Monday, June 30, 2008

Church & Culture

On his blog, Al Mohler posted a report about the PCUSA and their “move to approve homosexual clergy.” As usual, Al Mohler is insightful and just plain smart. This is but one more example of the world of “Christendom” capitulating to the prevailing spirit of the age. I wonder how the rank and file within the PCUSA (or the Episcopal Church or United Methodist Church, or any other group that has likewise considered this issue) would feel about the ordination of gay clergy. Is this really the sentiment of the parishioner who attends on Sunday, or is it the desire of the denominational leaders to appear to be politically correct and culturally “with it?”

I am probably one of the last people in the world to read 9 Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever. Actually, I may be the next-to-the-last: my Pastor and I are reading it together. I can tell when a book hits me by how I mark up the Introduction. There’s so much ink on this one that the pages are beginning to wrinkle.

What in the world do the preceding paragraphs have in common, you might wonder? As I read Mohler’s comments this morning, I though of the comments Dever made in introducing his book. Here’s the connection: evangelicals accuse Liberals (or non-evangelicals, whatever term you prefer) of giving in to contemporary culture by lowering previously held standards of morality. This is done, presumably, to make church life more reflective of modern life, more in touch with modern culture, or more appealing to more people by being more inclusive, more tolerant.

Now, most of us could preach fiery sermons about compromise and apostasy. Yet, some evangelicals have become what they criticize by adopting a philosophy of pragmatism and a market driven mentality. In other words, there is sometimes little difference in PCUSA and some evangelical churches that allow church life to be defined by the likes and dislikes of contemporary culture.

As Dever points out, the church is to be defined by Scripture, not culture. It is true that the church has not looked the same in different times, and it will look quite different in other cultures. This is not an appeal to return to the good old days (which, according to Billy Joel, weren’t all that good). True – we live in this world and we are to demonstrate to this world the “manifold wisdom of God.” But the glory of God and obedience to His Word should be the focus, not the favor of modern culture.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Space, the Final Frontier

The next space shuttle mission will be the final visit to the Hubble Space Telescope. STS 125 will be a mission to repair the device and install new equipment. Particularly interesting is the addition of a “cosmic origins spectrograph.” According to NASA’s web site, this instrument “is designed to study the large scale structure of the universe and how galaxies, stars and planets were formed and evolved. It will help determine how elements needed for life such as carbon and iron first formed and how their abundances have increased over the lifetime of the universe.” Now I am no scientist, nor am I a technician in any way, shape or form (although last evening I did fix my lawn mower. I have no idea what I did, but I took it apart, put it back together and now it runs), but this sounds like an enormous task. I cannot imagine the technology involved in the construction of such a device, nor do I understand how scientists interpret the data that is gathered.

I have seen the photographs that have been taken by Hubble and they are astounding. They remind us how small we are and how vast is the universe. In my own simple non-scientific mind, I am again brought back to the Scriptures that speak of the majesty of the God of our creation. I know that Psalm 8 is a Messianic Psalm, but I can’t help thinking that as David looked into the night sky over Jerusalem – with no “light pollution” like we have today – and saw into space, he was almost speechless as he considered “When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars, which thou hast ordained; what is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man that thou visitest him (Ps. 8:3-4).

When I see the pictures from Hubble, I realize that I don’t have enough faith (or sophistication, as some would say) to believe that this all began with a singularity, with a Big Bang from whence came life and all the laws of the physical universe. I have no problem believing the Genesis account that creation was spoken into existence by God.

This being said, note that David calls creation the work of God’s fingers. Yet, in Isaiah 53:1, when introducing the prophetic passage on the subsitutionary atonement, the prophet cries. “Who has believed our report, and to whom is the arm of the Lord revealed.” I know this is all poetic language, but I can’t help but to be amazed at the comparison. The universe, with its vastness and mystery is called the “finger work” of God. Salvation is the work of His Mighty Arm. There is infinitely more involved in the salvation of the sinner than in the creation of the universe! In creation, God spoke the Word; in salvation, the Word became flesh.

It is probably not the intent of NASA scientists, but through Hubble the truth of Scripture is confirmed: the heavens declare the glory of God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Kiss the Son

Yesterday morning I had the opportunity to fill in for a local pastor who was on a missions trip. I spoke from Psalm 2. It begins with the nations raging and rebelling against the rule of the Father and Son. Whenever I read this passage, I think of the writings of men like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Why are they so adamant against “religion?” Why are they raging against something they truly believe is myth? Except for a few who have nothing better to do, no one writes lengthy tomes decrying children’s belief in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny!

The “kings of the earth” are unaware that the Lord has established His King, the One who is truly “King of Kings and Lord of Lords.” The nation’s rage cannot be matched by the rage of Lord. It’s hard to beat verse 5 in the KJV: “He shall speak to them in his wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure.”

The only hope of relief for the rebellious nations is to do the complete opposite of what they want to do, namely submit to the rule of the Son. Salvation is all about submission to His Lordship, to His rule.

The Psalm ends with a beatitude: “Blessed are all they who put their trust in Him.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On Reading

I love to read. I wish I could read faster. In fact, I borrowed a book from the library on speed reading, but it was due before I finished it (by the way, if you do not have a library card, shame on you). I need to read more and to read better.

It is hard to over emphasize the importance of reading. As one reads, he interacts with others, both living and dead. It is a great way for "iron to sharpen iron." Along the way, I have picked up some suggestions for reading from various sources. Of course, I assume that we are spending considerable amounts of time reading Scripture (see Al Mohler's article linked on my June 9 post below). Nonetheless, here are some suggestions:
  • Read biography - fewer things encourage and build faith like the accounts of those who "sailed through bloody seas."
  • Read theology - If there is one crying need among modern Christians, it is an understanding of basic theological truth.
  • Read perspectives on contemporary issues - This will help to dispel the "head in the sand" mentality that sometimes plagues Christians.
  • Read devotionally - It warms the heart and stirs the passions for Christ.
  • Read the classics - This is where I fail most often, but great literature stimulates the imagination and creative thinking. Creativity mimics the One Who is called the Creator. C.S. Lewis is purported to have said, "We do not need more Christian writers. We need more writers who are Christians."

Nothing will take the place of a book. Read and enjoy.

How About That?

I know that I should be entering something spiritual and profitable, but it is my blog. So this posting is for all you java hounds. Read this and enjoy another cup.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bible Reading

Follow the link to read a great interview with Al Mohler on reading the Bible. I found this on the New Attitude web site. It is worth the time.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The God Who Demands

While on vacation, I finished reading Why We’re Not Emergent (by two guys who should be) by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. I know very little about the emergent church phenomena and this was a good introduction. DeYoung is a pastor in East Lansing Michigan, and Kluck is an author and writer for ESPN. They write in a congenial manner, pointing to some positive features in the emergent movement. As can be seen by the title, the authors feel the liabilities out weigh the assets in the movement.

One of the statements that struck me was in Ted Kluck’s introduction to the book. His statement was especially significant to me since attending the Basics Conference at Parkside Church last month. The theme of the Conference was “Preaching the Gospel to Yourself.” The concepts from those sessions have been cooking in my heart since mid-May. Kluck’s words are important:

As a Christian man, specifically a husband and father, I need truth. I need to worship a God who makes demands on my character, with consequences. I need to know that Christianity is about more than me just “reaching my untapped potential” or “finding the God inside me.” I need to know that I worship a Christ who died, bodily, and rose from the dead. Literally, I need to know that decisions can (and should) be made based on Scripture and not just experience. These are things that give me peace in a world of maybe (emphasis mine).

Where is the God who makes demands? The popular concept is of a God who affirms, who believes in us, who cheers for us and who “is there for us,” but makes no demands upon us. The whole “Lordship” controversy of 20 years ago is proof that we are more comfortable with a non-confrontational Deity.

Of course there are many other things in this book worthy of attention. For me, it gave me a greater appreciation for the truth of God’s Word and the unpopular practice of declaring the whole counsel of God.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Superficial Healing

We are on vacation, visiting family near Orlando, Florida. I write this from Panera Bread in Altamonte Springs, having escaped the family for a few hours. I know most coffee experts would sneer at my urbane tastes, but I recommend the Café blend. It reminds me of the Costa Rican Peaberry that I used to get from Gevalia, when I thought I was wealthier than I am.

On Sunday evening I drove into Sanford to attend St. Andrews Chapel. Burk Parsons, St. Andrews’ minister of worship and congregational life, brought an exposition of Is. 26: 1-6. Burk is an excellent preacher who is probably often overshadowed by R.C. Sproul, St. Andrews’ popular senior pastor. However, I could sense his love and care for the people at St. Andrews as he spoke from Scripture. Someone once said that the most difficult instrument to master is “second fiddle.” If this is true, then Parsons is a virtuoso.

During his message, he made reference to Jer. 6:14. To set the context, the Lord warns His people through Jeremiah that the city will be swept away by the armies of Nebuchadnezzar who become God’s instrument of judgment for their wickedness. As Jeremiah prophesies judgment, other prophets deliver a different message. They say something like “We are God’s chosen people. Surely He will not give us over to these uncircumcised Gentile idolaters.” They were crying “peace” when judgment and catastrophe were imminent. Jer. 6:14 says, “They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

Parsons said that the word “lightly,” also translated “slightly” in some versions, can mean “superficially.” I could not help but make the connection to the modern evangelical world. Read the paper or watch the news – or go to the mall, for that matter – and it becomes apparent that there is a fatal wound in the human condition. Theologians call this human depravity. Scripture says that men are “dead in trespasses and sins.” However, if you visit any book store’s religious section you will discover that the message that sells the most ink is one that offers a superficial healing of the mortal wound of sin.

In fact, one would be hard pressed to find the right diagnosis, not to mention the proper remedy. Are people “messed up,” are homes “dysfunctional,” do we have “issues?” Yes, but this is the result of something deeper, something that the superficial ointment of positive thinking cannot cure. The problem is sin. The sooner we (meaning evangelicals) return to that, the sooner we will rediscover the only sure “treatment” – the Cross of Jesus.

I know that in some minds this makes me a raving fundamentalist. It puts me (and you if you agree) in the company of those dour Puritans, Jonathan Edwards, other throwbacks to a bygone era (not bad company, by the way). I read of an itinerant preacher in Palestine whose assessment of current events led him to proclaim “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:1-5). He wouldn’t pack a stadium with that kind of talk.