a message related even in so-called “family films” like the recent Happy Feet.

Of course, this all flies in the face of the biblical command given by God that man should be fruitful and multiply.

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth." Gen 1:27-28 (ESV)

Actually, God even had a second chance to get it right. Just in case He hadn’t realized the CO2 problem that would have resulted form all those kids, He could have started over after the Flood. But even after wiping out the whole of creation and starting again, he repeated the command.

And God blessed Noah and his sons and said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Genesis 9:1 (ESV)

God clearly tells us that children are a blessing and reward:

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! Psalm 127:3-5 (ESV)

You would think that the Creator of the Universe would be smart enough to know how much CO2 emissions each of these little blessings would emit and whether or not they would “damage” the planet. You’d think He would have considered that before encouraging “quivers full” of the little guys.

Here’s a suggestion. Good Christian people of the world, be fruitful and multiply. Have as many of those blessings as God will allow. Bring them up in the fear and admonition of the Lord so they will be Christ honoring people.

And for the liberal environmentalist children haters, go ahead and listen to the OPT lies. In a generation we’ll out-number you!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

National Day of Prayer

One of my all time favorite books is called The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions. I use it as a devotional and often use some of its prayers in our worship services.

In recognition of today as the National Day of Prayer, I offer this prayer from that collection for myself, my family, my church and our nation:

Most High God,

The universe with all its myriad creatures is thine,
made by thy word,
upheld by thy power,
governed by thy will.

But thou art also the Father of mercies,
the God of all grace,
the bestower of all comfort,
the protector of the saved.

Thou hast been mindful of us,
hast visited us, preserved us,
given us a goodly heritage -
the Holy Scriptures,
the joyful gospel,
the Saviour of Souls,

We come to thee in Jesus’ name,
make mention of his righteousness only,
plead his obedience and sufferings
who magnified the law both in its precepts
and penalty, and made it honourable.

May we be justified by his blood,
saved by his life,
joined to his Spirit.

Let us take up his cross and follow him.

May the agency of thy grace prepare us for thy dispensations.

Make us willing that thou shouldest
choose our inheritance and
determine what we shall retain or lose,
suffer or enjoy;

If blessed with prosperity may we be
free from its snares,
and use, not abuse, its advantages;

May we patiently and cheerfully
submit to those afflictions which are necessary.

When we are tempted to wander,
hedge up our way,
excite in us abhorrence of sin,
wean us from the present evil world,

Assure us that we shall at last enter
Immanuel’s land where none is ever sick,
and the sun will always shine.

An Argument Against Alcohol

“Dad, why don’t we drink alcohol?”

“Because the Bible says in Proverbs 20:1 that ‘Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.’”

“What does that mean, Dad?”

“It means that drinking makes you stupid, son.”

Case in point. Jeff Gordon won last weekend’s NASCAR race at Talladega; his second in a row and the 77th of his career, breaking the late Dale Earnhardt’s career total. Since Earnhardt won 10 of these races in Alabama, the faithful there took exception to Gordon’s surpassing their hero, and they rewarded him by tossing beer cans and other items onto the track. Drinking makes you stupid.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. A couple of years back Gordon defeated the legend’s son, Dale, Jr. at the same track and had a similar coronation display. This time, track officials even warned the fans prior to the race that such behavior would result in arrests. Yet the beer toss happened anyway; and indeed, 14 fans were arrested and banned for life from the Talladega Superspeedway.

The issue is not the fans' displeasure over Gordon; we’re all entitled to our opinions. But the beer barrage is not only in poor taste and shows poor sportsmanship; it is a danger to other fans, some of whom are children. Drinking makes you stupid.

The debate has been raging in SBC and MBC circles about the virtue or vice of alcohol. We’ve had the issue thrown in our face by some new church starts who think alcohol consumption is a non-issue and in fact even hold some of their Bible studies in bars and breweries.

The argument is that the Bible is neutral on the issue, sometimes holding up the virtue of drink, other times condemning its abuse. There is some validity to that on the face. But the issue runs deeper.

Scripture also says this:
Philippians 2:4 - Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

Romans 14:21 - It is good not to eat
meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.

We live in a culture where alcohol is a problem for millions. They struggle with it’s effects in their lives and for us to take a casual approach to the issue may cause them to stumble. I have a friend who has that exact experience.

After years of sobriety, he attended a Sunday School gathering where alcohol was tolerated and even promoted. Seeing those he respected consuming alcohol broke down the barriers he had erected regarding the matter. As a result, he fell into sin. Drinking made him stupid.

Don’t misunderstand. This brother’s sin is his own. The SS class didn’t force him to do it. But their cavalier attitude toward drinking was in violation of both texts quoted above.

We need to open our eyes and quit pretending that we live in a culture in which we will never have to deal with brothers like this. They are everywhere. They are in our churches. They are obviously at the race track. Our Christian liberty needs to take a back seat to their best good. Abstaining from alcohol is the wisest choice for them and for us.

“Dad, why did those people do such a stupid thing? Someone could have gotten hurt?”

“You’re right, son. But remember ‘Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.’”