Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Finders Not Keepers

     During my devotional reading this morning I was once more struck by an instruction found in the Mosaic Law, Deuteronomy 22.1-3:

1 Thou shalt not see thy brother's ox or his sheep go astray, and hide thyself from them: thou shalt in any case bring them again unto thy brother.
2 And if thy brother be not nigh unto thee, or if thou know him not, then thou shalt bring it unto thine own house, and it shall be with thee until thy brother seek after it, and thou shalt restore it to him again.
3 In like manner shalt thou do with his ass; and so shalt thou do with his raiment; and with all lost thing of thy brother's, which he hath lost, and thou hast found, shalt thou do likewise: thou mayest not hide thyself.

The principle is somewhat more succinctly stated in Exodus 23.4-5:

4 If thou meet thine enemy's ox or his ass going astray, thou shalt surely bring it back to him again.
5 If thou see the ass of him that hateth thee lying under his burden, and wouldest forbear to help him, thou shalt surely help with him.

     Please recognize no solicitation from me for either explicit or implicit adherence to the Mosaic Law, but rather a principle of ethics and courtesy that reflects the timeless principle of loving one's neighbor as oneself. Sad to say, such ethical practices are virtually unknown who serve as pastors of churches these days, even as we like to say as fundamental Baptists in churches of like faith and practice. I am not sure I have ever been on the receiving end of a phone call or written message inquiring about a member of the church's flock that had wandered into another IFB's pasture. Sad.
     On the other hand, on those rare occasions when someone from nearby has wandered into one of our services I have herded them back to where they ought to have been as well as placed a phone call the very next day to the pastor of the church.
     Can we do less and consider ourselves ethical? Or has the gospel ministry itself strayed so far afield that church members are no longer consider sheep of the flock, pastors no longer look at themselves as under shepherds, and attendance and membership no longer truly reflect spiritual realities but rather success in a scheming game of cleverness and salesmanship?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Moody's Bible Institute Model or Spurgeon's Bible College Model?

     In my mind at least there is a difference between Bible colleges and Christian colleges. Perhaps it is an artificial distinction that is not real, but in my thinking I have understood Christian colleges to be primarily colleges that sought to provide a college education to Christian students using a distinctively Christian curriculum. Many Bible colleges which were founded for the purpose of training men for the gospel ministry have changed over the years and became Christian liberal arts colleges. Few are aware of the University of Southern California's founding as a Methodist seminary, since it is now famous as a large Los Angeles university known primarily as a football factory. Two Christian colleges near my home merged years ago and with a dramatic infusion of money have transformed Azusa Pacific University into a large and academically rigorous school of higher education. That trend is not unusual as Christian colleges go. Liberty University was initially a small Bible college that became a Christian college and then a large Christian University. Bob Jones University began as a small interdenominational Bible college, changed into a Christian college and is now a Christian university.
     My present musing is not about Christian colleges that seek to educate Christian young people in a Christian atmosphere using Christian curricula. My musing is about Bible colleges that were formed (purportedly) to train Christian young people for the gospel ministry as pastors, pastors wives, missionaries, Christian educators,etc. In the United States the Bible colleges I am somewhat familiar with seem to have adopted the Dwight L. Moody model. In London in the second half of the 19th century was Charles Spurgeon's college. Though not formally educated, no one familiar with Charles H. Spurgeon would deny that while he entered the ministry without formal education, he was very well educated informally. Such was not the case with D. L. Moody. Their schools reflect their founders. Unfortunately, most Bible colleges of the Baptist stripe in the USA were founded using a modified Moody template, not a Spurgeon template.
     My familiarity with Spurgeon's college comes primarily from Tom Nettle's recent book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, published by Christian Focus Publications. It is a very good read. Following are excerpts in connect with Spurgeon's college written by Nettles, as well as quotes of Mr. Spurgeon:

"God needs not our education but even less our ignorance." - Nettles, page 356.

"Spurgeon never rejected a student on account of meagerness in education or culture as long as he was convinced that the student's call was from God and his zeal deeply ingrained." - Nettles, page 358

"Approving the fitness of the applicants too some weeks, and in order to make the August start date, the applications need to be prompt." - Nettles, page 358.

"Only devout, hardworking, studious, holy men need apply. A life of toil and probable poverty lies before them; and if they are not called of God to the work, woe to them. Whoever is truly called, we shall be glad to take as Aquila did Apollos, and show him the way of God more perfectly." CHS, page 358.

Concerning the curriculum at Spurgeon's college, "The subjects included English language, Mathematics, Logic, and Natural Philosophy, Intellectual and Moral Philosophy, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, Biblical Literature, Systematic Theology and Homiletics." - Nettles, page 361.

"Applicants must be preachers of some experience and ability, sound in the faith, and earnest in soul, or we cannot receive them." - CHS, page 362.

"When they came, they must have gifts and experience that no education could provide; their first study would be in Bible, doctrine and homiletics that would help them sustain a lifelong ministry or the Word; if they could stay longer they would receive instruction that would help them adjust more readily to a wider variety of cultural settings for effective ministry." - Nettles, page 362.

"One might be faithful, eager to learn, submissive to authority, and a marvelous student of the classroom and colleague of fellow disciples. But the lack of ability to teach often proved an embarrassment to these othe fine qualities. Spurgeon had observed the sad event and had lamented the loss in the investment of tiem and energy on the part of tutor and students." - Nettles, page 367.

"The truth is in them, but they cannot either get it out of themselves or get it into others. In all probability the persons to be taught could give no reason for their aversion; but the aversion is plain enough; the brother has no winsome ways, he has something forbidding in his countenance, or his tones, or his general style; one could hardly light on the exact point of disqualification; but the fact is clear, the man cannot teach, for nobody will learn of him. Matter of temple, heart, and spirit, and even of mannerism,in some secret manner impress common folk for or against a person who aims to be their teacher; and it is of no use arguing against that impression, for it will not be removed by argument." - CHS, page 367.

Quoting Spurgeon, Nettles notes, "The one demand of every candidate for acceptance is clear evidence that 'he has been called of Christ, and endowed by Him with natural and spiritual gifts for effectively preaching the Word, as pastor, or evangelist, or missionary.'" - Nettles, page 369.

     It is quite evident to anyone in the gospel ministry among the independent Baptists who is somewhat familiar with Baptist Bible colleges in the USA that were founded to train men and women for the ministry that the Spurgeon college model has not been adhered to. For one thing, Spurgeon sought to train men only and preachers only, something which no Baptist Bible college I am familiar with limits itself to. For another thing, Spurgeon would expel (is that too harsh a term for it) a student who demonstrated over time while enrolled in the college that he was not called or not suited by ability to teach and preach God's Word. I know of no school in the USA willing to do that, likely because on one hand pastors and churches supporting the Bible college would not permit it ("How dare you tell my church kid he is unqualified!"), or because of my previous musing regretfully recognizing that most Bible colleges are caught up in a numbers game.
     I know very good men associated with Bible colleges, men of integrity, men of conviction, men of faithfulness, men who have born much fruit in their lives of service to the cause of Christ. I count them as my much admired friends. However, I have always wondered why those who founded Bible colleges (back in the day when they were founded to train servants of God to reach the world for Christ and not as a device for obtaining a free labor pool from smaller churches) adopted the Moody template rather than the Spurgeon template. Would it have made a difference? We will never know.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Bible college?

     I find Tom Nettles' newest book, Living By Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles Haddon Spurgeon, an interesting and challenging read. In my opinion it is the best of the Spurgeon biographies.
     In the portion of the book that deals with Spurgeon's college is found this paragraph on page 356: "The depth of his conviction that no human agency can call, set aside, and endow a minister of the gospel overflowed in one intense and extended sentence. 'Both those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent, may think themselves mercifully favoured that they escape the immediate judgment of God; but they may be assured, beyond all hope, that no power of a divine kind ever will or can rest upon the ministrations thus inaugurated, for God will not own the messenger of men, nor set his seal to a commission which did not originally emanate from his throne.' The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." This started me thinking.
     Do we see in Christendom in our day those who usurp the Spirit's office and send, and those who admit to the imposture and are sent without a divine call to the gospel ministry? Nettles' final sentence following his quote of Spurgeon is, "The surplice may fall on uncalled shoulders, but not the prophetic mantle." A surplice is a garment worn by Roman Catholic and Anglican priests while conducting the Mass. Nettles is suggesting that someone not called by God to the ministry may end up wearing priest's garb while performing his religious duties, but that does not mean he wears the [spiritual] mantle of a prophet; he will never be a God-called preacher.
     I think we do see in Christendom these days what Spurgeon saw in his day, those who usurp the Spirit's office and send uncalled men into the gospel ministry. The mechanism is different in our day than it was in Spurgeon's day, but it happens nevertheless. In Spurgeon's England it occurred when an infidel attending Oxford or Cambridge chose the path to the priesthood in the Church of England that guaranteed a lifelong income without any particular need to perform more than routine religious duties. It was just this type of priest that George Whitefield and John Wesley railed against almost every time they preached outdoors to the assembled multitudes. It was this type of priest Gilbert Tennant wrote against in his published sermon whose title I will shorten, "The Dangers Of An Unconverted Clergy," that so well prepared New England for the ministry of Jonathan Edwards and the arrival of George Whitefield. However, in our day the path of the uncalled to the gospel ministry, especially among independent Baptists, is somewhat different than in 18th and 19th century England.
     Imagine several cases of individuals that I will consider in turn, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in music, the pastor's kid who goes off to Bible college and majors in youth ministry, and the church kid whose dad is not a pastor and who goes off to Bible college. Such a youngster would go to camp every summer. Why? Because that's what churches with youth groups do. So, what happens when a hundred kids are at camp each summer and most of them made professions of faith the year before or two years before? The role of the camp speaker is not to preach the gospel, not really, since most of the kids at camp are all saved (he thinks). Therefore, his thrust can be summed up in two goals; to get a kid to rededicate his life and go forward at invitation time, shedding tears for his past sins, and asking for forgiveness as a commitment to doing better in the future, and also to obtain a commitment from the kid (especially if he or she is a high school junior or recently graduated senior with no fixed academic goals) to go to the Bible college favored and endorsed by the pastor . . . for at least one year.
     The three different categories I have mentioned are encouraged by their parents, by their pastors, by the Bible college's recruiters, and by camp evangelists to enroll and attend the Bible college. I know of one Bible college here in California that used to use female students to call prospective males still in high school, luring them to Bible college with the suggestion that they would be friends if only he would enroll. I hope they have forsaken such means to grow their school. What hormone-charged teenage boy would not enthusiastically to such a "spiritual" motivation? The student ends up enrolling in Bible college and provides only the most perfunctory testimony of salvation to gain admittance, goes through Bible college (not knowing what else to do even though his original design was to attend for only one year), and then ends up after graduating working for a church as an associate pastor, or as a music director (they call them worship pastors these days), or as a youth pastor. Some graduates occupy all three positions in their first positions out of Bible college.
     At some point he marries. At some point his wife delivers their first child, and he is given a raise. However, when the second child comes along the pastor (likely as not daddy if he is a preacher's kid) provides no additional raises because the church cannot afford it. Therefore, because he simply has to make more money to support his growing family, the associate pastor, the worship leader, the youth pastor, must secure his own pastorate to make enough money to live on. The real problem, of course, is that not only is he not really called to the ministry (remember, he was talked into Bible college by pastor/dad, by the evangelist, and by that sexy girl who called him on the phone indicating they could be friends if he enrolled - he never did find out who she was), but he is not genuinely saved! Thus, his approach to the associate pastorate is mechanical and fleshly, his approach to music is not ministry but to overestimate the benefit of emotionally moving audiences, and his real philosophy of youth ministry is pizza and Pepsi, funny jokes, and pranks that lead into sad and tearful stories and end in prayers of recommitment. Thus, it is no wonder that his arrival to the pastorate is the beginning of a shallow and church growth philosophy approach that is more concerned with manipulating crowds than seeing individuals coming to embrace the Savior.
     Of course, if he is not a pastor's kid the story has a somewhat different ending. He may not even finish Bible college. Or he may finish Bible college but spend only a short time attempting to function in the gospel ministry. The real problem is that if he is converted he may still not be called to the gospel ministry and is inherently honest enough that he just can't live a lie. So, he goes looking for a "secular job" to support himself, and may be one of many who continues to live in Mecca (the town where the Bible college is located) and attend the church he was involved in while in Bible college. He will become one of those guys who is not a God-called preacher but is married to a young wife whose heart was set on a life in the ministry here in the USA or on the mission field, forever feeling like is he somehow a disappointment to his wife. He attends church faithfully, serves in some capacity, uses some of the training in his church that he learned in Bible college, though he will likely always feel he is a second class Christian citizen because he somehow let his parents down, let his wife down, let his former pastor down, and let his school and current pastor down.
     What he never quite figures out is that his former pastor always knew how it would turn out for the kid whose dad was not a missionary or a pastor. Churches these days lose such a high percentage of teenagers who eventually drop out of church to never return that pastors prefer for that tragedy to occur somewhere other than their church being the exit portal out of Christianity. That is the real reason they want all of the church's kids to end up in Bible college elsewhere, so that when the expected dropout does occur it will take place somewhere else and neither the pastor nor the parents will have to face the blame for their role in what happens. Bible colleges are okay with all this because they too know most of their incoming students will drop out, but they need warm bodies if even only for a year or two. The truth is that training for the ministry today is nothing like Harvard, Yale, or Princeton used to be when huge percentages of enrollees graduated and spent their entire lives in the gospel ministry (and not as youth directors or so-called worship leaders either). And the big church with the Bible college, or the big churches in the same town as the Bible college, are engaged in a quiet conspiracy to take those kids in with the full understanding that while most will drop out of Bible college or graduate but never enter the ministry, a high enough percentage of them will hang around after the inevitable occurs that those churches end up growing numerically as a result of their participation in the wicked conspiracy.
     Spurgeon's approach was radically different. There were real obstacles to overcome to gain entrance to his school. You actually had to convince him you were converted. You then had to convince him you were called. You then had to do the academic work or you would be flunked out, something almost no independent Baptist Bible college actually does these days. As well, Spurgeon did not provide fluff training in the form of song leaders disguised as worship pastors, or pizza and Pepsi party guys disguised as youth ministers, which two supposed local church jobs have no authorization I have ever found in the New Testament as paid staff positions.
     I have been in the ministry since 1975. I have the privilege of serving Christian men and women who were caught up in the Bible college meat grinder, who are wonderful church members who in some cases needed a great supply of God's grace to deal with disappointment and possibly even guilt associated with what they at one time felt was failure on their part for having failed. Only they did not fail. They were taken advantage of by cynical pastors, thoughtless evangelists, and Bible colleges caught up in a must succeed by whatever means and at whatever the cost mindset. Gone is the day when it can be assumed Bible colleges exist for the purpose of training men and women for the gospel ministry, not since recruiters have existed, and not since youngsters have been encouraged to attend for only one year. We are now in an era in which many Bible colleges have been seen as useful only for adding numbers and unpaid workers to the church or churches most closely associated with the Bible college, literally sucking the young people out of medium and small-size churches to contribute to the growth of large churches. How is this not parasitism?
     Are all Bible colleges bad? Certainly not. However, it would serve the cause of Christ well to take a careful look at what really takes place in connection with each Bible college. There are lives at stake, and the cause of Christ to be advanced by spiritual means and not carnal means.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


     I can think of no Christian who denies God's right to be worshiped as He prescribes in His Word.  What most Christians disagree about is related to a failure at some level to consider that God might actually regulate His worship by His people in scripture, or to varying amounts of spiritual illumination related to the meaning and application of passages with respect to worship.  For example:  I have heard it said by men who occupy positions in churches labeled "worship pastor" that dancing is entirely appropriate when worshiping God, citing the passage that records David dancing before the Ark of the Covenant, Second Samuel 6.16.  However, David was leading a procession while leaping and dancing, and was not then actually engaged in prescribed worship.  Thus, it is mistaken to suggest that because David danced before the Ark of the Covenant in a procession there is a place for dancing in Christian worship in the assembly.
     Granted, there are times when congregations gather for reasons other than worship.  Sometimes we gather for fellowship, such as when the church's anniversary is celebrated.  At other times we gather for purely evangelistic endeavors, to present to the lost the unsearchable riches of Christ, such as when there is an evangelistic crusade (unfortunately referred to by too many as a "revival."  These types of gatherings recognized as occurring, it must be admitted that the most important of the types of Christian assemblies are the gatherings for worship, even if the presence of the unsaved among us when so doing is a distinct possibility, First Corinthians 14.
     When we are worshiping God, what are some of the guidelines for decorum and propriety?  We have already seen guidance provided in scripture for the proper use of the word "amen" by God's people during worship, as a means whereby the saints can participate in the preaching without interrupting but having the effect of reinforcing and agreeing with what is declared.  However, there is an increasing tendency in congregations to exhibit a response that seems to have had its origin outside Christianity, in the theater and as a means of expressing approval for a performance.  I refer of course to clapping.  We see it after a singer completes a song.  We see it following a dramatic performance.  It has even found its way into Christian assemblies as a means of expressing approval and agreement.  However, is clapping appropriate in worship?
     Pastors will sometimes apologize for their people when clapping interrupts a sermon (saying "Amen" never interrupts a sermon) by suggesting, "That's just our way of doing it."  However, is that explanation appropriate in light of God's Word?  I suggest that we consider every verse in God's Word in which reference is made to clapping to find the answer to that question.

Job 27:23 "Men shall clap their hands at him, and shall hiss him out of his place."

caphaq - Also found in First Kings 20.10 and Isaiah 2.6, this is a gesture of mocking.[1]  Therefore, this could not be an example in God's Word to justify clapping during worship.

Psalm 47:1 "<> O clap your hands, all ye people; shout unto God with the voice of triumph."

taqa` - Found more than sixty times in the Hebrew scriptures, the word refers to thrusting (such as a weapon), driving (such as a tent peg), or clapping (such as one's hands in victory).[2]  Though the psalm exhorts the people to clap (and also to shout), it is presumptuous to think such was to be done during worship.  I am in agreement with Mr. Spurgeon that the occasion of the psalm was the carrying of the Ark of the Covenant from the house of Obededom to Mount Zion or some other notable victory.[3]

Psalm 98:8 "Let the floods clap their hands: let the hills be joyful together"

macha' - This word is found in only two other verses, Isaiah 55.12 and Ezekiel 25.6. That this is poetry of such a type as to have no bearing on worship is obvious.

Isaiah 55:12 "For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands."

The same word used in the same way as in Psalm 98.8, this verse has no bearing on worship as it is used in this verse about trees of the field clapping their hands.

Lamentations 2:15 "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?"

This is the same Hebrew word that we looked at in Job 27.23, found in a total of ten Old Testament verses.  Here we see predicted the Gentiles passing by the defeated Jewish people, clapping their hands at them, hissing and wagging their heads at them, and making snide comments about Jerusalem.  This is not clapping during worship.

Nahum 3:19 "There is no healing of thy bruise; thy wound is grievous: all that hear the bruit of thee shall clap the hands over thee: for upon whom hath not thy wickedness passed continually?"

Using the same word found in Psalm 47.1 to describe the victory celebration of the Jewish people, the word is found here to describe the celebration by Nineveh's enemies as they celebrate the destruction of the city in fulfillment of Nahum's prediction.

     "Because worship is an inherent, inborn characteristic of man, God prescribes the way we should worship. . . God not only prescribes whom we should worship (himself) but also how we should worship."[4]  "E. C. Dargan observed that the English word 'worship' is simply a contraction for 'worthship' and denotes the giving of suitable honor to whom it is due."[5]
     Is it unreasonable for Christians committed to honoring God in worship to engage in a style of worship that is informed by God's Word?  Hardly.  Therefore, the propriety of clapping in worship, while not expressly forbidden in God's Word, is never encouraged as a practice during worship.  The reasons are obvious:  First, clapping is not worshipful.  It is celebratory and exaltational.  It is also a response that is not provoked by knowledge but by ignorance, not by spirituality but by worldliness, and it follows the example not of God's Word and God's people but of the entertainment industry and their followers.  Understand that I am not suggesting a powerful political speech or wonderful dramatic performance not be met with a great round of applause at the end.  However, I speak to the matter of worship and not performance.  Second, clapping is defined as "to show pleasure at or approval of by clapping the hands."[6] However, is this not what saying amen is supposed to accomplish, at least in part?  Therefore, why would someone substitute clapping for saying amen when saying amen is the God-ordained expression of approval, pleasure, or agreement?  Finally, clapping interrupts in a way that saying amen does not.  Speakers cannot continue to speak when an audience or a congregation is clapping, thereby interrupting the flow of thought.  However, when a preacher is exercising spiritual leadership is it appropriate for the congregation (which is supposed to be following his leadership) to dictate when he is to stop speaking?  No.  Yet this is done when clapping in a way that saying amen never does.
     What should a pastor do whose people already clap to show approval or agreement?  I would suggest great caution and slowness to change.  This is because individual believers usually have more immediate and pressing concerns than whether or not to clap while worshiping.  However, Christian worship is profoundly important and is rightly ordered by God's Word.  Therefore, I would suggest the pastor stop clapping if he was once in the habit of clapping.  Then, and very gradually over time, I would suggest the pastor begin to encroach on those few seconds of pause that allow for clapping, slowly crowding out clapping each time it occurs within the congregation.  If this is done while teaching and encouraging the people to participate in worship in a scriptural manner, by saying amen when appropriate, the congregation can then be oh so gradually weaned from inappropriate and brought to appropriate expressions of agreement, approval, and celebration in corporate worship.


[1]  See footnote for Job 27.23 from John MacArthur, The MacArthur Study Bible, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1997), page 724.
[2]  Francis Brown, S. R. Driver & Charles A. Briggs, The New Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius Hebrew And English Lexicon, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1979), page 1075.
[3]  Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury Of David, Volume I, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers), page 352.
[4]  Ernest C. Reisinger & D. Matthew Allen, Worship: The Regulative Principle and the Biblical Practice of Accommodation, (Cape Coral, Florida: Founders Press, 2001), page 15.
[5]  Cited in Reisinger & Allen, page 16.
[6]  Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary, (New York: Barnes & Noble Books, 1996), page 333.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Last Of The Mohicans

     As I watch the twelve-part serial starring Harry Carey produced in 1932 of James Fenimore Cooper's classic novel I observe three troublesome things: First, there is the minister traveling with the British general's daughter, a ludicrous caricature of impractical unmanliness. Quite different from the real life frontier gospel ministers who were universally acclaimed for their courage, for their leadership skills, and for their civilizing effect on all who knew them. Second, the hero Hawkeye (played by Harry Carey) is shown to be a brave and principled frontiersman. However, throughout the movie he displays a dismissive and contemptuous attitude for spiritual things, for the minister, and for the Word of God. Third, the Bible is treated as an impractical and utterly useless book, beneficial only to stop an arrow meant for the minister, whereupon Hawkeye comments, "That is the first time you've put that thing to good use."
     It saddens this gospel minister to see the nation he loves slipping into corruption, bloodthirstiness (unabated abortion), and increasing international insignificance. Of particular concern to me is that the moral slide producing these effects has been the result of an ongoing propaganda effort in Hollywood and the education establishment that has convinced the ignorant and unconverted that God' men are effeminate and useless, that God's Word is impractical and unhelpful, and that God can be casually dismissed without consequence.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Love Is Not A Ditch You Fall Into

     My wife and I usually sit in the living room on weeknights to watch two television shows that we enjoy, "Jeopardy" and "Wheel Of Fortune." On the way to that channel the other night I happened to stop for a moment while a woman was interviewing Tory Spelling. You may know her, the daughter of the late mogul television producer Aaron Spelling, who gave her a gig on one of his television series, "90210," and who of late has been crying all over television because her husband cheated on her. What I did not know is that both she and he were previously married and became romantically involved with each other while married to their first spouses! The interviewer asked her, "Isn't this just karma for you, getting what you deserve for cheating on your first husband?" Her response was, "I can't help it that I fell in love with him. You have no control over who you fall in love with."
     Sadly, such a notion of love is the predictable consequence of sin's constant attempt to shift blame away from self for wrongdoing. It began with Adam: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Eve quickly picked up on the tactic when she said, "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat." It has been an ongoing finger pointing tactic ever since. For Tory Spelling (and others) to insist she fell in love is to shift blame for all consequences resulting from involvement with that other person somewhere other than where it belongs, with herself. How can anyone be surprised that a cheater will cheat, that a liar will lie, or that a thief will steal? To claim that you cannot help who you fall in love with is a useful tactic employed to disavow any future responsibility for choices made in the past. And it is just plain wrong!
     To claim you have no control over who you fall in love with is wrong for many reasons. Let me suggest only two at this time: First, it suggests people have no control over their thoughts and/or feelings about others. Are we that mindless that we have no control over our thoughts and actions? If that is the case, why do police arrest suspected criminals, district attorneys prosecute them, juries convict them, and the government punish them for wrongdoing? Second, the concept of love referred to is seriously flawed. In God's Word love is both attitude and action toward someone that recognizes need and moves with good will to fulfill that need (John 3.16 as a wonderful example). Love is not eyeing another person and seeing him or her as a likely candidate for self-gratification and then taking steps to fulfill that gratification. Such is not love at all, but lust. Sadly, most people have no concept of the profound distinction that should be made between love (rightly understood) and lust (rightly understood).
     That is where parents come in. If parents do not teach the difference between lust and love, by their example and by their instruction, the stage is set for very hard lessons and tragedies in life as a result of heartaches and disappointments from not knowing the differences. Love, real love, is good, meets the love one's real needs, and is not anything one falls into. It is a choice that is made, properly a choice to commit oneself to meeting the other's deepest and most profound needs, or to prayerfully encourage the one loved to seek help from the One whose love we pattern our own love after.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Such a nasty word

Remembering pioneering woman broadcast journalist Jessica Savitch who was taken prematurely in an automobile accident. I recollect the gutsy interview of Elizabeth Ashley after she had written a tell-all autobiography revealing her sexual exploits and romantic affairs. The interview suddenly ended when Savitch asked, "Aren't you what my mother used to call a slut?" Is there a better non-biblical word for such a woman?

Monday, March 31, 2014

My Testimony

On this day (March 31) forty years ago, while reading the Word of God alone in my Torrance, CA home in the middle of the night, the Spirit of God fostered faith in my bosom (2 Cor 4.13) and, remembering a vacation Bible school lesson on John 1.29 I had been taught years earlier by Miss Peaody and Miss Rupp on the Fort Totten Indian Reservation, just outside Devil's Lake, ND, I trusted Jesus Christ to the saving and keeping of my eternal soul. What a wildly improbable series of events were brought about by a gracious and sovereign God to bring about an encounter with His glorious Son! I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do You Know How To Listen To A Sermon?

Most people assume they know how to listen to a sermon from God's Word. They assume you listen to a sermon by just listening. Most people are wrong.
Churches are facing a crisis in America today because there are so many pastors of churches who will not preach to the hearts of the sinners who are sitting in the pews in front of them. In those few churches with converted preachers who declare the whole counsel of God’s Word, folks are simply not responding to the preaching of the Bible. The result is an entire country that is rushing headlong toward catastrophe while we are already experiencing the judgment of God. In addition, what do we see while all this happens? Many who profess to be, and who may actually think they are, God’s people just sit in their pews and do nothing, for the most part. It was a tragedy for Nero to fiddle while Rome burned, but it is a far greater tragedy for so-called Christians to fiddle around while the United States of America prepares to burn under the wrathful judgment of a holy and righteous God.
For a long time I agonized about this problem of unresponsiveness. I would ask God, “Why doesn’t he respond to the preaching of your Word, Father? Why are their lives not changed by the power of the Holy Spirit, as your truth is proclaimed? That sermon should have hit her right between the eyes. Why did she not even flinch?” I began to realize as I prayed such prayers that oftentimes God works in a person’s life in ways that cannot immediately be seen by others. I have concluded that there are three possibilities to explain, on a human level, why the preaching of the Word of God seems to have little effect in the lives of some of those who are thought to be God’s people, in the lives of some of those who claim to be saved. One problem might be sin in the life of the preacher. Certainly, God cannot use filthy vessels, and will not bless the ministry of a preacher who is not right with God or, more likely, who is not even saved. That so many preachers are lost is why so few pulpits in America proclaim the whole counsel of God’s Word, but instead work at tickling and petting their audiences with mild expository teaching or irrelevant topical sermons. Another problem might be sin among those who hear the preaching of God’s Word. Certainly, Isaiah and Jeremiah had no gross sin in their lives, yet the response to their preaching was nil. Why? Sin. Simple sin in people’s lives and an unwillingness to repent and turn to God. When the crowd is unresponsive to the preaching of God’s Word it could be sin. What kind of sin? Perhaps secret sins in the lives of Christians. However, more likely, unregenerate hearts in the lives of those who claim to be saved but who have never really trusted Christ. There is a third problem, not directly related to sin, which makes for unresponsive hearers of God’s Word. This problem is one that has not plagued the human race until the last sixty years or so. This problem is not seen in some of the more backward countries, but is an increasingly prevalent factor in the technologically advanced countries of the world. This problem is the inability of people, in general, to listen properly to a sermon. Maybe a better term than inability is lack of training, or lack of self-discipline, or a short attention span. Many people nowadays do not know how to listen to a sermon because they have not been trained and have not found it necessary to listen actively to another person talking.
Do you call it attention deficit disorder? Having a short attention span is usually caused by a lack of self-discipline, whatever the cause. Could this be why the problem is found in Western Europe and the United States, but is virtually unknown in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and Eastern Europe? To be sure. This inability to listen to sermons has been illustrated repeatedly to me as I have taken to the old Puritan and Baptist way of interviewing folks after preaching to them. “What did I preach on this morning?” “Uhhhhh, sin?” “Uhhhhh, I don’t know.” I know the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, but it does not require spiritual discernment to comprehend the subject matter of my sermons. It only requires spiritual discernment to understand it fully. By this, I mean a person may not understand what I meant when I preached about the lake of fire. That would take spiritual discernment to a degree, some level of illumination. To sit through a sermon and not know that I preached a sermon on the lake of fire has nothing to do with spiritual discernment. It has to do with paying attention. Some people listen to nothing that is said during preaching, though you hear it all. How, in God’s name, can some people sit there and have not the foggiest clue of the subject I preached on at the end of the sermon? It is simple. Many do not know how to listen to preaching. It is important to know how to listen to preaching, because if you do not know how to listen to preaching, and thereby do not effectively listen to preaching, resulting in having no understanding of what is preached, you will not understand the gospel to be saved, or will not have grace ministered to you, Ephesians 4.29. Can you imagine whom the culprits are who train millions of children and adults to slip their brains into neutral and passively listen to the words of another? What devices require no effort to listen? Right. Your television set and computer, wonderful devices that were supposed to be such powerful educational tools. Television alone is responsible for more than 250 millions of Americans who are trained to sit down and turn their brains off while listening to just about anything, whether it be an ungodly soap opera, a sitcom, or a “man of God” preaching what he claims is the Word of God from behind a Plexiglas pulpit.
The response is always the same on the unconscious level. You sit down, you get comfortable, the talking starts, and the hearing of the talking triggers your mind to fade out just enough to doze off for a while, or just enough to miss the message from God you absolutely needed to hear. Computer games have a different mechanism, but with the same outcome. This is okay when you are listening to television, because the amount of attention or intelligence required to listen to the tube is almost zero. Computer games are mostly reacting without much thinking involved. Such is not the case whenever the Word of God is preached. When God’s Word is being declared you have to pay attention with everything you have. Preaching is the means of grace leading to salvation, according to First Corinthians 1.18 and 21. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to read the Bible when you are tired or sleepy? The reason it is so hard is that you must actively attend to the matter of reading the Bible for it to benefit you. The same is true with scriptural Bible preaching.
For you, for me, or for anyone, to benefit from the preaching of God’s Word, especially a gospel sermon, you must be an active listener. The key word here is active. Only when someone actively listens to preaching, only when someone consciously puts forth the effort required to listen properly to the sermon, will he ever get anything out of it. An additional problem is that sometimes someone will hear something in a sermon that jars him so much that he stops listening to the sermon entirely and focuses all his attention on the one jarring comment he heard. For another it will be a word he does not understand. He stops listening because he does not understand one word, not realizing that one word's meaning is not crucial to grasping a sermon's meaning. Therefore, it is not helpful to stop listening for whatever reason. Do not fixate on a single word or one comment that jars you. Consciously decide to take in the whole sermon. Only when someone realizes that he must participate in a sermon, both mentally and vocally, will God’s Word really begin to grab hold of his life, will the Spirit of God really begin to use the truth in his life. If that point in time ever comes, you will no longer fall asleep in church, you will no longer hit or miss in your church attendance, and you will no longer skip Bible study. Why? Because you must hear God’s message for you from God’s Word. If you do not, all is lost.
As well, something happens with people’s parenting when moms and dads actually listen to sermons. There comes a time that parents become so concerned for the conversion of their own children that they begin to quiz them after church, either on the way home in the car or at the dinner table. “Tommy, what was the title of preacher’s message today?” “Jenny, what were the main ideas of the pastor’s sermon this morning?” “Sally, what did preacher tell folks to do today? Have you ever done that? Would you like to do that?” “Sam, how could you sit there and not know the one thing preacher said was the most common mistake folks make in that area?”
Let me reiterate that if a lost person does not understand sermons, he will not be saved. There is no way he will ever understand sermons unless he puts forth the necessary effort to pay attention. Daydream during sermons and you will go to Hell. Pay attention and you just might be saved. “Well, I think I can be saved on my own.” Do you? What do you do with Acts 8.30-31, where Philip said to the eunuch, “Understandest thou what thou readest?” The eunuch responded, “How can I, except some man should guide me?” No, God most usually uses men to reach men. The men who are usually used by God to reach men are men who preach. So you think, “Okay, if active listening is what is required to get the most out of an entire sermon, when I am in church and do not want to waste the time I am investing in my attendance, how do I become an active listener?” In Acts 10.33, we see a beautiful example of an active listener in the person of a Roman centurion named Cornelius: “Immediately therefore I sent to thee; and thou hast well done that thou art come. Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.”
This verse does not provide the mechanics of proper listening, but it does suggest the proper attitudes that lead to proper listening. We see nothing here about taking notes, about the proper posture when sitting, about the proper amount of sleep, and the right kind of food that will help you to stay awake and attentive. There is nothing said here about not sitting next to distracting people who want to talk or make cute comments at inopportune times. I routinely see parents distracting their unsaved children during gospel sermons I preach. These things certainly need attending to, but they are not mentioned here. Such things are far more likely to take care of themselves, you see, when the listener’s attitude is right. If you will imitate Cornelius’ attitude, and it is God’s will that you do just that, you will hurdle the greatest of obstacles that stand in your way of properly listening to gospel sermons. Moreover, those gospel sermons may be used by God to save your wretched soul.
Remember, James wrote, “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth,” James 1.18. Therefore, God uses the Bible to bring Christ to sinners and to bring sinners to Christ. However, do not forget First Corinthians 1.21: “. . . it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Thus, we see that God uses the Bible, specifically the Bible preached to sinners, to bring those sinners to Christ. Do you want to serve God? Do you want to learn the Word of God? Do you want to become a more faithful servant of Christ? Do you want to be saved? Then pay close attention to three attitudes that will enable you to become a good listener when God’s Word is preached.


The attitude that makes for better listeners is seen in Cornelius’ own words. Notice his reaction to God’s command to fetch Peter, recorded earlier in the chapter, so that he might be taught the things of God. He described his response to Peter in these words: “Immediately therefore I sent to thee.” Does that tell you anything? It should. It tells you that Cornelius wanted to know what God had for him through the ministry of Peter, and he wanted to know right now. If you ever expect to get anything out of the preaching of God’s Word then you need to discard the notion that listening to sermons is a chore, or that you are doing God a favor by being in the church house. What lack of judgment and absence of wisdom is displayed by that individual who shuns those occasions when the Word of God is preached, or who does not magnify the importance of the preaching of the gospel to his own family. I like good music to lead into my preaching, as a means of stimulating interest and to focus attention upon the preaching. However, the absence of soul-stirring music in no way mitigates responsibility to prepare for the preaching of God’s Word. People need to understand that it is a privilege to hear sermons from the Bible. The important aspect of this whole thing is God’s Word. Oh, that the Spirit of God would apply God’s Word to the hearts of sinners through preaching.
Here are some good reasons why we should be eager to hear sermons. The most noticeable thing that happens when the Bible is preached is that men and women can be saved. If you want to be around when souls are being saved, go and hear preaching. A man would have to be as spiritually cold as ice not to want to participate in something God uses to bring sinners to Christ. Is that not right? Next, Bible preaching is God’s preeminent way for Christians to be taught the Word of God. Some may think that it is really the Sunday School where Christians are taught the Bible, but in the year 2010, the Sunday School method of ministry celebrated its 230th birthday. Do you realize what that means? It means that for more than 1780 years the preaching of God’s Word was the primary instrument of teaching men the Word of God. I am not demeaning the Sunday School by any means. I am simply seeking to exalt the preaching of God’s Word. I am simply seeking to shed a scriptural light on the place of preaching. In Ephesians 4.11, Paul names the ministries of four kinds of gifted men given to church members for the purpose of maturing them in the faith and teaching them the Word of God. Those men are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. They are all, or should be, preachers. Are you eager to learn God’s Word and then to live it? Then you ought to be eager to hear God’s Word preached. My final reason for being eager to hear a sermon is that in a sermon you can hear Christ glorified in a way not usually found anywhere else. Some examples: When painting a verbal picture of the salvation that can be found only in Christ, can words be found to express the uniqueness of Jesus Christ any better way than these words preached? “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,” Acts 4.12. I do not think so. Alternatively, when lifting up our glorious Savior in the eyes of men with these words, and crying out for men to humble themselves before Him? “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father,” Philippians 2.8-11. Again, I do not think so. On the other hand, when convincing folks from liturgical religions of Christ’s exclusive role as mediator between God and men with these words? “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,” First Timothy 2.5-6. I do not think so. I do not know about you, but I am eager to hear God’s Word properly preached, because when it is properly preached through the power of the Holy Ghost men are saved, Christians are taught, and Christ is glorified in a way unparalleled by other means. That is not done with half-wit homilies, doctrineless devotions, or timid teaching. Only through strong Bible preaching does God wonderfully bless in this way. To listen properly to a sermon from God’s Word you must have an eagerness, a hungering if you will, for Bible preaching. That is what Cornelius had. That is what you need to have. If you do not have that attitude, you should set yourself to the task of cultivating it.


Cornelius appreciated Peter coming to deliver God’s Word to him. This is seen in his own words again: “and thou hast well done that thou art come.” “I’m glad you came, preacher.” Cornelius understood that Peter was a man sent from God with divine truth to declare to him. At first, Cornelius attempted to show Peter extreme reverence, but Peter would have none of it. Peter was not self-deluded. He knew he was, after all, only a man, and not someone who would sit on some throne, wearing white silk, and expect you to kiss his ring or anything. Cornelius still appreciated Peter’s ministry, even after it was clearly communicated that the preacher was only a sinner saved by grace, just as he was. He was a sinner called by God and consecrated to His glorious gospel ministry.
Cornelius had definite reasons for appreciating Peter’s ministry of preaching divine truth. We have those same reasons, and more. Faithful preachers ought to be appreciated because they are Christ’s gift to the church, Ephesians 4.8 and 11. When the Lord gives a gift, you should appreciate it. There is nothing more disconcerting to me than ingratitude. Too many churchgoers are ingrates with regard to their preacher. Too many do not appreciate what God is trying to do in their lives through the ministry of their preacher, and in the lives of their children. Second, preachers should be appreciated for protecting the flock. Here is what Paul told the preachers from Ephesus: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood,” Acts 20.28. Examine the Old Testament and the New Testament. Take note of God’s means of protection for His people then and now. There is a difference. Then, God used the angelic host to protect His people. Now, God has seen fit to use God-called men to protect His people from supernatural attack and from divisive elements who would rip churches asunder. You ought to appreciate the preacher for the protection he provides for your life, much of it coming through his sermonizing. Third, preachers ought to be appreciated because appreciation of the preacher helps to prepare you to receive his message from the Book. People are simply be more receptive, barriers and resistance to truth are reduced, if one genuinely appreciates the preacher’s role in God’s plan for his life. Cornelius had reason to appreciate this preacher God had sent to him. I know it can seem self-serving to assert this, but your appreciation for a preacher's personal commitment is good for anyone who listen to a sermon. Occasionally, as one young man once told me, parents completely undermine a preacher’s effectiveness when they express to their children the opinion that pastor’s preaching is ineffective in bringing their children to Christ. The children will not listen attentively after hearing a mom or a dad say that. Have the tool of eagerness. Have, also, the tool of appreciation.


Read his words again: “Now therefore are we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God.” Cornelius understood that somehow God had chosen to communicate certain truths through the life of another man to him, and that for that truth he would be held responsible by God.
I am not trying to imply that any mediatorial role was occupied by Peter, as the Roman Catholic Church erroneously teaches. We who read our Bibles and study them with discernment realize that no man or woman stands between you and Christ in that respect. No mere human mediator is needed, or is competent. For one thing, the Lord Jesus, Himself, is the sole mediator between you and God, First Timothy 2.5: “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.” He is unique in this respect. There is no one else like Him. Secondly, all believers are now priests, according to First Peter 2.9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.” Since I am a priest, why do I need a priest?
What Cornelius understood, instead, was that God had chosen to use men with the gospel to reach men, to use men with the Bible to teach men. Though these men are instruments in God’s hands, you will stand before God someday, responsible to Him for the truth that has been given to you by such men as me. It is important to understand that.

Cornelius had three tools which helped him to be a good listener. Eagerness, which naturally reflected his emotional, intellectual and spiritual hunger to know God’s will for his life. Appreciation of God’s servant as the channel by which much of God’s will for his life would be made known to him. Understanding of his responsibility before God to be obedient to that portion of God’s will that was declared through the preacher’s ministry.
Do you know how to listen to a sermon? Does your family? Do you prepare yourself for church and do you prepare your family by cultivating eagerness, appreciation, and understanding? Are you an unconverted person? Then you had better be eager, you had better be appreciative, and you had better understand that God has chosen me to guide you to Christ.
Prepare yourself in this way before you next come to church. If you have children, prepare them as best you can before you next come to church. As well, pray that God will bless the man who preaches. Then cultivate an eagerness to see these prayers answered. Get excited about gospel preaching. Parents? If you are excited about gospel preaching your kids will get excited about it, as well. Next, cultivate appreciation for those who minister to you. How can an appreciated preacher not be especially concerned for the spiritual welfare of someone who he knows appreciates his ministry? How can he not be particularly careful to remember that person in prayer? As well, do you not think the Savior is pleased when you appreciate the gifted man He has given to you? Finally, ask yourself what you are responsible to do at the conclusion of a Bible sermon. Understand that you are responsible to God for the message from His Word to you. People who have all three of these tools (eagerness, appreciation, and understanding) and use them, are the people who end up being saved, who grow in grace, and who are seen to grow in spiritual stature. It is such people as these that God places His hand on to bless.
I have never in my life seen a sinner come to Christ who was not eager during the preaching of the gospel, who was not appreciative to me or whoever was preaching the message from God’s Word, and who did not understand that he had better get it, better get it right, and better get it soon, or he was lost forever.