Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Worship and Outward Joy

Church leaders make decisions that result in determined outcomes.  A church leader who decides that his presentation of Jesus and the gospel is going to be always positive and people who attend worship will always be happy and joyful outwardly, he will draw a crowd that wants what he is presenting.  And the better he presents happiness and joyfulness in Jesus the larger his crowd will be.  In contrast, a minister who decides to call people not to be friends with the world will need to present a worship experience that will allow sinners to resist the devil, to cleanse their hands, to purify their hearts, to confess their double mindedness, to lament, to mourn, to weep, to let their laughter be turned to mourning and their joy to gloom.  To do all is to humble themselves before the Lord.  Such a presentation is going to draw a crowd that wants to be humbled and the better the church leader presents such a humble worship experience the smaller the crowd will be.  That is the way of it. 

I asked a Bible study group what would happen if we put on our reader board for advertisement, "Come and worship with us!  Cleanse your hands, purify your hearts, lament, mourn and weep."  they just laughed.  James 4

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Shack - A Review


The movie, The Shack, has made its way to the movie theatres and so I want to address what it conveys head-on.  Disclaimer: I have not seen the movie nor will I see the movie.  However, I did read the book so that is enough authority for me to write this to you.  

The story, The Shack, tries to show how God (the Christian God) can help a distraught and spiritually bankrupt father (named Mack) work through the pain and find something redeeming from the horrible death of his young daughter who was abducted and killed by a serial killer as a result of the father needing to leave his young daughter alone at a campsite in order to save one of his sons from drowning.  

After four years the father is summoned back to “the shack” where his daughter suffered at the hands of the serial killer.  At the shack God supposedly appears to Mack in various personal forms in order to help him deal with not only the hellish death of his daughter but also the abuse Mack suffered from his own father.  

In the shack God is described as appearing as a “papa” or father figure to Mack by the personae of an overweight black woman.  In other scenes God is described as appearing as “Jesus” who has the personae of a Middle-Eastern carpenter.  In other scenes God the Holy Spirit is described as appearing with the personae of an Asian woman named Sarayu.  

The most obvious heresy in The Shack can be traced back to the third century A.D under titles such as Sabellianism or modalism.  The heresy in its simplest form teaches that God is not three distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Ghost) but instead He takes on three personalities in order to redeem humanity.  There should be no serious doubt that The Shack is guilty of said heresy and thus should be dismissed as heretical with nothing more needing to be said.  However, there is another demonic deception in the story that is more persuasive amongst Christians and thus more damaging to the Church than modalism.  The deception is another expression of the idol that is Jesus and me, only.  

The Shack has an appeal to the broken hearted who perceive that God was either not present in moments of their greatest suffering or that He was indifferent.  The story of Mack being met by three different persons of the godhead who meet him personally at the points of his greatest vulnerabilities is an attempt to portray God as adaptable to our sufferings.  Evidently, when a Christian comes to such an understanding about God then the faith of said person is preserved.   But is that the gospel?  

The gospel is described more generally as God so loving the world that He gave His only Son.  God loving the world has an end product of Him redeeming His creation when He establishes a new heaven and a new earth and all who live will live under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  That Jesus is said to have been the sacrifice for the whole world (1 John 2:2) further verifies the ultimate end of the work Jesus accomplished.  I underline “the whole world” and “the world” not as a universalist (for that too is a heresy) but to point out that all of God’s creation longs to be redeemed and Jesus has sufficiently supplied the means by which it will (all of it) be redeemed in the end and part of that redemption will be the suffering of those who will be judged for eternal damnation.  

In addition to “the world” being redeemed we are also told that Jesus will return to take home his bride, the Church, to a place he has prepared for her, heaven. Therefore, the new heaven is going to be occupied by the Church.  The “Church” is a collective noun made up of individuals who do not and cannot exist outside of the body of the bride.  Directly speaking, Jesus is not coming back for individual believers but for his Bride, the Church, which is made up of individuals.  The point being that if an individual claims Jesus as his Lord and Savior he must be a part of the Body, the Bride, the Church or there is no such Lordship and no such Salvation.  Christians then are to think first of the Church and then of themselves as a part of the Church from which they cannot be separate rather than think of their personal salvation as priority and the Church and its importance in the redemptive story as tertiary. 

This leads me to making the point that in The Shack the Church is tertiary and that is being generous.  The reason for making the Church tertiary may be more complicated than I describe here, but what follows certainly contributes.  Christians often apply the fact that Scripture tells us that Jesus was tempted like we are and yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15) to be an encouragement that Jesus identifies with us personally.  And while the point the Preacher to the Hebrews makes includes personal encouragement, the greater truth is that Jesus is our High Priest and as a High Priest he identifies with us as a people, just as the High Priest of Israel did when he entered the Holy of Holies to make an offering for the sins for all the people of God.  

There are other passages that Christians read individualism (Jesus and me, only ) into, such as when Jesus promises that he will never leave his followers.  When he does so such as in Matthew 28:20 he uses the second person plural “you” which can only mean his Church, as opposed to speaking to each individual person.  Even when he says in John 14 that he goes and prepares a place for “you”, that too is second person plural.  Yes, the plural “you” includes the individuals that make up the “you,” but not apart from the whole, the Church.  

Get to the point…Yes, the point is that The Shack portrays a God who becomes incarnate for the sake of an individual who has suffered a great deal of emotional and relational pain.  But the God of Holy Scripture is revealed as One who became incarnate for the sake of all of God’s people that they might identify with him and that identification with him (Jesus) is sufficient for salvation and that salvation includes the healing of emotional and relational wounds.  This is part of what St. Paul meant when he said to the Colossians, “Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church.”  Here, Paul could not be saying that the suffering of Jesus was lacking for that would be inconsistent with his own teachings.  No, instead he must mean that more of his own suffering is needed so that he could further identify with Jesus.  Hence, in our suffering it is not Jesus who identifies with us but us with Jesus and as we identify more with Jesus the more we are molded into his image.  

In summation the story of The Shack says that the incarnation of Jesus was not sufficient for all the pain humanity endures on the earth.  In contrast the gospel says that the incarnation of Jesus was sufficient for all the pain of humanity only when people suffer in relation to Jesus in the context of the Church instead of as individuals who insist on God identifying with them.   

Monday, February 6, 2017

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Jesus and me only and Jesus and my family only

Pastor Bayly gives a clear call to repentance for those Christians who live as though they do not need the Church.  Christian school families can behave in a similar manner as they don't get involved in activities in the Church using activities in the their school as replacements.  God is calling His people to a higher standard of churchmanship.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

We are voting for a Politician

Voting for the President of the United States in 2016

Let us start with acknowledging that we see through the glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12) and we are under the sun (Eccl. 1:14).  Both descriptions help us understand that we cannot choose whom to vote for and know for certain that we made the perfect choice.  And the Bible tells us that because of the fallen state of humanity any person we choose that is on a ballot cannot be a perfect choice. 

This years election appears to present a serious dilemma for Christians because the sins of the major party candidates go before them.  We are choosing between an egomaniacal misogynist and a narcissistic congenital liar.  For those of you who insist on the legitimate alternative of a third party candidate I have no wisdom, as you are concerned about your conscience first and I won’t argue with you.  But for those of us who care to have a say as to who will actually win the presidency it bares repeating that it is between an egomaniacal misogynist and a narcissistic congenital liar.  So what is the Christian thing to do?

Before I answer I must qualify what I perceive is the Christian thing to do by acknowledging again that I look through dim glass and I am living on the lower side of the sun.  What I think should be done is limited by my fallen state.  But here is what struck me just recently.  We are simply electing a politician who is to be a third of our government in regards to power and influence.  Yes, I realize that powers seem to have shifted seemingly swaying back and forth from the oval office to the Supreme Court but that is not something we can immediately control.  The fact remains that we are electing a politician to serve the major role in one third of our government structure.  That means that we are NOT electing a Christian or religious leader.  Christians should never want to elect a Christian leader in a political arena.  That does not mean we don’t want Christians to hold political office.  It only means that we do not elect Christians in the political arena to lead the Church.  Only within the governmental structure of the Church should Christian leaders be chosen.  Thus, because we are electing a politician we should be most concerned about the policies each candidate supports.   And the most important policy this preacher upholds is the right to life, the right to life of the unborn.  The right to life issue is important because defending the most defenseless is fundamental to both biblical revelation and natural law.  Jesus came for the least among us and there are no human beings that better define the least among us than those who are not even called human and have no means to defend themselves.   Natural law reveals to us that we cannot continue as a species if the most dangerous place a human can be is in her mother’s womb.

If you agree with the above you may be skeptical because you are not confident either party or candidate truly wishes to protect the unborn.  The only for sure we have is that one party says from their platform that they are most concerned about a woman’s right to choose while the other says that protection of the unborn is what is most important.  The fact that words from a platform have not turned into action for defending the unborn is true.  I have no immediate defense or solution for that fact.

Other policies that Christians should be concerned about include our national debt and thus what we are leaving for future generations.  We have a biblical responsibility to leave an inheritance for our children not a debt (Prov. 13:22).  Christians should also be concerned about national defense.  The one clear biblical responsibility God gives to government leaders is the protection of their citizens (Rom. 13:3,4).  This protection includes treaties with other nations and how we go about preventing terrorist threats before they become terrorist acts on our nations soil.  Policies concerning immigration should be examined in terms of both national security and biblical instruction to treat strangers in our land with dignity (Lev. 19:34).  Other policies concerning health care, education, bathroom sharing and whatever else we can debate about are informed by both moral conviction and wisdom. 

The last policy I perceive is most important is what each party and or candidate will do to protect freedom of religion so that Christian churches are free to preach the gospel without censor, without a tax and without harassment. 

A pastor should never tell his followers how to vote.  I will only tell you how I will vote.  I will vote for the candidate who gives the unborn the best chance to be protected.  I will vote for the candidate that gives our nation the best chance to be protected from enemies foreign and domestic.  And I will vote for the candidate that I have no confidence in regarding his or her character matching up to what he or she says he or she will do.  I see through foggy glass and I am blinded by the sun. 

“May God have mercy upon the United States of America, if that is His will.  May God judge us according to our deeds if that is His will.   May God’s Kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.  In the name of Jesus who is Savior and Lord of all creation, Amen!”


Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

Below is a couple of points from my sermon this coming Sunday.  I needed to acknowledge how the teaching of Jesus in John 15 and 16 fit with tragedy that occurred last Sunday.

"The tragedy in Orlando last week is clear evidence as to why the world hates Christians for as Christians we can condemn the mass killing of people by the actions of a lone gunman or a group of terrorists and we can also condemn sodomy while our culture tells us to that to do so is to side with the terrorists.  But our culture is folding in on itself when it tries to embrace Islam as a peaceful religion and embrace the homosexual lifestyle as normal for the reality is that the former has already condemned the latter and that will not change.  And the Christian faith stands back away from it all and says that all need to repent and come to cross and find forgiveness.  The culture hates that because it wants all sexual behavior to be normalized and it wants all religions, except Christianity, to get along.  And when these things do not happen the devil convinces the culture that the Christian faith and thus the Christian Church is at fault.  Such was the case when the Roman culture began to crumble and such is the case today as the American culture crumbles."

"Although the teaching of Jesus in John 15 and 16 had immediate and specific application to the Apostles, the same principles apply to Christians of all cultures and all eras.  In our culture and era we experience temptations toward fear as acts of terror occur more frequently and heinously and the media intensifies its coverage of said acts from every possible angle of blame they can come up with.  These two ingredients can make it seem as though the world is crumbling around us.   Thus we are tempted to shut our doors and windows and stay home hoping that the world does not come into our lives.  But that is not what the Apostles did.  They went out and they spoke up.  And that is what Jesus has told all of his followers to do.  Did you notice that in the descriptions I gave of the Apostle’s who were martyred that many of them were martyred outside of Jerusalem having traveled as far East as India and as far West as Europe.  They did so knowing these words Jesus spoke to them.  The world would hate them, persecute them and kill them.  Beloved we should not need the guilt of Jesus walking past us out of our homes into the world why we are going into our homes to shut our doors and windows so that the dangers in the world cannot reach us."

"Yes, the world can be a dangerous and scary place because there are evil people who have made themselves tools of the devil.  Yes, when we speak the truth of the gospel in that same world we make ourselves a target of evil people.  But St. Paul’s words “To die is gain and to live is Christ” are to ring true to us if we call ourselves 'Christian.'" 

Monday, April 18, 2016

If you must choose, choose rationalism

The article linked is, from my viewpoint, a most important article especially for young adults.  Scientism has been used by the devil to give justified rejection of the Christian faith again and again.  The devil has dipped our culture into an empirical slough and we swim in it.  A scientific study comes out from a real scientist who has a real degree and has a real grant and it says such and such about this moral issue or that moral issue and all minds are changed because the real scientist and his real study say so.  Take another look.