I want to start this post by clearly stating that I am no political expert, and I do not advertise myself as such; however there are a few things I wanted to note about the recent tragic events in Pakistan, and the U.S.'s current political clime.
1. - Our Founding Fathers put together a pretty good system, which has enabled 'bloodless' transfer of power for over two centuries. That is pretty amazing considering how rare that is. Even when we have close calls, such as in 1960 and 2000, we are able to transfer power without massive riots in the street. Obviously, this says something about the society as a whole as well.
2. - After saying the above, I would like to say that, while this system has served us well, the people within the system are in drastic need of revamping. Look at Bhutto, a person willing to risk her life for what she believed. She took a position which she knew was unpopular to the more radical element in her society and stuck to it. Ultimately, as she knew it would, this cost her her life.
Now, look at the current state of our politics, the BIG 'issues' so far are:
1. - Did Hilary Clinton lie? (of course, so did they all)
2. - Did Barak Obama take drugs?
3. - Was there a (gasp) cross surreptitiously positioned in Mike Huckabee's Christmas message?
4. - Is Mitt Romney a cultist? (yes)
On and on it goes -- and do you notice anything? There is no a single issue of substance involved in any of the debates, attacks or discussions. Whichever way the polls turn, so too do our 'leaders'. What a contrast with Bhutto who stood FOR something, regardless of what the polls said, regardless of what the times dictated as far as regards her personal comfort.
Oh yes, the ads 'act' as though they are addressing issues, and again, it is the issue du jour -- i.e. Mitt Romney attacks everyone's position on illegal immigration, yet what is his plan? Who knows, you can't answer a complex question like that in a five minute sound bite on a so-called Presidential Debate (which are not only jokes, but actually misnamed, they are not debates, but a platform to test out the latest sound bite).
REAL leaders have REAL answers to REAL issues, and stick with those answers because they have been thought-out and tested against what makes sense, not what resonates with the most people. Because, my friends, quite frankly, we, the people, are as shallow as those we elect. Who would actually sit and listen to a true debate about the issues?
We watch the debates for the same reason many go to the NASCAR races -- to wait for that one spectacular crash.
We can learn much from Bhutto's life and death -- yes, she made mistakes, and was no saint, but she actually stood for something, and there were people who actually cared about that. How about this election year: can you and I get off of our duffs and actually elect someone with answers? Can we stop focusing on only the issues that the media and the politicos point us to, and actually start addressing the politicians and asking hard questions like:
Is this person a leader? Why?
Do they actually have a vision for this country? What is it?
Can they articulate their position on the issues in a way that is meaningful and not simply sensational?
DO THEY STAND FOR SOMETHING BESIDES GETTING ELECTED?
“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -
Saturday, December 29, 2007
I want to start this post by clearly stating that I am no political expert, and I do not advertise myself as such; however there are a few things I wanted to note about the recent tragic events in Pakistan, and the U.S.'s current political clime.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
This week I had several conversations that went like this:
(a) - "This is a great opportunity, (Christmas), to preach the gospel. We can reach people that we normally would not reach"
(b) - "Boy, our pastor really preached the gospel this weekend! I love Christmas sermons!"
Now you may see nothing wrong with this, but I believe this is the crux of the problem in the USA today. The gospel is NOT something that is preached with regularity, instead it has become the 'message' when the 'lost' come to church! Yet, in reality, what else should a pastor be preaching with regularity?
Now don't get me wrong -- I understand that sometimes you are preaching through a section of the Bible that may have various applications, but the gospel should be regular fare at your church and not just the 'holiday meals'.
How different was Paul's statement found in 1st Corinthians 2:1, 2 -- "And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
He also makes this statement in Romans 1:16, 17 --- For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, The righteous shall live by faith...
Now, contrast this view of the gospel with the messages that were preached this year in the USA:
1. At least five huge churches preached on sex -- of course, couching it in the mindset that they are trying to show we are not prudes, just good, moral people.
2. There were three (that I found) that preached on how to live a fulfilled life by losing the fear and anxiety that holds you back -- they did not speak of the power of the gospel (yes, I listened to several of them), rather that we need to 'break free' from fear.
3. You have a major 'evangelical leader' who now teaches other religions how to be more successful and 'Purpose-Driven' -- This is a person who has created an empire out of non-gospel preaching.
No wonder that people are so pleased and vocal about their pastor's Christmas service; he FINALLY gets around to preaching the gospel. Sadly, this should not be a rare event, but THE event that gathers the church.
I did not link to any of the sermons because I do not care to give these people free publicity, many of them are well-known, and they all have their defenders and trolls, who have nothing better to do that troll the blogs looking for a mention of 'their' church. They then proceed to make it all about 'their' man, instead of addressing the truth that the church they attend has little regard for the power of the gospel.
Sad is the day when a congregant brags that their pastor 'really preached the gospel', as if it were a novel concept!
May God have mercy on us!
Posted by Ray at 7:59 AM
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I was talking with someone recently about our church and he asked me about my role. When I informed him that I was the pastor, he asked a few more questions, such as 'have you authored any books?' etc.
When he found out that I had not written any books, and that our church didn't use illustrations that were sensational (i.e. driving an expensive car on stage), he made this statement -- "Oh, so you are just a pastor?".
I answered in the affirmative, and at the time it did not affect me; actually I am used to that response, but then as I got to thinking about it, I was bothered more and more by this statement.
JUST a pastor??? This is where we are at in our country -- unless you have authored a best-selling book, or you have a church numbering in the thousands, you are a failure in the eyes of many, even within the Christian community. At some pastor gatherings that I have attended, the first question that is asked is "How big is your church?" and when you answer 45 - 50, you almost feel the pity coming from other pastors.
I feel bad for the majority of pastors who pastor a smaller church and have never authored a book. It is no longer respectable to proclaim God's Word from the pulpit, and love the flock that God has entrusted to us; now we must be grasping for the golden ring that contains our 15 minutes of fame. A pastor isn't complete unless he is 'somebody'. What a tragedy! There is no higher calling than to be entrusted with a portion of God's flock, no matter what size!
Our problem is not that we have too few pastors that are also authors, but that we have too few pastors that are pastors! We do not mentor young men coming out of seminary in the role of pastoring; far too many come straight out of seminary and feel that they MUST be a Senior Pastor. In truth, these men should be mentored for two or more years.
Also, during the mentoring period they should also work in the community, interacting with the world around them. This enables them to understand the world in which most of their flock lives 6 days per week.
They need to serve in various roles within the church, from janitor, to children's ministry, to visitation. These folks need to understand the entire scope of ministry. Far too often the role models for young men are people who are 'successful' in the eyes of the world, but lack any pastoral concern or care. My first pastor was a true pastor, you would not know his name, and he never wrote a book, but he led me to Christ and he served his flock faithfully, sacrificing for them and loving them.
In many churches the role of caring and loving the flock has been delegated to a committee of people, while the pastor works on programs that will grow the church. Sadly, the first and foremost role of the pastor -- that is, the teaching of the Word and prayer, is relegated to the shelf, and the second most important role -- caring for the flock, which is an extension of reading and studying the Word and engaging in prayer, is delegated to a committee, while the pastor works on growing his influence.
We desperately need more pastors, and less 'Church Growth experts', 'best-selling authors', and self-aggrandizing men who put their reputation before their role.
Posted by Ray at 7:59 PM
Friday, December 14, 2007
So many people have written about this subject that I almost just dropped it. However, I feel inclined to make a comment as I have recently (again) had this subject brought to my attention.
One of the perks/curses of being a pastor is that everyone feels that it is necessary to send me links to other pastors who are doing 'well'. I am unsure of their reasoning; maybe it is because we are a smaller church and they are trying to give me some 'pointers' on church growth, or, quite possibly, they feel led to assist me in 'improving' my pulpit skills.
However, all of the links that I get, inevitably, look like this:
(1.) - The church is has some pithy, hip, name -- i.e. Oxygen, Mountaintop, etc. (Please note that if this is your church name, I actually made these up out of thin air -- I am trying to avoid giving any of these churches free publicity).
(2.) - The pastor has a blog in which he never writes anything of substance about the faith, his posts are usually an endless and narcissistic monologue of subjects, such as: "What I am doing right now", or "Why I think Haagen-Daz Ice Cream is Cool", or "Why I love XXXXX Jeans".
(3.) - EVERY ONE of these hip, cool, relevant guys has the EXACT same wardrobe and haircut -- they are mostly 20-somethings to 40-somethings trying to look like teen-somethings. They all dress in an untucked shirt, jeans/shorts, sandals, and wear glasses that David Crowder inspired. Their hair is cut short and stands on end, in what we used to call 'bed-head' style.
(4.) - Whenever these folks receive criticism that they are, to be kind, light in content, and heavy in relevance (as described by them, of course), they quickly and arrogantly point out that their church has grown from 25 to 1000 in one year. They are under the delusion that simple numerical growth somehow indicates spiritual health.
(5.) - These 'pastors' seem to be either; incredibly ignorant of, or openly disdainful of, any form of doctrinal statement. Funny thing is, their actions are making a doctrinal statement.
(6.) - After watching a number of their sermons, I can honestly say that these people say so little of value that their relevance (which is the Golden Calf whose feet they worship at), has the shelf-life of a bunch of bananas! They are relevant ONLY to people who do not actually want to hear of something that is of timeless relevance. These 'pastors' will be gone like winter wheat when people move to the next fad. (witness the Willow Creek model which is now coming apart).
(7.) - And finally, what do these great thinkers read? Well, almost all of them read each others books and blogs. Also included in their recommended reading list are a number of business, marketing and church strategy books; some even have Harry Potter in their recommended reading -- it should make you feel good, regardless of your opinion of Harry Potter, that your spiritual leader is reading mediocre juvenile fiction for his sustenance! What is almost universally missing is anything of substance, there is a complete dearth of books regarding our faith, no one reading any of the timeless Christian works that have sustained the church over hundreds and even thousands of years.
Let me just say a final thing -- to you who might fit this mold. I don't hate you, nor do I even dislike you. I don't even know you, but I will tell you that those who are called to pastor are called to a much-higher calling than being hip and cool. We are called to be God's spokesmen to the saints -- we are to be proclaiming the Word of God, not our own witty little writings that make us look good, or hip. The 'game' for pastors is not to grow a large church and proclaim numbers. NOTE: I have nothing against a large church, I would like to have a larger church myself one day, however that is not what we are to be consumed with, rather it is the proclamation of the Word of God, and He will bring the growth. At the end of the day, we are under-shepherds to our great Shepherd. He has entrusted us to watch over His flock; those whom He has purchased with His own precious blood -- and you know what...? This requires study and diligence and work. For all of you who say doctrine is not important let me simply remind you:
Romans 16:17, 18 -- I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive.
Ephesians 4:11 - 14 -- And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
1Timothy 6:3 - 5 -- If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Titus 1:7 - 9 -- For an overseer, as God's steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
Are you, young man, one who lives a life that is godly? Or, do you revel in being a rebel, and a lightning rod for controversy? Do you not understand that your flock watches you, and by acting juvenile and worldly, you are, in fact, creating a church that looks just like you? We are called to be a City on a Hill, NOT just another option on a list of things to do.
Posted by Ray at 9:08 AM
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
This weekend we came to the place in Matthew where Jesus speaks of laying up treasure (Matthew 6). I find this interesting, that during the season of Thanksgiving we came across a passage regarding fasting, and now during a time often marked by rampant consumerism, we come to this passage:
Matthew 6:19 - 34 -- Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? or What shall we wear? For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 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.
During this time of year I am often discouraged by the constant complaints of Christians who, (it seems to me), want to force EVERYONE to say "Merry Christmas". All we have to do is reflect on the last few years of nonsense by 'Christians' to boycott, Wal*Mart (Not that I disagree with boycotting Wal*Mart, but for entirely different reasons!), Target, or any other store that has offended their sensibilities!
These self-same Christians are often eager participants in the consumerist orgies that take place around our country every year in the last quarter. I assume these folks want someone to say "Merry Christmas" to them, so they will feel 'comfortable', and remember why they are standing in line for 12 hours to buy a new Wii.
I am often amazed at how Christians eagerly participate in the ritual shopping sprees, taking joy in them, and talking about them at church as if they were something to be proud of. People who would not come to a prayer meeting because it is too late, or too early, are found standing in line at Mervyns at 4am in order to pick up the latest and greatest junk that will be outdated by January. People who could not give any money at church last week to help feed some of the community's needy, now shell out $$$$$, going into credit card debt, in order to appease the children they have weaned on materialism.
Yes, this is a time of year when I really struggle with the Christian community -- it seems that they want their cake and eat it too -- "You will say Merry Christmas to me while I sate my materialistic soul on junk, junk, junk". Here are a few stats that I found to be interesting:
(1) U.S. Evangelical Assets: Somewhere between 2 - 6 trillion dollars in assets are in the hands of American evangelicals, not including the value of their primary homes.
(2) U.S. Evangelical Income: In 2000, American evangelicals collectively made $2.66 trillion in income.
(3) Worldwide Income: Worldwide, Christians collectively have personal income totaling $6.8 trillion a year.
(4) Decline in Giving: Church members gave $2.8 million less to their churches in 2004 than in 2003.
(5) Then and Now: Giving by North American churchgoers was higher during the Great Depression (3.3 percent of per capita income in 1933) than it was after a half-century of unprecedented prosperity (2.5 percent in 2004).
(6) Sunday Offerings: The average amount of money given by a full or confirmed member of a U.S. Christian church in 2004 was $691.93. This comes to an average of $13.31 per week.
(7) Tithing: 9% of American “born-again” adults tithed in 2004. This means that the vast majority of God’s people are not financially supporting his work.
(8) Already Enough Wealth: Eighty percent of the world’s evangelical wealth is in North America—and the total represents way more than enough to fund the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
(9) Even a Little More Giving: There would have been an additional $164 billion available for the work of the church in 2004 had American church members given at least 10 percent of their incomes, instead of the 2.5 percent that was actually given.
You can find much more information at Generosity Giving where I gathered some of these statistics.
Now, you can rationalize about your shopping, as I can, but truth be told, we must ask ourselves a tough questions -- "Where are we storing our treasures up?"
Are we more concerned with building the Kingdom of God, or building a pool in our backyard? The world watches and waits...
Posted by Ray at 6:49 AM
Wednesday, December 05, 2007
Well, it is that time again -- Hanukkah. And I just wanted to post some Hanukkah thoughts before I run off to work.
Jesus celebrated this holiday, and as I have posted in the past, it is recorded in 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."
Many in today's society are asking this same question: "If you are the Christ, tell us plainly" Jesus answers through the Word in the same way that He did then: "I told you and you do not believe".
It seems that the past few years we have seen a rise in interest in the 'real' Jesus, but in point of fact, it is not a new interest. The Pharisees were as Messiah-focused as the modern man is, probably more so. But, like the modern man, the Pharisees could not accept a Messiah who did not validate their lifestyle, but instead called people to sacrifice, obedience and a God-centeredness.
Now many would say that I am speaking of a legalistic lifestyle, but I am actually referring to what Jesus Himself said -- Matthew 10:37 - 39 -- Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Matthew `16:24 - 26 -- Then Jesus told his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?
Again, let me reiterate, I am not advocating a mendicant lifestyle in order to 'prove' that you are a follower of Jesus; rather I am saying that when we die to self and Christ lives within us, it will be our desire to live for Him, loving Him more than anyone else. This is not something that man can do in his own efforts and this is what has caused many heartaches throughout history. When the Spirit indwells you, there will be a NEW BIRTH, and that new child of God will behave (albeit imperfectly), in a new way.
Just this past week I picked up a special News and World Report magazine on Christianity; asking all of the timeworn questions -- "What of the other gospels?", "Who was the 'real' Jesus?" etc. And these secular groups want a Messiah that will fit into their idea of who He should be. Just like the Pharisees all those years ago on Solomon's portico, modern man stands before Christ and demands "Tell us plainly", yet when He does, we turn away and pick up stones to stone Him as did the people of His day.
Sadly, in today's world the shrillest voices in this discussion often come from within the 'church' -- so-called Christian leaders standing up and providing their perspective on who Messiah is. Now, these people do not use the Bible, rather they say -- "MY Messiah is one who is all inclusive", or "What Would Jesus Do?", implying that He really was an early Mahatma Gandhi, bringing love and peace to the entire world, never criticizing, only 'affirming'.
Today, when people ask Jesus who He is, they prefer to get their information about Him from Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey, rather than sacred Scripture -- because those folks have formed a Golden Calf that many want to bow down to. Like the Israelites, they may call this calf 'God', but in reality, they are sadly, and for some, eternally, mistaken, and yet, so many within the 'church' are right there, bowing before this idol made in OUR image.
How different is the Jesus of Scripture -- the one who spat out woes to the hypocritical religious leaders of His day, the one who cleansed the temple.
THIS Jesus said that He came to bring a sword -- that the message of the gospel would divide; today, He has been 'remolded' into a safe, cuddly, golden calf who never says a cross word to anyone, and whose love extends to every single creature on this Earth regardless of whether they reject Him or not. And even worse, the church is promoting this calf -- instead they should love and care enough about the lost to teach them who Jesus really was, and what the Gospel REALLY means!
I have referred to Talladega Nights more than once on this blog. That is because of the scene in which Ricky Bobby prays to a baby Jesus. When his wife upbraids him for doing this, he says, in prototypical American fashion, "You pray to the Jesus you want, I like the baby Jesus". Sadly, that is truer than many of us would like to admit.
We demand that a creche be installed in front of our government buildings, but we do not want the REAL Messiah to indwell in our hearts. Today we ask "Who are you Jesus, tell us plainly", but the answer is so offensive that we turn away!
Let us pray that this holiday season would be one when the real Messiah's light burns brghtly in the hearts of His people!
Posted by Ray at 5:17 AM
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Hebrews 3:5-19 -- Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways. As I swore in my wrath, They shall not enter my rest. Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called today, that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said, Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion. For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was he provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
We in the Reformed movement have often been criticized (at times fairly, other times unfairly), for our evangelistic outreach. It is true that at times we in the Reformed movement seem to be infatuated with 'knowledge' to the exclusion of 'evangelistic proclamation', and that is a bad thing. It is important to feed the sheep with God's Word, but we must also be cognizant of the fact that some sitting in our church will be unregenerate, and we MUST tell them that ALL have been commanded to come to Christ, extending the offer of the gospel.
And there is an urgency to this call! I recently had a good friend pass away -- he was a Christian man, and very up front about his faith. He went to be with his Lord last week. His passing just reminded me how important it is for pastors to PROCLAIM the gospel message. Dale seemed to be in good health, and there was no indicator that he would go home one day after we discussed righteousness (which is a whole other post!). Yet, he did not wake up the morning of Thanksgiving, and while I am sure that Dale is in the presence of Christ, what if I had been talking to a person who did not know Christ? What if I had said "I will tell him about Christ on Friday when I see him".
And Dale would be right there with me -- if we could talk to him right now, I am sure that he would say PREACH THE WORD, in season and out.
We sometimes think that we have all the time in the world to just keep 'working' on someone, and so we will come at the gospel in a tangential manner, and 'hedge' our presentation so as to be unoffensive. And yes, that happens in the Reformed and non-Reformed movements. We have come to the place of thinking that places the gospel as a matter of import, but not PRIMARY import, and I think when we have that mindset we have failed to understand the eternal primacy of the gospel.
My brothers, our work is one that has eternity as its perspective, and while it is TODAY we MUST be proclaiming the gospel! Yes, we feed the ninety-nine, but we also go and pursue the one that has gone astray. Yes, our God is Sovereign and will draw His children, but we are to be proclaiming the gospel; He uses the means of the proclamation of the Word for His glory in bringing people to a saving knowledge of Christ!
Proverbs 27:1 -- Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.
Brothers, let us stop worrying about how many seats we fill, and where our ministry is 'going', and let us get back to shepherding the souls entrusted to us by our Over-Shepherd -- WHILE IT IS TODAY!
Posted by Ray at 8:47 AM
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
I so envy the bloggers, such as my friend J.D.. These folks never miss a post, and always put something pertinent out. Every time I read JD's blog, there is some kernel of wisdom, or nugget of gold, and the blog is freshly updated everyday.
Were we bakers, his blog, and many others, would be freshly baked products everyday, and mine would be the botulism cart of cheap stuff that is parked in the corner of the grocer's. I admire bloggers who can produce a meaningful, well thought out post every day -- I am in awe that, not only do they have the time, but also have all of these wonderful thoughts floating about in their craniums.
I say all of this to say that I will SOON post again -- I had two friends pass away on Thanksgiving, and several of my folks just had, or are about to have surgery. Just seems that the narrow end funnel is catching up to me.
Anyway, back soon with SOMETHING...
Posted by Ray at 7:23 AM
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
My beloved pet, who has been through many things with me, Isaac, a green-cheek conure, was diagnosed with lymphoma yesterday. We have had him around for 13+ years. He sat by me on many a day as I prepared sermons etc.
You can see him with me in the new picture to the right of this posting.
As I watch him deteriorate, I am driven to this Scripture:
Romans 8:9 - 22 -- For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.
All too often we Christians think only of our own lives as regards redemption, but in fact CREATION will be redeemed! We need to understand the depth of sin and decay before we can truly appreciate the heights of God's salvific plan! My bird is dying because of sin, just as I am dying because of sin, just as the world is dying. When we understand that, it is then that we can begin to understand the incredible beauty of redemption!
Revelation 21:1 - 5 -- Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.
Posted by Ray at 8:17 AM
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Its that time of year again -- the time when the 'Red and Black Attack is Back', speaking of the local high school football team. Seeing these signs everywhere reminds me again of my concern for the youth of our nation. Now you may be asking yourself what would concern me about high school football? Well, it is NOT high school football that disturbs me, it is the overarching emphasis that every parent in our town, and many others, place on sports, or activities of some type.
I often wonder how much time parents spend on coaching football, putting together band parties, ensuring that their children's soccer team has adequate and cutting edge equipment, and how little time they generally spend catechizing their children.
I am not addressing this from the outside, I was a youth pastor for many years, and would often have young people dumped at my feet with their parents muttering something like -- "Can you teach our son/daughter about God? They really don't seem to be interested in the faith" All the while the parents have completely neglected the training up of their children in things of eternal weight, and have taught, by example, that almost everything else is more important that Biblical disciplines. Then it becomes my job to take this pagan youth in their caterpillar stage and work with them so they emerge at 18 in their Christian butterfly stage.
Why do parents think they are somehow capable of coaching football, but incapable of teaching the Word of God? Just because some guy watches a lot of football on TV DOES NOT qualify him to be a coach -- so why does he think he is qualified? Yet, leading the children in Bible study, teaching them about prayer and leading, by example, in Godly living, is something every Christian parent SHOULD be able to do, yet few do it, or even feel qualified to do it.
Why is that? Well, I believe that coaching a sport, or holding band parties is much more rewarding, not only to the child, but to the parent -- it fills a need, parents can live vicariously through their children. Or maybe it is the status of being a coach that appeals to the man or woman who can stand on the sidelines, clipboard in hand, daydreaming about their day in the sun. Sadly, most of these parents are good, Christian people -- they will spend their last dime on a function, but will not sit down with their children for fifteen minutes in the evening to lead them in God's Word.
And they pass this on to their children. I know in many homes that the TV comes on immediately when someone walks in the door, but the Bible sits on a shelf unopened until Sunday when the parent dusts it off, and dutifully carries it to church.
Let me ask you -- Do parents REALLY understand how they are to love their children if they spend more time teaching them Pee-Wee football, and neglect their role in the spiritual life of their children? Which one of these activities will last into eternity?
Let me close by saying this:
1. I am not against organized sports -- I am against the idolizing of it
2. I blame pastors as much as I do parents for the declension of the youth. Pastors, including youth pastors, have intimated to parents that they are not qualified to teach their own children, and it is best left to the 'professionals'
3. I also blame youth sport leagues which schedule games on Sundays now, so parents will miss church to ensure that their young one can compete in a little league game -- this sets the priorities for the children for life oftentimes.
Posted by Ray at 12:13 PM
Monday, November 05, 2007
Sorry for not posting over the past few days -- it has been a hectic week(end) with lots of things going on at the church and in my personal life. Anyway, this weekend several of us went to the Ligonier Regional Conference held here in the Dallas-Fort Worth.
I am no Challies -- (i.e. a 'live-blogger' par excellence), so this is not a blow-by-blow record of the conference. I just wanted to post a few thoughts/observations. First, it was wonderful to see Dr. Sproul -- this was the first time I had ever heard him speak live. I have many of his CD's from previous conferences, so I was familiar with the format, but it was great to sit under his teaching live.
Please keep him in prayer, he is still walking with a cane from his surgery, and it seems that he is bothered by this. However, he is amazing overall -- the Q&A sections really highlighted his ability to think on his feet and revealed a glimpse of the depth of his knowledge. Questions ranged from deep, well-thought-out to (IMHO) somewhat frivolous, yet he answered all graciously, and without anyone feeling like they were being 'dismissed'.
His final discussion on 'Justification by Faith', highlighting the difference between RC and Reformation/Protestant positions was very good, helping me get my head around the differences which are more nuanced than many people realize. (get the CDs!)
Steve Lawson absolutely blew me away! The man is an amazing expositor and I hope to one day attend one of his exposition seminars. His 'sermons', (they really were much more sermons than teachings), 'Christ Our Ransom', and 'Blessing or Curse?', were uplifting, inspiring, encouraging, and I could not write quick enough to catch everything. I must admit that before this I was unfamiliar with Steve Lawson, but I now have his podcast on my iPod, and I also purchased this and this. I am about halfway through 'Famine in the Land' -- very good book!
The staff was great, and I enjoyed meeting John and Mel Duncan -- they were gracious and very patient in spending time talking with me.
I highly recommend these conferences, and when the CD's come out, I think they would be a welcome addition to anyone's library.
Posted by Ray at 7:33 AM
Thursday, November 01, 2007
I spoke on Baptism this weekend, and afterward baptized 5 folks. What a honor it is to be part of God's people and be able to perform baptism on these dear children of God. I felt it especially important to provide a Biblical understanding of Baptism, as two of the people who were baptized came out of Mormonism and JW's. Because of this, I thought I would post a few of my thoughts on baptism:
It seems that baptism has become either -- (a) Something not discussed, or practiced, or (b) something that has been denigrated to a 'Brats and Baptism' mentality.
I believe that part of the reason for this is that pastors often have such a diluted concept of why baptism is important, that they are unable to speak authoritatively as regards this ordinance, and this filters down to the flock. Baptism in the modern church has turned into either a pool party or a numbers game (a line forms, and a small LED counter lights up 'Now serving XX' and the pastor dutifully dunks and claps for the many people standing by)
I find it interesting that people in persecuted countries will risk life and limb to be baptized, at times going out in the dead of night and chipping a hole in a frozen body of water to perform a baptism. In our country we have to schedule it on our PDA, and it is definitely not a high priority, coming after football games, soccer practice, hunting, or any number of other activities.
Why is this? Well, I would provide you a link to a video illustrating what a 'modern pastor' thinks of baptism, but I find it so vile that I will not even provide them the free publicity. I will briefly sketch it out -- A so-called pastor produces a video in which he describes what one should wear to a baptism (a fellow 'actor' comes out in a variety of stupid costumes, which the pastor rejects), then he and the other person wrestle and throw each other into the pool, spending some time dunking one another and generally acting like fools. Then another 'actor' comes along and slides down a slide into the pool, whereupon the 'pastor' is shown (although it is bleeped out, we can all read lips), cussing him out for disturbing the video! Throughout this entire video there is not a mention of WHY we baptize, nor is there any sense of respect or reverence for the ordinance of baptism.
And this is but one of many videos on the web which depict baptism as some kind of outdoor 'fun' event that coincides with a B-B-Q, or some other me-centered activity.
Why baptize? Well, how about the very first fact -- Jesus Christ commands us to do so! Matthew 28:19, 20 -- Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
Then how about the fact that it is a public proclamation, identifying you with Jesus Christ? How about the many references that Paul provides in which he describes the significance of baptism?
Romans 6:1 - 4 -- What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
Colossians 2:11 - 14 -- In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
Sadly, it is a rare event when the significance of baptism is taught in the shallow man-centered system that is practiced in all too many churches today. In fact, baptism becomes another thing all about ME! No significance is attached to it, save the fact that now you have fire insurance and can 'legally' become a member of the church! There is no emphasis on Christ's finished work on the cross, of our identifying with Him in His death and resurrection, or of Teshuvah (to use a Hebrew word), or repentance and turning AWAY from sin and TOWARDS Christ. There is no discussion of the true new birth, only some vague 'hallmark' comments.
This is why I run into many people who have been baptized ten times and want to have one more to see if it will stick; or who have been baptized and for years have not shown a single glimmer of the fruit of the Spirit. When baptism becomes a social status mark, and not a mark of death and rebirth, then you end up with the foolishness that pervades many churches today.
Pastors -- let us proclaim the gospel, practice baptism and the Lord's Supper with full reverence and a proper understanding, and teach the saints so that they may do works of ministry.
Posted by Ray at 9:00 AM
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
This is wrong on so many fronts that comments by me are unnecessary!
Apparently no one actually checked what the Word of God has to say about these type of things. Of course, the Book of Discipline (whatever that means in a denomination that has denigrated to this point) says nothing about this.
So, with that in mind, I nominate Mr. Ed for a position within the Episcopalian or UMC denominations. Work has been slow for him since the late '50's. Even Tominthebox's satirical nomination seems tame!
Romans 1:21 - 25 -- For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
Posted by Ray at 6:08 AM
Thursday, October 25, 2007
So, I went in for a 1 month check-up -- they found that the hyphema had caused PVR, which is problematic for the retina in my right eye. Therefore, on Tuesday I had to have another surgery to fill the eye with silicone oil. Good news though:
1) My left eye is coming along very nicely and I have very good vision out of it.
2) My right eye surgery was successful and the retina is now going to be able to heal properly. It may take 3+ months, but the pieces have been put in place to make it successful.
Thanks to all my friends for your prayers etc.
And now, back to my regularly scheduled ramblings!
Posted by Ray at 8:01 AM
Friday, October 19, 2007
As I pondered some of the interview with Osteen, I was brought back to something he said. This is not a post specifically about him, but about a mentality.
When Osteen was being interviewed, he was pointing out all of the lives that he had touched, and then he said something that bothered me from the moment I heard it. His statement was something like I have helped so many people, not me, but God. I don't even know these people.
What struck me was his admission that he had no idea who the people were that he had 'helped'. Now, I understand that he wrote a book that sold thousands (millions?), and he can hardly be expected to know everyone who bought his book. I am not making that statement, but I am talking about the fact that a 43,000 member church is one that CANNOT be pastored effectively.
The concept of a pastor as a shepherd is throughout the Bible, and if you contemplate that for a minute, you will realize that a man cannot be called a pastor if he does not know his flock. Even the reporter called Lakewood a 'family business'. Yes, I know there are men that I respect who have large churches, but I remain unconvinced that a pastor can be effective without knowing his flock, or having a leadership structure which enables true pastoring to occur.
The structure that places a plurality of elders at the head of the church is one that enables a church to grow larger, and still retains the context of 'pastoring'; elders can be responsible for portions of the congregation without requiring one man to be the center of all care and feeding of the flock.
However, with the mindset of the mega-church today, most of these structures are business-like: that is, they have a CEO (Hybels, Osteen, Warren et al), and then a board that is elected or hired by the CEO - (usually his confidants and/or family). This board serves at the whim of the CEO, and their primary function is to propagate the plan of the 'boss', as opposed to minister to the flock. Many of these people are paid big salaries to ensure that the agenda of the specific church runs according to plan.
What happened to elders standing AROUND their flock, with rod and staff at hand -- to protect the church from predators, false teachers, from each other? In a mega-church environment, there is little that the supposed leaders can do -- they simply cannot know the flock, and sadly, many of the leaders of these churches are the ones their flock need to be protected from! Where is the accountability of an Osteen? A man who can get on Larry King and make the statements he makes, equating Evangelical Christianity and Mormonism, a man who is unable to even provide a rudimentary articulation of the Gospel? Where is the accountability of a Warren who goes to Syria and praises their human rights and freedom of religion, where is the accountability of an Ed Young Jr. who can not only put together an obscene sermon series on sex, but then sell the series, slides, ppts and all?
These men do not have others to whom they are accountable -- they have things like 'team creative' which is nothing more than a bunch of people who sit around and dream up new and novel ways to push the same old self-help message. They have boards that assist them in their business ventures, but what about men who will hold them accountable to what they are teaching and preaching?
Why is it that these men who run large churches never seem to feel the need for accountability until they get caught doing something untoward? Then they come running for 'accountability', and I believe that this is often a ruse to get them back 'in the business' sooner rather than later. "Hey, I need accountability so i can return to the podium soon"
In today's church we have far too few pastors, willing to take on all dangers for his flock, and far too many businessmen who have been hired in to 'cast a vision'! Below are a few Scriptures that describe how God feels about false shepherds -- one from the Prophets one from the Epistles.
Zechariah 11:16, 17 -- For behold, I am raising up in the land a shepherd who does not care for those being destroyed, or seek the young or heal the maimed or nourish the healthy, but devours the flesh of the fat ones, tearing off even their hoofs. Woe to my worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock! May the sword strike his arm and his right eye! Let his arm be wholly withered, his right eye utterly blinded!
2nd Peter 2:1 - 3 -- 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.
Posted by Ray at 8:55 AM
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Today on LX Minutes we are interviewing an up and coming star of the Galatian church, Yoal bar Yohanan. Since Yoal has come into town and begun preaching his flavor of 'The Way', his synagogue has grown by leaps and bounds.
Reporter: "Yoal, what is your secret? How do you 'pack 'em in?"
Yoal: "Well, I don't sit around explaining a bunch of Scriptures to the people, that is not my gift; I just tell them that they need to get circumcised, do their best, follow the instructions that God has given them in the Torah, and He will make their lives successful. If You do your part, God will do his part. If you will simply obey his commands, He will change things in your favor.”
Reporter: "Well, isn't that contrary to what others have taught these people; that Jesus Christ came into the world to take upon Himself their sins, making these outward signs no longer necessary, as Jesus Christ has paid it all in His life, death, and resurrection?"
Yoal: Beginning to weep, "Do you know how many lives I have touched... I mean, God has touched in my ministry? It is very humbling!"
Reporter: "humbled by having them perform circumcision?"
We then went to talk to Paul of Tarsus, a well-known conservative rabbi, and opponent of Yoal bar Yohanan's methods.
Reporter: "Paul, how do you feel about the happenings in Galatia? It seems that Yoal bar Yohanan is drawing quite a crowd. Could it be his looks, you know, he is much better looking than you, or is it that his message is more culturally relevant?"
Paul: "Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Reporter: "Uhhh, OK -- well, could you tell me what you think Yoal's appeal is?"
Paul: "For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths."
Reporter: "OK, well Paul, do you have a message for the church in Galatia?"
Paul: "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed! O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain — if indeed it was in vain? Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for The righteous shall live by faith. But the law is not of faith, rather The one who does them shall live by them."
Reporter: It seems Paul that you are either intolerant or jealous of Yoal's success, but we thank you for your time."
Posted by Ray at 5:32 PM
Monday, October 15, 2007
This past Sunday I spoke on this petition in the Lord's Prayer. This seems a strange petition to offer up in a land that is suffering from obesity! How many Christians in the US actually have to pray for their next meal? Most do not have to.
And herein lies one of the problems with Western Christianity -- we are so confidence in our self-sufficiency that we no longer feel the need to pray for provision, be it bread on our table or a roof over our head. The prayer life of many a Christian resembles an inflated Neiman Marcus Christmas List as opposed to a humble petitioner approaching a Holy and transcendent God. When we do pray for our provision it is often in a flippant and casual way -- Our attitude seems to be one of -- "I paid for the meal before me, why should I thank God for it?"
You may laugh, or be totally disgusted by Will Ferrell's prayer in Talladega Nights, but the sad truth is, it is not far off from the truth. Many so-called Christians give God a nod when it comes to provision, but they really don't consider Him to be THEIR provider -- maybe some of those 'poor orphans' in Africa, but not THEIRS. Like Ricky Bobby in the clip, they portray Jesus in a comfortable image, and flippantly give Him a 'shout out', but the entire time, their actions belie their true attitude.
One day God will remove His blessing from this land: many feel it has already begun, and when that occurs many who claim the title of Christian will show their true colors. It should ever be in our mind, as Paul said in 1st Corinthians 4:7 - "What do you have that you did not receive?" We who live in this land have been given a gift; what are we doing with it? I fear we are forgetting the Provider!
When the most popular 'pastor' in the land is one who teaches self-sufficiency, are we surprised when his church grows to 43,000+ attendees? The US Christian no longer believes that it is God who provides their basic sustenance and necessities, instead, He is that 'special' relative with all the money who gives us the really good stuff we can't afford on our own.
And you know -- Israel has been here - go read through the Prophets -- how about Amos 4:1, 2 -- Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who are on the mountain of Samaria, who oppress the poor, who crush the needy, who say to your husbands, Bring, that we may drink! The Lord God has sworn by his holiness that, behold, the days are coming upon you, when they shall take you away with hooks, even the last of you with fishhooks., or
Amos 8:4ff -- Hear this, you who trample on the needy and bring the poor of the land to an end, saying, When will the new moon be over, that we may sell grain? And the Sabbath, that we may offer wheat for sale, that we may make the ephah small and the shekel great and deal deceitfully with false balances, that we may buy the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and sell the chaff of the wheat? The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely I will never forget any of their deeds. Shall not the land tremble on this account, and everyone mourn who dwells in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, and be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt? And on that day, declares the Lord God, I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. I will turn your feasts into mourning and all your songs into lamentation; I will bring sackcloth on every waist and baldness on every head; I will make it like the mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day. Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord God, when I will send a famine on the land — not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the Lord. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the Lord, but they shall not find it. In that day the lovely virgins and the young men shall faint for thirst. Those who swear by the Guilt of Samaria, and say, As your god lives, O Dan, and, As the Way of Beersheba lives, they shall fall, and never rise again.
A chilling indictment, and one that echoes the situation in our society -- just as the Israelites despised God's Sabbath and waited until the very minute when they could begin conducting business again, we have people who go to church ONLY to network amongst business colleagues; just as the rich were haughty and abusive to the poor, rich Christians in the US often live and play within the safety of their uber-rich Mega-Church, all the while the surrounding community is untouched by the church; just as Israel was to suffer a famine in the land, a famine of the Word of God, there is definitely a famine in our land for the Word of God (witness the 60 Minutes piece on JO).
I fear that the US Christians will only recognize God as their provider when He stops providing! Actually in many ways, He is allowing us to kill ourselves with our affluence -- much like the Israelites in the wilderness -- they ate quail till it came out of their nostrils, and we now suffer death from mostly diet-related diseases.
At what point will US Christians come to recognize God as their provider; what will it take?
May God have mercy on us all!
Posted by Ray at 6:47 AM
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Our society is so confused, or is it just me?
It seems that Politicians want to ban smoking EVERYWHERE! Yet, the Dems recent plan to fund children's healthcare by taxing (once again) smokers seem to send a confusing message. I don't get this -- now, I am not a smoker, nor am I even advocating it, but I am very confused. We want to have the smoking community sponsor everything, and yet we want to ostracize them to the point where they no longer exist. Who will sponsor healthcare when the smokers are gone?
Likewise, everyone wants to be safe when they fly, even giving up some of their rights to do so, yet we see that people are shocked when a unruly passenger is dealt with in a quick and decisive manner. I am in no way saying that what happened to this woman was OK -- I think it is tragic, but what do we expect our law enforcement officials to do? A person is at the airport, they are rowdy, and everyone tenses -- so, the police could have (a) given her a hug; (b) arrested her; (c) ignored her. Which one would you have them do? And what if you were wrong, and the person was sporting a weapon? She does harm to one or more people, and now you have people lining up to sue the airport, airline industry and the police department.
Our society (in the USA) is in a mess -- we are fractured with the multitudinous 'special interest' groups, the increasing rift between haves and have-nots, the lack of a common cause and culture, a disturbing rise in racial unrest, and the polarizing effects of a political system that is in the business of winning constituents by alienating or coddling various groups.
I know that I normally do not comment on societal situations, for one, I am no expert, but I am increasingly confused by our inability to think logically about ANYTHING!
Posted by Ray at 6:45 AM
Tuesday, October 09, 2007
While I was blind, I made a promise that I would not grow weary of leading my wife in morning devotions, of consistently being the Spiritual Leader in our home, giving her proper attention, and of being more consistent in my overall walk. I thought nothing would shake me from that, but I find that, only one month after gaining vision my attitude often sinks back into the pre-blind arrogance of my past!
When I was helpless, I made many promises; and I was (and am!) sincere in these promises! It is not that I am slipping into some tortured existence without God, but I find myself listening to the siren song of 'busyness' that calls from work, and church and even from this machine on which I type! When I made the promises, I had no doubt that I had changed, and I have, but sad to say, I still have that old man creeping in and bowing up on me!
With all of that being said -- I am reminded of Paul's words -- Romans 7:15ff - I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
Now, it is not that work, or busyness at church etc. is necessarily sin, but in my case, it can lead to sin -- I find myself neglecting things that ought not be neglected, and I can find myself sinking into worldly thoughts and actions.
Many in the modern evangelical world people believe, (although they may not necessarily word it this way), that Jesus died for all their sins UP TO their conversion, but from there on out, they must maintain their own sin balance. So, in some circles, when one sins, they MUST start 'all over again' as it were. Yes, a repentant heart is part of being a Christian, but Christ died for ALL my sins -- past, present, and future. This should not make one cavalier about their salvation, rather it should humble us.
I am humbled. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Posted by Ray at 8:44 AM
Monday, October 08, 2007
This Sunday I spoke on the Lord's Prayer as found in Matthew 6 -- specifically "Your Kingdom Come, Your Will be Done On Earth as it is in Heaven."
I also reviewed the passage "Hallowed Be Your Name", and was struck by this post on Steve Camp's blog. (I have not been to Steve's blog in ages)
How can a person who claims to be a Christian, much less a pastor, be comfortable using this type of language to describe Christ and His story? Have we truly lost all sense of reverence for who He is? Now, I know that many think Mr. Driscoll is A-OK, because his doctrine 'matches' theirs, but let me ask you -- does it really? Can a man who believes that God is Holy and Other, and that Jesus Christ is the very incarnation of God, truly speak as this man does? I do not know Mr. Driscoll, and I have read or heard only a bit of his stuff, but for the life of me, I cannot figure why he thinks that this type of thing is 'relevant'.
As we progress through the first portions of the Lord's Prayer, I am struck by how little the words in the prayer seem to mean to the modern church -- and I am not simply targeting Mr. Driscoll here, I believe that we are all guilty of not glorifying God in our lives, speech, and actions.
Rather than simply target a prominent, and somewhat controversial pastor (frankly, that is an easy task!), what if each and every one of the pastors in this land asked these questions -- Does my life glorify God; can I honestly say that I am hallowing God's name in my life? Does my congregation KNOW the holiness of God, and could they tell I know it from my actions? Does my speech betray a desire to elevate myself above the sacred text, making me hip, relevant, or any number of other things that subordinate the Word of God?
I fear that pastoring in today's world is more about being 'cool', (maybe a dated term, but you know what I mean), structuring the church service around the lost and their desires, and less about shepherding and discipling the flock that has been entrusted to our care. When numbers and relevance are our idols, then God's Word and God Himself will be relegated to the cheap seats -- may He have mercy on us all!
Posted by Ray at 6:34 AM
Thursday, October 04, 2007
I received a flyer in the mail the other day, from an ostensibly conservative local Christian bookstore, and was struck by the advert for one of the books -- To quote the popular author -- "Contrary to what you may have heard in church, desire is the key to the Christian life"
Is he right? If desire is the key to the Christian Life, then it falls into the same bucket as a pagan life -- is not desire the key to a pagan's life? What about everyone else, isn't desire the basic motivation for all?
Western Christendom is rife with inane sayings like this -- we speak of faith and desire as if they are our goals, but both of these have an object -- we are to have faith IN Christ, our desire is to grow IN Christ. These terms without an object upon which to focus them are simply man-centered actions.
Now, I understand two things: (1) Questioning a wildly popular author's statement is bound to cause people to go into defense mode for their author, and (2) the comments should be taken in the light that the author is giving them.
However, being curious, I went out and read a portion of this author's book, and, like another of his books that I ALMOST made it through, this is based around us and OUR feelings, OUR desires, and only marginally concerned with God, although he uses a lot of phrases with 'religious words'. He also makes this statement -- "You've heard this teaching before -- sublimate your desires and replace them with obligation (sanctification). Would you be surprised to learn that Christ calls us to embrace desire, not to suppress it?"
The author says that the church has killed our desires, and has replaced it with moral obligation and called it sanctification. Is that our choice? We either are legalistic automatons, or truly alive people pursuing our desires? And of course, this author asserts, our desire will be to pursue God, right? -- Funny, that is not what Paul says -- In Romans 3 Paul makes it clear that we are not seeking God.
Also, what about 'dumping' that 'moral obligation'? Paul's Epistles are full of moral obligation -- what this author seems to have forgotten is that our desire, if we are truly regenerated, WILL be for that moral 'obligation'. Some of Paul's writing on this -- Ephesians 5; 1st Corinthians 6; Galatians 5.
This author is well-known as one who likes to promote the 'if it feels good, it must be right' psychobabble mentality. I was so unimpressed with the first book I read by him that I only made it 3/4 of the way through it. And that book had been recommended by a friend who I have (still) a lot of respect for!
It is precisely this type of pulp fiction that causes pastors to constantly be grappling with people who are mired in the muck of the therapeutic gospel, dealing with their 'hidden languages', 'woundedness', and 'pursuit of their manhood'. These people WILL NOT turn to, or listen to, the Scriptures on this -- they constantly get out their dog-eared books written by people who selectively quote the Word, whose appeal is blantantly to the basest nature of man.
Listen to Paul -- Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Over and over Paul says that we are to put off our old self and put on our new self that is being forged into the image of Christ. It seems that this author with his "Mortal Obligation" statement has overlooked what true regeneration is.
Posted by Ray at 6:13 AM
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
This is my beloved wife!
I am reposting this with some additional commentary. Originally I posted this before my eye issues, but it is even more important to me now. My wife, just so that everyone knows, was a champion during my illness. For over two months, she did everything in our home, without complaining. It is in her honor that I repost this now:
Ephesians 5:25 - 33 -- Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
1. Men are often told that they are the master of their home, and therefore, their needs are the most important. This is where the whole 'male headship' aspect of Christian homes can be taken out of context. Yes, wives are to submit to the male headship in their homes, but, as I posed in the previous post, men have the greater responsibilities towards their wives.
2. Notice that Paul directs men to love their wives as they love themselves; if we ONLY did that, we would see a tremendous difference in our wives! But then he goes on to say that we are to nourish and cherish our wives. As the last post noted, one aspect of nourishing our wives is to be the spiritual leaders in our home, spiritually nourishing them with a steady diet of the Word, and prayer.
NOTE: During the time of my physical blindness, while my wife still looked to me as the spiritual leader, she was the one who prodded me to maintain that role, even though I felt like a useless lump of dirt, and whined a bit about it!
Another, and I feel equally true aspect is to provide for our families physical needs. Many men today allow their wives to be the primary breadwinner in the home, even if they have children that need to be tended to! Men are to provide for their wives. This is not a statement about women working outside the home, rather it is an observation regarding the number of women who provide the primary income for the family. I realize that I sound like a Luddite, and maybe I am, but I know that the Bible speaks of men providing for their families, and while you can examine Proverbs 31 and see an industrious and productive woman, I think that it is imperative for men to be the one who provides the leadership, not just in the home, but in getting and keeping a job!
Many men today are content to let their wives do the work, and they can be housedads. I disagree with this -- children need to see a home where leadership and sacrifice are modeled by the father. This provides a healthy image of our heavenly Father for children. You would not believe how many people I have counseled at church who cannot fathom God as their heavenly 'Father'. This is so often due to the fact that the father they knew was lazy, self-centered and ofttimes cruel to his family; frequently forcing mom to be the one doing all of the sacrificing. This should not be!
I also recognize that there are times when a man may be unemployed while his wife retains her job, but this should be a situational issue, and not the normative pattern. Men need to provide for their wives.
3. Now notice that a man is to cherish his wife! Do you cherish your wife? Does she know it?
NOTE: Never has this meant as much to me as now -- DO YOU cherish your wife? I do more than ever!
Our wives need to know that we cherish them; they should have no doubt about this! Proverbs 31:10 - An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. How many of us think of our wives in that manner? Is your wife more important to you than your job, your bank account, your buddies, your life itself? Why not? When a woman is cherished, she will respond.
Men, I challenge you to love and cherish your wives, sacrificing your wants and needs for hers, and ensuring that she knows you are providing self-sacrificial love and leadership to your home. Drop the machismo act and the swagger, and begin leading in the manner of Christ! You may be surprised at your wife's response!
I state here publicly that I try to love and cherish my wife to the best of my ability. There is no one I want to spend time with more then her. We share everything in our life, and she is both a sincere critic, and ardent supporter. We have a marriage that is truly made in heaven!
And that is my prayer for all Christians!
Posted by Ray at 6:01 PM
Monday, October 01, 2007
So, we have Israeli IAF forces bombing buildings in Syria, a full-blown war in Iraq, Myanmar in serious lock-down, presidential hopefuls all over the place, a brewing war (again) between Southern and Northern Sudan, and the top news stories at CNN?
1. Miss Moneypenny actress from James Bond films dies.
2. Pamela ANderson is getting married (again).
3. Navy fixing building shaped like swastika (a normal dorm layout, that from the air looks like a Nazi swastika).
And we wonder why our politicians are shallow?
Posted by Ray at 7:22 AM
Friday, September 28, 2007
In my last post I addressed the lessons on humility that I learned through my recent illness. Today I would like to look at another fruit of the Spirit that I was schooled in -- that is, the fruit of Patience.
Now, anyone who knows me well, knows that I am not the most patient person in the world. I have (had) a tendency to run at a fairly fast rate, being a bi-vocational pastor, a motorcycle enthusiast, and an avid reader, plus many other things, I ran at my own pace and anyone who didn't, needed to get out of the way.
I had actually stopped praying for patience, because I had found that I would be put into situations that required this fruit to be displayed, and I really did not want to have to go through that! Yet, as I stood before the congregation on July 22nd, 2007, and spoke of God's answering prayer in His own way; little did I know that two days later, and for the next 60 days, I would be given a lesson in patience that I would never forget!
Patience sounds like such a wonderful fruit of the Spirit -- "Yes, I want that!" is what we exclaim; yet like humility, this is something that we rarely grasp in its fullness. Patience does not simply mean that we 'put up with' others without complaining. No, patience is much deeper, it is a heart thing -- we actually place OUR desires on the back burner and put others BEFORE us!
Sadly, the church today lacks patience, and it is displayed in the constant squabbling that is going on. Now, I am not talking about disagreeing on a position of doctrine -- I am talking about the squabbling that goes on as we put ourselves and our wants/needs BEFORE those around us.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2:1-4: So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.
This is something hat I learned the hard way! When I was powerless to do anything on my own, I had to wait on other people to do for me. I was forced to exercise patience, and what I found was that I began to sense their love and concern for me in a fresh, new way. Maybe they did things in a different way, or at a different pace than I did, but in the end, it all worked out fine.
When we chafe against the fruit of patience, what we are in effect saying, is Look, I don't have time for you and your foolishness, let me SHOW you how this is to be done correctly! An impatient person (such as myself), can be a real boor to be around, and does not reflect the instructions found in many of the Epistles. HAVING to be right, or in charge, or setting the pace can leave many quieter, slower, more introspective people in the dust. These are the very people we need in our churches! No wonder Paul said "On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together..." [1st Corinthians 12:22-26]
How impatience short-changes the church -- the loud, charismatic, strong and controlling often overshadow the others. Now, I will say that being charismatic, or being louder than others is not wrong, but when we combine that with impatience, we find that it makes for a church that is unbalanced. We need each other, the loud fellow and the quiet one, the charismatic personality and the more introverted, the strong, and the weak. Just like the human body needs to have all parts working, so too the church does as well.
The lungs are a very delicate organ, whereas the skin is tougher, yet without both working a human being really cannot sustain life; so it goes in out fellowships! Let those of us who are impatient stop for a minute and look around us -- who are we stepping on, or over in our run to 'do things' for the Church? Let our churches become a place where ALL have a home, where all can be involved in ministry and where all feel like they are part of growing the Kingdom!
Posted by Ray at 8:34 AM
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
I wanted to go back a bit and discuss some of the things that I learned through the blindness that struck me for a few months.
The first thing I wanted to address is humility. When I was struck with my blindness, I had just preached on Matthew 6 where Jesus states that we should not pray to impress others, but go secretly into our secret place and pray to Him.
What is interesting about this was that I had been praying for humility, but I now look back on that and realize that I was probably asking for the humility that is recognized by others -- You know, that "What a humble guy Ray is..." type of praying. Now, I did not consciously pray in that way, but when God finally humbled me, I found myself asking a lot of hard questions.
First, I would not hesitate to say that most of us who pray for humility have no idea what true humility is -- if we did, we would not pray for it! What we are usually requesting is a spirit that is SLIGHTLY humble, just so that we can be recognized, as I stated earlier. In reality, true humility is often beyond anything that we may grasp.
Let me give some specifics: I am not the best husband in the world, and there are times when I think I know it all -- ask my wife. And so, there are many things that I do, or have always done, around our home that I simply KNEW I did better than her. Yet, when the blindness struck, my wife had to pick up the ball and run with it. You know what I found? She does a much better job at a lot of things that I thought I had 'mastered'. An example -- our bills are more organized and promptly paid than they ever have been with 'the boss' (me) running the show! So, I began to realize that I am not the end-all, be-all when it came to that.
Then I found that the church ran just fine without me. Oh yes, people missed me, but the Word was preached, the bills were paid, the kids were taken care of, etc. Now, I had many times said that I did not want our church to 'stop' should something happen to me, but in my heart, I had hoped there would be a hiccup (again, not consciously, but subconsciously), yet there they were moving forward. Another prideful chunk of my being was exorcised!
And I found that work just continued on, with people picking up the slack and keeping the ball rolling. This was no surprise to me, but as I surveyed my life, I found that.... GASP, I was NOT IRREPLACEABLE! And then I heard it -- "You prayed for humility, is there a problem?"
"YES, I didn't mean LIKE THIS!!! I meant the kind of humility they write about in the Banner of Truth Trust books, that humility that is ascribed to great, saintly men of old!", I found myself silently screaming. And the Holy Spirit illuminated the Scriptures for me, and I began to see, albeit imperfectly, just what was meant by humility. Wow, did I NOT want that!
But, now that I am here, at this place, I realize that the deep-seated pride in my heart was shaken by the Potter as His hands lovingly removed my sight so that I might, for the first time, see what humility meant.
Let me provide you with an illustration -- Here is humility: When you sit next to your wife and ask her to trim your fingernails as you cannot even see them. Or you ask her to walk you to the bathroom. Suddenly, you are filled with a deep and abiding sense of humility. And what is frightening, is that this is simply humility in the presence of other humans; imagine Isaiah -- Isaiah 6:1 - 5 -- In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory! And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!
Oh prideful man that I am, how my heart will melt when I stand before the King of Glory -- I will then say, with Paul, [Romans 7:24,25] -- Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Posted by Ray at 6:50 AM
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Remember the church lady from SNL? Dana Carvey's little old lady, (Enid Strict), would rant and rave about the evils of our day, usually venting her wrath on some 'guest' on her show. She would rail against the sin in others lives, and cap it off by saying.... Could it be.... Satan?
Unfortunately, there are far too many Christians today who follow Enid's mentality; i.e. everything is of Satan, except the good parts of life. These people will rail against John Piper when he writes of God's sovereignty; a sovereignty that is present even amidst crises.
I understand that the desire of these people is to 'protect' or 'defend' God against character assassination, but the sad truth is that many of these people have little understanding of God's nature and character, and therefore in their desire to 'protect' it, are actually diminishing it!
What brings all of this on? Well, we are currently finishing up 2nd Samuel in our daily devotions, and what you find in this book (chapter 13 and following) is a listing of the troubles that David experienced. David's life turns from the idyllic beloved of God who expanded the Kingdom, to a daytime soap opera:
1. - Amnon, lusts after Tamar, his half-sister and lures her into his home to rape her and then toss her out.
2. - Absalom, Tamar's full-brother, avenges his sister's defilement after David does nothing for two years. Amnon is fooled into attending a celebration feast held by Absalom for the expressed purpose of killing Amnon. Amnon is killed and Absalom goes into hiding out of country for two years.
3. - Absalom is convinced to return to Israel and reconcile with David, his father. After four years, Absalom decides that he is a more capable ruler than David and leads a revolt against David -- in which Joab and his men kill Absalom.
4. - There are several internal revolts following on the heels of David's victory over Absalom, and the Philistines raise their ugly heads again!
Bottom line, David's life is one of strife and pain, constantly at war. Now, many who would face this today would undoubtedly, like Enid, say Could it be... Satan?
But God makes it clear that it is He who declares that David will face these obstacles. 2nd Samuel 12:10 - 12 "...Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house. And I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun."
We are so quick to assume that we are suffering because Satan is autonomously at work in our lives, yet throughout the Bible, even when Satan is involved, it is God who is thoroughly and completely in control (witness Job). People live in complete bondage to the myth that their every sin 'opens a door' for Satan, up to and including the words they speak! Now, I am not saying that Satan is not at work in this, but I am stating that it is the Father who has the reins of power, NOT Satan. If a door is 'opened' and things happen as a result of our sin, it is, (for those who are His children),the Potter whose loving hands rework the clay, it is the Master Smelter burning the dross off the lives of His Saints, NOT the schemings of an equally powerful 'evil force' who is capable of subverting the power of God. This is not Star Wars -- and the Jedi vs. the Dark Side -- which is the perspective of many Christians today. God is not Obie-Wan-Kenobi, and Satan is not Darth Vader.
My friends, to give Satan authority that he does not possess is wrong-headed, and makes for a life filled with dread and fear. God is omnipotent, and while we may not always understand His ways, we must NEVER assign His authority to Satan!
Posted by Ray at 6:54 AM
Monday, September 24, 2007
As my wife and I read through 2nd Corinthians, I find myself amazed at how false teachers, or as Paul labels them, false apostles, never change their tactics.
Paul speaks of how these false teachers brought letters of commendation to the church in Corinth; these letters were from OTHER false teachers! Today we find the same pattern. When a false teacher is exposed, immediately another false teacher will arise and say something along these lines -- "I have known X for many years and he/she is one of the most anointed people in the service of the kingdom now!"
Paul says that his commendation is not a written letter from man, but is the church in Corinth, in other words, his Gospel is proven true by the TRANSFORMATIONAL/REGENERATIONAL work of the Holy Spirit in the people of Corinth. These were people who were delivered from pagan lives to Christians lives, often at the cost of their lives, or jobs or homes!
How many false teachers today point to transformed lives as their commendation? Most of the time these false teachers point to their large following, (most often not changed lives, but the cult-like following of a man), or they point to the healings they have performed. Often these healings are proven to be false, or simply emotional reaction to the foolishness and theatrics of these snake-oil salesmen. NOTE: I believe that God still heals, and have witnessed such events, that is not what I am referencing here. This is more about the theatrical productions that many false teachers put on, bringing shame to the Body of Christ with their antics!)
Like the false teachers of Paul's day, these men spend much of their time, if not most of it, boasting in their own works. How many times I have heard, or read of these false teachers speaking of their anointing; never really mentioning the Gospel, the finished work of Christ, the Holiness of God, or anything else.
So, we see that false teachers never change their spots -- some signs of a false teacher (per Paul):
1. These false teachers pat each other on the back and commend on another, even in the face of exposed heresy.
2. These false teachers point to the size of their ministries, the number of healings, the amount of time they spend 'talking' with Jesus, or the 'power' of their anointing as validation of their ministry.
3. These false teachers spend much of their time talking about themselves, and their supposed powers, little, or no time is spent reflecting on the Gospel.
4. These false teachers focus on the here and now, "Jesus wants you rich and beautiful", and no time reflecting on eternity.
Paul is clear in his letter to the church in Corinth -- The commendation that we should be seeking is regenerated lives, not the praises of man. We are but jars of clay that have been entrusted with an incredible message of redemption, our validation will be when our Lord and Savior says "Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master".
We should be as uncomfortable about boasting as Paul was -- we should never focus on ourselves, but on the cross. What do we have that was not given us? Boasting has no place in Christian ministry, and those who spend much of their time boasting are building THEIR ministry and not God's.
Our perspective should be an eternal one; as Paul says, we are going to one day put off these tents and put on a building made by God -- we may or may not have 'things' in this world, but we have something far greater awaiting us!
Posted by Ray at 8:28 AM