Category Archives: Religion

Reformed Theology and Southern Baptists: The Masses Don’t Care

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther...

English: Postage stamp depicting Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many of my friends and associates work in churches and ministries.  Some of them talk quite a bit about being “reformed.”  They make it a point to bring this up often.  Some even go as far as to include the label on their blogs and websites.  Presently, there are debates among Southern Baptist leaders about who is the most reformed, or whether it is OK to breath the word in the context of their ministries.  Southern Baptists go as far as to offer conferences addressing reformed theology and to issue informal statements about their theological positions in an effort to garner support and approval from like-minded leaders.  Have we taken this discussion too far?  The Protestant Reformation occurred hundreds of years ago.

Can we not agree on whether God is sovereign over all things, that humanity is fallen, that the saved are elect, that salvation is in Christ alone, that sanctification leads to the transformation of persons and society?  Why is this still being debated?  Could it be that denominational leaders are so narcissistic that they want to continue the argument so that they draw attention to themselves and to their own glory for being in such a superior theological position than others?  Or are they afraid they are going to lose influence if they don’t line up with their cronies and continue to draw the unassuming masses to their churches?

I have a response for reformers.  My answer may sound a bit smug, but I don’t intend it to be that way.  My answer goes something like this, “One thing I am sure of—I seek to be conformed and transformed.”  I like these words.  Conformed and transformed.

By now you know that I am referring to a couple of passages in Scripture, Romans 8:29 and Romans 12:2.  Romans 8:29 refers to how God has called us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  In contrast to this type of conformity, Romans 12:2 tells us what not to be conformed to:  “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

It seems that all the reformed guys are more intent on being conformed to their reformed counterparts than they are on being conformed to the image of Christ.  I don’t hear much coming from these guys about the “conforming” that God works in us, the ultimate and complete sanctification.  This is the goal of our relationship with God through Christ Jesus.  Conformation implies that there is something already established that is the object of our conformation.  This is God’s will and it is a concept that we must grapple with in order to understand His will.

The act of transformation involves something in transition, namely ourselves and our constant act of turning our mind toward God in each thing we are confronted with in the world.  It is a metamorphosis, a total change from the inside out that is led by the mind.  My mind is transformed as I pray, as I read God’s Word, as I involve myself in fellowship with other believers.  This transformation is essential in discovering God’s will for our lives.

Be careful of the tendency to ignore conforming and transforming.  Sometimes the snare is the theological issue of the day, things that tend to puff up rather than to produce the humility and patience of being conformed to His image.  My prayer is that Christians would carefully examine their hearts to see if God is working in them in such a way that produces this image in them.

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Bonnaroo, Woodstock, and Cultural Messages to Consider

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival

English: Richie Havens at the Woodstock Festival (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Bonnaroo 2012 just ended its 4-day camping festival near Manchester, Tennessee.  Great musical acts made new friends among the throngs of young searchers.  There were remnants from Woodstock as well, those baby boomers who decided life was all about rock ‘n roll and staying high.

I was only 11 at the time of Woodstock, so I look back on that event in modern history curiously.  My interests in music fuel this curiosity and I really enjoy some of the ground-breaking rock from that era.  Today, even my grown children take pleasure in listening to and emulating in their own music the rock of bands in the late 60s and early 70s.  It has been hailed perhaps as the greatest period of development in that genre.

But what about the cultural impact?  No doubt, if I had been a young college student at the time I may have participated in the revelry at Woodstock.  The event signaled a time when young people exerted their freedom over the lives given them by a previous generation.  This freedom energized all forms of revolution.

As put by Woodstock performer Richie Havens, we were “at the exact center of true freedom” during the festival.  Havens ended his set with the old spiritual “Motherless Child” and a mantra of one word shouted intensely by the crowd:  “Freedom!”

It is foreboding that this concert called Woodstock actually was held 42 miles away in the hamlet of “Bethel.”  In Scripture, Bethel marks the spot where Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven with angels going up and coming down the stairs.  Jacob slept with his head on a stone and that stone later memorialized this place of communion between God and man.

Was God present at the Woodstock festival, or even at the recent Bonnaroo?  Yes, His “omnipresence”  and “omniscience” tells us He was.  Nothing on this earth happens without His knowledge.  But the freedom shouted by Havens and the concertgoers could have really meant bondage to some way of life that did not come from a dream on a stone pillow, but from a stoned mirage promulgated among the yearning young people of the day.  That bondage perhaps remains evident among the aging hippies at Bonnaroo.

For the Woodstock age, this freedom of expression from so-called restraints placed on them by their parents and the gray flannel society of the day ultimately led to one of the most self-centered and confused generations in history.  Freedom led to bondage to drugs and diseases we still fight today.  Look at the musicians of the day.  Some died from overdoses, others so stoned and drunk they performed wretchedly on stage.  Yes, they were free but they did not seek the wisdom that could truly set them free.

Let’s be careful today to remember the lessons from Woodstock and even Bonnaroo.  Our exercise of freedom must consider our God and His plans.  Looking to Him will set us free.  You may never know this if you stay in the funk of a Woodstock-stained freedom.  Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

Is There Such a Thing as a Postmodern Evangelical?

From "Baptizing in the Jordan" by Si...

From “Baptizing in the Jordan” by Silas X. Floyd (1869-1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Look around and see if you can find one.  They used to carry some weight with their notions of redemption and righteous living that they wanted their American neighbors to embrace.  It was a few elections ago that their influence carried a President into office.  They supported missions, protected the unborn, and rejected liberal thought.  The books they read reflected the concerns of their modern Christian lives: books on family, raising strong-willed children, how to honor God with your money, keeping your life pure and clean, finding out your love language, men’s issues, women’s issues, teens issues, how to be happy, how to be happy at your job, how to be happy at home, how to have a happy family, etc.  Their Bibles provided a resource for answers, but the questions arose from selfish motives.  God’s Word conveniently supported their positions on issues and gave them brief devotional messages to start or end the day.  “This is the day the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it,” wowed them enough to want to be glad no matter what the day brought.

These were the American evangelicals.  They sought refuge with each other in their pursuit of the good things of life yet may have moved away from their purpose, or should I say God’s purpose for them, to evangelize.  Some may say this is indicative of the post-modern day we live, however the roots go deeper than we can imagine and may indicate some challenging days ahead for the evangelical churches in America.

Why the alarm? First look at Christian leaders.  They seem to be rejecting the label of evangelical in favor of other labels.  Probably the most popular label today is “reformed.”  We have so much emphasis placed on this particular issue today that even the most earnest pastors and Christian leaders want others to know first and foremost that they are reformed in their thinking and their theology.  You don’t have to go far to see this.  Just visit the blogs of some of these leaders like Al Mohler, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, C.J. Mahaney, and others to see that being reformed is trumpeted as their prime theological position.  It is hard to find these guys talk about being evangelical.  They even have conferences to help pastors understand that they are really reformed in their thinking.

Second, biblical literacy is perhaps at an all-time low among average American Christians.  Check out Barna on this.  Just engage in a conversation about doctrine and you’ll see that the average American Christian can’t tell you about the major doctrines of the faith even in layman’s terms.  Their small groups get into certain lifestyle topics and take a Christian slant by basing their discussions on one or two relevant Bible verses, but they have difficulty expressing thoughts about God, man, salvation, Jesus, the church to others.

Third, look at the decline in giving to missions in the mainline church and perhaps even decline in memberships at these churches.  This is especially evident if you look at giving over a period of time in constant dollars.  There is talk about the inability to send new missionaries to the field.  Those missionaries already on the field are concerned.

And what about declines in memberships at mainline churches?  Some of this may reflect the de-emphasis of what it means to be a part of the local church.  You see this particularly in the venues where pastors are referred to as “great speakers” and where music and worship receives major emphasis.  Yes, baptisms are down but we sure do know how to worship!  Some of these churches don’t even keep lists of regular attenders.

I hope this is not beginning to sound too cynical, but I do think we are seeing a monumental shift in church life that is moving us away from the old ways of doing church.  And with this maybe we are seeing the term “evangelical” being shuffled back into a closet with all the old hymnals and choir robes.  One thing is for certain—we can reconcile evangelism and the sovereignty of God, remembering that we as Believers must bear the responsibility of evangelism while understanding God’s sovereign role in the salvation of man.

Be On Your Guard

Christ and The Pharisees

Image via Wikipedia

The situation in Northern Africa this week prompted thoughts on the common traits of corrupt leaders.  Typically these traits center on control.  Their leadership is coercive.  They rely on oppression and force to stay in power.

Along these lines and perhaps timely, Mitch Horowitz provided a short essay for the Wall Street Journal this week entitled, “When Does a Religion Become a Cult?”  Horowitz is editor in chief of Tarcher / Penguin in New York and the author of Occult America.  Through his studies and observations, Horowitz sees common threads among various religious groups that give them the stamp of a “cult.”  These criteria include:  behavior control, information control, thought control, emotional control, financial control, and extreme leadership.

Christians should learn much from these observations.  It should prompt us to “be on our guard.”  How do we guard ourselves?  What does Scripture teach?

Surely this is an important concept because our Lord Jesus instructed His followers often to be alert, take heed, be on your guard.  Paul uses this concept as well when writing the epistles.  For example, Jesus said in Luke 12:1, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees.”  Paul’s closing comments to the church at Corinth include the admonition to “be on your guard” (1 Cor. 16:13).

Take time to study a few more verses that deal with the concept.  I would suggest that Proverbs 22:5 be the basis for your study:  “In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them.”

Review passages surrounding these verses as well:  Acts 20:31 and I Timothy 6:20-21.  Also, Paul’s letter to the Colossian church provides a good study on this topic.

Do Christmas in Remembrance of Him

Nativity scene

Image via Wikipedia

Sunday was an unusual day.

We celebrated the Lord’s Supper at church and by doing so we celebrated the death of our Savior.

On the other hand, this is the beginning of December and we begin preparing for our celebration of Jesus’ birth.

So we are caught in between two important events, the death of our Savior and the birth of our Savior.

When the disciples gathered with Jesus for the Last Supper in the upper room, they ate the bread and drank from the cup.  At this time Jesus instructed them to “do this in remembrance of me.”

But is there anywhere in Scripture where Jesus told people, “Remember my birth?”  We celebrate Christmas each year but we don’t have specific instructions about this in the Bible.

So is it necessary that we observe the birth of Jesus each, celebrating His birth?

I say absolutely yes.  We must remember His birth as much as we remember His death.

And I believe the Bible supports this.

Let’s look at some reasons from Scripture why it is important to remember Jesus’ birth this time of year.

1.  First, we should not forget that when Jesus was born God became flesh and dwelt among men.  Jesus was God incarnate; He came in the flesh and became one of humanity.

We tell the Christmas story often, we love hearing about the manger, the shepherds, the angels, the star, the little town of Bethlehem.

But all of these parts of the story are not the most important part.

The most important part of the story, and the most amazing, is that when Jesus was born God became man.

This was foretold more than 600 years before His birth but the prophet Isaiah.

Read Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6.

This one fact, that God became man, is what makes Christianity unique compared to the other religions of the world.

Since Jesus Christ was God, does that mean he existed before He was born at Bethlehem?

The answer is yes.

John said it this way, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.

Paul explained this further to the Colossian church.  Read Col. 1:15-20

Jesus made the claim that He existed before coming to earth in the flesh.  He said this to the Pharisees, “Before Abraham came to be, I am.” (John 8:58).  This was a claim to his existence before Abraham and also a reference to His claim to be God in the flesh.

If you look throughout history, many have denied the deity of Christ.  Even today several groups deny that Jesus Christ was God in the flesh.

Many people today say that Jesus

Was a great teacher

That He was a great man

That He was a good man

That He was a wise man.

But they will not say that He was God the Son.  They deny the authority of Scripture and say that Jesus never claimed to be God.

This Christmas let’s remember first and foremost that the birth of Jesus meant that God came to earth, and Jesus came to seek and to save those who are lost.

2.  So let’s go back to our original question—why celebrate the birth of Jesus?

Here is another reason;  the Christian life is not just about death, it is also about birth, about new life.

We often talk about the Christian life as “dying to ourselves.”  We quote Gal. 2:20, I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

But becoming a follower of Christ involves a birth also.

2 Cor 5:17 says it this way, “If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation: the old has gone, the new has come.”

We have “new life” in Christ, we have a new likeness.

In fact, we have been born again into a new family.

Jesus told us that we must be “born again” to be a part of this family.

Read John 3:1-8 where Jesus explained the new birth.

It is especially important during this Christmas season to remember that Jesus was born so that we could be born again.

3.  One other reason why we should celebrate Christmas, remembering the birth of our Savior, is that it gives us the opportunity to share the Gospel, to share the Good News.

Because of Jesus’ birth and his death, and what this has accomplished for us, we are to bear witness.

What better time to bear witness than at Christmas time when we focus on the birth of our Savior.

The Bible tells us that we should bear witness of our Savior.  Jesus gave these instructions to His disciples in Matt. 28:18-20.

The facts of His birth strengthens our witness for Him.

The Bible says that salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.

In fact, the name given to the baby born in the manger tells us why He came.  Matt. 1:21 “She will give birth to a Son and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save people from their sins.”

This Christmas, let’s remember these things.

Remember that God became flesh.

Remember that because Jesus came, we also may be born again.

Remember that others need to hear our witness about who Jesus is and why He came.

Jesus told Nicodemus he must be born again.  He also told him that God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Do you have that life today?  You can by placing your trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  The Bible says that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

Why not make this Christmas season the most special of all by remembering why He came and trusting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior?

Post-it Notes, Tweets, and God’s Word

The Gutenberg Bible displayed by the United St...

Image via Wikipedia

I love Post-it notes.  They could probably be one of the most useful inventions of the 20th century.

These little colorful pieces of paper can be found all over the place in my stuff.  We use them for bookmarks; maybe even tear in half to be mark two books.  I take notes with them when I find an interesting thought to record for future reference.  They really come in handy when you are doing research and need to mark spots you will need to go back to later.  Of course, we use them to write little notes to each other, particularly sweet little love notes.  Look on the refrigerator or the inside door of a kitchen cabinet and most likely you will find a sticky note with some wise or thoughtful remark.

I have wondered how many characters of text a Post-it will hold, the traditional-sized one.  Then I thought about “tweets.”

Twitter, the social networking and microblogging platform, limits their tweets to 140 characters.  I can picture a tweet fitting on a Post-it.  I have not tested this, but you can imagine it would fit.

According to some stats from June 2010, there are about 750 tweets sent each second of each day.  That is over 65 million Tweets posted each day!  If they average 100 characters per tweet, that would be over 6.5 billion characters tweeted per day—amazing!  And probably most of it only carrying meaning for the followers.

Well, guess what?  You followers of Christ have a better option than Post-its or tweets.  We have God’s Word provided for us, not in tweets or Post-its, but in book form.   I read somewhere that there were over 4 million characters in the text of one version of the Bible.  Imagine the task of setting the text for the Gutenberg Bible in the mid-1400s!

Now this thing about sticky notes, tweets, and the Bible.  Sticky notes, over time, lose their stickiness.  They fall out of place and get lost.  Tweets are nothing more than electronic urges given the form of a line of text.  They are tweeted and then dissolve into space somewhere.  Yes, you can keep a record, but who wants to keep records of urges?

The Bible remains sticky, it is not the urge of a man but the inspiration of God.  We follow complete thoughts and spiritual wisdom rather than limiting ourselves to a set number of letters or characters.  If you have a printed Bible, it can always be booted up without a battery and relies on the charge of the Holy Spirit.

What if God waited until this age to give us His written Word?  Would it come to us in the form of sticky notes or tweets?  If so, could we follow the reasoning, the thinking, the mind of Christ through brief aphorisms?  We try to do this today with our many paraphrases in books and other Christian writings, but does this really capture the mind of God like the Bible does in its present form?

I think these are questions worth asking.  Jump into reading the Bible and check it our for yourself.  God might just speak to you in a way you have never experienced.  Don’t resist this urge.

A Third Man? Christian, Think Again

Not too long ago I used to run up and down the road doing development work for a college.  During that time, I would stop by the public library and pick up some of the newer books on CD to take along for the ride.  This was a new experience for me.  I know that sounds a bit behind the times, but I discovered the joy of following a story in much greater detail and length than most of us experience among our tweets and texts these days.

One particular joy unwrapped itself in the telling of Ernest Shackleton’s great adventure to Antarctica on the Endurance.  Caroline Alexander’s The Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition provided the perfect escape from the day as I moved to and fro.   If you don’t know this extraordinary feat of an expedition, you must find the book.  I have been captivated only a few times like this.

For time’s sake, I can’t get into a detailed retelling.  But I do want to focus on one moment where I sensed something beyond me, something that was quite spiritual.  In fact, I was moved to tears.  Toward what was to be an end to their journey and at the most extreme fatigue and impossible circumstances, Shackleton and two of his crew, Worsly and Crean, walked across a mountain without any equipment for mountain climbing.  It would have seemed that death was close, however they moved on in determination to save their expedition and the lives of the other men waiting behind.

They made it under conditions beyond human endurance.  At a later point in comparing notes about the trip, Shackleton shared that he had a strange feeling that there was a fourth person in their party.  Crean confessed the same thing.  All three remembered a strong arm helping them down the mountain.  Hallucinations are not unusual under extreme conditions of suffering, but all three men shared the same account of a fourth man.  You’ve got to read this book.

Well, I started thinking about this the other day when I read in the Wall Street Journal about a new book coming out next week called The Third Man Factor by John Geiger.  Geiger retells the Shackleton experience among other accounts of humans that survived and transcended extreme conditions.  Each of these accounts describe some force, some presence, that helped them survive or that guarded them from danger.  Geiger surveys the theories behind the third man phenomenon and seems to endorse a biochemical explanation for this response.  He does not shoot down any of the other theories for the third man, including the spiritual.  But I am curious about this quote by the author, “Imagine the impact on our lives if we could learn to access this feeling at will.  There could be no loneliness with so constant a companion.  There could be no stress in life that we would ever again have to confront alone.”

I just reached down from the laptop to pet our cat Celeste, a constant companion as we sit on our porch.  But I don’t think Geiger was talking about pets.  Geiger comes to the edge of admitting a spiritual presence, but leaves us with his physiological theory of accessing this companionship at will.  I felt sorry for Geiger, or I should say I feel sorry for Geiger because he is afraid to accept the existence of God.

Christian, think again.  God is with us.  He is ever present.  His name is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”  One of His characteristics is His omnipresence.  Are you award of this as a believer, as one who is experiencing salvation?  I take great comfort in reminding myself of this each day.  When I awake, when I work, when I play, when I lie down again, God is with me.  I don’t have to summon some biochemical response to remind me.  The Holy Spirit reminds me.

If you don’t realize this as a believer, find something in God’s Word to awaken you.  One of my favorite thoughts is expressed in James 4:8, “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”  Approach Him with clean hands and a pure heart.  God has said, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 as quoted from Deuteronomy 31:6).  Does that not excite you?  Wow, the God of the universe is with me!

It is reassuring for the Christian to know these things and it helps us understand when others try to explain the phenomenon of a presence they can’t explain.  We are His creation, we belong to Him, and He is present with us all the time.  Our senses are surely heightened when we are in stressful situations and I am thankful that God made me that way, so that I  draw near to Him during those times and am reminded of His presence.