Archive for July, 2006

A couple of quotes on cheese – enjoy!

“How can anyone govern a nation that has two hundred and forty-six different kinds of cheeses?” (Charles de Gaulle)

“Blessed are the cheesemakers for they are pure of heart.” (Monty Python)

“Never commit yourself to a cheese without having first examined it.” (T.S. Eliot)

“The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.” (G.K. Chesterton)

(All quotes brought to you by the fellow cheese-lovers at Credenda Agenda (www.credenda.org)

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How can I pray more effectively? That question is asked quite a few times – prayer can be somewhat mysterious after all.

(Personally, I wish it would be asked more than it is. The questions pastors get more often have to do with the time and date of the next potluck, why we sang a particular hymn or didn’t sing another one, or how so-and-so is doing. How I would love to hear – more than I do now – questions about prayer, Bible study, ministry, service, evangelism, and a host of other things that involve living as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ! Soapbox over.)

Martin Luther’s barber asked him about praying that was less distracted by the things of the world. Luther wrote a 40-page response in which he outlined a method of both prayer and Bible study. Peter, the barber, was told that as he meditated on God’s Word he should ask 1) What does the Bible teach me to do? 2) What does it teach me to be thankful for? 3) What does it teach me to confess? 4) What does it teach me to ask for?

That’s a pretty good outline as far as I’m concerned!

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I came across a website today that I have to pass along – www.churchmarketingsucks.com. The purpose of the blog is “to frustrate, educate and motivate the church to communicate with uncompromising clarity, the truth of Jesus Christ.” Enjoy!

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Submission, in the biblical sense, is based upon the 6th Commandment – “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the LORD your God gives you” (Ex. 20:12).

The Heidelberg Catechism answers the question of what the commandment means by saying, “That I show all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction, with due obedience; and also bear with their weaknesses and infirmities, since it pleases God to govern us by their hand” (Lord’s Day 39).

True liberty is found in submission to God and those He is pleased to place in authority over us. Sounds absolutely counterintuitive, but it’s true!

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The Bible has a lot to say about it, some of it I’m sure we’d rather not hear (and definitely don’t heed). To be honest, I have to say that. Mark Twain once quipped that it wasn’t what he didn’t understand in the Bible that bothered him, it was what he did understand. So it is with me, too.

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you” (Heb. 13:17).
“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right” (Eph. 6:1).
“Be subject to one another in the fear of Christ” (Eph. 5:21).
“Wives, be subject (or “submit”) to your own husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22).
“Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ” (Eph. 6:5).
“Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves” (Rom. 13:1-2).

That’s just a small sampling of what God has to say in His Word about submission and submitting. I need to submit to those who are in authority over me, because by doing so I’m submitting myself to God (who placed those people over me). That doesn’t for a minute mean that it’s easy. In fact, sometimes it’s excruciatingly hard, because those who we are to submit to are sinful and fallen. We should be reminded that if we ourselves are in authority over someone else, we fit that definition (sinful and fallen), too.

I can’t get around submission by saying, “I submit to God and God alone!” That sounds real spiritual and real holy, but it isn’t – it’s the height of rebellion. If we don’t submit to human (and imperfect) authority, we’re not submitting to divine (perfect) authority. That’s hard to take, but it’s true and I need to hear it. (The one exception is when we’re commanded to do something God forbids or forbidden to do something God commands – which I believe is rare.)

Submission isn’t really submission until a disagreement takes place. Up until that point, we’re not submitting, we’re agreeing. I do my best to drive the speed limit because I agree with it. I wear a seatbelt in the car because I agree with the law that says I have to. However, I don’t like to wear a helmet when I ride my bicycle, but I do because it’s the law in the town where I live. That’s submission – I don’t agree it with it but I do it anyway because it honors God, ultimately.

Before I entered the ministry (and even before I entered seminary), I discussed the possibility of my being called to the ministry with my then-pastor. I didn’t like what he told me. I disagreed with him strongly, in fact. He told me that before I went to seminary, I should work for a year or so at a “secular job” (I use the term even though neither he nor I like it, but for ease of understanding) which involved “punching a clock” so that I would be better able to relate to those I ministered to who have to “punch a clock” themselves. He thought it unwise for a young man to move from college to seminary to ministry without having experience in the world of work (which would have been me if I hadn’t heeded his advice). I was convinced that I was called by God and was ready to go – right now! My wise pastor added some teeth to his counsel by saying that because he felt so strongly about the matter that he wouldn’t give me a recommendation unless I complied (the recommendation was required by the seminary). I could have bolted and went to some other church, or went ahead with my own plans without his blessing. But, by the grace of God, I submitted to my pastor and did what he recommended even though, at first, I didn’t like it, and received his good recommendation. The postscript is that I’m eternally grateful to him. His counsel has proven wise many times over. Just a personal illustration for what it’s worth.

I can’t forget the Bible, either. I have to submit it because it’s the Word of God. There are things I don’t understand and don’t like, but the Bible stands in judgment of me and not me of it. Why didn’t God reveal some truth or information to us which would have finally and fully solved a problem? I don’t know, but I submit to Him because I love and trust Him.

More could be said, but that’s enough for a good start.

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Pastor Mark Roberts of Irvine Presbyterian Church in California has written a good series of posts on denominations. Yes, I realize that’s a dirty word for some, but it doesn’t have to be. Roberts is pastor of a church in the Presbyterian Church USA, and many have asked him if, as a result of recent decisions, they would be leaving. He hasn’t given a definite response yet, but did do some thinking and writing on the subject of denominations. They’re all worth a read – a good defense of denominations. You can read them here. I highly recommend them.

~ What’s good about denominations?
~ What is a denomination?
~ Denominations establish hospitals and schools.
~ Denominations plant churches.
~ Denominations provide accountability for churches and church leaders.
~ Denominations provide guidance for congregational worship.

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The Man in Black

Johnny Cash has always been one of my favorite musicians, even when I didn’t quite know why. His music (especially the lyrics) seem timeless and extremely honest. Cash pulled no punches when he wrote and sang about the unseemly aspects of life – the dark side. Too much of what is called “Christian” music is focused nearly entirely on the bright side of life, and because of that it isn’t honest, in my opinion.

Russell Morris wrote an article for an older issue of Touchstone called, “Real Hard Cash.” He has some good thoughts on why Johnny has endured on the music scene for so long, and why he strikes such a chord (pun intended) with so many of us.

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Michael Spencer (iMonk) has a thought-provoking post on how a pastor can respond to the death of an infant, especially if he believes in the “T” in Calvinism – total depravity. Standing at the graveside with the family would we say something like, “Because this child was born a sinner, and thus dead in trespasses and sins, and unless this child was elect of God, then he or she is burning in hell right now”? (This is not preciesly the way he put it, but it isn’t far off – you can read his post here.)

Let me offer a brief response.

Michael, I am a pastor who has done his share of funerals (nearly one hundred in seven years) and a pastor who believes in total depravity. I’ve never made that statement at a graveside or anywhere else, for that matter. I don’t know anyone who has, either. But, to be perfectly honest, I’ve thought about it a lot and prayed about it a lot. This is one of the toughest of the practical pastoral issues I’ve faced.

I don’t ever presume to make a dogmatic declaration about anyone’s final destiny – whether they are 18 months old or 96 years old. I don’t know for sure. The Bible is not as clear as I would prefer on this question of the destinty of an infant who has died (but, praise God I’m not God, and He hasn’t chosen to reveal that to us). I trust the goodness, justice, and love of God in this situation. I know that God is good, that He will always do what is right, and that His love is amazing. I happen to think that infants who die and those who lack the capability to believe intelligently are elect. I realize this is speculation, but so is every other position in this debate. I think Reformed theology is the best summary and explanation of what we find in the Word of God, but I readily admit that I could be wrong. I sincerely hope that my commitment to it doesn’t drive me to misinterpret Scripture and thus mislead people.

I’ve been helped tremendously by John MacArthur’s little book Safe in the Arms of God. He quotes Charles Spurgeon as saying:

“Among the gross falsehoods which have been uttered against the Calvinist proper is the wicked calumny that we hold the damnation of little infants. A baser lie was never uttered. There may have existed somewhere in the corner of the earth a miscreant who would dare to say that there were infants in hell, but I have never met with him, nor have I met with a man who ever saw such a person.
“We say with regard to infants, Scripture sayeth but very little, and therefore where Scripture is confessedly scant, it is for no man to determine dogmatically. but I think I speak for the entire body, or certainly with exceedingly few exceptions, and those unknown to me, when I say, we hold that all infants (who die) are elect of God and are therefore saved, and we look to this as being the means by which Christ shall see of the travail of his soul to a great degree, and we do sometimes hope that thus the multitude of the saved shall be made to exceed the multitude of the lost.
“Whatever views our friends may hold upon the point, they are not necessarily connected to Calvinist doctrine. I believe that the Lord Jesus, who said, ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven,’ doth daily and constantly receive into his loving arms those tender ones who are only shown and then snatched away to heaven.”

MacArthur’s three points on the matter bear repeating: All children are conceived and born as sinners. The salvation of every person is a matter of God’s grace, not man’s works. We are saved by the sacrificial work of Jesus Christ on the cross – the supreme manifestation of God’s grace.

The “unthinkable pastoral repsonse” is just that, unthinkable. Thank you, Michael, for your thoughts and thoughtfulness.

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David Wells is a professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and, in my opinion, something of a prophet in the church today. I was challenged and enlightened by his earlier books, No Place For Truth and God in the Wasteland. He’s written another book called Above All Earthly Pow’rs, which I haven’t read, but will in the future. Here are a couple of quotes from it I gleaned from a review (he’s critiquing the contemporary evangelical church):

“Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not very serious anymore. “

“This is probably the first time that Christian people anywhere in the West have thought that ecclesiastical architecture is, in principle, offensive, that religious symbols, such as crosses, should be banned from churches, that pulpits should be abandoned, that hymns should be abolished, that pews should be sent to the garbage dump, and that pianos and organs should be removed. All of this has been happening on the forefront of this movement. This is probably the first time, too, that churchgoers have wanted their buildings to be mistaken for corporate headquarters or country clubs.”

I’d certainly agree with Wells’ comments on the state of the evangelical church in the United States. The last four words of the last sentence are critical – “in the United States.” The evangelical church in most of the rest of the world is growing, vibrant, and very serious, even if it isn’t here. I look forward to reading Wells’ book and taking in his entire argument.

I think he’s right, but I hope he’s wrong.

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Chuck Colson, in his latest Breakpoint commentary, makes some great points about the Spiritual Activism Conference held in Washington D.C. not too long ago. It was a gathering of the religious left to complain about the religious right, basically. (On a side note, that’s not very tolerant or welcoming and it doesn’t “honor divrsety,” now does it?)

Here’s some of what Colson said,

“You see, that’s the crux of the liberals’ problem. This conflict is
not about political or social divisions. It’s about authority –
specifically, whether or not Christians are willing to acknowledge that the Bible is our authority.”

“Tony Campolo certainly recognized this. Though Tony and I disagree on a lot of things, I really like Tony. He’s honest, and he loves the Bible. He tried to explain at this conference the necessity of following Scripture. But one participant retorted, ‘I thought this was a spiritual progressives’ conference. I don’t want to play the game of ‘the Bible says this or that,’ or that we get validation from something other than ourselves.'”

“There you have it. Validation from ourselves simply means you make up your own god. We Christians may interpret the Bible differently; we may apply it to life differently; we may have arguments over exegesis. But the Bible has to be the ultimate autority. Otherwise we end up worshiping the goddess of tolerance and believing that tolerance takes precedence over truth.”

You can read the rest of Colson’s remarks here.

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