Friday, June 29, 2007

Are You Afraid of Silence?


My friend Adam over at Asking Y writes,

"When I first started working in ministry the whole “contemporary worship” thing was a big issue. I remember talking with a music minister that was in the middle of reading a book on contemporary worship; he explained to me that for a service to be contemporary there should be no down time; not more than 5 seconds of silence.

This is a sad idea.

The other day I stumbled upon Habakkuk 2:20 which says “But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.” This verse hit me in the face when I read it and has continued to beat on my consciousness ever since. I am struggling with questions like: what does it mean to “keep silence before Him”? Do I ever have silence in my life? Do I embrace silence or run from it? Is silence before God an integral part of my relationship with Him or something that I drown out with continuous noise? Why am I afraid of the silence?"

I find it very revealing that our goal nowadays seems to be to create a "traditional" service or a "contemporary" service. What ever happened to leading people into God's presence. Where did Jesus get to anyway? See Johnny's three posts earlier this week on this topic.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Can a Christian sin habitually? Part 7

WHAT IS GNOSTICISM?


In spite of the idea we often get from our reading, there really is no ubiquitous definition for gnosticism, neither is there or has there ever been an organized movement known as gnosticism.* This teaching does, however, seem to have appeared around the time of the formation of the New Testament books, with various groups coming to similar conclusions on the nature of God, Jesus in His incarnation, the "evil" material world, including the human body, sin and its consequences, the Resurrection and how one can be "saved."

The similarities occurring between the various movements around the land of the Bible and on into Egypt without their having conferred with one another can be attributed only to Satan. Gnosticism is an outstanding example of what the Word of God declares to be the teaching of the "antichrist." The obvious existence of the "spirit of antichrist" cannot be missed or dismissed.


According to The Oxford Companion to the Bible. Bruce Metzger and Michael D. Coogan, editors, p.255; The Bible Almanac. J. I. Packer-Merrill C. Tenney-William White, Jr. pp.536-537; The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Craig S. Keener. pp.737, 825; *Church History in Plain Language. Bruce Shelley. pp.66, 94; Eerdman's Handbook to the Bible. pp.498, 640; Christianity Through the Centuries. Cairns. p.68; The MacArthur Study Bible. p.1961-63; The Expositor's Bible Commentary. Frank E. Gabelein, ediort. Vol.12, pp.293-296, Glenn W. Barker; The New International Commentary of the New Testament. The Epistles of John. J. Howard Marshall; *Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Walter A. Elwell, editor; various sites one can google, an "incipient form of gnosticism" was likely a motivating force behind John's apologetics. And we can identify from history and the gathering in of much extant information from the various gnostic groups a basic understanding of their heresies.
*These two works provide outstanding insights and information on gnosticism.


And being that there is definitive internal evidence within John's epistles on the existence of gnostic influence in John's day, and based on the massive amount of gnostic writings that did arise during the time of the writing of the New Testament, I will safely assume that this was indeed his purpose; to destroy the damning error of the gnostic antichrists that was threatening the body of Christ (and is having a revival in the 21st century). By googling "gnostics" one can find many entries, some of which will direct you to a site that describes itself as modern-day gnostics, e.g., "The Gnostics." They are, of course, still around. And as long as Satan and the "spirit of antichrist" roams the earth, they will be.


Gnosticism is the umbrella term under which the ancient heresies of docetism and dualism dwelt and flourished (more about them later); they are the spawns of gnosticism. Gnosticism was and is the belief that there is a "higher knowledge" that one can attain if one were properly enlightened. Salvation belonged only to those who reached this enlightenment. Salvation is achieved through this esoteric knowledge.

"Gnosticism" comes from the Greek word "gnosis," meaning "knowledge," and the term gnostic is a designation that was assigned to this philosophy by scholars years after the concept had arisen. The so-called movement was designated gnosticism due to its love and exaltation of knowledge. To learn more about the origins of gnosticism and the church fathers who fought it refer to one of the excellent sources listed above.

THE BASIC TENETS OF GNOSTICISM

The gnostic school of thought taught that since God is holy He could not have had anything to do with the creation of this universe which is so totally evil, including man. Therefore, they conceived of special "emanations" emanating from holy God who did His "dirty work," creation. These emanations were given the name "demiurges." It was the general concensus of the scattered about school of gnosticism that it being so that holy, transcendant God could not be involved with evil material things such as man, Jesus Christ could not possibly have been a real flesh and blood man, on the one hand, or truly God on the other, and so only appeared to be human; this is antichrist full-blown. And in conjunction with this heresy was the gnostic teaching that Jesus was definitely not the Son of God. (This is the teaching of Islam, by the way).


The basic tenet of gnosticism concerning man is where we are introduced to the idea of man's only hope of salvation; enlightenment (the understanding of the gnostics, their worldview, their theology, their philosophy was this "higher knowledge" that they spoke of). This "esoteric salvation" saved only half of the man, however, since the material body was evil and could not be saved. The "inner man" as he is referred to both in the Word of God and by the antichrist gnostics, became a totally different kind of inner man for the gnostic than what we find in the writings of Paul and John. This "false dichotomy" is consistent with the whole of gnosticism with its spawns, dualism and docetism.


The inner man of the gnostic system of thought and theology was a "spirit being" (or sometimes referred to as the "light-man"), unrelated to either God the Father or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the outward man that imprisoned him. Freedom would only come to the gnostic's inner man upon death. Neither the inner man nor the mortal body had any communion with the holy transcendant God, the Holy Spirit or the Son of God. Only through the emanations, the Creator-demiurges, could the gnostic concept of man have a relationship with any deity.

Logically flowing from this trash heap came the notion that since God had nothing to do with the material, mortal flesh and blood body, sin was irrelevant and inconsequential; sin as you will and as you must, it is not really sin. And in the thinking of the gnostic, God, in order to get to the inner man would first have to go through the outer man. And that was not going to happen. Again, this is almost identical to Islam and Mohammed's teaching on its false god.

This "dualism" in man, the false dichotomy, and the transcendant holy god of the gnostics invention "could not intermingle, Christ and God could not have united in the person of Jesus." Therefore, Christ, God, the Holy Spirit and the sinner could not be reconciled through Christ's body or any body; Christ ultimately served no purpose. It was only for the specially selected ones, not the "elect" as we have in the Word, but for those who were special due to their having become enlightened, to enter the bliss of a gnostic idea of paradise and so escape the mortal, evil body.

Next: ?

God's Totally Free Grace

John Piper on God's totally free grace from today's webcast:

"Since all of God's choosing is by grace alone, on the basis of nothing I've ever done, nothing I am, nothing I'm thinking, nothing I'm willing, nothing in me, or anything I've ever been or ever done; since grace is totally free I can never give God any reason or argument that I should be excluded."

Whatever happened to Jesus? Part 3: Conclusion (Revised and Corrected)




THE WORD THAT FLOWS FROM THE HEAD

God in His wisdom ordained the church as a whole and as a local assembly to be conducted in an orderly and Biblical fashion (I Cor.14:33). The conduct of the local church is not left to the imaginations of the deacons, the pastors, or the ones who occupy the pews week after week; He has left the conducting of the church to His Son and His Word and His ordained servants of His Word. There is a better way of "doing church" than the way we have been doing it. We are gathering building material for building on His holy foundation that is destined to be burned on the Day of Judgment; wood, hay and stubble (3:9-15).

There are several essential ingredients provided us by the Trinity that are logically and spiritually inextricably linked to the God-kind of success that we should be praying for in our own local assemblies. This is the word that flows from the Head.

FIRST: THE MEN OF GOD

For any local assembly to be what God wants it to be and has called it to be, there must be a God-called pastor, or pastors, and God-called elders/deacons. The qualifications for these offices are clearly laid out for the church in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But to be quite frank with you, these are largely ignored. Instead we look at the pastor's degrees (or not. Some churches pride themselves on their pastors not having an education, "he just preaches from his heart. He don't never use no notes or nothin'"), age, likableness, and pulpit abilities, none of which are found in the biblical qualification passages. "Pulpit abilities? These are included, aren't they?" No, they are not. His ability to faithfully preach the Word of God must be separated from the on-going notion that he must be entertaining in the pulpit; Jimmy Swaggart is entertaining and so is Joel Osteen (for some, he makes me physically sick), and, wow! Do I need to mention Benny Hinn?. *See II Cor.10:10.

THE CALL

There is within the God-called pastor (I will for the sake of brevity limit my description of the man in the pulpit to the word "pastor") the unquenchable desire to communicate the Word of God to the flock of God to whom he has been sent; it is his "calling." Paul's letter to the Ephesians informs the church that there are specific ministry gifts given to the church in order to equip the church to do the work of the ministry, apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers (4:11-13). With the gift comes a notion that we describe rightly as the "calling." And with this calling comes the desire. And not a simple "desire," but a burning-in-the-bosom kind of desire (Phil.2:13; I Cor.9:16-18; Rom.1:10-15).

This is the man you want to be your pastor. His labor is often strenuous as he digs into the Word of Truth, laboring diligently that he might rightly divide it, giving evidence that he is indeed the God-called pastor that your church needs so desperately (II Tim.2:15). The God-called pastor will be a student of the Word, a disciple of the Word, knowing God's Word as we say, "like the back of his hand;" if he is not and does not, then do not call him. The written Word of God is as much an essential in the life of your pastor as is his salvation.

When Jesus Christ is acknowledged as Head of His Church, the local church led by the godly men on its "pastor search committee," will want to know first of prospective pastors, "Do you know the Word?" Second, "Can you 'preach the Word?'" This should be settled before the committee begins to examine the man's background. This would also eliminate some from the conversation and save the committee much time.

So many times in my life as a pastor I preached in other churches in the absence of their pastor on Sunday evenings. And too many times I heard members of those churches say,"Our pastor can't preach, but he's a wonderful pastor." Well, bless his heart and find him something else to do. What, dear friends, is God's will for the local church? A "wonderful pastor" who cannot preach?

THE DISMISSAL AND CHRIST'S HEADSHIP IN THE PROCESS

The God-called pastor's life is filled with prayer, Bible study (personal), Bible study (sermon/lesson preparation), family time (essential for the well-being of all), preaching/teaching, some counseling (not many actually have this gift or the proper training), visitation (as required by circumstances and for evangelistic purposes), deacons' meetings, etc., weddings/funerals, and so forth. Many pastors have the extra duties involved with church schools. The God-called pastor is a busy man. But if he is wise, not too busy.

In the midst of his carrying out his priorities feathers get ruffled, feelings get hurt (and seldom do these "feelings" belong to little children), and carnal church members seethe. Folks with visual impairments ("spiritual," that is), see mountains where there are known (our "hallucinogenic" chronic malcontents), and spend their time looking for more mountains and pointing them out to others who have yet to see the mountains. It is amazing how one's perspective of a mole hill changes when one lies on the ground with binoculars, isn't it?

These "chronic malcontents" also have a serious "ear" problem, always wanting a pastor who will scratch them. This ear problem turns into a serious hearing problem; they hear the pastor say things in his sermons he never said. And they also often hear things they "wish" the pastor had said (they hear these things while the pastor is preaching the Word and they aren't paying attention): "Why don't you ever preach on gardening and things we can relate to...like love'?"

And ultimately for most pastors it is this kind of trivial pursuit, making mountains out of mole hills, and spiritual blindness and spiritual deafness on the part of the carnal church members that will bring about his demise as their pastor. Can one blame 1,500 pastors for leaving the ministry...each month? There comes one day that proverbial "straw" that breaks the pastor's back.

On the other hand, as we well know, some pastors are dismissed because that is the right and Biblical thing to do. But irregardless of cause (and there are two sides to every story, two sides to every charge against a pastor), the place of Jesus Christ in this process is essential for the well-being of the local church, its witness in its community, and above all in glorifying God.

And being that Jesus Christ is Head of the church, wouldn't you think that He should lead the disciplinary efforts of the local church? Wouldn't you expect the people of God to pray about their pastor's discipline before applying it? Wouldn't you expect the people of God to go their knees before taking such drastic steps? Wouldn't you expect the people of God to go to His Word for wisdom and guidance as the deciding final factor in their pastor's dismissal? And wouldn't you expect the people of God to go to the man of God to verify or disprove any accusations brought against an elder?

The churches relationship with its God-called pastor is much like a children's game being played out on the ball field during recess; we like to make up the rules as we go along. No one's in charge, this is, after all, just a game we made up to begin with and have been playing here at church since we were kids. Our parents played this game. Their parents played this game. It has always been played this way. And, we have never had anyone tell us what to do or how to play.

Whatever happend to Jesus? Did He not once have a role in every aspect of His church's life? "Should we go ask Him what He thinks about what we're about to do to this pastor?" Ya think! Do we dare pray and seek His face and look into His Word? Why would we want to do that? We've never done it before.

SECOND, THE WORD OF GOD

Last year I bought my first computer and it came with instructions. I followed them and the rest is history. Later, I felt that such a really nice computer needed a really nice "work station," so I bought one. It came with instructions as well and I successfully followed them. Every week when I go to the grocery store I buy some kind of product that comes with instructions. The sealed pack of sharp cheddar cheese tells me how to open it that I might be able to reseal it when I have gotten all I want. My microwave, my coffee-maker, my refrigerator, my stereo, all came with instructions. Next, I hope the folks who make potato chips will put a resealable strip on top of them so that when I open them the bag won't suddenly burst open and chips go flying everywhere. So, if we pay strict attention to the instructions on new appliances and food packages, how is it that we have neglected to pay attention to God's Word when it comes to doing church?

His Word is not an "instruction manual!" It is His Word! If God's Word is reduced to nothing more than an instruction manual, then we can just lay it down beside the other instruction manuals in our shop. It is not a manual that we can choose to ignore until we suddenly have chips flying all over the place. Then, as it is now for most local congregations, it's too late. If we think of God's Word as an instruction manual, maybe we can begin to see why our churches are in the pitiful and ungodly state they are in; nobody's reading it.

If we reduce God's Word to the same level as the instructions on our appliances (and, brethren, if we are honest, we do) then we can understand how man moved to the exalted place that only Christ is ordained to occupy. I do not have to read instruction manuals; God will not care in the least. But I am commanded to "let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly" (Col.3:16). The Word of God is to be the center piece of every gathering.

IN MY HUMBLE OPINION

Do you ever read surveys or opinion polls? I do. And just over the last month George Barna has repeated the results of his findings concerning the place of the Bible in the 21st century American church; it is virtually absent. American Christians are Biblically illiterate. Why? Because we have chosen to be that way. It was a conscientious decision on the part of American church-goers to ignore the precious Word of God in all matters of faith and life. And we wonder why there is such hostility in our congregations toward...well, just about everybody.

THE WORD OF LIFE

It is no less than absolutely essential that we recover and rediscover the Word of God; there can be no church without it, speaking of course, of the local church. A church without the Word of God occupying its necessary place in the life of that church is not a church. It is indeed as simple as that. And when the topic of church discipline comes up, Biblical illiteracy should be at the top of our list. The Biblically illiterate must be confronted for their gross neglect of the Word of God; if they ignore it then, so be it. We must nevertheless, "Preach the Word!"

How in the world can a Biblically illiterate local church be expected to implement church discipline when they don't even know what that is? How would they ever know what Biblical church discipline is?

THUS SAITH THE LORD

Perhaps ministers and laymen alike would pay more heed to the Word of God if they actually believed it to be..."the" Word of God. Perhaps if we could somehow convince them, ministers and laymen alike, that the entire Bible is "thus saith the Lord" they would take it more seriously. And perhaps I'll wake up tomorrow looking like Brad Pitt.

The powerful and very divine phrase "Thus saith the Lord," occurs no less than 425 times in the Old Testament, yet not one time in the New. Why? Perhaps the New Testament isn't the Word of God. But wait! In the God-breathed New Testament there is a phrase that occurs over and over again, 90 times in fact, and that phrase is "it is written." It is written always refers to, can you guess what, the Old Testament Scriptures. Therefore, one can conclude that "it is written" is to the New Testament what "thus saith the Lord" is to the Old. "It is written" is "thus saith the Lord!" And furthermore, every word in the entire Bible is "thus saith the Lord," even those occasional deceitful sayings that were spoken by pagans, demons, and Southern Baptists, and recorded for us that we might know. God had all that is written, written, therefore it is all His Word. *Of course, the Biblically illiterate don't know this; that truth is found in II Tim.3:16-17.

"Then Jesus said to the twelve, 'Do you also want to go away?' But Simon Peter answered Him, 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.'" The "words of life" were recorded for our learning that we might know and do the will of God, for His glory and our good (I Cor.10:11) .

THIRD, THE LIVING MINISTRY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT



These "essential ingredients" are so linked together as to be indistinguishable. The man of God, filled with the Spirit of God, preaching the Word of God to the people of God and to those who are not (all gathered in the same place...on Sunday morning...and at EVERY business meeting).




The Lord Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to every believer (Jn.14:15-18; 15:26; 16:5-15). The apostles carried that promise with them as well (Acts 2:38-39). The promise of the Holy Spirit was a part of the Abrahamic covenant made more sure in and through and by the completed work of that covenant, Jesus Christ (Gal.3:5-9, 14, 16-18; 4:6-7).




The work of the Holy Spirit is to teach, convict, convince, defeat sin in the believer's life, continually work through the process of sanctification in the believer's walk, gift for the ministry in any number of ways as provided for us in His Word (does not include rolling on the floor laughing hysterically after having thrown the Bible on the floor, remember the so-called "laughing ministry" of Rodney Howard Browne?, flailing one's jacket at folks in the auditorium, blowing on them, preaching for gain, etc., etc.). And by far, the greatest ministry of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life is that of planting firmly in place in our hearts God's love (Rom.5:5; I Cor.13; I Thess.4:9).




This is that "first-love" of I Jn.4:19, "We love because He first loved us." The Nestle Aland text omits the word "Him" in this verse where others have "we love Him..." Either way, taking this verse in context (the entire New Testament) it means that God's first-love for us makes it possible for us to love not only Him but others, including the unbelievers who too often hold office in our congregations and make life miserable for the people of God. How else could we possibly love our enemies? This grace, this gift of love is ours by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.





AND FOURTH AND FINALLY, THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE SAINTS


The English word "fellowship" occurs only sixteen times in the Bible. But it is clearly one of the essentials of our faith. And it goes without saying that if one is conducting an inductive Bible study the number of occurrences of a particular word does not by any means mean that those are the only places the topic is addressed, fellowship being an excellent example of that. For instance, Heb.10:25 is plainly talking about fellowship and the church's need of it without using the word fellowship.


The essential nature of fellowship is seen most vividly by the Hebrews verse; fellowship, the "assembling of ourselves together" for worship is something not to be forsaken. The why of its essentiality is seen in its being where we gather to learn the Word of God and how to apply it, share the Lord's table, prepare for life in this world and in this age and for the age to come, find hope, comfort, correction, rebuke, experience genuine Christian love for one another, and to experience intimate and corporate fellowship with the Lord Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit (II Cor.13:14; Acts 2:42; Phil.2:1-4; I Cor. 1:9).


And the common truth that we hold to and in return holds us together is our submission to the Head of the Church, Jesus Christ. And if He is no longer head of our assembly, is it any wonder that our fellowship is a sham?


All that we have and all that we are flows from the Head down through the body. "This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin." If we are right with God, beloved, we are right with one another. If we are right with one another, we are right with God. If not... "He who says he is in the light, and hates his brother, is in darkness until now. He who loves his brother abides in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him."


Christian fellowship is characterized by our love for one another. We are little parts that make up the body of Christ. And when one of us hurts we all hurt. When one of us rejoices, we are all to rejoice. When one mourns, we are all to mourn with him. When one needs, we are to supply. When one has a gift, that one is to use it for God's glory and the body's good (Rom.12:3-13, 15; I Cor.12; 14). This is the will and the Word of the Head of the church. This is the Word that flows from the Head.


THE HEADLESS CHURCH


Is it any wonder that we see so much conflict in the church when we know that we have severed the head from the body? And it being true that God's love flows down to us through His Son, why should we expect other than what we have?


Where is Jesus when we make our least decisions as the body of Christ? Where is Jesus when we choose the color of our next carpet? Or when we finalize our budget for next year? Or when we have to hire a new secretary? Where is the head in all of this?


Where is the Head of the Church when we conduct our business meetings? Do we truly consult with Him first? Or do we merely say a prayer adding His name to the end? Where is the Head of the Church when we need godly counsel and God's wisdom in handling trouble-makers and dissent and divisive people? Or when a brother or sister has been caught up in some sin and we want to condemn them to hell? Where is the Head of the Church when we need to trim the budget? Do we take some money out of missions or the benevolence fund? Where is the Head of the church when we are looking at Sunday School material or VBS material? The 21st century church had better declare itself on these issues, especially as we see the Day approaching.


Whatever happened to Jesus anyway? Didn't we use to have Him here with us at one time?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Book Sale at Desiring God

All of John Piper's books will be only $5 (online only) this week on June 27 and 28. Get you some good books or buy some to give away!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

10 Characteristics of Being a Missional Christian

Bob Pratico from Sojourn Church in Huntsville Alabama offers the following (the post is a couple of months old) guideline to determine if you are in fact Missional in your Christian walk:

1) A significant number of your friends are unbelievers. (Unbelievers like to spend time with you. Jesus seemed to spend a lot of time with unbelievers in the gospels and they were apparently comfortable with Him for the most part. Jesus was the friend of sinners – Luke 7:34. It was the religious hypocrites that felt threatened and couldn’t stand Him.)

2) Many of your Christian friends are from other denominations and churches. (You’re comfortable with the whole Body of Christ, not just your local part. You value the rich diversity in the Kingdom of God – 1 Cor 12:12-26)

3) You listen more than you talk. (You want to know where people are coming from and where they’re at. You genuinely seek to understand what people are telling you, not merely use it as an opportunity to mentally formulate what you’re going to say next. Jesus always began interacting with anyone by listening. Luke tells us that at age twelve, Jesus was in the temple with the Doctors of the Law, listening to them and asking questions – Luke 2:46. Before he healed people, Jesus listened to their stories of illness, loneliness, and rejection.)

4) You see no distinction between sacred and secular. (Everything you do in life is enthusiastically for the glory of God – 1 Cor 10:31. You live for and look to Christ in everything you do.)

5) You’re painfully aware of how little you really know and how far you have to go. (You never stop learning. You read a lot. You’re not afraid to say, “I don’t know.” The more you learn, the more you realize just how little you really know. Job learned this hard lesson in Job 38:1 through Job 42:3 - read through all 4 chapters!)

6) You take risk – enough so that you sometimes fail. (You like to push the envelope knowing those that never fail, never live to their full potential. You’re more afraid you won’t use your full potential than you are of failure. The words of Jesus in Matthew 25:28 as translated by “The Message” ring for you: ’Take the thousand and give it to the one who risked the most. And get rid of this “play-it-safe” who won’t go out on a limb. Throw him out into utter darkness.’).

7) You have a long-term perspective. (You understand following and serving Jesus is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re in it for the long haul. You realize evangelization takes time; long-term results are more important than short-term trends. You don’t quit. Heb 12:1 exhorts us to “run with perseverance (endurance) the race marked out for us.”)

8) You tune in, not dial out, the culture. (Your unbelieving friends see you as a part of their culture – not outside it. You stay abreast of where the culture is and where’s its heading. You know how to connect with the culture without necessarily embracing it. Christ’s words in 1 Cor 9:19-22 as translated in “The Message” apply: “Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”)

9) You differentiate between essential and nonessential. (You know when to fall on your sword and when not to. Not every battle is climactic; many are small skirmishes best fought with patience and love instead of brute force. In Luke 10:41, Jesus gently reminds Martha that some things are more important than others.)

10) You care for the poor (Your care goes beyond writing a check for a tax deduction. You give, not out of a guilty conscience, but out of loving desire. The wealthy loved Jesus until he started to talk about loving the poor (Luke 18:18-23.) In the gospels, Jesus spent far more time with the poor than with the rich. He exhorts us to give to the poor (Luke 12:33). It’s interesting that Paul records the other apostles only request of him to be that he remember the poor (Gal 2:10)


Update 6-24-07 7:30 PM: My friend Jason adds the following to make sure that your are missional in the biblical sense:

"One guideline I would add that is central to what it means to be truly 'missional' is a heart for the nations, a passion to see all peoples, tribes, and tongues worshipping Christ for eternity. Without this you're not really missional in the biblical sense."

Can a Christian sin habitually?: Part 6

DESIGNED TO GROW UP

When my children were born they could not read or write or do simple math. Obviously something was wrong with them, right? As a matter of fact, they couldn't even talk! I tried to return them but the hospital wouldn't take them back. They kept me for a while, but not the kids. As ridiculous as that is, it is no more ridiculous than Christians who believe that once they became born again they were supposed to walk and talk and think as strongly and as soundly as the mature believer. That is not the way life works nor is it the way our Creator has ordained it to be. We are designed by the Designer to grow in our faith.
*I didn't really take my kids back.


OUR FOOD FOR SPIRITUAL GROWTH


We know the verse by heart, I Pet. 2:2 "as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby." Just as my children did not know anything when they were born, neither do new believers. The problem is and the difference is, new born Christians think they know everything. Paul, in writing to Timothy and instructing him in the qualifications of a "bishop," cautions him against approving a "novice." "Not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil" (I Tim.3:6 [3:1-7]). And to the very questionable Corinthian believers he wrote, "And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able: for you are still carnal" (I Cor.3:1-2). What was the point of Paul's earlier time of teaching the Corinthians he is referring to here? That they might grow thereby.


The Christian's spiritual nourishment is found in the Word of God; in the hearing of it, the reading of it, and the meditating upon it (Rom.10:17; II Tim.3:14-17; 4:1-5; I Tim.4:12-16). Without a working knowledge of the Word of God, progressively reaching to greater depths of understanding as the believer matures, the new Christian will remain as a babe, struggling with even those things that are as we say, "age appropriate." Baby Christians, be they 7 or 70, cannot digest solid food and too often refuse their milk (Heb.5:12-14).


Immature Christians who long ago should have grown up are usually stunted in their growth by choice. I have seen 20 year old believers who far surpassed 40 year old's and 60 year old believers in their maturity and knowledge; maturity and knowledge necessarily go together, or we could say "grow together." If one is knowledgable in the Word of God, loving it, hearing it, reading it, and meditating on it, that one is more likely to be mature than the Christian who can take it or leave it. The immature believer has probably neglected the Word all his or her life as a believer; makes one wonder, doesn't it? Made Paul wonder ("are ye not carnal?").


Grasping the Word of God accurately is hard work, and yet a "babe" developes muscles by practicing diligently at grasping the Word as he or she matures (II Tim.2:16; Heb.5:12-14). The author of Hebrews says so plainly, "But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil." This "of full age" is not referring to one's chronological age. One can find two year old toddlers who have been exercised by their parents and who can walk circles around an under exercised three year old.


WHERE DOES THE BELIEVER ABIDE?


One of the most often misquoted verses in the world comes from John's gospel and chapter 8. Jesus is addressing "those Jews who believed Him" when He says "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free." We like to quote v.32 out of context; everyone does; "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Fred Sanford quoted it, Madonna quoted it, and a thousand preachers quote it out of context freely applying it to anyone and everyone. It is one of the most oft quoted verses of Scripture in Hollywood.


Most of you no doubt see the connection between John 8:31-32 and my preceeding arguments from Scripture concerning the absolute essential of a working knowledge of the Word of God. If one is a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ then His Word is abiding in you. Or, to word it as the Lord worded it, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." One cannot seperate the Word from discipleship or vice versa. And with the Word of the Lord abiding in His disciples and His disciples abiding in His word, something absolutely amazing occurs; we are made "free."


What are we then freed of or from? Look at v.36, "Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed." And of course, that is out of context, is it not? What are we freed from? We are freed from something that goes to the heart of the matter, the sin nature itself. We are freed from the very thing that makes us slaves to sin, our sinful hearts ("hearts" being a synecdoche representing all that we are. See Mt. 15:10-20). We are slaves to sin not because we sin but we sin because we are slaves to sin. This is where the sinner must have freedom; from internals, not externals; the externals for Christ's disciples follow, but only in part. The fulness of our freedom will not be realized until final glorification.


In verse 33 "They answered Him, 'We are Abraham's descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, 'You will be made free'?" Were they right? Was it true that the descendants of Abraham had never been in bondage to anyone? Of course not! Did these Jews not notice the Roman soldiers camping on the Temple steps? Had they forgotten about the captivities their nation had experienced because of their captivity to sin? Were they utterly ignorant of the Scriptures historical references to their idolatry and adultery against Yahweh? Apparently.


It is essential for the spiritual health of the believer that he/she realizes based on the Word of God, that we do sin and we will always sin as long as we are in this mortal body. However, at the same time, there is the "inward man," or the "inner man," if you prefer, who does not sin because he cannot sin because he is "born of God." The inevitability of sin does not free us from the responsibility that sin carries; the inevitability of sin merely glorifies our Father as we rest in His grace and the "rest" (Heb.4:1-16) that is our sabbath, Jesus Christ (the "scandal of grace"). The inevitably of sin does not give us license to sin, me genoito! The mortal body and the inner man live together as God has ordained for His glory. And the redemption of both will not be completed until we are in glory and the resurrection reunites body, soul and spirit.

Peter tells us that "since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God." Amazing, isn't it? Even the suffering of Christ has been imputed to us as though we had suffered for our own sins. Since Christ suffered for us in the flesh and we are in Christ, then we have "ceased from sin." And that Peter is addressing Christians cannot be disputed: "that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God."

The inner man is "he who does not sin because he cannot sin because he is born of God." And Peter filled with the Holy Ghost writes "has ceased from sin" as though it were just a part of what he has always known, rather matter-of-factly. "Has ceased from sin," beloved is perfect tense. "The perfect tense of the verb emphasizes a permanent eternal condition free from sin" (MacArthur, p.1946, Study Bible). And that we are.

The passages we have been examining in First John and II Corinthians (and many others) do not support the idea that First John is teaching that a Christian cannot habitually sin; we can. Sin is inherent in every human being; it is a part of who we are. This is not simply a matter of semantics. We sin because we literally cannot help but sin, yes, even as "borned again Christians." This interpretation of not sinning habitually overlooks the contradiction it creates in the text. Christians sin. The one who cannot sin is the Christian's inner man, else John was seriously confused when he told us not to deny that we sin, that we have sinned, and that we have sin, while telling us later that we do not sin because we cannot sin. We have this sin-free treasure in sinful vessels.

So can a Christian sin habitually? Yes. Can a Christian be addicted to some sin? Yes. Does the habit or the addiction earn that believer an excuse from any culpability? No. Should an addicted Christian be concerned about his addiction? Yes. Should the body of Christ familiar with such a brother be concerned about his questionable behavior and become involved in his life? Yes. Should the addicted believer repent? Yes, a thousand times yes! Should the addicted believer just accept his addiction as something he/she cannot help and get on with life? Absolutely not!Should we trounce on the believer until he ceases his ridiculous by-choice sins? Apparently.

Next: The myths and heresies of Gnostic Dualism: stay tuned! If you think I have gone over the deep end so far, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Is "dichotomy" a four-letter word?

Friday, June 22, 2007

Whatever happened to Jesus? Part 2

The contemporary church could not survive without by-laws; they are necessary in this day of increasing litigations against local churches. Excellent by-laws can cover every thing from how often the grass gets cut to how often the preacher gets a raise to who determines the color of the new carpet. And being that the church operates in a fallen world, by-laws can save the church and its members and staff a lot of heartaches. One thing by-laws cannot do and certainly were never intended to do is save souls and make people be nice; even God can't do the latter. There are Biblical principles at work within the body of Christ, however, that can make church life more tolerable than it often is.


JESUS CHRIST: THE HEAD OF HIS CHURCH

The first principle and by far the most essential for the health of any local congregation is "submission to the headship of Jesus Christ." And by far this is the most often missing element in modern church life. The other "principles" of church life flow from this "head."

THE AUTONOMY OF THE LOCAL CHURCH

Most denominational governing bodies such as synods and presbyteries and associations, recognize the "autonomy of the local church" and can only address concerns and problems within the local congregation in an influential role. Autonomy isn't, however, as good a friend to the local church as we suppose. Anytime man is given free reign over anything one can expect confusion and division. And autonomy has for all practical purposes given man free reign over the local church, supplanting Jesus Christ from His God-ordained place.

The Word of God informs the church that Jesus Christ is indeed the "head of the church." In Paul's letter to the Ephesians he refers to Jesus as "head" three times: 1:22; 4:15; 5:23, in his letter to the Colossians, three times: 1:18; 2:10, 19. The implications in these brief passages can only be missed by a local church that loves its autonomy more than its head. The implication being that "head" is synonymous with "Lord."

Recently a Southern Baptist church in Charlotte, N.C., Sardis Baptist Church, demonstrated the love of autonomy over the love of the head of the church when it voted to leave the Southern Baptist Convention in order to be a "gay friendly" church. The pastor cited the autonomy of the local church as a key player in their decision; "no one can tell us what to do." And as I wrote in a blog addressing that church and pastor, he is right, no one can tell them what to do; not even God. "Autonomy rules!"

The word "head" is no mysterious word with some special deep meaning in the Greek language; it means exactly what we think it means; Christ is in charge of His church. He is the reigning authority in the lives of His people when they are alone and when they have gathered in one assembly to worship corporately. He is "the Man" (I Tim.2:5). The inspired apostle in Ephesians chapter 1 expands the Lord's headship to cover "all things," not just the church (v.22). So if the local church has forgotten its Head, what does that say about the individuals within that local assembly? You can be assured that where Christ is not head of the church neither will He be head of the individual in that church.

THE BLOOD-BOUGHT CHURCH

Jesus Christ did not stumble across the opportunity to become head of the church; this was planned, foreknown, ordained, predestined and set in stone before the foundation of the world (Isa.46:10ff; Eph.1:4-6; II Tim.1:9; Rev.1:4-8). And the church did not become His at no cost; He did not simply apply for the headship; it cost Him.

When the apostle Paul was in Miletus on one of his missionary journeys, he called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to bid them farewell, knowing that he would never see them again. Among the many truths he gave them were these, "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which he purchased with His own blood" (Acts 20:28). This church "which He purchased with His own blood" is His body over which He is head. And His body consists of all saints from all times, past, present, and future. So when we read that "He purchased" the "church of God with His own blood," we can and must understand that every individual within the true church has been purchased by that blood. We are that "flock."

HIS PRESENT AND ORDAINED AUTHORITY IN HIS CHURCH

Now we must ask ourselves as "purchased ones," to whom did the head of the church leave the oversight of the church, the flock? The "elders," what we usually refer to as "pastors." Did the Lord Jesus Christ, "God" (Acts 20:28), leave His blood-bought body to the flock in general? Did the Lord Jesus Christ leave His blood-bought church at the mercy of an "autonomous local church?" Did He ever tell His overseers that they may do as they wish? Did the Lord Jesus Christ, the head of the church, leave the church to make up the rules as it goes along? Some think so.

In His building His church, the Lord Jesus has ordained that His servants, the God-called and God-gifted men whom He has called to be elders/bishops/pastors/deacons/teachers/evangelists, be the ones to "feed My sheep." As the "Good Shepherd" He has ordained and appointed certain ones in every age and every local assembly to pastor His flock. And He has not left us alone to do His work for He has not left us...period. Neither has He left us without instruction.

Next: The Word that flows from the Head

Richard Baxter Gives Me a Whoopin'


I just began reading Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. As I am now working as a church planter I can't think of a more timely book. It's hard to read the first ten pages and not question your own salvation. In fact, this is Baxter's intent. He could think of nothing worse than men standing in pulpits calling for people to be saved who had never experienced God's saving grace in their own hearts. Here are a couple of excerpts from Baxter:


"See that the work of saving grace be thoroughly wrought in your own souls. Take heed to yourselves, lest you be void of that saving grace of God which you offer to others, and be strangers to the effectual working of that gospel which you preach; and lest, while you proclaim to the world the necessity of a Saviour, your own hearts should neglect him, and you should miss of an interest in him and his saving benefits. Take heed to yourselves, lest you perish, while you call upon others to take heed of perishing; and lest you famine yourselves while you prepare food for them."


"Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others. If you did this for your own sakes, it would not be lost labour; but I am speaking to you upon the public account, that you would do it for the sake of the Church, when your minds are in a holy, heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers, and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God: that which is most on your hearts, is like to be most in their ears."

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Whatever happened to Jesus? Part 1


Last night I attended a very important and significant meeting at my church where the "family" gathered to discuss the recent resignation of our pastor. It was a "q and a" time and was conducted for the most part very civily. There were three or four hateful remarks made, one of them receiving a round of applause, but other than that the meeting was encouraging. The hate-filled folks who said some very ugly things reminded me of why I resigned as a pastor and haven't looked back. In the minds of these hate-filled church attenders their concerns are legitimate, I guess, if hate-filled church folk can have any legitimate concerns. The faces of these people reflected a deep bitterness that has never been removed nor touched by the grace and love of our heavenly Father. And if that sounds too judgmental, so be it.

The only reason I didn't get up and walk out and say "to ---- with it," was because of several younger Christians who came to the mic and addressed the spiritual condition of our congregation. After two and a half hours of listening to pastor-bashing and an exaggerated concern over money more than the spiritual welfare of our brethren, I came away saying to myself, "It's worth the fight." The young men and women who brought us back to the true purpose of a church made the difference for me.

Our congregation is no different than 98% of the churches in America; we are very man-centered, apostate in some cases.

I personally do not believe the reason our pastor gave for his resignation during his resignation speech on June 3. Woven throughout that speech were hints of the strong resistance he has encountered along with his family from a small faction within our church. Listening to him was painful, not only because I love the man so much, but because his words brought back painful memories shared by yours truly and a million other pastors who have resigned under the same pressure. Yes, his remaining on as our pastor may have caused a church split, and he was indeed sincere about that possibility and very wise and loving to factor that in as he resigned. But I believed then and I believe now that the "individual" who unmercifully brought charges against him was the proverbial "straw;" pastor had had enough.

The pastor of every church is faced with a constant barrage of problems; some big, some small and trivial. Pastors face temptations just as their flocks do. And I would wager that 90% of his congregation never, ever prays for his spiritual well-being or that of his family. In fact, I seriously doubt that this same 90% ever prays...period! Well, except when they are having lunch after church at Cracker Barrel.

There are no "easy" buttons for a pastor or his flock to push when trying to resolve church conflicts. There is, however, a book available to give us proper guidelines on "how to do church;" that book, are you ready for this? is the Bible, the Word of God.

Summer Solstice and other fun things in the news


SUMMER SOLSTICE: A TIME FOR FLOCKING AND SUCH

Today is June 21, the first day of summer and the day many know as "Summer Solstice." And in southern England today a crowd of about 20,000 is expected to "flock to the countryside to dance, sing and make merry under the sun." This flocking and singing and making merry will take place around those lovely rocks called Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England. "Weeeeeeeeeeeeee, look at me. I'm making merry and flocking and singing. I'm so stupid and so stoned. Where did those big rocks come from?"

Where did those huge rocks come from? Who cares! What I want to know is how did they stand up? And above all, who in the world put that big one on top? Aliens, no doubt (no, not Latinos), the kind from Mars.

I'LL TAKE THE NEXT SHUTTLE, THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

The crew of the space shuttle Atlantis was informed by those space ship engineers on earth that the shuttle is "safe enough" for its return to earth. Don't worry about that little "heat shield" problem, Houston. Larry "Buck" Rogers, space ship commander on the ground in Houston and rocket scientist extraordnaire (and part-time brain surgeon), said he felt completely comfortable with telling the astronauts who are hundreds of miles above the earth that they probably will not disintegrate as they hit the earth's atmosphere on their attempted return. Houston, you have a problem.

I'LL SLEEP BETTER TONIGHT

As a veteran of the U.S. Army I can vouch for the wonderful training the Army receives during basic training and AIT (that's Advanced Individual Training for you civilians). We were trained on the M14, the M60, the M79 and the standard Colt 45 (the pistol, not the...well, yes the beer too. I guess they ran out of "m's" when they got to the 45). And in today's news in a little itty bitty paragraph we see where two of America's best, two armed security guards at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington had a little fuss and shot at each other 10 times never hitting anything including each other, the result of excellent weapons training. "Remember, security dudes, 'squeeze' the trigger, don't jerk it." This is reminiscent of the scene in "Naked Gun" where the cop is shooting it out with a bad guy who turns out was only about three feet from him.
STONEHENGE AGAIN

Scientists types have been trying to figure out what Stonehenge is for hundreds of years and how those big rocks got there. I have a theory that is as good as any. Somewhere between 3,000 B.C. and 1,600 B.C. an early Englishman farmer wanted to build a shed to keep his stuff in, you know, his lawn tractor, trailer, wheel, mother-in-law, and had his neighbors help him move these huge rocks he had stumbled across into this field. Well, that's pretty much my theory. After several of his neanderthal buddies died or were otherwise incapicitated from lifting and sliding those stones, he decided it was a bad idea and never finished it.

NEXT: THOSE BIG UGLY FACES ON EASTER ISLAND: MY PERSONAL THEORY

Can a Christian sin habitually?: Part 5

GLORIFICATION: THE "NOW" AND THE "NOT YET"


It may surprise unbelievers that Christians are not perfect nor are they supposed to be; as a matter of fact, that might surprise some Christians. I still like the bumpsticker that says "Christians aren't perfect...just forgiven." Apparently not many people read it and heed it. No, this is not a bumpersticker kind of theology that says it's okay for a Christian to sin; it merely tells the truth, the truth of God's grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. Peter says it plainly in his second epistle but all the New Testament epistles remind us that we have our part in this blessed process called sanctification; Peter tells believers to "add to your faith."


But there will come a time when the believer finally realizes his/her wish for complete and final deliverance from sin and all its ugliness that our mortal bodies continue to emit.


We theologians often speak of the work of God in the believer as being three-fold, "justification, sanctification, and glorification." And yes, I are a theologian. And we rightly emphasize that all three are the work of God. The three-fold works come in a single unit we call salvation. The first, justification, is the only one of the three that is exclusively a "one time" work; sanctification and glorification begin at justification or salvation and continue as a process throughout the believer's life. Out of the three, only justification and glorification will remain in our glorified state in the presence of our Lord. Sanctification is a necessity for the believer while in this mortal flesh and on this temporal sod; it will be completed in our glorification.



THE GLORY NOW



The Lord Jesus prayed for us in what we know as His "high priestly prayer" found in John's gospel, chapter 17. In this prayer the word "glory" in various forms occurs 8 times, the glory of God and the Lord Jesus being primary. However, we, Christ's disciples, are included even in the glory that is God's. Verses 9-10"I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them." Verse 22 and v. 24, "And the glory which You gave Me I have given them...that they may behold My glory which You have given Me." This is one of the most glorious passages in the Word of God (no pun intended), that the glorious Lord Jesus Christ would give to His disciples His glory. This motley crue of fishermen and a tax collector certainly didn't deserve His marvelous gift of glory, but it has nothing to do with deserving, does it?



The intention of the Holy Spirit in providing us with this passage of holy scripture was that we might apply it to ourselves as well as to the original disciples (II Tim.3:16-17). That we can indeed apply this gift of glory to ourselves is borne out in vv. 20 and 21: "I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their words; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me." This is almost too wonderful to read, much less believe.



In Jesus' words in v.22, we find a very important verb in a very important and significant tense in the Greek text, "I have given." This is one word in the Greek text, a single verb, dedoka (please forgive the transliteration). The verb is perfect active indicative and means that Jesus is the one who has given us a gift (active voice, Jesus acted) at one time in our history (indicative mood, the mood of reality) that is still ours today (perfect tense). The very significant perfect tense means that something that occured in our past is still in affect today. This glory once given can never be rescinded. Beloved, "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Rom. 11:29).



This "glory" that is ours and always will be ours means that we now possess or are possessed by the "manifestation" of the holiness of God, and His love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace. Glory is a manifestation that honors God. As God is glorified in Jesus Christ, those in Christ glorify Him as well.



Do you recall what was lost in the fall, that thing that we "fall short of?" Paul tells us in Rom. 3:23 that we "have all sinned and fall short of" what? God's glory! But no longer does the believer fall short of God's glory. In Christ and only through Christ is that glory restored.



There was a great "mystery" veiled during the time of the Old Testament saints (I Pet. 1:10-12) that was not to be unveiled until the work of Christ was finished. That mystery included the salvation of yours truly and every Gentile who has and ever will come to faith in Christ. "The mystery which has been hidden from ages and from generations, but now has been revealed to His saints. To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:24-29 for context). This is where the glory lost has been regained among God's fallen creatures. This is a "now" kind of glory, ours most assuredly through Christ who is indeed "in you." The glory has been restored.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Mountains and Mole Hills

One of the most irritable aspects of being a pastor for yours truly was dealing with folks who constantly made mountains out of mole hills. A church member gets the flu and the pastor doesn't immediately run over and give her a comforting hug, thinking two things, this could be risky for his own health, and number two, so...she's got the flu; it's just the flu. But she gets all bent out of shape and calls sister so-'n-so and the next thing you know the pastor is a lazy bum and doesn't love his flock and was probably visiting widow what's her name who is still young and attractive and rich; you know how them preacher's are.

Or the dear sister who came to me one Sunday morning just when I was about to go into the sanctuary and preach with the horrible news (see picture on left) that the glass display case needed to be cleaned and some new stuff put on display; "That material has probably been there for twenty years." Her seriousness made me lean toward the stupid display case seriously thinking that I had better correct that situation immediately. But I caught myself, straightened up and suggested that she change it; she never did. The picture on the left is what I imagine her looking like as she told her friends how I had mistreated her.

Sore, aching muscles, arthritis, common colds, ankle sprains, the order of service, the "new" music, the antique communion set that has been cleaned in twenty years, etc., suddenly become equal to cancer and Alzheimer's. A perceived slight on the part of the pastor becomes tantamount to teaching that Jesus really was the illegitimate son of a Roman soldier. Remember the old humorous gospel song, "Excuses, Excuses?" This song was so "spot on" that every pastor would do well to listen to it.

People give every excuse under the sun for leaving church; "he didn't even shake my hand," the song says of one member about the pastor. We all at times make mountains out of molehills; mole hills being the minute, ultra-insignificant things that irritate the easily irritated.

I could not avoid the mountain-out-of-molehill-makers in my congregation but to a certain extent I did learn how to be a "mountain-out-of-molehills-maker-mover." These folks had to be treated like babies, responded to gently and lovingly, handled with "kidgloves." Not a bad way to treat any member but a great deal of exaggeration and patience was necessary with these particular sheep. I did feel at times that I was a baby-sitter for these people. And I must add that there were times when I didn't handle them very well. I also realized quickly that these people can be time consuming and time wasters for any pastor. As a new pastor I was often frustrated by the onslaught of mole hills, never having had to deal with such nonsense before at this level and never expecting such childish behavior from adult Christians, some in their 70's and 80's. I was turning into "one of them," I was enabling them in their transforming mole hills.

What does a God-called pastor do when he faces the "mountain makers" in his church? I have a few suggestions that might help, using the word "might" intentionally.

First, you, the man of God, must discern quickly if a concern presented is a mountain or a mole hill. "Mole hill moments" usually occur without any prior notice. Someone walks up to you and out of the blue says something that sends a mild anxiety attack through your soul. You're feeling great about your sermon or Bible study and you see it coming. Sister so-'n-so or deacon what's his name walks toward you with that "preacher you're not gonna believe this" look on their face. If you determine easily and swiftly that this concern is indeed a mole hill then handle it swiftly and easily and forget it.

Pastors tend to let "the little foxes" spoil their times of productivity. There are, of course, "church matters" that come up unexpectedly that are important enough that there is no question about their seriousness and urgency; yet even these are not "mountains." These matters are simply a part of being a church: budget concerns, broken things, etc. Mole hills, on the other hand, are matters of personal concern to a church member or members that appear to the concerned party serious enough to demand immediate attention by the pastor. The shrubbery needs trimming and is making the church property look horrible. The windows need cleaning in the fellowship hall, "now!". The neighbor's dogs are urinating on our bushes. There is a 2 x 4 in the grass behind the sanctuary. There is a light out in the hallway. These are examples of mole hills that can honestly aggravate some people to no end. It is the way these mountain-makers present their case that gives the mole hill the potential of becoming a mountain.

A church member's demeanor should not, however, determine for the pastor the seriousness and urgency of the problem. Mountain-makers tend to exaggerate, thus they are mountain-makers. For some reason, mountain-makers think that the pastor is the only one who should take care of this matter.

We had a wonderful Wednesday evening service at my first church, well attended by adults, children, and youth. Each Wednesday we served a wonderful meal beginning at 5:30 until 6:15. On the first two evenings we had some complaints that there wasn't enough food for everyone; of course one or two of our mountain-makers got very upset. I get upset also when there is not enough food (at home, church, or in a restaurant) and this bothered me; but it was a "mole hill." The next Wednesday with a word of wisdom from the Lord, after my blessing of the food I announced that the adults would be served first followed by the youth and little ones (with the exception of those little ones accompanied by a parent). The reason for this was because my wife and I had already discussed the fact that the kids were filling up their plates and then eating very little; they wanted to get busy playing. This mole hill was removed.

Mole hills are when people don't like the selection of hymns or the way Mrs. whats-her-name played the anthem this morning or the color of the choir's robes or the preacher's tie. They are when people get so upset because the "quarterly" didn't get distributed on time or the display case needs to be changed or somebody moved the "tract" case from the vestibule to the hallway and those tracts have been there since this church was founded (and the original tracts are still there, bless God). And mole hills are the people in our congregations who have "stepped on my last nerve."

Mountain-makers can approach the pastor as meek little lambs or roaring lions; I have had the pleasure of knowing both as have all pastors. So often the roaring lion is easier to deal with since all their anger has already been vented and the pastor's "soft answer" has tamed the lion or lioness (Pro. 15:1). The meek little lamb is seething inside and just waiting for the top to blow and tell the entire world what an uncaring idiot her pastor is.

A couple of weeks after I started our Wednesday evening service, one of my meek little lambs was eating breakfast at McDonalds when I stopped in for a biscuit and coffee and hashbrowns and a bun. When I sat down after speaking to her and her husband (I sat at another table) she mosied over and sat down almost whispering, "Johnny, don't you think we should go back to the missions meeting on Wednesdays. It was so much better then." The church had traditionally held a "missions" evening once a month which was attended by eight or nine adults and three children. They had a little meal and a video and went home. I asked my meek little lamb, "Do you remember how many people came to the missions meetings?" She said she did. I asked her "Do you know how many people have been coming to our Wednesday evening services to eat and have a Bible study?" She said no. I reported to her (since she never came) that we were already having over seventy people coming to the meal and staying for Bible study for kids, youth, and adults. This was a mole hill that she wanted desperately to make into a mountain. We continued, by the way, with a missions emphasis once a month.

Second, the pastor must decide how to handle this mole hill (and mole hills must be dealt with before they do indeed become for-real mountains). Mole hills are usually matters that can be dealt with on the spot by the seasoned pastor. And mole hills become easier to handle by a pastor who has served his particular congregation for a sufficient amount of time and knows his people (the lions and the little sheep). Should the pastor handle this by himself or should he consult godly people within the church who have known the mountain-maker for a longer time? This is a very sensitive area where the pastor must exercise wisdom lest his seeking help become gossip. And if the mole hill gets this far it is already becoming a mountain. The more people who become involved in the mole hill problem, the quicker the mountain grows. Their is great wisdom in godly counsel but mole hills should be handled by the pastor alone and that right quickly.

Fourth, the man of God must make a decision (sometimes "off the cuff") that will not damage his flock or the mountain maker and will ultimately glorify our Father and edify the church. Ego often gets in the way of the pastor who feels somehow belittled by mountain makers who constantly present the trivial as though it were earth-shattering. "I don't have time for this nonsense!" Ah, but pastor, if it has come to your door you do have the time. And an error on your part in mishandling a mole hill guarantees a mountain looming on your horizon.

Fifth, man of God you must be firm, stand your ground when you recognize the mole hill. Do whatever you do to the glory of God and the good of the church, even if it may turn out that this mountain maker stumbles over the molehill as she leaves your church (and that ain't so bad). And remember, brethren, underneath every mole hill there is a mole.

Sixth, and finally, the God-called pastor must never, never, never, take mole hill moments personally. Yeah, right!

(There was no "Third"). It is the dream of every pastor to have a "mole-free environment" in his church; and it is a dream.

Can You Be Christian and Muslim at the Same Time?

Well, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding of the Episcopal Church says you can and in fact says that she is. Al Mohler has an eye opening commentary on this story. Here is an excerpt:

"Well, at least the question is right -- How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim. The simple and profoundly obvious answer is that one cannot be both a Christian and a Muslim, at least not until you completely redefine what it means to be both Christian and Muslim."

Mohler continues,

"The real shame in all this is that Rev. Redding is getting away with this while continuing to be an Episcopal priest in good standing. Adding insult to injury, her bishop, the Rt. Reverend Vincent Warner of Seattle, says that Rev. Redding's declaration that she is both a Christian and a Muslim to be exciting in terms of interfaith understanding. Is there any hope for a church whose bishop considers heresy to be exciting?"

Can a Christian sin habitually?: Part 4

I have already proposed that the "whoever sins" of First John 3:6 is one who has not been justified through faith in Jesus Christ and not a believer who has ceased believing. This is common sense and obvious simply by observing the context. And I have proposed that the "whoever abides in Him" of that same verse is the "new creature in Christ Jesus" of II Cor.5:17-18, also obvious from the context, the one "born of God." If the Christian can sin and the Christian does sin and the Christian cannot deny that he not only sins but that we "have" sin (I Jn. 1:8-10), then the "whoever sins" and does not know God cannot be a believer who has fallen away; that is impossible. To apply this latter "whoever" to one who formerly abided in Christ is to destroy the Biblical concept of "eternal" life; eternal life being defined as everlasting (I forget the author of that quote, sorry). If we have eternal life then it cannot be lost else it would not be called eternal life. Perhaps it would be called "contingent life."

THE WAR BETWEEN THE FLESH AND THE SPIRIT

The spiritual battle that takes place in the daily lives of believers is a well-established fact. Paul's proclamation of absolute trust in Jesus Christ as his savior and source of eternal life in spite of Paul's sinfulness as a believer found in Rom. 7:24-25, is preceded by this war between the worlds, our flesh and our "mind," as Paul puts it. The greatly misunderstood passage in Gal. 5 and v.16 where the apostle speaks of walking in the Spirit or "by" the Spirit is followed by the "flesh" lusting against the "Spirit," the "flesh" being the Christian. And the spiritual armor passage in Eph. 6 declares that our warfare is not against flesh and blood but against spiritualities. When we struggle with temptation and sin within ourselves it is due to this awful battle (I Pet.2:11; Jas. 1:13-16). And through the battle we can see the only hope the believer has, a banner lifted high, rising above the smoke and the stench that says, "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus."


A UNIQUE EPISTLE

The epistle of First John is unique in that it addresses truths in a manner that other epistles do not. For instance, it is only in John's epistles that we find the term "antichrist" (I Jn.2:18, 22; 4:3; II Jn. 7), a popular term among modern day eschatologists. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians refers to this idea but in different terms, e.g., "the man of sin." Second, John is the only author who dares to say that the one "born of God...does not sin and cannot sin" so clearly and matter-of-factly. Paul says this in reverse in Rom. 8:5-9 about the unregenerate who cannot do anything but sin and James certainly appears to many to be as blunt (but is he? Is James a "right strawy epistle?"). Third, John is the only one who provides a test for identifying the antichrist (I Jn.4:1-3). And fourth, John is the only one who addresses the early stages of gnosticism with its particular heretical views of the incarnation, the physical body, and the abominable doctrine that one can sin with impunity.

Church history informs us that the docetists and gnostics were planting their heretical seeds in John's day. George Eldon Ladd in his New Testament Theology wrote, "That John has a good deal to say about sin is undoubtedly due to a gnostic teaching that the one who has been spiritually enlightened may attain a perfection that places him or her beyond temptations and sin. This is the first step toward antinomianism..." (p.662). John MacArthur in his notes in his study Bible says "Because of their philosophical dualism, they viewed matter as inherently bad, and as a result, any sins committed in the physical realm as inconsequential." This historical context is vital in understanding and applying this epistle.

WHAT IS SIN?

John defines sin as "lawlessness" (3:4), and indeed it is. The law of God defines sin and the Holy Spirit by the grace of God through His Word opens our eyes to see that we have not only broken His law but apart from Christ live in a continual state of law-breaking (Jn. 16:8-11; Rom. 3:9-20; 7:7-14; 8:7-9; Eph. 2:1-3). But John goes farther than merely defining sin, he writes to the believers that "whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness." Sin is lawlessness precisely because sin is breaking God's law and offending His holy nature. This is antithetical to the heretical teachings of the antichrists' doctrine of John's day and the doctrine of the sinless-perfectionists of ours. The sinless-perfectionists amazingly continue in sin contrary to anything they may say in protest, boldly denying it; this is the lawlessness of John's epistle.

Remember, beloved Christians, the "whoever" of "whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness" is not addressing you. We all sin but that is not what John is talking about in this very blunt truth. We are "in Christ," the One who fulfilled the law, and in Him in an imputed sort of way, we too have fulfilled the law and are not now living in a perpetual state of law-breaking. The imputed righteousness that every believer has experienced and possesses by God's grace is for all practical purposes a true righteousness, as though we actually were righteous. All my righteousness is in Him and so is yours, that no man might boast of any so-called "self-righteousness" (I Cor. 1:30-31; Eph. 2:8-10; II Cor. 5:21).

OUR LIBERTY AND JOY IN CHRIST

This is the "liberty" we have in Christ. This liberty in Christ liberates us and elevates us to the place of being able "to walk just as He walked" (I Jn.2:3-6). Liberty never liberates for the purpose of freeing one to continue in the bondage to sin that we once knew. The bondage of sin only has the appearance of liberty and is deceitful (Gal. 5:1; Heb. 3:13). And it is this "deceitfulness of sin" that leads many to believe that we can sin with impunity, using our freedom in Christ as a "cloak for vice" (I Pet. 2:16: Gal. 5:13).

We have in our U.S. Constitution an amendment that guarantees the "freedom of the press." That freedom is an essential freedom for any democracy/republic. However, the lawless among us have taken that freedom, that guaranteed freedom of the press, and abused it, using it as a "cloak for vice." Pornography, which is indeed highly addictive, is tauted as freedom of the press when it is clearly abuse of that freedom. Burning the American flag and offensive content on prime time television are also abuses of our freedom of the press and freedom of expression.

Do we dare, beloved, use our liberty in Christ as a cloak for vice? Do we excuse our "addictions" and "habits" as no more than addictions and habits when in fact we have fallen prey to the deceitful of those sins? Beloved, we can do those things as Christians and we too often do. Do not be decieved, however, into convincing yourself that this is acceptable behavior, it's "ok." "Shall we go on sinning that grace may abound?" Does that even make sense for the child of God who is redeemed by the blood of the Lamb? We sin, but we are supposed to hate our sin, not fondly embrace it. We are eternally His and eternally forgiven through Him and by Him and in Him and for Him. That is what we are to take advantage of.

And, beloved, we are absolutely not to live in misery because of our continuing sinfulness. We are forgiven, forever, eternally, right now and always. God our Father loves us just as we are in Christ and is in the wonderful process we know as sanctification daily conforming us into the image of His beloved Son. Confess and move on. After all, "He has given us all things to enjoy" (ITim. 6:17).

David wrote of and pleaded for the "joy of Thy salvation" to be restored unto him. There is joy and great joy in His salvation wrought in us by His blessed Son and Holy Spirit. The word "joy" in its various forms occurs in the Word of God 189 times, the bulk of those occurences in the Old Testament when the Hebrews were in bondage under the law. They failed to recognize the difference, however, between the joy of salvation and the futility of living under the law, a difference we often miss. We believe that if we can just be more obedient we will experience joy or the illusional form of joy, "happiness." The law has its place in revealing God's holiness and our ungodliness; salvation by grace has its place in revealing God's completed work of redemption that brings joy to the redeemed, His beloved.

All of humanity is accountable to its Creator, whether we like it or not. The "whoever" of "whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness" addresses all unbelievers irregardless of their knowing God's laws. Conversely, the "whoever" of "whoever has been born of God does not sin...and he cannot sin," has been made aware of God's law and His righteous judgments upon fallen man by God's grace, being set apart by God's foreknowledge working in the sinner by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit who gives life to the lost that the lost may come to faith in Jesus Christ (II Thess. 2:13-17; Jn. 6:44). This one cannot sin.

Our salvation was not a fluke, an accident of coincidence; it was completed before time began (II Tim.1:9; Rom. 8:28-30; Tit. 1:1-3; Eph. 1:3-6). And in God's plan or "counsel," the matter of the law was dealt with perfectly and justly (Isa. 46:10ff; Eph. 1:7-12).

The Lord Jesus said in Mt. 5:17 that He had come to "fulfill" the law of God, and that He did. That effectively took all who would come to Him out from under the law; if we trust the One who fulfilled the law, then God puts that on our account as though we ourselves had actually fulfilled it. As by man came sin and death into the world with God's foreknowledge, so came life and righteousness into the world by a man, Jesus Christ, by God's foreknowledge (Rom. 5; 8:28-30; I Cor. 15:21-22). And by trusting in the One who fulfilled the law in our place, our Substitute, the God-ordained process of sanctification following justification by grace through faith, effectively assures the redeemed of his/her eternal security, guaranteeing the redeemed and sealing them in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14; 4:30).

Next: glorification; the now and the not yet.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Can a Christian sin habitually? Part 3

Habitual sin in a Christian's life fosters doubt about that Christian's salvation. Not only do those around him see reason for skepticism, but the habitually sinning one should experience grave doubts as well. However, there is a proper Biblical manner in which to address this one who professes to be a brother or sister. If the habitually sinning one professes to have faith in Jesus Christ then the church is to approach him as a believer. Church discipline is called for beginning with those who have witnessed his on-going sinful behavior. If after the initial confrontation is rejected by the offender and the following visit by two or three witnesses and finally by the church, the offender is to be removed from the church, not as an unbeliever but as a believer the church wishes to see restored through repentance (Mt. 18:15-20; I Cor. 5:9-12).

A "habitual offender" within the church is one who professes faith in Jesus Christ while simultaneously practicing a particular sin of some sort. We all have many sins in our lives of one sort or another and in that sense we all live in sin. However, there are those who "practice" some sin such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, stealing, lying, fraud, drunkardness and so forth. Those who practice such things are identified in the Word of God as "fornicators," "idolators," "homosexuals," etc. These the Word of God tells us "will not inherit the kingdom of God." If a brother or sister should be found to be committing such, then we have every right (the God-given authority) to judge them and render the appropriate discipline upon them (I Cor. 5:1-6:10: esp. 5:9-13: see also the "works of the flesh" list in Gal. 5 where we are told once again that those who practice these things will not inherit the kingdom of God).

The habitual offender is considered to be as "leaven" or a "cancer in the body of Christ" that spreads and infects or "leavens" the entire body within a local church. The proper thing to do with such an infection is to forcibly remove it and that right quickly (5:1-8). The analogy of leaven and cancer cannot and must not, however, be taken to the extreme and the offending one left in danger of being overwhelmed in his/her grief, turning them away from the church family (II Cor. 2:5-11; Gal. 6:1-5). When we "deliver such a one to Satan" we must be careful not to play into the hands of Satan through harshness and judgmentalism (II Cor. 2:11).

We are not to assume that a "so-called" brother or sister is going to eternal damnation just because they are practicing sin. The expulsion of such a one just might be the means by which our gracious Redeemer grants repentance (II Tim.2:24-26). Remember that I Cor. 6:9-10 is followed by v.11.

Those who give no evidence of regeneration while attending church are more than likely unregenerate. But as long as they are coming to church we are to discipline them as brethren. And sometimes we have to ask even brethren to leave. There are strong words for "anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner," "put away from yourselves the evil person." Even the regular church attender can be "evil."

Among those professing faith we will always find some whose lives do not reflect outwardly what they profess; were we to look inward we would find that we all fall short. It is very presumptuous to think of ourselves as above anyone and beyond the ability to sin as others sin; we can...and do. The heresy of humanism states that man is basically good and as Boice states the humanistic theology, "God owes everyone a chance to be saved; and that, if we are saved, in the final analysis it is because of our own good decision to receive the Jesus who is offered to us" (Gospel of Grace, p.107; see also any broadcast by Joel Osteen). The believer who sits in judgment of other professing believers and hands down the death penalty to them is guilty of practicing what might be labeled "Christian humanism," believing that they themselves are basically good and fit to condemn the sinners.

Can a Christian be addicted to porn? According to the Word of God, that is not the right question. This question demands a yes or no answer; it demands that someone be condemned as an unbeliever ( assuming that the answer is "no"). The right question, the Biblical question is, how do we come to the aid of this one who professes faith in Jesus Christ? The aid will demand discipline, church discipline, not individual discipline which usually amounts to condemning the guilty party to hell without a trial. The aid will demand that those who are spiritual in the local assembly handle the matter quickly, boldly and without compromising the integrity of either the Word of God or the Church of Christ. The aid will demand that those confronting the offending party do so in love with the goal of restoration ever eminent in their thoughts and prayers as they remove them from the church. Love goes two ways in the case of an habitual offender; we love the offender and want the best for him. And we love the church of Jesus Christ and want God's will for it.

While we were "ungodly" (and sometimes church folk still act so very ungodly) and "enemies" of our God and Father, He reconciled us to Himself through the body of His Son (Rom. 5:6-11; II Cor. 5:18-19). It is through that same body that we are to reconcile the wayward Christian (Gal. 6:1), the unbeliever (we are after all, ambassadors for Christ in a hostile age IICor.5:18-21), the ignorant brethren, the one teaching error (Tit. 1:9-14), the one professing faith in Christ while living in some gross immorality, the cheater, the liar, the fraud, the thief, the gossip, the slanderer, the brethren who occasionally get inebriated, the porn addict, the drug addict who has never been able to completely and finally kick the habit, the one who loses his temper and hits his wife and kids or abuses them verbally, and the list can go on ad infinitum.

To judge one who professes faith in Christ because of any sin in his or her life as an unbeliever, is beyond our ability or capabilities and authority. We "rushed to judgment" in the case of Ted Haggard, including yours truly, because he professes to be a Christian. We are quick to assault any Christian "celebrity" when they sin...and the brother and sister sitting next to us on Sunday morning. Think before you condemn; then you won't condemn. And our harsh judgments of others is no less than condemnation.

The New Testament epistles are written that we might turn from sins that we continue to commit after our justification. We are told to stop stealing and lying and fornicating and to put off the old man, to "give no place to the devil," stop using profanity and cease from "all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking...and all malice. We are told to "no longer be deceived," to not be proud of the gifts God has given us as though we have earned them, not to be divisive and man-centered (I Cor. 1:10-17; 3:1-9, 18-21; 4:7; Eph. 4:17, 22, 25-31). We have to be told these things because if we weren't told we would do them with reckless abandon.

And none of the above has anything to do with the one in First John 3 who does not know God. But this is how we generally interpret that passage.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Can't pass it up; Children from heaven

Here, an expectant father waits for the arrival of his little angel from heaven. Sure beats natural child-birth. Better get those arms out, dad. Sorry, Dr. Mohler.

Ellen Degeneres on Paris Hilton: Great advice!

In her funniest stand-up routine yet, outspoken homosexual activist, comedienne, "chat show hostess," Ellen Degeneres, expressed concern over the impact "dumb" socialite Paris Hilton is having on our society. This is a joke, right?


Degeneres "is concerned for society if it continues to admire self-described 'dumb' socialite Paris Hilton.'" Ellen doubts that Hilton's dumbness was or is an "act." "What does that say about our society that we're celebrating someone who was successful because they're not smart? I just think it is a bad sign and she shouldn't contribute to that." Degeneres hopes that Hilton will come out of jail a better person and "read good books." And isn't that the way most dumb people come out of jail? "Dumb in, dumb out," I always say.

The spiritual blindness that is upon Ellen Degeneres blinds her to her hypocrisy. Which is worse for society? Her bold homosexual "in your face" lifestyle? Or Paris Hilton's pitiable dumbness?

(The hypocrisy that oozes out of Hollywood and the entertainment industry is almost as bad as that which oozes out of the church. Yet Hollywood is more influential than the church. Where do our divorce statistics find their equal? Where do our Christian adulterers and fornicators find their equal? Whom do we know more about? Jesus or Brad Pitt? Can you name the last singers on American Idol and not the Ten Commandments or the twelve apostles? Who are our heroes? Mel Gibson or Richard Wurmbrand? And whom does the church listen to these days? Christian "celebrities." Have you noticed the number of "mega-churches" with "mega-tv's" in their mega-sanctuaries? Why do you think they are there? Because we would rather watch our preachers on tv? And what about those "live bands" advertised in the Yellow Pages and on billboards and banners along our streets and freeways. And what about "wrasslin' matches" in the church featuring the pastor and some has-been pro. Or the "circus," real circuses put on inside the church sanctuaries. So, why not a little bit of "Christian cheating on the spouse" once in a while? Or maybe a little "Christianized porn" as featured on mybrotha.com? Wanna see the "hottest 50 sistas?").


Several years ago Degeneres stood on the platform at the Emmys and told young Americans to come out of the closet and "don't let anyone tell you it's wrong to be gay." In the mind of Degeneres the impact on society by one dumb blonde is worse than her impact on society as an outspoken and licentious homosexual who engages in a lifestyle that can only be described as an abomination.

There is no doubt that Paris Hilton is stupid, but her stupidity does not spread incurable diseases such as AIDS. Her promiscuous lifestyle does encourage her Hiltonesque fans to do likewise as so many Hollywood ho's do. And with the likes of Hilton, Brittney Spears and Bill Clinton around, it is very likely that STD's will continue to devastate the lives of many of our young people who want to emulate them. And no, education is not the answer; regeneration is, then try education.

The soul of mankind is totally depraved which explains why we are drawn to sexual perversions, and greed and envy and lusts and racism and war and murder and cruelty. It also explains why there is such an aversion to holiness within all of us, even "born again" believers in Jesus Christ. The fight against our personal hypocricies sickens the believer who desires holiness in the inner man and seldom finds it there. But our hypocrisy is not a white flag, it is no reason to surrender to those urges inside; it is no reason to give up on our quest for holiness. The world's charge that "the church is full of hypocrites" is true and that charge should cut us to the heart, but not drive us to despair but to repentance and honesty before our God.


Our hypocrisies can drive us to repentance and a life of consistent seeking after a life that is worthy of the calling with which we have been called. We will be inconsistent in this seeking due to the fact that we are inconsistent in all that we do and there will always be a need for turning back to our quest for holiness. Yet consistency in seeking holiness isn't determined by how many times a day or week or month we seek it, but by how we are consistently convicted by the Spirit, the Word, and the church, turning us again to the One who is our consistency. There is a consistent turning from sin due to the fact that we consistently sin and there is consistent conviction by our loving Father. There is an inconsistent seeking of holiness which leads to failure after failure, our seeking being disrupted by our depravity. A consistent seeking comes from an inconsistent believer who never gives up (he/she is consistently seeking consistency and consistently repenting when our consistency consistently fails us) because our Creator and Savior never gives up on us; He is my consistency. I trust in Him and not in my inconsistent consistency.

The negative impact on society that is being realized through Paris Hilton is minimal. The negative impact on society that is being realized through the homosexual "community" is destructive. Degeneres asks what it says about society that we are celebrating someone because they are not smart? What does it say about society that we are celebrating a lifestyle that exalts in its perversions? Does she miss that impact on society in her evaluation of what is good for society?

But the negative impact on society being realized through the hypocrisy of the church is more destructive, being as we deal not in matters of entertainment, but in matters of life and death, in matters with eternal consequences. And if we would judge our own as we are told instead of wagging bony fingers at those outside the church (I Cor. 5:12-13), we might actually find an open and effectual door of ministry...with many adversaries (16:8-9).

So Hollywood is full of its own kind of hypocrites and hypocrisy. But since when did hypocrisy, theirs or ours, ever stop the Lord Jesus Christ from reaching the lost or loving the forgiven hypocrite? As a sign outside a little church said years ago, "If a hypocrite is the only thing standing between you and God, then the hypocrite is closer to God than you are."