Matthew R. Perry

Archive for March, 2009|Monthly archive page

Jesus: Made in America by Stephen Nichols (A Book Review)

In America, evangelicalism, History on March 27, 2009 at 10:17 am

Purchase Jesus Made in America by Stephen Nichols (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2008, 237 pp.)


First of all, I must say how grateful I am to Southern Seminary for (1) having a marvelous conference (Southern Seminary and the History of American Christianity, on February 18-19, 2009), and (2) providing two free books to all conference attendees.  One of the books I chose is “Jesus Made in America:  A Cultural History from the Puritans to The Passion of the Christ” by Stephen Nichols. 

I bought this book for two reasons.  First, because of Nichols’ engaging style at the conference.  And, on a personal note, I had a chance to speak briefly with him in the Legacy Center lobby that night.  He was just as engaging in a personal conversation as he was delivering his lecture on the influence of D.L. Moody.  And his engaging style transfers to the written page, making this clearly my favorite read of the year.

Secondly, I am an avid history buff.  Ideal vacations for me are not necessarily to beach resorts or golf vacations (though I wouldn’t be opposed to them), but around historical venues.  Nichols effectively takes the reader through the main stages and eras of American history from colonial times to the present and addresses how American thought and life has influenced our American view of Jesus Christ.  As you read through this, you begin to see how by and large our culture’s view of Christ has developed not necessarily from the Bible but reflecting on differing emphases in differing eras. The chapters are laid out as follows:

Chapter One (The Puritan Christ): The Puritans saw Jesus clearly as the "God-man," but many in evangelicalism today wonder whether recovering their mindset is worth the time. To many today, "He is a bit too far out of reach for personal touch." Yet, for all their flaws, the Puritans offer a balance between the transcendent and imminent Christ.

Chapter Two (Jesus and the New Republic): When our country was formed with the writing of the Declaration of Independence (1776) and the ratifying of the Constitution (1789), many of our most influential founding fathers began to reject the Puritan look as a those of us who are "sinners in the hands of an angry God." Men like Thomas Jefferson rejected the miracles of the Scriptures, only choosing to extract the moral teachings of Jesus. Thomas Paine, author of Common Sense went further to decry religion altogether. Yet, Americans then (and now) thanks to numerous writings and paintings, were quick to paint George Washington as a Messianic figure, even though he gave scant references to God. The Jesus of the New Republic was portrayed as one who desired moral character and virtue, but little use was made for any condemning and judging role Christ played.

Chapter Three (Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild): Andrew Jackson’s frontiersman celebrity helped craft Jesus into a man’s man, with little use for the creeds and much use for . On the other end of the spectrum, the Victorian Jesus was one who was gentle, respectful, friend of children, and almost effeminate. Many depictions of Jesus were that of one with long hair, blue eyes, smooth skin, and womanly features.

Chapter Four (Jesus, Hero for the Modern World): In this chapter, Nichols discusses the theological debates between liberal scholar Harry Emerson Fosdick and conservative scholar J. Gresham Machen. For Fosdick, Jesus was all about peace and brotherhood, playing off the philosophy of Henry Van Dyke. Machen sought to bring the church back to orthodox Christianity.

Chapter Five (Jesus on Vinyl): From the Jesus People Movement to the mega-corporate Christian Contemporary Music (CCM) scene, adapting Jesus and his ways to the airwaves and drained even more of the deity out of Christ. Now, Nichols contends, we are relegated to singing "love songs" to Jesus. Crossover bands recognize that if they desire airplay on a wider realm, they must refrain from using, as DeGarmo and Key slyly remarked, "the J-Word."

Chapter Six (Jesus on the Big Screen): From DeMille’s King of Kings in 1927 to The Passion of the Christ in 2004 (with a stopover at Scorsece’s The Last Temptation of Christ, Nichols gives an interesting overview of Christ on film. He rightly notes that most of these films fill in some of the spots missing (such as Jesus’ childhood) and gloss over areas where the Scripture does speak. A case in point is Gibson’s Passion, which draws more on his Catholic tradition than it does on the sole authority of Scripture. Nichols gives a helpful survey to help us be more discerning.

Chapter Seven (Jesus on a Bracelet): from the WWJD? bracelets to Precious Moments, Nichols gives a very disturbing view on how Christ is merchandised. You just need to read this chapter to get an idea of how absorbed we are in this mindset.

Chapter Eight (Jesus on the Right Wing): From Jimmy Carter’s claim to being "born again" to George W. Bush’s claim in the 2000 Republican Presidential Primaries that Jesus influenced his thoughts the most, Nichols examines how both the right wing and the left seek to lay claim to Jesus as an advocate to their causes.

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The Danger of Unregenerate Pastors (C.H. Spurgeon)

In C.H. Spurgeon, church, evangelicalism, Evangelism, Salvation, Worship on March 25, 2009 at 11:52 am

Alas!  the unregenerate pastor becomes terribly mischievous too, for of all the causes which create infidelity, ungodly ministers must be ranked among the first.  I read the other day, that no phase of evil presented so marvellous a power for destruction, as the unconverted minister of a parish, with a 1200-pound (British currency, not weight) organ, a choir of ungodly singers, and aristocratic congregation.  It was the opinion of the writer, that there could be no greater instrument for damnation out of help than that.  People go to their place of worship and sit down comfortably, and think they must be Christians, when all the time all that their religion consists in, is listening to an orator, having their ears tickles with music, and perhaps their eyes amused with graceful action and fashionable manners; the whole being no better than what they hear and see at the opera—not so good, perhaps, in point of aesthetic beauty, and not an atom more spiritual.  Thousands are congratulating themselves, and even blessing God that they are devout worshippers, when at the same time they are living in an unregenerate Christless state, having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.  He who presides over a system which aims at nothing higher than formalism, is far more a servant of the devil than a minister of God.

(C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, Banner of Trust Trust, 2008, pp. 5-6)

Sunday’s Sermon: “Jesus Saves, Jesus Sends” (Luke 9:1-9)

In Christ, church, Evangelism, Leadership, Missions, Salvation, Worship on March 23, 2009 at 12:32 pm

(If you wish to listen to the mp3 of this sermon, click on the title of this sermon in the sidebar of this blog.  This sermon was preached on Sunday, March 22, 2009 at Boone’s Creek Baptist Church, Lexington, KY where I have served as pastor since September 2003.)

Every leader, no matter who he is or what he is engaged in, must multiply himself. If a leader does not pass along his vision, delegate that vision out, and then give away some of that responsibility, that influence will be small. That influence will only go as far as that person can. But leaders and organizations’ influence multiplies when others are involved in making the vision a reality.

When I became a minister of music and youth at a church in South Florida, I went from a small church with a very small choir and about a ten-voice children’s choir to a church that had five large choirs from preschool to senior adults. While they already had people in place for the preschool choir and children’s choir, I was directly in charge of the youth choir, adult choir, and senior adult choirs which had a combined 90 people involved. I was swamped.

Yet, my greatest challenge was the youth choir. We formed an instant bond, and I knew how to direct choirs—but the youth also were involved in large dramatic musicals. This wasn’t where you just gave them some lines and said, “OK, guys—do your best!” There were tryouts, auditions, and some serious practices. It was not my strength, and it showed at our first musical.

So I had to swallow my pride and get some help with this. Someone in our church was good at drama and had experience doing it, so I enlisted Sean and he took over all the drama. We would coordinate, I’d tell him my thoughts, and he’d either run with what I said or improve on what I said. But the burden was lifted, ministry was expanded, and the youth choir absolutely flourished.

Jesus understood this. As we have been going through Luke, we have seen that Jesus was very busy in doing ministry. He would do the preaching, he would do the healing, he would talk to the opposition—and he did this alone! Even the account of Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the issue of blood, people pressed in around him so much that he struggled to get from Point A to Point B. He was it! He even had to divert his attention from Jairus’ issue to tend to the woman. As far as the perspective of heaven was concerned, this was exactly how God planned it. But from heaven’s and earth’s perspective, Jesus needed to give away his ministry not only so he could spread his influence—he needed to train these young “interns” to carry on after He ascended to the Father.

It’s interesting that Jesus chose this path—involving flawed and frail human beings to expand his ministry and work through them and all who follow the Gospel.

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. 4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he sought to see him.

As we look at this passage, we must remember this without fail: those whom Jesus saves, Jesus sends. He calls you, he empowers you, he directs you, and when it comes to the church he stays with you in his Spirit. Not only this, but the Spirit moving you along gives you the desire to point others to Christ. The connection is such in the New Testament that if you find yourself not wanting to be sent or resisting it, there is always a question as to whether you are saved. Spurgeon says:

Any Christian has a right to disseminate the gospel who has the ability to do so; and more, he not only has the right, but it is his duty so to do as long as he lives. The propagation of the gospel is left, not to a few, but to all disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.[1]

1. Jesus saves us and sends us, armed with the gospel (1-3).

Again, look at verses 1-3:

1 And he called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, 2 and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. 3 And he said to them, "Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.”

Jesus chose these twelve out of many, and he poured his life and teaching into these twelve men. During this mission, they were only armed with the power of the Word of God to do both physical and spiritual healings. This is great in seeing how Christ uses people to expand and conduct his ministry. In John 6:69-71, we read:

After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. 67So Jesus said to the Twelve, "Do you want to go away as well?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, 69and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God." Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the Twelve?”

Christ chose the Twelve to serve as an extension of himself in the world. This is a foreshadowing of how his church would serve. Remember from Ephesians 2:19-21:

19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

Jesus saves us and sends us to be an extension of Him as well—the apostles were sent, yet we are His body that’s living and active in the world. What is the resource He gave them to use? “He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal.” I read this, and two things came to mind. I recall in Acts 1 after Jesus rose from the dead, he spent his last days: “He presented himself alive to them after his suffering by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3).

The other thing that came to mind was a conference I went to in Elizabethtown this past Tuesday called “Essential Church?: Reclaiming a Generation of Dropouts.” Dan Summerlin gave a breakout session talk about the necessity of a church understanding its mission. He recommended to us pastors gathering together your key leaders and spend three months on this. He said, “The first four weeks of this, do a study on the Kingdom of God to get that framework in mind. Then you’re ready for the particulars of your church.”

Notice over what Jesus gives them authority: demons and diseases. Why is this significant? Did not Jesus have power over the demons and to cure diseases in Luke 8? Jesus called them, saying that they now have His power and authority over these issues as well. He doesn’t just save them. He doesn’t just empower them. He sends them to proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.

We must realize that this was a short-term mission for a specific purpose. In this passage, they were to take nothing for their journey, when in another missions trip they were to take extra supplies. This was a time where they would get used to sharing the gospel in various communities, especially after the time Jesus was ascended—given great evidence of this in the Book of Acts.

We must also realize that Jesus is bringing together his apostles (and this word, from the Greek, means ones who are sent—in this case, ones who are sent by Christ for a specific purpose).

2. Jesus saves us and sends us to work the Gospel out in our communities (4-6).

Look with me at verses 4-6:

4And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. 5And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them." 6 And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.

Verse 6 is telling: “And they departed and went through the villages.” Jesus sent out the Twelve to “proclaim the Kingdom of God and to heal.” Notice too the parallel understanding of proclaiming the Kingdom of God and “preaching the gospel.” So that’s the what—now we see the where: the villages. They went into the communities where people lived.

Christ empowers us to be witnesses from our neighborhoods to our nations. How? “The Holy Spirit will empower you, and you will be my witnesses…” (Acts 1:8). Do we understand that the power that God gave to Christ and that Christ gave to the disciples is ours as well? We need to realize a few things: one, the one who calls us; two, what he arms us with; and three, who he sends us to.

John Benton in his book, “Why Join a Small Church?” tells the story of when U.S. troops captured the Pacific Island of Okinawa towards the end of World War II. The island by and large contained great moral and social issues, except for one city—Shimbakuku. Upon their arrival there, they were greeted by two men, one carrying a Bible.

Everything in that village was neat and tidy, a far cry from the state of the other villages they had encountered. The reason? Thirty years prior a missionary had stopped in Shimbakuku on his way to Japan. He didn’t stay long and only two people (the old men) became Christians. He left them a Bible and begged them to shape their lives by it. They did so, and the whole community changed.

Do we not need to go into our villages? Has not God called us to go into our communities as part of the Great Commission? You see, in every case where God saves, He sends! And He arms us with the Spirit and His Word! We are to know our Savior, we are to know His Word, but we are also to know the people to whom we minister.

Have you ever talked to someone who feels called into international missions? In Southern Baptist life, if someone goes into missions through the International Missions Board, whether career or a two-year journeyman stint, end up spending some time a the Missionary Learning Center. There, they are trained to learn the language and culture of the people to whom they will serve and minister the Gospel. Why? Because some of our American traditions and customs may not only fit, but some may take offense. Plus, we need to be ready to adapt.

What is so interesting to me is, we do not question those methods of the IMB in training these missionaries to study their culture. Yet, we fail to see that this is what we need to be doing as well! 1 Chronicles 12:32 says, “Of the sons of Issachar who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.”

You see, there is a difference between the church being like the world and the church understanding the world. Some Bible-believing churches want to completely cut themselves off from anything in the world

3. Jesus saves us and sends us, challenging outsiders to deal with Him and His Gospel (7-9).

7 Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was happening, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the prophets of old had risen. 9Herod said, "John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?" And he sought to see him.

Consider the progression here. Jesus saves us in order to send us. He gives us His power and His love and His desire for His prized creation and re-creates them, making them new creatures in Christ who no longer desire their own wills and appeal to their own flesh are sold out to the Kingdom of God—such a disparity will make a great difference in the world.

Yet, Jesus’ ministry had gotten the attention of none other than Herod the Tetrarch (also known as Herod Antipas). Herod ruled Galilee from around 4 B.C. until 39 A.D. He was every bit as evil as his father. Luke alludes to the fact that he was “perplexed because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead” (v. 7). He by the urging of Herodias beheaded John the Baptist who accused him of adultery by having his brother Philip’s wife. He was familiar with John’s powerful preaching on the Kingdom of God, and Jesus (as far as he knew) had the same powerful preaching as well. “John I beheaded, but who is this about whom I hear such things?”

Herod wanted to meet him. Yet later on Herod wanted to kill Jesus. But in Luke 13:32, Jesus told the messengers, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my course.’” (Luke 13:32). Later on in Luke 23, during Jesus’ trial, Herod finally meets Jesus in person and wants a miracle from him—something in which Jesus did not oblige him.

What do we see from this? For one, we see that on the surface, Christianity looks very good. The disciples were preaching, yes, but they were healing! Many saw these incredible miracles and wanted to be a part of what was going on. They liked what they saw on the outside concerning Jesus and Christianity in general.

Yet, as we see with Herod, when people hear of the very nature of Christianity and the message that not only saved us but the message that we as saved people are armed with, they want to silence us. They may like what we do, but the world will hate what Christians say because it will not just involve an enjoyment of physical miracles, but it involves a spiritual change. When the Scriptures say, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness,” they will resent the notion that a change, a spiritual transformation must take place.

A.W. Tozer calls for a certain type of preacher to step up:

Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will be not one but many), he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. Such a man is likely to be lean, rugged, blunt- spoken and a little bit angry with the world. He will love Christ and the souls of men to the point of willingness to die for the glory of the One and the salvation of the other. But he will fear nothing that breathes with mortal breath.[2]

Yet, we may wish to silence Jesus, but there is a little seed that still intrigues us—as it did with Herod during Jesus’ trial. He wanted to see a miracle. Even with his skepticism, he still wanted to see if Jesus was all he said he was, but the only thing he could muster up was a desire to see an external magic trick. He still felt as if the world bowed to him, yet Jesus showed numerous times that He followed another King!

Our lives must be lived both in private and in public in such a way that the world and its leaders will have to contend with Christians—not politically, but spiritually. First Peter 3:15-16 says,

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”

Conclusion

One time, Billy Graham took time to speak to President John F. Kennedy about the gospel and the Second Coming of Christ. Kennedy disregarded what Graham had to say. Yet, sometime later when he and Graham were together, President Kennedy asked Billy if he could ride with him to his hotel room—clearly something was on his mind. Graham was suffering from a nasty cold and told the President he did not want to give this to him. So they settled for another time. Yet, just days later, JFK was shot in Dallas, and the conversation never took place.


[1]C.H. Spurgeon, Lectures To My Students (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2008), 19.

[2]A.W. Tozer, The Size of the Soul, 128-129.

The Devil’s Jackals (Charles Spurgeon)

In C.H. Spurgeon, prayer on March 22, 2009 at 6:31 am

"One evening David got up from his bed and strolled around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing–a very beautiful woman." 2 Samuel 11:2

At that hour David saw Bathsheba. We are never out of the reach of temptation! Both at home and abroad we are liable to meet with allurements to evil. The morning opens with peril–and the shadows of evening find us still in jeopardy. They are well kept–whom God keeps! But woe unto those who go forth into the world, or even dare to walk their own house, unarmed. Those who think themselves secure, are more exposed to danger than any others. The armor-bearer of sin–is self-confidence.

David should have been engaged in fighting the Lord’s battles, instead of which he tarried at Jerusalem, and gave himself up to luxurious repose, for he arose from his bed in the evening. Idleness and luxury are the devil’s jackals–and find him abundant prey. In stagnant waters–noxious creatures swarm. Neglected soil–soon yields a dense tangle of weeds and briers. Oh for the constraining love of Jesus to keep us active and useful!

When I see the King of Israel sluggishly leaving his couch at the close of the day, and falling at once into temptation–let me take warning, and set holy watchfulness to guard the door! Is it possible that the king had mounted his housetop for prayer and devotion? If so, what a caution is given us to count no place, however secret–a sanctuary from sin!

While our hearts are so like a tinder-box, and sparks so plentiful–we had need use all diligence in all places–to prevent a blaze. Satan can climb housetops, and enter closets! And even if we could shut out that foul fiend–our own corruptions are enough to work our ruin–unless God’s grace prevents it.

Reader, beware of evening temptations. Be not secure. The sun is down–but sin is up. We need a watchman for the night–as well as a guardian for the day. O blessed Spirit, keep us from all evil this night. Amen.

(This is from today’s Grace Gem – http://www.gracegems.org .)

Book Review: “Why Join a small Church?” by John Benton

In church, Evangelism, Missions, small groups on March 21, 2009 at 12:24 pm

smallchurch

I came across John Benton’s wonderful little book, Why Join a small Church? at a very important and crucial time in my ministry. Benton serves as pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church in Guildford, England, and has written such a helpful work in this area, that I cannot recommend it highly enough.

I serve as pastor of what some consider a small church (approx. 160-170 on a Sunday morning when the weather holds up). We have a number of folks who come through our church either just to visit, or are looking for another church that is, well, smaller than a number of larger churches that are in our area.

(An interesting trend here: many in our larger churches are looking for a smaller church to develop some close relationships, and others are in smaller churches looking to larger ones because of larger ministries and programs in which they may be involved. No wonder we see so many jumping churches all the time. Just a thought.)

Benton comes along and says

To join a big and thriving church is not always wrong, but it is frequently the easy option. To join a little needy congregation is not a decision to be taken lightly. It will probably require far more guts, love, resilience and spiritual exertion. But how the devil would love to herd Christians into a few big city centre churches, getting them to travel miles from their communities, and leaving vast tracts of our country with no viable witness for the gospel.

In Chapter One, Benton gives seven reasons to “throw your lot” into smaller churches (11-15):

    1. The big churches can spare you.
    2. The small churches need you.
    3. Small churches give opportunities to serve.
    4. Small churches enjoy closer fellowship.
    5. Smaller churches will stretch you more as a Christian.
    6. Small churches offer you a life’s work of real significance.
    7. Small churches offer you the chance to confound the world.

Benton closes the chapter by saying what many look for in a church.

  • What’s the music program like?
  • Is the church building impressive?
  • Can I find me a marriage partner? (Translate: are there young people there?)
  • Do the services employ the latest technology?
  • What’s the coffee like?
  • Will I be asked to do a lot? (16)

Rather, we should ask, “Is the love of Christ shown? Is the Bible taught faithfully? Is the church seeking to win others to Christ?” (16)

Chapter Two, entitled “Problems You May Face,” deals honestly with the plight of many smaller churches (bad facilities, nothing for children or youth, discouragement, lack of spiritual life, idiosyncracies, stale worship, etc.). Benton even questions the need for planting churches, for he feels that “it is far better, whatever the difficulties, if we can help to build up what is already in existence” (24).

Chapter Three, entitled “Why It Is a Tragedy if Small Churches Close,” he answers up front:

Everyone needs to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ and if possible to see it lived out in practical life. When a Bible church closes it usually leaves an area where people have been robbed of the possibility of hearing the gospel. But, in fact, everyone needs to become a Christian and local churches are the God-ordained means of holding out the world of life to the community.

Crafted around 1 Peter 1:3-12, Benton gives some helpful and necessary principles on why small churches are so needed. Chapter Four, entitled “How to Make a Small Church a Great Church,” was covered in a previous blog post, so I’ll move on to Chapter Five, entitled, “Encouragement for the Task.” Allow me to list off seven encouragements Benton believes (and I would agree) will help small churches to persevere and achieve great things for God.

  1. The potential of the church is far greater than we realize.
  2. The Lord is able to use small groups of Christians to transform whole communities.
  3. The Lord is able to use the most unlikely people to do remarkable things.
  4. The Lord Jesus will build His church.
  5. The Lord’s power is not dependent on great human resources.
  6. The power of God’s Spirit is available to all Christians
  7. The breakdown of secular society is a sign of how much each community needs small churches.

Conclusion

While each person must seek after God as to which church to join, we must make sure that our reasons are not simply due to external looks and resources, but rather they must match up to biblical mandates. We have become a consumeristic society, where we look at churches to see what they can offer us, rather than pouring our gifts into them.

Are you someone who prefers a larger church? Why? Do smaller churches not have the ministries or programs you desire? Do smaller churches make you feel conspicuous, whereas larger churches give you a place to blend in and hide? Would you be willing to be used by God to roll up your sleeves and help those small churches out so they may focus on a lost and dying world?

Frankly, are you elevating personal preferences to tests of faith? If so, you may well be walking in pride and selfishness, all the while deluding yourselves into thinking you are doing these things for spiritual reasons.

(John Benton, Why Join a small Church?, Rosshire, Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2008, 61 pp., $7.99.)

To read another fine (and far better) review of this work, click here.

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Disney’s Palatable Philosophies a Concern

In Apologetics, Creator, Music, prayer on March 14, 2009 at 1:42 pm

This past Friday night, we took our children to see Disney on Ice, and they absolutely loved it. Yet, I really began to listen to some of the songs that are not only Disney staples, but are now American standards–and I began to shake my head.

Hakuna Matata (Lion King). “It means no worries, all the rest of our days.”

The Lion King is a cinematic masterpiece. Clearly this one and Elton John’s Can You Feel the Love Tonight? are the two songs which gained a great deal of traction. Hakuna Matata, sung by Timon the meerkat and Pumbba the warthog, gives a “worry-free philosophy” that appeals not only to Simba but to many of us. It echoes the message of the 1989 Bobby McFerrin hit, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”

Three times in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus tells us not to be anxious (worry), as does the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:6-7:

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Timon and Pumbba advocated not worrying in order to avoid responsibilities. Jesus tells his followers not to worry because of a failure to trust God’s providence. For a Christian, worry is about not trusting God to work all things together for good to those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28).

Granted, Timon and Pumbba’s advice is not heeded by Simba, who responds to the issue at hand—but many sing this song as a way to relieve stress.

“Let your conscience be your guide” (Jiminy Cricket).

This is rotten advice—but it’s especially bad when Christians use this logic believing it is sound advice in helping them in their walk with Christ. But our conscience is solely informed by our belief system. Muslims have a conscience when they miss one of their prayers. Mormons have a conscience if they drink caffeine, which goes against a tenet of their faith. Even Atheists have a conscience, when they go against their dictums as well.

Christians need to realize that our conscience is not equivalent to the voice of God. Our conscience merely reacts to what our heart and will hold most dear. And given that we are such sinful, fallen creatures whose consciences can be seared or to a lesser degree numbed, this is absolutely terrible advice.

Yet, Christians use this logic all the time: just follow your conscience. This was especially true in 1992-1993 when a subject came up before the Southern Baptist Convention about a certain civic organization (or should I say, religion) known as the Freemasons. Instead of coming out and taking a stand, here is what they said:

In light of the fact that many tenets and teachings of Freemasonry are not compatible with Christianity and Southern Baptist doctrine, while others are compatible with Christianity and Southern Baptist doctrine, we therefore recommend that consistent with our denomination’s deep convictions regarding the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church, membership in a
Masonic Order be a matter of personal conscience.
Therefore, we exhort Southern Baptists to prayerfully and carefully evaluate Freemasonry in light of the Lordship of Christ, the teachings of the Scripture, and the findings of this report, as led by the Holy Spirit of God.

The holes in this are big enough to swim a blue whale through. My intention is not to say anything positive or negative in this about the Freemasons (I have addressed this elsewhere), but to show the logic of my beloved denomination. Our conscience must be directed by the authority of Scripture without any dilution or compromise–not by what we may personally believe–because we are flawed!

It’s scary when Jiminy Cricket starts informing our religious policies.

“When you wish upon a star…” (Jiminy Cricket).

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

A number of issues jump out. For one, wishing upon ‘a star.’ Taking our desires to the stars? This is nothing short of astrology! Even Wikipedia is helpful for a definition:

Astrology (from Greek ἄστρον, astron, “constellation, star”; and -λογία, -logia, “the study of”) is a group of systems, traditions, and beliefs which hold that the relative positions of celestial bodies and related details can provide useful information about personality, human affairs, and other terrestrial matters.

These ‘stars’ now have personalities (which is where the constellations’ personalities in general, and the Signs of the Zodiac in particular, come into play along with the reading of horoscopes) to which we may appeal. As a result, whatever desires we wish for toward this star will come to you! Yet, dear Christian, look at Hebrews 4:14-16:

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

We do not appeal to things created for guidance, but to the Creator through Jesus Christ.

Secondly, the phrase “no request is too extreme” is disturbing. No request is too extreme? Granted, in the context of the movie, Pinocchio the marionette wishes to be a real boy! This is an extreme wish! But the song now stands on its own. As Christians, we realize we are fallen people and that our wishes may stem from our fallenness rather than what is right and true.

Thirdly, the personification of “fate” is disturbing. Again, we need a definition:

: the will or principle or determining cause by which things in general are believed to come to be as they are or events to happen as they do : destiny

“She” is “kind” and brings to “those who love their secret longing.” This nameless director of all things not only has attributes but perceives attributes in others. While the melody is very tender and, yes, catchy, the content of this song is very unbiblical.

Conclusion

We can put our abhorrent philosophies to nice and catchy melodies and plant seeds in hearts without the receivers being none the wiser. How much more in tenderhearted children (and adults) who see animation and think its harmless? We must not be like so many who say, “I only listen to the music, not the words.” For those of us who have been gripped by the Gospel, we must be careful of the schemes of the devil and of man, who work to have us be gripped by something else that will lead us astray.

Thoughts?

When Smaller Churches Rise to Greater Heights

In Acts 1:8, Christ, church, Evangelism, Leadership, prayer, Worship on March 12, 2009 at 5:46 pm

I am pastor of a church that averages around 170 per Sunday morning: 30 in the children’s area (workers included) and 140 in the main worship service. Technically, we are above the national average of churches (which average approximately 75), but we are just below the “medium” range, which begins at 200.

By the world’s perspective, smaller churches face a daunting task. In an age of consumerism where people come to a church to see what that church can do for them and provide for them, we are tempted to work to make the “big sell.”

Over the years, we have lost some of our long-time members to bigger churches in our area that have more resources to provide more programs for children, youth, young adults, parents, grandparents, singles, divorced—every type of demographic available.

While these churches gain traction and momentum, many of our smaller churches work hard to maintain. Some may visit the church, take a look and examine the particular ministries on the table, then may feel they need to move on to churches with … well… more!

John Benton in his wonderful little book “Why Join a small Church?” recounts a story of a friend of his who was a zealous Christian and a pastor of a small church. Though the church had only a dozen or so elderly folks in attendance, he took the call. He preached the Word of God faithfully, with much boldness, and accompanied by much prayer. Here Benton describe this:

What a situation! For many years nothing much seemed to happen, except a few minor encouragements from time to time. Though the preaching was good, the church continued fairly small. But my friend stuck to the task, praying, preaching, and doing whatever he could, with the help of a faithful few, to make the little flock a group of Christians pleasing to Christ. And after something like fifteen years of his ministry there, suddenly the church took off. Christians moving into the area began to join, people began to get saved. Things they had only dreamed of before as a church began to come true. The church numbers something like 200 to 250 people on Sundays, the building has been renovated and they have been used by God to plant another church in a nearby town.

Numbers are not everything. I believe this church had already become a great church even before attendance began to increase.

Even with slight numbers, small churches can rise to greater heights. How?

  1. A commitment to prayer and ministry of the Word (Acts 6:4).
  2. A determination to establish God-centered, Christ-exalting relationships (Acts 2:42-47);
  3. A desire to inject the message of the Gospel, accompanied with genuine compassion and care for those you are trying to reach (Ephesians 4:15);
  4. A hunger and thirst for knowing what you believe, why you believe, and why it is worth telling (Ephesians 4:11-16);
  5. A dogged commitment to assembling together with the saints at the appointed time (Hebrews 10:23-25);
  6. A shedding of a consumeristic attitude, looking for a church that meets your particular needs, rather than rolling up your sleeves and helping that church be what God would have it to be!

I’m sure there are more. But notice what resources are needed to maintain these things: the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the Bible, and you.

What about it?

What Would The Modern Preacher Have Done? (Paul Washer)

In Evangelism, Salvation on March 12, 2009 at 12:54 pm

Death’s Grip Pales in Comparison to the Gospel’s Grip

In death, funeral on March 11, 2009 at 4:35 pm

funeral_pic Today, I officiated a funeral for a long-time member of our church.  This was an incredible joy, especially she and her husband had poured so much of their life and energy into their biological family as well as their church family.  Our church is blessed to have 22 acres of property, and to recount how much of that property was cleared, fenced, and provided electricity by this family is amazing to me.  They were truly cut from some wonderful cloth, to be sure.

When I first came into the ministry, I remember feeling at such a disadvantage preaching the funeral of someone that I wasn’t able to know all that well in comparison to many others in the church.  Many were friends with her for over 50 years!  They had a slew of memories at their disposal I couldn’t begin to have.

Yet, in preparing sermons for funerals of Christian men and women, I began to realize, “Yes, I may not know this individual as well as others, but he/she and I share the same Savior and Lord.  And I know they would want me to tell them what they would want everyone in that building to know: Christ is great, He is real, and He went to great lengths to take us out of our sin and rebellion before God to make us righteous and accepted before Him through His death and resurrection.” 

We must know that death’s grip pales in comparison to the grip of the gospel.  Romans 5:18-21 gives a glorious understanding of this grip of the gospel of Christ:

18Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous. 20Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The “one man” is Adam whose condemnation was passed along into the DNA of our being.  His disobedience made us sinners.  The “Law” is a glorious gift of God, but also makes us aware of our sinful behavior and, ultimately, our sinful nature.  "So that, as sin reigned in death, grace might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”  Adam’s sinful nature was passed on to us, made evident through God’s Law, and could only be freed by Christ’s righteousness through grace.  Christ’s work leads to “justification and life” (v. 18) and righteousness (v. 19, 21). 

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

(Charles Wesley, And Can It Be, 1738)

 

 

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A Recipe For Revival (Psalm 85)

In Church Life on March 9, 2009 at 12:21 pm

Recipes and I do not get along too well. The extent of my cooking knowledge is praying that the box says, “Microwaveable” … then I proceed.

But when it comes to recipes for revival, that’s a different story. It’s exciting to read how God moved in various awakenings throughout history. The most amazing one is found in Acts when 3000 people came to Christ in one day as Peter preached in Jerusalem. From that, many more revivals and awakenings came to pass as Peter, Stephen, Philip and the Apostle Paul traveled and preached throughout the entire Roman Empire, turning that powerful empire upside down. Though allegiance to Caesar was required (under penalty of death), many turned their allegiance to Christ (and faced the penalty of death).

Revivals have come throughout church history as well. The Great Awakening of the 1730s -40s in colonial America, eventually spreading to Europe, under the ministry of Jonathan Edwards in America and George Whitefield in England, brought awakened many to the Spirit’s work — among whom are John and Charles Wesley.

What exactly is “revival”? Stephen Olford says, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.” Vance Havner once said that, “Revival is the church falling in love with Jesus all over again.”

Some say we are past the era of revivals and see little use for them. One lady asked the great evangelist Billy Sunday, “Why do you keep having revivals?” Billy Sunday asked her a question right back, “Why do you keep taking baths?” The message is clear — individual Christians and churches need to set aside time to simply focus on our life in Jesus Christ. That’s the plan for this coming Sunday through Tuesday.

Getting back to our recipes — is there a recipe for revival? Is there something that one can do to conjure it up? We are going to find out that the answer is ‘no.’ We are not the ones who initiate revivals. But Psalm 85 will show us how to prepare ourselves and be ready for when revival comes.

1. A moving of the Spirit of prayer among God’s people.

In the title of this Psalm, we see, “To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.” We’re not really sure who the ‘Sons of Korah’ are, but we see that they clearly have something on their heart — revival and restoration. Where did this come from? This came from the Spirit of God.

You see, we know that all Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). And since God included Psalm 85 in the canon of Scripture, we know that the desire this Psalm expresses was initiated and breathed out by God.

G. Campbell Morgan gets it right when he says, “Revival cannot be organized, but we can set our sails to catch the wind from heaven when God chooses to blow upon His people once again.” It would be silly for us to believe that we are ‘scheduling revival.’ Sure, it’s on our calendar for May 1-3. But revival comes in God’s timing when He sents His Spirit.

Consider that conversation Jesus had with that revered teacher of the law Nicodemus. He tells Nicodemus:

Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:7-8).

Jesus uses a play on words. The Greek word for ‘spirit’ is pneuma which can mean breath, spirit, or wind. You do not know where the natural wind comes from — where it begins, moves toward, or ends. It is the same with the work of His Spirit.

Matthew Henry observes: “So ready is God to hear and answer the prayers of his people that by his Spirit in the word, and in the heart, he indicts their petitions and puts words into their mouths. The people of God, in a very low and weak condition, are here taught how to address themselves to God.”

2. A look at God’s favor in the past (85:1-3).

Psalm 85 was likely written just after the people of Israel came back from exile from Babylon. After centuries of unfaithfulness, God took them away from the greatest tangible blessing He granted — their land. So in 587 B.C., God allowed Babylon to come in and take them captive from their beloved Promised Land into a foreign land.

But now they were back. This generation had heard of how God moved among Moses, Samuel, David, Solomon, and other godly and obedient kings. They remembered how their parents taught them of God’s wonders delivering them from Egypt, giving them victory as they entered the Promised Land, and so many other ways He blessed His people and their land. But if there was a way to sum up how things were, one just has to look to Nehemiah 1:3 in that Israel was in “great trouble and shame.”

Remember how it felt when you were first saved by God’s glorious grace? The weight of sin that was removed off your shoulders? The new-found freedom that rushed into your heart and mind? I remember — and I was on-fire for the Lord. You couldn’t shut me up about the Lord.

But time and life experiences and various other things often turn the roaring fire into embers. We get more concerned about what people think of us and get more comfortable with those who are like us (read: Christians) — thus we get cool in our relationships and get complacent in our relationship with God and with the lost. Your spiritual life and relationship with God was in “great trouble and shame.”

What do we do? In our flesh, we look at verse 1 and say, “God, give me material blessings so I know you love me and are nearby.” But isn’t it strange how those who are materially prosperous are also those who are most miserable? They have missed the foundation of why God extends His favor. It’s found in verses 2 and 3:

    [2] You forgave the iniquity of your people;
    you covered all their sin. Selah
    [3] You withdrew all your wrath;
    you turned from your hot anger.

This is the foundation of receiving God’s mercy and grace — is the forgiveness of our inquities (gross immoral acts) and our sin (that is, our shortcomings of the glory of God — see Romans 3:23). Thus, we are recipients of God’s wrath. Albert Barnes notes that, “[God’s wrath] is the opposition of the divine character against sin; and the determination of the divine mind to express that opposition in a proper way, by excluding the offender from the favors which He bestows on the righteous.”

3. A rejuvenation (85:4-7);

[4] Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
and put away your indignation toward us!
[5] Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger to all generations?
[6] Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
[7] Show us your steadfast love, O LORD,
And grant us your salvation.

Notice in verse four the begging of the Psalmist for God to restore us again! Notice too in verse six the psalmist begging God to ‘revive us again!’ One is for a restoration of position — asking God to turn back His people into His direction; the other is for the restoration of passion!

We get comfortable in our position as Christians. “Thank you God for saving me, now I’ll be on my way. See you in heaven…” but acting as if God were an afterthought. The people of Israel before the exile were comfortable going through the motions, all the while blind to their rebellion and sluffing off their sins. They were comfortable in their position as “God’s people in God’s Promised Land.”

Now, in light of both the good and the bad times, the psalmist is asking for a restored position in God’s Land! But also, the Psalmist asks, “Don’t just restore us, Lord — REVIVE US!” What does that mean?

To revive means to ‘resurrect; make alive again.’ Ezekiel 37:11-12 in that valley of dry bones, God says to Ezekiel: "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ [12] Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel.”

This is the type of revival we need! We must not only ask God to put us in a holy position, but to grant us a holy passion! “Revive us again so that your people may rejoice in you.” When was the last time you had the joy of the Lord in you? Can you say with Nehemiah that “The joy of the Lord is your strength”? (Nehemiah 8:10). We hear of people getting saved, we say, “Oh, that’s nice!” When we ask God to deliver us and give us peace in the storm — and then He does it — we say, “Wow! I feel so at peace!” and act surprised when God follows through.

At a conference at a church in Omaha, people were given helium filled balloons and told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing the joy in their hearts. As with this particular denomination, they weren’t free to say "Hallelujah, Praise the Lord." All through the service balloons ascended, but when it was over 1/3 of the balloons were unreleased.

Some of us need to let our balloons go! Ask God as David did to “restore the joy of your salvation.” When God revives us, we rejoice in Him.

4. A hearing of God’s Word as our authority (85:8-9);

[8] Let me hear what God the Lord will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.
[9] Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

There’s an old saying, “Men do not reject the Bible because it contradicts itself, but because it contradicts them.”

The writer of this Psalm wants to hear what God the Lord will speak! He wants to hear His Word. When the Word is proclaimed and the Spirit who authored the Word is on the march, mighty ‘God-things’ will begin to happen. Revivals do not and I will say cannot happen apart of being gripped by the transforming Word of God.

In Acts, you look at how many times the Word of God was preached and you look at the Spirit’s work. Many came to salvation. And yes, many did not! The reaction to the Word of God shows our standing before God and our relationship with God.

The late James Montgomery Boice mentions that, “Historically revivals have [begun] under strong biblical preaching.” With hearing God speak from His Word, we know that from His Word, “He will speak peace to his people, to his saints, but let them not turn back to folly” (v. 8). When God saves us by His Word (the Gospel), peace arrives — salvation comes! God and man are reconciled.

Yet, if you have experience this, heed the Psalmists warning! “Let them not turn back to folly!” Do slack off in the holy race! How dangerous it is when we have experience the “peace that passes all understanding” in Christ Jesus for us to turn away from Him! It is a prime example of how we do not trust him nor fear Him. The underlying issue with sin is the fact that we do not fear God, we do not trust Him, we doubt His promises and His will. We need the Word of God and His Spirit to refresh us with His peace so we may trust and fear and have hope in our salvation.

5. A standing in God’s presence (85:10-11);

[10] Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
[11] Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.

Dr. J. Elder Cumming contended that "in almost every case the beginning of new blessing is a new revelation of the character of God–more beautiful, more wonderful, more precious." And how wonderful when we see the attributes of God come together in such an incredible way. Here we see God’s attributes in perfect harmony! God’s covenant love and faithfulness come together. God’s righteousness and peace come together as well. When all of these perfect attributes of God come perfectly together, then Stephen Olford is right when he says, “Revival is an invasion from heaven that brings a conscious awareness of God.”

But look at verse 11! Faithfulness of God’s people due to their forgiveness of sin and obedience to God’s Word springs up! At the same time, God’s righteousness looks down from the sky. Here is where God and man meet! It reminds one of 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” By grace through faith, our sins are forgiven! With that, God places not His righteousness with us!

6. The result: the blessing of God’s goodness (85:12-13).

[12] Yes, the Lord will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
[13] Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

Robert Coleman says, “Revival is that sovereign work of God in which He visits His own people, restoring and releasing them into the fullness of His blessing.” God is a good God! In fact, nothing good is apart from God’s goodness. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

And He longs to dispense His good gifts upon His people. Our problem often is that our attitude is in such a shambles, we are in no condition to not only receive them but, if we do receive them, we fail to give glory and praise to the giver of those gifts. The greatest gift of all is the bestowment of a right condition — heart, soul, mind, and strength — that goes before Him as He makes a way for us to heaven. Christ opened the doors, bridging the gap between heaven and earth. When we are made right before Him, confessing our sin and trusting in Christ alone as our Savior and Master, the way He paved to heaven is the way we travel as we follow Him.

Conclusion

Sometimes we slide away from seeing His goodness and faithfulness in ways we don’t even see. In an e-mail I recently received entitled “Isn’t it strange…?”, it really helped put some basic things in perspective:

Isn’t it strange how a 20 dollar bill seems like such a large amount when you donate it to church, but such a small amount when you go shopping?

Isn’t it strange how 2 hours seem so long when you’re at church, and how short they seem when you’re watching a good movie?

Isn’t it strange that you can’t find a word to say when you’re praying, but you have no trouble thinking what to talk about with a friend?

Isn’t it strange how difficult and boring it is to read one chapter of the Bible, but how easy it is to read 100 pages of a popular novel?

Isn’t it strange how everyone wants front-row-tickets to concerts or games, but they do whatever is possible to sit at the last row in Church?

Isn’t it strange how we need to know about an event for Church 2-3 weeks before the day so we can include it in our agenda, but we can adjust it for other events in the last minute?

Isn’t it strange how difficult it is to learn a fact about God to share it with others, but how easy it is to learn, understand, extend and repeat gossip?

Isn’t it strange how we believe everything that magazines and newspapers say, but we question the words in the Bible?

Isn’t it strange how everyone wants a place in heaven, but they don’t want to believe, do, or say anything to get there?

If we want revival, then we have to respond to the Spirit’s moving, understand how God has moved in the past, pray He’d do it again, submit to the authority of God’s life-changing Word, pursue God’s presence, and thus receive the blessing from God! Psalm 85 has given us a recipe for revival. Will we implement these ingredients into our hearts and minds in preparation for God will do?