The Conference on the Church for God’s Glory

Monday I was able to participate in the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory (CCGG).  It is hosted annually by the First Baptist Church of Rockford, IL.  This is the third time I have had the privilege to participate in the conference. I have thoroughly enjoyed participating each time; it is a great time of fellowship.  I think there were about 170 attendees this year; the majority of them were pastors or ministers of the Gospel.  However, I also met some church members who attended the conference and they told me they were encouraged and edified by the conference.

Let me commend several of the sessions from the conference.  Pastor Steve Thomas presented an excellent session entitled, “What Did God Say about Preaching?”  It was an encouragement to me personally and was very helpful.  I appreciated Scott Aniol’s presentation on worship.  It reflected Scott’s normal carefulness and thoughtfulness.  I was personally encouraged by Pastor Scott Williquette’s sermon that began the conference.  It was an excellent exposition of Jesus’ interchange with Peter in John 21.  Unfortunately, I have heard that it did not get recorded.  However, I understand the other sessions will be available on the conference website.

I also enjoyed being part of honoring my Theology professor from seminary, Dr. Rolland McCune.  Pastor Williquette organized bring Dr. McCune up for the conference.  Those of us who had been his students shared lunch with him, and were able to express our appreciation for him and his ministry.  Dr. McCune has had a wonderful Gospel influence in the lives of many men who have studied at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and Central Baptist Theological Seminary over the years.  It is always good for our souls to honor those the Lord has used in our lives to shape our Christian character.

If anyone is looking for an encouraging conference to attend I hope you will consider the Conference on the Church for God’s Glory.

Jesus: Our Celestial Event Coordinator

I have the opportunity, at times, to attend funerals of those who were friends or relatives of members of our church. Sometimes I am glad to hear the gospel clearly given and the Lord honored. However, at other times I am quite disappointed with what passes as a Christian funeral.

I have been to several funerals where the emphasis of the funeral was on the hope of seeing our friends and loved-ones again. Now, I don’t mind people taking comfort in the fact that their loved one is in heaven and they will see that person again. On the other hand, I am deeply grieved at this being the focus of the funeral. Our hope of eternity in heaven is based on Christ. It is because Christ, the God-man, took on humanity that he could be our redeemer. It is because he perfectly satisfied his Father with his obedient life and sacrificial, substitutionary death (Romans 3:24–26) that we have a righteous standing before God. Christ is the author and finisher of our faith and he ought to be the focus of our faith and our hope. Our expectant looking forward to being with our Savior God should be the hope to which we cling. When this hope is left out of a Christian funeral service, such a service is evacuated of its Christian message and comfort. At its core, turning the focus from Christ to humanity (we will have a family reunion in heaven someday), is to skip over the gospel message that is our hope; the gospel message that makes it so that we do not sorrow as those who have no hope (1 Thess 4:13). We must not move the focus of our funeral services away from the gospel and to our friendships and familial love. To do so is to take the Christian element out of a Christian funeral.

As I have observed some of these funerals, I realized that the pastors or family members conducting them have minimized Christ. They have demoted him in their minds from the focus of heaven (Rev 22:1–5), to a celestial event planner who will sit in the background and will host all of our sentimental reunions with friends and family.  This not only removes the foundation of our hope, but exalts God’s good gifts of friendship and family love at the expense of demoting Christ our Savior.

The Usefulness of Falsehoods

Recently in the news, a pastor has admitted to claiming to have been a Navy SEAL, when in fact he never was. Apparently he did serve in the U. S. Navy, but he was never trained, and never served as a SEAL. I don’t bring up this incident to pick on this pastor. I bring it up to consider the issue of truthfulness in the ministry.

After years of listening to preaching (much of it very good and biblical, and some not so much), I have heard a lot of things from the pulpit. I have heard profanity used from the pulpit. I have also heard slander and arrogance from the pulpit. However, this story caused me to think about the issue of truthfulness in the pulpit. Many times I have heard illustrations and stories (they weren’t illustrating anything, they were just entertaining) that I knew were simply false.

Let me give the first category. I know of one preacher who used and illustration that was clearly factually in error. A friend of mine, in order to be a help, I believe, talked to the man about the illustration and explained to him the factual error in the illustration. The man thanked my friend at the time, but shortly after preached the sermon again and used the illustration over again, without correcting it. Now it may have been an oversight, but since it was preach again shortly after the correction, I am afraid that the man did not think the truth mattered in this case, because it was a good illustration. Being careless with the truth does not help the gospel, no matter how good the illustration is.

A more sinister category is the intentional lie from the pulpit. I have heard preachers claim to have an experience or conversation that they did not have. They claim to have a conversation that C. H. Spurgeon, D. L. Moody, or Billy Sunday had, and they relate it (as a good illustration or story) as if they had the conversation. Likewise, I have heard men claim to have had a very unique experience, that was actually the experience of another man, but they claim it for themselves in an illustration. I suppose this makes for more interesting illustrations, but the ethics of it are awful. The gospel is never aided by falsehood.

The third category I have experienced is the exaggeration to the point of lying. I have been at evangelistic outreaches and then years later heard a man bragging on and on about that outreach, but yet he embellishes it so much that it becomes a lie. I am not talking about a difference of perspective, but an inflating of numbers or exaggeration of people’s response. I suppose we as preachers are tempted to do this to inspire people to trust in the Lord to do a great work. However, I don’t believe that inspiring people is a justification for falsehood. The gospel is never aided by lying.

As preachers of the gospel, all of us are called to be truth proclaimers. No matter what motive we might have for being untruthful, we do not have a right to use falsehood to enhance our preaching. The Gospel is the truth, and is best adorned by the truth.

Geocentricism and Earth Day

As I have been thinking about Earth Day, I came to the realization that it is far too provincial and selfish of an observance. Sure there may be some environmental issues here on our planet, but what about other planets and even our own moon. This is really a form of planetary discrimination, if you would; a form I like to call Geocentricism. We have been so concerned about our own planet that we have not even considered the poor little satellite known as our moon.

Let me enumerate the ecological disaster that exists on the moon.
1. There is no breathable air on the moon. We worry selfishly about the quality of our air here on earth when there is no breathable air on the moon.
2. There is no clean, potable water on the moon.  We have been selfishly hoarding it here on earth.
3. The moon lacks healthy verdant vegetation because of numbers 1 and 2.
4. Animals are completely missing from the moon. Numbers 1, 2, and 3 make it impossible for animals to live on the moon.  Think about how much more beautiful the moon would look in the sky if it was more like our earth.
5. The moon’s climate is unhealthy. Half of the moon is in the dark perpetually. The other half is exposed to dangerous unfiltered solar radiation. We are worried about climate change here on earth, when the moon’s climate is more than changing, it is unihabitable.

Those five reasons alone lead me to the conclusion that the moon is an environmental disaster. What could be worse than having dangerous solar radiation, no breathable air, no drinkable water, no plant life, and no wonderful animals? Certainly the environment of the moon is in far worse shape than that of the planet earth. We must reconsider Earth Day. It seems selfish in light of the environmental catastrophe of the moon. What right have we of trying to enrich our own environment when our poor moon, which is so important for our own planet, suffers there in orbit around our home.

Great Point

Chris Anderson makes a great point over at his blog My Two Cents.  He is exactly right that we too often have been guilty of tolerating and even encouraging unbiblical preaching.  Too often we have desired ear tickling preaching, especially if it makes us laugh (0r cry).  Our only authority is the Word of God and we must not forget that in our preaching.

What Is Cool?

I remember hearing a version of someone (Stan Freberg?) singing “The Banana Boat Song” (Daaay-OOO). During the song a member of the beat generation keeps asking the singer to move away because he is too loud. By the end of the song the singer is outside the building doing the Day-O portion of the song. The beatnik then responds to the toned down volume: “Cool!” Another example of cool from a little later period is the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen.  He was a huge box-office success in the height of 1960s and 1970s counter-culture.   In the 1980s Michael Jackson and Heavy Metal were cool.  In the 1990s the nihilistic lyrics of Nirvana and sitcoms about nothing (“Seinfeld”) were cool.  In this decade cool has its own incarnations:  the green movement, Brad Pitt, Beyoncé, and comic book themed movies are cool.

However, if we examine this concept, we find that it is very transitory.  Hardly any teenager today knows what a beatnik is or who Steve McQueen was for the matter.  While Steve McQueen was cool, so were menthol cigarettes.  Neither one is considered especially cool today.  Men in tight spandex pants screaming loud lyrics to a heavy beat are not considered cool anymore.  To today’s youth Nirvana is practically Oldies.  In another couple of decades the same will be said of Beyoncé.  Considering the elusiveness of our ever-shifting American pop culture, it is ironic that Christianity is still chasing cool.  Not only is American Christianity chasing what is ever-changing; it is often at least half a decade behind.  The evidence of this chasing of cool is the modern church growth dogmas.  The modern dogmas for church growth have hitched the wagons (a very uncool metaphor) to pop culture and its ethos of cool.  The problem is that we have traded eternal, foundational truth for what is cool.  We have traded a 2,000 year history in Christianity for what is cool.  Not only that, but those who want to hang on to what is timeless are blamed for the decline of Christianity in America.

The problem of chasing a changing culture is no more apparent than in our worship.  Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t mean only our music when I say worship.  I know the common reference to a music leader in a church is a “worship leader,” but that is a misunderstanding of worship.  Biblical worship included music (Col 3:16), biblical preaching and teaching (1 Tim 4:2), Scripture reading (Rev 1:3), Prayer (Acts 2:42), and the ordinances (Acts 2:41–2).  All of those things are worship.  The Modern American twist on Christianity has taken all of those things and changed them to make them cool.  The changes in music (and even greater the disgust with timeless hymns) are directly linked to the attempt to be relevant in an ever-changing culture.  The changes in preaching style and content are a repudiation of the timelessness of the Word of God. Likewise, the disregard for Scripture reading, serious times of prayer, and solemn practices of the ordinances are all evidences of buying the ever changing and untrustworthy shares of pop culture stock, and repudiating the eternal and unchanging.  There are all kinds of causes (both intellectual and populist), but they all end in the same shifting sand of uncertainty: pop culture. I understand the gospel will be expressed enculturated in various ways in various cultures, but in the past this has not rejected the timeless elements of Christianty.  The new attempts at reaching the culture not only embrace the culture wholesale, but unavoidably reject the timeless, either knowingly or unwittingly.

If godly change is to come in the life of an individual or in the life of a church, it will come only through the timeless, eternal truth of the Bible.

Sermon Audio

I thought some of my readers might be interested to know that Calvary Baptist Church  of Winter Garden, FL is now broadcasting on SermonAudio.  You can find sermons by me and other preachers on our SermonAudio page.  We will be primarily posting Sunday morning sermons to the site.  They will be archived there as well, if you are interested in listening to sermons from prior weeks and months.

No Regrets?

Occasionally, I have seen an interview with a celebrity who claims that if he had his life to live over he would do it all over again.  He proclaims he has no regrets.  These kinds of declarations reflect the same Philosophy as the Frank Sinatra song, “I Did It My Way.”  Americans are generally not surprised by celebrities who lead wild lives.  However, I have noticed a more recent and disturbing trend.  More and more of our young people, Christian young people, are plastering “No Regrets” all over their MySpace and Facebook sites.  They are wearing it on their clothing; they are emblazoning it on their belongings.  It is one thing for Old Blue Eyes to live that way, but when a generation runs headlong in that direction, our churches are in trouble.

Really, the no regrets philosophy, is just an expression of human autonomy.  It reflects the heart of depravity.  Eve was tempted with the idea: “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5 ESV).  The desire to be like God, to run our own lives, is the core of our rebellion against God.  Second, such a philosophy also implies that no one can bring my actions into question.  It is the “way I live my life,” and it is “none of your business.”  The idea is that each person makes his or her own decisions, and no one else can decide those decisions are right or wrong, even God is excluded from meddling in my affairs.

A few passages of Scripture ought to cause us to reconsider plastering “No Regrets” on our websites and belongings.  I think of godly Job who when he was confronted by God declared: “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself,and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5–6 ESV).  That does not sound like a man with no regrets.  Here is a man, whose regret for his questioning of God lead him to repentance.  This raises the question whether a no regrets philosophy is compatible with repentance.  I would contend it is not.  David, a man after God’s own heart, confessed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Ps 51:3–4b).  David sounds like he had regrets.  He was very aware of the wickedness of his sin with Bathsheba.  He says it was “ever before” him.  That sounds like it was a burden he was bearing.  It is certainly not a no regrets attitude.

In the New Testament the Apostle Paul wrote, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Tim 1:15b ESV).  Paul’s statement reflects an attitude of regret for his past persecution of Christians.  I don’t think he would say that if he had his life to live over again he would do it all the same.  That kind of attitude is opposed to the repentance and faith of salvation.  It is a shaking of the fist, as it were, in the face of God.

As a Christian I have many regrets.  They revolve around sin in my life.  If I were asked if I would make different decisions at points in my life I would certainly hope I would by the grace of God.  I have no desire to repeat sins.  Every sin I have ever committed is a regret.  That does not mean they weigh me down.  They have been forgiven by the work of Christ and I know he is faithful to forgive (1 Jn 1:9).  The guilt and shame of those sins is gone, but I would not like to repeat them.

Know Yourself

The ancient Temple of Apollo in Delphi is said to have had an inscription that said: “Know Thyself.” The presumed meaning is to encourage self-examination. In contrast, Post-modern society uses this phrase as an encouragement to be true to self. This ultimately encourages a person to be a self-worshiper. No matter what we replace the One Living and True God with, we end up in idolatry. Statue-worship and self-worship are both equally idolatry. To worship an image or self-image is to take worship from the very one to whom it belongs, God alone.

The world’s infatuation with self is a sign of a lack of knowledge. It is not a lack of knowledge of self as much as a lack of knowledge of God. The Bible teaches that humanity is made in the Image of God (Gen 1:26). It is impossible for a human being to know self apart from a knowledge of God. How can anyone understand a model or picture of something without knowing it is a model or picture, and not the original. Imagine seeing a model of a battleship and not knowing it is a model. One might think it strange that someone would build such a small ship. It would also seem strange that someone would build such a small ship to do battle at sea. It only makes sense in regard to what it models. Likewise, humanity only makes sense in reference to the Living God. There are many things about God that people misunderstand, and thereby misunderstands their own natures.

First, is the holiness of God. Ultimately, God’s holiness is the expression of his nature (Is 40:25). He is unlike his creation; he is the Creator and not the creature.  This means we can never be God.  He alone is always God and will never cease to be God (Deut 33:27; Mal 3:6).  This distinction points right to the heart of sin, the desire to be like God (Gen 3). The desire to be self-ruling is the very proof of sin in our hearts.  It attacks the Creator-creature distinction. That leads to an attack on the goodness of God.  In Eden Satan convinced Eve that she should be like God and that God was not good.  He was withholding good from her because he was afraid she would be like God.  This leads to the other aspect of God’s holiness, moral purity.  God’s moral purity stems from his holy nature.  The infinite purity of God’s nature stands in stark contrast to the image of God that has become perverted and distorted by the fall.  A knowledge of the holiness of God shows us what we have lost.

Second, the goodness of God demonstrates how dependent we are (Lk 18:19).  We like to think of ourselves as good and caring.  However, only God is truly good.  It is by his goodness that we are spared the consequences of our rebellion against him (Is 63:7; Lam 3:22–23).  It is the Lord, in his goodness, that sends his rain on the just and the unjust (Matt 5:45) and sustains all things (Col 1:17).  It is directly from the mercy and goodness of God, that he sent his Son to redeem us while we were rebellious sinners (Rom 5:8).  There is no goodness in us; it is all by God’s grace.  A misunderstanding of God’s goodness, sourced in our rebellious hearts, causes us to think highly of ourselves.  We want to put ourselves in the place of God in regard to goodness.  However, in the presence of God even prophets and apostles recognized how unworthy they were (Is 6:5; Rev 1:17).  An understanding of the unfathomable depths of the goodness of God helps us to see ourselves in our rightful place.  We do not really understand who we are unless we contemplate the goodness of God.

The glory of God is the third area we humans badly underestimate.  I have often heard people say things like, “When I get to heaven I am going to have a beer with the Big Man Upstairs and talk a few things over with him.”  We want to think of God like he is one of our buddies, that we can give a piece of our mind while sipping beer at the bar.  But that is a complete misunderstanding of who God is, and thereby a misunderstanding of who we are.  The Scriptures indicate that the Lord is glorious.  Job learned this lesson when he wanted to plead his case before God (Job 40:3–5).  God is not another man to be put in his place.  He is the maker of heaven and earth (Is 51:13).  He is the one who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim 6:16).  Before his face one day the earth and sky will flee away (Rev 20:11).  This is not a person to be manipulated.  By forgetting the greatness of God, we inflate our own status in our own minds.  We believe we are great, when only God is great.  Our lack of knowledge of God has caused us to deceive ourselves about our own nature. The more we know about him, the more we would see, by faith, ourselves for what we are, creatures in need of our great and loving Creator.

The problem humanity has always had with knowing self, has always been rooted in a lack of knowledge of God.  Knowing self does not come through enrichment classes or meditation.  It does not come through selfish choices or inflated self-concepts.  It is available only by knowing the God who made us in his image.  The worlds solutions to knowing God always fall short, because they focus on the creature rather than the Creator in whose image we are made.

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A Saint–or a Brute

In his modern classic, Knowing God, J. I. Packer makes a reference to Richard Baxter’s assertion that each human being is either “a Saint–or a Brute.” At first glance, such an assertion seems to be an overstatement at best. However, under closer scrutiny, such a proposal seems to be quite accurate.  Packer elaborates:

God wishes us to think of our souls in a similar way [to the health of our bodies].  As rational persons, we were made to bear God’s moral image–that is, our souls were made to “run” on the practice of worship, law-keeping, truthfulness, honesty, discipline, self-control, and service to God and our fellows.  If we abandon these practices, not only do we incur guilt before God; we also progressively destroy our own souls.  Conscience atrophies, the sense of shame dries up, one’s capacity for truthfulness, loyalty and honesty is eaten away, one’s character disintegrates.  One not only becomes desperately miserable; one is steadily being dehumanized.

When we humans reject the redemption that is offered in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1–3), we embrace the spiritual death that is our native human birthright (Eph 2:1–3).  Such spiritual death brings not only condemnation and evil actions, but it rots the human soul.  Like venom it hollows out its victim, leaving an empty shell.  To reject God’s grace is to embrace death.  Eventually that leads to a person who does not reflect the image of God clearly, but who is no more than a brute (Eph 2:1–3).  So Baxter’s assertion is not really a preaching hyperbole, but a spiritual warning.  We cannot embrace that which is opposed to God and his image and expect to emerge human.  Sin and death are always dehumanizing.  We should take this to heart when we entertain the idea that we can toy with sin.  Its consequences are not always physical and obvious, but they are always spiritual.