December 27, 2007

Preaching Schedule, Edited... include April (and the ending of the Judges series). Also, shortened a few of the titles. For the two of you who might actually print this out, sorry for the wasted paper.

Also, note that there is a sermon entitled Ten Shekels and a Shirt towards the end of Judges. My plan, right now, is to repreach (sort of) a powerful sermon by the same title preached by one Paris Reidhead. As I thought about preaching Judges 17-18, I couldn't imagine giving a better exposition and, especially, application than he has already done.

So, enjoy, prepare, and click to enlarge...

December 26, 2007

More than Notion

I’m winding down my annual trek through the Bible, reading the book of Revelation this last week of the year. This year, it seemed that there was a personal letter tucked in its pages…a letter addressed specifically to me. OK, actually the letter is addressed to the church at Ephesus, and it’s “angel” (literally messenger…maybe its pastor?). But it seems as though this letter could well be addressed to me. Maybe to you, too. It goes like this (Revelation 2.1-6):

To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: 'I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name's sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place--unless you repent. Yet this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.'

Let me summarize what I think Jesus means:

‘Dear Ephesians,

I see that your doctrine continues to be sound. You have kept pressing on in My work…doing the things you know you should. But something’s missing. It seems the fire doesn’t burn as brightly as it has. Yes, you’re continuing in good habits (maybe even building some new ones). But don’t forget that I want your heart as well as your habits. I want you to love Me like you did when you first believed…to find your heart beating a little faster at the thought of heaven; to be excited again to tell folks what’s happened to you; to be choked up once more when you think about the cross.

Don’t settle, Ephesians (or Cincinnatians), simply for being doctrinally sound (important as that is!). Remember that “true religion’s more than notion, something must be known and felt.”
[1] I must be known and felt. Press on in that true religion. You’ll find that it alone satisfies your spiritual hunger…both now and in eternity.

He who walks among His churches and knows your hearts’

Love is not simply shown through emotion. And feelings aren’t everything. But feelings are important to Jesus. And right emotions leading to loving actions are, I believe, what He is referring to in Revelation 2.1-6. So let’s be as doctrinally sound as we can in 2008. But let’s remember that “true religion’s more than notion, something must be known and felt.”

[1] From a hymn by Joseph Hart.

December 21, 2007

Pregnant Pause

I wrote this today, imagining what went through Zacharias’s mind when the angel Gabriel appeared to him (Luke 1.8-18); what he thought about in his year of silence (Luke 1.19-20); and how he was so ready to burst forth in messianic song as soon as his lips were opened (Luke 2.57-79). Highlighted sections are links to the Scripture passages I am paraphrasing/extrapolating.

I wish that I could speak—could shout—
And spread that angel’s words about
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
And temples where man’s pride is rife.
But I can’t even tell my wife.

How foolish I! How slow of heart!
I thought the horse behind the cart.
“This news—a son? That sounds absurd”
Was my reply to heav’nly word
From angel lips untried by sin.
“You see the wrinkles on my skin,
And come to me with stories wild:
‘Old Zach and Lizzie bear a child!’
I’ve prayed, I know—that’s what priests do—
And told my wife about it too.
She’s smiles, looks down, and bats her eyes
Like girls whose hope is to disguise
A crush. She tucks her hair, now gray
Behind her ears. ‘What can I say’
She says, ‘but God is truly good.’

She’s just been saying what she should.
But how can I believe this news?
Messiah comes to save the Jews—
And old Zach and Elizabeth
Will bear a son to blaze His path!
Come on! How’ bout you show a sign,
To prove that this is God’s design."

Those were the last words that I spoke.
To prove his words were not a joke
That angel wired shut my jaws—
Nine months, so far, of pregnant pause.

We’ll have a son—they all can tell
From watching Lizzie’s belly swell.
‘God has been good’ they stop to say.
‘Old Zach, you’ve taught us how to pray.’
I wish they knew it wasn’t me.
My faith is like an olive tree—
All shriveled, gnarled, twisted, stooped—
In spite of myself, yielding fruit.
I’d like to preach to them of grace—
How all of us, the human race,
Are like a barn, whose paint is old;
Whose wood is cracked and filled with mold;
Whose roof is gone; whose rafters sag.
Our righteousness is filthy rags.”
And when their eyes and hearts are full
With tears, to say: “Your sins, like wool
And like the driven snow shall be,
Though now a crimson, bloody sea
Rejoicing as I am, you see,
To have a boy for Liz and me,
My thoughts are wrapped like balls of twine—
I cannot put it out of mind—
The other boy the angel said
Would soon lay down his holy head
Upon another mother’s breast.
This was the news that sounded best
Of all. Messiah comes to save;
To rescue us from shallow graves
We’ve dug ourselves with our own hands,
With picks of cruelty in the sands
Of sin. Messiah will not fail
To enter in behind the veil
That I, the priest, could never cross.
He’ll enter in through pain and loss
Of His own blood—just like the ram
God gave to father Abraham.
A substitute absorbs the rod,
And opens up the way to God.

And so I set this poem down,
And I’ll recite it in the town,
In villages among the hills;
In brothels where men get their thrills;
To priests, like me, whose faith is weak…
And in my heart until I speak.
I’ll tell them, yes, about my son,
But focus the other One:

“Blessed be the God of Israel
Who saves His people from the hell
That they deserve, and has raised up
A full and overflowing cup
Of grace—salvation comes to man.
Messiah comes from David’s clan
Just like God said in days of old,
And prophets spoke with valor, bold:
‘Salvation from our enemies’
And mercy from the Lord who’s pleased
To keep His promises of grace,
His covenant with Abram’s race:
That we might serve Him all our years
In holiness and without fears.
And my son, so the angel says,
Has come to pave Messiah’s ways.
To preach about the One who wins.
Forgiveness of His people’s sins.”

I’ll save this for my son, I think,
So that when he is on the brink
Of preaching, as the Lord has said,
That he will have it in his head
That priv’leged as His lot may be,
He never will the Bridegroom be,
But publish this from east to west:
He must increase; I must be less.”

December 20, 2007

Can You SEE me Now?

OK, so we've been having trouble with the audio (hope that is fixed starting with next weeks postings). But I also notice that I (as well as Anthony and maybe others?) am having visual problems with the blog. On my computer (firefox and explorer) the header photo (of the park bench) is messed up. I can only see about 3/4 of an inch at the bottom of the shot. Same on Anthony's blog. Anyone else seeing the same cropped photo? Anyone know what might be wrong or how to correct it?

December 18, 2007

What a Lovely Bedspread!

A friend of mine recently passed me an essay on sanctification by the English Puritan Thomas Watson (1620-1686). Among many other jewels stored up in this little treasure chest were the following words concerning Christian conversation.

The world is a great Inn; we are guests in this Inn. Travellers, when they are met in their Inn, do not spend all their time in speaking about their Inn; they are to lodge there but a few hours, and are gone; but they are speaking of their home, and the country wither they are travelling. So when we meet together, we should not be talking only about the world; we are to leave this presently; but we should talk of our heavenly country.

In other words, if you and an old childhood friend were sharing a hotel room in Cleveland, on your way to Niagara Falls…you wouldn’t spend your time talking about the lovely furnishings in the Hampton Inn. That would be absurd. You’d talk about home—both childhood memories, and current family life. And you’d talk about Niagara Falls! Not because it’s wrong to talk about bedspreads and towels (they may warrant passing notice), but because there are greater things to talk about! That is what Watson is trying to show us!

I was moved. Because it seems to me that I so often find myself talking merely about the hotel in which I temporarily lodge—the ballgame, the weather, the car problems, etc. And those things aren’t sinful – they may warrant some conversation. But Watson’s words remind me of the even more precious words of Jesus: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12.34). If, when we are together with Christians (all of whom, because we have the same Father, are like old friends – family, even), all we have to talk about is the stock market, or the new restaurant…then it is a sad day indeed.

So what should you do? Make a list of spiritual subjects, write it on an index card, and keep it in your pocket so you can think of something spiritual to say the next time you are invited to someone’s house for dinner? Of course not! Remember, it is from the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks. So the solution is to fill your heart with the things of Christ. Get Christ in your heart and His truth will inevitably drip like honey from your lips—not so that you can sound spiritual when in Christian company, but because you love Him; and you love the church; and you love the things of the heavenly world.

And, once Christ is in your heart, take a risk. It may seem awkward, at first, to talk about Jesus with people among whom you’re accustomed to talk only of the weather and your last doctor’s appointment. But try it out. Be intentional about Christian conversation. Be a blessing to your church family or circle of Christian friends. As another old preacher, Donald MacDonald, said: “Let us talk about Him, even if we do not have much to say.”

December 17, 2007

Can You Hear me Now?

Testing 1, 2, 3. Wondering if any of you who frequent the audio portion of this blog can give me some feedback:

Is the volume on the sermon loud enough? It seems a little soft to me, but wondering how it works for you. Leave a comment below or email me and let me know.

December 11, 2007

Odds and Ends

A few announcements, reminders, and musings:

Bruce Ware in Cincinnati
For those of you in the local area ... mark your calendar to hear Dr. Ware (one of America's formost Evangelical theologians) on Jan. 19 at Hyde Park Baptist Church. His topic will be the Trinity. Some of you have heard these messages before and should leave comments below to whet our appetites.

Kurt and his Dad in Minneapolis
This year's pastor's conference is themed The Pastor as Father and Son. So I am taking my dad with me. Anyone else out there going? Let me know and maybe we can meet up for dinner.

Baby in Tobey's Tummy
We had the ultrasound today and found out Strassner #5 is a boy! Andrew already has a rocket arm, so I'm thinking maybe we have a Peyton and Eli kind of situation brewing here!

December 4, 2007

While We're Thinking about Missions Giving...

A reminder that Pastor's Training Institute, Round 4 is happening this January in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. PTI is preparing close to seventy men to take the gospel of Jesus into some of the most unreached portions of Ethiopia. Some of them do so at great peril. But the name of Jesus is worthy of their peril...and our support!

As many of you know, this is a pastoral training program in which I have taught, and which PRBC has supported and prayed for. The cost for housing, food, and transportation for these two weeks of intensive training is roughly $40.00 per man - or about $2800.00 total. Would you consider giving to PTI? Would you consider sponsoring one or two (or ten) pastors-in-training for this fourth part of their curriculum? Would you consider taking some of that Christmas money that was going to go toward a train set, or a diamond pendant, and sending it to spread the gospel of Jesus in Ethiopia?

If you would, make your check payable to Christ Community Church, earmarked for PTI - Ethiopia, and send it to:

Christ Community Church
P. O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

To find out more about the work in Ethiopia in general, click here. Here's an excerpt about PTI-4:

Three weeks from today we will all be observing Christmas. The day we all give each other gifts to celebrate Someone else. Go figure! And two weeks after that the Ethiopians will be celebrating their Christmas, but in a much different way than us. The exchanging of gifts is absent, for the most part, from the culture, but the enjoyment of food and fellowship is not. Families and friends will gather and feast on whatever meat they can afford after pooling their funds together. For the more well off, an ox will be slaughtered. From four o’clock in the morning when the process begins they will begin consuming the ox, red meat (lean) and white (fat), and eventually even cook some of it to enjoy also. Other families will merely have a chicken or two to commemorate the day together, and some will delight themselves in sheep or goat, roasted or stir-fried.

For about sixty-five men, this will be their last meal before they board a small 65-passenger bus with 110 other people and make the several hour (or in some cases all day) journey into the city for ten days. Why would they succumb to such misery as being cramped on to a stuffy 105-degree bus in which no one will dare open a window for fear of moving air making them deathly ill? And ride that way for so long only to finally arrive in a city that is not their home and to a thin piece of foam (AKA a bed) while being fed crushed peas, some boiled veggies and sour fermented mush made from a grain that we have for the most part never even heard of in our country.


To read more about PTI-4, go here. Thanks so much!

December 3, 2007

"I Can't Afford it"?

One of the reasons I enjoy reading the apostle Paul is because I find that he wrestled with so many of the challenges that face me in my own pastoral ministry – what to do with wayward members, how to organize church leadership, how to relate to the government, and so on. This week, I found particular help in reading, from 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, how Paul motivated a financially comfortably people to give their money away (the same task I am undertaking during this month of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering).

Paul was asking the churches to give of their substance to relieve the persecuted and impoverished saints in Judea. The Corinthian church had given generously in the past (as have you to things like Lottie Moon, to your church's own missions projects, to the poor, etc.). But they had grown a little too comfortable (and, perhaps, so have some of you). It is easy, when you have a fair amount of money (and, in the grand scheme of things, all of us Americans do) to feel good when you give a nice sum to the missions offering, or to the relief of the poor. But is that what God really desires? Is God more pleased with the middle-class American’s hundred dollars…or with the widow’s two copper coins? You know the answer. But apparently the middle-class Corinthians did not. They needed to be reminded. They needed to be slightly embarrassed by realizing that churches and Christians much less prosperous than they were giving far more. That is what Paul tells them in 8.1-4:

1Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, 2that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. 3For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, 4begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,

Notice just a few things about the impoverished Macedonians:

1. They gave even though their circumstances were difficult. They were being persecuted (v.2). Wouldn’t it have been easy for them to roll over and die when it came to the special offering? Wouldn’t it have been easy to say: ‘Someone should send an offering to us!’ But they didn’t feel sorry for themselves. They gave. And, no matter our circumstances, so can we.

2. They gave more then they could afford. I admit – I am not, in my flesh, inclined to give like this. But the Macedonians were! They gave “out of the poverty” (v.2); they gave “beyond their ability.” Did that mean that they starved themselves? I don’t think so. But they did, perhaps, change their family budgets around so they could give. They did without some things so they could give. Perhaps they used part of their savings, or sold some of their possessions so they could give. Are we willing to do the same?

3. They begged for the opportunity to give. They must have said something like this to Paul: ‘Don’t you be afraid to ask us for money. We know we’re poor. We know we don’t have a lot. But don’t you even think about robbing us of the joy of storing up treasures in heaven.’ Where are the Americans saying things like that? Where is the church saying to their elders: ‘Please, please have another special offering. We desperately want to give our money away!’?

The Corinthians hadn’t been so generous lately. But after hearing about the generous paupers in Macedonia, they must have been a little embarrassed. Now my goal with this article is not necessarily to embarrass anyone. But if the shoe fits, wear it. If you are Southern Baptist, you have a chance this month (and every other month, too!) to give to the worthiest cause on the planet – the spreading of the fame of Jesus to the ends of the earth. Many of you God is also leading to feed the poor; to care for the orphans; to perform a dozen other beautiful acts of generosity in His name. Will you give like a middle-class Corinthian, or like an impoverished Macedonian?

November 26, 2007

Why "Lottie Moon"?

When I was a very young child, I was quite confused about the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. What is a Lottie Moon? And why do we have a missions offering named after it? I later found out Lottie Moon was a she, not an it. But I still didn’t know who she/it was. Perhaps you are similarly in the dark. So let me shed some light on Charlotte “Lottie” Moon.

Lottie Moon was born into a wealthy Baptist family in Scottsville, Virginia in 1840. As is often the case, she was turned off to Christianity in her childhood as she saw squabbles and hypocrisy in the church. By the time she was a teenager, she thought Christianity was utterly ridiculous, openly refused to attend church with her parents, and once (upon hearing the story of a missionary to Israel) said: “If there is a single way of wasting a life, being a missionary is it.” Boy did God have a surprise in store for her!

The change began to happen when she was a student at Albemarle Female Institute (at the time, the women’s wing of the University of Virginia). One evening, Lottie took it upon herself to attend a service at the local church, seeking to find logical inconsistencies and “holes” in the message of the gospel. She was looking for ammunition with which to belittle her Christian classmates. But after attending the meeting, she found that she couldn’t find the holes she was so sure were there! That night a barking dog kept her up all night, and all she could do was think about the words of the preacher. By morning, the truths that she could no longer make fun of became the joy of her heart. Lottie was a believer in Jesus!

As her faith grew, Lottie gradually found herself feeling called to use her education (a rare commodity for a female in those days) to serve Jesus on the mission field. She petitioned the Foreign Mission Board (now our IMB) and was appointed a missionary at the age of 33. Aboard ship in the San Francisco Harbor, awaiting departure for China, Lottie Moon wrote these words in an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention: "For women… foreign missions open a new and enlarged sphere of labor and furnish opportunities for good which angels might almost envy...Could a Christian woman possibly desire higher honor than to be permitted to go from house to house and tell of a Savior to those who have never heard his name? We could not conceive of a life which would more thoroughly satisfy the mind and heart of a true follower of the Lord Jesus." Quite a change from her earlier attitude toward “wasting a life” on the mission field. And perhaps, quite a word of encouragement to someone reading these words?

During 35 years in China, Lottie opened Christian schools for girls, taught illiterate Chinese women how to read (using the gospel of Matthew!), held Bible classes, ministered through hospitality, and suffered persecution. She eventually died of starvation because folks back home weren’t giving as they should have been, and Lottie was giving what little food she could afford to feed starving, war-ravaged Chinese villagers. The nurse who was with Lottie when she died said this, "It is infinitely touching that those who work hardest and make the most sacrifices for the Master should suffer because those in the homeland fail to give what is needed."

“To give what is needed.” Perhaps this is the most lasting theme of her life. She was constantly faced with the fact that there wasn’t sufficient money to get more workers into the fields, nor to adequately support them while once were there. She often wrote Southern Baptists, urging them to give more to the cause of missions. In fact, it was her idea (in 1887) to start a Christmas offering for foreign missions. That first year, Southern Baptists collected a grand total of $3,315.26 collected for missions. 120 years later, as a result of Lottie’s forward-looking vision, and her willingness to challenge to the people in Southern Baptist pews, we now collect over 150 million dollars annually for the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering … and support close to 6,000 full-time workers on the field… none of whom are starving. Let’s you and I make sure we keep it that way.

November 17, 2007

Luziana Woman, Mississippi Man...

They get together any time they can. Gotta love Conway Twitty!

Anyway, most of you know that Tobey is from Lake Charles, Louisiana. And that is where we will be for the next week or so. Thus, you won't hear anything from me next week, nor will there be any audio updates. Hope to check back in the Monday or Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

Have a great week of thanking our good God!

November 13, 2007

What Has Casserole to do with Salvation?

This week, the elders and deacons of PRBC are finalizing our Servant Ministry Roster for 2008. Each year, in an attempt to help every member find its place in the body (1 Corinthians 12), we survey the congregation, seeking to get their input on spiritual own gifting and minsitry desires for the coming year. Then the six of us (3 elders and 3 deacons) sit down together and sort it all out, developing a plan for every-member ministry to present to the congregation. We'd appreciate your prayers in the endeavor.

Now, by way of encouragement for those who aren't a part of PRBC, I'd like to point out that the very first Servant Ministry Roles were assigned in Acts chapter 6. There was a logistical problem in the church at Jerusalem: thousands of church members; and only twelve apostles to meet all the needs! More specifically, the widows in the church were in need of basic daily provisions. In those days, a woman without a husband was very often financially destitute. So the church had undertaken to care for the ladies within its membership who faced this kind of poverty. So should every church.

But again, logistics tripped them up. Remember, there were thousands of people to care for; perhaps hundreds of widows to feed; and only twelve apostles! There was no way the twelve could do it all…especially if they were to give proper attention to study, teaching, and prayer. So the church had to get organized. And, in Acts 6.1-6, they did just that, selecting from among themselves seven men who would bring foodstuffs to the widows (and probably do other various necessary tasks). They were the forerunners of our deacons.

What a heart-warming story! All the widows were fed, and they all lived happily ever after. Yes…but that is not where the story ends. After the church’s first business meeting and the selecting of it first Servant Ministry Roster in verses 1-6, we read this sentence in verse 7: “The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem.”

I don’t think verse 7 is the beginning of a whole new line of thought. I believe it is meant to be read as a continuation of, even a result of, what happened in verses 1-6. What was the upshot of the Servant Ministry Roster and, particularly, the feeding of the widows? The gospel spread even further than it had before! A fact which begs an interesting question: ‘They fed the widows and people got saved? How did that work? What has casserole to do with salvation?’

Think it out. Because the Servant Ministers brought canned goods (OK, maybe it was sacks of grain) to the old ladies:

  1. The church was brought back from the brink of civil war. If people don’t serve, things don’t get done. And when things don’t get done, people start to complain (which they did in Acts 6.1). And when church folks complain, their testimony in the community is quickly snuffed out. But because of those bags of corn—and those Servant Ministers—that didn’t happen.
  2. The apostles (the preachers and teachers) were freed up to give their best attention to the preaching of the gospel.
  3. The church gave off a sweet-smelling aroma to their unbelieving neighbors. ‘Look at the way they care for each other. Maybe we ought to listen to what that preacher is saying. It sure seems to make a difference for them.’
  4. The widows had a great testimony to give to the other old ladies: ‘Let me tell you about Prochorus from my church. What a difference Jesus has made in his life. He’s like a son to me…every day bringing me food and caring for my needs.’

Four good reasons, I think, to thank the members of my congregation for their acceptance of one or more Servant Ministry Roles in 2008. Four good reasons for me to encourage you to be faithful to find your part in the body wherever you may live. Who knows how the word of God may spread, and the number of disciples in your city increase, because you watched the nursery, ran the sound board, shoveled the snow, or baked a casserole!

November 8, 2007

No Soup for You! No Bibles Either.

It would seem that, among other items listed as suggested contraband for 2008 Olympic athletes, coaches, and spectators in Beijing...Bibles make the list ("Each traveller is recommended to take no more than one Bible into China.").

An attempt to prevent Christian participants from "making disciples of all nations"...or at least the Chinese nation? An opportunity to put Acts 4.19-20 into practice?

This scenario reminds me a bit of the dilemma of Eric Liddell, who, in 1924, put his place on the British Olympic team on the line in order to obey his conscience regarding the Lord's Day. Will any 2008 particpants do the same?

No doubt, China has the right to make and enforce her own laws. Thus, any believing athlete, coach, or spectator who chooses to circumvent the Bible rule, needs to be willing, like Liddell, to quietly accept the consequences...confiscation of Bibles, interrogation, removal from the games, stripping of medals, etc. I wonder if any will count the cost and take the risk? More to the point...I wonder what you or I would do given such an opportunity/challenge.

Think it out for yourself.

HT: Justin Taylor

October 31, 2007

Martin Luther and the Rediscovery of Grace

In July 1505, a careless and superstitious German college student was traveling through the countryside in the midst of a tremendous thunderstorm. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning burst from the clouds and struck the ground so near him that it knocked him off his feet. Frightened and superstitious, he cried out “St. Anne, save me and I will become a monk!” Two weeks later, having survived the storm, he kept his vow and entered the monastery. His name was Martin Luther.

As is the case when you enter the monastery, Luther had a lot of time to think about himself and about God. And the more he thought, the more he realized just how short of God’s standard he fell. He began to hate himself for it. And, in a desperate attempt to make things right with God, he dove head-first into the strict life of the monastery. He read and prayed laboriously. He spent hours in confession, desperately trying to remember every sin he had ever committed—and ended up hating himself even more because he could not remember them all! He fasted constantly, sometimes for days on end. He sometimes disciplined himself by spending freezing winter nights sleeping in the cold with no blanket. He would later say, “I kept the rule so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his sheer monkery, it was I. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, reading, and other work.”

Despite all his efforts, Martin Luther could find no peace with God. He was terrified of God and saw Him only as a Judge, eager to punish. Historian Bruce Shelley describes Luther’s first service of the Mass like this:

In the midst of saying his first Mass, said Luther, “I was utterly stupefied and terrorstricken. I thought to myself, ‘Who am I that I should lift up mine eyes or raise my hands to the divine majesty? For I am dust and ashes and full of sin, and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God?’ No amount of penance, no soothing advice from his superiors could still Luther’s conviction that he was a miserable, doomed sinner. Although his confessor counseled him to love God, Luther one day burst out, “I do not love God! I hate Him!”[1]

Now why did Martin Luther come to a place where he hated God? Why did he feel so condemned and so unloved by God? The reason is because, all his life he had heard much about God’s righteous judgment on sinners. But he had never heard that God is also the One who freely forgives. He had never heard that forgiveness of sins was an absolutely free gift! Everything that Martin Luther had ever been taught by the priests led him to believe that it is up to us to get right with God by virtue of our own good works…and Luther found himself completely unable! So, he was undone. And he hated this God whom he believed was so exacting and so unmerciful!

Perhaps this is the position some of you are in this very moment: hoping to get right with God through being good, and finding yourself incapable of being good! You are frustrated. You feel like God will never be satisfied and you will never measure up. And you find it very difficult to love a God like that!

If that is where you are, I have good news for you. After ten years of struggling, Martin Luther finally found hope and forgiveness. And he found it in Romans 1.16-17 where the apostle Paul writes:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first an also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, he who is righteous by faith shall live.
Luther discovered two important things as he studied these two verses:

1.It is the “gospel”—the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection—and not our good behavior, which “is the power of God for salvation.” We are saved by Jesus’ good works, not our own!

2. This salvation is available to “everyone who believes.” Or as verse 17 puts it, “He who is righteous by faith (as opposed to good works) shall live.” We become right with God, not by doing good works, but by believing in God’s Son!

Now, do you know what happens when we discover God’s mercy and grace toward sinners? Let’s let Luther describe it. Upon discovering the free gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, He said: “I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise!” When we realize that God wants to give us salvation as a free gift; and when, therefore, we stop trying to earn God’s favor, we gain peace with God. We no longer hate Him. We no longer see Him as our Condemner but as our Friend. We walk through open doors into paradise! That will happen for you today if you will but believe in God who saves the ungodly!

That is what happened for Martin Luther. And when he published his discovery on this date—October 31, 1517—God used this rediscovery of God’s free gift of salvation to begin a spiritual revival in which thousands of people found the same peace that Martin Luther found; the same peace that I hope each of you will find and share with others. Let’s pray that this would happen for someone today…

[1] This quote, the other quotes in this section, and the specifics of historical detail come from: Shelley, Bruce. Church History in Plain Language. (Dallas: Word, 1982), pages 238-239.

October 30, 2007

B.I.N.G.O. - Gambling, Common Sense, and the Bible

Tunica County, MS (where I ministered from 2000-2002), is one of the largest casino gaming communities in America. We Mississippians aren’t at the top of a lot of lists (not good ones anyway), but we seem to have developed gambling into an art form! So, living in that kind of community, it was easy to give powerful (although painful) illustrations if anyone ever asked about the propriety of gambling. Rampant crime, failed dreams, and broken lives were pretty easy to spot in the neon glow of Tunica. It was the girl next door, not the statistics in the paper, that helped persuade an open-eyed few of the ills of gambling.

Five years later, I find myself settled into another gambling hotbed—Cincinnati. No, the Ohio isn’t studded, like the Mississippi, with stapled-down casinos (although we do have one or two just a few miles away in Indiana). But Cincinnati is a place where Powerball, Pick 4, and other lottery tickets dominate the cash wrap at your local gas station. Cincinnati is on the outer fringe, too, of the nation’s biggest horse-racing hotbed. And Roman Catholic Cincinnati, to this deep southern boy, sometimes feels like one giant bingo hall. Gambling may be nearly as popular here as it was in Mississippi. It’s just much less glitzy; much more sedate; and thus, seemingly, much less problematic.

So in a place where gambling seems much more of a pass-time than a major industry (because there are no buildings and neon signs attached), people sometimes pose questions like:
Is gambling really wrong? How is it any different
than pumping money into a new plasma TV, or investing in the uncertainty of the
stock market?
Not the deepest spiritual questions our friends may ask, but worthy of answers, nonetheless. So what can we say about gambling…and more importantly, what does the Bible say about it? Well…nothing, directly. But there are some principles that keep most Bible-believing Christians away from the bingo halls and lottery tickets.

1. The problem of stewardship
Jesus teaches us (Matthew 25.18-30) that our money is not our own; that we are stewards of God’s resources, and that we shouldn’t bury them in the ground (much less pour them down the drain on Powerball…or at Circuit City)! Here our gambling friends have a point. It is just as wasteful to throw money away needless possessions as it is to drop it into those money sucking slot machines! But the solution is not to say gambling is no big deal…but to realize that all forms of wastefulness are sin…and to put down the credit card along with the bingo card!

2. The problem of addiction
The apostle Paul says (1 Corinthians 6.12): “I will not be mastered by anything.” Yet statistics and anecdotal evidence both say that gambling addiction is a major problem. As Alistair Begg says: “The gambling addict will gamble on anything. Two rain-drops are sliding down the windshield, and he says: ‘I’ll bet you the one on the right reaches the bottom first.’” The result of such compulsion? Crippling debt; empty dinner tables for children; addicted gamblers who attempt suicide 200 times more often than the average American; and spouses who do so 150 times more often than their peers. Is gambling worth that kind of gamble?

3. The problem of theft
Just listen to the advertisements purveyed by casinos and lottery commissions. Aren’t they designed to make the average Joe think he is destined to hit it big? It isn’t true. But it doesn’t have to be. The gambling industry and its higher-ups prey upon the ignorant, the foolish, and the desperate. Their industry is just a organized form of theft! And every dollar you and I plunk down supports their schemes. And not only are we party to these thieves, we are also their victims! For Proverbs 28.22 reminds us that “the man with an evil eye hastens after wealth and does not know that want will come upon him” (emphasis mine). That is just it! Gambling execs ply their trade—tantalizing you to “hasten after wealth”—to make money, not for you, but for themselves! And before many a gambler awakens to this fact, poverty, debt, and want have come upon him!

As an aside, the difference between gambling and investing is that Schwab and Northwestern Mutual are trying to make money, but not by deceiving you. Your investing consultant lays out for you percentages, projections, and history so that you can make an educated decision. But doesn’t the gambling industry do the opposite? They don’t give you the stats--because the facts would show that you are more likely to die in a plane crash than to hit it big at lotto. No, instead of stats, they show you Joey from Delhi who just won $10,000 on Powerball. Nevermind that, the day before, that $10,000 dollars belonged to a lot of other Joeys and Janes who are now a little poorer, and a little more addicted! So the difference between investing firms and gambling outfits is one of honesty, disclosure, and motive.

4. The problem of idolatry
Some people defend the lottery and bingo night because, they say, ‘the money goes to a good cause.’ Let’s not kid ourselves. If we were really concerned about causes—that public schools had enough books; that scholarships were funded; that The Sisters of the Poor were funded, we’d just outright give money to those causes. The reason people play bingo and the lottery is not for the sake of the schools, but for the thrill of gambling and the love of money! But isn’t the love of money “the root of all forms of evil” (1 Timothy 6.10)? And doesn’t Hebrews 13.5 teach us to “free from the love of money, being content with what you have, for He has said: ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’”?

According to Hebrews 13.5, the antidote to the love of money (and the gambling that grows from it) is trusting God—that He will take care of us; that He will never leave or forsake us! So then, for those who love money, money becomes a substitute for God! We love it more than Him. We pursue it more than holiness. We trust it more than we trust our heavenly Father. That is why we gamble!

Closing Advice
I believe gambling is one of those destructive habits that must be spoken against. Are you convinced? If so, let me urge you to speak to your friends in love. Sure—give them the reasons why gambling is so problematic; explain to them (from the Bible!) why it dishonors the Lord; urge them to trust Christ for their provisions—both here, and especially in the world to come. But, by all means, do so in love! For though you may be a convinced abstainer when it comes to the lottery, the casino, the bingo hall, and the track…you, too, need a Savior! So let us be sure, while we may see the silver shavings of a scratch-and-win lotto card in our friend’s eye, that we are also willing to take the log out of our own.

October 25, 2007


Every year at this time, someone asks the question: ‘Should Christians participate in Halloween?’ It is an important question…one that demands thoughtful and biblical answers. But as we open the Bible, we discover that it does not contain any direct teaching on the subject of Halloween. And for good reason—Halloween was not celebrated in the ancient Bible lands!

We do find, however, that early Christians had to deal with similar non-Christian holidays, festivals, and cultural traditions. So, if we want to think biblically about Halloween, we should study biblical passages in which the early Christians dealt with the issues of how to practice Christianity in a pagan culture. One such passage is 1 Corinthians 10.14-31. In this passage, Paul gives instructions to the church at Corinth as to how to relate to the pagan rituals and celebrations that were part and parcel of their Greek culture. Specifically, Paul offers guidance as to what the Corinthian Christians should do with the idol feasts that were as much a part of their tradition as Halloween, football, and the 4th of July are part of ours. And I think there is great wisdom in Paul’s word to the Christians at Corinth!

So, let’s read Paul’s counsel together, then draw some parallels to our modern Halloween dilemma. Read the entire article:

October 22, 2007

To do Good on the Sabbath

This past Sunday, I read Mark 3.1-6 during my morning devotion. It is the story of the Pharisees, as usual, trying to catch Jesus in one of their carefully laid booby traps. One Saturday morning, everyone is filing into the synagogue for service. And the Pharisees notice that a man with a shriveled hand wanders in beside them. They sit next to him in the pew, wanting to keep a close eye on him—not because they have any use for him themselves, but to see if Jesus notices him; and more importantly, to see if Jesus will ‘break the law’ (actually, their manmade additions to God’s law) and heal him on the Sabbath. You know the rest of the story. Jesus does heal the man…and asks this scathing question of the Pharisee spies (v.4): “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save life or to kill?”

Of course, the Pharisees were silent. They knew the right answer; but their religion wouldn’t allow them to even speak it, much less act on it.

And it occurred to me as I read that some of us may actually be sitting in the same pew as the Pharisees. Now there may be a few of us who understand that there is abiding significance to the Sabbath command, and who fall into the exact same legalistic trap as the Pharisees…unable to show compassion on the Lord’s Day because our religion—our misapplication of the fourth commandment—prevents it. But far larger, I think, is a group of folks who shrug the same heartless cold shoulders at the crippled man, if for only slightly different reasons.

How many of us come to church and always sit in the same old pew with the same old people? How many of us are so focused on our responsibilities, that we rarely take the time to notice the newcomer, the stranger, or the hurting? How many of us allow an ‘introverted personality’ to prevent us from seeking out and blessing the man with the shriveled hand? Not all of us, I am happy to say! But still too many.

Isn’t it easy to be so self-focused, so busy, so insensitive on Sunday mornings that we never notice the man with the shriveled hand; or the new couple sitting on the back pew; or the young man whose eyes are glazed with held back tears; or the mentally perplexed fellow who slips silently in and out; or the international who is lonely and confused in a strange land? Or maybe it is that we do notice, but our way of doing Sunday mornings just doesn’t allow us the time or energy to go too far out of the way to “do good on the Sabbath”—to feed them a meal, to offer to pray, to open the Scriptures to them, to do much more than shake their hand and say hello.

One has to wonder how many services the man with the shriveled hand sat through before Jesus showed up and cared for him. And we also have to ask ourselves how many Sundays we must spend, with the Pharisees, in the cushy pew of inactivity before we are willing to spend the energy to “do good on the Sabbath.”

Think about it. Have you been sitting, with the Pharisees, in the seat of unwelcoming inactivity? Will you begin come to church on the lookout for the man with the shriveled hand? And will you stop waiting to see if Jesus does good to him…and actually take your place as the hands and feet of Jesus and “do good on the Sabbath” yourself?

October 18, 2007

Money Well Spent...

Some of you have graciously supported Pastor's Training Institute-Ethiopia. Others have prayed. (And others may be moved to after reading this update). As you know Anthony is in a two year process of training Ethiopian men for the ministry.

Mind two facts: 1) He is working with the most biblical denomination in the country - a very theologically poor country. And 2) He is teaching relatively untrained men through translators who are the leaders of the denomination.

This week, he is teaching 75 potential pastors through the doctrines of sin and man. Here is a quote from his latest update:

My translator even commented today that he had never considered that sin was primarily against God. He said that he thought it only affected him and maybe his family.

WOW! Is the truth Anthony shares worth the money it costs to do it...and the prayers that uphold him? This quote proves the answer is YES, yes...a hundred times yes! This revelation alone is worth more to the kingdom of God in Ethiopia than all the gold in Fort Knox is to the economy of the world. Please be in continual prayer...and consider giving.

October 17, 2007

Welcome to Philadelphia

This week I read a brief but helpful internet article about Christian community (by Tim Challies). Within the article was a wonderful quote by a fellow named Charles Drew (author of A Journey Worth Taking). Speaking about our spiritual family, the church, Drew says:

We don’t choose our brothers and sisters—God does. And sometimes (oftentimes)
those people are not terribly compatible with us—not the people we would choose
to hang out with.

He goes on to explain that God builds churches out of not-so-similar people for a couple of really good reasons:

A) To teach us how to really love (it’s easy to love people who are just like me…a little more challenging the more different they are)

B) To demonstrate that the good news is for all sorts of people

I would add that God also intends His local churches to be, each one, a colorful mosaic of various races, backgrounds, ages, and socio-economic classes in order to show the power of the gospel to change the human heart.

What better way to demonstrate the reality of the new birth than for the people of God to be known—not mainly for their social or political stances, or their programs and preachers—but for how they love each other! And what better way for God to highlight the reality of this love than to stick a bunch of people together who would never, ever be friends apart from the gospel; people who, in their unbelieving days, would probably never even have crossed paths because of their racial, social, or economic status!

While the secular world squawks about cherishing diversity, it is rarely achieved on any grass-roots level. Sure, there may be little open racism happening on our streets. And yes, one has to study the French Revolution to observe true class wars. But, in 21st century America, white people still live in white neighborhoods. Black people tend to hang out with mostly black people. The upper-middle class make friends almost exclusively within their own circles. And when is the last time you heard of an unbelieving college student going to lunch with the retiree from down the street? In the world, people love those who look like, talk like, and come out of the same sociological shoots as them. But in the church…not so. In the church, the college student and the little old lady become sisters. In the church, the white mother of five and the young black couple become family.

The Bible word for this is philadelphia—brotherly love. And Paul says (1 Thess. 4.9) that this kind of love is taught the believer by God Himself. There are some things that the new Christian has to pick up as he matures—how to tithe, the difference between justification and sanctification, and so on. But love for fellow believers is like an instinct in those who are born again. Philadelphia is “taught by God” Himself.

So if you look around at your church and realize that there are more and more people who don’t exactly look like you—thank God for that! He’s teaching you how to really love. And He’s giving you an opportunity to demonstrate the power of the gospel to the on-looking, and happily homogeneous world. What a great place to be! Welcome to philadelphia!

October 15, 2007

But Now Apart from the Law

While our Sermon Archive is being revamped, I promised to post the Sunday manuscripts here. So, here is yesterday's...from Romans 3.19-26.

October 8, 2007


Is there an echo in here? Is there an echo in here?

I only hear myself talking. Tobey would tell you that is normal around the house. But in the blogosphere? I know you readers are out there. But I don't know who most of you are.

So, how about a roll-call. Who's out there? Do I know you? If not, give a little self-introduction. Maybe this will get everyone's fingers doing a little more walking in the comment section (which allows comments from non-bloggers, by the way).

If I don't hear from you, I'll just keep up the monlogue. I don't mind. Just ask Tobey.

No Playing in the Street!

‘Don’t ride your bike in the street.’ Those words of my mother still ring in my ears today. It was just too dangerous to leave me out there unsupervised. I didn’t like the rule. I wish I would have known Zechariah 8.5 back then: “The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.” Actually, maybe I don’t wish that! I don’t think my interpretation of it would have been all that great. Plus, I probably would have been in real danger of getting run over, just like mom said. And, more importantly, I might not ever have played in the street again if I’d have whipped out that verse in my usual smart-aleck tone!

So, if it’s not a zinger to pull out on your mother, what is Zechariah 8.5 about? Well, the book of Zechariah was written during a time of disarray in ancient Israel. Yes, the people had returned home from seventy years of exile in Babylon. But Jerusalem was still in ruins. The ancient walls were just a smattering of blocks and stones laying around the edge of town, looking more like a garden-edging than a fortification. Furthermore, the Temple had yet to be rebuilt. So sacrificial worship, the people’s daily reminder of their need for a Savior, had yet to be appropriately reinstituted. These were the big, obvious craters in the Jewish landscape.

There were other things missing, too. There weren’t many old people (8.4). Most of them must have died in exile or been physically incapable of making the return trip. Neither was there the familiar and healthy sound of playing children. The streets were just too dangerous for children. With the protective city walls down, the streets of Jerusalem were fair game for wild animals and for foreign agitators. More significantly, perhaps, the spiritual walls had been broken down. The people had left the Temple languishing—a sign of their spiritual apathy. They weren’t all that interested in getting the gospel message that the Temple and its sacrifices would have daily afforded them. And when a culture’s spiritual walls are broken, the streets are no place for children. Kidnappers, pedophiles, and uncaring travelers all posed a threat to playing children. So mother’s had to keep them close by their sides, not letting them play freely for fear of what might happen to them. Sound familiar?

Can anyone debate that modern American cities are much like ancient Israel? What responsible city mom feels comfortable turning her little ones into the front yard to play unobserved? Tobey and I sure don’t. Our rules are stricter than my parents' were! That is the one thing we lament about living in the city—we will likely never be able to allow Andrew and Julia to play outside in the yard unsupervised—and this isn’t even a ‘dangerous neighborhood’! So what is the solution? Neighborhood Watch? A privacy fence? More police and less crime? All of those may be stop-gap measures. But I believe the real answer lies in Zechariah 8.3: “Thus says the LORD, ‘I will return to Zion and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.” And then “The streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls playing in the streets.” When we have a real spiritual awakening—when the LORD Jesus comes to Cincinnati—then all sorts of things will change, first of all lives! And what will be a happy (albeit minor) sign that lives are changing? The sound of “boys and girls playing in the streets!”

October 4, 2007


Every now and again, someone will ask me about Hebrews 6.4-6: ‘Does this passage teach that a believer can lose his salvation?’ Read it:

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of
the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have
tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have
fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they
again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

What do you think? Do these verses teach that a person may lose his salvation? At first glance, they certainly seem to, don’t they? The author speaks of those who:
  • Have once been enlightened
  • Have tasted of the heavenly gift
  • Have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit
  • Have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come

That certainly sounds like a Christian, doesn’t it? And what follows certainly sounds like some of these very people may have fallen away! So looking at those three verses, it certainly seems as though the author of Hebrews is referring to true believers who have lost their salvation. And that would have to be the only conclusion we could come to…if Hebrews 6.4-6 was the only Scripture we possessed on this matter. But Hebrews 6.4-6 is not all we have. In fact, we have Hebrews 6.9 where this same author, in the same paragraph, says:

But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things
that accompany salvation, though we speak in this way.

In other words, those who truly possess salvation can expect something better than what is described in verses 4-6. They can expect not to fall away! This great Christian hope is taught elsewhere in the Scripture, too:

He who began a good work in you will be faithful to
complete it
(Philppians 1.6)

Those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to
become conformed to the image of His Son…and these whom He predestined He also
called; and these whom He called He also justified; and these whom He justified
He also glorified.
(Romans 8.29-30)

Clearly God promises to finish in glorification what He begins in justification! So what is Hebrews 6.4-6 about? It is a stern warning to pretenders in the church. It is a warning that it is possible to…
  • Understand the gospel
  • Experience some of the emotional relief that the gospel brings
  • Live under the influence of the Spirit on the church
  • Be well taught in the Scriptures

…and yet not be, ultimately, trusting in Jesus. And what is so scary is that those who live under these influences and ultimately reject the Savior are done for—it is impossible to renew them to repentance. So, if you’re trusting Jesus…be assured; but if you’re playing church…be warned.

September 24, 2007

Help Wanted

No, I am not hiring anyone. But I do want your help. Pastor's Training Institute Round 3 happens in less than three weeks and, so far, only about 35 of the 75 pastor-trainees have been financially sponsored.

That leaves 40 Ethiopian men in need of room and board at $40.00 apiece. Can you help? Please send your gift as soon as possible, earmarked "PTI-3" to:

Christ Community Church
P. O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

"Beloved, you are acting faithfully in whatever you accomplish for the brethren, and especially when they are strangers; and they have testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their way in a manner worthy of God. For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth." 3 John 5-8 (emphases mine)

Silly Birds

A couple of weekends ago, some neighbors invited our family to a pig roast (yeah, we have those in the city!). While the children played and the pig did his version of The Twist over an open flame, I struck up a conversation with one of the guests. From Switzerland, my new friend was quite a pleasure to talk to. We spoke of geography, language, culture…and religion. And, during what was a really constructive discussion of Christ and the Bible, he volunteered the following observation:

I wouldn’t so much consider myself religious. My wife and I go to
church a few times a year. But, quite honestly, the church we go to seems
phony. People come in, and then they go out just the same as they
were. There is no challenge. They are giving me the word of God
through all sorts of video presentations; there is a rock band playing music;
everything seems to happen on stage…like a show. I don’t need that.
I can go to the symphony orchestra if I want to see a performance.

Wow! What an indictment. Plastic religion. All the things that church leaders think will attract crowds of lost people have actually turned off this very successful and well-put-together 30-something. He went on to describe his attendance at a little Protestant church as he grew up in Switzerland. I’m not sure what that church believed. But the people all knew one another. The preacher was a normal guy just trying to teach the Bible, not come across as slick and innovative. The songs were actually sung by the congregation. It was probably the opposite of cool. But it held (and still holds) a strange attraction for this young secular professional.

I invited him to Pleasant Ridge. I think he might just find what he needs right here in this simple group of people. I don’t know if he will come, but I do know his comments helped me tremendously. They reminded me that substance always wins over style. And they got me thinking about Hosea 7.11: “So Ephraim has become like a silly bird, without sense; they call to Egypt, they go to Assyria.”

Ephraim (Israel) had become silly! Instead of being the wise nation that pagans came to when they needed help or guidance (as they had been in the days of David), now the people of God were copying their unbelieving neighbors. ‘What can we find among the Gentiles that will make us successful? What can we do to get them to like us?’ Doesn’t that sound like contemporary American churches? Always seeking to become like the world—so they will like us. Polling the world about what would make church more interesting. Taking the marketing tactics of the business world and Hollywood and dressing them up in Christian clothes…and, in many cases, coming off quite ‘successfully.’ But—to those who are actually looking for substance (like my Swiss friend)…and especially to God, who sees the end from the beginning…we look like so many silly birds, flitting excitedly from one branch to another, but never actually building a nest.

Remember that the next time you’re trying to build a gospel friendship. Unbelievers don’t need (nor do they really want) a church friends who are trying to be happening and likeable. They need a church family that will be strangely, but lovingly and wonderfully, different…and challenging!

September 14, 2007

7th Commandment Links

Here are some of the resources I am pointing our folks to in regards to the command: "You shall not commit adultery":

September 13, 2007

Preaching as Duet, Part 2

Last week we considered preaching as a duet. True preaching, we said, is not simply God speaking to man; it is also God speaking through a man. And, by the same token, true preaching is not merely a man speaking about God; it is also a man speaking from God. In preaching, there are parts that only God can sing. But there are also parts that only the preacher can sing. And if either part is missing, it will be poor preaching. Having considered the part of the preacher a week ago, let’s now think (from 1 Thessalonians 1.5) about the part that God, the lead vocalist in the preaching duet, must sing. Again, here is the text of 1 Thessalonians 1.5:

Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy
Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to
be among you for your sake.

So, what parts of the preaching duet can only be sung by God?
If the preacher is singing a solo, the people will go away unmoved. His unaided voice is simply not strong enough to stir the heart. What we need is for the strong voice of God to fill the room…so that the preacher seems almost to be singing only background vocals.

First, we need Him to open our hearts. In 1 Thessalonians 1.4, Paul reminds the Thessalonians of God’s “choice” of them. As was the case with Lydia (Acts 16.14), we need the Lord to open our hearts to the things spoken by the preacher! If He does not do so…the preaching will fall on deaf spiritual ears…and only serve as a witness against us at the judgment seat. But if the word is to benefit us, we need God’s help in hearing! Every Sunday, we need Him, as it were, to place a spiritual hearing aid in our ears that would isolate and magnify His voice amid the din of worldly distractions.

Beyond that, the preacher needs God’s help, too! He needs to preach “in power and in the Holy Spirit”—and only God can make that happen! The preacher cannot control the moving of the Spirit any more than the weather man can control the wind! So God the Spirit must choose to join the duet! And we (preacher and congregation) must plead with Him that He would!

But what does it mean to preach “in power and in the Holy Spirit”? Is all preaching done that way? If so, Paul would have had no need to call attention to the fact that his preaching held these characteristics. So it is possible to preach without the Spirit and without power. So, rather than assuming that because we have a Bible preacher, he must be preaching with power…let’s ask (with an intent to pray): What does Paul really mean when he says he preached “in power and in the Holy Spirit”?

Here is what I believe Paul means. Preaching “in power and in the Holy Spirit” seems to refer to God’s granting of an unusual weight, force, or power in preaching that is not present in even the best merely human oratory. There is preaching where the mind is informed (and that is important!). But then there is preaching where the mind is informed and the soul, the will, the emotions are stirred…and lasting fruits result. That is when God has added His rich baritone to the song! That is when we have heard true preaching. And that is what we need to pray for!

September 6, 2007

Preaching as a Duet

A few weeks back (from 1 Thessalonians 1.5), I emphasized that preaching is a duet. In other words, true preaching is not simply God speaking to man; it is also God speaking through a man. And, by the same token, true preaching is not merely a man speaking about God; it is also a man speaking from God. So preaching is a duet. There are parts that only God can sing. But there are also parts that only the preacher can sing. And if either part is missing, it will be poor preaching. Over the next two weeks, I want you to think that through with me. Begin with a reading of 1 Thessalonians 1.5:

Our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy
Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to
be among you for your sake.

So, how is preaching a duet? What parts must the preacher sing? And what parts can only God sing?

First…what part must the preacher sing?
Yes preaching is mainly about God speaking. But there are parts that the preacher must play. He must, first of all, preach the word. “Paul’s gospel did not come…in word only”; but it did come “in word”! Paul did have to speak (so preaching is still vitally important in this entertainment oriented age). And Paul did have to preach the “word”. This is how God chooses to speak through a man—when that man speaks from the revealed word—the Bible!

The preacher’s part is also to preach “with full conviction.” He must really mean what he says. He must cherish it. He must believe it and be willing to act on it. And He must preach it passionately! Does that mean that every preacher needs to be a screamer? I hope not! But it does mean that preaching is not merely the passing along of information. Preaching includes emotion…passion…concern for souls…love…“full conviction.”

Finally, the preacher must join the duet by preaching through his example. “You know what kind of men we proved to be” says Paul. A preacher who does not preach to himself and live what he preaches may not completely cancel the show…but his off-key living will make the duet sound quite distorted; and sometimes may be so distracting that people don’t hear the lead vocalist!

Next week, we’ll come back to consider God, the lead vocalist in the preaching duet. Until then, would you pray with me that the preaching you hear this Sunday morning will be from the word, with full conviction, and backed with a holy lifestyle?

August 25, 2007

Ethiopian Pastor's Training (Re-post)

Just wanted to bump this back to the top of the page...

Hey all. It's time for another friendly reminder that the kingdom of God is spreading in Ethiopia...and you have a chance to participate in the advance! Anthony Mathenia, as some of you know, is heading up Pastor's Training Institute - working with 75 Ethiopian potential pastors whom we hope to, eventually, send two-by-two to unreached provinces and villages to plant Bible-believing, Christ-centered churches! In October, Anthony will begin teaching round 3 of this eight-part, two-year course.

How can you help? Well, it takes $40.00 (US) to transport, feed, and house each one of these precious men for the two weeks of training. Do you have forty (or five, or eighty, or four hundred) bucks you can spare between now and October 1?

Here's what you can do...

If you are a Pleasant Ridgite, just put the money in our Sunday offering, made out to the church, and clearly earmarked PTI ETHIOPIA.

All others can make a check out to Christ Community Church, earmark it for PTI ETHIOPIA, and mail the check to:

Christ Community Church
P. O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

Thank you! And may His kingdom come and His will be done in Ethiopia, as it is in heaven!

August 24, 2007

Cosmic Child Abuse? (Conclusion)

Below are some final thoughts on how to respond to a person who doesn't believe in penal substitution. See part 1, for a synopsis of this view, and parts 2 and 3 for my initial responses to it. 

5. Prove that penal substitution is the only theory of Jesus’ death which makes sense.  There is nothing new under the sun. In 1888, William Blaikie was combating the same problems we face today. Here is what he had to say about the denial of the atonement:
If the death of Jesus Christ on the cross was not demanded as a sacrifice for
sin, it was a crowning instance of the miscarriage of justice. People talk
of the immorality of the atonement; punishment they say is for the guilty, and
rewards only for the righteous: you never can be justified in punishing the
innocent and acquitting the guilty. Yet according to their view, the best
of all the human race suffered a shameful and cruel death, was the victim of the
most miserable injustice; and this fact, instead of horrifying men, is expected
to impress them above everything else with respect for the government of God,—it is to make such an impression on them as will rectify all the disorders of their
moral nature. Would it not have been infinitely better, if the purpose of
Jesus Christ in visiting our world was merely to afford a pattern for
self-sacrifice, that he should have lived through the whole term of human life,
exemplifying at its every stage the spirit of self-denying love, and showing how
even to hoar [gray] hairs life might be made beautiful by a pure devotion to
duty, and diffuse to its very close the fragrance of myrrh and aloes of
cassia? Why cut short a life before it was well begun that might have been
so useful? The truth is, the Cross of Christ is an utter mystery—is more
than a mystery—without the atonement.

To put that into my words…If God sent Jesus to die merely to teach us how to love; to show His triumph over Satan; and to inspire us to follow hard after God—(I say it reverently) that might be considered cruel. Because He could have done all these things without dying in blood and agony! If Jesus died for any lesser purpose than to bridge the gap between a holy God and sinful mankind; to pay the penalty that our sins deserve; to open heaven’s door to the undeserving—(I say it reverently) that might be considered a cosmic injustice!

Yes, Jesus’ death did accomplish a variety things. But the main thing it accomplished was the sacrificial payment of the full debt incurred by our sins. In fact, that accomplishment provides the foundation for all the other achievements of the cross! For the cross teaches us to love sacrificially precisely because it was an act of sacrificial love itself. The cross inspires us to follow Christ because He accomplished something incomparable in His death. And the cross shows forth Christ’s victory over Satan because, at the cross, Satan’s chief accomplishment (bringing sin into the world) is undermined! For all these reasons, the cross simply has to be primarily about penal substitution.

So, thank God that Jesus died in our place! Thank God that He “so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Thank God that “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” That God that Jesus willingly laid down His life for the sheep. For “without the shedding of blood” (Hebrews 9.22), “there is no forgiveness.”

August 23, 2007

Cosmic Child Abuse? (Cont'd again)

This is part 3 of a four part series on how the believer should respond to a person who believes that the theory is false and even brutal that Jesus died under the wrath of God in the place of sinners. See part 1, for a synopsis of this view, and part 2 for my initial responses to it.

So, how do we respond to the denial of penal substitution?

3. Demonstrate that a sin-payment was necessary. If God’s settled purpose is to punish sin (and it is, Romans 1.18, Romans 6.23); and if God settled purpose is also to save sinners (and it is, 1 Timothy 2.4)…then the only way those two purposes can be brought together is if someone, who is not himself guilty, is willing and able to take the sins of others upon himself and pay the penalty. If we take the Bible seriously, then this is the only option with which we are left. God can either punish us for our sins…or He can punish another. And those who would wish to deny the idea of penal substitution must be shown this.

When that happens, we will likely discover that their real problem is not with the atonement itself. Their real problem is a cavalier attitude toward sin. The reason why people are outraged by the idea of atonement is because they don’t really think God should be all that angry! ‘If God is God’, the argument goes, ‘He can just forgive our sins. He doesn’t need all this blood and gore.’ The only reason we could ever think that God can ‘just forgive our sins’, with no justice required, is because we don’t understand how serious sin is! We don’t understand that, in our consistent rebellion, we have put our middle-finger, as it were, in God’s face. And thus, we don’t think that God has a right or reason to be all that upset about it.

Not until we understand the depths of our sin will we understand the need for the atonement.

4. Explain that God’s will is multi-layered
Part of the argument against penal substitution is built on the idea that it is unjust. ‘How can a just God punish the innocent, and let the guilty go free?’ Here is where our debate is most serious. Because our opponents are, at this point, asking a very good question. How can a God of justice seemingly invert justice by punishing sinless Jesus and letting the guilty go free? It seems like a grand miscarriage of justice, doesn’t it? And on a human plane, it would be. But we must remember that the ways and will of God are complex.

God has both a moral will (what ought to be) and a sovereign will (what will be). And sometimes, for good and wise purposes, God allows for—even plans for—His immediate moral will to be transgressed so that His sovereign will may be carried out. For instance, God allowed—even planned for—His moral will to be transgressed by Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 37). But Genesis 50.20 reminds us that God orchestrated this immediate transgression of His moral will for the long-term good of His people (which is why He cannot be called the author of evil)—“God meant it (not turned it…meant it!) for good”!

The same thing happened at the cross. No one will argue the fact that Jesus died undeservingly.  In a very real sense, Jesus’ death in the place of sinners was an inversion of justice. But God’s will is complex. In this case, He planned (Acts 2.23) what was, immediately, against His moral will…in order to accomplish His sovereign will of saving sinners!

So, to say that God was acting unjustly in sending Christ to die in our place is not only ungrateful; it also reveals an inadequate understanding of God. Simply put, God is wiser and more sophisticated than we are. His will and ways are more finely contoured than ours. He can, on the one hand, inflict pain; and, on the other hand, say that He doesn’t like doing so (Lamentations 3.33). And He can, on the one hand, punish the innocent (punish Himself, mind you) and acquit the ungodly; and, on the other hand, be completely just in doing so (Romans 3.25-26). He is God!

Let me summarize, then, what we have seen so far. The denial of penal substitution stems from a low view of the Bible; a low view of the nature of Christ; a low view of the nature of sin; and a low view of the nature of God. Tommorrow, one final piece of advice in discussing this subject with a skeptic…

Cosmic Child Abuse? (Cont'd)

This is part 2 of a four part series on how the believer should respond to a person who believes that the theory is false and even brutal that Jesus died under the wrath of God in the place of sinners. See part 1, for a synopsis of this view.

So, how do we respond to the denial of penal substitution?

1. Show that penal substitution is what the Bible teaches
As unsophisticated as this seems, this is where we must begin and end—by simply showing folks what the Bible says. Let me give you a few examples:
  • Isaiah 53.6 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.
  • Romans 3.25 Whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.
  • 2 Corinthians 5.21 He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
  • 1 Peter 2.24 He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross.

Those who deny penal substitution must be shown that, to do so, they must also throw out their Bibles.

2. Remind them that Christ died willingly
To say that the penal substitution theory makes God appear cruel or abusive simply makes no sense in light of what we know about Jesus. First of all, Jesus was a grown man when He went to the cross—and He went quite willingly (John 10.18). This understanding of the cross isn’t a picture of the Father dragging an unwilling, but helpless, boy up to a hill-top and sacrificing him in cold blood. Rather, it is a picture of a grown Man voluntarily (and lovingly) laying down His life for his bride, the church!

Furthermore, let us not forget that the grown Man who laid down His life for His bride was (and is) none other than the second person of the Trinity! Penal substitution is not a case of an all-powerful God pouring out His wrath toward sinners upon a poor, pitiful (mere) human being. Rather, it is about God becoming a human being so that He could pour out His wrath on Himself!

So, those who criticize the Bible’s teaching on penal substitution must not only be shown that their view of the Bible is faulty…but also that their view of Christ is too low. Calling this theory of the atonement ‘child abuse’ portrays Jesus as nothing more than a weak-minded, pathetic, mere mortal who got caught in a trap. Nothing could further from the truth!

More tommorrow...

Cosmic Child Abuse?

A new catch-phrase has crept into theological lingo: Cosmic Child Abuse.* This is what some ‘evangelicals'  are calling the traditional, evangelical view of the death of our Lord Jesus. Cosmic child abuse! Why? The idea that Jesus died to appease the wrath of an angry God, it is claimed, portrays God as vicious, cruel, bloodthirsty, abusive…and unjust. The line of thinking goes something like this:
‘You want me to believe that God brutally killed His own Son in order to absorb
the penalty of someone else’s sins? Not only is that cruel, it is a
miscarriage of justice! It is not fair to punish anyone for the crime of
another—least of all God’s own Son. If this is what God were like, He
would be guilty of cosmic child abuse.’
Now it is important to note that those who think this way are not denying the reality of the death of Jesus. They are simply misplacing the emphasis—and doing so badly. But they affirm (with evangelicals), for example, that Jesus died as a perfect example of sacrificial love; and that His death demonstrated His triumph over the forces of Satan. They affirm these aspects of the death of Christ, however, without affirming the one accomplishment that the New Testament makes most central—namely that Christ’s died, absorbing the penalty of God’s wrath, as a substitute for sinners. Theologians call that aspect of the atonement penal substitution. And evangelical theologians have always understood penal substitution to be the central accomplishment of the cross.

I believe this misplaced emphasis leads to a final denial of the biblical gospel. And, I believe that it may represent one of the biggest theological challenges of our time. Why? Because it is so subtle. Most teachers who are uncomfortable with penal substitution aren’t brave enough to call it cosmic child abuse. What do they do instead? Simply de-emphasize the atonement. They talk about Jesus the Master; Jesus the Physician; Jesus the Counselor; Jesus the Leader; and Jesus the Friend…but never Jesus the dying Savior. And all of those things sound good (because they are true!). But the untrained ear may hear these several good things without realizing that the main thing—for Paul, the only thing (1 Corinthians 2.2)—is completely missing! It sounds good when someone portrays the Christian life as a great mountain expedition…with Jesus as the expert guide. But if that is all Jesus is, we are in deep trouble. Because the guide can only show the way. He cannot, however, carry us up the mountain. And that is what we weak, miserable sinners so desperately need—a Savior who can do for us what we could never do! And that is the point of the atonement! In His death, Christ was doing for us what we could never do—bridging the gap between us and God by paying the full price to cover our debt of sin.

Now, having said all that…what shall we do? Well, those of us who are in leadership need to make sure we teach, teach, teach about the cross of Christ and all its implications—especially penal substitution. This is the only message that can save.

But a church member recently asked me what a lay-person can do (and say) when conversing with someone who has bought into the cosmic child abuse theory (or something along the same lines, but maybe less in-your-face). How do we defend, as it were, penal substitution? The next couple or three days (probably over the course of three more posts)...I will try to provide some answers.
Stay tuned.

*The hotbed of the current discussion, and apparent source of the term "cosmic child abuse," is Steve Chalke's book, The Lost Message of Jesus.  Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004.  Full disclosure: I have not read the book, and do not recommend it.  In these articles I am not interacting with Chalke's book, but with the idea that the teaching penal substitution is somehow cruel and unbiblical.

August 21, 2007

Calvin, Hobbes, Bumber Stickers, and Jesus

Among others, Tim Challies linked today to a very thought-provoking essay by Fred Sanders. Sander's initial subject is Calvin and Hobbes cartoonist Bill Watterson - and his insistence not to allow his comic strip to be turned into merchandise (boxer shorts, bumper stickers, etc.). Here's why, according to Watterson:
The humor is situational, and often episodic. It relies on conversation, and the development of per­sonalities and relationships. These aren’t concerns you can wrap up neatly in a clever little saying for people to send each other or to hang up on their walls. To explore character, you need lots of time and space. Note pads and coffee mugs just aren’t appropriate vehicles for what I’m trying to do here. I’m not interested in removing all the subtlety from my work to condense it for a product.

Sanders goes on the observe:
If you want to make a statement about people in relationships over time, you had better not try saying it on a t-shirt or bumper sticker. Communicators need to understand their message well enough, organically enough, to pick an appropriate medium for getting it across...[This is] why the Christian message seems so bizarre and irrelevant when it is communicated via slogans, marketing campaigns, fashion, and advertising knick-knacks.

He then works to a conclusion with this rousing quote from the late, great Keith Green:
It pains me to see the beautiful truths of Scripture being plastered about like beer advertisements. Many think it is wise to “get the word out” in this way but, believe that we are really just inoculating the world with bits and pieces of truth - giving them their “gospel shots.” (And we’re making it hard for them to “catch” the real thing!) People become numb to the truth when we splash our gaudy sayings in their eyes at every opportunity. Do you really think this is “opening them up to the Gospel”? Or is it really just another way for us to get smiles, waves, and approval from others in the “born-again club” out in the supermarket parking lot, who blow their horns with glee when they see your “Honk if you love Jesus!” bumper sticker?

The whole essay is worth your time...and thought.

Ethiopian Pastor's Training, Round 3

Hey all. It's time for another friendly reminder that the kingdom of God is spreading in Ethiopia...and you have a chance to participate in the advance! Anthony Mathenia, as some of you know, is heading up Pastor's Training Institute - working with 75 Ethiopian potential pastors whom we hope to, eventually, send two-by-two to unreached provinces and villages to plant Bible-believing, Christ-centered churches! The training consists of eight two-week training modules (the next ones being October of 2007 and January of 2008).

How can you help? Well, it takes $40.00 (US) to transport, feed, and house each one of these precious men for the two weeks of training. Do you have forty (or five, or eighty, or four hundred) bucks you can spare ? Here's what you can do...

If you are a Pleasant Ridgite, just put the money in our Sunday offering, made out to the church, and clearly earmarked PTI ETHIOPIA.

All others can make a check out to Christ Community Church, earmark it for PTI ETHIOPIA, and mail the check to:
Christ Community Church
P. O. Box 795
New Albany, MS 38652

Thank you! And may His kingdom come and His will be done in Ethiopia, as it is in heaven!