Thursday, April 9, 2015

The Destruction of Sodom

Tom Strait’s recent column in The Blackshear Times, “What Do You Think Jesus Would Do?” is filled with numerous errors both explicit and implicit.

He errs regarding the proposed Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Georgia.   He errs with his implications about the character and conduct of the Lord Jesus Christ as presented in the Bible.  And he errs about the historical Biblical account of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Theologically, this third mistake is the root cause of the first two and is therefore the subject of this post.

No accurate and complete reading of the Scriptures would indicate that an inhospitable attitude “sealed the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah,” as Strait suggests.  The fact that Strait’s theory finds sympathy among liberal revisionist theologians is irrelevant.  Repeating an error has never made it true and it doesn’t do so in this case either.

Were the men of Sodom inhospitable toward the visiting men who were, in fact, angelic messengers of grace as described in Genesis 19?  Absolutely.  But that wasn’t Sodom’s ultimate offense.  It isn’t even close.

References to the city of Sodom appear throughout the Bible, literally from Genesis to Revelation.  A good Bible student would examine each instance to get a full understanding of the issue.  To do otherwise is the ultimate example of “sound biting” God and taking His comments and actions woefully out of context.

Ezekiel 16:49-50 states, Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had arrogance, abundant food and careless ease, but she did not help the poor and needy.  Thus they were haughty and committed abominations before Me. Therefore I removed them when I saw it.”

The economy was good in Sodom.  The Gomorrah-Jones Industrial Average rose every day.  In this environment of prosperity and blessing the wealthy forgot about the poor and they oppressed the needy.  There is surely a strong word of warning and rebuke for the modern church and its focus on institutional growth and financial prosperity.  But that’s not why God destroyed Sodom.

The people of Sodom forgot about God.  Their eyes and hearts were filled with pride and they turned away from God.  That’s why verse 50 above says, “THUS they were haughty and committed abominations before Me.” (emphasis mine)  The pride and prosperity led to wicked abominations.

Their propensity to do whatever gratified the flesh and lined their pockets led them to commit unspeakable abominations.  But what were those abominations?

Could it have been the inhospitable actions toward the visiting angels in Genesis 19?  Well, considering the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah was determined in the mind of God back in Genesis 18, it seems unlikely that an event in Genesis 19 prompted the wrath of God.  To say that chapter 19 prompted chapter 18 is anachronistic at best.

Further, 2 Peter 2:8 describes the destruction of Sodom and references their “lawless deeds” that occurred “day after day.”  It is clear that the destruction of Sodom was not due to a single event of inhospitality or any other single event for that matter.  Well, what were those “lawless deeds?”

2 Peter 2:7 calls their sin, “sensual conduct.”  Verse 10 of the same chapter describes the actions as “indulg(ing) the flesh in its corrupt desires.”

Bible students have long recognized that 2 Peter and Jude are parallel books.  So it’s not surprising that Jude 7 describes the same issue.  “Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.”

Neither of these passages requires the reader to be a Bible scholar or have an advanced degree in ancient Greek to understand their clear meaning.

Strait turns the Bible on its end to reach his flawed conclusions.  Did Jesus reserve harsh criticism, perhaps His very harshest criticisms for the religious leaders of His day?  Yes.  But to imply that Christ’s criticisms of first-century dead religious Judaism would necessarily require contemporary Divine criticisms of those who hold a Scriptural view of homosexuality as a perversion is an exegetical error of Biblical proportion.

If you don't know what it means to make "an exegetical error of Biblical proportion" let me make it simple:  People who make such a claim don't have a clue as to what the Bible is actually teaching.

Was the riotous mob at Sodom inhospitable toward the angels?  Certainly.  The Sodomites were so inhospitable they tried to gang-rape the angels who they mistakenly thought were mortal men.  Lot in his compromised spiritual state offered his daughters to the crowd all the while emphasizing they were biological virgins.  The historical context of Genesis 19 is utterly steeped in immoral passions and saturated with ungodly sexual desires.

If a visitor to a modern home is accosted and threatened with gang-induced sodomy, it is highly doubtful any of us would dial 9-1-1 and report a case of inhospitality.  To suggest otherwise stretches common sense to its breaking point.

Both 2 Peter and Jude reference the destruction of Sodom in connection with the return of Christ and the wrath He will pour upon the ungodly.  By God’s grace, the wrath is not poured out on the basis of sexual purity or sexual pasts but on the singular basis of a person’s relationship with Christ Himself.  It is Christ’s death on the cross that provides the escape from God’s wrath.  And His forgiveness is available to anyone who will repent and believe the gospel.

After describing the destruction of Sodom (don’t miss that), Simon Peter’s second epistle tells us three things about the vengeful and victorious second coming of Christ and the rejection of this doctrine by future generations.  He tells us THAT the doctrine would be rejected, WHY the doctrine would be rejected, and HOW the doctrine would be rejected.

THAT it will be rejected
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking…

WHY it will be rejected
Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts…

HOW it will be rejected
“Know this first of all, that in the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.”  For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water.  But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.”

Simply put, the day will come that people will deny the coming wrath of God against present sin.  To further their case, they will seek to deny that the God of the Bible ever poured out wrath against sin.  At least, if He did, it wasn’t for any of the sins we commit today.  God's wrath against sin is ironically reserved for those who speak of His wrath against sin.

And the rejection of the wrath of God will be because men want to do whatever they want to do, pursuing their owns lusts, with no consideration for the righteous laws of God.  To defend their immoral desires, they will monkey around with the book of Genesis.

The American culture does this on a regular basis.  But for a clear example of this doctrinal error, one need only read the guest column in the April 8, 2015 edition of The Blackshear Times.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Desperate Need for Careless Leadership

The following manuscript contains the prepared notes for the address I brought to the Georgia General Assembly on Monday, March 23, 2015.  It was my privilege to serve as Chaplain for the Day at the House of Representatives.  I was invited by my state representative, Chad Nimmer.  I call him, "Brother Chad," because he is a member of my church and a faithful deacon.

There was much I wanted to say in the 5 minutes allotted for the morning devotional.  Therefore, I chose to write out the text of the my message.  I am confident I did not deliver it word-for-word so this is certainly not a transcript of the actual address.

Thank you, Representative Nimmer, Speaker Ralston, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Georgia House.  I am both honored and humbled to be your chaplain for the day and to thank you for your service to the citizens of this great state.

I am well aware of the time and the limitations of my assignment today so I want to get right to my message and speak to you for a few moments on the subject of “The Desperate Need for Careless Leadership.”

Speaking of careless leadership, I am reminded of the story of two US Congressmen who were arguing about a particular revenue bill.  One believed in higher taxes and a redistribution of wealth.  The other one believed in lower taxes, private business, and personal industry.  Both representatives were also farmers who came from agricultural districts.

So one farming congressman said to the other,  “Do you mean if you had two farms you’d worked for and I hadn’t worked at all, you believe the government should require you to give me one of those farms?”

“Why yes, I do.”

“You mean if you had two combines you’d bought and paid for and I didn’t have one because I hadn’t worked, you believe the government should require you to give me one of those combines?”

“Why yes, I do.”

“You mean if you had two corn silos you’d bought and paid for and I didn’t have one because I hadn’t worked, you believe the government should require you to give me one of those silos?”

“Why yes, I do.”

You mean if you had two cows you’d bought and paid for and I didn’t have one because I hadn’t worked, you believe the government should require you to give me one of those cows?”

The liberal replied, “That’s not a fair question!  You know I have two cows!”

Well, that’s not the “careless” leadership I have in mind this morning.  I am using that word to describe leadership that is free from care, trouble, and unnecessary anxiety.  Leadership that is care-less.

My Scripture text involves 3 of your favorite Bible characters: Hannaniah, Azariah, and Mishael.  You probably know them better by their Babylonian names, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

In Daniel 3, these boys are in a fight for their life and it involves a fight for religious liberty.  They are being persecuted by their culture and their government for their faith in the True and Living God.

And they emerge from this persecution with flying colors because they are care-less.  Again there is a little play on that word “careless” because the Bible describes how and why these three Hebrew boys were care-less instead of care-full.

Notice first the command of Babylon

Daniel 3 tells the story of a wicked command that came from Nebuchadnezzar.  He was the dictatorial despot who ruled the ancient Babylonian Empire with an iron fist.  His was a wicked and torturous kingdom.  The modern Islamic terrorist group, ISIS, would have little on the murderous activities of Babylon.

And the Bible records a Babylonian decree that these monotheistic Hebrew slaves would have to bow in idolatrous worship before a golden statue erected by governmental edict.  Anyone who refused to bend and refused to bow would be cast alive into a blazing furnace of fire.

This speaks of the external pressures placed on them by their fallen society generally and their fallen government specifically.

Of course, in America, we have yet to strike a match to light the pilot lights on fiery furnaces but I’m afraid to tell you we are increasingly living in days not completely unlike Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.

The ways in which our culture pushes, promotes, and even prefers ungodliness are nearly too numerous to mention.  So in the interest of time let me just say a word about the life cycle of sin within a society.

A righteous society’s view of sin begins with prohibition.  “You cannot!”  Government, rightly understanding it has been ordained by God according to the Bible to punish evil and reward good also understands that rights flow from God, to individual people, and then to the government.  Not the other way around.

So righteous governments and righteous societies, ones that understand, “Righteousness exalts a nation but sin is a reproach to any people,” realize they cannot condone evil or allow evil to go unaddressed because neither the society nor the government have the right to do so.

But if left unchecked, sin in a society moves from prohibition to permissiveness…From “You cannot” to “You may.”  In this stage people, especially leaders, either turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the evil or actually seek to codify the right to do wrong.  Long gone are those antiquated ideals that you should not do wrong.

But that’s not the last stop.  It moves from prohibition (You cannot) to permissiveness (You may) to preference  (You ought).  In this stage of the cycle society actually PREFERS to promote and further the causes of those involved in evil rather than run the risk of actually calling right “right” and wrong “wrong.”  In this dangerous stage, the only wrong is to call anything “wrong.”

Finally, if left unchecked, the cycle moves to punishment.
Here the societal and governmental view of sin has run full circle from you CANNOT to you MAY to you OUGHT to you MUST…OR ELSE.

You will either bend the knee to the new order, even violating your own conscience and religious liberty, or you will suffer the consequences…and they might even come from the hand of your own government.

That’s what these boys are up against.  But the pressure not only comes from without, from the pagan governmental system, it also comes from within, from among their own number.

We see not only the command of Babylon but the compromise of believers

The pressure to bow and bend didn’t just come from the Babylonian king.  These Hebrew boys faced peer pressure from their fellow Hebrews…from those of their own clan and kind…from those who were supposed to BELIEVE like them, THINK like them, ACT like them and DECIDE like them.

They had ALL been raised better. 

They had EACH been taught better.

There were thousands of Hebrew slaves in ancient Babylon.  And as best we know, only three exercised their God-given unalienable right to LIBERTY.

I can see Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego standing up to the wicked king, “We aren’t going to bow…none of us…are…we…guys…”

And to their shock and dismay, they turn to see all of their colleagues with faces turned to the ground…bowing, bending, and balking.

If you’ve ever been surprised by who stands and who bows, you can relate to the shock these boys must have experienced.  If the vote has ever been called and you found yourself standing alone while people who claimed to share your beliefs were bowing, you can relate.

These boys learned a hard life lesson that day…There’s no practical difference between a Babylonian on his face before the golden statue and all the Hebrews who claimed to denounce and disdain that golden statue but in the end bent and bowed as well.

They learned that Jewish boys and Babylonian boys all look the same when their heads are down, bowing before the golden statue.

They learned that your titles and labels don’t matter in the end.  If Hebrews live like Babylonians, you may as well be from Babel as from Jerusalem.

So the Hebrews were brought before the king and examined.  The king did his job.  He wanted to know if what he had heard was true.  You do understand that everything you read in the paper or the blogs isn’t true don’t you?  So the king wanted to get to the bottom of the matter.

Once again in Daniel 3, the Bible says,

Nebuchadnezzar spake and said unto them, Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, do not ye serve my gods, nor worship the golden image which I have set up?

Now if ye be ready that at what time ye hear the sound of the cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, and dulcimer, and all kinds of music, ye fall down and worship the image which I have made; well: but if ye worship not, ye shall be cast the same hour into the midst of a burning fiery furnace; and who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, answered and said to the king, O Nebuchadnezzar, we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.

If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.

But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.

Did you catch that?  They are facing immediate death and told to make an instant decision.  Yet they say, “We are not careful.”  Literally, we are not filled with care.  We have no stress at all about this matter.

So what’s the answer?  How can I be free of anxiety when facing such a decision?

We see not only the command of Babylon and the compromise of believers but the conviction of the boys.

The king brought them in and gave them a final command.
The command was immediate.  There was no time to think.

Sometimes there is no time to table the issue or call for a subcommittee or blue-ribbon commission.

I mean, there’s no time to discuss what impact will heating the furnace 7x hotter than ever have on the red-breasted Babylonian hoot owl population.

No, the king said, “Here’s what is going to happen…right now.”  There’s no time to think.  There’s no time to study.  The time is now.

You experience these pressures as lawmakers.

Sometimes a matter is tabled as well it should be.

Sometimes a matter is delayed and perhaps it should be.

But sometimes, the motion has been made and seconded.  There’s been lively discussion and debate.  Now the question has been called and it’s time to decide.  The clock is ticking and your vote must be registered.

In that moment of decision, when the heat is on and the pressure is rising, a person discovers NOT ONLY what they believe in that moment…but what they really believed the entire time

You must understand that pressure doesn’t create leaks.  It only reveals them.  In a similar way, when the pressure is on to stand for right and liberty, what you do in THAT MOMENT reveals who…you…really…are.  Not just who you were in that moment of decision but who you have been the whole time.

So, how can I…how can you face life’s big decisions without worry, anxiety, and stress?  On moral, ethical, and convictional issues of the conscience, make up your mind now.  Then when the time comes for a decision you don’t have to wring your hands or wrinkle your brow.  Your convictions and conclusions were already established long ago.

Then when the pressure is on and the clock is running, you can be as care-less as care-less can be.  You can tell the king to fire up the furnace if he must…I’m not going to bend.  I’m not going to bow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

On Personhood and the Sanctity of Human Life

Earlier today, I was honored to serve as a messenger from my church to the 2014 Georgia Baptist Convention.  In honor of my two older children, adopted at birth, and the two brave and courageous young women who chose life, I sponsored the following resolution.

WHEREAS, the Bible affirms the personhood, sanctity, dignity and value of every human being from the moment of our individual creation, as evidenced by the fact that we are created in the Image of God and our being known by God while being formed in the womb (Genesis 1:26-27, James 3:9, Jeremiah 1:5, Luke 1:13-15,35,36); and

WHEREAS, God alone is the creator and giver of life and the one distinguishing feature between humanity and the rest of creation is that God created human beings in His image and likeness (Job 10:8-12, 12:10, 31:15, 33:4; 1 Sam 2:6, Psalm 100:3, 139:13-16, Isa 64:8, Col 1:16); and

WHEREAS, members of the human family originate ultimately from the laws of nature and of nature’s God, who created human life in His image and protected it with the commandment: “Thou shalt not kill” (Exodus 20:13); and

WHEREAS, all innocent human life must be respected and protected regardless of race, sex, age or condition of dependency and regardless of manner of conception or creation, and are persons of equal and immeasurable worth and of inviolable dignity (2 Kings 24: 3,4, Psalm 106:37-39, 1 Corinthians 10:20); and

WHEREAS they must be recognized and treated in a manner commensurate with this moral status (Leviticus 18:21, 30); and
WHEREAS, the Declaration of Independence, states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” and that governments are instituted in order to secure these rights (Romans 13:1-7); and
WHEREAS, the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states, “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the law" (Micah 6:7,8); and
WHEREAS, the Georgia Baptist Convention believes that the Scriptures are totally true, trustworthy and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried (Psalms 19:7-10, 2 Tim 3:16 Heb 4:12); and

WHEREAS, the Georgia Baptist Convention has a long Biblical tradition of strong support for traditional family values including the right to life for all persons from fertilization to natural death; be it therefore

RESOLVED, that the Georgia Baptist Convention will work to assist the Church as it seeks to affirm the personhood of every human being; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Georgia Baptist Convention expresses its support for a personhood amendment to the Georgia Constitution which would specify that the protections guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution apply to preborn children; and be it further

RESOLVED, that all Georgia Baptist pastors and churches be encouraged to emphasize the Scriptural principles of this resolution as part of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday on January 18, 2015; and be it finally

RESOLVED, that the messengers to the Georgia Baptist Convention meeting in Macon, Georgia on November 10-11, 2014 encourage all believers to pray that God will continue changing the hearts and minds of Americans on the issue of the sanctity of human life and the personhood of all individuals, both born and preborn.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Heaven is for Real. And Thank God for That!

Last night I preached a message entitled "Heaven is for Real."  The timing and subject matter is admittedly tied to the release of the movie by the same name.  In the message I made a few comments that seemed to "hit home" with people.  Some of the subject matter made people uncomfortable.  That's OK.  Take these comments back to the Bible.  Be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and see for yourself whether these things be so.

The message encouraged those who have been comforted by error (sometimes a lie can make you feel really good) to let go of the error and embrace the truth of Scripture.  I promise you, the TRUTH of God's Word will bring much more comfort to a Christ follower than the fanciful notions gained from extrabiblical sources.

Here are a few of the thoughts that seemed to generate the most interest.

1.  Humans do not become angels when they die.

Not even a deceased infant, as tragic as that loss is, becomes an “angel baby.”  There is no record of humans in heaven getting halos or wings.  You may have received that impression from Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” but there is no indication of it in the Bible.  In fact, Biblical visions of heaven make clear distinctions between the angelic creatures and the saints.

Since deceased family members do not become angels of ANY kind, they clearly do not become guardian angels.  Don’t confuse a precious memory with the notion that Grandma is protecting you from danger.  Yes, God may choose to give His angels “charge” over you, but this has nothing to do with Grandma since Grandma did not become an angel when she died.

Revelation 14:13 says the sainted dead have "ceased from their labors."  Other than eternal service to Christ, they did not receive a new assignment regarding the things of earth.

2.  There is no Scriptural indication that saints in heaven are interested in events on earth as we commonly think of that phrase.

While there is indication that people in Hell are aware of current earthly relationships (Luke 16:28), there is no indication in Scripture that departed saints in heaven are “watching” the affairs of earth, in terms of personal interest.

Had grandpa been alive, he would certainly have applauded Junior’s home run.  In the presence of God Himself, as difficult as it is to imagine, Grandpa is no longer concerned about the ballgame.  It is a bizarre notion to think that Grandpa left the glorious splendor of the throne of God to watch a ballgame, a wedding, or a graduation.

Rather than being troubled that the pastor just said, "Grandpa isn't concerned with Junior's ballgame," be comforted with the reality that as much as Grandpa loved you...and Oh, how he did...he's in a place now that makes the things of earth pale in eternal comparison.  This view doesn't make Grandpa's earthly love for us seem less.  Rather it highlights the glory he is now experiencing with God.

Moreover, if Grandpa is celebrating Junior's walk-off home run in heaven, what are the Grandpas of all the kids on the losing team doing?  Grieving watching their grandboys cry and sling their batting helmets into the infield?  I think not.

By the way, if Grandma can watch the wedding from heaven then she can also see the honeymoon.  Not to be crude but the idea of celestial voyeurism is just a bit creepy.

The "great cloud of witnesses" in Hebrews 12:1 is a reference to the saints mentioned in Hebrews 11.  It's not talking about all the departed saints sitting on clouds "witnessing" the unfolding of human history.

3.  Many errors about heaven are born out of country songs, bad gospel music, and well-intentioned though poorly-written funeral sermons.

Sorry Steve Wariner, but there are not really "holes in the floor of heaven."  And while we need not expect country crooners to be theologians, the people of God ought to see deep Christological error with the idea that "There are holes in the floor of heaven and her tears are pouring down.  That's how you know she's watching and wishing she could be here right now."  "Christological?" you say.  Yes.  It impugns the glory and identity of Jesus to imagine Grandma would rather be at your family reunion than in the presence of the ascended Savior.

Mama isn’t really teaching angels how to sing.  For starters, there's only a passing record that angels might actually sing, though perhaps they might.  But if they do, it seems highly doubtful Mama is leading choir practice in glory.

There is no Biblical indication that I will ever stroll over heaven with you some glad day when all the troubles and heartaches have truly vanished away.

"To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord."  Since departed saints are not omnipresent, they cannot be worshipping at the throne of God AND lingering near the Eastern gate waiting for you because you are coming in the morning.

4.  Many people’s view of heaven is really just a nice version of a very happy day on earth.

If you’ve heard a preacher say, “If it takes that to make heaven really be heaven for you, God will make sure you have it” then he was not giving an accurate report.

For example, "Pastor, will there be fishing in heaven?"  I've heard many preachers say, "If it takes fishing to make heaven be heaven for you then God will make sure there's a good fishing hole for you in heaven."

Heaven is about Jesus.  It's not about me or my deceased loved one or our favorite hobbies and pastimes.

On this point, John Piper poses a compelling question in his book, "God is the Gospel."

"The critical question for our generation and for every generation is this:  If you could have heaven with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and with all the food you ever likes, and with all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, and all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ was not there?"

5.  Testimonies of trips "to heaven and back" will not lead one person to Christ.  Not a single one.

Now, a person who has such a dubious claim can be a soul-winner.  But only if they share the gospel of Christ.  In other words, the lost will be converted by HIS story of immortal life after substitutionary death not by THEIR story of life after death.

In Luke 16, the Savior, quoting Father Abraham, clearly indicated they would not.  I believe Jesus is the resident Expert on evangelism.  Let me make a prediction:  The student pastors who post about all their students who get saved at the movie theatre will most assuredly find many of the students were emotionally moved by a compelling story, great music beds, and good cinematography.

"But pastor, if only one person really got saved that wouldn't have gotten saved any other way it was worth it all."  They didn't so it wasn't.

Anyone that would not have responded to the simple preaching of the gospel DID NOT respond in faith to your DVD study about some guy's trip to heaven.

It is illogical at best to consider that Jesus took someone to heaven and sent them back as an evangelist to share their afterlife story and see people saved when the Master Himself said this approach to soul-winning would not work.

There are Scriptural accounts of 9 individuals, including Christ, being raised from the dead.  There is also a record of an unnumbered multitude who were raised following the resurrection of Jesus.  I believe these individuals were raised from “Paradise” though that distinction is beyond the scope of the message.  There is no indication that any of them returned as evangelists carrying the message of the afterlife and its glory.

6.  Just because something is "real" does not mean it is "genuine" and "accurate."

As a boy I saw an infomercial for jewelry made with "genuine diamelles."  Considering the word "diamelle" means "cheap piece of glass" :) the ring was indeed "real."  It was a REAL...fake.

Pastor, are you suggesting my experience was not real?  Not at all.  I am stating flatly, that when you jump to the conclusion that "it must be from God because it was so real" you have made a dangerous leap.  Your assumption has overlooked, among other things, the reality of Satanic activity and demonic influence.

Keep in mind, a sign is no better than the knowledge and trustworthiness of the person who posted the sign.

7.  The deceptive ministry of the AntiChrist will be propped up by the lying wonders and deceptive miracles of the False Prophet.

Study this for yourself in Revelation 13:13-14 and 2 Thessalonians 2:9-10.

Consider leaving Blackshear, GA and encountering a handmade sign that indicates "Turn NORTH here to get to Jacksonville, Florida."  The sign is real.  You can touch it.  You can feel it.  You can see it.  It is very, very real.  It is not a lie that the sign is there.  The problem is the real sign is telling a real lie.

8.  How do you explain a person who "visits heaven" and comes back with information and details that were otherwise unknowable?

Don't overlook the possibility that the best answer is "demons."  See 6 and 7 above.  If the Devil can quote the Bible to the Son of God then he can certainly quote your family history to you.

Bear in mind, this is the same reasoning used to prop up the unbiblical ministries of fortune tellers, palm readers, card readers, mediums, and so-called psychics.

9.  The lack of discernment in the modern church is staggering.

Many believers don't have the stomach to speak of the difference between right and wrong.  We've bought the lie of the world that the most important verse in the Bible is "Judge not, lest ye be judged."  Ripped from its context and divorced from its true meaning, we have lost our collective willingness to say, "This is right.  That is wrong."

Even fewer seem to have the ability to discern between that which is right and that which is almost right.

My desire as a pastor is that the members of our church walk in truth and experience the comfort of the Lord through His Word.  I pray we will have discernment and compassion.  I pray we will have truth and grace.  Like the Apostle John, I rejoice greatly when I find the children of God walking in truth as we have received the words from the Father (2 John 4).

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Blurry World Vision

Earlier this week World Vision announced a controversial decision to allow homosexual men and women in so called "marriage" relationships to be eligible to work as paid employees at World Vision.  The specifics of the decision and the firestorm that followed have been covered elsewhere.  The purpose of this post is to comment on the agency's reversal of its new policy...two days after it was announced.

First, we should be thankful to leaders within conservative evangelicalism for a seemingly unanimous voice of concern.  Nationally prominent figures wrote open letters, published articles, and used various social and traditional media outlets to express their concern.  Major denominations instructed (or urged, depending on polity) its members to withdraw support from World Vision.  Individual contributors withdrew financial support and understandably so.

I can only imagine that numerous personal calls and other contacts were made.  Biblical confrontation and Scriptural rebuke are never easy.  National leaders and prominent pastors who privately and publicly contacted leaders at World Vision are to be commended to the Lord for their stand for Biblical truth.

Second, we should be grateful that the policy was reversed.  It was an unscriptural and ungodly example of moral compromise of the worst sort.  Any time a person, entity, or institution turns from sin and error, there is cause to be thankful.  I certainly am.

Third, we should commend World Vision for reversing its policy and using the language of repentance.  World Vision could have issued a vague mea culpa but instead released a statement that expressed regret, sorrow, and a request for forgiveness.  The document affirmed a Biblical view of marriage and sexual purity.  Although it could have been more specific, the press release was not designed to be a theological treatise on the family in general or on homosexuality specifically.

In short, there is much in their reaction that is commendable and we should thank the Lord for His work in the lives of leaders at World Vision.  This could not be overstated.

At the same time, there are a few reasons for pause before we simply hit the "reset" button and consider the matter closed.  Before citing those reasons let me illustrate them with a fictitious example.

Pastor Bob leads the Bible Fellowship Church, a historic conservative, Bible-believing congregation.  One Sunday he announces to the congregation that he is interviewing Sally Smith for the vacant position of director of children's ministry.  Sally is well known in the community for her lesbian lifestyle.  She deems herself to be "married" to a woman named Jennifer.

Immediately after the service, the deacons and elders hold an impromptu meeting.  Their Biblical concerns are obvious and unwavering.  The phones of the deacons, elders, and personnel team members ring "off the hook" all afternoon.

In the evening service, a spontaneous motion calling for the pastor's termination is roundly applauded before being ruled out of order based simply on a bylaw that requires 7 days' notice for such a motion.

On Monday, the pastor's office is filled with faithful members and supporters of the church vowing to seek his termination.  Monday night's hastily-called church council meeting begins at 6pm and concludes at 11:45pm.

On Tuesday, word has spread throughout the community.  A group of concerned pastor friends wants to meet with Pastor Bob.  They share their deeply held convictions and urge Bob to repent and reverse his announced decision to interview an open lesbian for a ministry position at the church.

On Tuesday night, Pastor Bob announces that he apparently had not sought enough counsel over his decision to possibly hire Sally.  He has reversed his decision.  Sally will no longer be a candidate for the position.

When the church gathers for mid-week services on Wednesday, still buzzing from the preceding 2 days' events, they are told, "Pastor Bob repented.  Pastor Bob made a mistake.  Our calls for Biblical fidelity worked.  Let's rejoice and move on.”

In such a scenario most of my close friends would say, “Not so fast.”  And they would be right.  Similarly, discerning believers should not move too quickly from this week’s fiasco at World Vision.

First, several phrases in the apology letter are troubling on their face.  World Vision writes, "We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority.  We ask that you understand that this was never the board's intent."

Wait a minute, World Vision.  You adopted a policy that required single heterosexual employees to remain pure and celibate but allowed "married" homosexuals to be employed...and never intended this policy to violate a strong commitment to Biblical authority?  Personally, this is a case where the explanation (in some ways) makes me feel less comfortable than I was before it was offered.

World Vision also writes that it has now chosen "to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman."  Writing that they are "revert[ing]" to that policy is an admission that the policy announced on Monday allowed sexual "unfaithfulness" and a violation of the Biblical covenant of marriage.

This is instructive language because World Vision continues by stating, "We failed to seek enough counsel..."  Exactly how much counsel should a major Christian organization have to seek on such a matter?  Aside from the fact, seeking counsel of any amount on violating a clear command of God's moral law is problematic per se.

One national leader within my own denomination was quick to suggest that anyone who questioned the reversal by World Vision is playing the part of the infamous "elder brother."  Not only is that analogy a misuse of the beloved parable from Luke 15, it's a faulty comparison based on the facts.

If the Father had told the son, "You can go but you're not getting any money," and the son had stood on the porch for two days before deciding not to leave for the far country after all, then we'd be looking at a more consistent analogy.  Even in that case, we should REJOICE that the brother didn't ruin his life in the pig pen.  But we would be naive and foolish to just assume that the problem of his prodigal heart was resolved.

As a pastor, if a staff member asked me about hiring an open homosexual as the staff member's associate, I would say, "no."  Then I would tell the staff member to clean out his office.  Even if he withdrew his request, the request itself reveals a lack of Biblical conviction.  A crumbling of his own moral code and Scriptural fidelity would have necessarily preceded such a request.

Similarly, the unbiblical policy proposed on Monday by World Vision was a symptom of a deadly cancer within the organization itself.  It can be cured.  Praise God it can be cured!  But we mustn't declare the organization to be in remission simply because the fever has broken and the swelling has subsided.  The disease that produced the symptom potentially remains.

World Vision made a conscious decision to vacate Biblical truth on one of the core moral issues of our day.  And the fact that they didn't intend to vacate Biblical truth by Monday's policy actually reveals the problem is deeper than anyone might have expected.

So brothers and sisters, let's rejoice that the agency made a wise reversal and the troubling symptom is gone.  But for their sake and Jesus' sake, let's not assume the patient is cured.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Evangelistic Dating (repost)

Originally published in August 2009.  My, my, where have the years gone?

With Sarah, just before her 2nd birthday
As a pastor I have often warned about the perils of evangelistic dating. This is the notion that a Christian should date a non-Christian in an ill-fated attempt to lead them to a relationship with Christ. It is almost often some sweet (yet immature) young Christian girl who has met a guy and fallen “in love.” It usually ends with heartache and turmoil. Primarily because such a relationship is a violation of God’s Word.

But this morning I realized there is a form of evangelistic dating that God honors.

My friends and family all know that I have taken my daughter Michaela to lunch every Thursday for over 5 years. I have taken my son Andrew to lunch every Wednesday for over 3.5 years. Today it was time to start the tradition with our youngest, Sarah.

Having run out of practical lunch times, Sarah and I headed off to breakfast together. Out of all her options she chose the Huddle House. So Huddle House it was.

Andrea got Sarah dressed while I took the older two to school. When I drove back in our driveway I felt like a school boy pulling up to his girlfriend’s house for a first date.

My theology allows for a state of grace for children Sarah’s age. But the day will come, by God’s grace, that our Heavenly Father will extend to her the gracious offer of forgiveness. I am overwhelmed with the reality that what I started today will make it easier for her to comprehend a Father’s love. Her love for me will not ensure a love for God. That’s a supernatural work wrought by the Holy Spirit. But I so desperately desire to be an earthly father who will more accurately mirror her Heavenly Father’s compassion and care.

A Father who takes the initiative…before she even realizes how desperately she needs that father’s love. (Ephesians 1:4, 2 Timothy 1:8-10)

A Father who does all the driving, all the ordering, and all the paying. She has no idea the sacrifice required in my busy schedule to make this date. She has no idea what it takes to make the money to pay the ticket. One day she will understand it more. In the meantime all she has to do is submit and enjoy the fellowship and the benefits of being her father’s child. (Romans 8:14-17)

A Father who loves her in spite of the dirty diaper, the spilled milk, and the constant need for a bib. (Romans 5:8)

So in many ways my date with Sarah this morning was an evangelistic endeavor. She has not made a personal commitment to Christ…yet. But I pray God will use the next few years of Friday morning breakfasts to begin lovingly drawing her to His Sovereign side.