Wednesday, August 30, 2006

What's The Difference?

In the August 26th edition of World Magazine is an article by Lynn Vincent titled "A Child Without A Choice". Police and Prosecutors in Hialeah, Florida are investigating an abortion clinic incident as a murder case. On the morning of July 20, an 18-year old girl walked into the A Gyn Diagnostics Center to abort her baby at 23 weeks. While waiting most of the day for the clinic abortionist, Frantz Bazile, to show up, the girl delivered her baby, alive, moving and trying to breathe (she had received medication to dilate her cervix the night before). Clinic worker Belkis Gonzalez then allegedly cut the umbilical cord, stuffed the baby into a bio-hazard bag, and sealed the bag shut. After a tip led police to investigate, they found the baby nine days later, still in the bio-hazard bag, badly decomposed.

Just reading this should make you angry, heartbroken, and furious that we live in a country that tolerates this kind of blatant disregard for human life. About 2/3 of babies born at 23 weeks survive. According to the Born Alive Infant Protection Act, all babies, regardless of gestational age, are legal persons entitled to medical care, and failure to provide is a crime. Police are treating this case as a homicide.

As disturbing as the alleged facts of this article are, I found Deputy Chief Overton's comments at the close of the article an even more sinister indictment of the state of affairs regarding human life in this country. He said, "My investigators are adamant about this case. I'm adamant about it and I think it's a tragedy...that they have this veil of late term abortion...Once the baby was born alive, that changed the whole complexion. They can slaughter anyone they want according to the statues before birth, but not after."

What is the difference between the status of that child's life simply because the baby emerged from it's mothers birth canal prematurely? Had the clinic abortionist showed up to work that morning when the 18 year-old girl arrived at the clinic, this child would have had its life snuffed out inside the womb and this story never would have made the headlines. But since the baby made the six to eight inch plunge down her mother's birth canal, came into the world kicking and gasping for air, now it's considered murder that the clinic worker denied this baby life. What a tragic, gross, irresponsible, horrific justification for what humanity often views as the inconvenience of human life. Scripture tells us that children are a gift from the Lord. They are a reward (Ps 127:3), and yet we live in a culture that squanders the rich blessings of God in the name of choice.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Russ Moore on Billy Graham

This post does bring a little clarity to an otherwise distrubing article.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Peaceful Religion?

Fox News Channel journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig were released early today in Gaza City after being abducted on August 14. An article posted at today reveals that Centanni and Wiig were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint. "We were forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint," Centanni told FOX News. "Don't get me wrong here. I have the highest respect for Islam, and I learned a lot of good things about it, but it was something we felt we had to do because they had the guns, and we didn't know what the hell was going on." Well, I guess that's one way to bring about conversions.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why Is Reformed Theology On The Rise?

The latest edition of Christianity Today's cover article deals with this very issue (which I have yet to read). It is a compelling question, and I am convinced there are many diverse reasons for reformed theology's re-emergence among younger evangelicals. The "dialogue amongst friends" at the Pastor's Conference at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina between Southern Seminary President Al Mohler and Southwestern Seminary President Paige Patterson concerning election and predestination reveals that the "doctrines of grace", particularly Calvinism, is an escalating controversy in Southern Baptist life that cannot be ignored any longer. I say it is a controversy, not because it should be, but simply because it is. The isssues at the heart of reformed theology, the attempt in our systematic to reconcile the sovereignty of God over all things, including salvation, and human responsibility, has been a debated issue for hundreds of years in church history. It is for this reason that some would say it is best to let sleeping dogs lie and not talk about the issue at all. As a matter of fact, the SBC's official statement of faith on the issue of election is intentionaly ambigious. However, the Bible speaks to these issues, and therefore, because it speaks, at times with clarity and at times with veiled mystery, we cannot ignore the issues of election, predestination, foreknowledge, and human responsibility (and the arms of reformed theology reach even broader than these issues) simply because they may disagree with our finite presuppositions about God.

But I digress. What are the reasons that reformed theology is on the rise today? Why is it that a significant percentage of seminary graduates from Southern Baptist institutions have embraced a reformed view of Scripture, keeping the good company of godly men such as Charles Spurgeon, George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, William Carey (the father of the modern mission movement and a Baptist) and more, in light of the fact that a majority of modern Southern Baptist's do not embrace reformed theology (most SBC's are a hybrid version of Calvinism, embracing certain points, while rejecting others in favor a view that preserves the "free will" of man as standing outside the persuasion of God's sovereign purposes)?

Here are a few of my conclusions as to why I think reformed theology is on the rise in the SBC.

1. Reformed theology is on the rise in SBC life in response to easy believism. The facts don't lie. There are more than 16 million Southern Baptists on our church rolls and more than 2/3 of them are unaccounted for. This is much more than circumstantial evidence against rampant easy believism in SB churches; it's the smoking gun.

As a result, I believe many young evangelical Southern Baptist's have grown concerned about the integrity and purity of the church and want a much more biblical picture of: 1) what it means to call people to faith in Jesus; 2) and what is required of those who are willing to confess Him as Lord. It is true that reformed theology puts much more emphasis on God's role in our call to salvation. But on a more practical level, reformed theology also puts much more emphasis on persevering faith as well. It calls us away from a "once-saved-always-saved-it-doesn't-matter-what-you-do-in-life-as-long-as-you-prayed-the-sinner's-prayer-you're-going-to-heaven-when-you-die" mentality.

Far too often in Southern Baptist churches people are called to confess Jesus without ever being challenged to consider the cost of following Jesus (Luke 14:28-33). In an effort to "win the lost", many well-meaning believers have neutered the demands of the Gospel. A consumer mentality in the church has fostered a shallow, cosmetic faith that glosses over the matters of the heart and reduces Christianity to a check-list of good deeds. But the reformers demanded more in calling people to Jesus. They believed that Scripture requires that one deal with their spiritual bankruptcy and poverty before the Lord. They believe that it requires a work of grace to see Jesus, not a slick sales presentation and clever marketing. It is uncommon in many SB churches to hear pastors plea that people be reconciled to God on the basis that they are spiritually dead and deserving of God's wrath. It is far more common that you hear people wooed to Christ on the basis that God has a wonderful plan for their life and wants them to go to heaven. Both are true, meaning that God does have a purpose for our lives (Jer 29:11) and God does desire that we spend eternity with Him (John 14:3). But these reasons are not the primary reasons humanity needs the Gospel. Humanity needs to be reconciled to God and the Gospel requires that men deal with their sin problem by looking to the work and merits of Jesus, confessing Him as Lord, and turning from their sin. Dealing with man's depravity is an uncommon message in a self-esteem, self-help saturated, man-centered world. This message doesn't build large churches in America and I believe that reformed theology is on the rise because our churches are littered with false professions because pastors have handled the Gospel to carelessly in their pursuit the SBC American dream: the Mega Church (and if you doubt this is true study the stastics on the average tenure of pastors and other ministry staff, many of whom are simply trying to climb over the fence to greener pastures). Many younger SBCer's are disillusioned with the pragmatic, insipid evangelical focus in hundreds of SB churches, and this disillusionment has led many of them to seek out the practice and focus of the vintage church in church history, which has led them to the reformers.

2. A second reason for the rise of reformed theology in SBC life is because reformed theology is more consistent with the main biblical theme of God's glory than other theological systems. I realize this sounds like an arrogant statement because it assumes that the reformed lens by which I read Scripture is right. However, if you take a wholistic look at Scripture and God's activity in redemptive history, and if you let the Bible speak without making emotional judgments fueled by man-centered, "I-am-the-center-of-the-universe" presuppositions about God's purpose in the world, you will discover that at the center of God's purpose in redemption is His glory. Humanity certainly benefits as God saves sinners (people like you and me) for His glory, but at the center of God's intervention in humanity's rebellion against their Creator is His desire to magnify His glory.

3. A third reason that I believe that reformed theology is on the rise on the SBC is the conviction that right doctrine inspires a righteous lifestyle (right living and thinking). Since reformed theology is primarily a desire to systematically define our doctrine (what we believe about God), it aids the people of God tremendously in regards to personal holiness in the way we respond to all of life. Over the past 30 plus years many SB churches have been fed "Jesus-light". The initial results were convincing. Growing church attendance. The construction of larger, modern facilities. A relevant presence in the community. But as the culture has grown more skeptical of Christianity, essentially squeezing Christianity out of the marketplace to the point where we've carved out our own "Christian marketplace" and become satisfied to isolate ourselves from the world, our influence and relevance has declined. However, the problem is not the culture's acceptance of Christianity. The problem is that the church has not grown in maturity because they have not been fed solid food (Heb 5:13-14), and the result has been a widespread epidemic of anemic confessions of faith and meaningless membership in the local church. This has led to the emergence of a church culture that looks far too much like Her culture, which is confusing to a perishing world. We are called to be a peculiar people and yet we blend right in.

One of the symptoms that confirms that my suspicions are true is the inability of the common confessing believer to intepret life from a biblical perspective. Most believers have no biblical framework (doctrine) in which to engage cancer or unemployment or rebellious children. Simply observe the way the common person who attends church and tells you they love Jesus in the South responds to the difficulties of life and you will see that they have no framework from which to respond in a way that is pleasing to Jesus. Of course, this is a broad statement and not true of all confessing Christians, but it is true of many.

Reformed theology points people to a sovereign God who is just and good, who reigns over every detail of life, who has set His affections on His sons and daughters from the foundation of the world, and has granted not only their faith, but also their suffering for the sake of Jesus (Phil 1:29), so that they may be "perfect, complete and lacking in nothing" (James 1:4). The Bible reveals to us a God who is stable, unchanging, loving and compassionate. He gives grace to both the righteous and the wicked and desires to see all nations come to repentance. He reigns over all things and even uses evil for good in the lives of those who love Him and are called by Him. This is the God of reformed theology.

4. A fourth and final reason I believe the reformed theology is on the rise in the SBC is because it is in our blood. In 1845 when the SBC was formed, nearly all present were Calvinists. This isn't to say that all Baptists are historically reformed in their theology. They are not. But Southern Baptists were historically reformed and have moved away from reformed theology in the past 100 years. This fact has given hope to those who have been raised Southern Baptist, but not reformed, yet have come to accept the reformed doctrines of grace as Scriptural later in life. There seems to be a nostalgic hope among reformed SBCer's that it's possible to return to "home sweet home".

The reality is that it would be easier for a reformed Southern Baptist to start a new church plant than it will be over the next 10-15 years to be a reformed pastor in a Southern Baptist Church. Though our SBC roots are Calvinistic, our modern SBC churches are predominantly void of any reformed thought. You won't teach the doctrines of grace in a SBC church without taking some shots. But easier is not necessarily what is best for Jesus' church. Most Southern Baptists proudly proclaim that they are a people of the book, and historically this has been our boast, even if it has not always been our practice. It is for this reason that many young SBCer's are choosing to remain Southern Baptist's in hopes that our denomination's love for God's Word will result in healthy dialogue and study of these doctrines, while trusting the Holy Spirit to bring clarity to these issues within the hearts of those who are seeking truth sincerely.

My advice to you if you've been exposed to reformed theology and are trying to make heads or tails of it: 1) Answer your questions and concerns about the systematic of reformed theology with Scripture. Popular authors, both reformed and those not reformed, are always helpful, but spend time in Scripture. Meditate and contemplate what Scripture has to say about election, foreknowledge and predestination, not what your favorite author has to say. Uphold Scripture over people you respect and admire; 2) Pray for insight and guidance from the Holy Spirit; 3) Talk to people you trust who are knowledgable about these issues. Ask their advice about supplemental reading to help you think through these issues; 4) Be patient. Realize that you won't likely come to a biblical opinion about these issues over a couple of weeks or months. As a matter of fact, if you are convinced you have a biblical understanding after only a matter of weeks, you will probably find that you don't understand as much as you've convinced yourself you do. Also, be patient with others with whom you disagree with over the issues of election, foreknowledge and predestination. Don't make this personal. My experience has been that people on both sides of this theological fence love Jesus, want to honor and believe God's Word, and want to see God save the nations. Keep this in focus in your conversations. Remember that the doctrines of grace are only trying to biblically answer why some people come to Christ since we all agree that not everyone will come to Christ; 5) Stay off the internet. There is a lot of garbage and misinformation. Glean information from relaible sources. Google isn't a reliable source. Frankly, neither is Talk to your pastors and other teaching elders more than you read information off your computer screen. Everyone has an agenda when they write and this is why allowing Scripture to speak about these issues is imperative.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Keeping The Heart

I have recently been reading John Flavel's book Keeping the Heart. Flavel was a Puritan who lived in the 1600's. His words are old but enriching. I have this book encouraging, insightful, challenging and convicting. Here a few reasons why Flavel says that the Christian's greatest attention must be fixed on the heart.
  1. "The glory of God is much concerned because heart evils are very provoking evils to the Lord." When you really break down the New Covenant, it is primarily about God's desire and design to address a heart that has gone so bad within humanity because of sin that the only solution to make men right with God through the work and merit of His Son Jesus is to give the people of God a new heart. God's concern, then, is that His daughters and sons would guard and preserve the heart so that we might not be "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb 3:13).
  2. "The sincerity of our profession much depends upon the care we exercise in keeping our hearts." Consider the hypocrisy of Jehu (2Kings 10:28 cf.) He did not walk in God's ways within his heart. Though his work was outwardly good, his heart was not purged from selfish ends. Heart negligence makes our confession of Jesus questionable at best. Aren't we all hypocrites in some way? Yes. But as Flavel says, "There still remains some wildness in the thoughts and fancies of the best to humble them, but if you find a care to prevent them, and opposition against them when they come, and grief and sorrow afterward, you find enough to clear you from the charge of reigning hypocrisy" (p. 26-27).
  3. "The beauty of our conversation arises from the heavenly frame of our spirits." I take this to mean that talking about Jesus is a sign of a healthy heart. We are less inclined to talk about Jesus when sin is entrenched in the heart. Our conscience bears witness against us.
  4. "The comfort of our souls much depends upon the keeping of our hearts; for he that is negligent in attending his own heart, is, ordinarily, a great stranger to assurance, and the comforts following from it." I'll let Flavel provide his own commentary for this point: "A neglected heart is so confused and dark that the little grace which is in it is not ordinarily discernible: the most accurate and laborious Christians sometimes find it difficult to discover the pure and genuine workings of the Spirit in their hearts. How then shall the Christian who is comparatively negligent about heart-work, be ever able to discover grace." I would add: does the negligent person even care to discern God's grace and activity in their lives?
  5. "The improvements of our graces depends on the keeping of our hearts. I have never known grace to thrive in a careless soul." The neglected heart is not only assaulted, but it is given by thoughts that are foolish, vain and tainted with self-interest and self-importance. A neglected heart is like a small leak in an automobile tire. Left unattended eventually the tire will go flat and make it virtually impossible to drive on. The same is true for us spiritually. Neglecting our hearts will leave us flat and useless in the Kingdom of God. Furthermore, it will empty us of spiritual power, joy and any desire to serve God in humility.
  6. "The stability of our souls in the hour of temptation depends upon the care we exercise in keeping our hearts." I think the simplest way to understand this statement is that we are easy prey to temptation and Satan when our hearts are defiled and polluted with sin.

This is just a snapshot of the godly wisdom found within this great piece of literature. I encourage you to pick up a copy at You heart will thank you.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Give Me Some Hupomone

James 1:3 tells us that the testing of our faith produces hupomone (pronounced with a long "e"; hoop-o-mon-e). The ESV translates this word as "steadfastness", which is a good, solid rendering of the word, except for that fact that it is an outdated word in our time. The NIV almost completely strips the word of its intended force by translating it as "patience". This is far too passive of a rendering of the intended meaning of this word. Hupomone is not simply the ability to bear or endure something. It is the ability to endure "various kinds of trials" (James 1:2), you know the unexpected, unwelcome sudden intrusions of life that shake our faith to the core, and turn them, with the help of the Spirit, into greatness and glory. We are told that what amazed the heathen in days of persecution as they executed Christian martyrs was that they did not die grimly. They did not beg for their lives. They embraced flames, two-edged swords and saws with singing. This is biblical steadfastness. It is the ability, by God’s power and grace, to take a trial watch God turn it into an opportunity for His glory to be revealed as we embrace our trials with faith in the reality that Jesus is using it to make us more into His image - even in death.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Billy Graham

I first heard Billy Graham when I was eleven or twelve years old. He led a crusade at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, South Carolina. I don't really recall my impressions of his preaching other than that he was old and hundreds of people rushed the aisles when he beckoned that they come. It wasn't until I was older that I grew to appreciate the sheer magnitude of the ministry that God has entrusted to Billy Graham. Graham has personally preached Jesus to arguably more people on planet earth than any human in history. He is likely the most influential and respected evangelical Protestant living today. This is, perhaps, what makes his latest interview in Newsweek magazine so troubling (

When asked about his belief in the inerrancy of Scripture Graham says the following: "I'm not a literalist in the sense that every single jot and tittle is from the Lord." The interview continues to say this about Graham's views on Scripture: "He has, then, moved from seeing every word of Scripture as literally accurate to believing that parts of the Bible are figurative—a journey that began in 1949, when a friend challenged his belief in inerrancy during a conference in southern California's San Bernardino Mountains."

This is troubling. But more disconcerting is the soft-stance that Graham assumes regarding the exclusivity of Christ for salvation. It is in this context that Graham's new "humility" emerges. Here is an excerpt from the article: "He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: 'Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have.' Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, 'only God knows who is going to be saved.'"

Let me begin by saying that I am out of my league in this argument. This is Billy Graham for crying out loud! I have deep respect for his life-long ministry and what once appeared to bea rock solid commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, if this quote indeed represents the new "humble" view of Graham regarding salvation, it is an irresponsible, negligent view of the teachings of Scripture that neuters the gospel of its power because it pushes the propitiation of Jesus for sinners into the margins of faith and effectively makes the message of the gospel meaningless. It is quite true that only God knows who will be saved, but it is also true that God's salvation will only come through His Son Jesus Christ. "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Tim 2:5).

The exclusivity of Christ is not about God's love for sinners and desire to save them. Graham mistakenly makes this the issue in his non-committal statements about who will enter the Kingdom when he says he doesn't want to speculate about who will inherit eternal life because he believes the love of God is absolute. This isn't an issue of God's love. It is an issue of God's means for salvation. No sincere Christian who has a heart for the nations would question God's desire to redeem Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, secular people or even misguided church people! The exclusivity of Christ isn't about God's love for His creation. It is about how God has intervened in the quandry of sinful man and provided a means for sinners to be reconciled to God.

One last note that came out of the Southern Baptist Convention in June. A bronze statue of Billy Graham will be erected outside of Lifeway this year in honor of his life and ministry. Fantastic. A tribute to someone who doesn't hold to the inerrancy of Scripture and questions the exclusivity of Christ. I hope and pray that this interview doesn't really reflect what Billy Graham believes. I pray that the media has simply distorted and twisted his intended message. I even pray that these are the words of a man struggling with Parkinson's disease leading him to think and say confusing words. But this isn't the first time Graham has made these kind of remarks. I thank God for Graham's faithfulness to proclaim God's Word over the years, but this latest peek into Graham's heart is a cause of concern.

Friday, August 18, 2006

A Serious SBC Mistake

If you love Jesus' church and are Baptist by conviction, you must read this article.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Exit Strategy

A recent study by the Barna Research group indicates that more than 70% of confessing believers will leave the church once they graduate high school. I've also read studies that indicate more than 80% of confessing evangelical teenagers will abandon the church and never return after their first year of college. We live in a Christian culture, that since 1970, has seen the number of youth and student ministry workers increase exponentially, while the percentage of teenage baptisms has steadily decreased at an alarming rate. We have more resources and potential to reach people with the gospel of Jesus, particularly in Western culture, than at any time in history, and yet we are seeing less and less confessions of Jesus among the youngest generations. What gives?

If one is looking for contributing factors, it seems that you would need to look no further than the humanistic, secular influence of our public schools. This isn't to say that parents are not to blame. Parents have been charged by Scripture as the primary spiritual caretakers of their children, and in many cases, even in our churches, parents aren't being godly parents. They aren't valuing Jesus the way they should in their homes. They are more concerned about material possessions, providing their children with a good education without critically evaluating biblically what that might look like, and more concerned about being entertained after a hard day at work than they are about the spiritual health of their child.

However, even the most godly parent must be prepared to face and defend the assault hurled at their children on a daily basis in the halls of our nations public schools. We need to face the facts. Public school children (in particular) are being indoctrinated with a humanistic, sexually deviant, secular, godless, man-centered, sin-glorifying worldview. Every day that they are subjected to education in a government-controlled public school, their soul is corrupted. Now, on some level, this fact is true of everyone who is alive and breathing in our culture. We can't escapt the temptations of this world, nor are we deaf to Her alluring song of deception. But the reality is that public school children are facing a crisis of belief on a daily basis that most children being educated in a solid Christian school or homeschool are not.

This is the reason that Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2005 called for an "exit strategy" from the nation's public schools among confessing evangelical believers, particularly among Southern Baptists ( I must admit that I've long been an advocate of Christians mixing it up in the public school system because I don't beleive we've been called to retreat from our culture. But now that I am a father of two little girls, I'm being forced to evaluate this thought on a much more critical, personal level. One must seriously wage the benefits of calling our children to engage in the frontline battle of engaging the culture for the sake of the Kingdom of Jesus. Even the most serious young, teenage Christian is not yet likely mature enough to engage their evolution-loving, God-demeaning biology teacher in a profitable spiritual conversation in a classroom setting full of their peers. This is to say nothing of the semi-pornographic assault brought on my immodesty in the hallways, the homosexual agenda being taught to children as young as 6-years old in California, the pollution of children's minds through profanity and verbal violence, and the subtle secular agendas that often emerge in the latest teaching curriculums.

Voodie Baucham, a Baptist evangelist believes that the responsibility falls on the church to intervene in the lives of not only our children, but children everywhere in our culture. "The mission field is not just overseas; it is right here. And this mission effort requires a more serious commitment than just handling out tracts or sharing a testimony." He futher elaborates by speaking towards the misplaced priorities of the church and the fact that God will hold us accountable for our children: "No passage in the Bible suggests that God is concerned about our churches having large sanctuaries or elaborately produced music. He will, however, hold us accountable for our stewardship of our children."

I'd say that is something to think and pray about. I'm listening. How about you?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Psalm 51 in Perspective

Those with a biblical church background are familiar with the story. King David is supposed to be off waging war at the time that kings went into battle, but instead he stays behind, lounging around the comfy confines of his palace in Jerusalem. In his idleness, David notices Bathsheba bathing, whom Scripture tells us was "very beautiful". An updated translation would describe Bathsheba as "smokin' hot". David, as most men would be, is captivated by her intoxicating nakedness and resolves in his heart to take her into his bed. He does this even though he is warned by his servant that Bathsheba is not on the market. She's a married woman. After having sex with her, he sends her away and discovers later than she is pregnant with his child.

David then does precisely what most of us do when we are exposed in our sin. We look for ways to negotiate and navigate around our guilt. David is no different. He brings Bathsheba's husband home from war and sets his plan in motion. Liquor up Uriah, hope that a change in scenary from war-torn fields and filthy, exhausted, blood-stained warriors, combined with a heavenly vision of his wife will be enough to entice him into a night of passion and pleasure. If Uriah will sleep with his smokin' hot wife, then David is off the hook, right?

Of course Uriah is much too honorable of a man to indulge in pleasure while his buddies are off at war. Instead of spending the night with his bride, he sleeps at the door of the king's house. He doesn't even go home! David must accelerate his plan and plots to have Uriah sent to the front lines. David signs his death warrant. Once Uriah is dead, David can take Bathsheba as his own wife and his sin will never be exposed.

Exposed he was, by a righteous man named Nathan. Once Nathan is able to bring David's buried guilt to the surface, David's polished exterior crumbles and reveals the stench of his sinful heart. You would think that the appropriate response under the old covenant would have been for David to offer a sacrifice for his sin. After all, this was the duty of the priests. The priests offered daily sacrifices for sins related to ceremonial issues such as food, drink, various washings and regulations for the body (Heb 9:10). Then once a year the high priest made an offering, first for his own sin, and then for the sins of the people (Heb 7:27). But here is the catch. The offering of the high priest, the offering of atonement for sin, was only for "the unintentional sins of the people" (Heb 9:7).

What is an unintentional sin? It is a sin of ignorance. It is a transgression committed without knowing that it is, in fact, a transgression. It's the sin of explaining to the local Barney Fife why you are speeding in a county in a part of the country that your unfamiliar with and unaware of the posted speed limit. The high priest made concessions through a blood sacrifice for these kind of sins.

But David's sin was not a sin of ignorance. It was a premeditated, willful, deliberate act of defiance against the marriage of Bathsheba and Uriah and the will of Yahweh. Was there any hope for David's rebellion? According to Numbers 15:30-31, David's prospects of restoration and forgiveness look bleak. "But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be on him." According to this verse, David's sin will not be removed from him.

This insight is helpful in understanding Psalm 51, one of the most famous psalms in the Scriptures. Psalm 51 is David's plea before God for mercy in the brokenness of his sin. Notice that Psalm 51 is a plea for mercy. Why? Because there is no sufficient sacrifice for the kind of treason David commits against His God. Mercy is the only hope that David has in his high-handed sin. David begins with these words: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to yoru steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! (51:1-2)"

The basis of David's plea for cleansing from his guilt is not his ability to offer sacrifice, but it is a plea in accordance with God's mercy, God acting in love and abundant mercy. We see this more clearly later in the passage. "For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (51:16-17)."

David's only freedom from his guilt and sin would be an act of God's mercy and love, not an act of sacrifice or offering. God desires brokenness and an expression of dependence and need when we are exposed in our sin. God desires that we appeal to Him on the basis of what He can and has done in Jesus, not on the basis of what we think we can offer to make up for our failures.

The rules of engagement have not changed. The only means of forgiveness for man's rebellions against our Creator is through the mercy of God as displayed in the death of the Son of God Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tells us that the blood of Jesus purifies our conscience from self-salvation (Heb 9:14). In other words, the blood of Jesus cleanses our guilt and helps us escape the mistaken notion that we can be righteous enough in our own power to be acceptable to a holy God. Our hope to be free and forgiven, our only hope when we are exposed as the sinners that we are (and we will all one day inevitably be exposed for all to see as we stand before God and give an account for our lives), is an appeal to the mercy of God by faith in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, who gave his life as a ransom so that you and I could be forgiven of all our sin (1John 1:7), the unintentional sins and deliberate acts of defiance as well.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Fresh Words

If you haven't read this post by John Piper regarding speaking to one another rather than about one another you should.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


This morning a conversation prompted quite a bit of thought about the inability of the modern traditional Western church to effectively engage and infiltrate an increasing secular, self-worshiping culture. Admittedly, these aren't foreign musings, but I'm not accustomed to these kind of mental exercises while on vacation. The more I thought about how antiquated the traditional church paradigm is and how bleak the future looks for those unwilling to change and adapt to our culture with a missional mindset, I was overcome with the creeping sensation of hypocrisy. For all of the failings and weaknesses of the traditional church model, for all of Her ineffectiveness, I am guilty of contributing to her impotency in the culture because I often fail to model the initiative and heart for the perishing that is necessary for the church to begin to make head-way in a world that grows increasingly more hostile to the claims of the gospel everyday.

These are weighty thoughts, much too depressing and convicting for a man on vacation. But I couldn't escape them. Mental fatigue set in the more I tried to run from the obvious. The harder I tried to suppress the Spirit's still small voice today, the more His urging gained traction in my heart. And for this I am thankful, for without it I probably wouldn't have noticed John today.

After playing some tennis this evening with Elizabeth and Rick (father-in-law), Liz and I went to the pool to cool off. I noticed an older gentleman seated by himself as I came in, but I made no effort to speak to him. Not even so much as a "hello". After swimming for a few minutes I decided to leave. As I was about to exit the pool the man gathered up his stuff and headed for the exit. We made eye contact and I said "Hello". I wasn't afraid to say "hello" earlier, I just didn't. It became clear very quickly that this man with a weathered, wrinkled face, frizzy hair and an addiction to Doral cigarettes was eager to talk.

His name is John. He lives about 30 miles from Ft. Walton Beach and is here visiting family in town from Texas. He is 62-years old. He is divorced with 10 grandchildren (7 step-grandchildren and 3 natural). John only had two teeth. He mentioned the deaths of loved ones more than 5 times in our conversation, the most recent death being his brother in February. He said that he had himself escaped death 5 times, flatlining 3 times. We weren't long into our conversation when he said, "I'm not sure why I'm still here. I don't know what my purpose is."

Talk about an open door. John and I talked about Jesus. We talked about what is going to happen to him when he dies. He told me, rather matter-of-factly, that God is sovereign and has the right to do whatever He is pleased to do with him. He's done his fair share of good and bad things and he's got no complaints. I was surprised at how non-chalantly he talked about eternity. I shared the gospel with John. He, like most people, believes that entrance into God's kingdom has to do with his ability to earn his way into heaven. At one point in the conversation John told me that his son committed suicide in 1988. He said that he knew that somewhere in the Bible it teaches that those who take their own life will go to hell. He seemed sad when he said it, as you might imagine. I told him that Scripture didn't teach that suicide is the unpardonable sin, but John was pretty convinced. He told me that he had a 5-inch thick KJV Bible in his closet and he's read some of it. I wanted to play the "I-am-a-Pastor-and-study-the-Bible-all-the-time" card to correct his mistaken doctrine of suicide, but I let it go because he was pretty insistent that he was right. Besides, it detracted from the more pressing matter: John's lack of a relationship with Jesus, an issue he was good at evading.

Again, we talked about Jesus being the only way to be in relationship with the Father. We talked about sin and the penalty for our sin. We talked about Jesus' death, burial and resurrection and how through faith and repentance we can be forgiven and adopted as sons and daughters of God by grace. We talked about how salvation is a gift.

John was a fast talker. He liked to talk a lot. I'm surprised I was able to share as much about Jesus as I was because it was hard to get a word in edge wise. But John was open to talking about Jesus, his sin and need for a Savior. I wish I could tell you that John confessed Jesus today by the pool. As far as I know he didn't. But he did ask me if he would see me tomorrow and we did pray together. Maybe if you read this you'll take some time to pray for John as well.

As I walked away I was reminded at how simple it was to talk to John. I was able to engage an unbeliever in a conversation about Jesus because I was: a) willing to initiate conversation; b) looking for ways to move our rather benign conversation into a Christ-focused exchange; c) open to listening more than talking; d) courageous enough to utter the word "Jesus" in the public square; and e) not distracted by my schedule and agenda. I thank God for placing John in my path today and reminding me that there are people all around us who need Jesus. The harvest is plentiful and God will use the willing, even those on vacation, to speak about Jesus and His kingdom if we will just open our eyes, ears and mouths and obey the Spirit's initiation and prompting in our lives.

Did You Know?

Ever wonder where the beautiful pink color comes from in your strawberry Yoplait yogurt? Artificial coloring, right? Well, yes, but what exactly is artificial coloring? When it comes to the pink/red in yogurt, the artificial coloring is actually crushed beetles - specifically female cochineal beetles and their eggs. I bet you won't find "crushed beetles" listed on the ingredients. I knew there was a reason I don't eat yogurt, besides the fact that you are deliberately putting live bacteria in your mouth when you eat it! And I think I may be done eating farm-raised salmon as well. Farm-raised salmon is pink because the farmers make it pink with chemicals. The reason salmon straight from nature is pink is because it feeds on shrimp and other food sources that give it its pink hue. How's that for some gross facts for the day?

Monday, August 07, 2006

Above All Earthly Powers

While on vacation I am reading David Wells' book Above All Earthly Powers. An issue that has concerned me in recent months is the inability of the modern traditional church to effectively engage a secular, mult-ethnic, pluralist, postmodern culture. Several quotes this morning stood out. In the days following September 11, 2001, Wells makes the following diagnosis regarding the Western church:
"This moment of tragedy and evil shone its light on the Church and what we came to see was not a happy sight. For what has become conspicuous by its scarcity, and not least in the evangelical corner of it, is a spiritual gravitas, one which would match the depth of horrendous evil and address issues of such seriousness. Evangelicalism, now much absorbed by the arts and tricks of marketing, is simply not every serious anymore."

The horrors of September 11, 2001 provided the Church an audience and what we gave the world was a silent film. We didn't have anything of substance to say. In the days following 9/11 the Church was able to offer our condolensces and comfort, but we failed, in large part, to offer the culture the words of Life. We failed to address the atrocities of evil. We failed to offer any Christian interpretation or context to the smoldering steel burning on the floors of Manhatten. And we left the hope of the Gospel in our pews.

Wells goes on to talk about the challenges facing the Western Church because of the fall of the Enlightenment and rise of a postmodern ethos, as well as the religious diversity in America. He says:

"The arrival of old, non-Christian religions in America and the emergence of more recent spiritualities that are not religious, and often not institutionalized, are a new circumstance. This means that the relation of Christ to non-Christian religions, as well as to these personally constructed spiritualities, is no longer a matter of theorizing from a safe distance but rather a matter of daily encounter in neighborhoods, in schools, at work, at the gas station, and at the supermarket. And what will prove to be even more momentous in the evangelical world than its engagement with the other religions, I believe, will be whether it is able to distinguish what it has to offer from the emergence of these forms of spirituality. Therapeutic spiritualities which are non-religious begin to look quie like evangelical spirituality which is therapeutic and non-doctrinal."

In regards to what Wells has said, I suspect that most Western, modern evangelical churches are failing on both fronts. Most Christians in America do not see their lives as an extension of the Kingdom, and thus, willfully neglect to engage unbelievers with the Gospel. Having been raised in a Christian sub-culture that preaches the personal nature of relationship with Jesus, the church has lost a sense of community and accountability to one another within the church, as well as a burning, compelling passion to rescue the perishing in the world. We talk about cultural engagement when we gather on Sunday's and Wednesday's, but truth be told, there are very few daily encounters happening for the purpose of talking about Jesus.

However, there are some in the world who are engaging people for the sake of building kingdom relationships. The issue then becomes whether what we are offering is different from the self-help spirituality that is rampant in our Western culture. Some churches are effectively engaging people in the culture. But unless people are being confronted with the Gospel - the truth about their fallenness, sin and need of the Savior Jesus Christ - then they aren't being offered anything different than most other forms of spirituality.

The spiritual fallout from September 11 taught us that Western Church is missing the mark in regards to effective, eternally significant, life-altering cultural engagement. What is more troubling is the reality that the task grows more and more difficult with each passing day, and the Church is seemingly no more aware today than it was almost 5 years ago.

We need the Lord to teach us this prayer and make it our own. "Father, let me be a place of eternal refreshment for a hopeless, joy-seeking world of people who do not know they are starved for the glory of God in Jesus Christ" (John Piper).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Lessons from the Edge

On Tuesday August 1 the students from Concord embarked on a thirty-nine hour mystery trip. The very nature of a mystery trip is the kind of adventure where you commit to go but have no idea what you are doing. People generally expect a tame experience, but it wasn't meant to be on this trip. On Tuesday we went rock-climbing in the middle of ninety-seven degree heat; established camp on a primitive campsite (meaning no bathrooms or running water); fashioned tents using only tarps, rope and metal stakes; challenged the students to cook their own mac & cheese, baked beans and hot dogs; endured two hours of rain (including wind and lightening) and slept with wet gear on wet sleeping bags. And that was just the first day! After getting about 2 1/2 hours of sleep, we got up, drove 2 hours to the Hiwasee River and learned to kayak down Class I to III rapids. Sounds fun, huh? What was learned?

  • "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works..." (Heb 10:24). One of the amazing aspects of the trip was watching both student and chaperone alike encourage and spur one another one as we faced many difficult tasks. It wasn't unusual to see a team member encouraged someone dangling on the rocks not to give up. As a matter of fact, it was unusual when you didn't see or hear team members prodding one another on. I was reminded of this verse from Hebrews because what I observed on the rocks and the river was a picture of what life is supposed to be like in a biblical Christian community. As individuals struggled with the challenges on the trip, at almost every turn there was a person considering how to encourage them so that they didn't give up. Is this not what we are being told here in Hebrews, except that we aren't encouraging each other not to give up on Jesus in the context, but rather considering how to encourage one another to love people and God better and demonstrate our faith in our actions? Earlier in Hebrews (3:13) we are commanded to urgently encourage each other every day so that we are not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. I hope that the lessons learned on the river and rocks stick with others in the way that they are sticking with me almost a week later.
  • "Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me" (Col 1:28-29). By the 3rd climb up the rocks on Tuesday I was physically exhausted. I had no strength left in my hands. I went first on the climb, which was a difficult climb to get started. I fell early and often and stepped aside to let some of the other climbers go ahead while I rested. When my turn came around again I struggled mightily to ascend the rock face. About 1/2 way I was spent. My hands were quivering and I was ready to come down. Of course, there at the base of the rock were many encouraging faces and voices urging me on. As I was up there toiling to get up the rock, I was reminded of the fact that the harness and rope were supporting and aiding my ascent. They provided much need strength and support although if I was to get to the top of the climb it would still require my effort. The guy at the bottom wasn't just going to pull me to the top. This was the verse that came to mind. We've been charged with a task to proclaim Jesus, to warn people of sin, and instruct people's hearts with wisdom. The goal: to present everyone who will listen mature in Jesus. This is our labor. It's our calling. But it is a struggle. Like the climb up the rock, it will require energy, time and effort to fulfill our calling. We will get tired. We will want to quit. And yet, as we struggle, we need to be reminded that in our effort it is Jesus' energy at work within us. Not only is it at work, but He is at work powerfully within His children. I find this comforting in the way that I was comforted knowing if I slipped ascending that rock, not only was I not going to plummet to my death, but I wasn't going to lose much ground on the rock face either. Jesus is calling us to toil in this world, but He doesn't call us to labor without promising to give us the strength to finish the job. By the way, I made it to the top.

I am sure that others who took the trip will read this post. If you went, I'd love to hear what you learned or were encouraged by.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mel's Mania

Mel Gibson who wrote, directed and produced 2004's The Passion of the Christ was arrested on July 28 in Malibu on suscipicion of driving under the influence. His arrest has produced an uproar in the media because of his alleged anti-Semitic tirade. Speculation that Gibson was anti-Semitic was rampant during the release of his historic, graphic portrayal of the crucifixion of Jesus. Many film critics felt that Gibson's theatrical masterpiece laid the blame at the feet of the Jews for Jesus' death. Though Gibson denies any charges of anti-Semitism, the accusations dogged him because Gibson's father is himself an anti-Semite, even claiming that the Holocaust was a hoax. The youngest Gibson's refusal to distance himself from his father's claims have only fueled speculation that Gibson is also prejudicial in his views of Jews.

Gibson has since apologized, not only for his recent arrest, but for the PR firestorm brewing because of his alleged disparaging comments about Jews. Gibson said, "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said...I disgraced myself and my family with my behavior and for that I am truly sorry. I have battled with the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health."

I don't doubt that Mel Gibson is sorry. Aren't we all when we get exposed publically for our moral failures? However, blaming Gibson's tirade on his alcoholism falls short of the root of the problem. Without question, an inebriated state will cause the drunk to say and do things they might not do under normal circumstances, but isn't it entirely possible, yes, likely plausible, that the actions of a person under the influence, while not characteristic of a sober person with a certain persona or image to maintain, are still the desires, however unbridled, of the heart? The abuse of outside agents such as alcohol and mind-altering drugs only release the moral restraints of the conscience and expose the depravity of heart whose deceit and corruption is blind to even us (Jer 17:9).

Is Mel Gibson anti-Semitic? I don't know because I don't know Mel Gibson's heart. I know that I did not feel that his film The Passion of the Christ was anti-Semitic. But I do know that Jesus tells us that a tree is known by its fruit. Jesus said, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil" (Matt 12:34b-35).

Is Mel Gibson a believer in the Lord Jesus? I don't know. What I do know is that it appears his heart was speaking on the evening of July 28 when he berated an arresting officer with allegedly anti-Semitic remarks. What I do know is that, if he spewed the despicable words allegedly on record, it speaks to an evil within his heart in need of the transforming power of the Gospel. Let us not forget that Gibson's public folly is not unlike the evil and corruption within the hearts of all people. The problem of the heart is precisely why Jesus came into the world. He came to give us a new heart so that we might love, know and treasure God through His Son Jesus above all things (Jer 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:26-27).

Gibson's tirade is the kind of celebrity meltdown that sells newspapers. It's easy to judge a man when his transgressions are front page headlines. But let us not forget that we will all be exposed one day, not in the court of public opinion, but in the one court that really matters (Heb 4:13; 9:27). With this in mind, perhaps instead of shaking our heads and wagging our fingers at Gibson in shame, we should pray for him, and while we do, be reminded that we need Jesus and His cross to give us the kind of heart that loves the good treasure of God's Kingdom more than the evil treasure of earthly pleasure, fame and comfort. Isn't this precisely what Gibson's depection of a suffering, bleeding, loving Savior reminded us of in 2004?