Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday Sermon on Wordle - Acts 2

This being Pentecost Sunday, I preached on Acts chapter 2. Below is how the sermon looks on Wordle. I'm pleased to see the prominence of the Holy Spirit. Click directly on the image to enlarge it.

Wordle: Acts 2

"I Can't Remember the Name of My Church"

Yesterday about 10 members of our church family went out into the neighborhood around the church building to hand out New Testaments, share the gospel, and get to know people. We went "knocking on doors," as some like to call it. I always find this exciting because I have no idea what the Lord has planned when we do this. I cling to Acts 1:8.

In talking with folks, we are reminded again and again that we live in the Bible Belt (see map below). We talk to many people who are not part of a church family and give no evidence of living Christian lives. However, they almost all seem to feel a little bit guilty that they are not "in church." The strangest part of it all is when people tell us that they "go to church," but can't recall when they last went. One man yesterday couldn't even remember the name of his church.

The ironic and difficult thing for us is that we are less concerned about church than we are about salvation. While we want to share the good news of Christ, most folks we talk with immediately begin discussing church before we ever bring it up. This indicates to me that many people in our country continue to link church affiliation/attendance with some sort of salvation status.

Another piece of irony is that we aren't in the recruiting business. If people tell us that they are active in a good church, we simply encourage them to continue. This surprises people. I suppose the reason for that is that most people who knock on doors anymore are either Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses. A few months ago as we were knocking on doors, one woman told us that she had hesitated to open her door because, "I thought you were Jehovah's Witnesses."

My hope for all this is that we can get to know people in our community, serve people, share the gospel, and see some people surrender their lives to Jesus Christ. Quite honestly, I wish more people that we talk to would be more honest about their current situation. I'd rather hear someone say, "I don't go to church and don't really care to," than to hear, "I go to church, and the name of it is...uhhh...can't remember right now."

Let me close with one positive from yesterday. We talked to one young lady who said she had been "looking for a church." However, she lives with her boyfriend and kids, and they keep to themselves. They have lived in the area for 5 years, but don't really know anyone. We invited her to our church, told her about our upcoming VBS, and asked her if we could serve her in any way. It was a good start to what we hope is a friendship.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Starbucks and the Church: Sometimes the Truth Hurts

While I don't agree with everything in this satirical video, I do think it has some truth to it. We should all be careful that we aren't trying to "sell" the church. We ought to just be the church.

Friday, May 29, 2009

"What He Must Be"

Some books are more challenging than others. This one is very challenging.

The reading level is not the issue - it actually isn't difficult at all. The main issue is the challenge Voddie Baucham puts forth about the kind of young men our daughters should be marrying. Based on what Baucham says, I might have trouble finding any man fit to marry my daughters!

In What He Must Be...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter, Voddie Baucham takes a long, hard look at the way men and women come together to be married today. He rightly points out that the current process of dating falls far short of biblical standards. After discussing the problems of today, Baucham describes (with biblical backing) the kind of young men he believes his daughters should be looking for.

Baucham holds a very high standard. When I read what he expects and then thought about myself as a young man, I fell FAR short of the mark. However, this does not mean that I, or more importantly - my daughters, have to settle for someone who does not come close to biblical standards.

Baucham strongly encourages both fathers and mothers to be involved in the selection process of a future spouse for their daughter(s). While he does not advocate arranged marriages in the strict sense, he definitely says that dads and moms should be an active part of deciding who their daughters marry. I find myself agreeing more and more with this line of thought.

This book was also good for me because I have a son. I want him to please God through his life, and one way he can do this is to be a young man who is worth marrying.

Now that Alice and I have completed the book, we have given it to our older daughter Caroline to read. I'm interested to see her reaction. It may be something like, "I might as well get ready for the single life because there are no guys out there like this!"

I'm sure there are some who measure up. I just don't know them.

I'd like to say a big "Thank you" to Voddie Baucham for encouraging us as a family to not settle for what society has fed us about relationships, dating, and marriage.

If you have any impact on the life of a child, I highly encourage you to read this book.

To read more customer reviews, click here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

What is God Doing in Your Life?

Something wonderful happened as our church family gathered for prayer meeting earlier this week. After we sang a couple of hymns, I asked a simple question, "What is God doing in your life?" (I must give credit to my friend Alan for asking me this question in the past.)

The response was tremendous.

One man who was recently saved started things off by telling about how God has rescued him from worldly addictions and has filled him with joy, passion, and hope.

An older lady spoke about God's giving her, after much prayer, relief from her chronic physical pain.

Another woman let us know about her weekend with her family, and her realization more than ever that she needs to pray in earnest for them to come to know Christ.

One mother among us talked about how joyous she is that God has brought her back to church, and has also recently given her the strength to stop smoking.

A sweet senior citizen spoke about how God has given him the fortitude to endure losing most of his sight and some of his motor ability in one of his hands.

A lady discussed her changed attitude toward her sister who is living in open sin. She was able to recently have some reconciliation with her. She wants to see her sister as Jesus sees her.

During all this, I just stood at the front of our little chapel quietly thanking God and trying not to mess it up with too many words of my own.

This was an unexpected (at least from my perspective) time of sweet sharing between brothers and sisters in Christ. The transparency was a relief. No one seemed to be trying to impress anyone else.

The best part is that I'm certain Jesus Christ was magnified. The reason for this is that He was given all the credit for what is happening in these people's lives.

I'd like to give more time to this type of testimony, both during prayer meetings and during worship services. Tradition has a nasty way of preventing this sort of thing, but I hope in time that we can share openly with one another on a regular basis during our gatherings.

Praise God for what He does in our lives!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"What's So Great About The Doctrines Of Grace?"

I love the doctrines of grace. I love total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and the perseverance of the saints. The reason I feel this way is that I believe these doctrines are biblical. Because of this, they glorify God to the fullest.

Richard Phillips agrees.

Phillips has written a short book (about 100 pages) that focuses upon these great doctrines. His text is entitled What's So Great About The Doctrines Of Grace?

If you are interested in an exhaustive look at these doctrines, this is not the text. However, if you are looking for a fairly basic overview of what some refer to as the 5-points-of-Calvinism, then this is the book for you. Phillips' book contains 6 chapters. The first focuses on the sovereignty of God in general. The remaining chapters each focus upon one of the points.

What I like best about this book is that Phillips does not write as some sort of intellectual who does not connect life and theology. Rather, Phillips has a writing style that makes him seem like a normal guy. Because of this, his love for these doctrines (and more importantly, for the God who created these doctrines) comes trough loud and clear.

This book would be good for anyone who wants to read about enjoying the doctrines of grace. I encourage you to both read it and enjoy it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

World Religions and Their Symbols

In our increasingly multi-cultural and multi-religious society, it is helpful to know what religious symbol corresponds to which religion. How many of the following do you know? See the results below the image.

From left to right, top to bottom:

Christian Cross, Jewish Star of David, Hindu Aumkar,

Islamic Staff and Crescent, Buddhist Wheel of Dharma, Shinto Torii,

Sikh Khanda, Bahá'i Star, and Jain Ahimsa Symbol

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Sermon on Wordle

Wordle: Ascension

I've decided to post my Sunday sermons on Wordle. This should show what the primary topics of my messages are.

Today I focused on the ascension of Christ (one sermon in two parts). The focal passages were Luke 24:49-53 and Acts 1:8-11.

Above is what it looks like on Wordle (click on the image to enlarge it). I'm pleased to see that Jesus is the main focus.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Catholicism & Hinduism: 10 Similarities

(I originally posted this on my previous blog. Because of continued commenting there, I decided to re-post it here.)

I know everyone will not be happy with this post. That's fine - healthy discussion is usually a good thing.

After having lived in the USA and India, I have been exposed first-hand to both Catholicism and Hinduism. This pertains to both belief and practice. Let me say first of all that not all Catholics believe the same things or practice in the same ways. This is also true for Hindus. Therefore, the following 10 similarities are generalizations based upon what I have experienced both here in America and in South Asia.

I'd also like to point out that we have friends who are Catholics and friends who are Hindus. This post is not intended to be an assault on either religion, but rather a comment on similarities that I have observed.

That said, here we go.

Ten Similarities:

1) Repeated sacrifice - At every Catholic Mass, Jesus is again "sacrificed." This is why the elements of the Mass are literally thought to be Christ's body and blood. When Hindus go to temple, they perform some sort of sacrifice, usually presenting an offering to the gods.

2) Rituals - The Mass itself is a type of ritual. Also, the Rosary is one of the most well-known rituals of the Catholic faith. At a Hindu temple, various rituals are performed such as ringing a bell to wake the gods, bowing before the gods, and chanting different mantras.

3) Prayer to multiple saints/gods - Many Catholics (not all) pray to various saints within the Catholic church. Most Hindus (not all) pray to various gods within the Hindu pantheon. Some of the most popular are Shiva, Vishnu, Lakshmi, and Ganesh.

4) Priests - both Catholics and Hindus must go through a priest to get to god. There is no direct access to any god.

5) Cathedral/Temple - In both religions, all important practices occur at some type of building. There is little encouragement for meeting in homes because priests cannot be at multiple homes at the same time.

6) Images & Icons - In Catholic churches, pictures and statues of saints are common-place. These typically receive veneration. At any Hindu temple, there will be multiple statues of the various gods. These will include Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesh, Hanuman, Lakshmi, Durga, and others.

7) Works-based salvation - In both Catholicism and Hinduism, salvation is based, at least in part, upon the works of the individual. This is far different from the cry of the Protestant Reformation: "Justification by faith alone."

8) Lack of knowledge of sacred writings - Within both religions, the typical follower of the faith has limited knowledge of the sacred writings of his religion. The same is true within Protestantism, but to a much lesser degree. Within Catholicism and Hinduism, the priest is heavily relied upon for scriptural knowledge and understanding.

9) Centered on Rome/Ganges River - Both religions are very centralized. Rome is the epicenter of Catholicism, is the home of the Pope, and is a destination for thousands of Catholics each year. For Hindus, the Ganges River is the site of pilgrimage. Many Hindus travel hundreds of miles to take a dip in the "holy river," in the hope that it will wash away their sins.

10) Death: purgatory/reincarnation - Both faiths teach that upon death, people do not go directly to heaven or hell. For Catholics, purgatory awaits. For Hindus, death leads to another cycle of reincarnation.

I will let you draw your own conclusions about the significance of these similarities. If you have any comments about why you think these exist, please let me know.

A Good Conversation with a Mormon

In our culture, people generally struggle to carry on cordial conversations with those whom they disagree. When folks disagree, the tendency is to become angry fairly quickly. The resulting anger often leads to a predictably uncomfortable and/or acrimonious end to the conversation. This is an unfortunate problem.

As Christians, we should be able to sit down and talk openly, politely, and frankly about theological issues. We ought to be able to discuss truth claims with non-Christians and Christians alike. There is no reason that disagreement must automatically lead to negative emotional reactions. I'm not in any way suggesting that we fall into relativism. I'm stating that Christians should be able to separate our disagreement with something that is said from our visceral reaction to it.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a Mormon man (let's call him "Sam") for about an hour. Sam is a friend of someone in our church. I called Sam earlier in the week and asked him if he would be willing to come over to the church building and talk with me for a while. To put him at ease, I made sure that he knew I was not setting him up for debate. I just wanted to talk with him.

From the moment I met Sam, he was both polite and kind. Our conversation could only be described as friendly, open, and honest. I asked Sam some pointed questions, but tried my best not to either insult him or what he believes. My goal was to plant "seeds of doubt" in his mind as to why he believes what he does. For example, I asked him what he thought about the fact that the Book of Mormon has been changed many times since Joseph Smith first penned it. I asked what he thought about the utter lack of archaeological evidence in support of the Book of Mormon. I asked if he thought he could one day become a god himself.

Sam's answers were basically what I expected. He definitely believes what the Mormon church teaches on these things.

On the flip-side-of-the-coin, Sam asked me some questions that basically focused on my knowledge of the Book of Mormon. I had to admit that I was no expert. In a nice way, he asked me if I wanted to read it. I figured that if I seemed scared to read it, he would think that everything else I said was worthless. Therefore, I took a copy from him. I do plan to read it, but I doubt I'll be impressed by much in it.

Regardless, we had a good conversation. What the result is I do not know. Sam certainly did not reject Mormonism, and I'm still very much a Reformed Southern Baptist. Will I change? No. Will he change. I hope so.

My hope is that this type of conversation will become more common place amongst Christians and non-Christians. We are not going to spread the gospel effectively by scaring people into heaven through yelling, "You're going to Hell!"

Christians also should be able to talk cordially with other Christians about issues that they do not agree upon. A classic example is the God's sovereignty/Man's responsibility issue. We ought to be able to talk politely, and agree to disagree if we must. There is no reason for anger and spite over an issue of this sort.

Let's sit down and talk.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

When Service Gets in the Way of The Service

My plan for today was to get a lot of work done. I hoped to plan for tonight's prayer meeting and get a large part of my Sunday sermons completed.

Today has not gone according to plan. Several different folks have shown up needing something to eat from our church food pantry. One person in our church just needed to talk. Also, the phone has not stopped ringing with people needing different things. And it is not even noon yet.

Part of me is tempted to say, "I just can't get anything accomplished today." That is quite a sad perspective.

Our goal as followers of Jesus Christ should be to follow His example as closely as possible. He was the ultimate servant.

I can remember several places in scripture where Jesus fed people. I can remember many places in the bible where Jesus took time for people (especially those who society says are "down-and-out").

I can't remember places in scripture where Jesus planned a prayer meeting or prepared a sermon in advance.

I'm not suggesting that it is wrong to prepare for a service, but if we want to be like Jesus, we will certainly put service before the service.

"The Seven Faith Tribes"

George Barna (of the Barna Group) has written a new book entitled, "The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter."

In this book, Barna begins by briefly discussing the great difficulties our country is currently facing. He then, for about the first 50% of the book, describes what he refers to as the "Seven Faith Tribes" in the United States. Based on poll numbers, these are the seven main religious groups within the U.S.A.

According to Barna, these seven are:

-Casual Christians (Cultural Christians; by far the largest group)
-Captive Christians (Conservative Christians)
-Pantheists (Eastern religions)
-Skeptics (Atheists and Agnostics)

Barna goes into quite a bit of detail about each of these seven groups. Much of the information is both interesting and helpful. I would recommend this book just for the first half of it. In particular, I was fascinated to read about what the Casual Christians believe and do. They are truly a mixed-bag, often holding to a worldview that combines the bible and secularism. The Casuals appear to make up their own belief systems as they see fit. This group is extremely important because it makes up over 50% of the U.S. population.

At the midway point in this book, Barna changes directions. After he has described the above seven groups, he proposes that the groups take the values that they share (such as representing the truth well, developing inner peace and purity, seeking peace with others, demonstrating wisdom, and being forgiving), and use them to work together to better the U.S. society.

This is where the book became naive to me. Barna seems to have good intentions, but I simply cannot see people from various faith groups coming together to better society. The reason for this is that we all have different worldviews. We would have to set aside much of the particulars of our faiths to work together on these issues.

I applaud Barna for attempting to come up with a solution to our nation's problems, and I do think members of the seven tribes could work together in secular venues on some surface-level issues. However, the deep problems of our society are rooted in sin. The seven tribes view sin differently. How could they possibly agree on how to address the country's problems if they cannot even agree on the cause of the problems in the first place?

This book is worth the read for the first half of it. The second 50% amounts to wishful thinking.

Our society's problems will only be solved by our turning to the God of the bible. The gods of the other faith groups are not going to help because they don't exist.

To order this book, click here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Key to a Wedding - Don't be Remembered

This past Saturday I performed my first wedding. I'm not sure who was more nervous - the groom, the bride, or me.

Weddings are so special that I did not want to do anything that would mess it up. For example, I didn't want to ask the groom if he wanted to take a husband. I also didn't want to forget something critical like the vows or rings.

My prayer, quite literally, was that God would be glorified, that it would be enjoyable for the bride and groom, and that I wouldn't mess-up big time.

Praise the Lord for answered prayers. We made it through the entire service without any gaffs. I felt as if my voice sounded nervous, but no one could tell (so I'm told). Afterward, many people told me they thought it was a beautiful service.

The best thing I was told was that God's message about marriage came through loud and clear. This pleases me, and was my intent as the homily came from Genesis 2:24. Later, one person even told me that he had never heard Genesis 2:24 explained before.

Afterward, I came to the realization that if I perform a wedding, my main goal should be to not be remembered. Three people should be remembered as people think back on the wedding. They are the three that make up the marriage: God, man, and woman.

I achieved that lofty goal only by the grace of God. I'm thankful to be remembered by no one as long as God is remembered by everyone. Actually, that would be a good motto for all of us to follow as we seek to glorify God in our lives.

Great Baptism Quote

This past Sunday I had the opportunity to baptize two young men. One was age ten; the other was only seven. Out of personal conviction, I do not normally baptize anyone under ten. However, both these boys understand both salvation and baptism.

Prior to baptizing the seven-year-old, I asked him about sin, Jesus, and salvation. He understands these concepts. I then asked him about baptism (he actually gave his life to Christ about six months ago, and has wanted to be baptized since that time). Specifically, I asked why he wanted to be baptized.

I was determined that if he did not give me a solid answer, I would not be able, in good conscience, to baptize him. The answer I received from him was a wonderful and simple answer all at the same time.

This young man replied to me, "I want everyone to know I'm saved." He understands that baptism is a public statement about the inward change God has made in him.

I love the way children see Jesus. They view him in such simple and pure terms.

It reminds me of Mark 10:13-16 -- And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands on them.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Download the NET Bible for Free

I realize this is not news, but it's still worth mentioning.

I recently (and finally) took the time to investigate the NET Bible. It is a modern, excellent translation that was designed to be shared free of charge over the internet.

In my opinion, the best part about the NET Bible is the over 60,000 translation notes. Since the text is in electronic format, the notes are very easily accessible.

As an example, below is the NET Bible note on Acts 8:37:

A few later mss (E 36 323 453 945 1739 1891 pc) add, with minor variations, 8:37 "He said to him, ‘If you believe with your whole heart, you may.’ He replied, ‘I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’” Verse 37 is lacking in {Ì45,74 א A B C 33 614 vg syp,h co}. It is clearly not a part of the original text of Acts. The variant is significant in showing how some in the early church viewed a confession of faith. The present translation follows NA27 in omitting the verse number, a procedure also followed by a number of other modern translations."

I found this note very helpful because Acts 8:37 is a verse some translations have (KJV, NKJV), while others do not (ESV, NIV). Additionally, it is a verse that is doctrinally significant because of what is says about baptism.

To download the NET Bible, go here.

A Good Practice: Wordle Your Sermons

I've found it a healthy practice to Wordle my sermons. Wordle is a program that generates word clouds. It is helpful in that it shows what the focus of the sermon is. This practice is beneficial because it can show if the sermon is being faithful to the biblical text.

Last night I preached on Matthew 5:48, which says, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (ESV)

My Wordled sermon is below. I have to admit that I wish there was more of Jesus in it. I hope what came out my mouth was more Christ-centered than this Wordle cloud suggests. Click on the image to see in detail.

Wordle: Pastor Eric C

The Real Meaning of Matthew 5:48

At first glance, Matthew 5:48 is an overwhelming verse.

Matthew 5:48, "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

This is an impossible task on our own. Therefore, this verse functions much like the OT law. The reality is that we cannot measure up.

Instead of being discouraged, we can take heart. In 5:48, Jesus is telling us that we need a perfect Savior to take our place in perfectly fulfilling the requirements of the law. We need a perfect substitute. Somewhat ironically, the one doing the teaching in 5:48 is the perfect substitute.

The beauty of the gospel is that Jesus fulfilled the perfection God commands in 5:48. This frees us up to live whole-heartedly for Christ, not trying to earn salvation, but rather enjoying it.

God's Self-Evidence - Part 2

The biblical writers do not spend much time trying to prove the existence of God. The reason for this is that God's existence is self-evident. In other words, it is obvious to all (even those who deny it). However, this does not mean that there is no evidence for the existence of God. Paul makes this clear in Romans chapter 1:

Romans 1:18-20
, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse." (ESV)

Paul tells us several important things related to God's existence:

1. What can be known about God is plain to man.
2. God has shown what is plain about Him to man.
3. God's invisible attributes have been clearly perceived (understood) by man.
4. The evidence for these attributes is the things God has made (God's creation).
5. Man is without excuse if He does not believe in God. God's wrath is upon unbelieving man.

Atheism claims that God does not exist. God, however, has made it clear to all human beings that He does exist.

God's existence is self-evident. Those who deny this are suppressing the truth.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Good Info on Historic Baptists

Click directly on the image to make it large enough to read.

(Taken from this site.)

God's Self-Evidence - Part 1

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." Genesis 1:1

The bible assumes that God exists. The biblical writers realize that God's evidence is so self-evident, that they do not even need to try to prove the point. It ought to be clear to all.

In fact, it is so clear that anyone denying the existence of God is described as a "fool."

"The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" Psalm 14:1

Friday, May 15, 2009

Camp Inquiry or Camp Atheism?

How would you like to send your child to a summer camp for atheistic indoctrination?

If this sounds like something you would like (and I certainly hope you are aghast as opposed to interested), go no farther than Camp Inquiry.

This, by the way, is not a joke.

The stated purpose of Camp Inquiry is to help "youth confront the challenges of living a non-theistic/secular lifestyle in a world dominated by religious belief and pseudoscience."

Different courses offered at the camp include In the Footprints of Darwin ("Experts in the natural sciences will guide campers in understanding the evolutionary model as counter to claims of creationism and intelligent design"), Expressly Human: The Ethical Life ("Campers will participate in conversations and activities designed to address the changing global community, diversity, and the need to act as a responsible moral agent"), and The Character of Character ("Through discussions of film and literature, campers will consider moral and ethical dilemmas faced by both fictional and familiar folks").

The sad and ironic thing about the above courses is that the children are, in essence, being taught the contradictory ideas that life has no meaning and that life has meaning. For example, any class that teaches secular evolution must strongly imply that life is essentially devoid of real meaning. However, the kids are also taking classes that focus on living responsibly.

An additional irony is that the ethics they will be taught about living responsibly will stem, by and large, from the Judeo-Christian worldview.

To learn more about this frightening camp, click here.

Musical Disproportionality

Dr. David Nelson (NOT pictured above), senior vice president for academic administration and dean of the faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, has written an excellent post regarding the disproportionate use of music in many church gatherings today. Dr. Nelson was my professor while at seminary, and I can speak of his expertise. Along with being dean, he also regularly leads the singing during chapel at SEBTS.

Dr. Nelson accurately describes a trend that is affecting many of our churches today - both too much music and poor quality of music (Eric speaking here - the above photo happens to show one of those songs that has little depth and is often sung about 47 times before the congregation/audience gets a break).

Several key points stand out from the article. Nelson says:

"I do think we face some serious problems related to the use of music in corporate worship, though, and one serious issue is that music has a disproportionate place in our corporate assemblies. That is, we often emphasize the music over more equally important elements and expressions of worship. So, we have a problem with respect to the quantity of music we use, and then, we also have a problem with the quality of music we use."

"With respect to quantity, I worry that we sing too much these days. Frankly, it’s wearing me out. It is as if we have to employ music in almost every aspect of the service. I’ll not be surprised if we soon start using background music to accompany sermons (and I’ll not be surprised if I learn this is already happening and I just don’t know about it). We sing and sing and sing and sing and sing. I find myself, in so many of the places I go (and I do travel a good bit in Baptist & Evangelical land) just praying that the music will come to a close. And we so seldom read from the Scriptures, or pray in anything but a cursory fashion, or recite a statement of faith or confession, or observe the ordinances."

"So, both with respect to lyrics and music, too much music employed in worship today is theologically deficient, formulaic, and banal. Much of this wouldn’t even make the stage at Disney World, to be completely honest. We use the term 'artificial' to refer to something that is not 'natural' or that is an imitation of what is real. I fear that too much of the music we use in worship these days is just that."

"Here is a little test for a congregation to consider, to examine the extent to which we may suffer from the malady of musical disproportionality. Be honest about this. If forced to decide between keeping music in the worship service or keeping baptism and the Lord’s Supper, what would the people choose? I fear that in many of our congregations that decision would easily go in favor of the music, and the ordinances would be dispensed with summarily."

To read the entire post, click here.

I have a few questions: Why do we sing so much? Why do we sing while leaving out other important aspects of gathering and worshiping together? Why do we often choose songs with such an inadequate message about God?

What can/should we do to change this?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Free Shot at a Captive Audience

Life is strange sometimes.

Right in the middle of mourning a death, I'm given the opportunity to share the gospel, basically free from distraction, with multiple lost people all at the same time.

This is what happens at a funeral. This is what happened today.

This past Sunday a sweet, Christian lady in our church passed away. She was 89-years-old. Today I had the privilege of preaching at her funeral.

Most of the time I preach, the people I'm preaching to are already saved or at least think they are (that's a topic for a different post). When I preach at funerals, I get the chance to proclaim the gospel to many people who almost never set foot inside a church building. At a funeral, these folks are usually very attentive because they cannot avoid issues of life and death.

This morning I preached from II Corinthians 5:1-8. I stressed the hope we have in death: being absent from this present physical body and being at home with Lord Jesus in heaven.

What I had sitting in front of me was a captive audience. I was basically given a "free shot" with the gospel. Please don't misunderstand. I wasn't hoping or expecting that anyone would get saved during the service. I was hoping that people who had never heard the gospel before (or had not heard it in a long time) would clearly hear and comprehend it today.

I think that happened.

It is ironic that people who I could never ordinarily preach to were forced, probably in an uncomfortable manner for some, to hear the gospel today.

So the death of a saint can lead to that saint's family hearing the good news of their salvation.

Life is strange and interesting.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Taking a Closer Look - John 6:44

The Apostle John has much to say about God's role and man's role in salvation. This is probably because his gospel is much like a large evangelistic tract. His purpose statement is one of the clearest in scripture: "...but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31)

Today we will look at John 6:44. This verse says:

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." (NKJV)

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day." (ESV)

"No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (KJV)

"No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day." (NASB)

"No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." (NIV)

"No man can come to me except the father which hath sent me, drawe him. And I will rayse him vp at the last daye." (Tyndale)

"No one is able to come unto me, if the Father who sent me may not draw him, and I will raise him up in the last day." (Young's Literal Translation)

In this passage, Jesus is speaking with a group of people. He is clearly talking about the issue of salvation. Some in the crowd appear to be His followers, while others are not. Several of those who oppose Christ have just been complaining about His statements. In 6:43, Jesus says, "Do not murmur among yourselves."

Then, in 6:44, Jesus explains who is able to come to Him and who is not. Jesus very clearly states that no one is able to come to Him unless something else first happens. What is that something else? The Father in heaven, who sent Jesus to earth, must first draw him.

Jesus is saying that in order for anyone to come to salvation in Jesus, a condition must first exist. That condition is that God the Father has drawn that person. It is very important that we understand what the word "draw" means.

The Greek word Jesus uses for "draw" carries the idea of dragging, tugging, hauling, or leading by force.

Jesus also uses this word in John 21:6. It pictures fishermen drawing in fish by a net. This verse says, "And He said to them, 'Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.' So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish."

It is critical that we understand what Jesus is saying. By using the word "draw," Jesus is telling us that God the Father is in control of whoever comes to the Son. A fisherman does not ask which fish want to get in the boat. Rather, the fishermen pull the fish they want into the boat. It is the fishermen, not the fish, who are in control.

If Jesus had wanted to, He could have said in 6:44, "...the Father who sent me woos, coaxes, attracts, or convinces him." However, that is clearly not what our Lord said. He said "draw" to make the point that God the Father is absolutely sovereign over who is able to come to the Son.

This verse also implies that whoever is called will come. It would be absurd to think that God would sovereignly call some people, but that they would reject His call. If this is the case, God would not be sovereign.

In summary, John 6:44 shows us that anyone who comes to Christ must first be called by the Father. The word "draw" is the key. It portrays a sovereign God who determines who is saved by Christ and who is not.

Monday, May 11, 2009

I Didn't Know the NKJV was a "A Deadly Translation"

I preach from the New King James Version (NKJV). The reason for this is that most people within our church family use either the King James Version (KJV) or the New International Version (NIV). I have found the NKJV to be understandable by those using the other translations.

I am not an NKJV-only guy (I'm not sure if there are any), but I do like the translation. I believe it is good as far as English translations go. There are other good ones such as the KJV, the ESV, the NASB, and the HCSB, but I'm sticking with the NKJV because I think it best meets the needs of those within this congregation.

That said, I did not realize until today that the NKJV is "a deadly translation." I stumbled upon a website that actually claims this. As you might expect, this is a website run by someone from the KJV-only crowd.

This KJV-only website begins by saying, "(The NKJV) is a deadly version because it's editors have succeeded in deceiving the body of Christ on two main points: (1) That it's a King James Bible (which is a lie), and (2) that it's based on the Textus Receptus (which is only a partial truth). The following information should be helpful when dealing with Christians who have been swindled by the Laodicean lovers of filthy lucre."

The site makes the following claims, among others:

"There's nothing 'new' about the NKJV logo. It is a '666' symbol of the pagan trinity which was used in the ancient Egyptian mysteries."

"It is estimated that the NKJV makes over 100,000 translation changes, which comes to over eighty changes per page and about three changes per verse! A great number of these changes bring the NKJV in line with the readings of such Alexandrian perversions as the NIV and the RSV."

"Since the NKJV has 'changed the truth of God into a lie,' it has also changed Romans 1:25 to read 'exchanged the truth of God for the lie.' This reading matches the readings of the new perversions, so how say ye it's a King James Bible?"

When I read stuff like this, all I can do is sigh. I'm not convinced my NKJV bible is "deadly." I'll keep using it until I am convinced by some actual scholarship.

"The Complete Guide to Bible Translations"

Sometimes when I visit people in hospitals, I take a little time to walk into the hospital gift shops to see what books they are selling. Unfortunately, most of the Christian books fall into the health-wealth-prosperity and name-it, claim-it categories. Because of this, I wasn't hoping for much as I walked into another gift shop last week.

I was pleasantly surprised to see a book that focused on bible translations. I don't have a book that deals with this topic, so I decided to buy it.

The Complete Guide to Bible Translations is probably not the best name for this book. A more accurate name would be something like The Fair and Balanced Guide to the Most Popular English Bible Translations of Today.

I'm pleased I spent the money on this book because the author, Dr. Ron Rhodes, makes an honest attempt to be both fair and balanced in his approach. He does not seem to have "an axe to grind," nor does he have an agenda. Dr. Rhodes also sees the benefits of both formal-literal equivalence translations and dynamic equivalence translations. He speaks fairly about translations I like (such as the ESV and NKJV) and those I don't like (such as the NRSV and TNIV). Additionally, since Dr. Rhodes is a graduate of a non-denominational seminary (Dallas Theological), he does not favor any denominational-specific translation.

Dr. Rhodes begins this book by discussing some basic issues of bible translation. Then, for the next 20 chapters, he discusses (at about 10 pages per chapter) different common translations. Dr. Rhodes does well in describing the reason behind the translations, how they came about, what translation philosophy was used, and the benefits and cautions of each translation.

The best part of this book is the fact that it is easy to read. No seminary degree is required to comprehend what he is talking about. Dr. Rhodes only really gets technical in one chapter, when he looks at the original language texts behind the English translations. This chapter is located in the appendixes.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in bible translations. It is enjoyable to read and would be a good resource to have on hand to help others in their search for the best translation for them.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Taking a Closer Look - John 13:1

In this Taking a Closer Look Series, my goal is to look at various biblical passages that impact the way we think about God's sovereignty and man's responsibility as they relate to salvation.

So far I have posted about John 3:16, John 1:12-13, and Romans 10:9-10.

I have chosen to look at John 13:1 because it makes a very important statement about Jesus' love as it relates to His followers and the world. This is significant because John 3:16, which heavily influences the way many Christians think about salvation, also discusses God's love and the world.

First, please take a look at the text of John 13:1. Several translations are quoted below:

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end." (ESV)

"Now before the feast of the passover, when Jesus knew that his hour was come that he should depart out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end." (KJV)

"Now before the Feast of the Passover, Jesus knowing that His hour had come that He would depart out of this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." (NASB)

"Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that His hour had come that He should depart from this world to the Father, having loved His own who were in the world, He loved them to the end." (NKJV)

"And before the feast of the passover, Jesus knowing that his hour hath come, that he may remove out of this world unto the Father, having loved his own who are in the world -- to the end he loved them." (YLT)

John 13:1 falls at a significant transition point in John's gospel. This is the beginning of the Farewell Discourse, which is Jesus' final teachings to His disciples the night before His crucifixion. Chapters 13-16 focus on His direct teachings, while chapter 17 is Christ's High Priestly Prayer.

John 13:1 appears to be a sort of summary statement about the love of Christ for His 12 disciples. Since Jesus is about to spend several chapters talking directly with His close disciples, it appears that "His own" from 13:1 refers to these specific disciples, as opposed to all of His followers. His love for them is about to be displayed in His washing their feet, and ultimately in His sacrifice on the cross.

For our purposes, we will focus on the second half of 13:1 (the first half simply tells us that Jesus knew it was nearing His time to leave the earth). In the second half of the verse, John tells us three main things:

1. Jesus loved His own.
2. Jesus' own were in the world.
3. Jesus loved them to the end.

The key to this passage, as it relates to our focus, is the phrase, "having loved His own who were in the world." The ESV, NASB, and NKJV all translate this the same way.

This phrase is significant because we learn that Jesus loved "His own." This is no surprise to us. We all know that Jesus loved His disciples. What is interesting is that John says that Jesus loved His own "who were in the world." We can take from this that Jesus loved His own disciples in some way that He did not love the world.

John does not tell us how this love differs. In 13:1, he does not tell us whether or not Jesus loved the world. In this verse, He simply tells us that Jesus loved the 12 - who were in the world. John appears to take the time to write "who were in the world" in order to both contrast the 12 with the world, and to contrast Jesus' love for the 12 with how Christ thinks/feels about the world.

Why does this matter? The reason is that this verse helps shed some light on John 3:16. In John 3:16, we are told, "For God so loved the world..." A better translation is probably to say, "God loved the world in this manner..." Regardless, there has been much debate over what this means. Does it mean that God loves every individual on the earth? Or, does it mean that God loves individuals who live in all parts of the earth (i.e. not just Jews)?

John 13:1 tells us something about this. It is clear that Jesus loves His disciples in a unique manner. Jesus loved "His own." This is different from how He felt about "the world." Therefore, John 13:1 indicates that John 3:16's meaning of "world" is most likely referring to individuals around the world as opposed to every individual in the world.

This corresponds to God's soveriegn election and predestination based upon His own sovereign will.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

We Should All Believe in Predestination

Acts 4:27-28, "For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place."

Romans 8:29-30, "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified."

Ephesians 1:4-5, "Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will..."

Ephesians 1:11, "In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will."

I frequently hear Christians say that they do not believe in predestination. I also regularly read Christians write against predestination. Some Christians seem to have a visceral dislike for the word itself.

I don't understand why Christians feel this way. The reality is that we should all believe in predestination. The reason for this is that the word itself is in the bible. The above verses show the five places where this word occurs. They all come from the Greek verb "prooridzo."

The argument among Christians should not be whether or not predestination is true. It is true because it is in the bible.

If there is a disagreement, it ought to be over what predestination actually means.

In the above passage from Acts, the word "predestined" is used to refer to God the Father's bringing about and controlling the death of Christ. Almost all Christians agree on this meaning.

The real argument is over what is described in the remainder of the above verses: predestination as it relates to the salvation of sinners. Some Christians believe that God predestined who would be saved and who would not based upon His own sovereign will. Others believe that God predestined who would be saved based upon His foreknowledge of who would make a free choice for Him (there are also other nuanced definitions of what predestined means, but I have desire to go in that direction right now).

My purpose here is not to argue for either of the above positions. My point, rather, is to say that predestination is true and is fact (I'm being purposefully redundant). The reason it is true and factual is that it is in the bible.

Since the bible has no errors, the existence of predestination is something we should all be able to agree upon.

It is the definition of what predestination actually is that we should be talking about, but may not agree upon.

If we are to be as biblical as we can be, we must believe all the words of scripture to be true.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Text of Baptist Faith & Message 2000 on Wordle

Click on the picture to enlarge. This shows the most prominent words in the BF&M 2000.

Wordle: Baptist Faith and Message 2000

To see more on Wordle, click here.

Great Article on Abstinence - Kissing Style

Click here to read an excellent post by Dr. Albert Mohler on kissing and abstinence. What a counter-cultural movement!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Taking a Closer Look - Romans 10:9-10

How do these two verses impact our understanding of God's sovereignty, man's responsibility, and salvation?

Let's remember what is going on in the book of Romans. At the end of Romans chapter 8, Paul has told us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (see verses 38-39). At this point in the letter, the reader could wonder, "What about Israel? Hasn't God rejected them?"

It seems that Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, anticipated this objection to 8:38-39. Therefore, in chapters 9-11 of Romans, Paul discusses God's continued relationship with Israel, and makes the point that God has not rejected them.

When reading Romans 9-11, we must not make the mistake of treating these chapters as if they have no application to Gentiles. Any fair reading of chapters 9-11 makes it clear that at least 10:9-17 pertains to many more than just Israel.

So let's see what Romans 10:9-10 means, keeping in mind the context.

Below are several versions of Romans 10:9-10.

KJV "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

NKJV "that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."

ESV "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved."

NASB "that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation."

NIV "That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved."

NLT "For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved."

YLT "that if thou mayest confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and mayest believe in thy heart that God did raise him out of the dead, thou shalt be saved, for with the heart doth one believe to righteousness, and with the mouth is confession made to salvation."

In 10:8, Paul writes, "But what does it (righteousness based on faith) say?" The answer Paul gives is, "The word (of salvation) is near you." What is this word? It is explained in verses 9-10.

In verse 9, Paul writes a simple "if-then" statement. In other words, if one thing happens, then another thing happens. What occurs in the "then" phrase depends on what occurs in the "if" phrase.

So, if a person both A) confesses with his mouth the Lord Jesus, and B) believes in his heart that God raised him (Jesus) from the dead, then C) he will be saved.

It amounts to a simple statement of cause and effect. An individual's confession (not just acknowledgment , but acknowledgment based on a life-altering decision) and belief (more than head knowledge; this is a belief that changes a person's course of life), leads to his being saved.

Verse 10 is simply an explanation and description of how verse 9 comes about. It just gives the reader a fuller meaning of what verse 9 is telling us.

So what can we learn from verses 9-10? We learn much the same that we saw in John 3:16:
-if any person confesses Jesus as Lord
-if that same person believes in his heart that God raised Jesus from the dead
- that same person will be saved.

Much like John 3:16, this is a sweet, simple statement about the gospel. We should commit these verses to memory because they are so important to the heart of what we believe as Christians.

We must also look at what Romans 10:9-10 does not say:
-It does not tell us about God's sovereignty as it relates to salvation.
-It does not tell us whether or not man has free-will to choose God.
-It does not inform us as to whether or not God wills for everyone to be saved.

However, it does seem that the wording of Romans 10:9-10 implies that man has some sort of choice in all this. Clearly, all men are given the responsibility of confessing and believing, or refusing to do so. That appears to amount to some sort of choice. If a person does not make an active choice for the gospel, then he has made a passive, but real, choice against it.

However, we are not told anywhere in these verses that this is a free choice. Paul is silent to this. Despite this, the choice does appear to be a real choice that certainly has real consequences.

Can a choice be a real one even if it is not a free one? Well, I suppose your answer to that will depend on your theology. That is not a can of worms I want to get into right now.

To summarize Romans 10:9-10, we are presented with a simple, but wonderful, "if-then" statement. If any person confesses Christ and believes in His resurrection, then he will be saved. This alone is amazing.

A Scary First 100 Days for the Family