Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A Climate of Fear

Scientists worry a lot. Perhaps it is because most scientists subscribe to a naturalist worldview that has no room for God, spiritual truth, and in the end, any real meaning to life. If this life were all we had to hope for, and death was merely oblivion, and conscious life a fortuitous accident, perhaps I would worry too.

The latest worry is that there is a one in a gazillion chance that a wandering black hole might eat up our solar system. Yeah, that'll keep me up nights. Of course the media jumps all over these kind of stories, adding one more worry to our ever-increasing list of things to fear. We live in a climate of fear. Global warming, disease, crime, terrorism - the list goes on and on, fed each night by the beast which is network and cable news. "Be afraid, be very afraid," is our culture's mantra, despite the reality that life in the 21st century is better than at any time in the past. Life expectancy is at an all-time high. We may be slightly fatter, but we smoke less and eat better. Pharmaceutical advances continue to make life both possible and of a higher quality. I should know. Five years ago I was cured of a deadly form of acute leukemia by a combination of chemotherapy and a drug discovered in China, which turned a disease with a 19% survival rate into one with an 80% survival rate.

In contrast to the secular parade of bad news, is the gospel (literally, "good news"). The New Testament is filled with comfort, and exhortations to cast off your anxiety and trust in God. "Cast all your anxiety on Him, for He cares for you" (1 Peter 5:7). My first sermon upon returning from my leukemia battle was Matthew 6:25ff., "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life." I have not always lived up to that passage, but I return to it often and meditate upon it. Faith is whole-hearted trust, and when I trust God, my fears recede. When I remember God's providence, my peace returns. In an "age of anxiety," faith is the only real cure, and the only way out of a life overwhelmed by catastrophic possibilities. Let the scientists worry, it won't do them any good. The only good is Jesus.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Working Out Our Salvation

A sermon from Philippians 2:12-16 on how we live out the implications of being saved by God's grace.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

An Addendum

An addendum to yesterday's post - a quote from E. M. Bounds.

"Men are looking for better methods; God is looking for better men. Men are God's methods."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Where Am I?

Like Dorothy talking to her dog after landing in Oz, I keep mumbling to myself about what is going on in the evangelical church, and in particular, the RCA. For one thing, there seems to be a lot anxiety about the future of the church. But didn't Jesus promise to be with us always, even unto the end of the age? Because some churches aren't growing, they are coming under criticism. I heard a speaker at a Regional Synod meeting berate our entire assembly for not grasping the truth that it was no longer necessary to be faithful or to be family, but we must be fruitful! If you're not fruitful, you are not faithful. Fruitful here, is always defined as numerical growth. I read another speech given at an RCA synod event, which floated the idea that pastor's salary guidelines be based not on years of experience, but on how many church starts and conversions they had made. Beware, I say, the advent of the efficiency experts and bean-counters!

Clergy are being summarily fired, as if they were mere employees, and business models for ministry are everywhere being talked of as the new salvation. I saw one very large church's staff titles and laughed out loud. One clergyman is called "Pastor of Creative Options." Another is the "Pastor of Sacred Revolution," who clearly must resent the "Pastor of Foundations." Finally, there is someone called "Pastor of the Quest." I have no idea of what any of this means. I don't understand coached revitalization networks. I see little point in adopting secular weapons to wage spiritual warfare. Between all this and Christian rap and emergent church navel-gazing, the whole place looks like Oz.

Now I am not a traditionalist. I pastor a very conservative church, with a simplified liturgy and contemporary music (with some hymns thrown in). I have never enjoyed church so much since we've changed our format. But all of these programs and blame-games going on in the denomination make me uneasy. I thought the whole idea was to worship God, share the good news, and edify the congregation. I think Ray Comfort is correct, we need to tell people they are in dire peril, and unless they repent they are going to hell. I think we need to get back to teaching that Scripture is sufficient, and utterly authoritative. This morning I read in my devotions from Psalm 119:160, "The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your judgments endures forever." Let's be biblical and faithful and preach the whole counsel of God, and trust in His providence for the future. A pox on the bean-counters, the measurers, and all the other experts who ply their wares like snake oil salesmen to the gullible, frightened masses. We should have no fear. "Perfect love, casteth out fear," I once read. Now I am going to try and find out what a Pastor of the Quest means. It sounds like a comic book, but you never know, we're not in Kansas any more.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

No Christian Left Behind

A sermon on the biblical teaching concerning the Rapture, from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

Thursday, August 17, 2006

My Eucharistic Theology

I took this quiz (I can't resist them) concerning my beliefs about the Lord's Supper. Sure enough, the results were right on the money. I am, and always have been a devout Zwinglian when it comes to the eucharist. Anything else seems like Catholic mumbo-jumbo.

You scored as Zwingli. You are Ulrich Zwingli. You believe that bread and wine are mere symbols of the absent Jesus. You believe in interpreting Scripture reasonably.











Eucharistic theology
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Liberal Christians: Folly Upon Folly

It's always interesting to observe the knee-jerk response of the Christian left whenever world events turn dire. In today's Christian Post, there are several articles which illustrate the main tenet of Christian liberalism's view of the world: it's all the fault of the United States and of course Israel. The World Council of Churches, along with several other useless ecumenical institutions, have voiced their concerns over the level of damage done to Lebanon, and that Israel's response to the unprovoked terrorism of Hezbollah "was both deliberate and planned." Yes, military campaigns are usually planned (unless you're French), and the destruction seen in Lebanon was a result of harboring terrorists, including them in their government, and the terrorist's own strategy of hiding and launching weapons from civilian areas.

Along the same lines, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.'s publishing house has just put out a book by David R. Griffin, which acccuses the Bush administration of being behind the 9/11 attacks. His thesis is that Arabs had nothing to do with the affair, which is another example of the Christian left's naive infatuation with Islam, and its blind, insane hatred of the Bush administration.

A final bit of foolishness in today's Christian news: the United Methodist Church is celebrating the "jubilee" (the 50th anniversary) of the ordination of women into the Christian ministry. There are 9,500 female ministers in the UMC, and a resolution was passed that every congregation celebrate this milestone. How sad that so many are celebrating 50 years of disobeying God's Word. During the course of this past half-century, the UMC has lost millions of members, who would not kneel to Baal.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My New Favorite Verse

This verse from Isaiah 38:20 sums up how I feel lately, being part of the worship team at our church, playing six and twelve string guitar.

"The Lord will save me, and we will play music on stringed instruments all the days of our lives, at the house of the Lord."

Above is a picture of me playing the newest addition to my "herd" - a surprise anniversary present from my wife. It was purchased at Gruhn's Guitar Shop in Nashville, TN. It is a Martin SWDGT, which translates, "Sustainable Wood Dreadnaught Gloss Top." It's for flat-picking and bluegrass, and playing offertories in church. What makes this guitar special is that it is made of recovered spruce (top) and cherry back and sides. No tropical rainforest trees (e.g., mahogany or rosewood) were used. It sounds amazing, which it should, as it is a Martin, the only guitars I buy (I have three others: a small body OM-28V, a 12-string, and a "Little Martin" for travel).

A wall of Martins at Gruhn's Guitar Shop - a little slice of heaven on earth.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Signs of the End-Times

A sermon from Matthew 24:1-29, on the signs which the New Testament teaches will precede the second coming of Christ.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Grace Like a River

I just finished Christopher Parkening's autobiography, Grace Like a River (2006, Tyndale). It was an enjoyable read, especially for those of us who love classical guitar and its music. Parkening was a child prodigy, appearing on "The Tonight Show" when he was 16, and touring the world as the successor to the great Andres Segovia. Having reached the summit of the music world, he gave it all up to retire to a ranch in Montana, where he spent his days fly-fishing (rather well it seems, as he became a world champion). But his life felt increasingly empty, and he began a search for truth and meaning.

God in His providence led Parkening to the ministry of John MacArthur, who taught him about Jesus Christ, the doctrines of grace, and living a life dedicated to glorifying God in Jesus Christ. Parkening resumed his classical music career, only from this point forward he would play as a witness to Christ. He plays only sacred music, and has become a powerful witness to the transforming grace of God. There are many good quotes and anecdotes in the book, and a fine appendix which offers the reader good solid gospel truth on many subjects. One of my favorite lines of the book is, "The will of God, I have discovered, will never take me where the grace of God cannot keep me, protect me, sustain me, calm my fears, and teach me" (p.205).

It's refreshing to read a life story of a famous musician that does not end in tragedy, drugs, or squalor. I highly recommend both this book, and the musical genius of Christopher Parkening.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Preaching the Wrath of God

Below is a link to a sermon preached by Ray Comfort, entitled "Hell's Best Kept Secret." He preaches the old Puritan method of evangelism with modern winsomeness and unction. What is that method? It is what the Puritans called "law work." Conversion only occurs when a person is convicted of the wages of sin, the wrath of God against sinners, and the peril an unbeliever is in lest he have faith in Christ. As the Puritan Richard Greenham wrote, "Never any of God's children were comforted thoroughly, but they were first humbled for their sins."

Hell's Best Kept Secret

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

A communion sermon from Genesis 17:1-11 on how the sacraments are signs and seals.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Israel - Ancient and Modern

In my experience, most liberal pastors seem to be uncritically pro-Arab, and often virulently anti-Israel. Indeed, anti-Semitism in general seems a hallmark of the left in all its manifestations. I'm not sure why, given that Israel is the only democracy in a region of kleptocracies and totalitarian terror states. Israel was our only Mideast ally during the cold war, when Arab states courted the favor of the Soviet Union. Surrounded by nations which have pledged its destruction, left-wing politicians and clergy continue to give moral equivalency to terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah, which honor no peace aggreements, and continue to attack Israel, kidnap its citzens, and without provocation lob rockets into its cities. Clearing out southern Lebanon of terrorists seems a common-sense action, akin to our eliminating the Taliban threat in Afghanistan. I never heard much criticism of that action, given that it was in our interests, despite the thousands of innocent deaths which occurred.

Now we have folks keeping score of the war dead in Lebanon and Israel, as if numbers alone conferred righteousness or evil. The same writer complains of conservatives using the Genesis 12:3 verse as a banner (which this blog does). The simple answer to his query is that God's covenant promises with Israel were not abrogated by the first century diaspora, or the coming of Christ. The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in chapters 9-11 of the book of Romans. Israel is the cultivated olive tree, the Christian church is the wild branch grafted onto that tree, and one day all of Israel will return to full covenant blessing through faith in Christ. Therefore, Christians have a unique relationship with Jews (including Israelis!). They are our fathers in faith, and our future brothers in Christ. The welfare of Israel is thus of great importance to evangelicals, and the survival of Israel far outweighs any squeamish hand-wringing by pro-Arab liberals. In my estimation, Israel has manifested an amazing restraint in dealing with the Palestinians and other Arab states. The present crisis, a proxy war of aggression against Israel by Iran, is a time for evangelical Christians to show their prayerful and political support for the nation of Israel. It is not a time for silly body counts and absurd claims that Israel is not engaged in a war of survival. Liberals need to remove their rose-colored glasses viz. Islamic states, and take a hard look at the anti-Semitism lurking obtrusively in their hearts.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Thoughts On Bones

One of my favorite television programs is on the History International Channel, and is called "Meet the Ancestors." It is a BBC program where an archaeologist goes around Britain's many active sites and discovers information about how that person or persons lived, and then sends the bones to a forensic artist for facial reconstruction. Sometimes DNA tests are possible, and relatives in the town are located and introduced to their Neolilithic or Medieval ancestor. The show is on Wednesday evenings, from 10-11 PM.

The reason I mention this, is because last week I became upset over the British government's treatment of a particular set of bones. A medieval monk's tomb was discovered in someone's garden, and after everything could be found out about the person, and his face reconstructed, the bones were not put back in a Christian burial. For all I know, he's in some drawer in the British Museum.

As Christians we should care about the "sacred dust" of our fellow believers. If pagans want to be cremated and tossed hither and yon, that's their business, but for millennia great care has been take over the bones of those who await the second coming of Christ Jesus our Lord. The bones of the first Christians were carefully buried, and the burial places of Peter and Paul are known, and are surrounded by other tombs. Now of course, God can locate and resurrect the a believer from the tiniest particle of their earthly body, but the point here is one of respect. Our earthly bodies were for a time temples of the Holy Spirit, baptized, and served as recepticles of the eucharistic meal. They deserve our respect and care. Each Easter our church holds a sunrise service in the cemetery, and I remind those present that we stand in the midst of many who will be our companions in eternity. Rabbinic tradition teaches that God himself buried Moses. We don't belong in museum drawers, or paved over by parking lots. Why do Native Americans make sure their ancestors are reburied? Their covenant of care has no expiration date, and neither should ours.

{photo: Roman catacombs}