Saturday, December 31, 2005

Encouraging Words

As part of our weekend ritual, my wife and I sip coffee Saturday mornings at a favorite establishment of ours while reading, pondering, and discussing. Today was no exception (although she did bring her own tea bag and asked for hot water) and I received great encouragement from the work that I have promised will be completed before January 10, 2006. Mentioned before in the "What's In The Backpack?" article , The Autobiography of George Muller has really challenged my faith in prayer. Truly, I have the opportunity to communicate with the Creator of the universe and I am told to come boldly before His throne with confidence (Hebrews 4:16), yet how often do I come with great confidence? Muller knew what confidence was. He knew Who his confidence was in.

In response to some of the Lord's workers who discouraged that many more of the children under their care were not coming to the Lord and they were about to give up: "On the contrary, we should give the Lord no rest until we see fruit. Therefore, in persevering yet submissive prayer, we should make our requests known to God. I am now looking for many more children to be converted." (132-133)

On getting his priorities right: "May 7 [1841]. The primary business I must attend to every day is to fellowship with the Lord. The first concern is not how much I might serve the Lord, but how my inner man might be nourished. I may share the truth with the unconverted; I may try to encourage believers; I may relieve the distressed; or I may, in other ways, seek to behave as a child of God; yet, not being happy in the Lord and not being nourished and strengthened in my inner man day by day, may result in this work being done in a wrong spirit." (138-139)

In regards to his poverty: "Truly, it is worth being poor and greatly tried in faith for the sake of having such precious, daily proof of the loving interest which our kind Father takes in everything that concerns us [...] If the hearts of the children of God are comforted and their faith strengthened, it is worth being poor and greatly tried in faith. Those who do not know God may read or hear of His dealings with us and see that faith in God is more than mere notion. There is indeed reality in Christianity." (151)

There is, indeed, reality in Christianity. It is not something that is resigned to the false notion of the fact/value dichotomy that many wish to ascribe to matters of faith. Christ is real and thus Christianity is real. Well said, Mr. Muller.

(The above quotations were taken from The Autobiography of George Muller by George Muller. New Kinsington, PA: Whitaker House, 1984. )

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Things To Do Today...

For the last several months I have been studying Peter's first letter to the scattered and persecuted church. I would love to say that I have been consistent with my studies of this epistle, but nonetheless, the study has spanned a several-month time span. Over the last few weeks, however, I have been rather consistent with each day working on portions of the analysis of his letter. The first thing that pops out at me is his use of lists to drive his point home as well as a way for his readers to enact automatic application.

For example, Peter begins chapter two,“Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord." (1 Peter 2:1-3 NASB)

This translates to my...

List of Things To Do:

1. Put aside all malice
2. Put aside all deceit
3. Put aside all hypocrisy
4. Put aside all envy
5. Put aside all slander

Confession: it is a struggle to put aside ALL malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander. OK, I may do all right with not slandering folks today up until the point that their character is shattered, but I may let a little gossip just slip out. “But its true!" I think to myself as the uncleanliness of my lips spews forth. Well, I won’t be a hypocrite when so-and-so is here today. Note to self: any qualification of just about any statement of truth usually is a compromise that equates to sin. And deceit? Well, I deceive myself everyday into thinking that I’m really not that bad off in my sinful state (at least not as bad as the next guy) and that somehow my works will be able to grant me entrance into Heaven. According to Barna Research Group at least 54% of Americans agree with me.

Having said this, I find one more thing that I need to add to my “List of Things To Do”: rely on the righteousness that Christ gives me through His atoning and finishing work on the cross. Only through his work may any mere mortal inherit the gift of eternal life through adoption.

And if this first list were not enough for me to do today, Peter gives one more thing to do as well:

6. Long for the Word like a newborn baby

Why Peter? “So that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (2:2). So I guess this spiritual growth is a mighty big deal for the Lord, eh? Exactly. Were I to become stagnate, my life might basically cease. And when my growth has been stunted I tend to feel basically lifeless. Consequently, when I exercise my “right” to practice malice, deceit, envy, slander, and so on, the result breeds lifelessness and it is all birthed out of the lack of longing for the Lord.

Lord, might You be pleased to grant me a spirit of longing for You? May I truly cry that as the deer pants for water, so is my soul longing for You. I want that to be my desire but I confess my hard-heartedness before and the many times that I don’t desire You. I am selfish and sometimes it is simply not convenient for me to be with You. I know this is wrong and I trust that You will effect Your work in me, for You are faithful to complete what it is that You have begun. By grace alone, amen.

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Monday, December 26, 2005

What I Would Have Said If I Were God...

Sometimes, I wish He would just give me a swift kick...

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Saturday, December 24, 2005

What Might Have Been and Still May Be

My wife is currently in a meeting of friends that she has had from at least sixth grade, some maybe longer. These are the types of friends that gather at least once a year to reminisce about "the way we were" as well as to catch up on what has occurred since the last meeting. Unfortunately, meetings like these are relegated to once a year, however, this may be what makes them so special. There are some folks that, no matter the amount of time that has passed since the last encounter, can sit again as though nothing has changed. These are the relationships that one lives for. These are the relationships that truly have the ability to define a person and can be a sense of security for those who have "grown up" yet still do not have a clue as to who they want to be when they "grow up."

I never had those types of friends growing up. Things change, people change, and ultimately geography divides a union that used to be. I remember an individual whom I met my first day of kindergarten and he became my first friend. We learned that we lived in the same subdivision and through the years we always did so. We had mutual friends, spent the night at one another's house, and shared stories about girls and grades. Our friendship drifted, however, as we grew older and we changed. When we were in 9th grade, we took a trip together (not so much together, but we were both a part of a large group) to Denver, CO. This trip changed our lives. It was during this trip that Christ called both of us to Him and although I did not quite understand the ramifications of such a calling, I knew that I had been redeemed, and granted righteousness to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I also knew that my friend would be there as well. The very first friend I had in kindergarten was also the first friend I had in the kingdom.

After this trip, there was very little that we saw of one another. Even during the trip we did not converse that much, for I had made choices in previous years that alienated myself from him. I chose a road leading to destruction, he chose the road that was much more fruitful. I think of him often as I sense we have some sort of bond that was never fully accomplished. Through the internet, I have found that his mother now works for my former church and his father is an elder there. I have heard through the grapevine that he has been married and a friend of my sister chided, "Did you know that" I was secretly proud to hear this. Not because I had anything to do with his conversion, but that I was there, and I was converted at the same time. Even more, he has chosen to live out the decision for all to see, even though it may have come as a result of losing out on some so-called friendships. I must confess, that I am one of those who made the choice, and I missed out. One day I will call him; one day I will apologize for my errors. One day we will meet again and I might be granted the privilege to call him friend.

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

Irritated about Decision Concerning Intelligent Design

Let me start first by stating that I hope to never fall in the camp of those who think that America will somehow become a converted nation. I do not subscribe to the false belief system that if Christians elect the right people the Church will be saved and we will somehow have some sort of responsibility to usher in the millenial kingdom. The world is gradually getting worse, not better, contrary to the amillenial position. In short, the world will continue to worsen every day until eventually the Father decides that it is again time to send the Lion of Judah to call us homeward. (I will not hide my premillenial convictions).

Having said this, I also would like to acknowledge that I seldom choose to fight the legal battles that are supposedly geared towards reinstating God's authority in our lives. This is a futile fight to say the least. An unregenerate soul will not bow before the Lord on this earth until His coming again at such time that "every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil 2:10-11 ESV). Thus, no amount of lobbying, law passing, or picketing will cause the authority of God to be visibly present in our society. Do not confuse this with a denouncing of God's Sovereignty over all His creation. His is indeed in control at all times over all things. Period. However, in the minds and hearts of all individuals who have populated the earth, this is simply not the case.

A lengthy introduction to a simple irritation and irritation is just the right word to describe it. A few days ago a federal judge has ruled that the Dover Area School Board in Pennsylvania may not offer Intelligent Design as a possible theory for the creation of the world. Rather, it insists that evolutionary theory is more than just a theory and should be accepted as scientific fact. I am irritated at this decision and it certainly is plausible that my reasoning for aggravation may not be the most spiritual, but they are real nonetheless.

First, this is a direct violation of a student's educational right. In an educational system that is ransacked with the liberal view of, well, everything, he is left in the dark on certain theories that are prevalent. I will affirm that I am a six-day creationist, but I am not necessarily concerned that creationism is not taught in schools. Contrary, I'm a little thankful that my future children (should we be blessed to have them), will not learn their theology from their science teacher, but from my wife and I, who are called to fulfill this obligation. In our dealings with our future tykes, it will certainly be essential to present them with competing worldviews that are alive in our society. Should we attempt to enclose them in a bubble and deny the very existence of beliefs that are contrary to ours is simply preposterous. I would like to believe that educators are truly on a quest for truth and to acknowledge all sides of an argument. Obviously, I am mistaken.

The other irritation that persists stems from the notion that Intelligent Design is simply religious creationism and that Secular Naturalism is no religion whatsoever. Secular Naturalism is indeed a religion although it may not hold Sunday services or have an established statement of faith. Walden was not merely referring to a peaceful pond that was pretty to gaze on in his "masterful" work. His "pond" was nothing more than a naturalistic society built upon the ideal that the individual is the governor of self and that we were created by products of chance. Every individual has within him the thoughts of eternity for the Lord has set them there (Eccl 3:11), and with eternity also come the questions of origins. All individuals have at one point or another asked themselves the questions, "Where did I come from? Why am I here? and Where am I going?" Our answers to these questions determine our convictions in regards to life and will categorize ourselves with others who share the same system. Webster's defines religion as "a set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader" or "A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion." Thus, those who subscribe to the theory that there is a lack of Intelligent Design in their origin are in essence obligated to say that life was birthed as a result of natural occurrences coupled with a twinge of random chance. This is what is formally known as Naturalism.

So, my irritation persist without much of a resolve. That's OK...I'll get over it. As Matthew Mead wrote in 1661, "Knowledge may fill the head, but it will never better the heart if there is not something else [...] Alas, how many have gone loaded with knowledge to hell!" (Matthew Mead, The Almost Christian Discovered. Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993. 17.)

I guess that's enough to wish us all a Merry Christmas.

For further reading, check out Baptist Press' article here, or Christianity Today's coverage here. As always, be sure to see Dr. Mohler's take on things here.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Celebrities, Christians, and the Wisdom to Know the Difference

One may ask where might I have been? I might have been many places, and probably desired to be others, but the reality appears that I have not wandered (at least physically) from the home base of the Big Ham, AL. Finals are finally finished (at least for this semester) and I now find myself with an abundance of time. OK, not true, but the idea is quite grand. A tiny goal that I have set for myself over the next few weeks is to read for about 90 minutes each day (outside of my morning quiet times which I also hope to prove consistent with). These 90 minutes will be spent in my office reading theological material and since my job as the church BookStore manager requires me to investigate and approve doctrinally sound resources, I will not be neglecting my responsibilities, but rather, fulfilling them. I'm quite pumped about the opportunity to say the least. If it is true that some of the best laid plans were simply good intentions, the battle is half finished. I need to be held accountable to this goal.

Quoteworthy reading (if this is not an official literary term recognized by some literature guild whom I have never heard of, I reserve the right to coin the term. If it indeed proves to be accurate, so be it) comes directly from the text we are reading in regards to the negative impacts of the populist wing of evangelicalism that swept the Church in America during the 19th century and continues today:

"Finally, revivalism led to a new model of leadership. The pastor was no longer a teacher who instructs a covenanted congregation, but a celebrity who is able to inspire mass audiences." Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth: Liberating Christianity From Its Cultural Captivity. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2004. 260.

This one grabbed me. In age where the big-time preachers truly are celebrities
and I am encouraged to get my best life now, and it seems as though the only noteworthy evangelicals are those who can sell tickets to fill the Georgia Dome, I see why their appeal is so magnetic.

First, many invitations are for souls to come to Christ, to be a better husband, or to live as a liberated woman who does not burn her bra. Although worthy of exhorting the Church in this direction, the focus becomes the individual and not the I AM. These are calls for converts, whether to the faith for the first time, or a "re-dedication" if I may use the term (which I have problems with, FYI), however, Christ's commission was to create disciples of all nations. Granted, one may not become a true disciple until he is regenerated by the Holy Spirit, but in a mass setting, discipleship is typically not on the mind of the leader. In fact, that's not his or her role. It will be up to the local bodies of believers that are represented to follow up. In some cases, major evangelistic associations come a year early, train lay leaders, and have such a follow-up system in place so that no soul falls through the cracks. Is this effective? More so than those meetings where no structured follow-up system is in place, but hardly a strong source of accountability for the new convert. Let me point here that this is not the convert's fault. He is simply following through with what he was exhorted to do: walk the aisle, pray the prayer, share his story, and then go home, teach himself the Bible and the doctrines of God, and grow up into a scholarly theologian. That's how it ought to work, right? Please.

The second appeal that these folks have on their mass audiences of is the fact that it is abundantly easier to listen to someone speak in vague generalities concerning mankind and then - as though something magical occurs - to feel as though he were speaking directly to the proverbial me. However, I need to be reminded that "the same experience of suffering are being accomplished by [my] brethren who are in the world" (1 Peter 5:9 NASB). Acknowledging that the Apostle Peter was directing his letter towards those who were suffering intense persecution at the time, the principle remains that I am never truly alone in any situation. I also recall a certain wise man who once said that there is "nothing new under the sun" (Eccl 1:9). Therefore, if I rattle off enough circumstances or sins, eventually I will hit a nerve. Alcohol, drugs, lust, greed, busyness, worry, loneliness, guilt, motherhood, fatherhood, infidelity, pornography, abusive relationships, neglect, singleness, mid-life, being a man in an ever growing woman's world, being a woman in a male-dominated world, being a man who wants to be a woman in a gender confused world. Whatever the case, eventually I can scratch where you might itch and hone in there. Thus, what appears to be a miraculous gift of prophecy is really nothing more than chance. In addition, with a mass audience of several thousand people, emotions trigger from one another and what may result is simply an emotional response to an emotional appeal, without the truth of the Gospel truly renewing the minds of its hearers. Although there may be legitimate conversions and convictions occurringng all across the stadium as the leader chimes that "they are coming from the balconies" and the 18th refrain of Just As I Am is sung, really the likelihood is that there are people with legitimate questions about their eternal security and no one truly available to help them.

In one personal experience, I was to be a counselor for an evangelistic meeting that was appealing to 2,000 or more people. The counselors were instructed to rise and walk forward when the invitation was given in order to be down front when those who desired to know more could communicate with us. On the surface, fine. Underneath, the message that we were communicating was that there were hundreds coming forward, why can't you? There was no distinguishing mark between counselor and counselee and thus the masses were duped. I have questioned my role as a counselor for such meetings ever since.

Finally, although this does not exhaust my beefs, for space-sake I will cut myself short, as mentioned before, the problem I have with mass-attended meetings is that the focus becomes the individual rather than the I AM. More specifically, the focus becomes the speaker, the glorification of the worm. "Oh, so and so, spoke so eloquently. He was on fire tonight! She just had a way to speak directly to me." And in turn, it becomes more of a name recognition deal than anything. DL Moody once related a story where he had finished preaching his sermon and walked to the back of the church in order to greeattendeesrs on their way out the door. One woman came to him and said "That was the best sermon I have ever heard." He replied, "Thank you, you are the second person to tell me that. The first was the Devil." As a future preacher, this reality scares me to death. Knowing my own sinful desire for recognition and the praise of men, I fear that I too may end up seeking to find my worth in the things of this world rather than to know that I have "accurately [handled] the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15c).

Oh Father, might You protect me from such sinful wickedness! Knowing that my very nature gives me a bent towards that direction, I ask that by Your Spirit's power You might enable me to choose otherwise. Help me to recognize that You are the giver and sustainer of life and that my true purpose is to exhort others in the word of truth, placing emphasis on accuracy, not creativity. May I only seek Your praise so that I may truly be a good and faithful servant. You know my heart, and I trust that You will reveal the offensive ways within me.

By Your grace, I come. Amen.

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Thursday, December 08, 2005

United We...Stand?

"Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name." Psalm 86:11 NASB

I was greatly encouraged this evening while being reminded that I am not the only one who struggles with the idea that I may or may not be growing at such a rapid pace as the weeds who once grew in my yard during a former period of the year. (soon to be) Dr. Lazenby (who's link appears at the right - DOMAIN NO LONGER AVAILABLE) comments on an escaping sense of security that "should" be common with all believers. His stance is simply that if we are honest with ourselves, we truly don't love and savor Christ in the way that He so desires. We can't. We're sinful. I needed to be reminded of that.

Once upon a Sunday, I was engaged in discussion during an all-popular Sunday School class where most answers to any given question were "yes", "no", or the favorite "Jesus." Other times acceptable answers that may be evoked were "pray", "read your Bible", "fellowship". You know, all the necesary disciplines that are required to get you into Heaven. (Although this is seldomly preached vehemently, the undertone is definitley present.) Moving on... during this particular discussion I posed the query to the class if any one present was living his or her life in complete unification with the Savior, loving Him with all heart, soul, mind, and strength, and truly experiencing the "abundant life" that He offers in John 10:10. And then, unpurposefully, I blurted that if anyone said that they were indeed living such a lifestyle, they were liars and needed to repent immediately. My comment received an uncommon tone of scorn and a "uh, uh...I know you didn't" attitude in reply. Although I was a tidbit embarrassed by my freudian slip, I explained my position and I still agree with what I stated.

Here's the deal: were I able to live my life in complete unity with Savior, loving Him with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, all the while experiencing the abundant life that He offers I would then find myself without need for a Savior because I have found myself to be perfect by my own efforts. Although, I affirm that holiness and righteoussness are emphatically ideals to strive for through God's grace and His Spirit of power, nowehere may I affirm that it is truly possible to do so in the purest of all forms. I may find myself correcting an erred belief at some point in the future, but I have yet to live that day where I have reached its end finding no fault to confess from the previous twenty-four hours. In fact, there are typically more things to confess during the current day than there were in the previous. Truly, I tend to confess that I indeed have not lived united, loving with my all, abundandantly blessed, for I have a fallen, sinful nature and my very nature is in rebellion with God. Now, this does not grant me liscense to run ill-willed through life, without any regard for what I know to be true. But rather, if there be any room for sin, it be as a result of choice to not be united with Him, love Him with my all, and forsake the abundant life. And up until the point that I am no longer human, the choice will be made every day. Are we tracking here?

I have come to learn that the harder I try to unite myself with Him, love Him with my all, and live abundantly more free than I ever have before, the more I find myself depressed, downtrodden, and suffering from feelings that I can not get it all together. And the former feelings are correct. I can NOT get it all together. I will never get it all together. I will never seek Christ first, He will have always sought me. I will never deisre to meet with Him first, He will have always desired to meet with me prior. I miss my appointments with Him all too often, He has yet to be late, call in sick, or reschedule. Why? Because He was there before time began (John 1:1), He chose me before the foundations of the world were ever established (Eph 1:4), and it was Him who "has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead" (1 Peter 1:3 NASB). He chose me, not that I chose Him. It will never be that why should I think that one day I might choose Him first? Choose Him, yes, but choose Him first? Sorry; not on this side of Eternity.

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Monday, December 05, 2005

Islands of my Eye Lens

"Father in a world filled with heartache and sorrow;
I have found Your love feeds my soul.
"Father when I'm feeling I just can't face tomorrow;
I have found Your love feeds my soul.
"I have found Your love feeds my soul. I have found Your love feeds my soul.
It's better than life so I'll glorify You - Spirit within me cry out Your name.
I have found Your love feeds my soul."

I read an article in Newsweek Magazine in 1997 and for whatever reason the following quote has failed to escape me: "I am surrounded by a sea of despair. There may be islands of "okayness," but just because there are patches of land does not diminish the existence of the water." I have no idea who wrote this, what the article's title was, or for that matter, the article's content (or else I would give credit). However, these lines have remained etched into the congeries of my rememberance. Why has this been chiseled into my being even now, more than eight years later? I understand why it had such an impact at the time, but now? One not-so-far-fetched notion may be that the idea behind the statement is true. There will always be water. There will always be land (unless of course you subscibe to the Global Warming theory believing that we are all about to have the proverbial swimming pool in the back yard that we have always wanted). However, for arguments sake, lets keep it simple. Thus, the truth is that there are ups and downs, valleys and mountains, islands and oceans. Will I learn from the times that are not what I want them to be? Will I remember what I learned when things are as I think they should be? Will I remember that despite the circumstances and whatever encompasses me that "I have found [Christ's] love feeds [my] soul?"

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