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Archive for August, 2006

One-Sentence Prayers

Ray Pritchard has some excellent thoughts on one-sentence prayers here. Paul’s admonition to “pray without ceasing” can be made more “do-able” if we consider these type of prayers and include them in our repertoire, I think. Good article – worth the time to read. Enjoy!

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Simon Peter said to Him, “Lord, where are you going?” Jesus answered, “Where I go, you cannot follow Me now; but you will follow later.” Peter said to Him, “Lord, why can I not follow you right now? I will lay down my life for you.” Jesus answered, “Will you lay down your life for Me? Truly, truly, I say to you, a rooster will not crow until you deny Me three times” (John 13:36-38).

Peter should provide a very serious warning to all of us as followers of Jesus Christ. Certainly Judas denied the Lord, but so did Peter. It’s interesting that Peter failed at exactly the point where he was strongest – not where he was weakest. Peter was bold, courageous, strong, “steady as a rock,” outspoken, and sometimes brash. He was the only one who stepped out of the boat and walked on water. Peter defended Jesus with the sword by cutting off the ear of the servant of the High Priest (I think he was aiming at the middle of his head but missed). Even though all of this was true, Peter was afraid of a servant-girl when she asked him if he knew Jesus, and he then compounded it by denying Christ with an oath!

Peter meant what he said to the Lord. He sincerely believed that he would (and could) sacrifice his life for Jesus. He wasn’t making a statement just to impress the other disciples. What he failed to realize was that he didn’t have any strength outside of Christ. Peter’s personality was bold and strong and courageous, but left to himself, he wasn’t any of these things. He was weak and timid when push came to shove. Peter didn’t understand – at that point – that our real strength comes in weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). When we know we’re weak – and not strong – we will rely on and cling to the strength of God even more.

J.C. Ryle wrote: “We fancy sometimes, like Peter, that there are some things we could not possibly do. We look pityingly upon others who fall, and plume ourselves in the thought that at any rate we should not have done so. We know nothing at all. The seeds of every sin are latent in our hearts, even when renewed, and they only need occasion, or carelessness, or the withdrawal of God’s grace for a season, to put forth an abundant crop. Like Peter, we think we can do wonders for Christ, and like Peter, we learn by bitter experience that we have no might and power at all. A humble sense of our own innate weakness, a constant dependency on the Strong for strength, a daily prayer to be held up, because we cannot hold up ourselves – these are the true secrets of safety” (emphasis in the original).

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Wisdom from Veith

Gene Edward Veith, the former Culture Editor for World, has an excellent article in the August 19th edition of that magazine called “Recipe for decline.”

He writes, “Liberal theology was the bright idea of churchmen who thought the way to make Christianity relevant to a changing culture is to change Christianity accordingly. Thus, while there are many brands of liberal theology, none of them work.”

Veith then traces liberal theology from its Enlightenment beginnings (where reason and rationality ruled the day) to romanticism (where emotion and sentimentality replaced objective truth), followed by existentialism, communism, and feminism.

He says, “After World War II, liberal theology was ascendant in nearly all of the mainline Protestant denominations, dominating their seminaries, colleges, bureaucracies, and pulpits. In 1960, 40 percent of the American population attended liberal, mainline churches. But today, that number has plummeted to only 12 percent.”

Veith continues that “the liberal theologians continue to dig their own graves, agitating now for gay marriage, gay clergy, feminist ideology, and left-wing politics, no matter how much such measures alienate their few remaining members in the pews. A church that just follows the culture is not worth taking seriously. Liberal churches satisfy no spiritual needs. If there is no sin or salvation or Christ, as the liberal churches say, why should anyone go to church? Why not just sleep in on Sunday mornings?”

He concludes with a warning: “Conservative and evangelical churches, meanwhile, for the most part thrive. But here is the mystery: An ever-growing voice within those (emphasis in the original) churches is now saying, let’s change our teachings and our practices to conform to contemporary culture. Why would evangelicals want to embrace the liberal death wish?”

A very good question, indeed.

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Just Fiction, Huh?

“Don’t get so worked up over a novel!” they said. Some of us heard that comment numerous times after The DaVinci Code was released. Now, it’s reported that two Italian men didn’t get the memo (that Dan Brown’s novel is “just fiction” and nobody would really take it seriously). These two Browniacs tore away part of a wall at St. Luke’s Church in Shropshire, England, looking for “clues.” The church has a stained glass window in which the Apostle John looks somewhat feminine (falsely believed to be Mary Magdalene).

It’s amazing what people will do for a lie – what will we do for the truth (which doesn’t, of course, include vandalizing a church!).

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People of Faith

Joel Belz has a problem with the term “people of faith.” So do I.

Religious people are regularly referred to, especially in the media, as “people of faith.” It doesn’t matter if they’re Christian, Buddhist, Mormon, Muslim, Hindu, pagan or Wiccan, the phrase “people of faith” is used to describe them. It might be said that “people of faith” have a problem with this or that legislation, or that “people of faith” have made the biggest impact in the rebuilding of tsunami-ravaged lands.

But what does it actually mean? That’s the problem. Belz, in his August 5, 2006 article in World, says that the phrase is meaningless. The label is “both way too broad and way to narrow to be of any use.”

He said, “Two critical questions have to be dealt with first. What’s the purpose of the faith in question? And who’s the object of that faith?”

In dealing with the second question, Belz writes, “People always answer that in one of three ways: 1. The God of the Bible. 2. Somebody or something else. 3. A combination of the God of the Bible and somebody or something else. Biblically and historically, Christianity has always declared that any fudging on this matter constitutes serious error. The Apostle Paul wasn’t terribly ecumenical when he said flatly that if anyone came suggesting there was hope anywhere other than in Jesus, that person should be considered outside ‘the faith.’ Some such heretics came close to the truth, but still missed – and Paul didn’t award them the fuzzy title ‘people of faith.'”

Everyone has faith – faith in something or someone. In one sense (the broadest one), everyone is a person of faith. But in the narrower sense, the term is confusing and of very little use (especially in the Christian sense).

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As a pastor, I’m asked to pray for the sick quite often. I’m always glad to do it – and I don’t hesitate to pray that God would heal the ones I’m praying for – but I always have reservations about it, and at times an uneasy feeling. It’s not that I don’t think God can heal because I’m certain He can and know He does. But I also know that He doesn’t always do it. In fact, healings seem to be quite rare (at least the miraculous type where there is no other explanation). Sometimes, I don’t think physical healing is what people need most. Scripture shows that suffering, pain, and trials are used by God, more often than not, to draw us closer to Him. If that’s the case, the last thing I want to pray for is healing – why deprive someone of God’s means of sanctification? But because I don’t know what the Lord’s plan and purpose are for this specific illness, I’ll pray for healing. As I do it, however, I should also pray that God would use this circumstance to bring them closer to Him in knowledge, love, and trust.

David Powlison has written an excellent article on this very subject called Praying Beyond the Sick List. You can read it here.

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“Thou who art the light of the minds that know Thee; the life of the souls that love Thee; and the strength of the wills that serve Thee; help us so to know Thee that we may truly love Thee; so to love Thee that we may fully serve Thee, whom to serve is perfect freedom. Amen.”

Amen!

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James Emery White recently sent out a newsletter on the subject of dates that changed the face of America. No, he’s not talking about Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughan! Others have suggested various events and dates (such as September 11th, 2001), but White says,

“Let’s also consider August 1st, 1981, a date which marks its twenty-fifth anniversary this month. On that day, a television network dedicated to the young and the music they love kicked off at midnight with a video of British band The Buggles Video Killed the Radio Star. It was the day MTV was born.”

He quotes Marth Quinn, one of the original “VJ’s”, as saying, “We were rebels with a cause, and we had the rock ‘n’ roll generation and the television generation behind us.” White says, “Now, with around 100 channels and over a billion viewers, MTV does not reflect youth culture; it creates it.” Bob Pittman, a co-founder of MTV said, “If you can get their emotions going, make them forget their logic, you’ve got them. At MTV, we don’t shoot for the 14-year-olds, we own them.”

You can read all of White’s commentary here.

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"Sin Boldly!"

Martin Luther wrote the famous words, “Sin boldly” in a letter to his younger colleague Philip Melanchthon on August 1, 1521.

Luther struggled greatly with a strong and abiding sense of unworthiness before God. He was acutely aware of his sin, and even more acutely aware of God’s holiness.

Through his intensive study of the Scriptures and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, Luther came to understand that the only way sinful men and women can be right with a holy God is by grace alone through faith alone because of Christ alone. He discovered that God can’t love us any more than He already does, and that even though we sin we can’t make Him love us any less.

Melanchthon was possibly more sensitive about his unworthiness than his mentor. Luther recognized it and wrote, “Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly…Pray boldly – for you are a mighty sinner.”

In other words, we can be so paralyzed by our sin that we overlook or discount the amazing power of God’s grace.

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Michael Spencer, the man known as “iMonk,” has a post that will undoubtedly raise some eyebrows among Christians. The title is “The Tactics of Failure: Why the Culture War Makes Sense to Spiritually Empty Evangelicals.” I heartily recommend it. I’m not sure I agree with everything he has to say, but quite a bit of it resonates with me (especially as a pastor). I have some of the same misgivings he does. His basic point is that evangelical involvement in the culture wars does not demonstrate the influence of evangleical church, rather it shows the emptiness and lack of spiritual formation of the evangelical church. Read it here.

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