Friday, June 29, 2012

Stormy Weather

I was a bit shocked today to see how long it's been since I've updated the blog. It's not that things haven't prevented me from posting for a while before. Illness, deaths in the family, job responsibilities, and plain honest old writer's block. But with all that's been happening in the news of late—both in the Christian world and the secular world—you'd think I'd be brimming over with the desire to comment on it all.

I'm afraid I am not. Everyone goes through seasons of stormy weather in life, and I've been in one. And not only me. It seems like many friends and loved ones are going through incredibly difficult circumstances. My friend and former radio co-host, Kevin Johnson, has had a very bad year of health and personal challenges. As is the case with many ministries, Kevin's ministry—the Institute for Christian Apologetics—has had significant funding shortfalls with the bad economy. As partners and donors find themselves challenged in their personal finances or business investments, their giving slackens. And summer months are normally fairly challenging for ministries anyway as people go on summer vacations etc. So if you are able, please add Kevin to your prayer list, both for his health and finances. Check out his website, which I hyperlinked above. And if the Lord so leads, please consider making a gift via his website.

There is another ministry I would like to highlight, and it is the ministry to which I devote the majority of my time. Slavic Gospel Association has been serving churches for the sake of the Gospel across Russia and her neighboring nations since 1934. SGA has also had challenging financial times in the past few years since the economic downturn began, and this summer is no exception. You can visit SGA's website and see the many ministries that we support overseas—all with the intention of taking the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ to the millions in the former communist countries who have not yet heard. And yes, there are millions. Please prayerfully consider making a gift to SGA as the Lord leads.

What about me? I really don't want to go into it all. I do have a lot on my plate, and have been more than unusually tired of late. I recently found out that a kidney stone procedure I had in the early spring wasn't as successful as we thought it had been. Only one stone out of many was pulverized, and I thought we got all of the nasty little buggers. To make things worse, my insurance didn't cover it all, and I received a surprise bill that I wasn't expecting. Add to that income tax being paid out in April and expensive property taxes due in June and September, I've been spread pretty thin. My 89-year-old mother has not been well either, and she began getting sick after my stepfather's October 2010 passing.

All this is the reality of living in a fallen world. We will run into stormy weather. But we do have the Lord's promise that He will never leave or forsake us. We know that one day He will come again to receive His own to Himself. We'll hear the trumpet and shout, and the dead in Christ will rise first, and those of us who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4).

This Sunday, I have been asked to fill the pulpit at a local church. I am preaching on 1 John. Please pray with me that I will be a blessing and encouragement to God's people, and that I will faithfully and accurately handle the Word of God. Preaching and teaching is a responsibility and privilege that I take very seriously.

Thanks in advance!

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Root of Rebellion

This picture of Adam and Eve being driven out of the Garden of Eden, with the way being guarded by a cherubim with a sword, has always gripped me. It's a picture of mankind suffering the consequences of rebellion against God.

If you've ever had conversations with anyone hostile at God, it's amazing what comes out of their mouths. Sometimes it borders on childish petulance. "I didn't ask to be born into this world. So God shouldn't find fault etc."

Whenever I hear something like that, I am torn between the gentle approach of reasoning with someone like that (praying that the Lord will open their hearts to hear the truth), and tough bluntness. Something along the lines of, "Tough, buddy. The fact of the matter is that you HAVE been born, and because you have been born into this world, you are accountable before God. Deal with it. You have a Creator, and the Creator has the absolute right to do what He wills with His creation. But I have to restrain myself most of the time and try to be more sympathetic to someone whose eyes are blinded and whose hearts are dead spiritually. But for the grace and mercy of God go I.

But the fact is—life itself is a tremendous gift. It's a good thing. God is not to blame when you sin. But in His grace and mercy, He provided a way to deal with your sin by taking His own wrath upon Himself. Salvation is a free gift open to anyone who will believe, repent and trust. But that's a side discussion to the point I wanted to make here today.

Rebellion. All of us are rebels. It all began with Adam and Eve, and has continued throughout human history. Man rebels against God, and pays the consequences. Why do we do it? We hear the usual sermons on how Adam's fall caused sin to enter the human race etc. But the rebellion? What caused the rebellion. Even before man was created, Lucifer rebelled against God and was cast out along with the other fallen angels who followed Lucifer. Scripture tells us that Lucifer (now Satan) was captivated by his beauty, which in and of itself was a gift from his Creator. He wanted to take God's place and usurp the authority and worship rightfully belonging only to God. Why?

I have begun to understand something. Why it's taken 40 years or so is beyond me. Remember how Scripture reveals the greatest commandment? To love God with all your heart, soul, mind, strength etc. The second greatest commandment is like it. To love our neighbors as we love ourselves. Love, per the Bible, is at the center of everything. God is love. He wants His children—those who have heard the Gospel and received it, repenting of their sins and trusting entirely on the Lord Jesus' finished work on the cross as atonement for their sins—to walk in love. We are to love one another and to love our neighbors.

Love does no wrong, according to the Bible. And I don't mean the fleshly, fallen emotionally driven rush or affection we often call love. I am talking about true, selfless love—that which seeks the welfare of others more than we seek our own. This is key.

Rebellion is antithetical to love. Rebellion is not an act of love. Rebellion is an act of selfish defiance and pride. Lucifer rebelled because he didn't love God. We sin against God because we are not loving Him as we ought. We sin and hurt one another because we aren't loving one another as we ought.

All of our problems on this earth are centered in the absence of love, as God defines it. And He has the absolute right to define it, since He is love personified. You love, you don't rebel.

There's much more to say about this, but I think this is sufficient for the time being. Think about it.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Southern Baptist Convention Update

Calvinism vs. Arminianism

As the SBC winds down its conference, outgoing President Bryant Wright made a thoughtful challenge to the pastors and other church leaders gathered together. As the differing views between Reformed/Calvinist-leaning Baptists and Arminian Baptists continue to be discussed, Pastor Bryant urged everyone to walk in humility. Going even further than that, he warned that we can stumble into making idols of our theological positions and forgetting what the church is supposed to be doing—proclaiming the Gospel.

Here is a brief clip of what Pastor Wright had to say on the issue of pride . . .

Any time there is pride, whether it is spiritual pride or intellectual pride or theological pride, it is always a sin," Wright asserted. "An attitude of superiority with those who may disagree with the finer aspects of theological beliefs is never going to build up the Church of Jesus Christ."
Addressing the latter group, he continued his rebuke, saying "judgmentalism quickly moves into slander," and warned against breaking the Ninth Commandment on false witness.
"It is time to show some respect to those with differing views when it comes to election and salvation," he stressed.
Wright urged pastors to agree to disagree and reminded them that Jesus Christ and the Great Commission should be the central focus.
"Let us understand that these two views on election and salvation can co-exist as long as we stay Christ-centered and biblically-based in our theology.
I can sympathize with Bryant Wright's concerns. I am not Baptist, but E-Free. I am Reformed in my theology and soteriology, with the exception of eschatology, where I am premillennial. As with the Baptists, the E-Free fellowship has both Calvinists and Arminians. Somehow, we manage to get along. 

My caution for my fellow Calvinists would to be sure we don't cross the line into fatalism. There is a difference. My caution for my Arminian brothers would be to avoid falling into Pelagianism, or salvation by works. Some of my more hardcore Calvinist brothers view Arminianism as "semi-Pelagianism," and I understand their argument. A friend of mine once said he believes that most Arminians are just confused Calvinists. 

The main thing is that we all believe (I hope) that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, by Christ alone, and to God alone be the glory. No human work of righteousness can result in salvation, or earn one drop of the blood of Christ. The moment we begin bringing human works into the equation, we have lost the biblical Gospel. And that we can never surrender. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hatfields and McCoys!

I have to chuckle a bit at this news story out of Williamson, WV. The reason I find it interesting is that I actually lived in Mingo County, WV, and Pike County, KY, for a three month period back in the early 1980s—the stomping grounds of the Hatfield/McCoy clans. I was working as news director at WBTH/WXCC radio at the time, having moved there across country from southern California where I had been working in part-time Christian radio. (Never could get full time, and that's why I left California after being out there for a year.)

I resigned after three months to return to Illinois, finding that I really didn't fit in very well with the isolated Appalachian region. Which is curious, because I can melt right into the Arkansas Ozarks and blend in with no problem whatsoever. 

All that aside to say that I am glad the Hatfields and McCoys put the feud behind them and can turn it not only to a profitable venture, but also something cultural and historical for tourists to learn something. There is quite a history in Mingo County, not all of it good. If you've ever seen the movie "Matewan" with Kevin Tighe in it, it's about a bloody coal mine war that took place in the early part of the 20th. The county's nickname was "Bloody Mingo" for a reason. 

But I also got to know some very, very nice and colorful characters while there. One of my favorite people was Judge Elliot Maynard, who originally was the Mingo County circuit judge, eventually ending up on the West Virginia Supreme Court. When I met him the first time, he immediately disarmed me by telling me to call him "Spike." Criminals didn't like him very much, because he was sort of a "hanging judge." I cannot recall anyone ever getting probation when I was covering courts there. He told me one day that he personally didn't like giving probation except in rare cases. He thought nearly everyone ought to do some time if they ran afoul of the law. Given the history of the region, I can understand why he had that severe outlook. 

Shortly after I left the area to return to Illinois, the former sheriff and some county commissioners got swept up in a federal sting operation aimed at corruption. I wasn't really surprised. They can be glad they ended up in the feds' jurisdiction. Spike no doubt would have sent them all up the river for a long stretch.

Sola's note: I just discovered that Spike himself got caught up in a controversy that resulted in him losing an election. Justice Maynard was accused of conflict of interest in a case that came before the West Virginia Supreme Court, after photos surfaced of him being in the French Riviera with a party to the litigation. Here is another perspective on the story and allegations against the former justice. 

I can understand the concerns over conflict of interest. As one of the articles points out, in a small, rural Southern region, everybody knows everybody else. I can't help but have a hard time thinking Spike would have been party to genuine corruption, but I have to base that only on my brief knowledge of him and watching him in court. This will ultimately have to be left in the hands of those who still live in the region and know all parties involved. For my part, I thought Spike was a nice guy and a good judge, at least in the cases I saw him handle all those many years ago.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Paige Patterson on Calvinism in the SBC

It seems the Calvinist/Arminian debate is heating up again in the Southern Baptist Convention. And the dispute isn't just in the SBC. Baptists overseas—especially in the former Soviet Union—have been wrestling with this issue. The former head of the SBC, Dr. Paige Patterson, wrote what I consider to be an excellent piece on this theological dispute. He tries to strike a very irenic tone in hopes of encouraging his Baptist brethren not to turn this into church splits. Read it and ponder. And thanks to Dr. Al Mohler for reposting Dr. Patterson's article.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Amen, Brother!

Dr. Te-Li Lau of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School really "preached it" recently—something I've been saying for quite a while. What is that, you might ask? Merely this:


If you'd like to read more about Dr. Lau's message, you can click here to the Christian Post. I am glad that this is being sounded loudly and clearly from the seminary of my fellowship, the Evangelical Free Church of America.

All too often, evangelical churches—especially here in North America—have fallen victim to fads. The well-intentioned idea is, of course, that you will win people to Christ by clever marketing techniques, meeting people's "felt needs," and a bunch of other worldly ideas. This might work on Madison Avenue, and might even succeed in getting people in the door for a while. But it ultimately will do no good whatsoever in seeing people truly saved.

People need the unadulterated, un-watered-down Gospel. They need to know and believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins, and rose again from the dead for their justification. You can't come to know a Savior unless you first understand that you need one. And you don't understand that you need a Savior until you come to terms with the truth that you are a sinner due for God's wrath.

But that's not a marketable message these days, they say. You catch more flies with cotton candy.

Yeah. Right. Cotton candy tastes great for a bit, but evaporates in the mouth in seconds and leaves a bitter aftertaste. It's much better to come to the One who can give life-giving water to a thirsty soul—the One who gave Himself for the sake of His people. Stick to Him, and stick to His Word. Stay away from the fads.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Hiatus? Yes, That's It!

In case anyone has wondered why I haven't had a post in nearly a week (and you probably haven't wondered), I've been trying to catch up on two years-worth of accumulated yard and property work, plus a very hectic schedule at the office. And I've got family company this weekend. So, consider this a brief (I hope) hiatus. I might have something new up before the weekend is over, but definitely early in the week ahead.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Idols and Names

You wouldn't think a vanity license plate would inspire a blog post, but it has. I'll explain why, and I hope my fellow believers can follow along with my thinking here. 

I have been involved in ministry dealing with cults and false religions for much of my adult life. I've seen it all, from pseudo-Christian cults such as the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (Jehovah's Witnesses) and Mormonism, to more occultic stuff such as witchcraft and Satanism, which uses symbols like pentagrams and baphomets. I have friends in law enforcement who have told me of encountering evidence of Satanic worship here and there, especially in rural areas. 

In addition to these things, we can read our biblical history and read of false gods worshipped by the pagan nations around Israel. Gods such as Molech, Baal, the Greek or Roman pantheons etc. The other day, I happened to see a license plate with "BAAL" on it. I happened to make a comment about it on my Facebook page, and found out that it was someone's last name. And that interested me from a biblical perspective. Where various families got their names, the etymology behind it, and whether or not the origins of those family names had something to do with a false god or idol, or perhaps something more innocent. And yes, that is possible. But would someone today purposefully name their child after a false god, and if a family name was linked to a false god or idol, would the Christian thing to do be changing the name? It's an interesting question of conscience.  

We have women these days named Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. There were individuals mentioned in the Bible—people who grew up in a pagan culture and became Christians later. Remember Epaphras, an associate of the Apostle Paul. This was a shortened form of Epaphroditus, and the name was based on that of Aphrodite. He couldn't help what his parents named him, now could he? He became a believer and having such a name didn't keep him out of heaven. He was washed in the blood. So in his case or in those of men or women in similar circumstances, not a big deal. No doubt some might have changed their names later. But today, I am pondering a bit of a different question. What about believers today, and what are we naming our children?  

I would be saddened to find out that a professed Christian would purposefully name their child after a false god. Perhaps some would wonder why I'd think such a thing would even be possible. They would have to be pretty biblically illiterate to do such a thing, given the attitude of the Lord Himself about false gods. After all, our names are meant to mean something. How many parents name babies after doing research on baby names, popular, rare, obscure etc? The meaning is often important to Christian parents. Biblical names are common among Christian parents, which is entirely appropriate. 

But I have to be honest with you. I am concerned about the growing apostasy in the church, and as I reflect on this seemingly minor issue, I find that I wouldn't be surprised to see a professing Christian choose such a name for their baby because "it sounds cool" or some such tommyrot. And if you raise an objection, you just might get called a legalist or worse. We know what Scripture says about last days apostasy and false brethren. Not a day goes by when I don't thank the Lord for my own church and the desire of our people to remain faithful. But the watch must remain vigilant. The enemy has plenty of subtle ways to undermine biblical truth in a body of believers. 

I am someone who has a high view of Scripture and am very strict on biblical orthodoxy and doctrine. By God's grace and mercy, I won't budge on it. I believe that things are in Scripture for a reason. The New Testament says that the record of God's dealings with Israel are there for us as examples, that we would not make the same mistakes the people of Israel made. The Law is our tutor to lead us to Christ. We are to be biblical in our thinking, words, deeds, witness, worldview etc. We are not to adopt the worldview of the fallen world, if you'll forgive the play on words. 

Names. Seemingly a minor issue. But for the Christian, it isn't minor. We have been bought with a price and we are no longer our own. May we always be sure to identify with our Father's name, and that of our Lord and Savior. We are being watched and may be the only Bible some people read. 

Friday, June 01, 2012

Phil Johnson on Justification and Assurance

Been a busy day for me, but Phil Johnson at Pyromaniacs has an excellent post on the evangelical Protestant stand on justification and assurance of salvation, and the differences with Roman Catholic theology as posited by the Council of Trent, which still stands to this day.

This is one reason why Bible-believing Christians can never compromise with Catholicism on this foundational, basic doctrine. It's that important and one's eternal destiny hangs on it.