Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Children and Salvation - a follow-up

It's been just over two years since I first blogged about the issue of children and salvation. In my first post on the subject (you can read it here) I mentioned specifically the struggle that our oldest son had been having regarding the issue of salvation. This post covers some of the same subject matter but also tells the story of Trey finding resolution to this struggle that's been going on inside him for years.


Salvation can be (and often is) an extremely confusing subject for a child. I struggled greatly with the issue as a child (and even into my adult years). The main cause of my struggle was a fundamental misunderstanding regarding the essence of salvation. For my part, I remember clearly many of the times that I made a profession of faith. From the time I was 5 years old until the time I was 20 years old I made numerous “salvation decisions”. The first time was when a drama team from a Fundamentalist University came to our church. The drama scared me to death and I went forward at the invitation. The next time was when a musical group from a Fundamentalist College came to our church….same deal. Then there was the “hellfire and brimstone” evangelist. He said that if I wasn’t ”absolutely sure” that I was saved that I needed to come forward and take care of it. So I did. Nearly the entire decade of the 80’s had me at summer camp every year. During my teen years (mid-80’s and forward) the camp experience was at a well-known Christian camp in another state. We always scheduled our camp week to coincide with one of the weeks that the biggest name amongst Fundamentalist Evangelists was there. Every year it was the same story….I’d get ”saved” (and then go home and promptly destroy all my CCM tapes!). My confusion about salvation continued on into my young adult years. I spent three summers working at two different large Christian camps. During each of the first two years I again made professions of faith. I didn’t do that the third year but I found myself praying nearly every day that the Lord would show me that I actually was saved….I was so desperate during this time that the memory of those emotions is still very real to me.

I always came back to “the prayer” I prayed at my most recent salvation experience. I would rehearse it over and again in my memory desperately trying to recollect whether or not I had said the right words in the right order. I had a rather unfortunate view of God at the time. Despite my brokenness, I figured that if I hadn’t got the prayer right then God hadn’t really saved me. This stressed me out – it caused me to lose sleep – it made me view God as some sort of a “trickster”.

I’m now 36 years old. My oldest son is a lot like me in the way he thinks about things. He began struggling with this issue of salvation when he was barely 4 years old….that was 7 years ago. I’ve struggled during that time to be so careful with how we dealt with the subject whenever it would come up. Never pushy – never leading him to pray some “words” – just watching him struggle with it and helping him through as I was able. He came to me last night with more questions. It was fairly easy to see that his long struggle with this issue was coming to a head – his tears and the anxiety on his face bore all that out. I asked him to do what I always have. I told him to read John 3 slowly and carefully using either his ESV Bible or my NIV (so he could understand more clearly). He spent a great deal of time reading through the chapter and then came back to me still crying and trembling. I asked him to tell me about the chapter which he did in a beautiful way. We then began talking about what salvation is and is not. I had Trey do most of the talking – explaining it to me in his own words.

As I quoted and paraphrased some other passages of Scripture in John, Romans, and 1 John, I would ask him again to explain the passages to me. In the end he acknowledged that he needed Christ as his Savior. So, he prayed….inaudibly. When he was done, I didn’t ask him what he prayed simply because he has always struggled with the issue of “saying the right words”. Instead I spent some time with him showing how he could know from Scripture that God had saved him. I shared with him that salvation is not about some formulaic prayer, but rather about God’s love and mercy. As I was talking I noticed that he was crying more fervently than before and I asked him why. He said, “because I’m so happy”.

My prayer for him as we ended our conversation (as well as going forward) is that he grows in God and becomes the Christian man that God wants him to be; that God would continue to work in his life and that He would constantly remind him that he is an adopted child of the King; and that his faith in God would grow and would be unshaken by anything that might happen here on this earth.

I think that adults can do a lot of long-term damage to children if these matters aren’t handled carefully. It is so important that people base their salvation on the Person and work of Jesus Christ rather than some “1-2-3” formula. It is important that, rather than trying to “scare the hell” out of someone, we explain the love and relationship that Christ offers freely to all who will believe. My heart goes out to those who never seem able to get this matter of salvation nailed down. As we share the Gospel with others and, by God’s grace, have the opportunity to lead some to Him, we need to take great care in teaching them that their assurance – their confidence – is to be in Christ and Christ alone. Not some prayer; not some stake hammered into the ground behind their house; not anything of their own merit; but in Christ. His goodness, His love, His great mercy. Him, and Him alone.

With the heavenly choir I rejoiced last night as God brought one of His own to Him!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Things that annoy me.

Just a random list here of a few things that tend to irk me...(actually, some of these things are more than annoying.....they tick me off!!!!) I'll have something more substantive coming soon......

  • People who drive too fast.
  • People who drive too slow.
  • “To” being used where “too” ought to be.
  • Red lights….especially when there are no other vehicles on the road.
  • The word “ideal” being used in place of the word “idea”.
  • The first syllable of “water” being pronounced “what”.
  • People who attempt to claim they aren’t racist by citing the fact that they used to have a really close friend who was black.
  • When I’ve got an itch on my back that I can’t quite reach.
  • People who refuse to admit that they are wrong…particularly when they are disagreeing with me!
  • Parents at sporting events who act like complete idiots when a call doesn’t go a direction that favors the team that their kid is on.
  • People smoking in a vehicle that has kids in it.
  • The sight of Brett Favre wearing that hideous purple uniform.
  • People texting while driving.
  • Texting.
  • Twitter.
  • 99% of all status updates I’ve ever read on Facebook.
  • The parent of one of the kids on my sons’ 6th grade football team who thinks it’s completely appropriate to yell out any profanity that happens to come to his mind.
  • The constant elevation of athletes as role models.
  • Road construction.
  • The unhealthy focus on entertainment in our society.
  • Sexually suggestive commercials.
  • People who think that a four-wheel drive vehicle somehow makes them invincible on the road no matter how hard it’s raining, how deep the snow is, or how thick the ice is.
  • The fact that there is a television network called “Cartoon Network” yet I can’t allow my kids to watch most of what airs there.
  • That I can’t watch national news without some story about Michael Jackson or Jon and Kate.
  • Politicians….nearly all of them.
  • Christians who think they are righteous in their laughter when calamity and / or death comes to some political figure with whom they disagree ideologically.
  • People who attempt to use the Bible to justify their own wickedness.
  • Athletes who are Christians only when their team wins a game.
  • The idea that God actually cares whether or not your team wins a game.
  • The idea that just because a thing isn’t expressly forbidden in Scripture that it must be acceptable.
  • People driving right on my rear bumper.
  • The fact that great programs like “The Andy Griffith Show” have been replaced by crap like “Family Guy”.
  • MSNBC pretending to be a news organization.
  • Some conservative talk show hosts pretending to be non-partisan.
  • Lists that go on for far too long.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer!

Your sacred head bowed down in pain. A cross your resting place.
Your nail pierced hands blood hath stained. Your visage blood hath traced.
Your thorn crowned brow – so much pain. Your bruised and battered face.
Such selflessness – love defined… You freely took my place.

They beat you and they mocked you and they called you evil names;
Willingly ignoring the reason that You came.
Maliciously they whipped You – Your back they opened wide…
Your reaction was astounding! – “Forgive them”, was Your cry.

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
You loved Your own and prayed for them. You loved them to the end.
Alone and battered, bruised, rejected. A wounded, bloodied man.
Was this the scene You had in mind? Was this salvation’s plan?

This ugly scene of sacrifice – we cannot comprehend;
My precious Jesus, loving and faithful, endured all to the end.
The Perfect Lamb, unspotted – untainted out and in,
Took my place through suffering - He died there for my sin.

I gaze with awe at Calvary’s cross as questions flood my mind:
Propitiation? Substitution? Atonement for my sin?
My questions turn to tears – my sorrow turns to joy;
He loves me! He forgave me! My penalty destroyed!

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
Your grace and startling mercy! Your love that knows no end!
You sought me and You found me and You said I am Your own!
Your nail scarred hands now hold me. Your righteousness my robe!

I kneel in shame and gratefulness, my blind eyes opened wide.
I understand, though mystified, it was for me He died!
This tragic death now glorious to me it doth appear.
He changed my life! He paid my debt! He brought salvation near!

The debt I owe to You, my God, is one I’ll ne’er repay.
It’s greater than the former one – the one You washed away.
You elected to redeem me. How astounding! How sublime!
I’ll live for You, dear Jesus, though unworthy of Your name.

Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Guide!
I long to know You better…with You I would abide.
Precious Jesus! Glorious Savior! My Redeemer, Lord, and Friend!
I long to understand Your love…Your love that knows no end.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"Sin Myths" or "Why I hate the color grey"

Just because something is stupid doesn’t necessarily mean that it is sinful. Smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day is absolutely stupid. It is also unhealthy. It also makes you smell bad. It might even indicate that you have some lack of self-control. BUT it is most certainly not a sin to smoke. I will concede that addiction (to anything really) is sinful. Since cigarettes contain nicotine, they can potentially become addictive. So smoking your half a pack a day is (to state it again) stupid in that it could certainly lead you to the sin of addiction.

I used to smoke cigarettes….a pack or so a day. I coughed all the time and I smelled bad. After doing this for a few years I decided to stop (with the exception of the occasional cigar on the golf course). I have no desire to smoke ever again. Mainly because of the smell and the fact that there is a chance that it could put me in an early grave. Both of those things aren’t really all that appealing to me. All that said, I respect your foolish decision to smoke. I’ll tell you it’s stupid and I might even tell you that you stink, but I won’t tell you that it’s a sin….because it’s not.

Now, please do not confuse these statements as a defense of smoking. Do not view them as an encouragement to take up smoking. Do not view them as my attempts to justify some behavior of my own. Take them for what they are….statements of fact regarding one of the “sin myths” in Conservative Christianity.

Whether the issue is drinking, smoking, divorce, dancing, a man having long hair, or a woman wearing pants, there are a number of “sin myths” that have taken an almost doctrinal status within Conservative Christianity. When one attempts to offer up a biblical perspective on these things he is often demonized for attempting to justify his own sin if he doesn’t come to the “Party line” conclusion. It makes one wonder at times if they are in the right “Party”.

The many discussions I’ve involved myself in (or simply witnessed) on 10 or 15 different websites around the internet over the last several months regarding the alcohol issue have reminded my of this. Some of the discussions have been profitable. Some have been educational. Some have been challenging. However, most have ended up digressing into utter foolishness with one or both sides attacking the motives and character of the other. Why do disagreements over “grey areas” have to get so shallow and ugly?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Pharisees versus Freedom Freaks

There are two common approaches to issues of “Christian liberty”, both of which can be damaging. I term these two (1) Pharisees (not exactly original, I know), and (2) Freedom Freaks. Let me explain.

First, the “Freedom Freak”. This is commonly found in mainstream Evangelicalism but is practically nonexistent in Fundamentalism. The Freedom Freak does everything in excess and out loud. He is often unconcerned with how others might find some of his “liberties” offensive. For instance, it’s not enough for this guy to simply say that he cannot in good conscience support a tee-totaller view on alcoholic beverages based on what Scripture has to say on the subject: he feels compelled to proclaim his favorite beers and rate his top ten favorite mixed drinks on his Christian blog. It never occurs to him that there is a point where Christians might need to take advantage of the liberty they have to abstain from certain things in order to not violate the conscience of a fellow believer. This guy will draw no distinction between peripheral issues and truly contentious ones. In his mind, whether the subject is dress, hair length, music, alcohol, entertainment, language, worship style, or any number of other things, the answer is the same: “Those Pharisees aren’t going to squash my liberty”. The “Freedom Freak” usually understands that Christianity is about a relationship with Christ, but he often neglects to view Christ as a holy and mighty God, choosing instead to focus on the fact that Christ had relationships on earth with some “undesirable” people. They will often paint Christ as kind of a “happy go lucky” guy who would probably avoid most Christians in favor of hanging out at the local pub if He were on earth today.

Then there is the “Pharisee”. This guy is the antithesis of the “Freedom Freak” and is more commonly found in Fundamentalist circles. The “Pharisee” cannot process the idea that some people examine Scripture thoroughly and simply come to a different conclusion about certain things than he does. To the “Pharisee” the Christian life is about a fairly detailed list of do’s and don’ts. Even in matters in which scholars through the ages have differed, this guy sticks to his rules. After all, he probably knows better than some guy who lived 200 years ago and studied Scripture for his entire life in the languages in which they were originally written. The Pharisee tends to not engage in any sort of debate or conversation about the controversial issues. “It’s just wrong…you can see all through the Bible that it’s a sin!” is a summary of the best argument this guy will tend to lay out to defend some of his more difficult positions. The heart of the Pharisee tends to be on target…sort of. He has a desire toward righteousness…toward becoming more like Christ. However, in his zealous approach to sanctification, the Pharisee tends to relegate the Christian life to something that is more about a “look” and a “list” then it is about a relationship. Indeed, a relationship with Christ is more about reading the Bible every day than it is about anything else as far as this guy is concerned. The “Pharisee” tends to paint a horrible picture of God as some angry ogre in the sky who is going to punish you for any misstep you might make.

While there is plenty of good and bad to say about both the “Pharisee” and the “Freedom Freak”, they both tend to miss the mark. They both have an incomplete and, consequently, a distorted view of Christ. They also both have a horrid understanding of the liberty and freedom that we enjoy in Christ. One makes the Christian life impossible and the other makes it look no more difficult than eating a snow cone. Both are horribly selfish in that they ultimately make life about themselves. Both would do well to lock themselves up in a room for a month or two and carefully study Romans and 1 Corinthians.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Glorious Savior! Blessed Redeemer!

Battered and bruised, bloodied and bare
Ridiculed and shamed;
The Son of God bore all my sin.
Oh, praise His Blessed Name!

He became sin for us
Though no sin He knew.
He cloaked us in His righteousness;
He washed us white as snow.

The ugly mount called Calvary,
Wretched, vile, and stained,
Became a place of love and grace.
My sins were washed away!

Oh, glorious Savior, oh blessed Redeemer
We stand in awe of You!
You died for us. You live for us!
Your blood has made us new!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Slipping and Sliding...

The following rant brought to you courtesy of an unfortunate email exchange I recently endured. The subject matter of said email has been avoided in the rant below in order to avoid it being spilled out onto my blog…..

I absolutely abhor the “slippery slope” argument that some use to “prove” their point. The basic idea of the slippery slope argument is that if you take some liberty / engage in some activity, etc it will ultimately lead to something much more egregious and sinister. For instance, embracing certain music forms (such as Sovereign Grace Music) will eventually lead you to sympathizing with the most profane forms of music (just so long as the “message” is good) and ultimately to an complete abandonment of any discernable separation from worldliness. Obviously this form of argumentation is nuts. The inadvertent effect of one making the slippery slope argument is that the thing with which they disagree isn’t wrong, per se, it will just lead to some erroneous position down the road. Like I said…nuts!

While I fully support boundaries and rules, I think that often we attempt to make hard and fast rules where we don’t necessarily have to. I guess it’s easier to make a rule than it is to teach a biblical principle coupled with discernment in application. The application of the “slippery slope” argument caused my quite a bit of consternation during my childhood and young adult years: Listening to music with a pronounced beat would cause me to worship Satan. Holding hands with a girl would cause us to have sex. Wearing shorts would cause some innocent girl to lust after me – this would lead to premarital sex. A girl wearing pants would cause me to lust after her – this would lead to wicked thoughts and a broken relationship with God. Going to a “G” movie at the theatre would cause someone who saw me going in there to abandon Christianity. Not wearing a coat and tie to church would cause me to abandon all forms of separation from worldliness in my dress and conduct. One sip of wine would lead me to alcoholism. Missing one morning of personal devotions would cause all sorts of problems…God would punish me for it throughout the day until I got “back on track”…after all, if I didn’t have devotions this morning I was completely out of God’s will.

Not all of those examples necessarily fit the “slippery slope” mentality, but I was on a role! You get the point though….bizarre and unexplained leaps of logic to “prove” that you ought not do something that I don’t like. Recently I’ve heard more of these “slippery slope” arguments (although some are disguised). At times the argument is simply, “Embracing Calvinism is part of the slippery slope”. At times the argument goes more like, “The problem with Calvinism is that it eventually leads to a denial of the inerrancy of Scripture”. Either way, the slippery slope argument leaves out important details. In one form you aren’t told where the slippery slope lands you – you just know that you’re on it. In the other form you are told that “A” always leads to “B” without any explanation or proof….even if “A” and “B” seem to be completely incongruous!

In fundamentalism the slippery slope argument is almost always applied to matters of “personal liberty” or matters where the Bible is silent or vague. In most cases where the slippery slope card is tossed on the table a solid biblical principle will be the stake in the pot. Again, it’s the application (or misapplication) of said principle that is the issue.

To be completely honest, I’m willing to be corrected when I’m shown to be wrong. I’m willing to concede that my point of view might be incompatible with what the Bible has to say when I’m shown so. All I ask is that you demonstrate to me where I’m wrong. If you utter the words “slippery slope” you will lose me every time.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lessons from 1 Corinthians: Part 4 (The End)

(Part 1 - Introduction)
(Part 2 - Characteristics 1 - 5)
(Part 3 - Characteristics 6 - 9)

We’ve been examining the characteristics of love as laid out for us in the first eight verses of 1 Corinthians 13. In the last few posts on this chapter we looked at the first nine characteristics. In this post we will conclude this series by examining the last 5 characteristics of love from this chapter.

10. Love bears all things
This is the second time that this concept is mentioned in this passage. The first time in vs. 4. The thought is the same - love provides a covering. No manner of evil - no amount of evil - should deter us from loving God and man. I think this is a difficult concept to catch hold of.

11. Love believes all things
This doesn't speak to being gullible; however, we are to “unsuspiciously” believe the best about people. Some people are always ready for somebody to fail. In Christianity, why did the news about Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker make such national news in the 80's? How about Ted Haggard a couple of years ago? In Fundamentalism, nearly everybody knows about Bob Gray - even those who didn't know the name before know it now. You can look at pop culture and see the same thing: Peewee Herman and Hugh Grant in the 90's - Brittney Spears a couple of years ago....and I could go on. There have been names through the years that nobody would know if they hadn't fallen. Why? People like a good car wreck!

Why don't many churches grow? In many cases I think that one could make the argument taht they are suspicious of outsiders. If somebody looks a certain way, we automatically assume the worse. This isn't love - it's just the opposite. It is a type of hateful legalism that has no place in Christ's Church.

12. Love hopes all things
This follows “believing all things”. Sometimes a person just treats us wrong. We love them, love them, and love them some more. In return, they take advantage of us again, and again, and again. Our reaction, even when there is no more room for assuming the best is to “hope”. Regardless of how low a friend or family member has sunk, we are NEVER to give up on them.

13. Love endures all things
In Job 13:15, Job proclaims, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him”. This idea of enduring all leaves us with the impression that regardless of the troubles that come our way - at the hands of God or man - our love is to remain steadfast. Stepping away from the Job passage for a moment…love has the capacity to never get “rocked” by whatever may happen. I’ve seen so many seemingly strong marriages end because the couple wasn’t able to “endure” some tragedy – the loss of a child, an accident that leaves a child or one of the spouses disabled, financial struggles…A biblical approach to love endures these things and comes out better for it!

14. Love never fails
As we “bear, believe, hope and endure all things” this love will remain steadfast. As Paul begins to draw comparisons to end this passage, we see that nothing else is as sure as love. And, although everything else might crumble and fail, this true, biblical, agape love will not.

A pastor friend once challenged me to read through this passage in I Corinthians 13 while substituting the name of Christ for the word “love” throughout the passage. The fact that God is love leaves us with good reason to believe that Christ perfectly demonstrated agape in His time on earth….let’s take a look at a few examples I’ve tossed together:

1. Jesus suffered long (I Peter 2:23)
2. Jesus was kind (Luke 8:40-56)
3. Jesus was not envious (Matthew 8:20) Jesus just accepted the fact that all his creation was taken care of, but He had nowhere to lay His head.
4. Jesus was humble. (Phil 2:5-8)
5. Jesus acted appropriately (Matthew 22 - render to Caesar)
6. Jesus was selfless (John 13 - he washed the feet of his creation – including those of the man whom He knew would betray Him later that night.)
7. Jesus was not easily provoked (The Passion)
8. Jesus didn't “keep score” (Praise the Lord for that!) (In Matthew 9:24, we hear the people laughing Him to scorn. In Mark 15:29-33 we hear the scoffers walking by a crucified, bloody mess of a man and saying – “come on! Save yourself! Look at you now! HA!” In John 10:20, we hear people saying, “Why would you listen to Him? He’s got a demon.” Yet, what does He say in Luke 23:34? “Father, forgive them…”
9. Jesus rejoiced only in that His Father was glorified (John 13-15)
10. Jesus covered our sins (I Peter 2:24)
11. Jesus forgets our transgressions (Psalm 103:12)
12. Jesus forgives us every time (I John 1:9) "Hopes" (Luke 7:37-46)
13. Jesus is never exasperated by us (I John 1:9 again)
14. Jesus never fails!

That concludes this series....I hope you received some good from it. It's certainly been an educational study for me!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The shame of it all....

I know a lot of things. I know about a lot of things as well. Frankly, there are a lot of things that I know that I wish I didn’t know. There are places, people, activities, entertainments, etc., about which I know many things that I wish I didn’t. I’ve seen things, heard things, said thing, and been to places that cause me shame. More importantly, these things have brought shame to name of my God. I have knowledge of things about which no child of God ought to have knowledge. I have said things, laughed at things, and viewed things over the years that ought to grate like sandpaper on my sensibilities, yet I have done these things without even blinking.

Five years ago or so I got to spend an afternoon with an old friend. I grew up with this man. He is currently a fairly well-known and public figure in a large Christian ministry. We grew up in the same church and attended the same school. We were both in single parent homes. We both attended Bible College. We have both been in leadership roles since our teenaged years. He’s a bit older than me and a man whom I’ve always respected and looked up to as a “big brother”. During this day we spent together some years ago I popped a joke without even thinking about it. My friend didn’t get it, as he had never heard one of the words before. As I was trying to explain the word to him I realized that it was something best left unsaid and I apologized for the joke. His ignorance about this matter truly stunned me. At the time I remember thinking to myself, “how can a man in his mid 30’s not know about that?” Recently however, I’ve gained a deeper respect for him in this area. The fact is that he has attempted to live a life separated to his God. His “ignorance” in this matter is more properly called “innocence”. There is a language that he doesn’t understand because, as a Christian, he has sought to live a life that is separated to holiness.

It seems to me that many of us – me included – have no qualms about defiling ourselves with the pervasive wickedness of this world. Speaking for myself, I have become so desensitized to sin that it doesn’t even give me pause at times. Some in Christendom have taken passages like Paul’s proclamation of “becoming all things to all men so that I might by all means save some” and perverted them to justify our own desires to look and smell a bit more like the world. Unfortunately it’s not too difficult to find someone who will help us to blur the lines between “light and darkness” either. For instance, there are well-known, orthodox, evangelical expositors who are willing to wallow in the filth of this world all in the name of “relevance”. I am a proponent of reaching the lost right where they sit, but the idea of sacrificing purity to appear “relevant” is twisted at best.

I think that we, too often, will drag the name of Christ along with us into places we ought not. Our eyes behold things that grieve our Savior. With our mouths we say things that bring shame to His name. The frightening part, at least for me, is that I can often do these things without a moment’s hesitation. At times I don’t even realize what I’ve done.

“Be ye holy; for I am holy”….grasping hold of what that phrase means should radically impact the way we live our lives….

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Lessons from 1 Corinthians 13: Part 3

(Part 1)
(Part 2)

In my last post I began examining the first 8 verses of 1 Corinthians 13. I looked at the first 5 attributes given in this passage of biblical, agape love. It is patient and kind. It is not envious or boastful. It is not arrogant or rude. In this post I will examine the next 4 attributes of love.

6. Love is not selfish
Galatians 6:2 commands us to “bear one another's burdens”. I Corinthians 12:25 gives us the formula for ensuring that there is no “schism” in the body of Christ – “care for one another”. This is the most descriptive attribute of love. It is not selfish. It is completely selfless. Philippians 2:3-4 reminds us to “esteem others higher (or better) than ourselves”. It's this type of selfless love that the Apostle John writes about in I John 3:16 where he writes, “hereby perceive we the love of God because he laid down his life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.”

In another recent post here I mentioned that this issue (selfishness) is at the root of all marital issues. Whether that selfishness manifests itself in a sexual affair with another person or in never thanking the marriage partner for their fidelity and for the things they do on a daily basis to demonstrate their love, the result of selfishness is often disastrous. When looking at how we deal with other people the same thing can be said.

7. Love is not provoked
The word “easily” that we find in the KJV is a bit misleading. The literal reading of this verse leaves us with the impression that we are NOT provoked to anger against another. James 1:19 reminds us to be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath”. To be able to listen selflessly requires love!

There is nothing wrong with debate. There is nothing wrong with disagreement. There is nothing wrong with anger. We are, however, cautioned to “be angry and sin not”. In my life I have seen too much infighting in the church as a whole (and have engaged myself in plenty of it). We get caught up in petty issues and preferences and end up deliberately offending people. We are ready to go to war over issues that we have had to read into the Bible, instead of humbly remaining silent where the Word of God is silent. Some will do anything they can to stifle an individuals Christian liberty, while others will do whatever they can to demonstrate their “liberty” - even if it offends another. This is one of the chief problems I see with the mindsets of many in Fundamentalism as well as her critics. When these sorts of attitudes are displayed, I believe that we grieve our Heavenly Father. Love in not easily provoked, nor is it provocative. If we were able to get our arms around this thing called love, many hostilities end.

8. Love does not keep score
This term “thinks no evil” is really an accounting term. At the risk of sounding a bit naive, I'll say this: love has amnesia! Can you imagine going into a conversation without preconceived opinions about somebody? How often have you decided you didn't like somebody because of something they did to you years ago? From that point on, we just keep track of all the “stupid things” they do! We question their motivation. We become haters. Again that cancer called bitterness has gotten hold of us. Have you ever been involved in an argument with somebody and one or both parties end up dragging up “ancient history” in order to make a stronger case? This attribute of love is closely tied in with several of the earlier ones.

9. Love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth
We are to never take pleasure in sin. When somebody does evil, or evil comes upon somebody, we are not to take pleasure in it. True love as expressed to our God leaves no room for laughter at sin. This could be displayed in the things we say and give audience to. It could also be displayed in the way we react to events. We should be grieved at sin - ours and others. We should be grieved when tragedy strikes others. Yet we should applaud and rejoice when Truth triumphs!

We’ve seen some tragic things in the last number of years. You can look at the events of 9/11 or, here in Kansas, some of the tornadoes of the last several years. Recently, making national news, was the murder of Dr. Tiller, the infamous abortionist. In all of these situations I’ve heard some Christians express something that I can only describe as joy, or at least some dangerous speculation. Last year a town that is just a few miles away from us was leveled by a tornado. I was present at a service where one preacher said (paraphrased), “I don’t know what’s going on in that town that it needed to be destroyed, but I hope they got the message that God is sending them”. I’ve heard several people express joy at the murder of Dr. Tiller…how can a Christian react like that?

I'll have one more post on this passage soon looking at the last 5 attributes of love from 1 Corinthians 13.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Wasting time. Wasting life.

There are so many things in this world that call for our attention. It’s easy to loose focus on the big picture and to get caught up in the “here and now”, isn’t it?. While we rattle off passages like Matthew 6:21 with ease – reminding ourselves that our heart will always be with what we treasure – it is still easy to get sidetracked from time to time. We begin treasuring things we ought not and it just kind of sneaks up on us sometimes. The issue of treasuring up heavenly things is something that I struggle with as much as anyone…maybe more so at times. Work, family matters, friends, entertainment, hobbies, sports, idle time…these are all things that, at one time or another in my life, have drawn most or all of my attention. There is nothing inherently wrong with most of these things, but in excess they have all proven to be self-inflicted gunshot wounds to my soul.

It is too easy to forget that we are, as Peter reminds us in 1 Peter 2:11, merely sojourners and pilgrims in this world. Our desire should not be to “make it” here, but to serve our Lord. It’s so easy to get trapped in this rut of life and forget that we have a higher calling than to just…well, live. As I’ve looked at my life recently I can point to many things – mostly good – that have drawn my affections and my attention. The sad part is that I so easily slide into a rut…I can often justify through my very busy lifestyle a temporary abandonment of the pursuit of a deeper relationship with my God; yet I never miss an episode of a few of my favorite television programs. At times I’ve left off of pursuing a deeper knowledge of the Almighty, choosing instead to catch up with friends on a social networking site and reading the 30 or 40 blogs to which I subscribe. It’s not that those things are bad or unhealthy….at times I’ve simply allowed them to become that way.

May we all commit ourselves to a deeper pursuit of God and to a life marked by sacrifice of self for Him.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Lessons from 1 Corinthians 13:Part 2

(See Part 1 here).

A friend once told me that 100% of all marriage counseling can be done from I Corinthians 13:4-8 and I completely agree with him. If we can catch hold of the truths of this passage and put them into practice in our own lives it will radically impact how we do everything in our daily lives. From I Corinthians 13:4-8, I’m going to be looking at the14 characteristics of true love. In this post I’ll concentrate on the first 5.

1. Love is patient
There is no “last straw” with love! In Matthew 18:22 the Lord says that if a brother offends you; you should forgive him 70 times 7 times. What does that mean? Well, an offense is a deliberate, wanton, malicious assault without ANY PROVOCATION. I doubt that any of us have been offended 490 times in our entire lifetime (given this definition); much less 490 times at the hands of one individual! The point is that we are to forgive all the time. If we are to forgive these deliberate offenses, how much more so the inadvertent offenses?

There is utmost patience with love. No offense, no attack, no sin, is to find a response that is not motivated by love. Proverbs 10:12 puts it like this, “Love covers a multitude of sins”. Love suffers long - it covers.

2. Love is kind
This is the positive side. First we see that love can take the negative, but it reacts by showing kindness. Think of the command that Christ gave in Luke 6 – “love your enemies”. Love those that seek your destruction. Love those that hate you. Love those that don't agree with you. Love the sinner. Love the saint. Love the homosexual. Love the heretic. Love without end! Love with agape - a love that would die for these people.

One of the most unnatural things for us to do is to react in kindness to those with whom we disagree. However, not doing so is to fall short of the mark that is laid out for us.

3. Love does not envy
When we see God blessing somebody...when we see someone getting an opportunity that we wanted; we should not envy them that. Instead we are to rejoice with them and for them. Envy leads to bitterness - the cancer of the soul. Bitterness leads to hatred.

4. Love does not boast
Proverbs 13:10 tells us that ”only be pride comes contention”. Love is humble. It does not act rashly nor is it brutish. It is never motivated by pride. In the first few verses of this text, the apostle Paul was following up on how he had finished the previous chapter. He was showing the Corinthians a “more excellent way” to true worship. He said that even if he had the gift of speaking fluently in every known tongue (some 70 languages at that time); and even if he were gifted in the higher language of the angels so that he could converse with them; and even if he could understand EVERY mystery in life - that is to say that he had all the knowledge that could be obtained; and even if he had a faith that could work miracles; and even if he parceled out all his possessions to the poor; and even if he “gave his body to be burned” (referring to the branding of slavery in order to redeem another); if he was motivated by anything other than love - it was all worth nothing! The hard, cold fact is that you and I are either motivated by love or by pride. If our motivation for anything, regardless of how noble, righteous, or selfless it may appear to be, is anything other than love…it is worthless.

5. Love is not arrogant or rude
Love is not rude or willingly offensive to ANYBODY! There are some people that just grate on my nerves. I tend to be very short with them. They ask me a question and I'll respond with as few words as possible and never even make eye contact with them. THIS IS NOT LOVE! It is not respectful. It is “unseemly” to use the word that the KJV uses here. Love is always respectful. It is ever ready, as the Apostle Paul so eloquently stated in I Corinthians 9:22, to be “made all things to all men that I might by all means save some.”

We've barely gotten through a third of the attributes of love given in this passage and I can already see where I consistently fall woefully short of the standard laid out here. In the next installment of this series I'll look briefly at four more attributes of love.

Lessons from 1 Corinthians 13 :Part 1 of 4

In Matthew 22:34-40 we find an occasion where Christ is once again tempted by the Pharisees. One of them asks Jesus - “What's the greatest commandment in all the law?” Now it must be understood that he wasn't merely referring to the “Big Ten”! Some scholars tell us that the Pharisees of the day said that the Law contained 248 affirmative precepts (“thou shalt’s”) - as many as the bones of the human body. They said that the Law contained 365 negative precepts (“thou shalt not’s”) - as many as the days of the year. That left 613 total laws - the number of letters in the Decalogue. This lawyer asked Christ which of these commandments was number one. Now, some of the learned religious men of the day would say that the mandates about the number of fringes on the bottom of their robes were the most important. Some thought that the laws governing cleanness were of most importance. For one to not keep oneself ceremonially clean was akin to homicide in some of their minds. I suppose that, in a sense, this man was asking which type of commandment was the greatest. Christ's response is interesting. He says that the first and most preeminent command is the first one of the Decalogue – “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind.” Then he says something rather startling – “Number two is that you should love those around you as yourself.” This was Christ's message. In Mark 12, this same occasion is recorded and in verse 31 we find this addition, “There is no commandment greater than these”.

This was the message of Christ. This was the mission of Christ. The subject that our Lord said was the most important of all is LOVE. In the ancient Greek language there were three primary words for love: storge - this was a familial love - it was natural. It was often unmerited, but was quite natural and protective - like the love that a mother has for her child. The second type of love that we find in the ancient Greek language is eros. This was a very selfish, possessive, erotic and sensual love. The third type - and most common - is phileo. This is the word that is the second most common found in the NT. It is used some 30 times and refers to a “brotherly love”. These are the only three words that the ancient Greek language contained pre-Christ. Yet, when our Lord entered the scene, there was a new word for love introduced. The earliest Greek writings that contain the word agape are Scripture. I think it was Mark Minnick who (humorously) speculated that when God came to earth in the flesh, He was moved to create a new word describing His love to man.

Agape love is that self-giving love that is not merited. An interesting side note here - this word agape appears in the NT more often than any of the other words for love. It is used over 300 times. A small portion of those times is describing God's love to man. Another relatively small number of times, it is used to describe the way we are to love God - only a few times is it used in that manner. Most often, it is used to describe the way we are to interact with other humans. This idea of agape love sums up the ministry of Christ. His coming to earth in the flesh to die for humanity is the greatest expression of love that we can ever know.

Now, we sometimes have this view of agape love that says that we can never achieve it. That is to say, it is just some “pie in the sky” of which we can never partake. To a point, I suppose that's true. We are limited by our flesh - so we always reach a point of selfishness, retaliation, etc.

Growing up I was taught that this type of love was descriptive only of the love that God shows man and that man is incapable of displaying this love himself. However, over and over again, we are commanded in the NT to exhibit agape love to one another. Christ said often - you can look all through the Gospels - particularly the Gospel of John - and find Christ saying, “love one another”. He told the disciples in John 13 that He was giving them a “new” commandment – “Love [agape] one another". In I John 4 we read a great description of God: “God is love [agape]”. In Galatians 5:22, the Apostle Paul tells us of this thing called the “fruit of the Spirit”. The first thing that he lists is “love” [agape]. All the other components of this fruit are the natural by-products of love. In essence, if we exhibit true, Biblical agape love, the characteristics of joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance will also be exhibited.

If we are to have agape love; if this type of love - to God first, and then to man - is the absolute most important thing we are to put on as Christians, I suppose we had better find out what it is! One definition of agape love that I found is “an intense desire to please God, and to do good to mankind; the very soul and spirit of all true religion; the fulfilling of the law, and what gives energy to faith itself.” However, I think it is difficult to formulate a concise and precise definition of agape. Instead, I’m going to use my next several posts to examine a passage of Scripture that perfectly defines this love for us by means of description.

In the first 8 verses of I Corinthians 13, we begin reading about the nature of love. In these 8 verses there are 14 characteristics of love described. It’s these that I will focus on in the next several blog posts:

“Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.

Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.” (NKJV)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Jon and Kate Gosselin: A predictable tragedy.

Jon and Kate Gosselin announced last night on their hit show, Jon & Kate plus 8, that they were separating. A bullet flashed on the screen at the end of the episode announcing that legal proceedings to dissolve the 10 year marriage were initiated yesterday. Now I rarely talk about television programs but this has my attention for a variety of reasons.

First of all, they have claimed the name of Christ often. Bob Bixby blogged about the issues with this some time ago. Rather than spending any time discussing this, I will simply urge you to read his very good article on the subject.

Secondly, this “celebrity” couple demonstrates some horrible thinking in regards to marriage and it is put on display for the entire world to see. Comments such as, “I need to do what’s best for the kids and for me” were uttered by both parties in various ways during the interview segments of the program last night. This demonstrates a basic misunderstanding regarding an approach towards marriage and it betrays a fundamental selfishness. By the way, there has never been a marriage that broke up that didn’t have, at its core, selfishness (by one or both parties) as the catalyst for the breakup. Our first focus in the family is to be on our spouse. If both spouses in a marriage are committed to putting the others needs and desires in front of their own, the marriage will be a strong and thriving one. When that focus shifts, regardless of the reason, the marriage is a failure regardless of whether or not it ends in divorce. Jon and Kate laid that out in the open for the entire world to see last night.

Finally, the ultimate selfishness was in their determination to keep “the show” going. I would have been thrilled if their announcement was something along the lines of, “We are quitting the show in order to work on our marriage and to begin working on healing our family.” Instead, they are choosing to keep themselves and their children in the public eye for as long as they can continue to collect.

While this show has always been interesting to me and I’ve watched it off and on over the years, I was grieved at what I saw last night. Regardless of how it was worded, two individuals who have made a habit out of putting their selfish wants ahead of their spouses needs chose to continue doing so and to continue to keep their kids “exposed” to the world. Horrible decisions. I would say that I hope the money is worth it, but I don’t.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Separation, Cooperation, and Confusion: A Rambling Rant by Yours Truly!

I’m starting to understand more and more that the term “fundamentalism” means something different to nearly everyone who claims to be a fundamentalist. To some it is best described as a separation from certain things or a separation to God. Both these views tend to end up being described by rather large “lists” of do’s and don’t’s which differ depending on the person, the church, the culture, etc. To others fundamentalism is more of a philosophical system of earnest contention for truth and radical separation from error. This is the best approach in that it can certainly serve to keep one’s feet firmly planted under them in an ever-changing world. What I mean by that is that there is no need to constantly address whatever new “thing” might be out there and to modify your “list” accordingly. This is because the focus will tend to be towards an inward commitment rather than an outward conformity. But even amongst those who view “fundamentalism” as a philosophical approach to life and church, there is still plenty of disagreement.

One of the main areas of disagreement amongst many fundamentalists comes down to the ever-controversial issue of separation. My experience is that the overwhelming majority of fundamentalists will teach and practice primary separation but beyond that things begin to get controversial and murky. Some on one side will say that there is a call to separate from anybody who doesn’t separate from the people / groups that we clearly need to separate from. On the other side there is a call of “foul” claiming that secondary (and beyond) separation is a downward spiral that, ultimately, leads us to have to separate even from ourselves! Then the first group will come back and say, “we don’t advocate this so called secondary separation….it’s all primary separation in that the brother who isn’t separating from those we are separating from is in disobedience….”. And it goes on and on…

I’m actually getting off what I want to be the point of this post, so I’ll take a step back.

Separation from sin and separation to holiness….this is the call that we all hold dear and the goal towards which we all strive. The scope of our cooperation and fellowship is with others who have this as the overarching philosophy to why they do what they do. But we all know that, even within the same stated goals, there are differences. So where do we draw the line. I think this is important and it gets awfully sticky.

I find myself drawing lines at different places than I thought I would several years ago. For instance, a man-centered philosophy – whether that’s demonstrated by a purely hyped-up emotional approach towards “worship” or by a shallow and “issues” dominated approach to preaching – is a place where I might draw a line. However, when it comes to the opportunity to be involved in a joint endeavor to present the Gospel to an entire community, I might not stand so firm on this (this seems like a consistent stance with early Fundamentalism, by the way). I would personally separate from any church who takes a radical KJVO approach as quickly as I would a church that embraces the pragmatism of the Emergent Church scene.

As a family we are making difficult decisions in this realm right now. I find myself asking questions like, “is it any better to associate with the irresponsible and liberal approach to the scriptures that leads one to believe that a woman who wears pants is in sin than it is to associate with the liberal and irresponsible approach to the scriptures that leads one to question the inerrancy of scripture?” We tend to wink at certain travesties when they occur in our own ranks; however, the method that gets one to an asinine belief on women’s dress that I mentioned above is not merely a matter of interpretation. It’s a fundamental flaw in thinking and is indicative of deeper issues - such as putting one’s personal hobby horses above true fidelity to the scriptures.

One of the issues that I see in fundamentalism is that we are quick to separate from anything that doesn’t “look right”, but we will rarely do anything about the liberalism that has infiltrated our own ranks. We slammed Billy Graham’s brand of “easy believism” for years, but the “superstar” fundamentalist evangelists were given a free pass in this regard. If Graham had never left Fundamentalism he would be a hero in the movement today – even with his approach. We are quick to call out men like Bill Hybels for the pragmatic approach he has taken and for the lack of any real doctrine in the churches that have come out of there, but we turned a blind eye to Jack Hyles and the lunacy that came out of Hammond for decades. If a group questions the inerrancy of the Scripture we are quick to point them out as liberal compromisers, but those who take the extreme position on the King James Bible and engage in bibliolatry are generally winked at. We point to the liberalism that leads some to abandon all standards when it comes to modest dress, yet we say nothing about the liberalism that leads some to claim that a woman wearing pants is an abomination.

Personally I think all these things need separated from. I no more wish to be associated with some church that has a Saturday night service complete with a heavy metal band and a mosh pit than I do a church that takes a radical KJVO position and doesn’t “allow” women to wear pants. Both are liberal. Both have perverted the issues of personal liberty. Both do a great deal of harm to the cause of Christ. I don’t mean to harp on the same sets of issues, but they are weighing on me today.

With that said, where is the line to be drawn? Is there a place for fellowship or, more accurately, cooperation with some groups who are skewed on some of the more “minor” issues? I think there is, but I think that great caution needs to be used. I’m of the mind that cooperation on some levels can serve to righteously further the cause of Christ without “tainting” us. It seems that some want to equate cooperation with endorsement and agreement, but those terms are not synonymous. A practical example would be to go back to the last World War. The United States and the Soviet Union were in “cooperation” with one another for a common purpose, but that cooperation was certainly not indicative of a deeper agreement…maybe not the best example, but a practical one when it comes to this issue of cooperation versus agreement. I would wager that most people – inside and outside the church – understand that.

Forgive my rambling. Actually, I think that most of my posts are nothing more than extended periods of rambling….I just don’t always recognize it!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The "worship issue": a clarification (I hope).

I just got around to reading a blog article that linked unfavorably to a post of mine from several weeks back. The blog that linked back here is one I’ve read a time or two since it was launched. The writers there are all pastors (I think) and they have, from time to time, some great insight on some matters, although they are certainly part of a more “hyper” strand of Fundamentalism as far as I can tell. That said, I want to readdress something I’ve hit on several times here over …worship style. I’m not sure that I have managed to make my point a matter of fact - judging from comments both here and elsewhere - I'm certain that I've absolutely failed at making my point!

I’ve often been critical of the worship style that typifies Fundamentalism. Actually, at times I’ve been fairly critical of the entire liturgical style that typifies the movement, but that’s not the point here. In a couple of my recent posts I mentioned the lack of emotion and “realness” in the typical fundy worship service. I mentioned this as a major issue in my criticisms of the movement and one of the chief issues that are serving to drive many of us away. Now, I’ve had difficulty articulating my thoughts on this one, so I’m going to attempt to be a tad more thorough in my explanation this time around. I’ll start with a story about the very first contemporary worship service I ever attended.

Nine or ten years ago I was given tickets to go hear a very well-known preacher speak at a large non-denominational church in Wichita, KS. If I mentioned the name of the man most of you would know who he is. He can be heard on most conservative Christian radio stations and I’m guessing that most of the folks who might come in contact with my blog would have a favorable opinion of him (as do I). I arrived at this service in eager anticipation to hear the Word of God opened and exposited….but first I had to “endure” a very painful “worship” service.

This church had a huge platform and they had a rather large band and 8 or 10 worship leaders. I was not familiar with most of the songs that were being sang but I was invited to sing along as the lyrics appeared on the several large screens scattered throughout the gargantuan auditorium. I found most of the lyrics to be “fluffy” with a song here and there that actually contained some deeper theology. About 20 minutes into the song service the mood suddenly changed. The guy sitting at the drum set put his sticks down and walked off the stage. The grand piano began playing some very soft music. The lights in the auditorium were dimmed slightly and, in unison, about 70% of those in attendance raised their hands (I would estimate that there were approximately 3,500 people there). The words came up on the screen and I realized that we were exiting the “praise” portion of the music service and entering the “worship” portion.

The whole thing was so contrived and rehearsed that it instantly set me in an extremely bad mood. The emotional manipulation was as bad as anything I’ve ever seen from the most “Finneyesque” evangelist that Fundamentalism can offer up. It ticked me off! I walked away thinking that I’d rather be around the rote, regimented, emotionless services found in Fundamentalism than to be seen as one who embraces this brand of emotional “trickery”.

Now I share that story because I want any who read this to understand that I don’t view “emotions” as the end all in worship. Nor do I believe that open displays of emotion are the only real signs of true worship. That type of thinking would be ludicrous and it’s certainly nothing to which I subscribe.

So, you might be asking, what’s the big criticism of the typical worship service in Fundamentalism? My big criticism is that we have typically done all we can to eliminate any emotional engagement whatsoever (until invitation time). We do this in several ways. First of all, we insure that there is no music that might get one to “tapping the toe”. Secondly we break things up with announcements, offering, greetings, a “stand-up routine” from the pastor, and very few comments from the music director (except those designed to get a laugh). The closest thing to continuity that the typical fundy music service has is that there might be a central theme to the chosen songs. But oft-times there is so little thought given to the songs being sang that anybody could get up and lead the music – just pick three or four songs that are in 4/4 time and everything’s OK.

Frankly, I have little use for both styles that I’ve mentioned above.

Now let me be clear on something here…I don’t wish to remove personal responsibility from the parishioner in regards to an engagement of the heart in worship. Those who know me best know that I take these matters seriously. For years I’ve practiced a careful and prayerful preparation of my heart prior to entering the worship service. I attempt to focus on the words of the songs being sung and will often sing them as my hearts prayer (should the lyrics lend themselves to that). Often I will leave off singing with the congregation in order to meditate a bit on the words we are offering up. I personally get “choked up” regularly when attempting to sing songs like “Alas, and did my Savior die?” or “Amazing Love”, or “Amazing Grace” or the like. However, just as the attempted manipulation at the service I first described upset me, so too does the constant interruption in the typical Fundamentalist service. Unfortunately we aren’t typically led in worship….we are just led in singing.

Four years ago I was sitting in a church service at a Fundamentalist church. The regular song leader was not there and neither was the backup. The pastor asked another man if he would take care of the music and he indicated that he would. Now this man wasn’t a particularly good singer and he didn’t know how to “wave his arms” correctly, so he just got up and did what he knew how to do. He spoke to us of the great love of our Savior and how amazing His grace really is. He spoke of forgiveness and how incomprehensible it all is. As he led us in songs about these truths he paused often to read the lyrics to us and to reference supporting scripture. In other words, he did all he could to engage us in worship…he helped us to focus our minds on our God. No drums, no hand raising, no emotional plea, no 45 minute invitation….just worship. This brother – without saying the words – urged us to engage our intellect as well as our emotions in corporate worship. It was a wonderful time with God’s people!

I called for a balance in this area in one of my recent articles. I suggest that, perhaps, we need to rethink our approach to worship. We need to rethink our roles as parishioners as well as leaders. Find the balance! While there is a danger in falling into a rehearsed and “forced” worship, there is an equally egregious danger in falling into a regimented, emotionless, dead “worship”.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Don't call me a Fundamentalist....I'm a fundamentalist!

Is it possible to be a fundamentalist without being a Fundamentalist? Let me try that question again… Is it possible to be a fundamentalist without being in Fundamentalism? I think that’s a better way of asking my question…

I think that people on both sides of the never-ending “IFB / CE” debate tend to forget some key points. We “young guys” for instance tend to forget that being a “fundamentalist” means something more than just an adherence to the Fundamentals whereas some tend to forget that being a “Fundamentalist” is more than just an issue of separation.

In the last 150+ years Fundamentalism has adopted separation as one of her major hallmarks. This is a righteous stance insofar as it coincides with biblical teaching. Too often those of us who have grown more and more enamored with Evangelicalism want to assign the moniker of “historic fundamentalist” to everybody we like regardless of whether or not they actually fit the bill (i.e., practice separation).

Now I realize that, in the beginning, Fundamentalism was a movement designed to correct and reform rather than to separate, but that ship has long sense sailed. The downward spiral of mainstream “religiosity” demanded a more robust response, and Fundamentalism responded appropriately with a stance of radical separation. Now this separation wasn’t from folks who just did things a bit “differently”; rather, it was from apostasy, doctrinal error, disobedient brethren, and theological compromisers. These days of course, “separation” has taken on completely different meanings. Some Fundamentalists refuse to acknowledge or fellowship with other fundamentalists based on things like: denominational affiliation (Fundamentalism was a non-denominational movement until the last 80 years or so), music standards, bible versions, and even issues of dress. These things notwithstanding, the doctrines of personal and ecclesiastical separation are both important and vital.

In recent years it seems to me that some groups who are decidedly outside of the Fundamentalist movement practice a more biblical separation model than many of those who are part of Fundamentalism. Taking it a step further, I think that there are as many groups outside of Fundamentalism who legitimately fit into the mold of “historical fundamentalist” as there are within the movement (btw, some of these groups aren’t even Baptists!).

I say all that to get to this point: the idea of “leaving Fundamentalism” is more about identification with a movement (or nonidentification) than it is about a change in philosophy and ideals. While I can make a statement to the effect that I will one day leave Fundamentalism (the movement), I will always remain a fundamentalist (the idea)…this is by conviction.

If our brothers who depart from Fundamentalism are still practicing fidelity to the Word, exhibiting separation from the world and worldliness, remaining sound in there doctrinal beliefs, practicing separation from apostasy and disobedient brethren, maintaining and exhibiting a belief in the inerrancy of Scripture, demonstrating a passion for souls and working to reach the lost for Christ, holding to an orthodox theology, and living a life that demonstrates a deepening relationship with the Savior, we need to encourage them, rejoice with them, and maintain a proper fellowship with them…..not spit on and separate from them!

I guess that this is the most frustrating part of this conversation as far as I’m concerned. Too many of us are more concerned with keeping guys in a loosely defined, non-structured movement than we are in encouraging them to remain faithful to the things that actually matter. Fundamentalism (the movement) may well shrivel up and die; however, fundamentalism (the idea) will not. As a matter of fact, fundamentalism (the idea) has been alive and well for much longer than has the movement…

Thursday, June 4, 2009

A new baby, a big scare, and the Good Shepherd.

Excuse the rambling nature of this post....I'm a bit tired and my brain isn't quite working right just yet!

This has been a unique week around the Murphree house. A week ago today we welcomed our fourth child, Liam Sean Murphree, into the world. His mom, dad, and three siblings immediately fell in love with him. We spent all day Friday taking turns holding him and just looking at him. We had some minor concerns since he just wouldn't eat and seemed to be breathing extremely rapidly. But the hospital staff assured as that everything was OK, so we quickly dismissed the concerns from our minds.

Saturday morning at about 4:30 I was awakened by a ringing phone. My wife called me and, with tears, told me that something was wrong with Liam and that I needed to get up there. When I got there I found him alert but on oxygen. The doctor told me that he thought he had pneumonia, but that they were going to transfer him to another hospital as a precaution. Within 90 minutes I was on the interstate following an ambulance to a different city with a larger hospital that was equipped with an NICU unit. Within 60 minutes of arrival they had shot x-rays, put him on a high dose of nitrogen rich oxygen and hooked him up to an IV. What they had found was a severely dehydrated boy who was having difficulty breathing due to limited lung capacity. His right lung was perforated and, as a result, air had escaped the lung. The escaped air had gathered around the outside of both lungs and had began to compress them. His right lung was compressed enough that the doctor used the word "collapsed" in describing it to me. He had likely developed the issue during birth and every breath he had taken had actually made the problem a little worse. In essence, every time he took a breath he was actually losing lung capacity.

Over the next couple of days we had a lot of ups and downs. My wife wasn't able to get released out of the other hospital and get to the new one until Liam and I had already been up there for about 6 hours. By the time she got there, Liam was under a large hood on a heating table and completely "out of it". Every time he would wake up and cry there was nothing we could do about it but rub his arm.....we wouldn't be able to pick him up for several days.

Sunday the doctor informed us that the oxygen mix they had him on wasn't remedying the problem and his lungs were getting worse. So the next step was to put a tube into his chest to begin to pull the air out and, hopefully, assist in healing the perforation. So less than three days after his birth, our son was going to surgery. Needless to say, Sunday was a bad day.

Over the next couple of days Liam began to gain lung capacity back. Soon the chest tube was able to come out, the oxygen hood came off, and we were able to hold him again. On Tuesday he finally started to eat. Today they pulled him completely off of oxygen and we found out that he is recovering so well that we may get to bring him home before the end of the upcoming weekend!

I've learned a few lessons about being a child of God during this week. In my sleep deprived sate I'm going to attempt to mention a coupled them...

First of all we have the ability to cast all our cares at the feet of our God. Not only are we able to do this, but we are actually expected to! Leaving our cares at the feet of the Almighty is one of the most amazing privileges we have as children of God.

Secondly, we have this wonderful "freedom" from anxiety. It would be foolish for me to claim that I wasn't concerned through most of this week. However, I didn't find myself "stressed" or worried. On the contrary, I found myself fleeing to the Psalms and then singing praises to my mighty God! The fact that we can praise the Lord for difficult times and enter into prayer to Him with a heart of thankfulness is amazing to me! Even when our hearts are heavy, the Great Comforter reminds us to be thankful for the bountiful benefits that the Lord shows to us daily.

There's a song that has been a tremendous encouragement to me this week and I've been singing it nearly nonstop. It's from the PSALMS CD from Sovereign Grace Music and is based on the 23rd Psalm. It is entitled "The Lord Is":

The depths of Your grace who can measure?
You fully supply all I need.
You restore my weary soul again and again;
And lead me in Your righteousness and peace.

You’re with me through every dark valley.
There’s nothing that I have to fear.
You are there to comfort me again and again;
Protecting me, assuring me You’re near.

The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
I shall not want.

You gave Your own life for my ransom;
So I could rejoice at Your side.
You have shown Your faithfulness again and again;
There’s nothing good that You will not provide.

The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
I shall not want.

I will dwell in Your house
All the days of my life.
I will dwell in Your house
All the days of my life.

And You watch over me;
You take care of all my needs;
Lord, You provide in every situation.
So I'll sing:

The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
The Lord is
The Lord is my shepherd!
The Lord is
Lord, You are my shepherd;
I shall not want.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

So, why are they REALLY leaving Fundamentalism?

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve had a question running through my mind…why are the young guys really leaving Fundamentalism. Most of us know about the hullabaloo caused by the reasons offered up to this question by a keynote speaker at a recent FBFI regional meeting back east. His contention is that Calvinism, coupled with young men becoming enamored with some of the popular leaders in Conservative Evangelicalism, serves as the main catalyst. I think he’s way off the mark. But rather than just claiming that and ending it all there, I’d like to offer up my thoughts on why the young guys are leaving.

I’m still one of the “young guys” in Fundamentalism although, at the age of 36, I’m on the verge of no longer fitting the original definition of “Young Fundamentalist”. Not only am I one of the young guys, but I’m one of the young guys who is going to leave the movement. I’ve stated before that the church I’m in now is likely the last IFB church I’ll ever attend. Now for me there have been several key factors contributing to my desire to leave the movement. I’ll mention those and then move on to some other factors that I think may be contributing to the current trend of bashing and/or leaving Fundamentalism. To be clear here, by “leaving Fundamentalism” we are discussing the movement – not the principals. I am and will continue to be a Fundamentalist in the historic sense of the word; however, I – like so many others – have grown increasingly frustrated with what fundamentalism the movement has become.

By the way, for the purpose of this blog entry I’m differentiating between young fundamentalists and young fundamentalist preachers. While many from both groups might be leaving for some of the same reasons, I believe that what might cause a young pastor to leave is ofttimes something that might not cause a typical parishioner to leave and vice-versa. Now, my reasons first:

The KJV issue. This has been a burr under my saddle since I was 15 years old (with a brief exception in my early adult years when I joined up with the KJVO crowd). The KJVO movement has, in my opinion, caused more harm and disharmony in the church in general, and Fundamentalism in particular, than any other singular issue. This crowd has hurled some wicked insults at other reliable (sometimes more reliable) translations of God’s Word – calling them translations from the pits of hell and the like. Their vitriol notwithstanding, the radical side of the KJVO movement has so permeated Fundamentalism that any church that uses any other translation – regardless of what it is – is generally deemed “liberal” by Fundamentalism Proper. Even our institutions of higher learning are forced to pander to the rabid KJVO crowd. While only a few will go so far as to claim that the KJV is anything more than what is – a fairly reliable TRANSLATION – nearly all of them state that it is to be the only Bible used from the pulpit and in the classroom. The KJV issue is truly indicative of a larger issue in the realm of scholarship, but perhaps that’s another topic altogether. While I certainly respect those folks, both inside and outside Fundamentalism, who hold to the KJV as their Bible of choice, the KJVO movement has been a horrible blight on Fundamentalism. Another unfortunate result of this movement is that, too often, folks who use only the KJV but do not view it as something other than what it is are unwittingly shackled to maniacs like Riplinger and Ruckman.

The standards issue. Whether you refer to it as personal holiness or sanctification, the results are the same. Too often, Fundamentalism focuses purely on an outward adherence to certain “standards” and ignore the need to actually develop an intimate and personal relationship with a living and holy God. Even the more progressive portions of IFB-dom struggle with things such as whether or not a woman should wear pants and whether or not boys can wear shorts for sporting activities. In many IFB summer camps you will see girls wearing long skirts and boys wearing blue jeans for outdoor sports activities even in temperatures greater than 100 degrees. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard pastors tear the crap out of a text in order to defend their ridiculous notion that a woman wearing pants is immoral. But it’s not just that. Whether we want to talk about dress, hair length and style, jewelry, facial hair, church dress, music, alcohol, or any number of other things the story is the same: Fundamentalism tends to have hard and fast rules based loosely on biblical principals and proof texting but with little hardcore support for their position. The result is that people who look right are too often deemed righteous regardless of whether or not they are bearing any fruit. By the way, another aspect of this is that, all too often, people who don’t already look the part are shunned. This is why there are more IFB churches shrinking than there are growing. I believe that this key issue is at the core of the lack of involvement of the typical IFB church in the community. Where the Evangelicals are very active in reaching out to the community and reaching them where they are, the Fundamentalists have a desire to make people become like them. Now I’ll be the first to admit that there needs to be balance here. Ofttimes, just like the Fundamentalists go too far one direction, the Evangelicals will fall of the other extreme.

The preaching issue. My experience is Fundamentalism has been that there is precious little exposition coming from the pulpit. I attended a Fundamentalist college and spent three years working at two of the premier Fundamentalist camps in the country and I just didn’t see much exposition from any of the IFB “celebrities”. Most generally when the regular speakers on my college campus (faculty members) spoke, it was expositional in nature, but the guests were most generally topical guys. My experience in IFB churches since those days has been the same - 90% or more topical versus exposition. I’m one of those guys who has, not just a strong feeling, but a strong conviction on this subject. Rightly dividing the word of truth demands a faithful exposition of the text.

The worship issue. While worship can certainly be “overdone” and focused purely on emotions in more contemporary services, Fundamentalism goes to the other extreme. There needs to be balance here and, unfortunately, I’ve attended exactly 2 services in any Fundamentalist church that managed to strike this balance. One was a very conservative church with a worship leader (now a pastor of another church) who carefully and reverently led the congregation in worship. The other instance was on an occasion where there was a guest musician in for a church service I was attending. He led the congregation in true worship. These are clear exceptions to the Fundamentalism I’ve always known. We don’t worship. We sing, listen to announcements, take up an offering, listen to the choir, sing some more, listen to the special, listen to some topical preaching, and have an invitation. This may sound like I’m describing a service at a specific church, but in reality this is the model for every single IFB church (with one exception) that I’ve ever attended. I don’t know how many churches that is, but I would estimate that number to be somewhere over 100 during the course of my life. 100 different churches, 100 different pastors, 100 different song leaders, yet the same service. We are careful to ensure that the emotions are not engaged during the song service because we believe emotional engagement is wrong….unless of course it’s time for the invitation. The command to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (these address the will, emotion, and intellect) doesn’t seem to apply in the church service. We want to engage the will and intellect, but the emotions need to be put down. You will never see hands raised in worship in an IFB church (unless there is an "outsider" visiting), nor will you see anything other than dry eyes at any point during the “worship” service. The church service tends to be a very regimented, dry, rote, obligatory occasion.

I would say that these, although not representative of all my thoughts over the last 6 or 7 years of looking at things, are the main four items for me. Quickly I want to examine some other possibilities for why young guys are leaving – some good and some…not so good.
The “grass is greener” syndrome. Some guys leave just because it’s different. I believe that this reason represents a very small (nearly nonexistent) minority of the young preachers who are leaving, but a larger percentage of the young, non-pastors who are leaving. Now there are several issues that contribute to this, but I think the main one is that, from the outside, Christianity can appear to be much “easier” in Evangelicalism. What people realize eventually however, is that, regardless of the type of church you are in, you are still a wicked sinner trying desperately – and failing miserably – when it comes to pleasing a holy God.

The Calvinism issue. I said in my opening statements that I think it is a misplaced logic that leads one to this conclusion. However, when it comes to the young non-pastor types who flee Fundamentalism, this can certainly be a contributing factor. There is little doubt that Evangelicalism is a much more “Calvinist-friendly” entity than is Fundamentalism. All that being said, I’ve been very Calvinistic for nearly 20 years and a 5-pointer for nearly 10 and I’ve managed to live peaceably within Fundamentalism that entire time. This, in my opinion, would be a lousy reason to abandon Fundamentalism and it is certainly not a stand alone reason. It might be a good reason to leave a particular Fundamentalist church, but not a good reason to leave Fundamentalism itself.

The Jack Hyles/Bob Gray/Bob Jones, Jr./John R. Rice, etc. issue. I think some guys leave just because, in certain parts of the country, you say the word Fundamentalist and one of these guys pops into your head. While there is quite a bit of good that came out of each of these guys ministries, they were and – even though most of them are now dead – continue to be extremely polarizing figures. To many, these guys represent all that was and is wrong with Fundamentalism. If I was in a place where Fundamentalism equals Jack Hyles, I would never use that term nor would I attend a church that advertised itself as a Fundamentalist church. Now the only problem with leaving for this issue is that, in most of the country, the term "Evangelical" brings names like Osteen, Hybels, and Warren immediately to mind. So which is the greater evil? I think I’d prefer being associated with Hyles over Osteen any day of the week. One presented the Gospel boldly every time he had an opportunity to do so; the other has repeatedly balked even when given national television audiences. In my opinion, leaving (or embracing) any movement simply because of whom you will or will not be identified with is not a good primary reason for a move one way or the other. While I would more readily wish to be identified with the Masters crowd than with the Bob Jones University crowd, this should not be a major consideration for where I land (unless the crowd I’m leaving has slid into major doctrinal error or apostasy).

Now there are certainly other reasons that could be examined – some good and some bad – so I acknowledge that this list isn’t complete, nor is it “scientific” in any way. This is just one bloggers opinion of a major issue. I think that young men leaving Fundamentalism will, in the end, be good for the movement. This forces the movement into some critical self-examination. In the end, Fundamentalism will make some changes or it will continue to slowly bleed out.