The Gospel and Culture

Something Dan wrote over at Bumbling Genius got me to thinking. He was talking about the need for parents to be very involved in the Biblical education of their children, not leaving the education up to the church where it only takes place one hour a week. There was also the issue of homeschooling involved and I wrote our goal with our children is to have the school, our home and the church all saying the same thing so that they would grow up understanding the gospel and have a Christian world view.

Dan responded by writing:

Yes, indeed, family church and school should say the same things. This would define the idea of “culture”. I say often that if the only thing a culture has to offer is its proposition that all cultures are equal, which is the same thing as the culture saying that it itself has nothing to offer, that culture will not stand for long. It will be overtaken by something that offers itself as worth coalescing around. I pray that revival will provide that very thing.

Still, many Christians in the world live their lives in cultures that are hostile to their existence in some form or another. As Christians in America, I think it is imperative that we wake up to the truth of this here. It is a worn out cliche, but at some point, we must realize that, if it hasn’t happened already, it is getting dangerously close to the frog no longer having the strength to jump out of the pot.

This got me to thinking about cultures in general and the idea that all cultures are equal, as Dan pointed out.  I don’t buy the argument that all cultures are equal and should be seen as valuable. What makes a culture superior to another culture? There are a lot of sub cultures here in the United States that I want nothing to do with. I don’t want my sons involved in those cultures or to be influenced in any way by those cultures.

Think drug culture, grunge culture, gang culture, liberal artsy-fartsy cultures,  etc. Those cultures are so saturated with sin, it would be cruel for me to send my boys off into those cultures or to not warn them of the dangers found there.The people in those cultures are trapped and truly need to be rescued and redeemed from those lifestyles. But those are not the only cultures that I want to keep my children out of. There are also other sub-cultures in our country that need to be redeemed as much as the gang culture.

The point is that culture needs to be redeemed and that can only come about by the gospel penetrating a culture. This only happens when those in the culture are converted, and take their newness of life into the culture and give it meaning using the grid of Christ. this happened during the Reformation. Culture was saturated with the gospel to the point that we are still reaping the benefits of that culture today.

This is why some cultures are superior to others. If all our culture does is reflect our most base nature, then there is nothing of quality about it, hence the gang culture. The gang culture seeks to exalt that which is in us that is most repugnant, man’s tendency to kill and have sex like a bunch of dogs. Hardly noble and definitely in need of redemption. Yet, in our culture of intolerance, to criticize such a culture by calling it base is to bring out the priests of pop culture and receive their wrath.

So be it. The gang culture needs to be condemned along with those who defend it. It is repugnant and base and there is nothing of quality about it. I don’t believe that those who enter that culture, even as believers, can continue to live in a culture that is centered around violence and not be stained by it all. Just look at Lot. Even though he was a man or righteousness, living in Sodom really caused him a lot of grief. He was redeemed in that culture, but stained by it as well. Also note that he really had no impact on the culture at all. True, that this event took place before the full revelation of the gospel, but the point is that apart from revival, it wasn’t redeemable. Only the gospel can redeem a culture, and it does that by redeeming those in a culture who have their attitudes shifted from sinful, an shameful ones, to ones that seek to glorify God.

Those cultures in history that truly stand out, are those that were changed by the gospel. Well, I hope the gospel can redeem this post because, quite frankly, I’ve lost my enthusiasm for these thoughts. What are yours?


Abortion Doctor Admits He is Killing Children

It’s what those of us in the pro-life camp have been saying all along. Abortion kills babies, and here is an abortion doctor that readily admits it.

The sad reality is that he continues to go on with the procedures, even knowing that he is killing innocent life. If you listen, he gives some lame excuse about praying the babies soul get tossed back into some sort of spiritual soup. Sort of like the pagan American Indians believed before Christians arrived to help them see the truth.

Joel Osteen Says We Have Victory In Christ To Be Rich

Yup, this is the reason Christ died on the cross, so we could be rich. How nice. He’s just so nice… how could it be false? My friends, below is the face of heresy. It sounds like Osteen gets his theology from the fortune cookies at the local Chinese food restaurant. He would do the world a lot more good if he would stay inside the Chinese restaurant instead of telling us the lie that Jesus died on the cross so we could be rich.

The questions is: why did Jesus truly die? Do you know?

In Memory of Georgia Settle

She was like that sweet aunt that everyone in the family looks forward to seeing. Georgia Settle, the quiet side of Paul Settle, was always a joy to be around and always had a smile for those she knew.

This quite, gentle saint went home to be with the Lord this past Sunday and I only found out late yesterday. Her death was not a surprise. We knew that the sinfulness of Alzheimer’s was slowly taking over her body. The ravages of the fallen world claimed this lovely and dear sister in the Lord, and our Savior freed her from the death we all still face.

Who could not help but miss Georgia. She was a model of gentleness in a world that is fixated on violence. How we need more women and Christians like Georgia.

I got to know her through her husband Paul, a man that helped start the PCA back in 1973 out of his garage. Paul and Georgia were a perfect couple for the PCA and for guys like me. He is one of the reasons that I am Reformed Presbyterian in my convictions and in the PCA. It was through Paul’s teaching and guidance, along with Georgia’s cooking that I learned about the Reformed Faith, Calvinism, the Doctrines of Grace and the PCA. I am just one of many that have been touch through the ministry of Paul and Georgia.

I think at one point I was able to count up almost 10 men that came through Dallas Theological Seminary and graduated with Reformed convictions because of Paul and Georgia’s ministry to us. Any of you who know DTS, will know this to be an oddity. While we agree on some of the fundamentals of the faith, we differ on many more. Paul was an assistant pastor at Park Cities Presbyterian Church, was was only a few miles away from DTS. Because of the size of the church and solid reputation of some of the speakers that PCPC drew, we couldn’t help but be curious. Plus, for some of us, the arguments of Dispensationalism do not hold water. Given that, we were looking for answers that were more in line with what we were finding in the Bible. Paul was more than glad to help. It never hurt matters that Georgia was willing to cook breakfast for us as we asked Paul our questions. Truth be told, the strongest argument Paul ever made for the Reformed faith was his gentle and biblical response to my bold assertions. If ever there was a man gifted as a peacemaker and teacher, it is Paul.

And Georgia was his perfect match. Gentle, kind, sweet, and a great cook. Like I said, it was through their ministry to guys like me that helped me grow in my understanding of God’s word. They had a ministry to those young men who wanted to know more about what it meant to be Reformed. Georgia would cook, Paul would teach. I didn’t think it could get better than that. I was single at the time and the idea of having a breakfast with big biscuits, eggs, jams, jellies, bacon, sausage, coffee, tea, juice, etc, everything that made a great breakfast a great breakfast. As a single man, I couldn’t pass it up.

On top of that, some of the other men that were attending the breakfast were all guys I really looked up to. Mike Bowen, who is now an associate pastor in Tyler, Texas, Jeff Hatton, pastor in Waco, TX, his brother Pete Hatton, in Edmond, OK., and Marc Corbett, who had the audacity to start up an RUF chapter at Liberty University, and so many others who I know I should mention, but their names slip my mind right now. They are all a testimony to both Paul’s gentle instructions and Georgia’s great egg and sausage casseroles.

That ministry slowly came to an end as the sickness slowly to over Georgia’s mind. Anyone who has gone through that know that it is harder on those who have to help the sick than those who are sick. Paul slowly moved out of ministry so he could take care of his lovely bride of 54 years. What man wouldn’t? Especially given her sweet nature. I haven’t spoken with Paul in years. I knew his life was fully involved with his loving care to his bride, so I left him alone. I have prayed and am praying for him today as he says goodbye to Georgia.

The memorial services are being held in Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC, where Paul and Georgia served for years.  It is only fitting that Paul and the rest of the body of Christ say goodbye to her there. They made their initial mark in the PCA out of Greenville. I wish I could go. But I can’t. So I write this memorial to her. May the Lord raise up many more great women like Georgia, and may He comfort our dear brother Paul as he grieves the loss of his wife.  What a testimony both have for the Lord. May He use Georgia’s memorial for His glory.

Here is the link to her obituary.

Reading a Manuscript is Not Preaching

One of the hardest lessons for a pastor to learn is to truly lean on the Holy Spirit while preaching and not his manuscript. I know this all too well because in my tradition, we are prone to read our manuscripts instead of preaching the message of the gospel. While manuscripts may provide well documented theological arguments, reading from one is not preaching. Reading from a manuscript is nothing more than giving a theological lecture. Far too often in my denomination it is regarded as preaching. On the one hand, the manuscript process for preparation is to be commended because it requires research, prayer and time spent in the word of God. But on the other hand, it is bad because when you are reading a manuscript, the Holy Spirit is inhibited.

After all, did Peter read his sermon on the day of Pentecost? Absolutely not. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and preached with conviction. In my denomination, I think we like people to read manuscripts because they lack conviction. It’s safe. However, can you imagine if Peter had read the words: “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know— 23 Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death.”

No, Peter didn’t read those words. He shouted them. He said them with conviction, and the men who heard were cut to the heart. That is what we want when we preach. We want those in our congregations to be cut to the heart where there is sin, and encouraged in Christ where there is brokenness. As has been said before, we want to comfort the conflicted, and conflict the comfortable. Reading a manuscript prevents this.

This is one reason why reading manuscripts is so popular. Preachers, by nature, want to be liked. We want all those in our congregation to like us and support us in what we are called to do. But the truth be known, if you truly preach the word of God, there will be people in any congregation that will not like you. They don’t want to hear the truths of God’s word, because God’s word is so powerful. It causes us to squirm and realize our own sinfulness, even those of us who preach it. Do you think I wanted to preach that Jesus told the disciples and us how much the world hates us? (See here.) Not really. It was a difficult sermon to preach, but one that needed to be preached. As believers we need to be confronted with the truth of the gospel. Part of that truth means that we are no longer liked by the world. But it is far better to be liked by Christ than the world.

The point is that when we read our manuscripts, we have a tendency to do so in a way that is non-confrontational. (Yes, I know that Jonathan Edwards read his manuscripts. Charles Haddon Spurgeon did not. Who is considered the prince of preachers?) It is also safe because it keeps us from saying something far to controversial or making a mistake. That’s right, it helps keep our pride in tact because we never have to apologize for making a mistake. Wretched.

I would much rather be used by the Spirit and make the occasional mistake which requires an apology than to quench the Spirit. But I had to learn this lesson.

Given that I find myself in a denomination that not only strives for the conversion of souls, but also theological purity, the fear was just too much to venture off the well-prepared manuscript. Given that my denomination tends to attract those who love theology, and love to argue theology, when you preach, there is always the chance that you will make a mistake in something you say and find yourself in a theological tempest. For that reason I stayed with the manuscript for far too long. It has only been recently that I have felt the freedom to depart from the manuscript, and even throw it out while in the pulpit. Again, I think we are better off. (Please don’t get me wrong. I still prepare a manuscript every week, or a highly detailed outline. But I’m not bound by it. I think the preacher who fails to study and pray throughout the week is a greater blight on the church than the the theological lecturer.)

Part of this comes from being confident. Not confident in myself, but in the message I am preaching.  It’s one thing to believe the gospel, and trust in Christ for salvation, it is quite another to proclaim that truth. Just examine yourself about witnessing to others. You know how difficult that is. Well, it is equally difficult to preach the word of God with all that it says about our sinful and depraved nature even to those who believe and affirm that we are sinful and depraved. Even in a group of people who fully acknowledge this biblical truth, we still want messages that tickle our ears. So it is difficult.

Pastors must be confident in the message we preach. The gospel is the power unto salvation and to preach it faithfully means that it will insult those in the congregation because the true gospel says to us: “sorry, you are not good enough, and you don’t measure up. However, if you put your faith and trust in another, then you will be saved.” Hardly the health and wealth prosperity gospel that is found in so much of life (see the Conservative Tea Party Movement). It also confronts those who look to the government for help, because the gospel says that we are not to turn to the government, but to God. So it is offensive to all parties in our country.

The point is that for pastors to be effective, we must preach God’s word, and trust in the Spirit while we do so. This means that we preach, or proclaim the truth, not read it. Yes, we can read from our manuscript at certain points, or read quotes, or look to it for the order of our message. But that is only a guide and we need to be ready for the Holy Spirit to take us down a different path if necessary. He may lead us away from the manuscript all together. That is wonderful if He does so. That means we are leaning on Him to give our congregations what they need, and not what we think they need. As long as we are preaching His truth, than so be it. But let’s not read it, let’s preach it.

New Testament Commentator William Hendriksen wrote the following about Jesus using parables in His sermons:

“The minister, therefore, who spiritual contact with the world of human beings destined for eternity consists of delivering–mostly reading?– to ‘his own’ people one sermon a week, or even two, without stirring appeals, tender admonitions, illustrations, and/or a climax; and who then retires to his study for the next six days, may well ask himself whether anyone will ever say about him, ‘I recognize that he has been with Jesus.'”

Hendriksen has no room for preachers that read sermons. And we should not either. We are called to preach God’s word, not read it.

1 Thessalonians 1 and 2

(Originally published January 2006 — and updated for today’s post.)
There are two things I think every believing Christian deeply wants to hear. The first from Christ “Well done, good and faithful servant.” And the second must be “We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers, remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing brethren, your election by God.” 1Thes. 1:2

As human beings what is our primary job? Why has He placed us here? The Westminster Confession of Faith, shorter catechism says the “chief end of man is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.” I think theology on a whole revolves around this point. Because of sin, we are separated from this relationship with God. Unregenerated, we can not glorify, please, worship, or enjoy the Father. Our relationship with Him has been defiled and we are justly condemned. Faith in Jesus Christ for our salvation rectifies the problem so that we can worship God in spirit and truth. The Tessalonians did just this. In the midst of persecution, harassment, fear, and the rigors of every day life they found joy in the worship of God and pleasure in obedience through faith Jesus Christ. They were able to look past the trouble to God, through Jesus Christ, working and living for and in Him.

How are we to glorify God and enjoy Him forever? Our brothers and sisters in Thessalonica, by means of the Holy Spirit, gave us a great example, even in the midst of adversity. They turned away from their former idolatry, rejecting the sins and blasphemy of their culture in which they lived, to God. They eagerly awaited Jesus Christ’s Second Coming. They had faith in the deliverance from God’s wrath that is coming, by Jesus. They listened to the gospel preached as the Word of God, not merely of men, which was made effectual in their lives. They sought to glorify and please God, not themselves or others. In other words “work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” is the means by which we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
We are to do the same. Only, I would add that we do so by seeking to produce fruits of righteousness. These fruits cannot be produced on our own. We need the Holy Spirit working in our lives in order to do so. Jesus assured us that He would not leave us alone, and would give us a helper in order to produce these fruits. John 14:16-17 And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever– the Spirit of Truth.
We need the Helper abiding with us continually, especially if we are going to bear fruit as Jesus calls us to do. Remember, Jesus does not just save us. He saves us with a purpose in mind, that we would be holy and blameless before the Father, and that we would bear much fruit. I love Christ’s words to us: He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. As one writer I know wrote: “we can do a lot of things, but if we are not in Christ, we are doing nothing.” I love Christ’s words because they are such a sweet reminder of how dependent we are upon Him. Apart from Him, and His Helper and all the benefits of His salvation in us, we can do nothing. Since He did not save us to do nothing, then let us do what He has called us to do, bear much fruit so that the Father is glorified.
Two things have been in my “request” portion of my prayers lately. The first is that I bear much fruit for the Father’s glory. The way I figure it, is that He has called me to do just that, so I continually ask that His Spirit works in and through me for the glory of the Father. Admittedly, I am somewhat surprised by how much fruit we are seeing in the ministry here at GPC in Jackson. When I first arrived back in November 2009, the church leadership was looking to shut the doors and join our sister church across town. Since that time, the elders have seen that we are still viable and that the Lord is not through with us yet. I would like to take credit. But that would be foolish. However, I am grateful the Lord has used me and my gifts to help this congregation. I hope and pray that He will continue to use me to bear much fruit here for many years to come.
The second aspect of my prayer is to remain faithful to the calling He has placed on my life. Again, the important aspect is the abiding, both of His Holy Spirit in me, and me in Him. This comes with a lot of humility. If it is God working in me and through me for His glory, where is there room for pride in doing what He has not only called me to do, but given me the ability to do. This goes completely against our sin nature, which is all about “me.” But for those who taste the sweetness of this reality, there is an aspect of this relationship and the humility that goes with it that the world fails to see, that of joy.
Only the believer can experience true joy, for we know that not only have we been redeemed from a fallen and wicked world, but that He redeems us to use us for His glory. This should delight our hearts. Is there anything sweeter than knowing that God is being glorified through us? Since God has chosen us, we should give thanks to Him for all that He is doing and will do through us.

God Didn’t Create the Universe — Or Did He?

This is what Stephen Hawking recently proclaimed. The man who is claiming that the universe just popped up out of nothing, says there was no God behind that popping. It was just set in motion by itself. In other words, the nothingness that was, decided to become something, even though it was nothing to begin with and had no will to decide to become something, it did in fact decide to become something even though it was nothing, and here we are.

Here is what Hawking said in the Times article:

In his latest book, The Grand Design, an extract of which is published in Eureka magazine in The Times, Hawking said: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the Universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the Universe exists, why we exist.”

He added: “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the Universe going.”

To men like Stephen Hawking, this makes more sense than a God creating everything out of nothing. I find that Hawkins has a great more deal of faith than I do, because I cannot believe in his silly theories. David Robertson, of the Solas Centre, does and excellent job of refuting Hawkins latest claims that God did not create the universe.

This video is 11 minutes long, but well worth it. Robertson shows the silliness of Hawking’s theories, because they are unprovable, which makes his theories ridiculous.

Why Join the Church?

I recently read an article by Randy Pope, Perimeter Church Atlanta, on “Why Church Membership?” He makes the case that when Jesus gives the keys to the apostles, this demands church membership. I agree. The basis for his conclusion is that Jesus gave church leadership the right and responsibility to bind and loose that which was necessary within the body of Christ. This was not an open slate to bind or loose anything, but only that which is found in Scripture. This is in keeping with the apostolic view of authority. The authority of the church was passed from Christ, to the apostles, and finally, to elders in the church and continues on today.

Pope writes:

Such God-ordained elders con­tinue to hold the keys of God’s king­dom in the church today.  It is their responsibility to protect the purity of the Church and the honor of God’s Word through biblical discipline of Christ’s flock: opening church mem­bership to professing believers, with­holding membership from non-Chris­tians, building up and encouraging the repentant sinner and dismissing from fellowship the unrepentant.

The possession of the authority of the keys does not guarantee some sort of infallibility on the part of eld­ers.  Their decisions must be based on biblical grounds, but they do not de­termine whether a particular person is or is not a Christian.  Only God knows that with certainty.  Nevertheless, the decisions and declarations of the elders carry the authority of God in such a way as to determine whether or not a person is to be “treated” as a Christian.

He is saying that the elders have a responsibility to protect the flock from bad teaching, or wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7:15-23, Acts 20:28-30, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy and Titus). Therefore they have a right and responsibility to use those keys to both let people join the church who profess Christ and excommunicate those who are in the church and do not live up to the standards given to us by Christ (Matthew 18:15-18, 1 Corinthians 5:1-8).

On a practical level, local church membership is an expression of obedience to God, through submission to the elders.  Apart from this author­ity structure, leaders cannot lead and members have no one to follow, being like sheep without a shepherd.

Thus, local church membership is essential to the proper functioning of the Body of Christ.  Through a member’s fellowship with the local church, he or she has access to the privileges of corporate worship, the sacraments, oversight, care, loving discipline, and the fellowship and mu­tual ministry of other Christians.

There are far too many Christians who do not believe in church membership and this really is sad.

There are other reasons I feel it is necessary to join the church. First, we are to confess our faith in Christ to men (Matthew 10:31). This means that we must be public about our faith and removes the option of being a clandestine Christian. Jesus requires this of His followers, that we confess Him to men. One way that this is done is by joining the local church. In doing so, we must go before the leaders of that church and confess that we are believers in Christ. I know that this takes different shapes in different churches, but it is still required. In our denomination, this means going before the elders and giving a credible profession of faith. (Baptism is required if one has not been baptized, but at the core of joining is confession of faith in Christ.)

Secondly, scripture says that we are to submit to the leadership of the church because those in leadership of the church are responsible for the spiritual well-being of those in the congregation. Hebrews 13:17 Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. How is it that we submit to them if we do not appear before them and join them in fellowship? We cannot be faithful to Christ by not being submissive to church leadership. This also aids those in leadership knowing who we are and where we stand in the faith.

Being in leadership, please know that we do take this seriously. Every member that submits to the leadership of the church, is our concern. We want all those in the fellowship to grow spiritually and mature in the Lord. We cannot do well in our calling when those in the congregation are unwilling to submit to leadership.

Third, in the book of Ephesians, Paul gives us the picture of what the church looks like. He is showing us how the community of believers are knit together and how we are to live as together as those built up on The Cornerstone, Christ. He shows us that through Christ, even Jews and Gentiles are made into One and that unity is to be central to the body of Christ. This unity cannot take place when we refuse to submit to one another in mutual love.

But Paul also shows us that Christ gave gifts to the church for the purpose of the edification of the church (4:7-16). There he gives us the list apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers. The purpose of the pastors/teachers is to build up those in the body of Christ, SO THAT they are equipped for the work of the ministry. The entire purpose of this is for the benefit of believers in the body. His imagery is such that it shows that we cannot exist apart from one another: v.15-16 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

The practical application of this is church membership, so that, Christ can work through the gifts He has given to the church, to build up His body. Those who are refusing to come together publicly in this manner, are refusing to take part in what He has called us to be. We are called to be under the preached word of God, and that requires we commit to a local congregation.

(Please note: I understand that there are parts of the world where church membership is held loosely because of the threat of death. I’m not speaking to those. The bond those brothers and sisters have is far stronger than what we have been given here in America, simply because they know the full implications of being believers than we do.)

Finally, as Randy Pope puts it, to not join a church is like someone dating and living with our daughter. Taking in all the privileges of marriage, but without the commitment. We see the results of this kind of a relationship in our culture already. The same is true in the church for those who refuse to join, are refusing to do what Christ requires, submit to the leadership of the church. How is it that we can call ourselves followers of Christ if we will not follow Him in the one characteristic that lead to our salvation: submission. He was without sin, yet submitted Himself to sinners and did so without reviling them (1 Peter 2:23ff). In fact, He not only submitted Himself to unjust rulers on our behalf, but prayed for those who put Him to death (Luke 23:34). The point being that if we are not willing to follow Jesus with a submissive attitude by submitting to the leaders of the church, then how can we truly call ourselves Christians? Being a Christian is more than just being saved. We are called to obedience, to bear fruit and to abide in Him. We cannot do so apart from the local church. The local church is the means by which God uses to sustain us and grow us. That being the case, then we need to join a local congregation in order to be obedient to Him.