The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Month: January 2015

Good Mistake?

O PreacherWe moved to Florida in 1989.  Bought a house in Palm Harbor and a small, franchise carpet dyeing and cleaning company in Tampa.  (A what?)

I had pastored two churches for 20 years in New Jersey.  The second  we planted and stayed almost 17 years.  Our congregation was never large—100-120 at its peak.  But it was alive!  All ages, mostly young marrieds.  Standing at the pulpit, SundaysI looked out at a sea of white, black and brown faces.  Some were newly saved.  Others came from “mainline” churches.  Some, like Lois and I, had a Pentecostal background.  Others came out of Catholicism.  The variety brought excitement—and also two major splits.  We developed and ran a daycare and preschool five days a week.  A variety of small groups met weeknights.  We had a worship team of guitars, drums, piano, flute (my daughter Meridith)—even a harp.

After almost 17 years the church leveled off and I was worn out.  I resigned.  We moved to Florida.  I needed a respite from pastoral ministry—3-5 years, I thought, to catch my breath, then back to pastoring.

But what would I do for work in the meantime?  I had only a B.A. degree in Bible.  Not many employers panting for that!  So I bought that carpet dyeing and cleaning company.  The only “dyeing” experience I had was at funerals.  I flew to Texas for a week of training.  Then back and began my business in Tampa.  I soon learned that the only people who wanted a carpet dyed were cat people who couldn’t afford a new one and whose lovely little pets had urinated all over the old one.  So mostly I cleaned carpets.  For awhile I had three other guys working with me, but that proved financially unfeasible.  So I became a lone wolf carpet-cleaner, except for the months my son Michael worked with me.

After six months I was miserable.  I was a pastor.  What in the world was I doing cleaning carpets and dyeing cat-urinated rugs?  I started searching for a ministry opportunity.  Nothing.  Nobody wanted me. Then I learned that the pastor of Port Richey Community Church was retiring.  I preached;  they loved me.  Or were they as desperate for a pastor as I was for being one? The rest, of course, is history.

Except I had to sell the business.  It wasn’t like I had a thriving McDonald’s  franchise to sell.   Finally I found a fool—I mean guy— who wanted it, if I would finance it.  Anything!  Eventually I lost half the selling price when he walked away.  So you see why I say buying that company was the biggest mistake I ever made.

Now:  how does Romans 8:28 fit that?

And we know that for those who love God
all things work together for good,
for those who are called according to his purpose.

That carpet-cleaning company was a bad mistake.  But part of “all things”, right?  God would make even the bad mistake of a  preacher-turned-carpet-cleaner good!  Looking back, I wonder what good?  I didn’t set any franchise records for the most urine-stained carpets dyed.  Didn’t become the carpet-cleaning king of South Tampa.  Wasn’t on a TV commercial shouting, “But wait!  If you want two rooms cleaned, I’ll do both for $19.95.  Just pay the extra shipping and handling .”  So what good did our able God bring from my bad mistake?

I don’t suppose you ever brought a carpet-dyeing company.  But I bet you did make a bad mistake and fall back on Romans 8:28.  Get any good from God?  Maybe no matter how hard you searched, you found none.

The only good I found from my monster-mistake was money to put food on the table.  No small thing, I know.  It did help us survive our first year in paradise.  But as far as I could see, that was it.

So what shall we say when Romans 8:28 doesn’t seem to work for us?

First, read Romans 8:29. 

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son,
in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The “good” God promises to bring out of “all things” is our being “conformed to the image of his Son.”  Not money.  Not a promotion.  Not health.  Not a new car.  Not a long life.  Sanctification which culminates in glorification.

And those he predestined he also called,
and those whom he called he also justified,
and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30).

I hated that carpet dyeing and cleaning work.  Maybe, then, one good thing the Lord brought out of it for me was a more persevering spirit.  (Perseverance, by the way, is the good side of stubbornness.)  It lasted “only” a (long!) year; but day after day I put on my “uniform”, drove to Tampa, cleaned carpets in homes and apartments, even a hotel, and occasionally dyed a few of those putrid pet rugs.  I tried to market my business to get new customers—all the while gritting my teeth and digging in my heels.  I kept sucking up dirty carpet water until I found another moron (I mean, entrepreneur) to buy the business.  Perseverance—a good virtue, because “the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).

Even for me—a guy who barely knows which end of a screwdriver to use and whose business experience amounted to asking my wife to handle our money—the holy God of creation and the cross was at work developing endurance in my soul.  Through my bad mistake!

Second, read Romans 5:1-5.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand,
and we rejoice in our hope of the glory of God
.
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
(even cleaning carpets)
know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character,
and character hope, and hope does not put us to shame,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

There’s the sanctification process—suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character and character produces non-disappointed hope, the hope of sharing in the glory of God.

That tells me there’s an Everest-high mountain of good God will yet bring out of our bad mistakes—a mountain of good called “glory” that God will give us in the eternal age to come.  I could find only a little good out of my bad carpet-cleaning company mistake.  But that doesn’t mean that’s all the good there is.  I’m caught up by grace into the process of sanctification (being made more like Jesus, even through my bad mistakes) which will climax in glorification forever.

So, if you’re like me, unable to find much good from God out of your bad mistakes, be encouraged.  That great good of sanctification climaxing in eternal glorification is still in process!

I’m just hoping on that day the Lord won’t say to me, “Remember that old carpet-cleaning machine you had to work with?  Look!  Here’s a golden one with resurrection power.  There’s no dirt anywhere on the new earth it can’t suck up!” (He wouldn’t do that, right?)

 

 

 

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Mind-Chewing Contentment

O PreacherAt the end of The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, Jeremiah Burroughs tells how to attain contentment. What we’ve been waiting for, right?  The Contentment Pill!  Sorry, Charlie.  Even Obamacare can’t get you one.

No pill, because attaining contentment is a learning process.   ” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to  be content” (Philippians 4:11b).  Paul had to experience lowliness and flourishing, plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  No pill—life lessons.

And those life lessons are best learned coupled with “mind-chewing.”  Like a cow and her cud.  Like savoring each bite of chocolate cake.  Like worrying.  Like pondering in our mind the mercies we don’t deserve from God.   Here are seven Burroughs sets out for our mind to chew on . . .

One, these mercies we have from God are great and the things we lack are little.  Paul begins his letter to the church at Ephesus like this:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ Jesus with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places . . . ” (1:3).  Every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places!  Blessings like being chosen, adopted, redeemed, and forgiven (Ephesians 1:4-7).   The earthly blessings we lack are little compared  to the magnitude of every spiritual , heavenly blessing we have in Christ!

Two, whatever our affliction now, we’ve enjoyed many blessings of God’s mercies before.  Affliction knows no age limits.  But usually afflictions pile up for the old.  For the last eight years my health has been deteriorating.  How easily I overlook the preceding 63 years of good health!  It’s my bent.  I belong to the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” school.  Also known as the people of the half-empty glass.  It’s true, though, isn’t it, that the  blessings of God’s mercies counted from birth add up to a lot more than today’s affliction.

Three, we enjoy an affluence of mercies from God.  Martin Luther called God’s mercies a sea:  “The sea of God’s mercies should swallow up all our particular afflictions”.   As a young boy, I struggled to carry a big pail of water across the beach.  But when I dumped it in the ocean,  my heavy load of water was swallowed up by the sea.  Suffering may be a heavy pail to carry, but God’s ocean of mercies swallows it up.

Four, God has made his world with changeable conditions.  Vibrant spring, freezing winter.  Bright sunlight, black night.  Gusty winds, breathless calm  Those are mercies because they reveal more to us of what our God is like.  So, Burroughs argues, since God made the world with all this change, why think it should be different for us?    “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).  So we have healthy days and ill, joyful days and sad.  It’s the reality of life in this fallen world.

Five, our time in this world is short.  Doesn’t seem like a mercy, does it—until we remember the fallenness of this world and the sufferings we endure here.  But contrasted with “an eternal weight of glory”, Paul called our affliction now “light” and “momentary” (2 Corinthians 4:17).  Time with its pain is short; eternity with its weight of glory is forever.

Six, saints in Scripture have endured far more than most of us.  “Some were tortured . . . Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword.  They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated . . . wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35b-38).  The prophet Isaiah speaks of Christ’s suffering like this:  “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief . . . he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities . . . He was oppressed and he was afflicted . . . like a lamb that is led to the slaughter . . . By oppression and judgment he was taken away” (Isaiah 53:3,5-8a).  “A servant is not greater than his master” (Jesus, John 15:20a).  Are we afflicted?  Yes.  But it’s only God’s mercy that we have been spared what Scripture’s saints endured  And it’s only God’s mercy that we are saved from eternal suffering through the blood of Christ.

Seven
, God has mercifully brought good out of suffering.  Romans 8:28 is a shop-worn, but remarkable promise.  Affliction isn’t bad luck or “the way life is.”  Affliction is a surgeon’s instrument in the hand of our Father.  Out of our brokenness, he brings good.  “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified”” (Romans 8:28-30).  This affliction, whatever it may be, is part of God’s sanctifying work in our lives aimed,  ultimately at glorifying us by conforming us to the image of his Son.

So let’s be like a cow.  Like a chocolate cake-savorer.  Like a worrier.  Let’s chew over again and again these mercies of God.  We won’t gain weight or lose.  But we should better learn to submit to and delight in whatever situation our heavenly Father puts us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Tribute

P.AllanAndrae Crouch went home to the Lord January 8th.  He was 72.

Who?

If you were into Christian music in the 70’s, you know.  I knew.  I heard him often, but saw him “live” only once—and then without his group, “the Disciples.”  But his soul was on display.  I saw it in every song he sang, every piano note he played.  As the author of the blog below (please read it) said, “[He] makes contemporary religious music a little more washed-out, flat, and placid. Andrae was all about joy. The joy of his salvation and the joy of creation.”

Reading this blog brought back memories—times I listened to his music with joy, times I tried to sing some of his music, but never could get the same “sound.”

Funny how I’m sentimental over his death.  I’m sure he’s with the Lord, musically rejoicing as only he can.  But I feel a certain sadness.  Funny, isn’t it, how the Lord uses particular people in our lives.  At the time, we just take them for granted, unaware even of the effect they’re having on us.  Only later do we realize the gift they were to us.

Please read the blog below.  If you have any of Andrae’s recordings, play one.  Worship with him.  And rejoice with him, knowing that today he’s still singing joyfully with the Lord.

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/january-web-only/remembering-andrae-crouch-dead-at-72.html

As I listened to his music at the link below, I couldn’t do it without a few tears and a big thank you to our Father.  Enjoy the Lord!

https://video.search.yahoo.com/video/play;_ylt=A0LEV7mcorpUWigA8B0PxQt.;_ylu=X3oDMTB0b2ZrZmU3BHNlYwNzYwRjb2xvA2JmMQR2dGlkA1lIUzAwMl8x?p=Andrae+Crouch+Youtube&tnr=21&vid=8BDC08C99FC44DAD37818BDC08C99FC44DAD3781&l=473&turl=http%3A%2F%2Fts4.mm.bing.net%2Fth%3Fid%3DUN.607997671097436823%26pid%3D15.1&rurl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DCvIxwc90BEI&sigr=11bemkhj3&tt=b&tit=Through+It+All+Andrae+Crouch&sigt=10sku481c&back=https%3A%2F%2Fsearch.yahoo.com%2Fyhs%2Fsearch%3Fp%3DAndrae%2BCrouch%2BYoutube%26type%3DYHS_SF_2300%26param1%3DiyzTqxyuf
CdU1k7JVF3DTlAcGHXrpqoWt_kMP5hk4WEL1Qp6xtPweHqrUfdP5J-sIpHo8XOzIYI9P1V05R9XdZMjUFCJKDfJCZHdAC5-nmRu2F33SO7N4HBlI3b38hR8gw%252C%252C%26hsimp%3Dyhs-SF01%26hspart%3DLkry%26ei%3DUTF-8&sigb=1800gevlb&hspart
=Lkry&hsimp=yhs-SF01

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Complain, Complain

P.Allan

” . . . I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

“And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled, and the fire of the Lord burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1,2).

 It’s been five weeks since we left our contentment series.  I’m afraid I’m not much more content now than when we began, stuck somewhere between the two Scriptures above.   How about you?  That’s what I thought.  So let’s get back to it.

Review.  First, a brief review.  I’ve been summarizing and commenting on 17th century-Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs’ book, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment.  He defines contentment as “that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious, frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”  In other words, I am content when my inmost being is inclined to submit to and delight in whatever situation our Father puts me in.

Providence.  Contentment brings us face to face with “providence.”  J. I. Packer quotes the Westminster Shorter Catechism, then gives us his definition of God’s providence . . .

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). If Creation was a unique exercise of divine energy causing the world to be, providence is a continued exercise of that same energy whereby the Creator, according to his own will, (a) keeps all creatures in being, (b) involves himself in all events, and (c) directs all things to their appointed end. The model is of purposive personal management with total “hands-on” control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.”

“Situations.”  Jesus once assured his fearful disciples . . .

“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.
Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

In his providence, our Father puts us in “situations” (a sparrow falls, I become disabled).  Paul had learned to submit to and delight in God putting him in whatever situation he providentially chose.  I’m still learning, still enrolled in our Father’s contentment course.  I still complain.

Israelites.  In Numbers 11, the Israelites had just left Mount Sinai.  Their wilderness journey from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land was starting its second year.  Despite the Lord’s miraculous provisions along the way, they grumbled.  No food (Exodus 16:1-3).  The Lord provided bread and quail (Exodus 16:4-36).  No water (Exodus 17:1-4).  The Lord gushed it from a rock (Exodus 17:5-7).  Now, like whining children in the backseat, they were complaining about their whole hard-knock life—particularly the food.  No more lip-smacking Egyptian menu.  Only manna from heaven (Numbers 11:4-6).

When the Lord heard their complaints (apparently he does hear what we’d rather he didn’t), “his anger was kindled, and the fire of the LORD burned among them and consumed some outlying parts of the camp” (Numbers 11:1b).  Think Sc-Fi.  Some giant, other-worldly being focuses his raging anger at Earth.  A beam of white-hot light fires from his eye and Manhattan burns.

Evils. Fiery anger?  Over a little complaining?  Why did the LORD get so hot?  Burroughs wrote two chapters titled, “The Evils of a Murmuring (Complaining)  Spirit.”  Here are seven evils he cites . . .

  1.  Murmuring and discontentedness reveals corruption in our soul.
  2. God considers complaining rebellion.  (See Numbers 16:41 and 17:10).
  3. Complaining is contrary to the work of God’s grace in us.
  4. Thanklessness for what one has is a mark of ungodliness (Romans 1:21).
  5. Complaining is contrary to our prayer, “Your will be done.”
  6. Complaining robs us of the present comfort we do have.  It can’t get us what we want.  It makes our affliction worse.
  7. Complaining provokes God’s wrath.

At first glance the Lord’s anger seems over the top.  And Burroughs seems a tad extreme to talk about the evils of complainingUntil I stop and think deeply about that list.  Complaining comes from a corrupted soul.  It’s rebellion.  Contrary to God’s grace-work in us.  Ingratitude is a sign of ungodliness.  When we pray, “Your will be done” and it is, then we complain?   I suppose an occasional complaint isn’t so bad.  But when complaining becomes my default reaction to “situations”, what else can it be but sin?

I’m surprised my backyard isn’t burning.

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Religious War

P.Allan“France’s deadliest terrorist attack in modern memory unfolded with chilling precision here [in Paris Wednesday] as gunmen speaking fluent French burst into a satirical newspaper’s weekly staff meeting and raked the room with bullets, leaving behind what one witness described as ‘absolute carnage’ . . . After shooting dead their final victim, the exultant killers calmly fled the scene, sparking a manhunt that extended across this capital city and deep into its suburbs . . . the three masked assailants . . . carried out the assault shouting the Arabic call of ‘Allahu Akbar,’ or ‘God is great,’ amid the gunfire” (Washington Post, Wednesday, January 8).

This is a religious war. I’ve been saying that privately for weeks.  Yesterday South Carolina Republican Senator Lindsay Graham said it on radio.  This war is  not primarily about who gets to rule over what people and land.  Nor is it primarily about dictatorship or democracy or dollars.  It’s primarily about a theological worldview.

USA Today published this article by Anjem Choudary, a Muslim cleric in Britain  . . .

“Contrary  to popular misconception, Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone.  Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires . . . In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

. . . Muslims consider the honor of the Prophet Muhammad to be dearer to them than that of their parents or even themselves.  To defend it is considered to be an obligation upon them.  The strict punishment if found guilty of this crime under sharia (Islamic law) is capital punishment implementable by an Islamic State.  This is because the Messenger Muhammad said, ‘Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him.'”

Last October the Washington Post reported, “Iraq and Syria, Choudary says confidently, are only the beginning.  ‘The Islamic State’s signature black flag will fly over 10 Downing Street, not to mention the White House.  And it won’t happen peacefully, but only after a great battle that is now underway . . . We believe there will be complete domination of the world by Islam.'”

Muslim terrorists are driven by Islam.  “Divine revelation.”  “The potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad.”  “The honor of the Prophet Muhammad dearer to them than parents or themselves.”  “Whoever insults a Prophet, kill him.”  Islamists consider blasphemy (defined as an insult to the Koran or to Muhammad) a capital crime.  Not all Muslims hold these views; but, as Dr. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote in his blog, ” . . . the western world now finds itself at war with at least a very large sector of Islam.”

The Christian worldview is driven by Christ.  Mercy.  Grace.  Truth.  Love.  These are vital virtues in a Christian worldview, because they are Christ’s virtues as the Son of God.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,
even when we were dead in our trespasses,
made us alive together with Christ—
by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4,5)
.

For the law was given through Moses,
grace and truth came through Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in  him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

Listen to Jesse Johnson, Teaching Pastor at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia, contrast Christianity with Islam . . .

Islam teaches violence, while Christianity teaches forgiveness. I’m not referencing fringe Islamic groups, but mainstream governments and mainstream cultures. Countries run by Islamic law foster violence and are democratically unworkable, whereas countries run by Christian law…

Well, it should dawn on you that there are no countries run by Christian law. Because Christianity is a religion built upon an individual’s relationship with God through Christ, not on a way of structuring a society. Because the focus is on the individual, nations with a Christian heritage produce individual and civic freedoms.

 And listen to Dr. Al Mohler contrast Christianity and Islam regarding blasphemy . . .

Islam considers blasphemy a capital crime and defines blasphemy as an insult to the Quran, to Islam, and most specifically and personally, to the prophet Mohammed. Christianity also has a concern about blasphemy, but as a spiritual crime—as a sin against God, not as a matter of civic law.

As a matter of fact, Christians recognize that Jesus Christ himself suffered insults and blasphemy on our behalf. Further, Christ deterred the church from pursuing violence when he told Peter to put his sword away. Christ did not revile those who blasphemed him by calling for violence, but rather he accepted the blasphemy as part of the suffering he was called to endure. That is a stunning difference between blasphemy in the Christian worldview and the understanding of blasphemy in the Islamic worldview.

Theology matters.  The Western world has forgotten that.  “Being  basically rational and secular in their own worldview, Western elites find it almost impossible to understand the radical actions taken by Islamic terrorists” (Al Mohler).  And even when we acknowledge religions “[w]e value relativism so much that we have lost the ability to say that some religions are enemies of both truth and freedom” (Jesse Johnson).

American government is an example.  President Obama seems to go out of his way to avoid the word “Islam.”  He and others in his administration seem to assume that ultimately everybody is rational and secular.  Therefore, we should all be able to sit around the table and reasonably negotiate peace.  But if the Islamists’ worldview demands world-takover for the honor of Mohammad—and killing whoever dishonors him—reasonable negotiations for peace are doomed.  The sizable segment of Muslims we call “radical extremists”die for their theological worldview and kill thousands in the name of their god.  A culture like ours, foolishly determined to equalize all faiths and brainwashed by our society’s leaders into shutting up faith in the ghetto of church or synagogue, doesn’t understand.  Drones kill individual terrorists; they can’t kill a theological worldview.

This is the world where we live.  Growing numbers of Muslims, driven by the theological worldview of Islam, increasingly terrorizing the world in a death-drive to honor Muhammad.  Western nations, with leaders weakened by a growing secular worldview, in the dark and on the defensive, trying to survive with “reasonable discussions”.  Thousands of Western world citizens reportedly are going over to ISIS to fight with them or be trained by them to fight back home.  And far too many Christians thinking theology is for Sunday morning church, not what we live for 24/7.

In this world where we live,
theology matters!

 

<b>Paris Shooting</b> At Charlie Hebdo Magazine Office Leaves At Least 12 ...

*Note:  Content for this post drawn from the following blogs where complete posts by Dr. Al Mohler and Pastor Jesse Johnson are available.
http://www.albertmohler.com/2015/01/08/theological-extremism-in-a-secular-age/
http://thecripplegate.com/the-ineptitude-of-moral-equivalence/

 

 

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Unholy Triangle

P.AllanYesterday I was scrolling through my email when I sailed smack into an unholy triangle.

From salon.com I read, “We’re putting an end to religion:  Richard Dawkins, Bill Maher and the exploding new secularism.”  From Huff Post I read, “After a Year Without God Former Pastor Ryan Bell No Longer Believes”.  And on “The Publican” (Pastor Adam Powers) I found, “Same-Sex Marriage Now Legal in Florida.”  Secularism.  Atheism.  Same-Sex “Marriage”.  The morning’s unholy triangle.

Secularism.   Secularism is the rejection of religion, especially the view that religion should be excluded from civil life or public education.  Phil Zuckerman, author of “We’re putting an end to religion”, argues interestingly that the causes of secularism’s spread are less theological and more political and sociological.  First, he says, the alliance of evangelical Christians with conservative Republicans has alienated many left-leaning and politically moderate Americans from Christianity.  Second, the Catholic Church’s pedophile priest scandal has driven many Catholics from the church.  Third, the dramatic rise of women in the labor force has lessened religious influence in the home, because historically women have kept their husbands and children involved in religion.  And, fourth, religious opposition to same-sex “marriage” has turned off people who see it as a fairness issue.  Therefore, writes Zuckerman, secularism is spreading.

More Atheist Billboard Vandalization

Atheism.  Chris Stedman of Religious News Service writes about Ryan Bell, a former Seventh-Day Adventist pastor.  Bell spent 2014 living as an atheist.  He now concludes “that the intellectual and emotional energy it takes to figure out how God fits into everything is far greater than dealing with reality as it presents itself to us . . . The world makes more sense to me as it is, without postulating a divine being who is somehow in charge of all things.”  Bell isn’t alone.  Atheists are on the offensive.  Billboards are sprouting around the country advertising atheist clubs, and signs on buses, especially during Christmas, challenge belief in God.  Atheism doesn’t have “religion on the run”, but it’s “out of the closet” attracting adherents.

Same-Sex “Marriage.”  Midnight Monday, Florida became the 36th state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex “marriage.”  According to the web site “CT Now”, churches around the state planned to hold mass weddings Tuesday.  This Friday the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to meet privately to decide whether or not to consider cases that could lead to a more-definitive federal ruling.  Despite “mass weddings”, the majority of churches stand opposed, which drives those in favor of same-sex “marriage” to leave the church.

So there I was—caught in the currents of an unholy triangle.  How’d I get there?  When I was boy (black-and-white TV days), the country was culturally Christian.  I’m not sure secularism was even a word back then.  Atheists were hiding in a closet.  And same-sex “marriage” was inconceivable.  As Ty J. Young says on his investment company TV commercial,  “Clearly it’s not the 80s or 90s anymore.”  Times have changed.  Sure, secularists, atheists and practicing homosexuals existed in the 50s.  But they pretty much kept their secrets from society.  Now it’s in-your-face.

Zuckerman, in “We’re putting an end to religion”,  claims “we’ve got religion on the run.”  Not so fast, Phil.  I don’t know any churches sailing for a safe off-shore site!  Certainly secularism is spreading, atheists are gathering converts and same-sex “marriage” has won the day in 36 states.  So how are we to understand their influence in society over against the church’s apparent impotence?

In Psalm 73 Asaph is confused over the prosperity of the wicked until verse 16.  It applies to our unholy triangle.

But when I thought how to understand this,
it seemed to me a wearisome task,
until I went into the sanctuary of God;
then I discerned their end.

I wrote my last post about the Last Days leading up to the End.  What will be the end of secularism, atheism and same-sex “marriage”?  That’s when we’ll know the truth and consequences.

Meanwhile, what seems wise from a worldly worldview isn’t.

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,
it pleased God through the folly of what we preach (Christ crucified) to save those who believe (1 Corinthians 1:20,21).

Eliminating God from the equation may sound wise to human ears, but dumping on religion or progressive-izing society saves no one from God’s just wrath.  It just gives a temporary high.  Besides, the very existence of this unholy triangle shows some of God’s wrath is already being revealed . . .

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men,
who by their unrighteousness, suppress the truth . . .
For although they knew God,  they did not honor him as God or gives thanks to him,
but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened . . .
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . .
. . . God gave them up to dishonorable passions . . .
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God,
God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:18,21,24,26,28).

Even so, we must love them“Love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).  “Love your enemies (Matthew 5:44).  Woe to us if we condemn other sinners, when we are nothing more than sinners saved by grace!

We must love them as an expression of our devoted love to God.  “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).  In these Last Days lukewarm God-lovers get spit out (Revelation 3:16).

And the most loving thing we can do to them is introduce them to Jesus.   No easy task.  But it’s our mission (Matthew 28:18-20).

After all, given this unholy triangle, it’s not religion that’s running—it’s Jesus.   Jesus is pursuing them to the End.

 

 

 

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Last Days

P.AllanI’ve heard it for decades:  Jesus is coming soon.  Even he says it in the next-to-the-last verse in the last book of the Bible:  “Surely I am coming soon” (Revelation 22:20a).

So I ask with the scoffers in 2 Peter 3:4, “Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  You can hear “Jesus is coming soon” only so long before it falls on doubtful minds and deaf ears.

Of course, end-of-the-world mockers abound; sane society waves off those fruitcakes.  Yet Hollywood rakes in piles of cash from movie-goers fascinated by the anticipation or aftermath of apocalypse on the big screen.  “The Book of Eli”, “Red Dawn”, “War of the Worlds”, “Resident Evil”, “I Am Legend”, “Fail Safe” are just a few of the dozens and dozens of end-of-the-world box office hits.  Something seems to attract us toward the End like drivers rubber-necking a deadly accident.

Cosmologists agree.  Their First Law of Thermodynamics states that the total amount of energy  in the universe, though it changes in form, is constant.  Never any more, never any less. The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the quality of that energy deteriorates over time.  Usable energy is always decreasing, while unusable energy is always increasing.  Gasoline, for instance, is usable energy.  But once it propels a vehicle and exits the tail pipe it’s unusable.  Therefore cosmologists conclude that the universe isn’t everlasting;  the world will ultimately end.

If you’re physics-minded, you may want to click on the video below.  It’s a fairly-fascinating 36 minutes, but totally naturalistic.  At the very end it turns fruitcake-ish. It assumes that somehow after every energy-source in the universe has become unusable. humans will somehow find more usable energy to live on everlastingly.  Such is one’s “faith” when one is a naturalist and there is no God!  Even when all evidence establishes an End, somehow humans will prevail!

They disagree on major points, but Hollywood and science agree with Scripture:  the End will come.  (I’m sure God is breathing a sigh of relief!  With Tinsel-Town and cosmologists in his corner, God must feel better about his prophecies of the End!)  Since Hollywood and science can be a bit fruitcakey, though, I’d rather get the scoop from a few Scriptures . . .

The End.  In Matthew 24 the disciples ask Jesus about the signs of the end of the age (24:3.)  He warns them of deceivers, wars and famines, then says, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (24:14).
” . . .
the end will come.” The apostle Paul echoes:  “Then comes the end, when [Christ] delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24).  “Then comes the end . . . ”  

These two chapters are enough to establish it.  But like Jesus-is-coming-soon repeats, hear about the End and it seems as far off as the finish line in a marathon.  I’ve got enough trouble surviving today and you want to bother me about the End of the world?   The far-off future has a way of sneaking up quickly, though, doesn’t it!  When I was young, I never thought I’d get old.  Me bald, fat and wrinkled—an impossible nightmare, or at least science fiction.  Guess what?  It’s come!  So will the End.

Now think with me about this deeply profound thought (!):  since there is the End, there must be Last Days leading up to the End!

The Last Days.  Nineteen hundred and eighty-some years ago, on the Jewish holy day Pentecost, the apostle Peter explained to a crowd in Jerusalem what the  “other- tongues-speaking” they had just heard was all about . . .

” . . . this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams . . .
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day
‘” (Acts 2:16,17,19,20).

 According to Peter, that outpouring of the Holy Spirit—or more broadly the birth of Messiah Jesus—began the Last Days.  The writer to the Hebrews agrees, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.  But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . ” (Hebrews 1:1,2a).  “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son . . . ”  Christmas celebrates the start of the Last Days.  And the Last Days climax with . . .

The Parousia.  (that’s New Testament Greek for the Second Coming of Christ.)  And with him will come sudden dissolution . . .

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and the the heavens will pass away with a roar,
and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved,
and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10).

The world will end.  We are living in the Last Days leading up to the End.  And at the End the world will burn.

The (Wise) Response. 

“Since all these things are thus to be dissolved,
what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved,
and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn? . . .
But according to his promise
we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:11-13).

I used to think Peter’s question in verse 12 was rhetorical—especially since he gave the answer in verse 11.  Now I think maybe he wants me to specify how I can live a holy and godly life that shows I’m waiting for the coming of that day when the old earth burns and the new earth emerges purified.  That will take prayerful thinking since holy-living sermons are sparse.  But here’s motivation:  at the End, apparently before the new heavens and earth come, the present heavens and earth will perish and there will be only God . . .

“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning,
and the heavens are the work of your hands;
they will perish, but you remain;
they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up,
like a garment they will all be changed.
But you are the same,
and your years will have no end” (Hebrews 1:10-12).

What will it be like to stand alone before God to give an account of ourselves (Romans 14:12)?  What will it be like to claim our only righteousness is Christ and our only rescue from wrath is his blood?  What will it be like to know that the new creation is just over the horizon?  What will it be like to see Jesus face to face?

Every spring even loser baseball teams think, “Maybe this will be the year!”  Maybe so.  Maybe this is the year when losers like us come to the End of the Last Days.  Maybe this is the year of the parousia.  MAYBE . . . 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Loved

O PreacherA former TV evangelist ended each program with a salesman’s smile, a persuasive stare into the camera and an assuring chant:  “God loves you.  He really does.”  No matter how sincere his heart, though, his words sounded hollow.  I wasn’t convinced.

In his fine Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem lists love as one of God’s moral “communicable” attributes.  “God’s love means that God eternally gives of himself to others,” writes Dr. Grudem.  “This attribute of God shows that it is part of his nature to give of himself in order to bring about blessing and good for others.”  A theology book isn’t intended to inspire.  Though Grudem’s is a most readable theology, he doesn’t disappoint.  A theology book is too encyclopedic to be inspirational.

I’ve heard preachers so dissect a text about God’s love I felt like I was back in high school biology identifying  parts of my dismembered frog.   Add all that to unanswered prayers and here’s my problem:  I believe the doctrine.  I confess the creed.  But too often the Good News of God’s love doesn’t reach my heart.

So at the start of a new year I go back to the most familiar verse in the Bible.

For God so loved the world
that he gave his only Son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

 No “frog-dissecting.”  Just a few thoughtful observations.

The world.  On January 1, 2015 that’s 7 billion people.  Somewhere in that human ocean floats one tiny jellyfish—me.  To say God loves the whole world is a bit like thanking the Lord for full grocery bags after shopping, instead of thanking him at the table for each meal.  But John didn’t intend to indicate the magnitude of God love, rather its inclusiveness.  No single individual is excluded.  To read that God so loved the world is to read that God so loved me too.

So.  The word doesn’t imply degree but means.  This is how God loved the world.

Loved.  Past tense, notice?  That doesn’t mean God doesn’t love the world (and you and me) now.  It means there was one single act by which God ultimately showed his love to the world.

That he gave his only Son.  John begins this Gospel calling Jesus “the Word” and writes:  ” . . . the Word was with God and was God” (John 1:1).  Welcome to the mystery of the Trinity!  In the beginning God’s Son was with God (an individual “Person”), yet was God (the same “Person” in essence).  I think it was Jonathan Edwards who explained that the Son was the reflection of God the Father, not like in a mirror, but in another actual being.  So at Christmas we correctly remember that God became flesh.  Here is how God loved the world (and you and me).  This is the one single act by which God supremely showed his loved:  he gave his only Son to us.  To say that was the greatest gift is to diminish its magnitude; human language falls woefully short.

The whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  God the Father gave us his Son in love not to entertain or fascinate  or communicate to us, but to rescue us.  The Father gave his only Son to save us from perishing.  A soldier throws himself on a grenade to save his buddies from being killed.  In love the Father gave his Son to save us from what our sins deserve— perishing forever in hell.  And to save us for eternal life.  “And this is eternal life,” Jesus prayed, “that they may know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3).  Eternal life is more than everlasting.  It’s forever knowing the Father and the Son in a personal, intimate relationship.  It’s experiencing the full extent of God the Father’s love without end through his only Son. It’s enjoying eternally the greatest single act of God’s love in his Son.  It’s being satisfied to the full for endless ages what we’ve only tasted briefly in today’s transient time.  And because this is love, we receive it by faith, by trusting his love shown in the historic giving of his Son.

The cross.  We must go there.  We can’t remain at the manger’s warmth; we must move on to Golgotha’s violence.  For this is where God’s Son-giving leads.  To the rejection.  To the cries of “Crucify him!”  To the nails.  The darkness.  The “It is finished!” cry.  To the lifeless corpse nailed to the wood.  “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (the sacrifice that turns aside from us God’s just wrath) for our sins (1 John 4:10).  Here at the cross I must linger with the full knowledge of what really happened on this hill.  And I must give God the Holy Spirit opportunity to tell me, “God loves you.  He really does.  This is God’s nature to give himself to you for your blessing and good.”

With feeling.  Could love like that be just a sales pitch?  Just a creedal statement of theological doctrine?  Just a “truth” dissected from a black-and-white text?  This is how God loved you and me.  And there’s no way the Father could give his Son to us without feeling.  Am I still not convinced?  Then I must turn to this full-of-wonder prophetic passage from Zephaniah.  A theology professor might call it metaphorical; God really wouldn’t act like this.  But, I think C.S. Lewis might urge us to be a child.  To take it literally.  To let our imagination run wild with the scene.  So that God’s wonder-full love can reach past the TV evangelist, past the theology book, past the impersonal and professorial preacher and past our stubborn doubts all the way to our heart.

The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save
;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing (Zephaniah 3:17).

 

 

 

 

 

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