“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, December 30, 2005

Reformation 21 Article

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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Hanukkah Thoughts

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!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Round Up of the Year

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!

Sad...

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.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Humility again

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.

Where?
To Jerusalem.
Why?
To die.

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!

Monday, December 12, 2005

Random Musings

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!

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

New Handbook!

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.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Humility?

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"

OWWWW!

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! :-)