I was reading the new Reformation 21, (it came out this week), and was struck by Carl Trueman's article on the web and blogging.
His observations are very good, and he uses some uniquely British (I assume) words in his article. (For example -- "numptiness".)
One of the things noted by Carl is this -- "...Then there was the case of a young guy who wanted to engage in email banter about something I'd written. What fascinated me was the way this person referred to himself at one point in our exchange as a scholar. Yet he had no higher degree, no track record of publications which had passed muster with peers in the field. Indeed, he's still a student, not yet even beginning a doctoral program. Indeed, he's a long way from possessing that most basic of academic union cards: a PhD. Now, I guess I'm old fashioned but the category of scholar is one which should be reserved for those who have established themselves in their chosen field by actual scholarly achievement, not by simply talking a good game. This credibility is achieved by consistent, careful and scholarly contributions to a field in terms of refereed publications which then enjoy currency among qualified peers outside the person's immediate circle of epigonous friends. Above all, `scholar' is a title that one never, ever applies to oneself. Yet here was this junior denizen of the web calling himself a `scholar', a title at which even most of the distinguished academics with whom I am familiar would blush if it were to be applied to them. What on earth was going on? I can only assume that this chap had been tricked by the fact that he hangs round on blog pages with mutually-affirming virtual friends all day into imagining that he was a real player in the serious scholarly world beyond the blogosphere, so to speak..."
Now, while I may have some differing opinions as to what defines a scholar (I don't believe that you can ALWAYS reduce scholarship to checkboxes, but that is a different argument), I completely agree with the observation.
The blog has created some highly questionable, and widely read 'experts' and 'scholars', and I fear, we are not always discerning when it comes to REAL knowledge as opposed to the nonsense that parades as knowledge. How many times I have heard this -- "Well, I read on the web...." as someone argues with me about some basic aspect of Biblical Christianity. Hard to argue when the 'expert' has been 'published' on his own blog...!
Pastors today are faced with something that Charles Spurgeon was not faced with -- That is, today's congregation has, at its fingertips, a plethora of information, and if someone disagrees with the pastor, no matter how Biblical and orthodox his teaching, they can find someone who will support their theory on-line. They will then cite this so-called expert to refute the teachings of the Bible.
I have heard everything from Jesus is an alien, to Holy Name arguments, all with accompanying pages printed from the website of, for example, Dr. Xenu Wildebeest or some other 'scholar' who spent YEARS researching the relationship between the number forty and Moses weight/height.
Even Pastors have succumbed to this -- I have heard pastors on the radio give illustrations, and imply they are first-person, after I read that very illustration on the web a few weeks before! Pastors are getting more and more of their information from the web; and there truly is some very good stuff out there, but I fear that we will look for something that fits our agenda, and use that for sermon material without being discerning enough to do a little research and ensure that the site is reputable (which is no mean task).
I also worry that pastors, (not excluding yours truly), will heed the siren call of the web and do less and less time in the prayer closet and in the Word, and more and more time in the websphere, culling ideas from anyone who says what they want to hear. The Word MUST shape the pastor, the pastor should NOT shape the Word!
With all that being said -- time for disclosure: I am not an expert, nor a scholar (not even using my criteria, as opposed to Carl Trueman's). I called this blog 'Observations and Opinions' because that is what it is. I pastor a small church in Texas, have some seminary under my belt, am still learning MANY things, and have gained some friends through this blog and others.
My entries here constitute my thoughts/opinions/attitudes, and I am not published ANYWHERE! I do believe that sometimes I have some keen observations, however most of the time I am simply a rambling writer with little form, and even less to say. I believe that my blog should not be used as a scholarly voice (heaven forbid, as Paul would say!), but I do hope that occasionally I will write something that helps someone's understanding of God's grace.
This little piece of blogsphere will stay little, of that I am sure, and I am fine with that. My goal is to encourage and challenge (especially pastors in small churches, or new pastors), whomever may stop by.
Thanks to Carl Trueman for his honesty and thought-provoking article. I will see y'all (that is Texan) after the New Year.
“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -
Friday, December 30, 2005
I was reading the new Reformation 21, (it came out this week), and was struck by Carl Trueman's article on the web and blogging.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
On Sunday I spoke on the Light coming into the world, in reference to not only Christmas, but also Hanukkah... One of the things that I mentioned was the recent boycott drives, and discussions that surrounded this Christmas season; one of the more contentious Christmas seasons in recent memory...
I wanted to post some of my thoughts, regarding this, using Messiah's Hanukkah sermon which He preached in John 10. I will provide the scripture to set the stage for my comments:
John 10:22 - 30 -- At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one."
I feel that His message to the people is apropos today. We spend a lot of energy on boycotting and finding fault with the things that the world is doing, and I worry that we spend more time and energy on that than we do on proclaiming the gospel.
For example: We all want to boycott Target and Wal*Mart (or whomever it is now) because they don't have 'Christmas' listed in their catalogue. My questions is this: WHY are we surprised? Did we forget Messiah's message above? We can force (economically) a retailer to do many things, however forcing them to 'believe' or recognize Christ is not one of them. Messiah goes on to state that He did miracles in front of them and they do not believe, so do we feel that an economic boycott is the answer to return our country to a Christian-centered ethic?
Truth be told, as Messiah stated in John 10 -- no amount of pressure, or proof will bring this country into a position of recognizing Christ, only those who are called and hear His voice, who are amongst His flock will EVER recognize Him as CHRIST!
Why is it that we are so concerned that Target list Christmas items in their catalogue? Are we looking to the world for legitimacy? The world will not provide that; it is almost as if we smugly can say, "Well, we showed Target; they now have Christmas stuff on their website", and that somehow legitimizes Christianity!
Folks, the world does not provide legitimacy to the gospel, that is thinking like the world. What makes the gospel legitimate is God, NOT America, Target, or J.C. Penney's, or anyone else! We do not NEED Target, Wal*Mart, my church, or Willow Creek to ACKNOWLEDGE Christ! Here is the acknowledgement:
Matthew 3:13 - 17 -- Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, "I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?" But Jesus answered him, "Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Isaiah 42:1 -- Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
Matthew 17:1 - 5 -- And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah." He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him."
Let us not expend all of our energies on trying to obtain recognition from the world, let us spend more time in ensuring that the gospel we preach is THE GOSPEL, and not some man-centered news that seeks to affirm us in our sins. I am MUCH more concerned with what I see as a lackadaisical approach to God's Word from within our pulpits, than I am with some retailer recognizing a holiday that is not even Scripturally required.
Here is something to think about:
1st Corinthians 5:9 - 13 -- I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people -- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you."
Let's stop worrying about Target and start getting serious about purging the junk from our midst!
Posted by Ray at 7:56 AM
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Here we are, drawing another year to a close... As I look back over the past year in our church, I must say that there have been some very wonderful times in our congregation, and likewise, we also experienced some tremendous heartbreak.
This seemed to be a year with too many funerals in it, many in our church, including myself, lost loved ones. And while some knew the Lord and are now in His presence, far too many died in their sins.
We had several marriages that took place this year as well, (we are fairly small), and this has been a blessing for me as a pastor. Also, there were the baptisms; some of the people who were baptized this year had previously told me that I would see them in church (to quote), "when hell freezes over." Ahh, I love the Lord! It was an incredible blessing to see these same people, brought into fellowship with us as they were drawn by the Lord as He was lifted up!
I think of the financial struggles we faced, and are facing, and yet I do not look at these in trepidation; the Lord has consistently provided for all of our needs for the past four years, and I am not about to start doubting Him now. I really have learned a lot about myself this year when it comes to worry (I do WAAAYYY too much of it), but these words ring in my ears and my heart: "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:33, 34).
I think of the many mistakes I made, and the sermons that I would dearly love to redo, and I think of the growth that I have experienced this year in the position of pastor. I think of how the Lord has blessed me with the best elders and deacons that a man could ask for, and how much my wife has been such a support and a blessing as well.
And I am concerned about what I see in the Body of Christ.
As we have gone through the year we have seen technology enable us to 'dialogue' in an entirely new way (for many of us), as a Body of believers. I have found some wonderful places that I visit every morning for inspirational, and/or challenging thought. I think of blogs such as Pyromaniac, The Highland Host, Tom Ascol and many others. And, of course, there is always the morning 'funnies' that I read, such as marc's place. While he is always funny, he also makes us think.
I think of people whose acquaintance I have made, such as Alan (The Gadfly), and Daniel, and of course my friends from across the ocean, Libbie, and Matthew.
I may not agree with all of these folks all of the time, but each of them, and many more who I simply cannot list due to length restrictions, have impacted my ministry. They have made me reexamine some of my beliefs, and in some areas they have caused me to strengthen my resolve, while in others, they have caused me to go do some homework, but each and every one challenged me!
I stated at the beginning of this thought that I am concerned about the body, and here is why: While I have had great experiences via the blogsphere, I have seen a definitive note of battlements being drawn up and people finding themselves either impaled on the fence between camps, or publicly ridiculed for being foolish enough to disagree. Some have simply found the 'yes men' who are allowed to post on their blog, thereby keeping the conversation insular and useless.
This is disconcerting to me. I am all for a good, spirited debate, however many of the 'debates' recently have turned into character assassination, or exile to the Siberian outposts of the blogsphere. I think we MUST stand for correct doctrine, and I am not espousing an inclusive, all are equally right, type of atmosphere, but I think we have gone beyond that in recent months.
It seems that we are more interested in finding out where the others are incorrect than in fostering true discussion about subjects which have been debated for many years.
Unless you are a Reformed, Cessationist, who is Baptistic, and adheres to the 1689 Baptist Confession, and ONLY reads the Puritans, you simply are out in left field.
Or, if you are not a Paedo-Baptist, who has properly catechized your children in the Westminster Confession, and is properly sacerdotal, then you simply fall outside the pale of Orthodoxy!
I pray that 2006 will be a year when we can have proper discussions without calling another person's faith into question over the smallest 'deviation' from 'proper faith'. Now, if anyone actually will read this lengthy post, I want to reiterate: I AM NOT ADVOCATING AN INCLUSIVISM THAT STATES ALL BELIEFS ARE EQUALLY VALID. What I am stating is that disagreements should be dealt with in a proper Christian manner.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ ARE NOT the enemy; they may well try your patience, and they may even attack your ego, or knowledge, but please, remember the Lord's words in John 13:34, 35: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
I pray that 2006 will be the year when we, as Christians, are known for our love, and not our fractious manners.
Posted by Ray at 5:48 AM
Friday, December 16, 2005
I have recently read "Humility; True Greatness" by C.J. Mahany, and have been very moved by the book. One of the things that he touches on is something that I have always been awed by, and I have not heard many people discuss.
Let me quote this section out of the book, and then add my comments:
"In Mark 10 we find Jesus and His disciples on the road, going up to Jerusalem. This is the last journey of Jesus' ministry; and the final destination is in full view. The hour for which He ultimately came now approaches. The cross is on the horizon.
This long journey to Jerusalem and the cross will apparently be a lonely one for the Savior, for He's making it without the full understanding and support of His disciples. They continue to be blinded by selfish ambition, so He must continue to teach and instruct them and confront their arrogance.
And yet, however grieved His heart must surely be at this moment, we see Him 'walking ahead of them' (v.32). No one is prodding Him on; no one is forcing Him. He's leading the way. And the One leading the way is the only One in this group of travelers who's aware of what indescribable anguish awaits Him there.
Pause, if you will, and picture Him in your mind. Behold this lonely figure out in front of you, fully aware and informed of what awaits Him in Jerusalem. See Him steadfast in heart, determined, setting the pace for His disciples, striding purposefully forward.
He will not be deterred. He's full of resolve as He keeps this appointment made in eternity past. Relentlessly He proceeds to the place where He'll be betrayed and arrested, where He'll be accused and condemned, where He'll be mocked and spit upon and flogged and ultimately executed. And there's no hesitation, no reluctance in his steps. Though unimaginable suffering is before Him, He's walking ahead, leading the way."
© 2005 Sovereign Grace Ministries
Often it seems as though people believe that Jesus was simply a man in the wrong place at the wrong time; oh yes, they will say, "Of course, He is the Son of God", but their attitude is one of pity for Christ, NOT awe.
When we consider that it was Christ who was in charge the entire time, it radically changes our perspective on the atonement. When you view Him as a VICTIM, then you have the wrong perspective; Jesus Christ was not a victim, but a victor! He was steadfastly moving towards the very reason that He was born on this planet. When we view Him in any other way, we may have many 'feelings' about His sacrifice, but they may well be maudlin, and wrong-headed. However, when we view His sacrifice in the proper and biblical way, we find ourselves lifted up, not saddened. HE DID THIS FOR US!
Hebrews 12:1,2 -- "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God..."
Philippians 2:5-11 -- Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus 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.
And finally, a Scripture I recently quoted in another entry:
john 12:23-32 -- "And Jesus answered them, 'The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? "Father, save me from this hour"? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.' Then a voice came from heaven: 'I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.' The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, 'An angel has spoken to him.' Jesus answered, 'This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.'
At this time of year, as we observe the incarnation of the Christ, let us never forget that the baby in the manger was the one who would walk resolutely into Jerusalem, be nailed to a cross, and die for you and I: willingly, obediently, and looking forward to the joy of His people being redeemed!
Posted by Ray at 7:27 AM
Monday, December 12, 2005
Random musings for this time of year...
1. I have already spoken of the rampant consumerism that infects us during this time of year, but I wanted to get a bit more particular. One of the affects of the 'Christmas Shopping' bug is one that is not discussed often. That is, the families who are struggling to simply get by, are put into the position of going into the tar pit of credit card debt during the holiday to ensure that their children have the latest and greatest junk which will be obsolete by NEXT Christmas, when, once again, parents will shell out untold millions on games and 'stuff', much of which depicts the worst side of our society. In the USA it is not uncommon to see children walk through malls, stores, church, completely hypnotized by a stupid little game. And this is called 'Christmas'! The celebration of the birth of Messiah has now become the time of debt... The one who came to release us from the debt of sin, is now celebrated by placing people into the debt of Mastercard!
2. Most people, including many Christians, are happy to put a creche on their lawn or go and look at the one displayed at the local church, and KEEP Jesus as a baby. They ooohhh and aaahhh over the 'cute' baby, but never get past that to realize the awesomeness of the event that occurred two thousand years ago. They are perfectly content to boycott Target because it refuses to put the word Christmas in its catalog and on its signs, yet dare they boycott this, or this? These are both, in my opinion, not only tawdry, but dishonor the advent of the Son of God, the Alpha and Omega, the Wonderful Counselor, Sar Shalom (Prince of Peace) as much as Target's 'slight' of Christmas. Target is a business of the world; why are some surprised that they don't join hands with the Christian community in celebrating the birth of the Messiah? I am MUCH MORE appalled by the manger scenes that denigrate the birth of Christ, that are openly and opulently displayed in Christian stores!
The ones who are very willing to get all soft and mushy over the BABY, shrink from the CROSS! These people may KNOW their purpose in life, but they do not understand Christ's purpose for coming to earth! As a matter of fact, for some, apparently He came to provide 'family time'. This is reflected by those who closed their church on this day!
3. Why did Christ come to earth? What was the purpose that drove Him? In John 12:23-32, as Jesus approaches His date with the cross we hear Him say this: And Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him. "Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? 'Father, save me from this hour'? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven: "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again." The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him." Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not mine. Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
So as we fawn over the baby let us never forget the true WHY of His advent. Marcos Gonzalez takes our minds from the first advent to second advent in his post found here. Let us never forget that this baby in the manger came to pay the cost for His people, and when He returns, those who today love the little baby in the manger, may well be shocked by the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, triumphantly returning!
Posted by Ray at 5:40 AM
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Blogger is KILLING ME! It is so slow that I almost called it a night before even getting to this stage... OK, well enough of my whining...
I received a new Bible handbook in the mail this week -- 'Ryken's Bible Handbook' - Authors Leland Ryken, Philip Ryken and James Wilhoit. Now, I have plenty of Bible handbooks, and have used them for years, but I may get rid of the rest and simply use this one,(probably not all of them as I have a few others I like as well). :-)
I have several of Leland Ryken's books already -- 'Dictionary of Biblical Imagery' and 'The Word of God in English', and 'City on a Hill', and 'Give Praise to God' from Philip Ryken, so I had high expectations for this handbook.
It did not disappoint -- this is not like a usual handbook which provides some history and a brief synopsis of the book under study. This handbook actually teaches a good deal ABOUT the Bible. Part One 'The Bible as a Book' is very nice and provides some memorable quotes from people such as C.S. Lewis and J. Gresham Machen. It also makes the claim that the handbook gives teachers a great outline to work from, and while I have not yet tried that, it is chock full of good, solid, information!
There is a one year reading program in the back of the book, and several nice, color maps to round out the book. While this handbook doesn't have all of the nice pictures that some of my other handbooks have, it has much more actual information, and I would highly recommend it to both teachers and lay students of the Bible.
Posted by Ray at 4:51 PM
Monday, December 05, 2005
I have recently picked up C.J. Mahaney's two books -- 'The Cross-Centered Life' and 'Humility: True Greatness'. Great reads.
I think what I enjoy about Mahaney is that he is truly a pastor at heart, and is very approachable in his writings. My wife and I both read through Cross-Centered Life in one sitting.
Humility is a tough one, and although I am reading through it at a good clip; I am going back and re-reading much of it. I am ashamed to admit how little humility I truly have! I have been praying about this aspect of my life, and the Lord answered right away, pointing out several places where I have PLENTY to be humble about in my ministry!
I know that Monday mornings are a dangerous time for pastors to blog as that can often be a time of critical self-evaluation regarding the previous Sunday service(s), however I would say that that is not the case here. I simply took a serious look at my life and ministry and found that it is lacking proper humility in so many areas; my relationship with my wife, my dealing with others, my attitude about aspects of the ministry. All of these need to be re-evaluated in the light of a proper spirit of humility.
Here is a quote from C.J. Mahaney's book that really struck me -- "Pride is when sinful human beings aspire to the status and position of God and refuse to acknowledge their dependence upon Him"
Then I turn on Alistair Begg's message this AM, and what is he talking about? Down in the Valley - B is discussing how we get through tough times, and provides a HEALTHY dose of humility during times of self-pity which is nothing more than pride...
And Pyromaniac's Monday morning Spurgeon put the icing on my humility cake, which I am dutifully now eating!
How DARE I be proud when my Savior's example to me was antithetical to that!
THANKS PHIL! :-)
Posted by Ray at 6:05 AM
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Here we go; another Christmas season... I dread the fact that I will have to fight the crowds to pick up ANYTHING during this time of year. However, this is not a diatribe about the consumerism that has poisoned our land; that is old news and been discussed by many who are more capable than I, this is much more a statement about the Christians who bemoan the fact that Christmas has lost all meaning because of the evil surface-dwellers (oh, sorry, I meant the reprobate and lost ones).
We sit around on our collective, and often self-righteous, duffs, complaining about the school not letting our children bring in Christmas cookies with angels on them, or some other tripe, and all the while, we participate in the world's denigration of Christ during this season.
Oh yes, we don't use the dreaded "X" in our Christmas (i.e. Xmas, Xians, etc) but we participate in every other way. Let me provide some examples:
Last night I went to a local big box Christian store, looking for, of all things, some decent Christian literature to purchase for a friend. I had in mind Francis Turretin's 'Institutes of Elenctic Theology", and this store actually does have a fair selection of Reformed books.
Well, they didn't have the book, and the girl behind the counter, (why can't they actually hire at least ONE person who knows ANYTHING about theology?), actually laughed, and asked if I made up the word Elenctic. I admit it is a bit unusual, but just the fact that she would ask that is interesting, considering I did not appear to be joking... As a complete aside, maybe one day I will recommend that this store get a dress code; half of the girls (and I do mean girls, not women) working there had JUST ENOUGH clothing on to ALMOST cover them.
Sorry, I went off on a tangent, where was I? Oh yes, I went to the store to pick up literature, and while they did not have the book I was looking for, they did have some other fairly decent selections. I picked out a few, and headed to the checkout counter. Now, you must understand that I almost NEVER go anywhere in this store outside of the front door >>>>> Book section >>>>>>> checkout counter. However, my wife was with me and she had wandered into sections completely unknown to me. I was shocked by what I found....
Well, I must admit that I was not shocked by what first greeted my eyes; rows and rows of 'Purpose-Driven' junk; books, journals, pens, coffee cups etc., followed by rows of Osteenian junk, and then the onslaught of Narnia materials, NONE of which have anything to do with the story of Narnia (i.e. stuffed Aslan dolls etc.).
But once I had waded through that, the cornucopia of bad taste that assaulted me was unexpected, (maybe I should get out more!).
There were crosses EVERYWHERE; one entire corner of the store was crosses from top to bottom; in every shape and decor that you could imagine. I was amazed at the tawdry and shameful way that this was done. The crosses were nothing more than merchandise to be stacked in a corner. And there was no restraint on bad taste, some of the crosses were hideous in color and design! This instrument through which our Savior paid the price for our sins is now a decorative item to be displayed like so much canned tuna fish!
Then I came across the fish and dove, (Calvary Chapel dove), tambourines... Reeling from this I scrambled into the next aisle which had GIFT BOXES of tracts; and not just any tracts, but tracts for specific people; i.e. tracts for women, tracts for men, tracts for midgets who have halitosis! All priced for Christmas!
I determined (not in a Norm Geisler way, but in an active way) to locate my wife and escape. I found her milling amongst the 'Testamints' and PEZ dispensers, (all attractively adorned with the head of some saint), and we made for the door. That was when I discovered the Biblezine's. Now, I knew of these from many who posted about them on the web, i.e. Pyromaniac, and Steve Camp, so I was not in the dark, but what I was not prepared for was the large SELECTION of these. Wow...
Finally, we were safely headed out the door when I ran across the Christmas sale on, and I am not kidding, The Beverly Hillbillies Bible Studies. Sorry, I had to look; I mean, I watched the BH's when I was a youngster, but for the life of me I could not figure out how Jethro and Jeb would fit into a study of God's Word! I flipped through the book and found the most inane junk that I have ever read regarding the study of God's Word. An example, which is not a quote, but from my remembrance: "When have you given something up like Jeb?" AAARRRGGGHHH!
So, what does all this have to do with anything? Am I telling anyone anything they don't know? Probably not, but next time you are decrying the fact that the lost world has denigrated Christmas to a 'Winter holiday', I want you to look through your purchases and see how many pieces of trviviality that you have bought. I mean, how are we displaying the incomprehensible love of God through the advent of the Savior by purchasing what my lost friends call 'Jesus junk'.
What we are doing by being those types of undiscerning consumers, is lining the pocket of businesses that could care less about Christ, even so-called 'Christian' businesses, such as Nelson Publishing. And we are trivializing the greatest event, outside of the Cross, that ever occurred.
As you pick up a cheap cross to display on your endtable, around your neck, or even in your car, let these words ring in your head:
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
save in the death of Christ, my God;
all the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
As you buy your Veggie Tales Nativity Scene please remember these words:
Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
triumph o'er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.
Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day's return,
till thy mercy's beams I see;
till they inward light impart,
cheer my eyes and warm my heart.
Visit then this soul of mine;
pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
fill me, Radiancy divine,
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.
I know that many disagree with me, and that is their right, but if you are going to pursue consumerism, please don't attach the name of the Savior to it. Maybe this year, instead of buying some junk, you could sit down with your children and tell them the wonderous story of the advent of the Son of God...
I have a final idea: Rather than buy junk, how about buying a REAL Bible for someone? Or how about purchasing some real literature? Or maybe, just maybe, how about putting an extra nickel into the Salvation Army bucket and let the PEZ dispenser be!
Posted by Ray at 7:04 AM
Monday, November 28, 2005
I will post a final entry regarding songs. As Bob Kauflin stated in his comment; there are some signs of life in modern music. Not all hymns have to be written prior to electricity and gasoline-powered automobiles!
One particular hymnwriter that I enjoy is Keith Getty, both solo and in his collaboration with Stuart Townend (I apologize to Stuart, I have referred to his last name as Townsend on several posts!), he has written some of the most theologically-rich songs in recent memory.
Here are the lyrics to See What A Morning.
See what a morning gloriously bright
With the dawning of hope in Jerusalem
Folded the grave clothes tomb filled with light
As the angels announce Christ is risen
See God's salvation plan
Wrought in love borne in pain paid in sacrifice
Fulfilled in Christ the man
For He lives - Christ is risen from the dead
See Mary weeping "Where is He laid?"
As in sorrow she turns from the empty tomb
Hears a voice speaking calling her name
It's the Master the Lord raised to life again
This voice that spans the years
Speaking life stirring hope bringing peace to us
Will sound till He appears
For He lives! Christ is risen from the dead
One with the Father ancient of days
Through the Spirit who clothes faith with certainty
Honour and blessing glory and praise
To the King crowned with power and authority
And we are raised with Him
Death is dead love has won Christ has conquered
And we shall reign with Him
For He lives Christ is risen from the dead
Keith Getty & Stuart Townend
Copyright Â© 2003 Thankyou Music/MCPS
And one more for your enjoyment, from Stuart Townend, called 'How Deep The Father's Love For Us"
How deep the Father's love for us,
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory
Behold the Man upon a cross,
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice,
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished
I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom
There are many more young hymnwriters that are out there, and I may one day post about them, but suffice it to say that there is a light at the end of the worship tunnel. Some are growing weary of theologically and lyrically vacuous songs and are writing songs worthy of singing to our Lord and Savior!
Posted by Ray at 3:57 AM
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Monday, November 21, 2005
I was asked to list songs that made the list of 'acceptable' and 'non-acceptable' at our church. I am hesitant to do this as we are nowhere near settled on all songs, but I thought I would put together a sample to show where we are heading. I may add a few more samples as I go forward.
First, before I go any further; understand that these songs may be fine, and maybe you love them, but we have found them to be not acceptable for corporate worship at our church. I will put a few comments next to the songs so that, should you read this post, you will understand my thoughts.
The first song that we removed was one that is popular on the radio. It is done by a band that I like; Casting Crowns. However this particular song is not acceptable at our church for worship.
The song is 'Your Love is Extravagant', and here are the lyrics:
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship, is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating, in our secret place
Your love is extravagant
Spread wide in the arms of Christ, is the love that covers sin.
No greater love have I ever known; You considered me your friend.
Capture my heart again.
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship is intimate
I feel like moving to the rhythm of your grace
Your fragrance is intoxicating in our secret place
Spread wide, in the arms of Christ, is the love that covers sin
No greater love have I ever known!
You considered me your friend.
Capture my heart again.
Your love is extravagant
Your friendship is intimate
Now, some may say: "What is wrong with this song?" Well, read the words again, and what is the image that is conjured up? Is it God's Holiness, or the Finished Work of Christ, or is it an eros-based love? You see, although many would disagree, I will tell you that words have MEANING. If you put the above words on a piece of paper and removed the ONE mention of Christ from the lyrics, what would the song say to you?
UNDERSTAND THAT I AM NOT CONDEMNING CASTING CROWNS; I enjoy much of their music, some of the songs they have released are among my favorites, but understand that we are talking here about the corporate worship of God's people. The words ARE important, and these words simply do not point at our Lord and Savior in a way that is proper.
Here is another song that expresses the Love of Christ; look at the difference in the focus (whereas the above song is primarily about MY side of the equation, and ME).
Here is love, vast as the ocean
Loving kindness as a flood
When the prince of life our ransom
Shed for us His precious blood
Who His love will not remember
Who can cease to sing His praise
He can never be forgotten
Throughout heaven’s eternal days
On the mount of crucifixion
Fountains opened deep and wide
Through the floodgates of God’s mercy
Flowed a vast and gracious tide
Grace and love like mighty rivers
Flowed incessant from above
And heaven’s peace and perfect justice
Kissed a guilty world in love
Posted by Ray at 6:11 AM
Thursday, November 17, 2005
There were three additional points in the BoT article entitled, "What Characterizes a Spiritual Song?" I have ennumerated these below with comments, and since Paul asked about a list of songs that are on/off our church's list I may work on that in a future post.
6. We Can Envisage Spiritual Songs Being Part of a Great Awakening - True, worshipful, meaningful, songs should deliver a message about our brokenness prior to the work of our Savior, and then our joy at the freedom from sin which we experience once His redeeming work has been done in our life. The songs we sing should reflect the spiritual awakening that we experience. Let me provide an example:
(There is a Fountain)
Words: William Cowper 1772
There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel's veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains
Lose all their guilty stains, lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood shall never lose its power
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more
Be saved, to sin no more, be saved, to sin no more
Till all the ransomed church of God be saved, to sin no more
E'er since, by faith, I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die
And shall be till I die, and shall be till I die
Redeeming love has been my theme, and shall be till I die
Could you imagine these words being written today? There is a very well-known mega-church pastor who has removed this hymn from his church's song list. To paraphrase him, "Our people don't want to sing about blood". RIGHT, that is where the problem is in today's church, we want it to be about us and we do not want to focus on the atonement of our Savior! Why is the church tepid and shallow? Because the great truths are not proclaimed. Many people expect revival without understanding, preaching, and singing about the great reality of salvation!
7. Under the Influence of Spiritual Songs, We Can See Christians Being Drawn into Sacrificial Full-Time Work for God - Much of the modern worship music is about GETTING from God, or FEELING about myself, and very little is about giving our lives to the Lord for the work of the harvest. We have become self-absorbed in our worship music. Psalm 51 is a beautiful song, look in verses 10 through 13 and find this:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
We see a repentant David requesting the Lord work in his life AND THEN he will teach transgressors the ways of the Lord. All too often in modern worship music it is 'Do something for me Lord so I feel better', and that is pretty much the thrust of the song.
8. We Expect to Find Spiritual Songs in Heaven - Two things about this and I will finish (I know my posts are way too long, probably why many may not read them):
First, I have heard many people say, "I get to church AFTER the worship music because we/I don't care for music", or "Hymns, and spiritual songs don't do much for me". Both of these betray a man-centered attitude. First, when we sing at church it is not for us! We sing TO someone! And those who say they don't like music are going to very disappointed when they find out that we will be singing in heaven!
Second, I love how John Blanchard states this, so I will quote him; "Does the music you enjoy suggest that it was arranged for the same ear? Can you imagine it being enjoyed by God the Father? Is it serious music? Does it promote a sense of awe and reverence? Can you imagine it being enjoyed by God the Son?... Can you imagine it being enjoyed by God the Holy Spirit? Does it speak of peace, purity, and a spirit of worship?"
These should be questions that we pose of our worship music.
I pray that pastors, worship leaders, and elders become more versed in hymnody and the proper perspective and role of worship music!
I will try and put together a brief list of songs in a future (soon) post. Not everyone is going to agree with me, but it will be a good exercise to show some of the points made in the last two posts.
Posted by Ray at 5:32 AM
Monday, November 14, 2005
Like Pyromaniac, I received my BoT in the mail this past weekend (a little late, but I JUST signed up a few weeks ago), and I must admit that for a small magazine, (it comes in at about the size of a 5x8 photo, and 32 pages), it packs a lot more than magazines I recently UNSUBSCRIBED to (and will not name).
I found the first article, entitled "What Characterizes A Spiritual Song?", to be especially good reading. We have been working through the songs that are sung at our church for a long while now, and have been paring down and weeding out songs that simply do not fit as worshipful and/or appropriate. It has been a long process and continues as I write this. We have had to remove some songs that all of us enjoyed singing, but yet, as we examined them they were inappropraite for a Sunday Morning.
I am amazed at how long I attended church, was involved in leadership and even pastored before I actually began to examine the songs with the critical eye of a shepherd. I am not only amazed, but embarrassed by it. There are songs out there that are good songs, as songs go, but that have absolutely nothing to say at all, they are truly the 7-11 songs (the 7 verses sung eleven times), and do not lead the people of a congregation into anything other than some interesting omphaloskepsis.
The BoT article had several points that should be examined when attempting to ascertain whether a song is appropriate or not. The comments after the main point are mine unless otherwise noted:
1. Spiritual Songs Help Us Hear the Word of God More Clearly -- I must admit that I am amazed at how little Scripture is contained in much of the modern worship. It seems that we have been striving for the right 'beat' and 'sound' as opposed to the right MESSAGE! When you have lyrics like the words found in Psalm 103, why do we feel that we need to write something that says the same thing in a watered down way, but with a beat that will get the people 'excited'? I thought it was interesting that the writer stated that some songs are too grand for worship; at first I balked at that, but as I read on, I understood: Some songs are so grand in their presentation that they take away from the message of the words that are to be heard!
2. Spiritual Songs Give Us a Greater Vision of the Glory of God -- Do the songs we sing accurately reflect the greatness of God in His purity, majesty, holiness, and serenity? Many songs that we sing simply do not, rather they elevate the more profance attributes of the creature. Our songs are no more proper than the songs of old that were composed for the pagan gods, assigning them with the same vulgar and profane attributes as the people who sang them.
3. Spiritual Songs Teach a Repentant View of Man's Depravity -- This is almost a completely overlooked aspect of songs sung in the church. Check out the lyrics from a song penned by Luther B. Bridgers in 1910:
All my life was wrecked by sin and strife.
Discord filled my heart with pain;
Jesus swept across the broken strings,
stirred the slumb’ring chords again.
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus—sweetest name I know,
fills my ev’ry longing, keeps me singing as I go.
“He Keeps Me Singing” (1910)
There are many more, and I may post some more as time permits, but we rarely speak of our condition in modern songs.
4. Spiritual Songs Encourage Us to Disciplined Godly Living -- The last portin of this point is so well-written that I would like to quote it in full -- "Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs are most beautifully equipped to bring the soul to God, to Him who is back of all, above all, before all, first in order of sequence, first in power and glory, utterly pre-eminent, above everything in rank and station, exalted in dignity and honour, the great self-existent One, giving life and form to all things and sustaining moment by moment all he has made; the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit; the one God, and then all things else, whether they be creatures or spirits, thrones and principalities and powers, all exist because of him and for him. 'Thou are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for they pleasure they are and were created'".
5. Spiritual Songs Exhort Us to Be Separated from the World -- In this day and age evangelicalism is running headlong in the opposite direction. The watchword in today's evangelical world is BE OF THE WORLD!
Those are the first five points, I may conclude with the final three points later in the week.
I pray that the church would begin to examine the songs it sings more closely, and evaluate them by criteria a little more heavenly-focused than 'Do we like them?' or 'Do they make us feel good?', or the ever-popular 'Does it attract people?'
Black Sabbath ATTRACTS people, but I am pretty sure than many churches would balk at them playing the main service, opening with War Pigs and finishing up with Iron Man. So, why do we use the criteria cited above? Who are we singing to? Who are we to be pleasing in our singing?
To be continued....
Posted by Ray at 6:05 AM
Friday, November 11, 2005
I just received in the mail, the 1689 Baptist Confession (the 2nd London Confession), and have eagerly begun reading it. As I stated before; as I read through the various confessions, and statements, I hope to be able to post some observations.
The depth of thought in the Confessions is amazing! These were not men who developed a statement of faith about their church over their morning breakfast cereal (it seems that many do!).
I also like the fact that they developed a confession built around what they BELIEVE, NOT around what they do not believe! We could use more via affirmativa in our argumentation today. I believe that a balance of both is important, but it seems that we lean too far one way (negativa).
I look forward to reading through these confessions!
Posted by Ray at 7:19 AM
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
I have been reading with interest some of the recent posts regarding the gifts of the Holy Spirit. I must admit that I have been through all phases of this argument, from briefly attending a heavily charistmatic church (VERY briefly), to attending a cessationist church, and everything in between. And quite frankly the people at our church run the gamut as well.
I read Daniel Phillips observations with interest. While I do not agree with him completely (I am not a complete cessationist), I do respect and track with a lot of his thinking. (BTW, I submitted a name to Dan - I thought Canon Fodder was pretty good) :-)
What I have an issue with is the tenor of most of these discussions:
It seems to me that one cannot disagree with ANY ASPECT of the Charismatic movement at all, or they are immediately branded a (LOUD GASP) CESSATIONIST and sent hate mail etc. Of course, the same is true on some of the more extreme cessation sites as well, albeit this is more of a rarity.
I am very disappointed that my brothers in the Lord cannot even discuss the validity of gifts without resorting to ad hominem attacks. Pyromaniac recently received several of these types of comments when he posted this article.
Now, if you read the post, Pyro CLEARLY provides several caveats. These were simply ignored... Sad state of affairs...
I have seen Charistmatic churches put incredible peer pressure on their congregants, forcing them into silence regarding the questioning of any form of Miraculous Gifts. The Toronto Blessing was well into its lunacy before the church actually said something, as were the KC Prophets and the Brownsville stuff. I have had friends in the Charismatic movement tell me that they are unable to judge Benny Hinn's antics, yet they defame John MacArthur and call him spiritually dead! Amazing to me!!
Anyone who thinks we are not to judge what goes on in the church needs to check out the Scriptures again: 1st Corinthians 5 says that we are not to judge what goes on in the world, rather we are to examine what goes on in the church. And that is but one place where this is listed.
Now, as many have guessed, I do not agree with John MacArthur on the gifts; however I think he is a very good teacher/preacher/pastor. As I have posted previously, when I saw him preach at a "Preach The Word" conference several years ago, he painted such an incredible picture of the Cross that I have never been the same. Do we disagree? Yes, however is he a brother in the Lord? Yes! Do I respect him? Yes, I do! Would I allow John MacArthur to preach at my church -- Are you kidding, of course I would!!!
Alistair Begg recently said 'The plain things [in the Bible] are the main things, and the main things are the plain things'. I find it sad that brothers in the Lord cannot have an intellectual, and Christian discussion over points in which they disagree without resorting to name-calling and straw-man tactics.
Many great men of God have stood on both sides of the miraculous gifts debate, and yet they were able to actually discuss this in a Christian manner. Why are we unable to do that today?
I weary of my Charismatic friends attacks whenever I dare question anything going on in the Charismatic movement (i.e. C. Peter Wagner's 'Apostolic Movement'). Now, remember, I am not a cessationist, yet when I question even the most extreme charismania, I have denied the fact that there can be miraculous gifting. I wonder whether my friends have actually ever read 1st Corinthians in toto, (they are forever quoting PARTS of it, such as 1st Corinthians 12). Paul was NOT accepting the gifts in all forms and modes, raher he was rebuking the church in Corinth for some of its activities.
I have learned from so many wonderful men of God -- on both sides of the gifts debate -- that I have a hard time with the vitriolic attack that is so often launched against anyone questioning any aspect of Charismatic gifting, and by the same token, I have a beef with cessationists who paint all Charismatics as clowns and idiots. If you want to discuss the gifts; do it in a Christian manner!
Why is it that we argue so often about the gifts and what gifts, and when, and we fail to actually exhibit the things that we are told we will ALL receive; that is, the fruits of the Spirit. Where is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control in our discussions?
We are known by our fruits, NOT by our gifts, for even the reprobate will exhibit gifts -- Matthew 7:16-23: You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'
I would love to see true, honest, and loving conversations regarding the gifts, without the typical rhetoric, anger, and name-calling...
Posted by Ray at 6:08 AM
Monday, November 07, 2005
When last I left this blog, I was headed to a B&B for the weekend. I love getting away like that; I bring my books, and while for many that would not be rest, I find it incredibly rewarding and enriching. We had a wonderful time!
During the weekend I was able to get back into my study of the Westminster Confession of Faith; really digging into it and looking at each and every article within the Confession. It is an amazing document, and I have enjoyed how it has pushed me back to the Word of God over and over again to re-examine His Word! I will probably blog on some of this as I go forward. However, today I will simply state that if you have never REALLY studied the WCF then I would highly recommend that you do so.
As anyone who reads this blog knows; the direction that I have been taking is one that is more pastoral in nature. That is not to say that I am attempting to teach pastors in a formal way, there are many who are much more skilled at this than I EVER will be! Rather, I hoping to encourage and share with other pastors, teachers, missionaries, the things that I am experiencing, or learning as I go forward.
Anyway, with that being said, I found an article by Sinclair Ferguson on Reformation21's Blog that really gets to the heart of pastoral ministry. The is part one of a two part that I would recommend reading.
I have heard Sinclair speak many times and he is one of the great preachers/teachers of our generation (IMHO). I think it is time that pastors get back to the BASICS, and leave behind the rest of what passes for modern preaching/pastoring.
Over the next few weeks, I plan on discussing parabolic teaching, and it's misuse in today's society (witness Steve Camp's post on one aspect of this misuse and abuse.) Also note in that article that he provides a reason for the use of parabolic teaching by the Messiah. This is not the exclusive reason (IMHO), but it is a key reason that many overlook in today's 'seeker-sensitive' movement.
So, until I get time to post again; enjoy Sinclair Ferguson and Steve Camp!
Posted by Ray at 7:02 AM
Thursday, November 03, 2005
For Pastor Appreciation Month, my wife and I were given a gift certificate for a local B&B. I will soon take her to the B&B and we will enjoy our twentieth wedding anniversary. Thank you to my wonderful congregation!
That is not why I am posting today, but wanted to set the stage a bit. When I receive recognition during Pastor Appreciation Month, I truly wonder, did/do I really deserve recognition? I look into the faces of my congregation and ask myself,
a) "Have I done EVERYTHING I could do to ensure that my teaching is solid?"
b) "Have I paid proper attention to those hurting, or in need of counsel?"
c) "Have I recognized those unsung workers, who week in and week out, are there, teaching Sunday School, and giving of their time and finances?"
And I find often that the honest answer is less than stellar. I wish I had more time to devote to study (don't we all), and I wish that I was able to spend more time visiting, but truth is, I have a limited number of cycles, and the laws of physics works against me.
In Jewish circles, during the month of Elul (which this year took place around Pastor Appreciation Month), a time is spent in reviewing the past year, and making things right with others. Now there are many things in the concept of Elul which I disagree with, however one of the things that I appreciate about Elul (also called Teshuvah) is that it forces me to look over the past year and see how I have done.
Truth be told, I owe my congregation many apologies for sermons that should not have been preached, or preached with more clarity. I am not sure who Alistair Begg was quoting, but I have heard him say, "We should keep our old sermons to weep over". I heartily agree and have done so on many occasions.
When a pastor preaches a bad/poor sermon and it is recorded for posterity and broadcast on the radio, I try to be understanding; I shudder to think what my life would be like if all of my sermons were broadcast on the radio! Now, there are always exceptions, where a sermon is simply inexcusable, badly researched, or NOT the gospel. However, there are many sermons in which a faux pas is seized upon and blown into a major debate/critique, judging a pastor by one slip that he made.
I have heard sermons by men that I respect greatly, such as John MacArthur and Mark Dever, where I thought that they lacked a bit of grace, or maybe the sermon contained an agenda which I felt was not fully exegeted out of the Scripture. I do not fault these men for that, they are, after all, simply men. They have fed their flocks faithfully for many, many years, and an occasional sermon that misses a bit is going to happen (And besides, that is my opinion, after all).
Sorry, went off on a tangent for a minute -- Back to our discussion: Yes, we all preach sermons that we would like to take back.
Also, I sometimes struggle with counseling; our church is a bit unique in that we are truly an outreach church, working with people who have had some very tough lives, some RIGHT off the street. Sometimes the questions these folks ask fall outside of the counseling techniques and guidance that I learned. I always pray before, during and after counseling sessions, desiring for the Word of the Lord to reign supreme in the session. I must admit that I sometimes miss on this. As emotions raise and discussions get more heated, or emotional (on the side of the counselee, usually), I find myself, at times, desiring to comfort when confronting is what is called for, or vice-versa.
And how do you thank people who are so giving of their time? We are a completely volunteer church, not having any paid staff, and I am always amazed at the work that the people in this congregation will do for ministries. We hold a Passover Seder every year to explain and illustrate the Messiah in the Feast, and the people in the church work for weeks preparing; we will have more people attend the Seder than we have in the church (usually by about double!)
These are examples of what I think about as they recognize me during Pastor Appreciation Month. I know that the Scriptures say that elders are worthy of double honor, but Paul puts a qualifier in the passage that says, "Let elders who RULE WELL be considered worthy of double honor..." And I always wonder: Am I ruling well?
While many, many pastors know, and quote, the 1st Timothy Scripture above, we need to go back and look over what qualifies as 'ruling well'.
Jeremiah 23:1, 2 - "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD..."
Am I attending to my flock?
Ezekiel 34 - The word of the LORD came to me: "Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. "Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. "As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? "Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken. "I will make with them a covenant of peace and banish wild beasts from the land, so that they may dwell securely in the wilderness and sleep in the woods. And I will make them and the places all around my hill a blessing, and I will send down the showers in their season; they shall be showers of blessing. And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit, and the earth shall yield its increase, and they shall be secure in their land. And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them. They shall no more be a prey to the nations, nor shall the beasts of the land devour them. They shall dwell securely, and none shall make them afraid. And I will provide for them renowned plantations so that they shall no more be consumed with hunger in the land, and no longer suffer the reproach of the nations. And they shall know that I am the LORD their God with them, and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Lord GOD. And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord GOD."
Have I fed the flock with proper food? (Thanks be to God that we have a perfect Shepherd, and are simply the under-shepherds!)
2nd Timothy 2:15 - Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
Have I done my homework? Am I rightly handing the Word of God?
James 3:1 - Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.
Let ME keep that in mind as I labor for the Lord this year!
I pray that this year I will be a more effective, and learned pastor than I was last year! I pray that my prayer life will improve and my handling of the Word will align with the proper handling Paul stresses to Timothy.
Posted by Ray at 5:15 AM
Monday, October 31, 2005
While most folks in the US are celebrating Halloween tonight, we will be focusing on Reformation Day and spending time rereading some Luther. I believe that next year we will have a celebration at the church and discuss what Reformation Day is, and why it is important. Unfortunately, time, or rather the lack thereof, has prevented me from doing all of the things that I want to do.
Anyone stopping at this blog (if anyone does indeed stop by), may already be completely familiar with RD, however I just wanted, for my own sake, to post something about it.
Luther was an enignmatic and conflicted character to say the least, and me being Jewish, he is someone who I find to be unstable in some of his views. However, the hammer blows struck against the door of the church in Wittenberg, as he nailed the theses up, still ring in the ears of those who would have no one tyrannized by man-made methodologies to God.
Luther struck out against a corrupt regime which denigrated God and placed tradition, church councils, and papal authority above the Word of God. This system had created a people who were under the heavy weight of 'working' for their salvation, with the constant fear of not being found 'good enough'.
The sale of indulgences incensed Luther. In Europe at that time, Tetzel, the Pope's PR man, went about putting the fear of God (literally) in people, in order to fill the coffers in Rome for the grand task of building St. Peter's. His methodology was to tell people that they could shorten their time in purgatory, or that they could assist a loved one who was in purgatory by 'sowing' money into the church. The church would then 'put in a good word' for the indulgent to change the position of the purgatorial one. (Yes, this is an oversimplification, but it makes the point)
Another item that Luther rejected was relics. There were enough pieces of the cross, and parts of saints floating around that you could have constructed many crosses out of the splinters, and the bones were so numberous that every town seemed to have a 'piece' of a saint! By paying homage to these relics, one also helped out their situation.
Isn't it interesting how many of the modern televangelists preach this same thing!? Today the Tetzelian message is: "Sow a seed into my ministry, and I will send you a sweat-soaked handkerchief (relic), AND I will pray to God for you and He will give you increase (indulgences)..."
There are several leaders in the modern 'evangelical' movement who exert papal authority over their followers, and the people LOVE IT! They will even pay up to 100.00 to hear one of these modern evangelical 'popes' speak.
Luther's desire was to reform the church in Rome from within initially, and only when that failed did he actively seek other routes. It is interesting that 488 years later, the struggle for internal reformation continues. I just read a good article over at John Hendryx's site regarding people who want to reform their churches from within.
Now, I am not comparing the struggle within the protestant circles with the greater divide between Rome and Wittenberg, however, I do find it poignant that the church is at a place in history where it seems that, once again, we are badly in need of internal reformation.
Mainstream denominations now actively preach AGAINST the grace of God, and FOR the sovereignty of man; they are filled with people who believe that there are books that are equal to, or even surpass the Bible in relevance to the modern person, (witness the PDL movement), and they are giving people a false sense of salvation.
Just as veneration of saints, lighting of candles, and other works cannot provide the assurance of salvation, neither can simply attending a modern church and being filled with a feeling of 'purpose'.
I would pray that this Reformation Day might mark the beginning of a reform in the protestant church. A reform which will bring us back to a biblical understanding of faith... I have much to learn about it, and I dare say that all can grow deeper in their understanding of the Grace of God.
Posted by Ray at 4:35 AM
Thursday, October 27, 2005
Ingrid at Slice of Laodicea recently posted an interesting article describing how a 'church' in New Zealand has preempted their Sunday service with a rugby tournament, and that caused me to think a bit about how we (especially in the West) view 'the Lord's Day'.
I am from a Jewish background, where the Sabbath is taken seriously, and that is what I want to address in this post. I am not attempting to right every wrong, or get into some deep, theological debate over whether or not Saturday, or Sunday is the proper day to worship, there are plenty of those arguments all over the web. Quite frankly, I have my opinion, and you have yours, and it is not about a day, but about a heart condition... I weary of people fighting great theological battles 'proving' their position about the 'correct' day, and even at the end of that battle, STILL not understanding about the rest that is to be found in the Lord.
In an observant Jewish home, the Sabbath (Shabbat) is an honored time of setting aside the cares and woes of this world and getting back to the important things of the Lord. Now, I will not bore you with all of the aspects of a Jewish Shabbat, however, I also will tell you that I believe there are aspects that are wrong-headed, such as making the Shabbat an idol, and there are some practices which are just not proper for one found in Messiah, however the CONCEPT of shabbat is important and something that, unfortunately, is lost on most people in the Church. I have talked to many who say 'I am not under the law, therefore why would I do something like this?" A plain misunderstanding about the shabbat; it is not about HAVING to do something, but taking one day of the week and DESIRING to be found resting in the Father.
What many people mean, honestly, is that they will not divide off one day purely for the Lord. Wal*Mart calls, and the mall is packed on the weekend, and of course there are the movies, football games, and children's sports that must be attended to. So, the real answer is; I am too busy to devote one day to the Lord.
First off, in the Jewish mind, the shabbat is not just another day in the week, but is truly a day MARKED OFF for the Lord. Now, Sunday is NOT the Sabbath, it is Sunday; however, it would behoove you to mark off that day for the Lord if you observe on that day. (Again, please remember that this post is not about whether Sunday is correct or not, it is about something else).
So, on to shabbat -- There are several things that are done to mark off this day as special. First on Friday evening, the fine china is brought out, and the table is set as if one is expecting a very special guest. Candles are brought out and lit, there is an anticipatory mood, even by the children. The man of the home (yes, we are politically incorrect in this), then raises a cup (called the kiddush cup), and says a blessing over the wine, then he blesses the challah (if you have never had challah, oh you poor brother/sister!).
Once the bread is broken, it is passed around the table and everyone greets one another with 'Shabbat Shalom' and usually there is an accompanying embrace. The next portion of the shabbat observance is critical as it is lost in most homes today:
The children and wife are blessed by the father/husband. Then the blessing for the meal is spoken.
Then, as in all good Jewish celebrations we eat!
In all homes that remain true to shabbat, there is no TV, no radio, but there is a study of the Word of God, and singing of songs. I must admit, the closest I find to this is in the Reformed concept of Family Worship.
On Saturday morning, the family gathers to go to shabbat service, and at the end of the service, there is a celebration (again we eat), called an oneg.
Many observant Jewish homes will not even turn on the stove on the shabbat, abiding by the instruction to do no work. I have to admit that I am not THAT observant, but one of the great things about shabbat is cholent, a dish some might call a crock-pot type of dish. It is great, and it seems that everyone makes it a bit different.
At the close of the shabbat, Saturday evening, there is a havdalah service in which the candles are lit, and a mix of spices are passed and inhaled. As the beautiful aroma invades the room, it is a time to focus on the light of the world, and the sweet-smelling aroma that is Messiah Yeshua, Jesus the Christ.
A beautiful celebration, oft misunderstood, but when properly observed a celebration that brings all members of the family into a laser focus on the Lord.
Compare this with the modern church family's 'Lord's Day' (I am generalizing. Please forgive me, if this is not you, then feel free to ignore. However, if this does describe your family, maybe you should re-evaluate your priorities.):
The family rushes around in the morning, shoveling food down the gullets of the kids, and gulping coffee as everyone rushes (because, after all, we sleep until the last available moment, rather than anticipate the Lord's Day), to get dressed, put on their make-up, comb their hair, and ensure that they catch the morning news.
Often there is no Bible reading, nor is there even a reference to the Bible except the ubiquitous, "Has anybody seen my Bible?", and in today's church environment, I am not even sure that is asked anymore!
Everyone piles in the car for a high-speed run to the church, getting there after the music has started (dad doesn't like to sing, so we get here a bit late), and quickly coming in and sitting down.
The family goes through the service, and immediately upon the final 'amen', everyone rushes back out to the car, because, after all, the BIG game is on today, and dad has fifty bucks on the hometown heroes. Once home, mom gets the kids settled in; little Jimmy, safely ensconced behind the pad of a gameboy in his room, Sally on the cellphone with her friends, Bobby in his room playing Doom on the computer, and dad in his 'comfy clothes', chips and beer at hand, to watch the game. She then departs for the mall to 'window-shop' and get out of the house for a bit, letting dad be the responsible adult for a few hours.
When mom returns home, she is beat, it has been a long week, so they all head to McDonald's for burgers and fries, returning home to face another week.
How restful, how peaceful, how focused that is!
It is time to bring back the rest... Stop the games, stop the shopping, stop the madness, and truly bring the family into focus, at least once a week!
Posted by Ray at 7:39 AM
Monday, October 24, 2005
This Monday I thought I would just ramble a bit... Been a long day/week already!
I have received emails and read a lot of postings from apologists for the 'seeker-sensitive/emergent' churches regarding the fact that they are thinking 'outside the box' and creating an environment that will make the 'seeker' comfortable; whereas the old stodgy church (such as ours) has failed to keep people 'interested'. However, my own personal experience has been quite opposite to their claims.
I confess that I do not have 20,000+ congregants, but I do have people who love the Lord and are desirous of a closer relationship with Him. These people are coming to an understanding of the Holiness, and Awesomeness of God. They are engaging their minds, and thinking deeply about their faith; they are coming alive before my eyes! These are the very people that many in the seeker-sensitive movement are trying to reach; people who were not raised in churches, who got handed a rubber biscuit by the world and a few who are true hard-luck cases. These people come week after week and listen to sermons preached OUT OF THE BIBLE; they even bring their own Bibles!
Several of the folks who have been attending our church for several years are now teaching other people the great truths of the Bible, reaching their own families in some cases. You might be able to tell that I am proud of this group for sticking it out with me as I stumbled along. As a Body we grabbed onto the truth of God's Word and hung on. That is what carried us through.
I say all of this to refute claims that I hear over and over (almost like a mantra) from the churches who have abandoned the God of the Bible and preach another Christ. Those who feel that communion SHOULD be Starbuck's and donuts, or that it is perfectly acceptable to be crude and vulgar behind the pulpit instead of preaching the Word of God.
Here are some their claims: "People want to have their needs met, and feel better about themselves"... or, "People don't want all of that 'religious' language (like atonement, propitiation, justification), they just want someone they can relate to, therefore we dress like Elvis and relate to them."
And my response? HOGWASH! True enough, those seeking self-esteem are not looking for any of these things, however, people being called and drawn by God ARE hungry for the Word of God to be preached. They search the Scriptures during the week to see if what the pastor said is correct, they hold one another accountable, they want to continue to grow in holiness. These are people who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and are now running the race that has been set out for them.
It's not easy to be in ministry, there are times that our leadership would like to run away and hide (me included), because, quite frankly, preaching at a small, outreach church and not resorting to the bag of tricks that are currently being offered by 'successful' preachers is HARD! Lack of resources and hours in the day (I am bi-vocational) are constant challenges. But, I will tell you that it is worth every bit of hardship to see someone's eyes light up as they grasp the Grace of the Lord in all of its beauty and glory!
The ACTUAL issue that I have heard over and over from people is quite the opposite of the claims from the CGM folks. What I hear more than anything else is, "We had a hard time finding a church that preaches the Bible." The people I encounter are not burned out by 'boring' churches, rather, they are frustrated by the lack of real teaching and preaching in places they have been attending.
Don't get me wrong; the emergent and CGM groups have asked some valid questions, but it is their answers that are suspect... Because they do not seek Biblical solutions for God's people they end up 'in the weeds' as my elder is fond of saying.
It seems to me that there are two possibilities regarding the people involved:
(1) The first person may be a pastor in a 'seeker-sensitive/emergent' church whose motives were honorable at the beginning, but as time has gone on, they have had to resort to more and more outlandish 'tricks' to keep hineys in the pews. This is due to the fact that they are NOT seeing real conversions, rather their churches are filled with people who have found a place where they feel comfortable, and not convicted. Many churches are closer to 'Cheers', where everyone knows your name and there's old Norm in the corner!
I believe that these pastors may actually be hostages of their own success. They have created a 'monster' that needs to be fed (not in the Biblical way), i.e. HVAC, Staff Personnel, Rent/Lease, Bills, etc.
Ever see "Little Shop of Horrors'? In the movie, the innocent, well-meaning, Seymour takes in a dying plant. This plant feeds on Seymour's blood, but soon has grown to the point where it no longer is sated with a few drops from his finger, but instead Seymour is eventually forced to resort to homicide to sate the beast that the plant has become. Now, I am not trying to draw any great theological thread out of Little Shop Of Horrors, I am simply trying to say that some pastors may have started out a little like Seymour; attempting something good for God's Kingdom, with very little knowledge of what they were handling, and as the beast grew it demanded more and more. They are now either too afraid to draw the line, or they have been consumed by the monster and lack the ability/authority to stop it.
(2) The second type of pastor (I hesitate to use that word with these wolves) is one that I have no respect for. This is the one who set out to make money using a pseudo-Christian guise with just enough of a veneer to make the organization 'appear' to be legitimate. There are many pastors out there that fit this bill, including several who 'inherited' the mantle of leadership from their fathers. I have never figured out the ecclesiology of these dynastic churches.
These people KNOW what they are doing, and are in no way innocent, or caught in a trap. These are men that Peter spoke of: But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
I believe that there are pastors in the emergent/CGM movements that KNOW they are in the wrong place. I would ask that we, as people of God, pray for these people and for their congregations. Pray for their strength to stand against the world and its sensuality, and return to the true Gospel of Christ!
We are called to confront bad teaching/false doctrines/heresy and blasphemy, and I believe that is done quite well in many places on the blogsphere, by people much more eloquent than I, but let us never forget to pray for these men and women. Pray that they would be truly regenerated, or renewed. What a statement it would make if one of the well-known pastors in these worldly movements returned to Biblical preaching and teaching and refuted the nonsense going on!
Posted by Ray at 3:21 PM