Thursday, March 8, 2018

Slain By The Evidence

     As part of my morning devotional reading, I like to work my way through different kinds of devotional material. One of the books I am reading at a very leisurely pace was written by David Limbaugh, the brother of the well-known talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and a practicing attorney. The book is interesting. The title is Jesus On Trial: A Lawyer Affirms The Truth Of The Gospel.
     I thought I might pass along an offering from this morning's helping:

Some particularly intelligent people use their God-given intellect to argue against the existence of their Maker. Two men in eighteenth­ century England set out to do just that. Lord Lyttelton and Gilbert West were lawyers and committed nonbelievers. One day one of them said to the other, "Christianity stands upon a very unstable foundation. There are only two things that actually support it: the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ and the alleged conversion of Saul of Tarsus. If we can disprove those stories, which should be rather easy to do, Christianity will collapse like a house of cards." Gilbert West agreed to write a book on the "alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ and disprove it." Lord Lyttelton vowed, in turn, to write a book to refute Saul's conversion.
Sometime later they met again and one of them told the other, "I'm afraid I have a confession to make. I have been looking into the evidence for this story, and I have begun to think that maybe there is something to it after all." The other said, "The same thing has happened to me. But let's keep on investigating these stories and see where we come out." By the time they had completed their books they had become believers, and their tomes, West's The Resurrection of Jesus Christ and Lyttelton's The Conversion of St. Paul, reflected their newfound, evidence-based beliefs.
Sometimes when we are certain we are on our own, completely independent, utterly self-sufficient, and without need of a savior, God actively intervenes with a gracious and timely lesson in humility. We sometimes fail to appreciate that our God is an infinitely loving God, Who pursues us not for His benefit, but for ours. Whether off the coast of Thailand with Vietcong sailors, on the road to Egypt with treacherous brothers, or wandering in the wilderness just outside the Promised Land, God can find us.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Conference Speakers Schedules

     I have always wondered why a pastor who hosts a conference would announce the slate of speakers who have accepted invitations to preach but will not inform those considering attending who will speak when. If there is a lady speaking to ladies such an announcement is made. If there is someone speaking to young people such an announcement is made. However, with a slate of speakers who will preach to preachers and others in attendance such information is typically withheld, at least among Independent Baptists.
     I have always wondered at the logic of such thinking. Decades ago I attended several huge annual conferences hosted by a very big church, with female speakers and times announced, and with youth speakers and times announced, but no information was released concerning who would preach to the pastors and church members in attendance. Be there at 7:00 PM, but you will not be told who the speaker is.
     I have even called host churches at large conferences held in the upper Midwest and on the West coast to ask if the schedule for the conference has been set. When informed that it has been set, I have asked who of those invited will preach when. I have always been told that information is not available. When I ask why it is not available I have never been given an answer.
     Why, I wonder, is such information available to the women attending the women's session and the young people attending the youth session, but is withheld from the men (including pastors) attending the plenary sessions? In what other setting are people invited to attend a conference and are told the place and times of the conference, but are not told the times when speakers are scheduled?
     I wonder about the Baptist distinctives that I so heartily embrace, not the least of which is soul liberty. Am I not responsible to God for my spiritual condition and the choices I make? Or am I so incompetent that I need to be dealt with in a paternal and condescending way?
     Don't get me wrong. I don't lose sleep over this issue. However, I do occasionally miss out on a speaker I would enjoy hearing but for my unwillingness to sit through someone who I am not wiling to invest my time to hear.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Revisiting Oprah's Golden Globes Comments

     I just listened to Oprah's speech from the Golden Globes again. I did not watch the Golden Globes but did hear snippets of her comments later on the local news channel and have something I would like to express.
     She was impeccably dressed. Her presentation was what one might expect of a professional who has enjoyed great success in front of a television camera. She is a masterful communicator.
     But what did she actually say? Her obvious political mantra as she tests the waters for a presidential run will be something along the line of "There is a new day." You have to have a catchy phrase to run for president.
     However, I have some questions.
     What will this person who persuaded the country to vote for Barack Obama do differently than he did?
     Will she divide us as certainly as President Obama divided us?
     And what was the point of her comments made to a room full of people who are either themselves Harvey Weinstein wannabes or women who enabled Harvey Weinstein to get away with what he did to so many women for so many years?
     After all, everyone in the room knew what Harvey was doing with those women, including Oprah. Yet she and they did nothing.
     It will be interesting to watch things develop, not from the perspective of how good was her speech (the serpent in the Garden was a good speaker, Adolf Hitler was a good speaker, and V. I. Lenin was a good speaker), but from the perspective of how her leftist, pro-abortion, George Soros friendly, New Age religion, socialist agenda affects the country.

God's Word Was Not Given To You, You Were Given To God's Word!

     Sometimes Christians are not careful enough in our study of God's Word, causing us to sometimes miss important gems of profound truth. Such is the case in Romans 6.17, where Paul writes in the last half of the verse, “...but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.”
     The wording here is a little rough for most of us to easily understand with caution, but attention to two phrases will greatly clarify what Paul is saying. When he refers to obeying from the heart, he is contrasting in the minds of his Roman Christian readers the difference between someone who is depending upon Christ for his salvation and someone who is depending upon the Law of Moses to give him standing before God.
     Later on, in Romans Paul will point out that “with the heart, man believeth unto righteousness.” Paul’s Jewish opponents were depending on mental and intellectual responses to the dictates of the Law to merit salvation, not a genuine relationship with the Savior, which is an issue of the heart. So, Paul’s Gospel is superior to the Law in that while it is certainly not anti-intellectual, it is not only intellectual. 
     Paul’s Gospel has to do with the entire being of the believer, not just your intellect and not just your will. What are the implications of this reality? There are two: 
     First, you are not a Christian just because you decided to become a believer. Remember, the miracle of the new birth has to take place for someone to be born again, and no one tells God when to work a miracle. 
     Second, you are not a believer just because you embrace as true the facts of the Gospel. Remember again, the miracle of the new birth has to take place. 
     That said, the Jewish person might still see salvation apart from the Law as opening up the opportunity for lawlessness. He would think that no longer being under the Law meant no structure, no guidelines, and no direction in the Christian life. That would be spiritual anarchy! And no doubt he would liken salvation by grace apart from the Law to the only other situation he had ever seen in his life without the Law . . . the Gentiles. And what sinfulness they exhibited. 
     The next phrase has to do with “that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” Pick up a commentary and you will see a great deal of discussion about this phrase. If it’s a good commentary, that is. Let me summarize what Paul is trying to get across to his readers at this point. 
     Though the word order is somewhat difficult to follow, Paul is pointing out to his readers that no sinner come to Christ has been left without guidance and direction after having come to know Christ and not being under the Law. We who are come to Christ have been delivered to an authoritative body of truth which should guide our lives. 
     But note that our verse says believers were delivered to “that form of doctrine.” Notice. It was not that form of doctrine which was delivered to believers. God’s Word has not been given to us! We have been given to God’s Word, so that we might conform to it as Jell-O to a mold, conforming us to the image of Christ.
     This speaks to a serious problem among Christians today. So many professing believers do not understand that God’s Word has authority over them and that we have been delivered to Scripture so that we will be conformed by God’s Word to Jesus Christ.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Why Is There Little Concern For Authority?

It seems that the approach taken by many contemporary Church ministries toward the Great Commission is somewhat like what former ABC News anchorman Ted Koppel once complained about with respect to the Ten Commandments during a commencement address he delivered at Duke University.[1] Some may remember that he bemoaned the fact, approaching twenty-five years ago now, that so many people looked upon them as the Ten Suggestions, rather than the Ten Commandments.
The way most Churches these days approach our marching orders, the Great Commission, reflects the same mindset Koppel complained about. People ignore the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was extremely specific when He authorized actions to be taken on His behalf.
This means Churches are authorized to do what falls under their charter and are not authorized to do what does not fall under their charter. But few seem to be concerned about that charter these days. Churches with their Church members are commanded to go. Churches with their Church members are commanded to make disciples. Churches with their Church members are then commanded to baptize disciples. Churches have no right to alter that sequence of events. Around the world, we find the very best Churches indiscriminately baptizing people without taking any prudent steps to make sure they are baptizing real disciples.
If a pastor baptizes hopeful converts immediately upon their profession of faith, if a pastor baptizes hopeful converts without personally examining their testimonies with the utmost caution, if, for example, a pastor talks about how “an entire family of four was saved and baptized,” then I and those with experience carefully listening to sinners about their conversion experiences can guarantee to you that such a pastor is almost certainly baptizing people without authorization.
Why don’t pastors concern themselves with their authority? A pastor is not authorized to baptize someone just because that individual says he’s converted. A pastor is not authorized to baptize someone who is not a genuine Christian. The Bible teaches, and Baptists most assuredly believe, that baptism is for saved people only. The baptism of the lost is unauthorized. Why, then, aren’t pastors more careful to conduct their ministries under the umbrella of divinely instituted authority?


Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Year's End, A Time To Look Back

It is that time of year to look back. Some pastors and Churches don’t like to look back, but want only to look ahead. But anyone who has read Louis L’Amour[1] books knows that you must always look at your back trail to see if you are being followed and as a way of making sure you’re going straight. I wonder if such pastors and congregations who don’t want to look back have been influenced by evolution, and thereby think there is nothing to be learned from the past. They think we are somehow evolved socially and spiritually, and we cannot learn from those who have gone on before us. Still other pastors and congregations, frequently those who think themselves to be conservative and old fashioned, look to the past, but they look only to the recent past. This, of course, limits them to seeing Christianity only since the deleterious effects of Charles G. Finney’s decisionism and Horace Bushnell’s Christian Nurture have so radically changed the face of American Christianity.[2] Because they don’t look back far enough, they think their approach to ministry is the way it’s always been done. How wrong they are.
Better than looking only to the recent past would also be looking back to those times centuries ago when God visited His people with revival and great numbers of souls saved, times like the First and Second Great Awakenings. Those were times when sinners were converted to Christ, and their conversions changed the faces of nations, altering the course of human history, and even bringing about the eventual end of slavery in the Western hemisphere. But those were the effects of pastors and congregations who rightly saw their duty and task before God to glorify Him and to seek to bring individual sinners to Christ. If pastors and congregations today would learn from those Puritans and old English and American colonies Baptists, who were concerned with real conversions and had no thought of generating big numbers for number’s sake, the state of Christianity would be much improved.
Finally, look way back. Look back to the Gospels and the book of Acts, when the Lord Jesus Christ issued His Great Commission, and men acted upon His directive. Is there any indication that the Lord Jesus Christ wanted His early disciples to do anything other than make disciples? No. Therefore, let us not change the ancient landmarks.[3] Modern day pastors and congregations explain away the vast difference between what Jesus Christ commanded and what they do by saying, “the culture is so much different, and we are adapting to the culture.” To be sure, the culture is different. And we should adapt to the culture. But differences in the culture do not cause differences in the basic nature of sinful men. Neither do they justify in any way an alteration of Bible doctrine or Gospel ministry.

[1] Louis L’Amour, nicknamed “America’s storyteller,” was an American novelist and short story writer of primarily of Western novels.
[2] As Charles G. Finney adversely influenced Christian evangelism in the young United States of America, so was the Sunday School movement in this country damaged by Horace Bushnell, Christian Nurture, (Cleveland, Ohio: The Pilgrim Press, reprinted from the 1861 edition in 1994), page 33.
[3] Deuteronomy 27.17; Proverbs 22.28; 23.10.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What A Man At Church Might Ponder

Imagine your prayers for a boy you see at Church one Sunday being answered by that boy coming back to Church again and again. Then more of your prayers being answered by that boy coming to know Jesus Christ as his Savior and being baptized. Then watch that young lad grow into manhood, as he sits under preaching, as he observes the lifestyles and practices of the older men in the Church, as he is taught God’s Word, and as he is discipled.
I can promise you that the greatest obstacle to his spiritual life that he will face from within the congregation will be those men he looks up to who disappoint him. He is likely already used to being disappointed by his dad, by his uncles, and by his mom’s various boyfriends. But when he sees the admired man who is a Church member drop the ball of faithfulness, consistency, or leadership in his home, the boy will be faced with his greatest temptation to slide from discouragement into skepticism and cynicism. Understand that skeptics and cynics are men whose hopes were dashed and whose expectations were crushed by someone when they were lads. The importance of consistent godliness is thereby seen.
Consider the thrill of being a part of that young man’s life. You greet him every time you see him. He sees that he is important to you and the other grown men whom he admires and hopes to someday be like. Eventually, he begins to consider the claims of Christ and is converted and baptized. Then come those challenging years when everyone who knows him outside Church, and the raging hormones of biology, combine to challenge him to forsake the faith. What gets him through it, by God’s grace? God may very well use you. Perhaps you are the man he most looks forward to seeing, to reach out to with his hand to shake, and to be treated with respect and love, as he is invited into this fraternity of Christian manhood the Devil both hates and fears. Maybe you are the encouragement he needs. You may be the one man in his life who has no desire to take his dad’s place, who has no desire to be an indulgent uncle type, but who longs to be the young fellow’s brother in Christ who walks alongside him on the pathway of life to help him grow to real Christian manhood.
Consider two things as you ponder your life and your predictable encounters with the lad at Church: First, unless you are willing to allow someone to play that role in your life, you will never, ever, be prepared to play that role in someone else’s life. That is a role God wants for you. Don’t you think it’s about time, regardless of what anyone else in your life has to say about it, that you stepped up and began preparing for the rest of your life this side of eternity? What am I challenging you to do? I am challenging you to take the next step in your Christian life to begin discipling someone. Following is a poem I received only yesterday that applies not only to fathers and sons, but also to Christian men and the boys who look up to us.


A careful man I want to be,
            A little youngster follows me.
I do not dare to go astray,
            In fear he might go that same way.
I cannot once escape his eyes,
            And what he sees me do he tries.
Like me he says he wants to be,
            That little boy who follows me.
Now he thinks that I’m so big and fine,
            He believes every single word of mine.
Lord, the bad in me please don’t let him see,
            I wish that I could much stronger be.
I must remember as I go through summer’s sun and winter’s snow,
            I’m molding for eternity
            That little boy who follows me.
Yes, I’m molding for eternity,
            That little boy that follows me.

- Harlan Howard, an icon of country music songwriters

Second, where, other than the Church of Jesus Christ, can a boy be transformed by God’s grace into a man, a real man, a man fitted for eternity and useful to God until he reaches eternity? Only in Christ’s Church are the eternal considerations, the spiritual aspects of life, addressed intentionally so that a lad, a young man, or any man will become a Christian man, who will then be trained to walk worthy of God Who has called us unto His kingdom and glory.