Thursday, December 8, 2011
I stumbled across Sinbreed while surfing youtube one day and discovered their hard driving song "Dust to Dust." It got stuck in my head and I decied to give the whole album a try. In a word: INCREDIBLE. I grew up on 80s metal - now let me clarify that, the real stuff, not the fluffy big hair stuff. I'm talking old school Metallica, Megadeth, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Sinbreed have this stuff in their musical DNA but that does not mean in any way they are some sort of anachronism - they keep it fresh and new. Perhaps my favorite part of the band is Herbie Langhan's (also of Seventh Avenue) powerful vocals. At times he reminds me of Paul D'iano and Blaze Bayley (both formerly of Iron Maiden) with his gravelly delivery, but his range is impressive and he hits some soaring and melodic notes at times too. Guitarist Flo Laurin, the brains of the project, delivers solid, impressive, hard driving riffage and solos throughout. Alex Schulz and Frederick Ehmke (of veteran band Blind Guardian) make up the rythm section of bass and drums respectively, and Ehmke especially shines with plenty of double bass and brutal drumming.
Stand out tracks include the aforementioned "Dust to Dust" along with "Newborn Tomorrow", "Book of Life" and "Salvation." However, there are no filler tracks here - hard driving, full on, adrenaline rush, head banging power metal from start to finish. A plus for me are the underlying themes of Christianity (vocalist Langhan fronts the Christian metal band Seventh Avenue) that are evident but not heavy handed. I believe Christ is exalted, but the music remains accessible (and encouraging)for anybody. I believe Christian themes may reach a whole group of metal heads who might think Christian metal is cheesy.
The price of the mp3 download at amazon.com is tremendous and Sinbreed delivers 10 tracks at 44 minutes of pure metal fury that will make your heart pound, your ears ache and your head bang!
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
After going a year without hiking and biking due to serious back issues, I've enjoyed returning to my favorite hobbies. I've heard lots of horror stories about back surgery, but my surgery in the Spring has been life changing for me. Saturday has become my regular biking day again. I have been loading up and heading down to one of my favorite paved trails to ride, but today, I just didn't feel like the extra effort. I got my bike down, did my regular once over on it, and just started riding from my front yard. I went down my street to a nice, long, easy ride in a low traffic area with some nice scenery. What usually keeps me from doing this is a lack of a leash law in the county and dogs chasing me and ruining my ride. Just a couple of scraggly mutts chased me today and I easily outran them.
I noticed something on my ride. In the road I saw a turtle that did not make it. His shell was crushed and his remains lay right in the middle of the road. Here is one of God's creations that has a great natural defense - he can just pull his head and legs into his shell and withstand the attack of almost any predator. However, that same defense does not work extremely well against the tires of a pickup truck or even a compact car.
When that little turtle went out today, he had his full armor on. However, he chose to venture into territory where that armor would be ineffective. I'm not sure he really knew how much trouble he was even in as he slowly made his way across the road. Suddenly, he found himself crushed by the enemy.
I wondered, do we sometimes go into places where, despite our spiritual armor, the enemy is destined to crush us? You see, if we step outside of God's will, if we venture into areas that he has not called us to go, then we are in grave danger. How far behind enemy lines do you have to go before you have sealed your own fate? I think about the way we sometimes gear up, but leave God behind. We think we are good. We think we can handle just one drink, or just one toke, or just one glance, or just one snort, or just one lap dance. Then...WHAM! Totally crushed. Sin slams into you like an 18-wheeler and smashes you.
I'm not saying the armor of God is incapable of saving you. Ultimately the helmet of salvation can withstand all kinds of damage. However, that does not mean you need to go out seeking a concussion. It struck me again as I was playing Halo today, trying to take out a massive Scarab that was decimating friendly forces. As I rushed into the midst of the fray with no thought of caution I was crushed by the enemy. Even the Master Chief in all his armor and with all his strength can bite off more than he can chew. Even with all our armor on as Christians, we should always be mindful of where we are venturing and what we are doing.
Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
The ants have come late in the season this year. Over a period of a couple of weeks the ants have built several forts in my yard. My six year old daughter, Hannah, told me I needed to do something about them earlier this week. I told her that on Saturday, we would go ant hunting. On Saturday afternoon, I slid on my gloves, grabbed a container of my favorite ant killer, picked up a small shovel, and Hannah and I went on patrol.
She was my spotter. When she saw an ant hill she pointed it out. We had everything from small ones to one that was the biggest I have seen yet in my yard: over two feet wide and then some six inches or more tall.
I have a method when I hunt ants. Today, when Hannah pointed them out, I'd flip the switch on my spray can and say "Weapons hot!" Then she would say, "One, two, three FIRE!" That's just the results of growing up with a dad that spent 20 years in the Navy and watching and reading too much military stuff. So first, I would hose the hill down. Then I would take my small shovel and dig it out. Then I'd hose it down some more. We must have destroyed over a dozen ant hills.
I've found it's very important how you destroy ant hills. If you don't dig them out, if you treat just the surface level, the ant population springs back. Me and my fellow warrior dealt harshly with the ants in our yard today. "Small ant hills become big ant hills," I taught Hannah. She understood. It was important to wipe out even the little ones before they grew into something bigger.
I realized sin is the same way. Sometimes we just treat it at a surface level, but deep down inside, sin is carving catacombs and breeding more and more, greater and greater sin inside of us. In fact, those "sin hills" lead to the construction of even more "sin hills". Before you know it, you are infested with sin. Small sin becomes big sin.
You can't really show any mercy when dealing with ants. The only good ant is a dead ant. You can't really show any mercy when dealing with sin. The only good sin is a dead sin.
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Back in 1990 I desperately needed a job. I had a young child, rent, utilities, grocery bills, a car that kept breaking down and not a whole lot of income flipping burgers in a fast food place. I applied for an entry level sales position at a local plumbing wholesaler and made it through all of their testing and initial interview process. As I sat across from the President of the company and the lady who would be my manager, they asked me an interesting question, “We would love to hire you. We already have three other Randy’s working for us. Would you mind going by another name?” The correct answer to that was, “No problem!”
The natural choice was to go by my middle name, Alan. In the plumbing world I became Alan, or as some of the plumbers started calling me, “Big Al.” My wife told me up front, “You’ll always be Randy to me.” To my family and friends both I remained “Randy.” I had to grow accustomed to responding to my new name, and even answering the phone by stating my new name. It felt like I had an alter-ego sometimes, like some sort of mysterious supply house super hero. Over time, I became used to the two names and got pretty good at responding to either one of them.
Things became confusing after I gave my life to Christ and started attending a church where several of my customers went. They knew me as “Alan.” However, at church I was “Randy.” Some people probably thought I had a brother as some folks called me Randy and some called me Alan. The funny thing about it is that the name “Alan” turns on the plumbing oriented side of my personality now, and “Randy” brings out all the other parts of my personality. Maybe it would make more sense like this: Randy is the real me, but when I’m called Alan, it summons up just the salesman / plumbing wholesale side of me. It’s just not my real name, even though I’ve gone by it in my career for 21 years.
I faced a potential change earlier this year when I began working for another plumbing wholesaler. What name would I use? I could go back to Randy if I desired. It was a fresh start. But I had a 20 year old customer base that knew me as Alan. My wife and friends asked me what I was going to do. I gave them the only logical answer: “I’ll stay as Alan.” After all, “Alan” had become my brand in the plumbing wholesale field. I had 20 years of reputation built on that name. I would have been doing a disservice to my new employer if I’d changed back to my first name. They could tell everybody, “Hey, Alan is working for us now” and create a buzz. If they said, “Randy is working for us,” nobody would have known who they were talking about. I’m sure even if I said I wanted to go by Randy, they would have told everybody Alan was working for them.
Ultimately, the question is this: “What’s in a name?” The answer: “A lot.” I was a little sad to hear earlier this year of Campus Crusade for Christ changing their name to CRU in an attempt to appeal to more people. They indicated that had been a longstanding nickname, but removing “Christ” from their official name caused me to whence a little bit. Then I heard that a new task force has been appointed in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to consider a name change. Apparently the term “Southern” may limit our ability to reach people with the gospel. I guess my big questions in light of this and with my personal name changing experience are:
What will the new name be?
How long will it take to be accepted?
Will it build unity or division?
Will it really result in more salvations and church growth?
Will we be called the ____________________, you know, formerly known as the SBC?
I guess my real beef with the whole issue is that if we are seeking ways to strengthen and grow our convention, a name change seems cosmetic at best. Semantics will only get us so far. Real growth will not be driven by something so simple. Whether you call me Randy or Alan, I’m still the same person. In actuality it’s not the name that makes the person, but the person that makes the name. I believe the same will hold true in our convention no matter what the outcome.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
One of the most devastating things that happened to me in 2011 and indeed in my life altogether is my dad being diagnosed with dementia. You see, my dad is my hero. He travelled the world for 20 years in the US Navy (seeing 54 countries and literally going around the world). He retired and worked 20 more years for the city sanitation department. He is a hardworking, family oriented, Christian man. He taught me how to be a hard worker, he showed me what it meant to be a Christian and he taught me what it means to be a father.
I have witnessed a horrible mental disease erase parts of who he is. The man that raised me and provided for me now needs me to help him take a bath. Once while bathing him recently he was partially undressed and looked at me with a confused look and asked, “What are we doing?” I lost my mother to ovarian and colon cancer in 2001. In retrospect that seems almost easier than the way I feel with my dad today. I hate dementia. I loathe it. I detest it. I abhor it. It is a monster that is slowly, bit by bit, mercilessly devouring the personality and mentality of my father.
He was in a nursing home for a few weeks and due to insurance and financial reasons was not able to stay. We re-engineered our lives and schedules to allow him to live at home. It’s been a team effort on the part of me, my wife and two of my daughters. I have had the easiest role because I have the least amount of time due to work. I primarily handle his medication and bathing. They have to deal daily with the crazy things dementia drives him to do and say.
I had a big blow up with God over the whole thing when dad came home. I was overwhelmed, crushed, broken and greatly angered. “How could you let this happen to my dad, God?” Answers to questions like that are never easy. Sometimes all we can do is cry out our hearts to the Almighty and then just seek his strength, mercy, grace, love and wisdom. It has not been easy. Some days, dad is like his old self. Many days he is not.
I just remind myself when I am struggling about all the hard work he did raising me. I think of all the years he made sacrifices for me. The least I can do is be there for him at this time.
That brings me to the words of Pat Robertson earlier this week. Robertson was asked on the 700 Club what advice a man should give to a friend who began seeing another woman after his wife started suffering from Alzheimer’s (another incurable neurological disorder like dementia). Take a look at his response:
“I know it sounds cruel, but if he’s going to do something, he should divorce her and start all over again, but make sure she has custodial care and somebody looking after her.”
When pressed about the “through sickness and health” and “’til death do us part” areas of the marriage vow, he responded:
“If you respect that vow, you say ‘til death do us part. This [Alzheimer’s] is a kind of death.”
All I can think to say is, “Really?” So let me get this right, its okay for me to say my dad isn’t my dad anymore because basically he is dead because of this disease he has? I just write him off and get somebody to take care of him? In all likelihood if the disease continues to progress he will eventually not know me, my wife or my daughters, so it just makes sense, right?
No, no and unequivocally NO! He is my dad. Whether he knows me or not I certainly know him. How cruel for Mr. Robertson to say such a thing, to in any shape, form or fashion encourage a spouse to abandon his marriage vow. Such advice is not biblical in any sort of way. His words do not reflect the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ’s love. Mr. Robertson needs to repent and recant or retire. He has developed a talent for making un-Christ-like statements (just look at previous comments about 9-11, Katrina and Haiti to name a few). He is doing no favors for the church or his Savior by saying such things. In fact, he is encouraging people to take sinful actions in this case.
I hate you.
I love you.
Dear Pat Robertson,
I am terribly disappointed in you.
(Here is a link for the news article)
Friday, September 9, 2011
I can recall having disturbing thoughts of that dark nothingness. I would sometimes wonder, “When I die, what will it be like to fade into nothingness.” I thought of it as a deep, dark void that swallowed me whole. I simply ceased to be and fell into nothing. It would draw me into its cold arms and crush me in its grasp.
That fear of nothing at the end instilled in me a great desire to be something today. In that quest for something, I found frustration. How could I accomplish more and more before nothing consumed me? All I had was here, in this life. The only promise I had was today and the only assurance I possessed was this moment right now. The vast volume of history proved to me that most men succumbed to nothingness. I struggled with how to break that. How could I be remembered, how could I make an indelible mark that would overcome nothingness? Nothing inspired me to be something.
I cannot say that I embraced evolutionary thought or the Big Bang theory. I had my doubts about those things even as an atheist. Why? Even those seemed to beg for too much faith. I wanted a more concrete explanation. However, many atheists embrace those beliefs. They do not just believe “in the end: nothing” they also believe “in the beginning: nothing.” Nothing. Then everything. Then nothing. Effectively they believe in nothing. No God. No miracles. No supernatural activity. Nothing beyond what our fives senses can process.
I guess I could say that as an atheist, nothing really mattered. Nothing motivated me. Nothing inspired me. Nothing disturbed me. Nothing. My belief was in nothing. The only hope that can be found for the atheist is in himself. Of course that builds pride and arrogance. Just the arrogance to definitively say “there is no God” is pretty brash. However, I was that brash. “You believe in God. I believe in nothing.” That was the pride of my belief.
As I look back at my past now that I know Christ, I can make a choice how to see it. I can see nothing. I can see failure. I can see it all with sadness and disappointment. Or, I can see it as something. I can see it as God working in my life even as I chose to ignore him. I can see how he continually reached out to me and put people and situations in my path to reveal himself to me. I rationalized such things then, but I can see him at so many points in my path now. Today I still find great comfort in “nothing” for another reason:
For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)
To sum it up: NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. As believers, NOTHING can sever us from salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. As a born again believer in Jesus, I find now that NOTHING holds any fear for me anymore. I rejoice that my fear of that word has became hope in the Lord. The coolest thing is that I did NOTHING to deserve his love.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
I suppose I should have seen the inevitable coming. With Michelle Bachmann and Rick Perry running for the Republican nomination it was only a matter of time until the liberal media assaulted their world views. Because they adhere to conservative evangelical beliefs, including a literal reading of Genesis 1, therefore eschewing evolution, they are categorically labeled “anti-science.” No matter where you fall in the political spectrum of things this election year, or where you are in your religious beliefs, this should cause you concern as an American. Evolution should not be the litmus test for whether or not you respect the field of science.
Evolution itself has evolved. I’m not sure if we could have a talk with Darwin himself that he would approve how science handles his theory today. I’m not sure that he might not say, “I took the best stab at it with the tools and data I had, but perhaps I made too great of an extrapolation.” Now, evolution is not only a test for whether you believe in real science or not, it is a test of whether you are a viable political candidate. See, any Neanderthal that rejects evolution certainly has no place in the Oval Office. The only good science is science that supports the evolutionary theory, and the only good candidate is one that embraces that sort of science. Does this sound like America to you?
Evolution has evolved to a worldview, a paradigm and indeed a system of faith. Instead of scientists today approaching their work with an open mind for interpreting evidence, such evidence is instead forced through the filter of evolution to arrive at a conclusion based on evolutionary preconceptions. Instead of saying, “According to the evidence we found, we draw this conclusion,” we see evolutionary minded science saying, “According to evolution, this evidence fits in here.” Of course it’s impossible to approach research without some preconceptions, but I believe evolution has put dangerous blinders on the scientific community.
Despite well researched works of scientists such as microbiologist Michael Behe (“Darwin’s Black Box”) such scions of reason most often get labeled as quacks and black listed in their various fields of science. Science has developed an agenda: produce evidence that fits with the theory of evolution. I ask, is this true science? Does such a heavy handed pre-conception allow for true research?
Evolution is not a perfect theory. I’m sure even proponents of it would admit to that. However, perhaps what we need to understand is that evolution is not the only theory either, even though it is viewed that way. This view of evolution has shaped our very society. It is taught as fact in schools, accepted as fact in scholarly circles, and has for a fact had a dramatic impact on our society from the level of families to the upper echelons of government.
Evolution eliminates the need for a god of any type and exalts man as the pinnacle of creation. It is tied most closely to the philosophies of secular humanism, atheism and free thought. The explosion of evolution into our education system has resulted in an expulsion of the morality of our nation. As our children are taught that we are descended from instinctual animals, the moral fabric of our nation has become finely shredded. Evolution is a religion, Darwin has been exalted to the role of a prophet, and our schools and universities have become chapels where the praises of it are lauded daily.
A total belief in evolution requires that certain portions of it be taken in faith. Scientists believe one day that evidence will be found to corroborate the theory, but it is what it is: simple faith. A majority of scientists have put their faith in evolution. Their insistence on its invisible qualities will rival the dogma of the most fanatical conservative Christian you could run across. One thumps his Bible, the other thumps…well, his bible – a science textbook.
Religion is intrinsically tied to the creation narrative. All religions have sought to explain the origin of the universe and the origin of man. This in itself places evolution squarely in the field of religion. Many religions involve indoctrination, and this is true of evolution as well. From the earliest grades of public education our children are indoctrinated into its tenets. The behaviors we see in our schools and our society today are the decades long result of teaching our children that they are simply highly evolved animals. What do we see? School violence, teen pregnancies, self-centeredness and rebellion to authority.
Every day we tackle issues in our nation that have their roots in evolutionary thought. Abortion. Divorce. Homosexuality. Drug addiction. Domestic violence. The list goes on and on. If no divine authority exists to mandate right from wrong, then it is done so by man’s fiat. If one religion is considered mythology, then all religions must be considered mythology, except for the predominant religion of evolution.
Ultimately evolution is a close cousin of Gnosticism. It produces empty promises of a higher knowledge that delivers one into the custody of his own twisted desires. I love the way the Apostle Paul warns Timothy against such things:
O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called. (2 Timothy 6:20)
I am anti-evolution, but that does not mean I am anti-science. I like reading science fiction, but it doesn’t mean I want to read it as fact in science text books. It’s time we stopped trying to accommodate and incorporate the tenets of evolution into our Christian faith and call it what it is: a lie from the father of lies, a doctrine of the devil, and a flagrant insult to the creator of all things, the Lord God Almighty. It's like the title of a movie I remember from the 80s: "Wierd Science".
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29)
Back in March, while recovering from back surgery, I found myself caught up in blogs, comments on various blogs and facebook. With nothing better to do than lay around and let my body heal, it became an engaging way to pass the time. My intense tour through the blogosphere revealed something to me: it's a hard world out there. I found that especially true in the Christian corner of things where I was hanging out. One of the areas I explored deeply were the "discernment" blogs - those that point out alleged heresies, apostasies and other colorful aspects of the modern church. If you thought Jesus' note to the church in Loadicea was scathing, you ain't seen nothing yet!
I found myself in agreement with some bloggers, at odds with others and just plain confounded by some. It didn't help that at the time Rob Bell's bestseller on the doctrine of hell, "Love Wins", was hot off the presses and stirring things up even more than usual. Controversy, condemnation and righteous indignation was the name of the game.
As I returned to my normal routine, I found I had little time for the crazed exchange of words. My opinion has become this: just because I have an opinion, a facebook page and/or a blog doesn't really legitimize my belief, make me right or give me carte blanche to spout off whatever I want. Just when I thought I was free of it all, I found myself drawn back into it again - this time over the doctrine of Calvinism.
My wife simply shook her head and said, "How do you let this happen? Do you really have time for that?"
I had to check myself again and ask, "Randy, what are you doing here?" I thought back to the reason I created this blog. What is The Resistance all about? Who and what am I resisting. I read over the verse at the top of the page to find my answer: "Um...Satan. Yeah, that's it." Why did all the resistance, all the battles seem to involve Christian on Christian savagery of words?
I'm not saying it's wrong to point out dangers in the church. I'm certainly not saying Satan does not work from within against us. I am questioning our motivation and success if we are leveling all of our guns at each other. If we fire all of our ammunition at our brothers in arms, what is left to launch a volley at the enemy? Old Scratch can just kick back in his recliner, sip from a cold one, and watch us shred each other with a smile of contentment. He and his demons can wager on who is going to score more points today: the Calvinists or the Armenians? The Baptists or the Pentecostals? The Methodists or the Lutherans? The KJV only crowd or the fans of the new NIV2011?
What are we doing here? I had to open up to a verse I became very familiar with in raising my oldest girls - Ephesians 4:29. You see, I was an only child and I never understood sibling rivalry. I didn't know that sisters could be so downright mean to each other. As I saw my girls saving their finest fighting finesse for each other, I knew I had to find a way to teach them as a family, we should be building each other up, not tearing one another down. God led me to this verse. It contains some powerful words:
"corrupt communication" - The word translated as "communication" is "logos." I bet you've heard that one before as it is one of the words used in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ (check out John 1:1). Words are powerful - they can build up or destroy. Jesus is the embodiment of God's word. This living logos is a manifestation of grace, truth, mercy and justice. How do our words compare?
"use of edifying" - The word translated "edifying" literally is an architectural word indicating erecting an edifice. Our words are to be used to build each other up, not tear each other down. I don't mean to sound redundant, I just want to express my point. Are our words a wrecking ball? A jack hammer? Explosives that are demolishing others?
I am coming to see the greatest enemy we face is each other. We can take the simplest thing, the death of Christ on the cross for the sin of mankind, and turn it into a brutal argument that divides believers into various camps seething and gnashing at each other. We bash each other over whether we wear ties or t-shirts, whether we listen to Christian rap or hymns written a hundred years ago, whether we read from the lofty language of the King James Translation or the modern vernacular of the Message. Why can't we rejoice that we are saved by the blood of Christ? Why can't we worry more about clothing ourselves in love and mercy? Why can't we just agree it's a joyful noise to the Lord no matter what the genre? Why can't we just be glad somebody is reading the Bible?
Why am I here? Who am I resisting? How can we build each other up and stop tearing each other down? What if we dedicated as much time and effort to fighting the true enemy, Satan and his nefarious schemes, as we do defending our particular take on an area of theology? What if we prayed for our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we criticized them? Can you imagine just what might be accomplished?
Ultimately, as I look across our Christian blogs, facebook pages and flocks and leaders, I see we have one massive case of sibling rivalry. If we aren't careful, the family line may end with us.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Monday, May 30, 2011
I remember the first time I saw Bruce Marchiano in a movie - the epic, word for word production of The Gospel of Matthew. I'll admit, I wasn't sure how to take his portrayal of Jesus at first. He was happier, more humorous and more human in his portrayal of Christ than any other actor I had watched. Not long into the movie, I fell in love with this unique portrayal. I remember thinking to myself, "That's how Jesus was. That's how my Savior related to people." Some have criticized it as too American. I guess many folks have a hard time letting go of the stoic, long faced Jesus we have become so accustomed to through movies like "The Greatest Story Ever Told." It's not that these are bad movies, but are they leaving out something about Jesus that has not yet been captured on film?
I can recall watching one of these movies once and thinking, "Something strangely familiar about Jesus." It wasn't that I saw something from the Bible, but something that reminded me of another character. Finally it struck me: Mr. Spock! That's right, Jesus had all the traits of a good Vulcan. The only thing missing was for him to put one of the Pharisees in a nerve pinch and drop him to the ground. Or maybe do a mind meld with Nicodemus so he could really get this "born again" thing. Is that how Jesus really was, or was he more "down to earth" and more conversational in his style?
When I saw Marchiano had a new movie out called "The Encounter" where Jesus shows up in a modern day setting I had to check it out. I'll admit, at first again I was a little taken aback. Jesus is in a diner with a nametag that says "Jesus." Wow, what was this going to be like? Unfortunately I was unable to finish the movie on the first time through, but I watched enough to know it was good for my weekly movie night on Thursday night.
God has blessed me with the great privilege to minister at our local Juvenile Detention Center (JDC). I'm always on the lookout for good Christian movies to take. Most of the time I have thoroughly previewed the movies and many of them I have shown so many times I could just about recite them line for line. It's always nice to get a new movie, and I enjoy the times I actually feel comfortable watching them for the first time with the youth at JDC. They are also a good litmus test for a movie. They can be a tough and discerning audience.
The Encounter kept them captivated for its entire 90 minute running time. They shouted at some of the characters that made bad decisions and derided some of them for their behavior. They wondered if the Jesus character was the real deal or some lunatic. They also got a kick out of Officer Deville especially when his true nature was revealed. The Holy Spirit impressed upon me to give a no compromise presentation of the Gospel after the movie, and four young men gave their lives to Christ that night. It just does not get much better than that.
I give The Encounter my highest recommendation. For believers it is an encouragement about the love of Christ. For unbelievers it is a clear presentation of the Gospel message and the love Jesus has for each of us. One of the characters, a businessman named Nick, asks Jesus several hard questions. Jesus does no soft pedaling in answering, but replies in biblically grounded, solid answers. That was one of the things that impressed me most.
The basic premise of the movie is that a group of people are stranded in a diner on a stormy night with Jesus. In a face to face encounter with Christ, they each have a decision to make. Bruce Marchiano gives a powerful portrayal of Jesus, and the other actors do a fine job as well. In perhaps the most powerful part of the film, Jesus looks each of them in the eye and says, "I love you." I found my eyes misting with tears as I remembered how the real Jesus loved and saved this knuckleheaded atheist. I pray that this movie will reach many people with the power of the Gospel message. We have a generation of young people that are more open to visual presentations like this, and it's nice to find a movie that presents a solid, biblical presentation of the message of Christ. Be sure and check it out.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
(1) Camping was wrong, not the Bible. The Bible is clear we can NOT know the date of the end. Despite his statement contrary to this, if Jesus says he doesn't know when, then Camping doesn't know when.
(2) Read Deuteronomy 18:22 - he is a false prophet by the Bible's definition.
(3) Pray for Camping to repent and stop leading people astray. I held out hope he would offer an apology in his address yesterday but he just offered a senseless explanation and set a new date.
(4) Pray for Camping's followers that are financially ruined by investing in billboards and advertisements for the May 21 date around the world. He is offering no refunds or financial aid to them despite the fact that he is the head of a multi-million dollar non-profit ministry.
I am angry about this, and as Christians we should be angry that this man has used the name of Jesus to bankrupt people and lead hundreds if not thousands down a path of lies.
Friday, May 20, 2011
I’ve been somewhat obsessively following news and blogs on Rob Bell since “Love Wins” exploded on the market. I do agree with those folks that say you should not make comments about things (such as books) without reading and studying them. I have read “Love Wins” and I have followed Rob Bells teachings (via podcasts, “Noomas” and blogs) for years now. So I’m not just some sudden, casual observer. I have been disturbed by him for years. Each year seems to be more disturbing to me in the evolution of Rob Bell. Check out what I picked up about him from an interview he recently did with The Phoenix. He was discussing the Rapture (in light of all the May 21 gloom and doom stuff). He takes a straight shot at the way traditional evangelicals have defined the Rapture:
I was in Asia Minor, traveling around in some of the first church sites, and the guide said, 'Oh by the way - there were a whole bunch of earthquakes that happened in the first century in Asia Minor, present-day Turkey, the guide said it was in the city of Thessaloniki, the earthquake happened the city was flattened and everyone moved into tents outside of the city. And the Roman Emperor, a Caesar, funded the rebuilding of the city. And when the Emperor announced, 'I'm going to come see the city that you rebuilt with my resources,' everyone got very excited, and when the Emperor was in the distance there was a blowing of the trumpets and everybody rushed out of the city, to greet the Emperor and welcome the Emperor, and then everybody went back into the city to show the Emperor the city they rebuilt with his resources. So, it's to THAT city, that in the one verse that is used by the Rapture folks to say 'Ok, we're all going to go somewhere else,' in the historic context of the story, it's about everybody going BACK into the city, not going somewhere else. For me as a Christian, then, perhaps that particular passsage -- whch is pretty much the only passage (on which) Christians who built the whole 'Left Behind' thing -- perhaps it's much more about being the kinds of people who rebuild and repare and restore THIS world. We care for the environment, we try to help the poor, we're interested in rebuilding the city that was destroyed. (Cackles) Oh boy, that can upset folks. But there are lots of people who go, "Yeah, I always had a problem with that. I'm a person of faith, I'm all about Jesus, etc, I want to make a difference in the world, and with that sort of Left Behind stuff, I can't do it,' -- and when they find out, 'Hey, there's another way to read these stories, it doesn't have to be about evacuation,' People get very excited.
I have to ask you, can you truly believe the arrogance of this one man? He has greater insight on the truth of Heaven and Hell than hundreds of years worth of great theologians that have preceded him? He has greater insight and understanding on the Rapture than hundreds of years worth of great theologians that have preceded him? Can you put your finger on the problem here?
I dare ask, if you review this passage in 1 Thessalonians can you even remotely see Bell’s view?
But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 NASB)
Bell has a tendency to turn everything into a “social” gospel that is all about reform here and now with little focus on eternity. Can you really reconcile the words of the Apostle Paul with those of Rob Bell? I am greatly disturbed and concerned that Bell is leading a whole generation of folks away from the truths of Scripture. Pray for him. Be wise and seek the discernment of the Holy Spirit.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
“Christians and non-Christians are often drawn to counterfeit gospels. Even those of us who have walked with the Lord for many years may be inclined to accept cheap imitations of the truth. Why? Because they are easy. They cost us less. And they make us popular with people whose opinions matter to us.” – Trevin Wax from Counterfeit Gospels: Rediscovering the Good News in a World of False Hope
One of the common things a tourist runs into in a big city is counterfeits. You can purchase a counterfeit Rolex for only a fraction of the cost of a real one. For a small investment, the tourist can own something that looks like what millionaires wear on their wrists to keep time. However, it may look like a Rolex and even have “Rolex” stamped on it, but ultimately it is a counterfeit. It lacks the same structure, design, durability and internal components of a real Rolex. It fails to hold up the same way an authentic Rolex will.
I’m afraid Rolexes are not the only thing being counterfeited today. A plethora of so-called “gospels” are passing themselves off as the true gospel. None other than Rob Bell’s controversial best-seller “Love Wins” is just such a counterfeit. Shortly after reading it I learned of a new book titled “Counterfeit Gospels” by Trevin Wax. Wax develops curriculum for the SBC with Lifeway. Being a fellow Southern Baptist myself, I excitedly nabbed a copy of his book and dug into it. I found it refreshing and challenging.
Wax begins by laying out the basics of the true Gospel with the illustration of a three legged stool. Each leg represents a critical part of the Gospel and if any one leg is removed then the stool falls. These three legs are the “The Gospel Story”, “The Gospel Announcement” and “The Gospel Community.” Each counterfeit insidiously attacks one of the three legs of the true gospel.
Wax identifies six specific counterfeit gospels: therapeutic, judgmentless, moralistic, quietist, activist and churchless. The therapeutic and judgmentless attack the Gospel Story. The moralistic and quietist attack the Gospel Announcement. Finally the activist and churchless attack the Gospel Community. Wax begins the study of each counterfeit with a chapter dedicated to the particular “leg” of the stool, then follows with individual chapters to each attack on it.
The book offers an approachable depth that helps the individual believer see through the many counterfeits invading the church today. I believe it is essential reading for any church leader and believer in Christ. Leaders must make sure they avoid perpetrating a counterfeit and believers must be sure they do not fall into the trap of following one. Wax’s work is scholarly and detailed. It’s not a book you’ll plow through in a day or two, but one you will slowly wade into that will lead you to look into your own faith, the faith community to which you belong, and the Christian faith as a whole.
My biggest concern is that the authentic Gospel is becoming rarer in the 21st Century. Wax expresses a deep love and understanding of the Gospel. Each chapter concerning a counterfeit offers advice on “countering the counterfeit” which will help those who find themselves embracing something other than the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The stakes are high. The Apostle Paul said:
But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. (Galatians 1:8)
Those are strong words from the Apostle Paul when he dealt with a counterfeit gospel in Galatia. The stakes are high. The eternal fate of souls is determined by how one embraces the Gospel. Paying a large sum of money for a Rolex and finding out later that it is a counterfeit is a tragedy. Investing your faith in a gospel message and finding out later it is a counterfeit is the greatest tragedy in life. Wax’s book will help readers discern the real from the counterfeit in an effective way. It is perhaps the most relevant book I have read outside of the Bible since becoming a Christian.
Disclosure of Material Connection:
I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Many things in the epistle of 2 John prove to be a mystery. Nowhere within its contents does the author name himself; he simply uses the moniker “The Elder.” Most accept this as the Apostle John, but some scholars have called this into question. However, in light of the Gospel of John and the other two epistles attributed to him, I believe John is the writer. That assumption will be made throughout the rest of this study.
Imagine the aged John, an elder in the church of Ephesus. Most likely at the time of penning 2 John, all the other Apostles have died. John has heard or seen each of them spill their life’s blood as martyrs. His flesh is weathered, his muscles have weakened, his bones are aching and his agility, eyesight and hearing are not what they used to be. But as his physical life declines, his spiritual life thrives. In some ways he is a celebrity of the 1st Century church – the last living of the Lord Jesus Christ’s inner circle. However, he is quite unlike the rock star mega-church pastor of the 21st Century – he is humble, poor and focused on building a spiritual empire and not a financial one.
At this stage of his life, as he knows his days on earth are growing shorter, what is he focused on? More than anything it is expressed in these opening verses of 2 John. It’s all about truth and love. Both of these words occur multiple times in the opening of the letter (truth = 4 times and love = 2 times). Many have given John the nickname “The Apostle of Love.” I think we could easily call him “The Apostle of Truth” as well. For the wise, old Apostle, I think he found those two words best described Jesus. Jews saw Moses as the greatest prophet, but John saw how much greater the Son of God was as expressed in his Gospel: “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). John understood that the law so dearly loved by the Jews had passed away as an old covenant as the grace and truth of Christ, the fulfillment of law and prophecy, manifested in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
The recipients of 2 John present an enigma as well. Should we take this as a personal letter to a single lady? Or is it something bigger? Is this figurative language of a church elder to a sister church? I think as we explore the context we’ll find it to be the latter, and indeed, it is a very relevant letter to the church at large today. The church is the “elect lady” in that she is the bride of Christ and each of us who follow Christ are her “children.”
As I examine John’s writing, I find that for him the words “truth” and “love” were synonymous for the Lord Jesus. You could almost interchange the name of Jesus with those words and see how this fits. The imagery and character of Christ are vividly portrayed, packed in and expounded by John in short order. John is setting up the reader for what is to come later in the letter, clearly and concisely pointing out the fact that one absolute truth does exist, and it is found in the person of Jesus.
Already in the life of the Apostle false teachers are creeping in and stealing from the flock of Christ. Many truths are presenting themselves to the early believers. Scholars today like Bart Ehrman and Elaine Pagels tell us that early Christianity was a buffet of beliefs, full of variety in understanding and interpreting Christ. They say eventually the bigger, stronger sect overpowered the others and became orthodoxy as we know it today. I believe we see clearly in 2 John that an orthodox, single teaching of the truth existed from the beginning. The Apostles (including Paul) had a unified understanding of Christ. Other false teachers tried to bend, twist and hijack that truth. How heartbreaking it must have been for John to witness this, with some of the false teachers possibly being students of Scripture that he taught. How painful it must have been for him to see people led astray into false belief and doctrines of damnation.
Truth took top priority for John, and he saw the truth embodied in his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He desired more than anything to preserve the truth, teach the truth and live the truth.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Saturday, April 2, 2011
I recently underwent Minimally Invasive Spinal Surgery to deal with a herniated and fragmented disc in my back. The acronym the medical industry uses for this procedure is MISS. As I read all the literature provided to me and researched the procedure on the internet, I thought to myself, “What an unfortunate term.” You see, the last thing I wanted to be on anybody’s mind as they inserted surgical tools in the vicinity of my spine was a “miss.” I wanted them to hit their target with the precision of a highly trained sniper. I didn’t want them to miss by even a micro millimeter. My future health depended on the surgical precision of my physician.
Fortunately the surgery has all the marks of success. I am on my second week of recovery and I am already in a vastly reduced amount of pain. My surgeon appears to have accurately cut away parts of one of my discs that had compressed a nerve. The precision involved in the procedure overwhelms me. A simple miss could have had devastating consequences.
It makes me think about something the Apostle Paul said to his protégé and understudy Timothy:
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth to not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Timothy 2:15)
A unique word occurs in this one verse, the Greek word “orthotomeo” which is translated as “rightly dividing.” It occurs in the New Testament only once, and paints a vivid picture of the responsibility that comes with teaching and preaching God’s Holy Word. It literally means “to make a straight cut” or “to dissect.”
As leaders in God’s church we are therefore called to be scriptural surgeons, operating on God’s word with the precision and care that a neurologist would when performing spinal surgery on a patient. One minor deviation can lead to devastating results. The verse calls us to “study,” not just haphazardly plow into the Bible with no regard for those who have treaded its depths before us. Imagine the development of medicine, and how my surgeon had relied upon the vast library of knowledge about it developed over hundreds of years. Consider his years of education, and the amount of time he poured over texts and case studies. He would never have considered simply dismissing all of that knowledge and trying a heretofore unknown procedure on a patient. Likewise, he would not consider using methods that had been proven as failures and lacking in success rates.
I’ll never forget when my doctor explained the surgery to me. He had confidence in it because he had done it before and seen the results. He knew of many other surgeons with patients who had benefited greatly from the procedure. He was happy and enthusiastic that he could solve my problem. Then he saw the sick look on my face because the last thing I wanted was to turn my spine over to some guy I just met. However, I learned the methods were tried and true, and now I am personally benefiting from them. You see my doctor had studied, a medical board had approved him, he had patients with results he did not need to be ashamed of and above all, he knew how to make a precision cut with his tools.
I believe the manner in which we handle God’s Word is even more critical. My neurologist performs procedures that have temporary results. Eventually my body will grow old and deteriorate. My spine may develop problems again in the future. However, as pastors and church leaders we deal with eternal issues. The fate of people’s eternity is at stake. The immortal soul is exactly that: immortal. The Bible clearly teaches it has two possible fates in eternity: Heaven or Hell. God has called us to the high duty of delivering his message about this most important of all decisions. He has called us to be surgeons of the Holy Scriptures.
Vincent’s Word Studies says this concerning the phrase “rightly dividing the word of truth”:
“The thought is that the minister of the gospel is to present the truth rightly, not abridging it, not handling it as a charlatan, not making it a matter of worldly strife, but treating it honestly and fully, in a straightforward manner.”
Lea and Griffin in the New American Commentary on 2 Timothy state this in regards to this section of the verse:
“This same workman (specifically, Timothy but by application all believers today) was to be accurate in delivering the message of truth. The truth is the gospel. Paul showed concern that Timothy would present the gospel without perverting it or distorting it. He was not to be turned aside by disputes about words or mere empty prattle.”
I have a friend that will be undergoing her sixth back surgery later this year. Early on a physician performed a surgery that created more problems for her than it solved. She is still dealing with the consequences of those issues today hoping that maybe this surgery will be her last. A man calling himself a physician failed to live up to his calling and wounded his patient instead of helping his patient.
God has given us a glorious epic of truth called the Bible. This year is the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. It’s the anniversary of a milestone because it celebrates the Bible being made available to the mass of men in their common vernacular. Celebrate this anniversary by reading God’s glorious word. You don’t have to read only the King James Version, pick up a copy that you can enjoy and understand. Find a church that preaches the truth of that Word. If you are a pastor, follow the tenets of 2 Timothy 2:15 – study it, don’t be ashamed of it, and rightly divide the truths of it.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
I remember just about a year ago getting geared up for a trip to my daughter’s wedding in Tucson, Arizona. Five of us planned on going from Hot Springs, Arkansas. Flying was not an option because ticket prices were too high and I just hate flying. I’m okay with the pat downs and luggage checks, it’s just that flying is a two fisted assault on me, igniting my claustrophobia and motion sickness. We rented a comfortable car and set out on the near 20 hour trek across the Southwestern US towards the heart of the Sonora Desert.
One of the constants on our journey was the ubiquitous road signs. They let us know if we were on the right highway and how far until our next destination. In the big, flat, straight, boring expanse of Texas they also assured us we were not caught in some dimensional wormhole that would keep us perpetually in the midst of oil wells and cattle ranches, that indeed, the New Mexico border was getting closer and closer.
Without the road signs we would have had many doubts on the journey. We were able to coordinate with our map and make sure we were on the right interstate, and even able to identify some landmarks. Road signs became even more important as we passed through larger cities like Dallas and El Paso where the octopus of exits and overpasses offered confusion to the casual traveler. We made it to our destination without getting lost once, and also had a safe return.
I believe the Lord Jesus Christ has provided us road signs concerning his return as well. Have you noticed a lot of talk about them lately? I woke up this morning to a fresh round of them on Facebook. The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. The growing crises in the Middle East including Libya, Syria and Yemen. Growing hostility towards Israel. All signs that the end is near and Christ is standing on the threshold waiting to return. At least that’s what people are saying.
Does anybody remember a guy by the name of Hal Lindsey? He wrote a bestseller in 1970 titled, “The Late Great Planet Earth.” Lindsey is a pre-millennial dispensationalist. I know, that’s a mouthful. What does it mean? Basically that a series of dispensations, or events will occur before the end, and that the church will be raptured (or immediately taken) out before a period known as the Tribulation and will return for a 1000 year reign with Christ before the creation of the New Heaven and the New Earth. Go ahead, google it, look it up on wikipedia if you are curious about further details. People of Lindsey’s opinion believe the end can be foretold by watching these events. His book sold millions and was a New York Times bestseller. He was sure he knew when the end would come. He had seen all the signs as foretold in the Bible. He believed it would happen in the 1980s. You guessed it, he was wrong.
The funny thing is Lindsey has revised his book and his calculations. Of course he is not alone. Since the 1st Century people have been trying to figure out when Christ would return. Many preceded good old Hal, and many have succeeded him in seeking to predict the date. Maybe you have heard of Harold Camping who has predicted the rapture of the church will occur May 21 of this very year? He has a complicated mathematical formula that has led him to this precise date. Never mind the fact that previously he had predicted it would happen in the 1990s. He has recalculated now and is sure he has it right.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for that first generation of Christians? Take a moment and pretend you are back in 70 AD as the Roman Army marches into Jerusalem, raising the city and slaughtering thousands of people. When they come to the temple, they totally destroy it, not leaving a single stone unturned. Wait a minute, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?
As Jesus was leaving the Temple grounds, his disciples pointed out to him the various Temple buildings. But he responded, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of one another!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NLT)
I’m sure right there on that day many people felt the end had come. But really, it was just beginning. As the old Jerusalem fell down, I’m sure many anticipated the arrival of the Messiah heralding the creation of a New Jerusalem, but again, the end was just beginning.
Over the course of chapter 24 in Matthew, Jesus addresses his disciples’ questions about when he will return to set up his kingdom. It’s easy to see shadows of these events today. We see nation rising against nation. We see widespread famine. We see devastating earthquakes…and this is stuff he mentions in just one verse! Take note of what he says to his disciples in verse 6 though:
“Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately.”
Skip down to verse 8:
“But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come.”
In a way Jesus is warning his disciples, “If you think this is bad, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”
The coming calamity that Jesus describes eventually grows to catastrophic levels that have never been witnessed including the sun and moon giving no light and stars falling from the sky. Not only will the earth be shaken, but the heavens will be too.
The funny thing to me is that people are quick to point out all the natural calamities leading up to the end, but Jesus gives other signs. More than any of the natural disasters disturbing me lately it is one of the spiritual disasters that leaving me rattled:
“And many false prophets will appear and will deceive many people.” (Matthew 24:11 NLT)
A prophet is one who claims to bear a message from God. Have you noticed the number of people bearing false messages from God lately? You’ll find one on the bestseller list right now, Rob Bell with his book “Love Wins.” His false message is this: God loves everybody so much that he would never send anybody to eternal torment in a flaming pit called Hell. That disturbs me more than earthquakes and famine. Even more disturbing is the number of Christians who are embracing this false message!
Road signs. Yes, they are all over the place. On the trip to Arizona the road signs told us how many miles until we reached our destination. That is one thing the road signs to the end do not tell us. How many more miles? How many more years, or months or days or hours? Jesus answered that question:
“However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even the angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.” (Matthew 24:36 NLT)
Not Hal Lindsey. Not Harold Camping. Not your friend on Facebook. Nobody knows. Do not be an alarmist shouting, “The end is here! The end is here!” Do not ignore the signs and live like all is well. Live with a sense of urgency. Look forward to the glorious appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. Offer comfort and hope in his name to those that are overwhelmed in this crazy world. Don’t try to calculate and decipher exactly when he will return, but be ready right here and right now if he should crack the horizon with the brilliance of his coming glory. Tell other people how they can be ready as well. Share the message of his Gospel, of his love, mercy and grace. Put your faith in Christ, not in somebody who worked up a formula based on their interpretation of Daniel + Ezekiel + Revelation.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Monday, March 21, 2011
Monday, March 14, 2011
I sat with a group of about 15 youth at the Juvenile Detention Center a couple of weeks ago. We had just watched a video from the 13 Letters Curriculum (from Reach Records) on the book of Colossians. The primary focus of our discussion was the character of Christ. The young men were doing a good job discussing who Jesus was and then I moved to the subject of him being the only way to salvation. I made a concise statement, “Jesus is the only way to heaven. Anyone who puts their faith in anything else is going to Hell.”
Complete shock overcame the group. All of them agreed that Jesus was the son of God. All of them agreed that Jesus had died for their sins. All of them agreed Jesus had risen from the grave three days after his execution and now sat in heaven at the right hand of God. However, the exclusion of all other faiths as paths to salvation just overwhelmed them.
“What about Muslims? Are they all going to Hell?”
“What about people who don’t believe in God? Are they going to Hell?”
My “yes” hit them like a baseball bat to the jaw. Despite their confession of who and what Jesus was they had a hard time making the leap to him being the only route to salvation. Such views are politically incorrect and intolerant. My group of youth had been raised in a culture that taught tolerance. However, the definition of tolerance had changed from their generation to mine.
Tolerance once meant respecting other people’s opinions. Now it means accepting other people’s opinions. Big difference. Our young people are being indoctrinated into this view. The ability to hold two contrary views as truth was once considered a sign of insanity. Now it is labeled intelligence or maturity. It’s an insidious philosophy that has crept into our learning institutions from the lowest to highest levels. My view earns me the label of small minded or bigoted or intolerant.
Logic itself dictates some conclusion other than opposing sides are both right. If Christianity and Islam cannot agree on the divinity of Christ how can they both be right? If Christianity is built on the divinity of Christ, how can it ever be reconciled with a faith system that denies he was anything more than a good teacher or a prophet? Logically, either one side is right and the other wrong, or both are wrong.
To try and reconcile it by saying that God is bigger than our ability to understand him and works through various ways to reveal himself is a logical fallacy as well. If we accept that God is all powerful and all knowing, then we must assume that he can clearly articulate the truths of who he is through a medium that we can understand. Is he the author of order or the author of confusion?
Honestly I have more respect for the atheist who believes none of it is true than I do for the faithful who want to embrace a buffet of spirituality saying each is good in its own way and reveals parts of the whole truth. I’m not much for riding fences. I stood in the atheist camp for decades and for me it was always an all or nothing affair. Either you believe or you don’t. Saving faith revolves around how you define who and what Jesus is. We cannot attribute words to him that indicate he is the only way (John 14:6) and then say other ways are possible paths as well. In that case instead of calling him Lord we are calling him a liar.
We live in a culture of tolerance today where we are encouraged to avoid exclusivist statements. We might offend somebody. We might even be accused of hate speech. However, I am reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Galatians again:
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10 NASB)
Take a minute and go back and read Galatians 1:8 over. Paul says anybody who says something different about the Lord Jesus Christ is to be “accursed.” The Greek word is “anathema” which means “a person or thing doomed to destruction.” I think it is all clear. I am judging nobody; I am merely presenting the truths of the Gospel. God sends nobody to Hell; people end up there because of the choices they make. Do not be afraid to share the true Gospel with other people. Don’t ride fences. Remember the words of Jesus:
And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:32 NASB)
Only one truth can be the truth.
Saturday, March 5, 2011
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Thursday, January 20, 2011
God blessed me by calling me to an awesome church in July of 2010. If you know me, you know I love to preach. I love to preach in church, but I love to preach inside our local detention center as well. I had prayed that when God called me to a church he would call me to one that would support my work in jail ministry. My church supported me from the beginning by giving up one night each month for me to preach in jail. Our schedule for January (no evening services) has offered me even more opportunity. I truly believe it is our call and duty not just as pastors and preachers but as any born-again follower of Christ to frequently share the Gospel. It may be one-on-one; it may be in some type of group setting. I do not believe God intended anybody to be bench-warmers on his team.
One of my brothers in jail ministry is a guy named Mark. Mark’s primary role is what we call “bean-hole” ministry. Our detention center has 8 cell blocks: 6 for men and 2 for women. Each cell block has a day room then individual cells. Each cell has a small flap for putting food trays through, as does the main door from the day room into the halls of the facility. This little flap about waist height is the “bean-hole” in jail vernacular.
Each week Mark makes his rounds to the bean-holes of the male cellblocks. He hands out Bibles, Christian literature, listens to inmate concerns and prays with inmates. Most importantly, through that small flap in a large metal door, he shares the Gospel. Mark feels a real call on his life to witness for Jesus in that way. He’s a humble guy, and he never brags on himself, but he is an inspiration to me. He is a fired up soul-winning witness for the Lord Jesus Christ. He trained me on bean-hole procedure and from time to time I get to fill in for him or work side by side with him. He is one of God’s tools in Garland County Jail Ministry.
Just this past Wednesday, Mark and I started co-teaching a 4 week study on witnessing at my church. Mark designed the curriculum which he calls S.O.W. (Society of Witnesses) for Jesus. We are both praying he will have the opportunity to present it to several other churches and ministries. One of the most important words Mark spoke about in the first session was, “Go.” It’s the first word in the Great Commission and something Jesus calls all of his disciples to go.
Now I’m not telling you that you have to go around the world to some third-world country where there is not air-conditioning, indoor plumbing or sophisticated technology. I’m not even saying you have to go to jail or prison. I am saying that if you are a true follower of Jesus then he has a mission for you to GO somewhere. Maybe it’s just to someone in your family, or your workplace, or that guy in front of you at Wal-Mart. Maybe it is to somewhere in Northern Africa where your life will be in danger for merely uttering the name, “Jesus.” I can’t tell you where to go, that’s between you and Jesus. I can tell you this: you need to go wherever he leads.
I had the privilege to go into one of the two large felony cellblocks of our local detention center just last Sunday. All 32 men in it opted to go to church, and they were allowed out of lockdown into the dayroom to worship the Lord Jesus Christ. As the deputies made their rounds unlocking cells and letting inmates out one of the deputies pulled me aside (a great young man I know personally) and said, “Randy, there are going to be a lot of guys out in here with you. Are you okay with that?” I just smiled and said, “Sure.”
It’s a cellblock where they have had problems before. I was not okay because I had a shank tucked away in my sock and was ready to take on the biggest, baddest dude in the block. No, I was okay because I had the Holy Spirit on my side, and he has never allowed one of our volunteers to be injured.
We started as usual with a series of songs, and the men’s voices echoed strangely in the large cavern of concrete. It was stripped down, heartfelt and real. I preached from Colossians chapter 3 on putting off the old and putting on the new. The men listened, some even asked questions, or offered some positive comments. At the end, when I gave an invitation, the Holy Spirit led two men to come before Jesus and surrender their lives to him – not because I am a good preacher…not because I know the Bible well…not because of pretty music.
It was because Jesus had chosen these two men, and he had chosen me and told me to, “Go.” One word. One powerful command. Powerful and eternal results. Will you go to?
Politically Incorrect: LIFE
Monday, January 10, 2011
A few weeks back I got into a somewhat heated discussion with the folks over at Crosstalk Blog concerning a new, illustrated edition of the Bible known as “The Almighty Bible.” The publishers of this work are printing it in books, and currently have Genesis and Exodus available. The warden of Crosstalk, Ingrid Schlueter, whom I greatly respect for her discernment ministry, made a unilateral condemnation of The Almighty Bible because it is an “edited” text and features colorful illustrations to appeal to a tween-teen demographic. After exploring the publication’s website, I found nothing objectionable and after posting as much on Crosstalk found myself under friendly fire from some of my fellow discerners.
Shortly after the exchange I received a personal note on my facebook page from The Almighty Bible’s PR man Dan Cordie:
I would like to thank you for taking supportive approach towards The Almighty Bible's goal of connecting with a new generation of Bible readers on the CrossTalk Blog.
Exodus just arrived in our office this past Tuesday. If you will send me your address I would love to send out a copy to you.
Thanks again ,
I promplty replied that I’d love a copy and a few days later I receved a fresh new copy of Exodus in the mail. I set out to closely examine the book and also to see how Hannah, my 5 year old, reacted to it. She is well under the targeted age, but she is a sharp girl and I thought she would be a good judge of how appealing it was.
First let me confess this. As I sit here on my couch typing this, enjoying a day off because of 5 ½ inches of snow we received over the last day, my daughter is perusing Exodus. When I pulled it out to get ready to write this review she said, “Oh wow Dad, Exodus! Can I look at it? I loved that book.” After flipping through it, she returned it to me and asked, “When are we going to order Genesis?” I had told her we would get it when we finished Exodus. She loved it.
Of course Hannah is not capable of discerning the Biblical accuracy of the book. I just wanted to share her kid level gut response. We read it at bedtime over a couple of weeks and she looked forwared to it each day.
My purpose in exploring the book was to determine if it was a watering down of God’s word and a heretical insult to the Holy Scriptures. In brief, I found it to be nothing of the sort. I give it my highest recommendation for the reasons I’ll detail below.
First, The Almighty Bible is based on the WEB (World English Bible) translation. This is a non-copyrighted modern translation of the Scriptures that sticks to a literal interpretation. One of its distinguishing characteristics is that it renders the tetragrammatron (YHWH) as Yahweh rather than the all caps LORD found in most Bible translations. The official website ( webbible.net ) is a wonderful Bible study resource. I’m assuming the publishers chose this particular translation for two reasons: (1) as previously stated it is not copyrighted so no royalties would have to be paid keeping production costs lower, and (2) it is a reliable and accurate modern English translation.
Each page offers colorful illustrations that are good quality (as good if not a little better than that in a typical graphic novel) with a condensed text at the bottom of each page. The condensed text accurately portrays the material that is summarized. The actual scripture reference is listed in case you want to explore further details on that particular section.
One of my favorite things is that at the end of the book detailed illustrations are included of the route of the Exodus, of the Tabernacle and all the items contained inside the Tabernacle. These are great tools not just for young people, but for the more mature as well.
Reading through a particular section was especially suited to Hannah’s attention span, and the illustrations held her attention while I read the text. We were even able to work on her “sight words” from school in several areas as she helped me read (she is a kindergartener). Another particular highlight was the section on the Ten Commandments and how they were simply explained.
Hannah learned a great deal, with key points being the title of the book and it’s meaning, who Moses was, who Pharaoh was, God’s name Yahweh, the Ten Commandments and about other things such as manna. Again I offer it my highest recommendation, adding only that I feel it has broader appeal beyond the particular demographic that the publishers shot for. I believe it generates interest in the Bible, builds a great foundation of Biblical teaching and is a strong visual tool for communicating the power of God’s Word.
Does it denigrate or dishonor the Holy Scriptures in any way? Absolutely not! After thoroughly studying the book I find it constructed with a high regard for the authority, infallibility, inspiration and love of God’s word. It clocks in at 150 pages, is divided into eleven chapters, each averaging about 20 pages. Each page features several colorful illustrations and the condensed text in a large font at the bottom averaging about 25 words per page. Hannah and I read one section per night which took around 5 minutes but could be more depending on how much discussion ensued.
This book is a gateway into the truths and wonder of the greatest book ever written. I commend the publishers for their work. Please check out their website at TheAlmightyBible.com . I think you will be impressed as well.
Saturday, January 8, 2011
"Off With The Old, On With The New"
Then he brought me back to the door of the house; and behold, water was flowing from under the threshold of the house toward the east; for the house faced east. And the water was flowing down from under, from the right side of the house, from south of the altar…Now when I had returned, behold, on the bank of the river there were many trees on the one side and on the other…By the river on its bank, on one side and on the other, will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither and their fruit will not fail. They will bear every month because their water flows from the sanctuary, and their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing. (Ezekiel 47:1; 7; 12 NASB)
Then he showed me a river of the water of life, clear as crystal, coming from the throne of God and of the Lamb, in the middle of its street. On either side of the river was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit every month; and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. (Revelation 22:1-2 NASB)
As I study God’s word, one of the things that impress me most is the consistency and unity it possesses. No doubt, only the inspiration of God himself could have created the most marvelous book ever written. If you have never read the entirety of God’s word then you are missing some true revelations from the Creator of all things. I call them “Aha!” moments.
Honestly in my Bible reading this morning I was struggling through the final chapters of Ezekiel. In the conclusion of that book you will find a seemingly endless series of measurements concerning the temple and God’s city. I became lost in the sequence of cubit after cubit after cubit. The temptation is to glance through such readings and move onto what would appear to be more exciting stuff. However, in the midst of that I fell into Ezekiel 47 and the image of the river.
I will confess I have a fear of water. I’m not sure how this happened since my dad was a Navy man for 20 years and has sailed to 64 different countries. I can only conclude it is not genetic. I remember my first big water experience a few years back as I floated the Caddo River with my church youth group. My canoe partner was my wife and although she does not possess the same fear of water, neither of us had ever been in a canoe before. I felt blessed to survive with my life and my marriage in tact and vowed to never do it again.
However, I find peace in the imagery of the river in God’s word. This river mentioned in Genesis itself has no name, although as it splits into four branches we find those names. Ezekiel does not give us a name, but only an origin for it. Only in Revelation do we receive a hint of what it might be called. Perhaps we can best label it the River of God or the River of Life. Its waters are so powerful that the trees that stand beside it never whither but bear fruit year round. Indeed, one must assume that the very Tree of Life is nourished from the waters of this River of Life.
In reflecting on the River of Life in Genesis, Ezekiel and Revelation, I find the perfection of God’s plan for His creation. He formed paradise in the Garden of Eden, and a beautiful river flowed through it. During the Babylonian captivity, God revealed a vision to the prophet Ezekiel that showed a restoration of His people, and in the midst of the city, coming from the temple was that beautiful river again. Finally, in the visions God gave to the Apostle John in Revelation, he showed him the restored river and trees – trees that bear fruit for healing.
God’s book is an epic of paradise created, paradise lost, paradise promised and paradise restored. The sin of man wrecked paradise. God promises us a return to paradise and one day that paradise will exist again when God renews His creation.
I believe we can all often relate to the words of the Psalmist from Psalm 137 –
By the rivers of Babylon,
There we sat down and wept,
When we remembered Zion,
Upon the willows in the midst of it
We hung our harps.
(Psalm 137:1-2 NASB)
Surely the exiled Psalmist focused on the rivers of his homeland, perhaps the Jordan itself. As he set by the river as a captive, the last thing he felt like doing was singing a song of praise and exultation. Indeed, he hung up his harp and wept. The same sentiments fill us at times as we long for the deliverance of God from the iniquities of the world in which we live. But there, by the river, even the river of captivity, we must sing praises to God. I am reminded of how Ezekiel’s call and commission came as he sat by that very river of captivity one day:
Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. (Ezekiel 1:1 NASB)
We may be stuck by the figurative “River of Chebar” right now, but one day we will stand on the shores of the River of Life. Until then, we should take our harps down, tune them and play songs of rejoicing for the promise God has given us of that great day. Will you meet me down by the river?