Monday, April 30, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Entertainer

When does the attempt to keep things interesting become mere sensationalism? How can we avoid this?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Church

Do not look for the ideal church; look for the one that needs you.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Voice from the Past - John Owens

When a man on some outward respects forsakes the practice of any sin, men perhaps may look on him as a changed man. God knows that to his former iniquity he has added cursed hypocrisy, and is now on a safer path to hell than he was before.He has got another heart than he had, that is more cunning; not a new heart that is more holy.

John Owen, 1616-1683, Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, Part II, The Nature of Mortification, Chapter 5 (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, edited by Kelly M. Kapic and Justin Taylor, Crossway Books, 2006, p. 70).

Is this a real danger? If so what steps should we take to avoid it?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

In Search of the Perfect Relationship

One of the major emphases of our culture is the central importance of relationships. This is often held up as what life is about. But as C. S. Lewis points out, when a good thing is blown out of proportion, it can become destructive and even undermine the thing itself. Relationships, family, friends, Christian brothers and sisters are a good thing. They are meant to be enjoyed and to be for our benefit. But they are best when kept in realistic proportion. We are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah  64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-23; 2 Corinthians 4:17-18; John 16:33). Nor are we, as those who trust in Christ, immune to this; we still fall short of being the people we should be (Philippians 3:12-16; Romans 7:7-25; Galatians 5:17). Therefore, if we go out looking for the perfect spouse, perfect family, perfect circle of friends, perfect church, we will always be disappointed. Further, by trying to change them into our ideal, we can destroy the imperfect, but real and beneficial, relationship that is there. Also, by feeling we need to be the perfect person who is capable of having the perfect relationship, we can put ourselves on an endless treadmill of trying to meet these expectations. And when we fail to obtain the kind of relationships we desire, we can become discouraged and bitter. All this can prevent us from keeping or enjoying the genuine relationships we do have or could have. Even our relationship with God, when seen in the wrong way, can take on this quality. If we see this relationship, as fundamentally an experience we have or a feeling we possess, we can labor to drum up that experience and become discouraged or even blame God if we fail to obtain it.

Scripture, rather than advocating the pursuit of the ideal relationship, sees relationships as objective facts and works from there (Matthew 19:1-12; Exodus 20:12; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). Therefore, it demands behavior and commitment that fit the existing relationship (Ephesians 5:22-6:4; 4:1-6; Proverbs 17:17). Also, our relationship with God is based on the fact that He has redeemed us (John 1:12,13; Revelation 1:5,6; Ephesians 2:8,9) and calls us to live in the light of that relationship (Romans 12:1,2; Titus 2:11-14; 2 Corinthians 5:14,15). This takes the pressure off, without eliminating the responsibility involved. We are not to seek the perfect relationship, but to do the best we can with the relationships we have in an imperfect world. For it is only by approaching them realistically that we can avoid destroying them by striving too hard to preserve and perfect them.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In Times of Trouble

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

How do we respond to people in times of suffering? We must start by avoiding jumping to the conclusion that their suffering must be due to sin on their part. Scripture clearly rebukes this idea (John 9:1-3; Job 1,2; Luke 13:1-5). Now there are cases where suffering may be the results of God's discipline in the person's life (Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Corinthians 11:29-32; 2 Samuel 12:7-14). But we must be very careful of reaching the conclusion that this is what is happening without strong evidence (remember the rebuke of Job's comforters, Job 42:7-9). And if someone is involved in sin we need to correct them with care, following the Scriptural requirements (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12,13).

The Scripture further says we are to be genuinely concerned about the suffering of others (1 Corinthians 12:26,27; Romans 12:15; Galatians 6:2). This is hard because when you sympathize with others, you end up hurting with them. It seems easier (if less Scriptural) to keep them at arm's length. One way to do this is to just spout platitudes (it is unfortunately possible to turn Scripture into a platitude) to avoid actually becoming engaged in people's problems. There has been much said about listening versus speaking. I believe there can a place for speaking, but it is hard to be really concerned unless you listen. There has also been much said about whether or not to quote Bible verses. I also believe there is a place to use Bible verses, but not as a quick answer to avoid listening to and sympathizing with the person. Bible verses thoughtlessly quoted to a hurting person can come off as condemning rather then comforting. (As saying, surely you should have already known this.) But the main issue starts with the heart. If you are genuinely concerned with the person and their pain, it will help keep you away from these pitfalls.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Accepting the World's Theories

Once upon a time there was a thing called Neo-Platonism. And it was the great enemy of Christianity. Not only was there a tendency for our enemies to embrace it, but Christian thinkers time and time again fell into this way of thinking. But now this philosophy has been relegated to obscurity, and most people have no idea what it even taught. And we can be puzzled why anyone was even tempted to incorporate this belief into their faith. It is very easy for Christians to fall into the mindset of their time. It is all around us; it seems obvious; it is the only reasonable way to think. We can think it is obvious; certainly all these scholars cannot be wrong; certainly we do not want to be looked on as stupid and unintellectual. But the things one age sees as obvious are often the very things the next age sees as ridiculous. The Neo-Platonists thought change was a bad thing, and therefore the physical world that was fraught with change was inferior to the unchanging world of mental ideas. Today we see change as a good thing and deplore anything unchanging as stagnant. And the irony is that both groups have claimed their position to be obviously right and have felt that no reasonable person could possibly think otherwise.

The Scripture has many pointed things to say about trust in human wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 3:18-20; Colossians 2:8). We are also are told not to be conformed to this present world, which is hostile toward God (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). Therefore, the Christian can never simply assume that what everyone knows or what all the scholars say is true. During the Middle Ages, in order to stave off the attack of Neo-Platonism, the established church adopted the philosophy of Aristotle. This philosophy became firmly entrenched in their theology and in their view of the world. The result was that when there later arose Copernicus and Galileo, who questioned that view, they were opposed by the ecclesiastical authorities. (The issue was more complicated than that and tends to be simplified in popular lore, but the main issue was whether you were for or against the Aristotelian view of the world.) And the moral that is so often drawn from this is 100% backwards. The real moral is that we must careful of baptizing any secular philosophical view, no matter how congenial it may seem at the time. Now I am not suggesting we be anti-scientific or anti-intellectual. I am, however, suggesting that we need to carefully study such things to determine what is and is not really proven and that we not be too quick to assume that because the scholars say it, it must be true. And I particularly think we should be very wary of revising our theology to accommodate the current belief system. For in a few hundred years (if the Lord tarries), the whole thing could be totally irrelevant.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Survey

How far should we go to attract outsiders into our churches? What is the right approach to reaching people for Christ?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Trinity

The Trinity is one of the greatest proofs of the truth of Christianity, for a God we could understand is a God we could invent.

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Spurgeon

He who getteth a hold of the gospel of Christ, and knoweth how to use it, hath that before which the devils tremble, and in the presence of which angels adore, which cherubs long to look into, and which God himself smiles upon as his noblest work. The truth we proclaim is not that which is discovered by us, but that which has been delivered to us.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, 1834-1892, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 559, The Cripple at Lystra (from

What difference does our attitude toward the gospel make? What implications does this have for our daily lives?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Attitude of Division

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Paul speaks against divisiveness in 1 Corinthians 1:10-12. What is this divisiveness, and how do we avoid it? Scripture makes it clear there is a point where we must stand for truth, even to the point of dividing over it (Romans 16:17; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 John 9-11). Now there is the question of how serious a disagreement needs to be before it becomes an issue. But there is a more important issue of attitude.

One problem is too great an emphasis on human leaders (1 Corinthians 1:13-17; 3:4-9; 4:1-5). Now human leadership is a gift from God (Ephesians 4:11), and we should honor and be subject to them (1 Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:17). But we must be careful of putting them in the place that only belongs to Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). It is God who is in control of our lives to accomplish His purpose, and He should always have first place (Ephesians 2:10; Matthew 16:18; Psalms 127:1,2). We need to put our ultimate trust in Him, not personalities.

There is also the problem of too great a trust in our own wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:1-5; 3:18,19). Now I need to be careful here; there are some who will carry intellectual humility to the point of not believing we can really know anything. Scripture makes it clear there is such a thing as truth (John 17:17; 8:31,32; Ephesians 4:15), and it is a specific and knowable thing (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:10,11). But it is one thing to trust in God's truth and another to trust in our own human ability to dogmatically establish every detail of truth. We should approach any issue with caution, knowing that our heart is deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9) and the world is full of traps for the unwary (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).Therefore, we should be careful not to build up teachings on an insufficient basis or to be excessively dogmatic about things that are not that clear-cut. And we particularly need to beware of adopting a position simply to show how much better we are for holding it or how much cleverer we are than someone  else for having discovered it.

Now I do not want to claim that I am immune to these errors and have everything figured out. But I do believe we all (including myself) need to be careful blowing issues out of proportion and dividing over things that are not worth dividing over.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Tolerance and Newspeak

The concept of newspeak is introduced by George Orwell in his book 1984. The book tells the story of a totalitarian state that attempts to control its citizens by (among other things) changing the meaning of words. The idea is to make the government's programs more palatable and make it harder to express meaningful opposition to them. Unfortunately, there is a danger, even in our culture, of groups trying to change the meaning of words to push their agenda. One glaring instance of this is the modern use of the word tolerance.

Tolerance in the old sense meant people who disagreed with each other doing so in a peaceful manner. A good example would be the historical feud between Roman Catholics and Protestants. At the beginning of their battle both groups, to a degree, tried to use governmental authority to enforce their position. However, while there are exceptionsit can advocate tolerance (at least within certain boundaries). But it cannot accept the modern idea of tolerance because it conflicts in certain areas with Biblical morality.  The question is, will the advocates of tolerance in the modern sense tolerate this? Or will we be forced to once more go through the cycle of them trying to impose their views by force? Until in the end they will, hopefully, finally learn to agree to embrace tolerance.

Monday, April 16, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The Threat

What are the real dangers facing the church of Christ? How can we identify and avoid those dangers?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Truth

Relative truth is absolute nonsense.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Voice from the Past - Athanasius

Perhaps you are wondering why, when we proposed to speak of the incarnation of the Word, we are now treating of the beginning of mankind. But this is not irrelevant to the purpose of our exposition. For we must, when speaking of the manifestation of the Saviour to us, speak also of the beginning of mankind, in order that you may know that our own cause was the reason of his coming, and that our own transgression called forth the mercy of the Word, so that the Lord came even to us and appeared among men. For we were the cause of his incarnation, and for salvation he had compassion to the extent of being born and revealed in a body.

Athanasius, 295-373 AD, The Incarnation of the Word, 4 (Contra Gentes and De Incarnatione, translated by Robert W. Thomson, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1971, p. 143)

Why is the idea of the Fall important to our understanding of salvation? What implications does it have for our life today?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Scissors and Paste Gang

Was the Bible pieced together out of earlier manuscripts using scissors and paste? To answer this we need to leave aside the Bible, which arouses strong feelings one way or the other, and ask whether this is plausible in terms of older works in general. But I do not find this approach at all plausible when applied to the Iliad and the Odyssey, the Epic of Gilgamesh, or Shakespeare's plays, books I readily admit are neither God-inspired nor inerrant. There was once a literary fad that attempted to apply this method in general. It has long since passed away, outside of Biblical studies. There are good reasons for this.

People do not write books this way. That someone would write a book by lifting odd sentences or paragraphs virtually unchanged out of different manuscripts is incomprehensible. Most writers are simply not that humble, for one thing. Even in older times, where writers had a stronger idea of the need to stick to their sources then we do today, that a person should write something without putting it in his own words is extremely unlikely. Now if someone could produce for me the physical evidence, I might feel forced to consider such an idea, but I am asked to believe this based on the idea's own plausibility. And it is totally implausible.

Also, the criteria that are used to distinguish between different manuscripts, particularly in the Pentateuch, are found in other ancient Near Eastern literature, including inscriptions, where there can be no underlying manuscripts. For example, much has been made of the multiple names of God or other individuals in Scripture. Yet it was quite common in that culture for gods and men to have more than one name. The real question is whether it is possible to say with certainty, without tangible evidence, how a literary work was composed, especially in another time and culture. On the kind of evidence used here, would we not conclude that J. R. R. Tolkien or Charles Dickens or Robert Lewis Stevenson did not write many of the works attributed to them?

It would be tempting to claim that, if this is the best argument that can be made against Biblical inspiration, it is a great proof of Biblical inspiration. But this would not be fair. I am convinced that someone with less scholarship and more common sense could come up with a more plausible way not to believe Scripture. The truth is, that after putting this forth as the proven results of modern higher criticism, it is hard for people to back down. But that does not make their theories reasonable.  Such theories regarding the production of literature may be interesting to speculate on, but are dubious in the extreme. Whether or not anyone claims that the literature in question was inspired by God.       

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Evangelism and God's Choice

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

 What effect does a belief in God's election (Ephesians 1:4; Romans 9:19-24; Acts 13:48) have on evangelism? The effect it should not have is discouraging us from doing it. God has called us to be the instruments He will use to spread His truth (Romans 10:14,15; Matthew 28:18-20; 2 Timothy 2:10). God uses means to produce His ends, and I am one of the means He uses. If  I refuse, God will still find a way to accomplish His purposes, but I am guilty of disobedience to His commands. What God's election does is help me avoid trusting in my abilities or even engaging in manipulation when it comes to evangelism (1 Corinthians 2:1-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:3,4; 2 Timothy 4:3,4). If I believe that only the work of God can bring someone to Christ (John 6:44,45; 1:12,13; Romans 8:29,30), then while I should work to do things well, I should not trust in my ability or methods. Also, if I believe that only God can bring someone to Himself, I am less likely to be discouraged or even angry when I am rebuffed or my overtures are rejected. It therefore makes it easier to approach the situation with the gentleness required by Scripture (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Colossians 4:6). It also helps to prevent discouragement if there is a lack of immediate results. If it is God who produces the results, I can persevere, trusting that God is in control of the situation (1 Corinthians 3:6,7; Matthew 16:18; 2 Corinthians 3:5,6). I would therefore conclude that God's election, properly understood, is an aid to evangelism rather then a hindrance.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Reconstructing the Maze

One of the basic ideas underlying a certain type of political approach is to see human behavior as determined by the organizations and structures of which we are a part. The conclusion, therefore, is that if we want to change the people, we need to change the structures. We can carry this idea over into the Christian church. If we just organize in the right way, we can change the congregation from lukewarm to spiritual. But both these views seem to be based on an idea that I cannot reconcile with Scripture. It is the idea that our behavior is the product of our environment. That we are white mice in a maze and the way to change our behavior is to reconstruct the maze. Therefore, how we organize or how we avoid organizing (lack of organization is a kind of organization) will determine our behavior. Now I am not against changing the current structure of the church organization if there is a reason for it. But I have to question whether it is the important issue that determines the organizational church's well being.

Our primary problem is that we are sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9), and even as believers in Jesus Christ, we still battle sin (Romans 7:14-25; Galatians 5:16; 1 John 1:9-10). Our hope against this is putting our faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation from sin (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9) and as a result of that being transformed by His power into who He wants us to be (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Peter 1:3; Ephesians 2:10). Now this transformation is a process that happens over time (Philippians 2:12-16; 1 Timothy 4:7,8; Hebrews 5:11-14), and we decide how to respond to God's work in us (Romans 12:1-2; Galatians 5:16; Colossians 2:6,7). We are assisted in this process by the work of others in our lives (Ephesians 4:11-16; Hebrews 10:24,25; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). The Christian life was never meant to be an individualistic exercise, but a life of growth together (Hebrews 12:12,13; James 5:13-16; Romans 12:3-8). But while it may be helpful to organize, there is no indication that the main thing involved is the nature of the organization (or lack thereof).

I do not see in the New Testament that God has prescribed a particular organizational structure, only broad principles (had He wanted to, He could have). But even if He had, there would be no basis in Scripture for seeing this as the heart of the Christian lifestyle. Further, if we are simply the products of our environment, we cannot know anything, because our thoughts are determined by our environment. And if we believe changing the organization is the key to spirituality, we make the chief motivator in the Christian life the pressure to please other people. This is not the appropriate Christian motivation (Galatians 1:10; Matthew 6:1-18; 23:25-28). Rather, our primary motivation should not be to please others, but to please God (1 Corinthians 6:20, 10:31; 1 John 4:19).

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Touch of Humor - The List

How should a pastor go about protecting his people from false teaching? Is a list a good idea? How big a list?

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Old Erich Proverb - Need

We do not need a great moral teacher; we need a resurrected Savior.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Voice from the Past - Lewis

But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left.

C. S. Lewis, 1898-1963, The Grand Miracle, God in the Dock (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1970, p. 80)

What does this mean for us in understanding our faith? How should we approach life differently because of it?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Heart of the Message

What is the message we proclaim? Is it a message about being a good, moral person? About how to improve society? About how to be happier and more well-adjusted? About how to reach your full potential? The Christian message is something much more radical. It is the message of how God came down from heaven and became a human being (John 1:1-18; Philippians 2:5-11; Hebrews 2:9-18). That He paid the price we deserved to pay for all our wrong doing and rebellion against Him (1 Peter 2:24,25; Colossians 2:13,14; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Then He validated all His claims by rising from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:1-20; Romans 4:24,25; 1:4). He therefore offers forgiveness of sins to all who put their faith in Him (Ephesians 2:8,9; Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9). Now the result of accepting this forgiveness is that God becomes involved in our lives to transform us (2 Corinthians 3:18; Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10. And one of the results of this is the desire to help those around us who are in need (Galatians 6:10; Luke 10:25-37; James 2:14-17). But these are merely the responses to what God has done in our lives (1 John 4:19; 1 Corinthians 6:20; Romans 12:1,2).

The problem is, people will tend to misunderstand us unless we are clear on this. Instead of seeing the point as being that God has invaded history to destroy sin and death, they will see the issue as being something they must do. They will interpret this requirement as either doing something to turn over a new leaf and change their lives. Or they will see it as some sort of mystical experience. They will see the crux of the matter as what they do or they feel, rather than what God has done to reconcile us to Himself. But there are many moral standards and mystical experiences in the world, and these can do nothing against our deep inner sinfulness (Romans 3:23; Jeremiah 17:9; Isaiah 64:6). What we need is not a new moral code, a new program for self improvement, or a new religious feeling. What we need is forgiveness and eternal life, and that is only found in Jesus Christ  (John 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:5). But if there is any way for people to distort or misunderstand this offer, they will. Therefore, we need to be clear about what it is we proclaim. So that we may give the world what it needs to know, not what it wants to hear.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Power of the Resurrection

Re-Posted from "Meditations of a Charismatic Calvinist Who Does Not Speak in Tongues"

Paul wanted to know the power of Christ's resurrection (Philippians 3:10). What does this mean? The one thing it clearly does not mean is a life without problems. Paul immediately follows "knowing the power of the resurrection," with "knowing the fellowship of Christ's sufferings." To understand this, we need to understand what the power of God is for. We are told our adequacy is from God, who has made us adequate as servants of the New Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:5,6). God is not someone we draw on, like the Force in Star Wars, to accomplish our purposes. Rather, we are His instruments (Romans 6:12-14) to accomplish His purpose in the world (Ephesians 2:10). It is then we will know His power working in our lives (Colossians 1:28,29).

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Are We Promised Revival

Are we promised that if we just do the right thing, God will bring revival? The most common verse used to prove this is 2 Chronicles 7:14. But we need to look at the context. Solomon had just dedicated the Jewish temple. He then prayed a prayer that if the people of Israel should sin and God sent a calamity upon them for this, when they repented and prayed toward the temple, God would take the calamity away. The calamities listed closely follow the curses God had promised would come upon Israel if they sinned (Leviticus 26:14-43; Deuteronomy 28:15-68). There is a general principle here. If a group or an individual sins against God and they repent, God will relent and have mercy on them. But this seems to be a general rule of thumb, not an absolute promise. King David repented of His sin, but while punishment was turned away, there were still consequences (2 Samuel 12:7-14). Though King Josiah repented, it only delayed the judgment brought on Israel by his grandfather Manasseh (2 Kings 22:8-20). But the repentance of Ahab and the Ninevites, even though probably superficial, nonetheless had an effect (1 Kings 21:27-29; Jonah 3:5-10). But this repentance seems to be the result of revival, not the cause of it.

Part of the confusion here comes from the question of who the people called by God's name are. The reference in the context is to the nation of Israel. There does not seem to be any reference to the righteous remnant in Israel, just to Israel. If Israel sinned and Israel repented and prayed, then Israel would be cured of the calamity God had brought upon them. There is no implication that if the believing part of Israel repented, it would cause the rest of Israel to believe. Nor is there any implication in Scripture that if we repent and follow God, those around us will believe. Rather, it can have quite the opposite effect (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:12).

Now I do not in any way want to discourage appropriate prayer and work for revival. But I do think that we should be prepared to trust  God and follow Him whatever happens (Proverbs 3:5,6; 2 Corinthians 4:17; 18; John 16:33). Also, the idea that we are promised revival becomes a breeding ground for all manner of quick fixes to make us spiritual and therefore bring revival. And when no revival materializes, these can become more and more extreme. Also, this can prevent us from dealing with the greatest barrier to revival. We want revival so that we can be comfortable and not have our faith challenged. Therefore, while I do not promise anything, as Scripture does not promise us anything, I believe the most likely path to revival is for us to be willing to trust God whatever  happens. It is only when we give up our own self-centered desires for revival that God in His providence may perhaps give us the real thing.

Monday, April 2, 2012

A Touch of Humor - Recruiting

How should we choose who should take an open position in the church? Should we look for someone just to keep our program running?