Monday, May 31, 2010

Preachers, What Are You Against?

Every man of God who is to stand behind a pulpit and declare the oracles of God must be for something because any herald is the advocate of the King's message. He must faithfully and forcefully deliver the burden of the Lord to the people. He must be for the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and all divine doctrine, otherwise he is a worthless preacher who is, at the least, just wasting everyone's time and, at the worst, dragging his hearers toward hell.
May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. (2 Peter 1:2-4 ESV)
However, that is not the end of his sermon's content. The preacher must preach against things, too. He must take a stand—a direct, hard, no nonsense and politically incorrect stand—against anything that would cause the saints to slip back into perdition if indulged in:
For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV)

O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called "knowledge," for by professing it some have swerved from the faith. Grace be with you. (1 Timothy 6:20-21 ESV)

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (2 Peter 2:20-21 ESV)
If preachers don't warn their hearers of what will spiritually destroy them then they aren't doing their job. Allow me to give a hilarious and hyperbolic quotation from a book, Seeing Him Who Is Invisible, by the late Jack Hyles, a King-James-Only independent Baptist preacher and "Fightin' Fundamentalist":
Show me anybody in the Bible worth his weight in salt who wasn't hated by the crowd. There wasn't one socially popular character in all the Bible! Abel was killed by his brother. Noah was hated by his people and could get but seven converts in preaching 120 years. Joseph was sold into slavery. Moses was hated by his family and his race. Elijah was chased until he thought he was the only one. Elisha was hated and called "bald head." The more hair I lose, the more I appreciate Elisha. He was the first bald-headed Baptist preacher boy! Isaiah preached to deaf ears. Jeremiah was a weeping prophet. Daniel was put in the lions' den. The Hebrew children were put in the fiery furnace. David was chased by Saul. John the Baptist lost his head. Peter was crucified upside down. Stephen was stoned ;outside the gates. Paul was left for dead outside Lystra. John was exiled on Patmos. James was martyred. Jesus Christ was put to Calvary!

How in the name of common sense do you think you can walk the streets of this world, in your city, in your town and have folks think you are a nice fellow? You can't be a master mason, president of the Lions Club, pray at every dog show that comes into town and be the kind of preacher you ought to be. We need some John the Baptists again who will rise up in our town and call folks to repent. When you walk down the streets in your city, folks ought to spit at you, make fun of you, laugh at you. I don't mean because you want them to spit at you, but because you hold forth the banner of Calvary, the blood, the Book, the blessed hope, and fight sin, exalt Jesus Christ, and fight the things you ought to fight. I don't care where you live--they will hate you. The Bible says, "The servant is not greater than his Lord" (John 13:16). They hated Jesus and nailed Him to Calvary; they spat upon Him and plucked out His beard. Are you better than He is?

I tell my people that I want it to be so in my town that when folks drive by my church they get rebuked by looking at the building. One lady told me, "We have to drive by your church to go to work every morning, but we drive around the block to miss it." I asked, "Why?" Her reply, "We don't even want to be reminded of you."

When I walk down the street in my town and people look at me, I want them to think about the sin they are committing or have committed. I want their sin rebuked by my very presence. I often say, "When you come to Garland and mention Jack Hyles, you duck or pucker--one or the other!" You'll get hit in the mouth or kissed, I'll guarantee you for sure.

We've got the idea nowadays that a preacher is like a lawyer. The most respected folks in town--the doctor, the lawyer, and the preacher. That's the Devil's lie. There was a day when preachers ran for their lives, yet we say we're premillennialists and we say the world is getting worse. If the world is getting worse, why aren't we running for our lives? It seems to me that our churches ought to fight sin and stand against modernism and sin and unrighteousness until folks will think we are screwballs, fanatics, cranks, and fools for Christ. Yet those of us who are fundamentalists nowadays have gotten so soft. Talk about "Yesterday's fundamentalists" and "second generation fundamentalists." The last generation of fundamentalists started churches in garages and tents and brush arbors and fought the city council and fought the school board. They fought for all they got. They were hated and misunderstood and laughed at. Now we have doctors' degrees and we are Rev. Hyles and Dr. Rice, Dr. Malone.

We've got Doctor of Divinity and Doctor This and Rev. This and Brother This! Our preachers have gotten so respectable we can walk down the streets in our city and folks look at us and say, "There goes a good man." The bootleggers in my town ought not to like me. The modernists ought not to like me! Some of you preachers say, "I appreciate Dr. Rice. He's gotten his name ruined in many places because of his stand." Pray tell me, why don't you go to your own little town of 500 or 1,000 and take the same stand--have the same reputation locally he has nationally? The Bible says, "Woe be unto you when all men speak well of you" (Luke 6:26), and "If I pleased men I should not be the servant of God" (Gal. 1:10). We're afraid somebody will think we're different or won't like us and we won't be respected in our town.

You say, "Brother Hyles, I don't believe in sticking your tongue out at everybody." I don't either--just at some. I'll tell you one thing: we dead sure need more fighting going on in our churches. A man yesterday said, "How do you get folks to come to your church?" I said, "I just stay in a scrap all the time. Anybody will come to watch a good fight."

A man said not long ago, "Jack, how do you get a crowd to come to hear you?" I said, "Just get against a bunch of stuff and preach against it. That's the way to do it." Like I said last year, if you can't be against anything else, preach against Hershey bars! I mean just get a series of sermons on Hershey bars and get up there and act like you mean it. Don't get up there and say, "The trouble with our country is too many Hershey bars." Boy, get up there and say, "BROTHER, THE THING THAT IS WRONG WITH OUR COUNTRY IS THAT OUR TEETH ARE ROTTING OUT BECAUSE OF THE SUGAR IN HERSHEY BARS, AND WE NEED MORE FOLKS WHO WILL FIGHT HERSHEY BARS!"

I'll guarantee you one thing--your house will be filled!
Do I believe preachers should harangue against chocolate bars? Of course not! I shared this over-the-top quotation simply to make the point that some preachers, for fear of not being popular, won't stand for the hard truths of the Bible or stand against the popular but wrong misconceptions of their day. This is tragic and an adulteration of their God-ordered mandate to declare all of the oracles of God. To be faithful witness of the Truth we must constantly declare to others what we believe...and sometimes bluntly tell others what we don't believe (and neither should they).

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Remembering on Memorial Day

Yesterday I went "decorating" with my parents; that is, we visited the graves of loved ones and placed flowers at the sites. While looking at different tombstones at a country cemetery I came across the the name of a woman I didn't recognize. However, the epitaph engraved on her stone gave me pause. I snapped a picture of the saying with my cell phone. The last line didn't turn out so clearly on my picture but the epitaph ran closely like this:

As you are now so once was I
As I am now so you must be
Prepare for death to follow me

Rather haunting, isn't it? (No pun intended.) It demands circumspection here to prepare for the hereafter.

Because of the Fall humans are notoriously adept at focusing on the trivial, the temporal and and sinful and scandalously lax about contemplating the important, the eternal and the holy. Indeed, without the Holy Spirit's conviction nobody would focus on the things leading to eternal life.

In such a worldly atmosphere the Apostle Paul honored Timothy:
Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions [doctrines] even as I delivered them to you.  (1 Corinthians 11:2 ESV)
A sad fact of life remains that unless vigilance is kept up the "Second Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics" strikes: good, moral, ethical Christian things corrode and corrupt in time; the system of order breaks down into entropy: chaos, heresy and sin.

1. Conservative churches, denominations and seminaries become liberal, even heretical
2. The patriarch’s religion, morals, ethics and values become lost on the children or grandchildren

What is the only way to keep the entropy—according to the Second Law of Spiritual Thermodynamics—from increasing? Paul supplies the answer to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17 ESV)
May we never forget it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Faith vs. Fatalism

I was a member of a camp team for Mid-America Christian University back in the summer of 1991. We were serving in one Church of God (Anderson) youth camp when an interesting thing happened. During the week the camp received an urgent prayer request about a lady, apparently well known in the state we were visiting for the week, was gravely ill. The camp took to serious prayer for her divine healing.

After the service I was back in my cabin along with the boys I was counselor to during the camp. One camper didn't understand all of the fuss over the lady's sickness. In his teenage theology God was going to heal her or he wasn't. There wasn't any need to get worked up about it. It was all up to God one way or the other.


I think it's rather easy to see this young man's mistake. The apostle Paul didn't believe in such indifference when it came to prayer. He wanted to see the Thessalonians again and he exerted much energy in prayer:
as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith? (1 Thessalonians 3:10 ESV)
Paul didn't say, "Look, either it's God's will that I visit you or it's not. I'll just breathe a quick prayer and be done with it. I'm sure not going to lose any sleep over it." No, he felt the need to keep praying although he knew God never forgets his prayers.

There is another kind of fatalism. This variety so believes in God's sovereignty (which, in general, is good) that it refuses to believe that God's purposes can be thwarted whatsoever (which, in general, is bad). It can be called a Standing on the Promises Fatalism, a belief that a concern prayed over in faith will unfold according to God's will, must unfold according to God's will. Here is an example:

I prayed for that job. If God wants me to have it he will overrun the will of the supervisor who does the hiring. The boss has no say in the matter—he will fall in line with God's thinking (even though he probably will think it was his idea all along). Therefore, if I get the job it was God's will I have it; if I don't then it wasn't God's will that I work there.

What is wrong with this scenario? It ignores the human factor, the reality that it may be God's will that I get the job but the supervisor may not listen to the Holy Spirit. He may hire the wrong person due to faulty logic (or nepotism, or whatever else). I may be the man for the job but not get it because the boss didn't make the right decision.

Yes, I believe that God's sovereignty wins in the long term but I believe it can be "frustrated" in the short term. Listen to God's own misgivings:
I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks; who sit in tombs, and spend the night in secret places; who eat pig's flesh, and broth of tainted meat is in their vessels; who say, "Keep to yourself, do not come near me, for I am too holy for you." These are a smoke in my nostrils, a fire that burns all the day. (Isaiah 65:2-5 ESV)
God's own covenant people kept rejecting him! Was this his will? Well, we see how this failure fell under the watchful eye of his sovereignty, yes, but was it his immediate desire that his people reject him? No! God's will was for their obedience but his people's will was for their paganism. Consider a New Testament example, one that came from the lips of an exasperated and heartbroken Christ:
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, 'Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'" (Luke 13:34-35 ESV)
Was it God's desire that Judah reject Jesus as their Messiah? No, but they did—and Jerusalem was conquered by the Roman army, a multitude of people killed and the Temple destroyed in AD 70 because of it. The human element thwarted the desire/will of God. Yes, Jesus knew they would reject him; he prophesied it. But it wasn't his will, at least not in the short term. His long term sovereignty took care of it but it wasn't his desire for his people to spurn him.

David Seamands spoke of this fatalism in his book, Putting Away Childish Things. It can mess you up if you subscribe to it. It's like saying, "I prayed for God's protection before I left on my trip so no drunk driver can swerve near my car on the road." That's a non sequitur, the logic doesn't follow. Is the converse true, that everyone who died on the interstate system due to a drunk driver died according to the will of God?

Yes, God's will will be done ultimately. But not always immediately. You have a say in the matter. So do others.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Plea For Feminine Modesty

Just because a piece of clothing is expensive doesn’t mean that it’s tasteful.  I really don’t know why some ladies wear what they wear.  Haven’t they heard the expression, “You catch what you go trolling for”?  To continue the fishing metaphor, if women don’t want to attract the bottom-feeders of society then they should wear some different bait!

If I could hold a bullhorn and address America’s women, I’d like to introduce them to a word: mystery.  Some sights are only for you, your husband, your doctor and your God.  Mystery is so much better than blatant sexuality.  Mystery is a beautiful gift that a husband is honored to receive and to unwrap.  Blatant sexuality, by contrast, is a stack of dirty magazines that is thrown indiscriminately at anyone walking down the street.

While I’m at it, let me introduce the ladies to another word: femininity.  I can’t define it well but I know it when I see it walk through the door.  It is all that I, a knuckle-dragging male, am not.  It makes me want to sit up in my chair, straighten my shirt and make sure my hair is combed.  It makes me begin to dig in my pocket for a breath mint to pop in my mouth.  It’s wonderful.  To get biblical about it:
Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin. (Proverbs 30:18-19 ESV)
I love these verses; if you’ll allow me some creative license, the proverb-teacher here says, “Some thing escape my comprehension.  One of them is the mysterious tête-à-tête of a couple, the place where masculinity is completely floored by femininity.”

I’ve been floored by femininity.  Yes, I’ve become weak-kneed…and not as a teenager, either.  I knew a woman who was one of the most beautiful ladies I’d ever seen.  Not because she was a model though she was pretty.  However, it was her smile.  Yes, her smile.  (Pay attention, ladies!)  It wasn’t sexual; it was warm.  Her smile was so powerful that it could chip the paint of the wall! 

A female can do that to a male.  I’m not talking skanky—I’m talking mysterious and feminine.  There’s a difference and I’ll choose the latter any day of the week.

No, a modest woman doesn’t have to wear the living room drapes.    She doesn’t have to buy from the “Frumpish Aisle” in a store to be mysterious, feminine, discrete and attractive.  To make me weak at the knees.

To keep me digging in my pocket for that breath mint.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Why Revival Doesn't Come During Revival Services?

Apparently American Christians can only stand their God in small doses.

Revival series used to be two weeks, three weeks, a month, however long the Spirit led. I am old enough to remember when a church would schedule a revival series from Sunday through Saturday. Then it was shortened to Sunday through Friday. Now it is Sunday through Wednesday or Friday through Sunday if at all.

The problem with this is that it often took several days of Holy Spirit work to "warm up" a congregation of saints and collection of sinners in years gone by. Read the old books from old dead evangelists who talked of their protracted meetings and you may find this phenomenon cropping up. In his sermon "And the Country was Filled With Water" Duncan Campbell shared the testimony of a young evangelist who had no college training but was filled with the Holy Spirit. After two weeks the effects of the Spirit's internal ministry to hearts became apparent and the city was on spiritual fire by God. Today we don't give the Holy Spirit enough time to do his effectual work before we conclude the meetings!

Believing parents are too busy chasing their kids around soccer, dance, baseball, softball, recitals etc. The Christian parents themselves are too busy in their pleasures and pursuits to be inconvenienced with God more than once a week (most likely on Sunday morning), perhaps twice. Anything more and the pastors and the churches are demanding too much of them!

Why should God bother to show up? His alleged children don't even want to be bothered by him! God just gets in the way of what's really important to their lives.

People claim to want God...but only in small doses.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

From "Bible College" To "University": Spiritual Compromise, Ruin and Worldliness

Note: I can't say this dream is prophetical in nature, though I do believe in prophetical dreams:
"'And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; (Acts 2:17; cf. Joel 2:28 ESV)
Further, do not consider this dream a slam on my Alma Mater, Mid-America Bible College (now Mid-America Christian University). This, to me, was just a dream's way of using familiar reference symbols known to the dreamer to warn me about slipping into worldliness.

I concluded a disturbing dream around 3:30 this morning, disturbing enough for me to power up my computer and blog about it early this Sunday. What makes it especially poignant is that today is Pentecost Sunday and the verses above were written about this day. I was back in college with my buddies and it was a changed place. Gone were the Mid-America Bible College days; the institution was now called Mid-America Christian University. One of my friends was dating a new girl (in a sea of new faces on an expanded campus) who was lax in morality. The Bible's commands about sexual behavior did not seem to phase her and my appeals to the Word made no effect. My stand for biblical truth antagonized her and, frankly, alienated me from my friends from one degree to another. I tried to warn my friend—without success—to dump his girlfriend; he knew better but would not. My dream ended by me encountering different students from "the old days" and asking them their opinions on the new atmosphere at the school. Nobody was in favor of it. I awoke feeling sad.

I'm no dream analysis expert but I take this dream to be a warning to me against allowing compromise and sin into my life. MBC is where I learned so much about God and his Word. The school represented my spiritual condition. The name change (and change in the spirituality of the new students) represented compromise and relaxing of standards. Sexual sin represented apostasy from God (a prominent metaphor in the Bible). My friends and the antagonistic girl represented different facets of my personality in turmoil and contradiction.

Warning: Larry, heed the Scripture—
Thus says the LORD: "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' (Jeremiah 6:16 ESV)
God, forgive me! God, help me!

Addendum: I scrapped my printed sermon on Pentecost this morning. I read Acts 2.1-18 and then shared my dream as an introduction into the ways the Holy Spirit can get our attention, guide us, correct us and console, comfort, exhort and rebuke us. I spoke of the ongoing ministry that the Spirit has to every believer. I then led the congregation in a prayer, surrendering to the Holy Spirit's guidance.

If anyone is interested in dream interpretation from a believer's perspective I'd recommend Christian psychiatrist Paul Meier's and minister Robert Wise's book, Windows of the Soul: A Look at Dreams and Their Meanings.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Removing the Judgment of God

Because tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday I checked the Revised Common Lectionary online to see what readings it selected for worship. I found the Psalms selection very telling. The Lectionary listed Psalms 104. 24-34, 35b. My interest became piqued; why would the RCL ask for an extended pericope (passage) of Scripture to be read aloud from verses 24-34 and then jump to the second part of verse 35? What did the first part of verse 35 read that was considered, uh, objectionable? Extraneous? Superfluous? What was it and why was it deleted from the reading?

The first ten verses were excellent as the Church focuses on the Holy Spirit:
(24) O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom have you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.
(25) Here is the sea, great and wide, which teems with creatures innumerable, living things both small and great.
(26) There go the ships, and Leviathan, which you formed to play in it.
(27) These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
(28) When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.
(29) When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust.
(30) When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.
(31) May the glory of the LORD endure forever; may the LORD rejoice in his works,
(32) who looks on the earth and it trembles, who touches the mountains and they smoke!
(33) I will sing to the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praise to my God while I have being.
(34) May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the LORD. (ESV)
Then the RCL jumps one half of verse 35 to 35b:
Bless the LORD, O my soul! Praise the LORD! (ESV)
It's a great part. But it left out 35a:
Let sinners be consumed from the earth, and let the wicked be no more! (ESV)
Hmm...the common reading from the Lectionary left out the call for the judgment of God. It took away the imprecatory (curse) sentence.

Why? Why have ten verses of a Psalm read all over the world on May 23, 2010, skip one half of a verse and then conclude on a "happy note"? Why take the bite out of Scripture? Why delete the call for justice from God? Why excise part of Holy Writ from being heard?

I don't know what was in the hearts of the committee that published the readings. I don't know what they were thinking.

But I know what I am thinking. And it's not good. As the Bible says:
Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29 ESV)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Assurances in an Age of Doubts

Christian writer Joe Allison published a powerful blog entry a few days ago. It is entitled, "What ever happened to Christian Education?" Listen to some of his thoughts:

Talking with professors from various seminaries, as I tend to do, I’m struck by the shrinking resources devoted to the discipline of Christian Education. Fewer CE classes are offered as time goes on. Now, many of these institutions no longer have a degree major (or even a minor) in Christian Education.

I realize that the nomenclature has changed. Seminary catalogues are more likely to call this discipline “Spiritual Formation,” “Discipleship Ministries,” etc., but I believe this signifies more than just a change of name. It indicates a sea change in our understanding of the ministry and mission of the church. We’re sailing from the Atlantic to the Pacific around a stormy cape, where many a ship has foundered on the rocks, and I fear that the old Ship of Zion may be perilously damaged in this transit.

On the “Atlantic” side of this sea change, we understood that Christ called the church to be primarily a school of godly living. On the “Pacific” side, we see it as a support group, a therapy group, or a focus group where individuals can share the serendipities of their Christian experience.

This has made the 21st century church a more friendly, welcoming place for seekers and believers alike. We all need such a place.

However, this change also means that the 21st century church is a more dangerous place, because everyone’s views (no matter how eccentric) are affirmed without their being trained in how to use the tools of biblical faith and church tradition to test the validity of these views.

I left a response to this excellent observation:

Insightful post! In a postmodern world people are afraid of appearing dogmatic; I fear people are too enamored—even obsessed—with their doubts than their certainties. It is seen as urbane, sophisticated and tolerant (I’m beginning to hate that buzz word) to be filled with existential angst and unformed mystery and, conversely, it is viewed as rude, simplistic and intolerant to say that we, “have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1.19 ESV).

When Paul told Timothy, "what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2 ESV) he meant exactly that. The gospel has content; the gospel has correct doctrine. Never confuse that acknowledgment that people struggle to understand all aspects of The Truth with the spiritual ruin that comes when people begin to believe everyone is equally entitled "his" truth.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Chêsêd Covenant Love of God

Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. (Jon 2:8 ESV)
Jonah wasn't given an easy assignment; God told the Israeli prophet to enter then world superpower Assyria's capital of Nineveh and predict doom if the pagans didn't repent. Jonah fled from God's command and traveled by boat toward Tarshish (the opposite direction) until God caused a storm to occur and, long story short, Jonah was tossed overboard and swallowed by a large fish.

From the belly of the large fish Jonah, himself, repented—that is to say, he had a change of heart. This is where the powerful Scripture above arrives. Those who hold a love for idolatry in their hearts, "forsake their hope of steadfast love." The Hebrew word for "steadfast love" is chêsêd which can be translated in Scripture as mercy, goodness, kindness, faithfulness or lovingkindness. I prefer the phrase "covenant love" to express the power behind chêsêd. It is the faithful love that God shows the people of his covenant. In the Old Testament this meant the physical nation of Israel, the Mosaic Law People. In the New Testament this means the spiritual Israel, the Church, the New Covenant People of God.

God relents and has the fish vomit Jonah onto dry land. He preaches against Ninevah and the people repent from the king on down! God, in mercy, doesn't destroy them. Jonah becames angry and says to God
And he prayed to the LORD and said, "O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live." (Jonah 4:2-3 ESV)
Here was a preacher mad that his "congregation" heeded his sermon! Jonah didn't flee from God's assignment initially just because he was afraid but because he was afraid the Assyrians—Israel's enemy who would destroy Israel several years later—would repent and God wouldn't destroy them...and he was right!

Oh how fickle and depraved is the heart of man! What a contrast to the covenant love of God!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Living By the Book by Howard Hendricks

We are exhorted all the time to read the Bible. But how does one understand it? Granted, without the illumination of the Holy Spirit one won't understand it (1 Corinthians 2.13) but, even then, how does one go about the process of learning how to learn from the Bible? It's composed of 66 books written from around 1450 B.C. — A.D. 95.

How diverse is it? Do we interpret the prophetical parts, poetic parts, historic parts and the correspondence parts the same way and use the same rules? Can a 21st century Christian dive in without knowing anything of the background culture when it was written? Did ancient Hebrews think any differently than Americans?

I have found a book, the book, for a person's first steps in the biblical waters. It's called Living By the Book by Howard Hendricks, longtime professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, and his son, William. Nothing I'm aware of comes close to being as thorough a job at teaching how to begin the lifelong process of interpreting the Bible.

But it's not a stuffy book. It's written for regular folks, not scholars who love phrases like Sitz im Leben, extant manuscripts and Pauline corpus. This book will work if you will work it.

Is Living By the Book the only book you'll need to interpret the Word of God? No, but it will show you exactly what else you need to use as you begin using the skills of Observation → Interpretation → Application.

Let me stress again that biblical understanding takes a lifetime of effort. Don't despise the day of small beginnings. Start today.

UPDATE: You can order it on Amazon here.  As of this writing somebody is selling a used hardback copy for only $. 39 (shipping costs $3.99).  Of course, you can order a brand-spankin' new book from Amazon as well.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Preaching & Preachers by D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Wesleyan Methodists have much to learn from this late Welsh Calvinistic Methodist. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (1899-1981) preached behind the pulpit of Westminster Chapel in London for 30 years. In 1971 his book, Preaching & Preachers, was published, the result of a series of lectures he gave on expository preaching during the 1960's at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. This book is timeless—making it a classic—and is as much needed today as it was 40 years ago.

In this series of lectures Lloyd-Jones gave his opinions (read: strong opinions) and critique (read: withering critique) of contemporary preaching in his day. It isn't for the squeamish. Lloyd-Jones called it like he saw it, and he had plenty he didn't enjoy seeing. For one, the Doctor hated the concept of entertainment in the church. All a worship leader needs to do is read Lloyd-Jones' views on worship to begin to squirm uncomfortably in his seat. For another, the Doctor vigorously disagreed with the prevailing notion that a preacher had to preach on the felt needs of a congregation. Lloyd-Jones was punctilious: the congregation didn't know what they needed so it was the preacher's job to tell them what was important. The genius of the book is the counter-cultural call to action: the preacher is a prophet of righteousness, not one to tickle the ears of his hearers.

It isn't necessary to agree with the Doctor on every point to be rebuked, exhorted, consoled and emboldened by his unapologetic stand for expository preaching. This is exactly what Lloyd-Jones accomplishes, teaching a preacher to expound the oracles of God. Preaching & Preachers isn't a homiletic handbook that teaches a novice how to construct a sermon. Rather it delves into the philosophical underpinnings and spiritual preparation that Lloyd-Jones felt was indispensable for an expositional preacher. He gives broad advice on preparing a message.

And for the record, this is one Wesleyan Methodist who is glad that Calvinistic Methodist was given the opportunity to share.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

God's Shameless Love

Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option.

-- Nina Potts-Jefferies

I can see the wisdom of this in dating. It makes sense, too: Don't allow "Doormat" to be written on your back. But I'm glad God didn't treat me this way. I was a sinner bound for hell. I deserved it. I didn't live for God. But he made me a priority.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person--though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die-- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:6-8 ESV)
I am grateful that God has no problem getting the short end of the stick.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Should the Pastor be a Dictator?

Many years ago the late Church of God preacher, Horace Shepherd, shared one of the funniest illustrations I’ve ever heard. Shepherd re-told an encounter between an interviewing pulpit committee and Raymond Jackson. From my memory the story went something like this:
One of the board members (who was a known problem in the church) told Raymond Jackson, “Brother Jackson, we’re very well pleased…very well pleased. There’s only one thing—you’re known as something of a dictator.”

Jackson replied, “Well, Brother, let’s look into this ‘dictator’ business. There once was a family known as the Tator family. One Tator was named Commie. Commie Tator wasn’t a bad Tator. She just had to comment about everything. Another Tator was Speck Tator. Speck Tator wasn’t a bad Tator. He just looked around at everything. During prayer he would just be looking around. Then there was a Tator named Agie. Agie Tator! Commie couldn’t handle him. Speck couldn’t handle him. There was only one Tator who could, and that was Dick.” Pastor Jackson looked at the man and said, “If you’re Agie, I’m Dick!”

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Battle of the Sexes: Why?

Why are men and women pitted against each other at party games or on television shows? Why is it even perceived to be important? It's long been called the battle of the sexes. Why are the genders at war? Why is it devastating for a man to lose at the hands of a woman? Why does a female feel driven to prove herself to a male? Where did this nonsense start?

It started in the garden of Eden. After Adam fell—plunging mankind into spiritual ruin—God warned Eve of the tension between authority and rebellion between she and her mate:
To the woman he said, "I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you." (Genesis 3:16 ESV)
At first glance this "desire for" Adam sounds romantic. However, it is not. Keil & Delitzsch noted it to be a, "desire bordering upon disease (תְּשׁוּקָה from שׁוּק to run, to have a violent craving for a thing)". Some in modern scholarship believe that God is telling her, to paraphrase, "As a result of the Fall your desire will be to rule your husband but he will rule you."

The battle of the sexes.

There's no sense denying it. We know it's there. And that's what makes certain Scriptures hard—not for women to understand but to accept:
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24 ESV)

Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
(Colossians 3:18 ESV)
When we all get to heaven [and this competition is totally gone] what a day of rejoicing that will be!

Axe to Grind Series № 5: American Independence

John Wesley was no supporter of the War for American Independence. Speaking of the clamoring for Americans to be cut free from England, he declared in his Sermon 131, "The Late Work of God in North America":
The Stamp-Act was passed, and sent over to America. The malcontents saw and pressed their advantage; they represented it as a common cause; and by proper emissaries spread their own spirit through another and another colony. By inflammatory papers of every kind, they stirred up the minds of the people. They vilified, first, the English Ministry, representing them, one and all, as the veriest wretches alive, void of all honesty, honour, and humanity. By the same methods they next inflamed the people in general against the British Parliament, representing them as the most infamous villains upon earth, as a company of base, unprincipled hirelings. But still they affected to reverence the King, and spoke very honourably of him. Not long; a few months after, they treated him in the same manner they had done his ministers and his Parliament.
Sadly for him, perhaps, the malcontents won.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Music of Angels

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!" (Luke 2:13-14 ESV)

While browsing John Wesley's letters to his brother, Charles, I came across an interesting paragraph. The evangelist talked of celestial music surrounding the death of a Christian lady. He writes to his hymn-writer brother on October 20, 1753:
I firmly believed that young woman would die in peace; though I did not apprehend it would be so soon. We have had several instances of music heard before or at the death of those that die in the Lord. May we conceive that this is literally the music of angels? Can that be heard by ears of flesh and blood?
Wesley doesn't mention her name but apparently he was answering an earlier letter from Charles concerning the situation. On Halloween, October 31, 1753 he writes in another letter to him:
I cannot apprehend that such music has any analogy at all to the inward voice of God. I take it to differ from this toto genere and to be rather the effect of an angel affecting the auditory nerves, as an apparition does the optical nerve or retina.
Perhaps you've heard deathbed experiences of Christians testifying to "seeing" or "hearing" heavenly things before they slipped to Glory, things that others around them did not discern. Just because we normally do not apprehend the spiritual realm in some form of our five senses in our daily lives does not mean it does not exist. Consider the words of the writer to the Hebrews:
But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. (Hebrews 12:22-24 ESV)
Note carefully what he exhorts: "you have come". In other words, the Christians he addressed have already come; they already are citizens of "the heavenly Jerusalem". Though they very much lived on earth they were, "strangers and exiles on the earth" (Hebrews 11:13b ESV).

Eternity is now. Eternal life is now. Jesus is with Christians—in fact, not figuratively speaking. One day Christians will be with Jesus in the same way. Either way, the one is not less real than the other. Either side of the veil does not diminish the reality of the other.

Monday, May 10, 2010

What is a "Conservative" Wesleyan?

The labels "liberal" and "conservative" are elusive definitions, perhaps especially so in the churches with a Wesleyan heritage. As I grew up they were used, not only to define the boundaries of doctrinal views but also used to include taboo shibboleths of yesteryear. A person may be a "liberal" if he wore shorts on a church campground or saw no problem with "mixed bathing" (which is a phrase describing men and women swimming together in the same place at the same time).

After I began my formal theological training I learned that these labels were best used for the doctrines one held and not his positions on "gray areas" (or legalistic matters, or however you wish to describe it).

I learned that a conservative Wesleyan affirmed certain things:
That the Bible truly is the word of God. That it was without factual or theological error when originally written (i.e. inerrant and infallible in the autographs).

That Moses wrote most of the first five books of the Bible (i.e. the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch rather than the Documentary Hypothesis [JEDP]).

That the exodus from Egypt happened circa 1450 B.C. (i.e. not 1290 B.C.).

That Isaiah wrote, well, Isaiah (i.e. there was neither a Deutero-Isaiah nor a Trito-Isaiah).

That the Old Testament (i.e. Tanach) prophets did predictive prophesying (though they were primarily preachers of righteousness) and their prophesies were accurate.

That the virgin birth of Christ is real.

That Christ really did walk on water, raise the dead and cast actual demons out of people, not psychological disorders (i.e. the miracles occurred as recorded).

That Christ really did rise physically and bodily from the dead (i.e. it wasn't some "existential resurrection in the hearts of the believers").

That Paul wrote all the letters tradition has assigned to him. (But we don't know who wrote Hebrews.)

That Peter wrote both First and Second Peter.

That John the apostle wrote the gospel bearing his name, all three of the letters bearing his name and the Revelation (i.e. there was no different "John the Elder" who penned the Apocalypse.)
Yes, I am a theological conservative and I make no apology for it.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Fighting for the Truth

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. (2 Corinthians 10:3-6 ESV)

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
(Ephesians 6:12 ESV)

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Must a Person be Old-Fashioned to be a Faithful Wesleyan?

My heart's sympathy lies with the 18th century and early Methodism. However, as a 21st century Christian does this mean that I must eschew anything new? Well, it depends on a person's definition of "old-fashioned".

Since you are reading this online it means I use the internet and am a web publisher. I send my friends text and pic messages on my cell phone. I download decades old sermons from old, now dead ministers in mp3 form so I can listen on the go. I preach from the English Standard Version, not the famed King James Version. I watch cable television and Blu-Rays. I am not old-fashioned.


I think much of the multimedia today is garbage and I believe Christians should take Nancy Reagan's advice on another topic: Just Say No:
Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:11 ESV)
I think the Church will never beat the world at being the world and it should stop trying. The world lulls sinners to sleep through entertainment and the Church awakens them to the things of the Spirit:
But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:13-14 ESV)
A Christian doesn't have to be unfashionable but he must be modest:
likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, (1 Timothy 2:9 ESV)
A believer's vocabulary must differentiate himself from fallen society or he proves that he is still part of it:
Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:4-5 ESV)
If a so-called saint is indistinguishable from the world it reveals that he isn't:
But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: "The Lord knows those who are his," and, "Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity." (2 Timothy 2:19 ESV)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10 ESV)

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 ESV)
Nothing is wrong with laughter but a Wesleyan must be known for his circumspection:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15-16 ESV)

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8 ESV)
Yes, if a person is going to be a Wesleyan people (including professing Christians) may well think he is old-fashioned, holier-than-thou and narrow-minded. In short, they may judge him for being judgmental. It's probably inevitable.
Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, "I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty." (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 ESV)

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Fading Image of John Wesley...Among Wesleyans?

The next time you're at a mall go and check out your local Christian bookstore. Chances are you'll find Christian fiction (about Amish), self-help books from a Christian perspective and a stack of books from either the basic Baptist or charismatic/Pentecostal persuasion. Try to find current Wesleyan works in print.

It's a problem.

Why aren't they being written and sold? I'm sure it's no grand conspiracy to keep Wesleyans out of print. My guess is the Christian publishing houses are looking at it from a simple marketing strategy (read: money). There is little supply being cranked out because there is precious little demand for it.

Some years ago a string of merchandise came out repeating long dead Charles Sheldon's concept behind In His Steps by having us ask ourselves what Jesus would do. How many of us prayed The Prayer of Jabez...well, until we quit doing so? T. D. Jakes sure seemed to be on a tear for a while. Who can forget when the general population learned who California pastor Rick Warren was? Joel Osteen took America by storm a while back as he taught us...well, whatever it is he taught us. That's highly debatable.

Hot trends mean money.

Wesleyan Methodism and the Holiness Movement it spawned isn't cool. It's isn't cutting edge or "extreme" or "relevant." It isn't postmodern or emergent. It's isn't easily commercialized.

The questions I have, however, are more pointed: how many Wesleyans are really Wesleyan? How many Christians worship in churches birthed during the Holiness Movement of the 1800's but would be hard pressed to explain what is so distinct about the aroma of their flavor of evangelical Christianity?

I am a Christian. If someone wants more of a label from me I unashamedly call myself a, "Low Church Wesleyan Methodist." I know what that means.

Do other Wesleyans, so called?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

D. S. Warner on Christian Demon Possession

One of the most controversial questions in conservative evangelical Christianity involves demonization. If one believes the gospel accounts then he believes in the concept. However, can a Christian become demonized?

Some conservative evangelicals outside of the Wesleyan tradition have said yes. The late professor of Old Testament, Merill Unger of Dallas Theological Seminary, was one. Charles Kraft of Fuller Theological Seminary and Neil Anderson of Talbot School of Theology have been others.  Even the late D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the Calvinistic Methodist, believed it to be possible.

What of Wesleyans? One possible example is the late Daniel Sidney Warner (1842-1895), the founder of the Church of God (Anderson). In his journal he relates story that appears to show his support for the belief that a child of God can be demonized. Here is one account from his diary as recorded in A. L. Byer's classic book, Birth of a Reformation:
For some months past Mrs. Samuel Worden, of Battle Creek, Michigan, has created quite an excitement in the papers throughout the country by the exercise of a supernatural power of healing. People have come from a considerable distance to be treated, and letters have poured in from every direction. Some cases of healing were actually performed.
The woman and her husband, hearing of our meetings, came to hear the gospel and seemed willing to receive the truth. She confessed that they were not fully saved and filled with the Spirit as they should be, although she claimed to heal in the name of Christ and by the power of God. She soon came to the altar. God enabled us to see her condition pretty correctly. We told her she was “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”* (Acts 8:23) She acknowledged the fact and desired deliverance. In the course of a few days she professed to have found salvation. There seemed to be a change; but still there was something in her from which the Spirit of God in our heart recoiled. She tried to consecrate for sanctification, but could not claim that grace.
On Sabbath afternoon, October 26, the power of God was upon our little meeting. There were four cases of healing by the laying on of hands. Sister Worden said that she had suffered for many years in an awful manner with what she called a confused headache. She had hands laid on her for the healing. The Spirit came on us and her in mighty power. She claimed what had been prayed for, a complete healing of her body. Presently there were strange manifestations, which the most of us at once recognized as the writhing of evil spirits in her. We asked God to show her just what it was. Presently she said, “Brother Warner, pray for me.” We asked her what she wanted. She replied, “That the devil might be cast out.” This was the confession we desired to draw out of her. Hands were laid on her head, and the demons were commanded to come out of her in the name of Jesus Christ. The poor victim was soon convulsed and choked by the hellish spirits, which had to come out by the power of God. She obtained relief, sat up, but did not look clear. We all kept looking to God to complete the work. Hands were laid on again in the name of Jesus. Another struggle ensued. Then we perceived that to get complete deliverance there had to be a more perfect consecration, confession, and mortification. We proceeded to use the sword of the Spirit in every possible manner. But a miserable don’t-care devil answered to every point of consecration.
Oh, what an awful condition the poor woman was in! How discouraging! The devils had so long held possession of her that they had almost taken possession of her own will and thoughts. And this awful enemy had so tortured her head that she had had a hard struggle to keep out of the asylum; so when he was pressed by the power of God he caused such distress and confusion in her head that he could use her mind and organs of speech. But by the grace and mercy of God conviction reached her conscience. The poor woman made some humiliating confessions, was humbled down, and wept. She confessed her association with Spiritualists, which Satan had tried to conceal before. Glory to God, his chief nest was now revealed. The Spiritualism devil was commanded to come out of her in the name of Christ. Oh, how he tortured the poor woman! Her throat became greatly swollen. How the legions of hell struggled against the power of God! She was pretty thoroughly decided for God; declared she would have every last evil spirit cast out if it killed her. Glory to God for the mighty Deliverer! Relief came by the hand of Jesus. A great measure of peace filled her soul. She sat up in the rocking-chair and her hands were raised while we sang songs of victory for the space of an hour.
Two days later she discovered that there was still in her heart something that was not right, and a close examination discovered that she had some lingering love for Spiritualists. She confessed it, when she soon found that more evil spirits were revealed. By the laying on of hands and the power of God she was fully delivered, after which she consecrated wholly and entered the sacred rest of entire sanctification.1 On Saturday hands were laid upon her for healing. The mighty power of God came upon her and filled her soul and body, and she was perfectly healed from the awful tortures Satan had inflicted upon her for many years. Praise God for His wonderful mercy to the oppressed children of men! For years this poor woman had struggled hard to keep out of the insane asylum; now she says, “I am ‘clothed, and in [my] right mind.’* (Mark 5:15; Luke 8:35) ” Her neighbors see the great change in her countenance. One woman looked upon her with astonishment, and said, “Why, how your face and voice are changed! Surely these meetings are the true work of God.”
In reference to this apparent instance of a person’s being in a justified state while at the same time in possession of evil spirits it can be said, without attempting an explanation of whether such might be possible, that Brother Warner was always very particular to insist on justification as an essential condition to sanctification, and that if we knew all the circumstances in this case (allowing that the account may not be full) there probably would be no question in our minds.
Can a Christian be demonized? I don't know. The theological ramifications of such a view are thorny, difficult and highly debatable. However, I relate the above story to you for your consideration.