Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Reforming Revival

Outgoing Southern Baptist Convention president Bobby Welch, in this BP News article, is calling for every church in the SBC to have more revivals. Specifically, to have two annual revivals. From the article:
“I would urge you: If every church in this convention attempted to have two revivals in one year, it would change everything,” Welch said during the annual meeting in Nashville. “You say, 'But we don't do any revivals anymore.' I say to you: If you had two of them, it would do you better,” Welch continued. “You say, "Well, if I said revival, nobody would know what we were talking about.’ Well, talk about something they know about, but you give them a revival. Spend a few days trying to visit people, spend a few days trying to share the Gospel, spend a few days preaching the Gospel and watch what God will do,” Welch said.
What is the purpose of a revival? The word revive means: 1. To bring back to life or consciousness; resuscitate. 2. To impart new health, vigor, or spirit to. 3. To restore to use, currency, activity, or notice. 4. To restore the validity or effectiveness of. 5. To renew in the mind; recall. So it would seem that revivals are important. But why are revivals so ineffective these days? I would venture to guess because we have forgotten what a revival is for. A revival seems to be a time when we refresh or recharge our spiritual batteries; to reaffirm our mission and ministry; or perhaps to receive a fresh vision of what the Lord is doing. Oftentimes, however, we view a revival as a time "to get right with the Lord" instead. Granted, we must seek to repent of our sins and be forgiven, but that is not the sole purpose of revival. Further from the article:
Mathis, who is in his seventh year of vocational evangelism, said the revivals he leads, even in smaller membership churches, usually reap 10-12 professions of faith, and in larger churches many more. But the interesting thing to Mathis is that two-thirds of the converts are adults. “I’m discovering that adults in the 40 to 60 age range are especially receptive to the Gospel,” Mathis said. “And it’s therefore a mistake to regard the traditional revival as ineffective. In many cases, churches are baptizing more people as a result of revivals than they baptize throughout the rest of the year.”
Now, let's ignore the age-issue of this quote and focus on the principle. Revival is a time for the saints to be encouraged and uplifted by one another and through the preaching of the Word. It is not a time for people to get saved. It is not a time for evangelism. That's right, a revival is not a time for evangelism! Look at that first definition. To revive something is to bring it back to life. The lost are not alive, they are dead; furthermore, they were never alive to begin with. A revival is not for a non-Christian. Since only believers were alive to start with, a revival is for Christians. And Christians, when revival time rolls around, what do they do? They start acting a little holier; they start reading their Bibles a little more; they start coming to church a little more regularly; they start trying to figure out if they need to rededicate their lives; they start acting more evangelistically through inviting their non-Christian friends to the revival; and so on. In other words, they do, for that one or two times a year, what they ought to be doing every week, or even better, every day! And because this is a once- or twice- a year event, their pre-revival behavior continues for a few weeks to a couple of months after the revival, and then tapers off until the next revival; at which time they realize they failed to live up to their pronouncements from the previous revival and need to "rededicate" their lives. How horrendous. Our current view of revivals says that revivals are for weak Christians. It may even go so far as to view all the faithful as weak. We are seeking the lost and those Christians with weak faith, instead of seeking to lift up and encourage the saints by the power of God's Word. What we really need is not two revivals a year. We need to reform revival! What we need is a commitment from our churches to discipleship. What we need is the preaching of the Gospel year-round. What we need is to raise up believers who are strong in the Lord and in the power of His might in-season and out-of-season. Revivals, as we currently practice them, don't do that. They are band-aids attempting to cover a gaping wound.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

More on Frank Page

Today, Baptist Press News released another story about Southern Baptist Convention presidential nominee Frank Page. The story can be found here. Earlier, I posted on Brother Page's views on Calvinism. For that post, click here. Let me say that after reading this release from the BP, I am enthused. I like this guy. He seems exactly the kind of SBC president that we need. I kept finding myself muttering "yes, Lord" under my breath at each treatment of issues. And then we came to the issue of Calvinism. Page continues to show errors in his understanding of Calvinism. In the article, we find this paragraph:
"Page said he expressed his belief that “God has foreordained the ‘how,’ not the ‘who.’” Those foreordained in Christ become the chosen elect people of God, he added. Noting that Reformed pastor John Piper’s books are among the most read books on seminary campuses, Page said the movement is huge and growing -- “bigger than Texas,” he stated. “We must have honesty about this issue. There are churches splitting across the convention because pastors are coming in quietly trying to teach Calvinism or Reformed theology without telling the pastor search committees where they stand. The vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it’s causing some serious controversy.”
I'm disturbed by two quotes here. First, God has foreordained the "how," not the "who." Those foreordained in Christ become the chosen elect people of God. Huh? Has my reading comprehension gone down a few notches? Unless I miss my guess, he's saying that "foreordination in Christ" and predestination (read as "election") as he understands it are two different things. You can be foreordained, but you must become elect. A look in the dictionary says otherwise. "Foreordain" is defined as to determine or appoint beforehand; predestine. So to "foreordain" someone in Christ is the exact same thing as "foreordaining who." Both the "how" and the "who" are determined. If someone is "foreordained in Christ" they are elect. Furthermore, he's denying Romans 8:28-30, which explicitly states that God determined the "who" beforehand. I can only hope he simply hasn't thought that one through. Second, the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are not Calvinistic in their theology and it's causing some serious controversy. I actually agree with this quote. The vast majority of our churches are not Calvinistic. This represents a departure from the historic Southern Baptist faith. My inquiries into Southern Baptist founders reveal staunch Calvinists. No problem there. But I'm disturbed that this issue is "causing serious controversy." Calvinism should never be an issue of controversy! Serious Baptists and non-Baptists alike should seek to understand just what it teaches and simply decide whether or not it is a tenable position for one to hold. It is not the Gospel, despite what some people like to rip out of Spurgeon's sermon on the issue. It is the attempt to qualify what the Gospel is against the Arminian heresy. Yes, Arminianism, in my estimation, is a heresy. Most of us non-Calvinists don't even hold what heretical (classic) Arminianism does -- we're largely Calvinistic. So, the worst you can do is say Calvinists go too far with limited atonement. And even that isn't as bad as it sounds. Its bark is worse than its bite. But Calvinism as a whole (it's much bigger than the 5 points) is an extremely Biblical and God-honoring system. The founders of our beloved convention do not seem to have minded too much that there were some Baptists within our fellowship who were not full Calvinists. The Baptist Faith and Message, as well as Southern Seminary's Abstract of Principles, seem to indicate only three of the five points (the T, the U, and the P) are necessary to be able to call oneself a Southern Baptist. I remarked to a good friend that it seems as if the founders hoped that our convention would be Calvinistic or at least as Calvinistic as possible without sacrificing unity. As such, splitting churches over the details of that system is the height of stupidity. I'm going to go so far as to call it sin. Yes, sin! It is sin to mislead a church by intentional omission; and it is sin to split a church because you don't agree with the pastor when he is not a heretic nor in sin. Work together as a church family or I question your faith according to the principles of 1 John. This is why I find it refreshing to read Pastor Page say just beforehand that he is more than willing to work with Calvinists. All one must do to have a place at his table, he says, is meet his three criteria for appointment, which are: a sweet spirit, an evangelistic heart and a deep belief in the integrity of the Word of God. Many SBC Calvinists that I have been privileged to meet or read certainly meet these three criteria. Shouldn't that be the driving basis for Christian fellowship among those who differ on certain issues? There should be no divisions among us, except in cases of serious heresy or sin. And that said, I reiterate: I like Frank Page. It will be my prayer that if he is the man, God will elevate him.

"Private Sins" and "Quitting the Church"

Is adultery a "private sin?" Can we "quit the church?" John Divito points out a case in Dallas in his post here, in which a church member involved in an adulterous relationship sought to avoid Matthew 18 church discipline by "quitting the church" so that the church could not appropriately confront him over his "private sins." The man and mistress in question have sued the church. His case has been dismissed twice and is currently on appeal. Go over to John's and read the articles, especially the church's release on the matter. But I want to ask a pertinent question or two. Is adultery a "private sin?" Now, I have to be very careful what I say here. There are people who read this blog who can potentially be hurt or even insulted by what I discuss in the following paragraphs. But we must not pretend even for a minute that adultery can be glossed over, and as such I submit that adultery is not a "private sin." The very fact that there are people who would take offense at the above paragraph should be evidence that there is nothing private about adultery. Someone completely disinterested in or ignorant of their situation, such as me in this post, can affect the emotions, attitudes, and behaviors of an adulterer with a post such as this. Further, adultery affects more than just the people involved, it affects the entire community. Secrets are kept that damage the relationship between the person keeping the secrets and the community. When one keeps secrets, an unhealthy attitude is taken in the relationship, and perhaps even resentment and bitterness creeps in because the one keeping secrets knows the community may disapprove. If the secrets are revealed, the relationship is actively damaged, because fellowship is broken. Either way, the relationship between the person and the community has been changed unalterably. The effects of adultery, as I have briefly stated here, go far beyond one's immediate family. So, adultery is not a "private sin." I'd also argue that there is no such thing as a "private sin;" every sin, no matter how sheltered, affects others around us in some way, shape, or form. And I haven't even mentioned that "private sin" drastically affects our relationship with God. That brings us to a second question: can a person "quit the church?" I'd say that if a person is a believer, he or she cannot leave without incurring sin on his or her part. This is not a knock against people who leave a church for various reasons such as a church falling into heresy, moving to a new community, God calling a person to join another church, or what have you. This is about a person leaving a church for the express purpose of avoiding the consequences of sin. I would expand this issue to also include those who "quit the church" in order to "punish" a pastor or church who they perceive to have offended them. On this one, I am unmerciful. Scripture is clear on the matter. The book of Hebrews tells us that we are not to forsake church attendance, and by extension we are not to forsake church membership. The consequences of the situation described in John's post are dire. Matthew 18 is very clear that the person attempting to avoid church discipline -- whether through ignoring it, flaunting it, or actively seeking to avoid it -- is to be treated as if they were not a Christian. These people are unbelievers doomed to Hell. And as believers, it is our duty to admonish those professing faith but living unrepentantly. The same goes for those who have "quit the church" for other reasons "less" sinful or not sinful at all, who are unrepentant of not returning to church. Who are they really "punishing" by leaving and refusing to return to fellowship? They are only hurting themselves, because the gathering of believers is the place where they will learn and grow in the faith. It is the only place where they can be discipled effectively. The church will move on without them, while they wallow in their bitterness like pigs in the mud. The sad thing about the situation with the adulterous man is that all along he is being called to Christ, yet by his refusal he is rejecting the very Savior whom he claims has saved him. What a radical perspective on those who are false teachers among us who "bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction (2 Peter 2:1)." And to claim that a Christian is not subject to church discipline is surely a destructive heresy.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Moments of Theological Stupidity: "Stupid Is Forever"

Welcome to the second installment of Moments of Theological Stupidity! Dan "Booyah" Phillips gives me yet another priceless line over at Team Pyromaniacs. In the same vein as Mr. Frank Turk's son, Dan quotes:

Ignorance is curable, but stupid is forever.

Hahahahaha! This quote was uttered in reference to the book making the rounds in the bookstores called Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. Ehrman, a secular Jew, has made a career out of recycling old and debunked semi-accusations against the Bible as reasons not to be a Christian. His latest book named above is nothing more than a rehashing. In the post, Dan Phillips gives the listing, in summary, of reasons Ehrman gives that supposedly ought to "shatter the Christian faith." Now, such a book can be safely ignored by Christians, if not for the problem of those who are a) weak in their faith, or b) not Christians. For those who are weak in their faith, they are the "curable." They simply do not know. That's all well and good; it is the duty of their churches and their brothers and sisters in Christ to disciple them by educating them about the Bible. So "weak" Christians ("baby" Christians as well as those who have weak faith) have a built-in means of overcoming the disturbance in the Force they are experiencing. But for those who are not Christians, they are simply stupid. Yes, stupid. Even the Bible calls them stupid. Ever read the book of Proverbs? That book is overflowing with the word "stupid!" And that's an apt word to describe Ehrman's book. In fact, Dan Phillips, in his post, says "the stupidity of articles like this is thick, palpable, almost sliceable and spreadable." What is the remedy for this stupidity? The enlightenment brought about by the Gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the only way such a stupid world will ever be redeemed. That is why debates, conversations, witnessing opportunities with non-believers that do not depend on the Gospel powered by the Holy Spirit will fail. F-A-I-L, fail. We must pray that every interaction we have with a non-believer is led and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and that the Gospel is clearly presented or at the very minimum touched on in some way, shape, or form. A great paraphrase of the great hymn could even read: Amazing grace, how sweet the sound That enlightened this idiotic Joe Blow; I once was lost, but now am found, Was stupid, but now I know! I close with these words from Dan's post: "The world is stupid. It has to be. It's a matter of survival of the world qua world. But not as stupid as Christians who take their cues from it."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Frank Page and Calvinism

For those of you in the know, Frank Page, pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., has announced that he will accept a nomination for president of the Southern Baptist Convention. In what is increasingly becoming common in the blogosphere, Pastor Page was immediately given a good scouring by the blogs on his church profile and theology, and Timmy Brister pointed me towards this article about Pastor Page's views on the Calvinism issue. Now, let me be the first to say that I am just as guilty as everyone else for getting caught up in this whole Calvinism deal. It's silly. But I would hope I'm caught up in it for the right reasons -- I want to understand just what Calvinism actually is and not what it has been misrepresented as. Is that not a God-honoring reason? Test the spirits, whether they are of God? That being said, I took issue with Pastor Page's misrepresentation of the doctrine of grace as understood by Calvinists. He said, and I am quoting a section from the article:
Looking at God's grace through a Calvinistic view is missing what God means by grace, said Frank Page, pastor of Warren Baptist Church in Augusta, Ga., during a March 4 chapel service at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. "Calvinism presents a God who arbitrarily selects some to be saved and some to be lost," Page said, adding grace is not a term of selection but an expression of love and acceptance. A Calvinistic perspective on grace misses the most important part of the true nature of grace, he said. "It portrays a nature of God who is capricious and even cruel in his selection of those who would be elect and non-elect," he said. Page cautioned that by seeing a God who selects his children randomly with no concern for the lost, Christians are not genuinely seeing who God is. "Not only does the Calvinistic view portray a nature of God that is other than that in the Bible, but it also neglects an overall teaching of [the nature of God] in the Scripture," he said.
Wow. My jaw just dropped at the apparent ignorance of this passage. No Calvinist I know believes that God is, nor would they ever dream of portraying God as, "capricious and even cruel." In my initial forays into Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, I find a God who is greatly concerned about humanity and desires the best for His creation, for the praise of His eternal glory. In the few Puritan works I have read, this theme continues wholeheartedly. It is found abundantly in the works of Spurgeon, and so on up until today, with good friends and acquaintances such as Shane and Timmy who revel in God's love for all people so much that they try their best to evangelize at every opportunity. The article goes on:
The wonderful thing about grace, he said, is that God's grace does not end once one has accepted God's forgiveness and received Christ as Savior. "God's grace is not only a saving grace, but it's enabling grace, living grace and daily grace," he continued. Telling students that God's grace is the tool God uses to train his children in righteous living, Page said, "God's grace involves us in the greatest training school in the world." By continually walking in God's grace, God instructs Christians on how to become more Christlike and less worldly, he said, adding "God's grace teaches us to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions."
Interesting. This is a wholly Calvinistic view of grace! Is anyone else more dumbfounded than me that Pastor Page, a very intelligent man, completely misses the point? Some of you boys and girls out there correct me if I'm wrong, but does he not realize he believes in essentially the same view of grace espoused by Calvinists? Pastor Page continues by asserting that Scripture teaches God's grace is a gift God desires to give all men. Uh-huh. No disagreement there from the Calvinist camp, either. But Pastor Page commits a big error. Desire does not equal decree. If God's desire for all to be saved actually meant that everyone would be saved, then we've got a huge problem because people are dying left and right without Christ, some even cursing Him to their last breath! To hold such a fallacious view of God's desire means that one must embrace a universalist view of salvation! God forbid! No, just like we do things all the time that we don't desire to do, we have got to understand that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). He does not desire that the wicked perish, but we have got to understand that God has already decreed that all the wicked shall perish, unless they repent. God has already decided that humanity is going straight to hell! And that is in no way, shape or form cruel or capricious. It is the just and holy action of a just and holy God. How is it cruel for God to (if you read the context of the Ezekiel passages) desire that people turn to righteousness and live? When one understands that this is impossible for man naturally, it becomes clear that God has got to decree for people to turn to Him if anyone is going to do it! And that isn't cruel, it's the just and holy action of a just and holy God. While I'm on that particular rant, where do we get off telling God how to save His creation?!?!? Have we not read Job 21:22 - "Can anyone teach knowledge to God, since He judges even the highest?" Oh my stars and garters, we have got to get off this lemming trail that says "no, God saves us THIS way" before we all go over the cliff! In that respect, Pastor Page does say one thing I and Calvinists wholeheartedly agree with:
Quoting Titus 2:11, which speaks of God's grace and the salvation he offers to all, Page said it is "inaccurate and dangerous to adopt philosophies that are manmade" because they are faulty and are not from God's Word. He did not completely discount human philosophies, stating that they may have some parts, if based wholly on Scripture, that are correct. The problem, he said, is where to draw the line between what is true and what is not. "We may agree with the Calvinists in the total depravity of man or with the Armenians in their free will concept, but the Scripture is so plain," he said. "Scripture shows that grace is a gift that God desires to give all men. "Without looking at other doctrines, we need to look at the doctrine of the gospel," he said, adding God's true nature can only be seen by looking fully at his grace and God's Word is always the ultimate authority on the matters of God's grace.
Amen and amen. I'm reminded heavily of Rev. Danny Akin's message about "worshipping a system instead of a savior." Preach it, brother Page! Now if only Pastor Page would actually examine the Calvinist gospel against Scripture. As a decided non-Calvinist, I would lay down money he would find the near exact gospel preached in Scripture. Christ died to save sinners, of which we (the elect) are without a doubt the worst. And we're the worst because we know just how short of God's glory we fall.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Pre-Graduation Meditations

As I prepare to graduate tomorrow with a Master of Divinity in Pastoral Counseling (MDiv. PC), here's a few thoughts. I used my Lifeway graduation coupon (25% off) to buy The Works of John Owen, vol. 1. A couple months ago I picked up his most famous work, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ and have somewhat gotten started reading it. I'd like to have a full set of somebody's work eventually, so I figured I could start here since The Works of Jonathan Edwards is like $95 a volume new. I suppose I should get a start somewhere, so I guess you can do worse than Owen. ;-) As I said a couple of weeks ago in this post, I got promoted to part-time supervisor at UPS. I work in the training department. This week was my first week, and there are a lot of adjustments I'm having to make. For example, I have found myself real tired during the night, because instead of moving around and slinging boxes, I'm just sitting in a class for the new hires while I job shadow the training staff for the next two weeks. After that I'll be able to do some actual training myself, I hope. I'm learning a lot, so we'll see what the Lord has in store for me in this new portion of His will! It is now exactly one month until Tricia and I get married. June 17 at 2pm Eastern, to be exact. Any of you bloggers who will be in Louisville are welcome to drop in and say hey at the ceremony. It has been a hectic month. Tricia and I are fine, but everyone else (especially my future mother-in-law) are going nuts over the details for some reason. Now I can identify with those who say they can't wait until it's over, because I'm ready to ignite my lightsaber and dare anyone to try pressuring me about the preparations! Also, I'm in the process of trying to get everything moved to what will be "our" home. We have rented an apartment in town, and Tricia is already living there. Once graduation is over, the work of getting all this junk out of Fuller Hall and across town to the new place will begin. I will be throwing out a lot of old clothes and junk, and I think I may take a lot of my books that I don't need and sell them for store credit at Refiner's Fire books in St. Matthews Station. Go by there--it's a cool place. I plan to finish the Doctrines of Grace (see sidebar) before the wedding. I will start this Monday with Irresistible Grace. So keep your shirt on, folks. I think I've ably demonstrated what the 5 points of Calvinism are really about instead of the stupidity that's out there today. In between that, I will get started on The 5 Marks of a True Christian. And no, I haven't forgotten my promise to Josh Hearne to translate John chapter 1. I have now decided to do that after the wedding when things have considerably calmed down. Well, I am late for a meeting (my last of the semester), so I must mosey. Go forth and blog!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Word to the Wise

Some of you from the SBTS Metablog are wondering where my post on "The Girls of Southern" went off to. After thinking and praying about this for a while, I decided to remove it. Too controversial, I felt. The subject matter was too disrespectful to our ladies, I believed. Too much of a chance of people getting in a hissy over. So I simply decided to consign the post to the realm of the undead. Let's just forget I was even asked about a Playboy spread for our ladies. The issue has been squashed by a friend of mine so maybe I should consider it dead as well.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Strange Baptist Fire

Just thought I'd give some love to the boys at Strange Baptist Fire (SBF). This site is dedicated to giving clear, concise, biblical answers to the morons at Baptist Fire. Notice I didn't link to Baptist Fire. They're not worthy of a link. These guys at SBF are doing what others have tried and grown weary of. They are answering a fool. "But wait," you ask, "doesn't Scripture say not to answer a fool according to his folly?" Certainly. But there comes a time when evil must be answered, and Baptist Fire is evil. Only the light of truth will defeat it. That said, I will make known that I do not agree with all of SBF's theology, but that's okay. I have said and will continue to say that if one is going to disagree with Reformed theology, one must disagree with what it actually believes and not the caricatures, distortions, and misconceptions that are out there. True Calvinism is not found in hyper-Calvinism (the distortion) nor is it found in the lies spewed by Baptist Fire, nor is it in the popular misconceptions the average Christian holds. Anyone who has even given the once-over to each of my posts on the doctrines of grace (see sidebar) ought to readily understand this. Baptist Fire makes me embarrassed to be non-Calvinist, Baptist, and Christian. Only someone with an IQ of a rock could behave in such a manner and still claim to be Christian. Claiming to be wise, they are fools, and God has sent them strong delusion, that they would believe the lie. Let all of us, non-Calvinist and Calvinist alike, throw our support behind Strange Baptist Fire. Such wolves in sheep's clothing must be at the very least humbled; at the very worst turned over to Satan for their destruction.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A Promotional Post

Well, it's official. The Deaf Jedi has been promoted. That's right, starting May 15 I will be a part-time supervisor at UPS. No more slinging packages for me! I had my formal interview this Wednesday, and at the end the district manager (or supervisor) who interviewed me told me that I was in the pool. That was my only goal throughout this process, to at the very least have my name in the pool before the wedding. And then tonight my full-time supervisor (UPS has three levels in an employee's "chain of command" -- a part-time supervisor, a full-time supervisor, and then a manager) came to talk to me and told me that I would be promoted within the next two weeks, and then only because we had to get our belt squared away first. To promote me now would have been to leave my belt shorthanded. But at the end of the night, my part-time supervisor (my immediate super) told me to go upstairs, because the Godfather was going to make me an offer I couldn't refuse. Yes, he actually did say that. Anyway, I went upstairs and I was offered the position, and it did not take me more than 5 seconds to say yes! God has shined His grace on me tonight! I will not miss slinging packages. I will miss the exercise it gave me. I will not miss the horrible attitudes and behavior from certain co-workers. I will miss them personally, as I became friends with each and developed strong relationships with some of them. Shane knows what I'm talkin' 'bout. I will deeply regret losing opportunities to witness to them, especially certain people on the belt. But I remain confident that God's word will not return to him void. I am just floored at the providence of God. This promotion came just as I was beginning to worry about money. Now I will not need to worry about money for a good while, especially considering I am on the Dave Ramsey plan. On the contrary, God has chosen this moment, just over a full month before my wedding, to enlarge my estate. I spent the entire shuttle ride back to the parking lot fighting tears of praise to God and suppressing the overwhelming desire to just start singing boldly to the Lord. I was able to get to my car and have a "prayer closet" moment just for that! I want to take a moment to thank all you readers who have prayed for me, especially my church, Louisville Baptist Deaf Church and Timmy Brister, who both personally prayed for me in the 24 hours immediately preceding my interview. I thank my family for being supportive and prayerful, and for embarrassing me constantly by needlessly bragging to their friends. Here's more fodder for ya, folks! Now, in the immortal words of Mr. Frank "Centuri0n" Turk's son:

Let's get this paudy stauded!

Thursday, May 04, 2006

A New Kind of Worship

This is what I wrote for Dr. Ware's Systematic Theology 2 class for our second Scripture Meditation Paper. For the purposes of a blog title, I'm gonna call it "A New Kind of Worship." Although I don't think there's anything new about what it proposes! Enjoy.

A New Kind of Worship

For this paper we were required to read and meditate on Isaiah 52:13-53:12; John 1:1-34; and Hebrews 10. It is my opinion after meditation and prayer that these passages present to us a clear and unified picture of how we are to present the Gospel. Isaiah gives us the promise, John gives us the realization of the promise, and Hebrews is the preaching of the promise. Throughout my meditations, it became a constant thought in my mind that our church services should be focused with almost total if not total exclusivity on these aspects of worship. The Giving of the Promise The giving of the promise is the major event of any worship service. Without it there is no vision for the realization and preaching of that promise. As pastors, we should ask ourselves: "What is the promise of God in this passage that I am preparing to preach? How does that promise point to Christ?" That promise must point to the reality of Christ and Him crucified. We must be able to connect our preaching to Jesus, whatever our passage or topic. The promise must be clearly articulated at the beginning of worship. We can do this from the start by having Scripture reading from the message that clearly articulates the promise to be proclaimed. All of our songs in worship should focus around this promise. Without this focus from the outset, our congregation cannot be mindful of what is to come. Our congregation cannot meditate throughout worship time and prepare themselves to receive the promise and learn from it. The Realization of the Promise How do we realize the promise? I have come to believe that we realize the promise of Christ by partaking of the Lord's Supper. This is not to say we realize Christ's promise in ways similar to Roman Catholics or Lutherans. No, I affirm strongly that the Eucharist is a symbolic representation of Christ's body and blood. But what is actually happening in the Eucharist? Christ commands us to partake of it in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19), and as such we are first and foremost remembering what Christ has done for us in fulfillment of the promise. But the promise has been fulfilled. How does the Eucharist give us access to that fulfillment? I believe the Eucharist functions for believers in the same manner as the filling of the Holy Spirit. It is a time of sanctification for the believer. When we partake of the Lord's Supper with a prepared heart - one that is in the fear of the Lord, repentant, and trusting wholly on Christ - we realize Christ's forgiveness of past and present sins and the continual transformation of our minds in Him by the power of the Holy Spirit. John expresses the concept I have arrived at here by naming Jesus the light that gives life to men. By His light, we become children of God, born of God's will through Christ Jesus, our sins taken away. The Eucharist reminds us of what Christ's light has done for us and points us ever to His light for our current forgiveness and hope of our final righteousness in heaven. Thus the Lord's Supper is spiritually powerful; something actually happens when we partake of it properly - we are sanctified. This is another reason why we must not profane the Lord's Supper. This leads me to the inescapable conclusion that we are to partake of the Lord's Supper every week. Every Sunday that we come together we must partake of the Eucharist in obedience to the command of Scripture to do this as often as we come together. In this way, if we are constantly renewing our minds weekly by the realization of the promise, our people can potentially be more spiritually minded and more apt to meditate upon their spiritual condition in preparation for worship. The Preaching of the Promise Hebrews 10 gives us a very clear exposition of the purpose of the Isaiah passage and the realization of Isaiah's promise in John 1. The promise, having been given and fulfilled, now must be explained so that faith can come through the hearing of that promise. The listeners (readers, in this case) are exhorted now to claim the promise of Christ's finished work by faith, and not to let go of that promise nor forsake it by sinning deliberately. Indeed, this is a serious responsibility these three passages conclude with in Hebrews. The promise must be clearly and forcefully preached. Those to whom it has been given must be exhorted to hold fast to Christ, to put their trust more and more fully in Him day by day. Those to whom it has not been given are warned that their rejection of the promise is damning. This is also in my mind a clear example that we do not know who those are who will accept or reject the promise, so the exhortation and warning must be preached to all. They are two sides of the same coin. This aspect of worship is the focal point of any service. Without the preaching of the promise, we have no need for a promise to be given nor for a promise to be realized. Romans 10:14-17 makes it very clear to us that unless the promise is preached, none will be saved. Unless the promise is preached, none will be sanctified as well. Conclusion The overarching theme of my meditations on these passages is that there is a great need to overhaul our worship around these three aspects. We must give the promise through our singing and the reading of Scripture. We must realize the promise by partaking of the Lord's supper in every service. And finally, we must preach the promise as the focal point of every worship time.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The 200th Post: Towards a Theology of Baseball

Ah, baseball. The word brings joy to my mind every time I hear it. I grew up playing the greatest game on earth. And with no braggadocio at all, I was pretty good. It was my dream to be a pro and play for my beloved Atlanta Braves. Yes, for the discerning among you, that means I have been a Braves fan since long before they became good. They stank for the majority of my childhood! Baseball has been a significant part of my testimony. It is the one thing that prevented me from fully yielding to the call for a long time. It is the one thing that in my Christian youth I regretted giving up. You have no idea how I felt to watch the 1996 World Series and see Andruw Jones of the Braves (we were both all of 19 years old at the time) hit two homers in Yankee Stadium, and foolishly think to myself, "That could have been me. That should have been me." Now that I am a more mature believer, I can look back and realize that it wasn't really me who gave up baseball, but rather baseball gave me up as God had determined from before the foundations of the world. At my station in life now, I feel I can now look at baseball without a longing eye but with one that enjoys it. And after our recent revival at my church, Louisville Baptist Deaf Church, I was struck by the metaphor for the Christian life that our evangelist, Ricky Milford from Talladega, Alabama, presented to us. It is that of the bases of a baseball field. And with no further ado, I present to you a brief theology of baseball. The Batter's Box The batter's box is where everything begins for the man or woman in this world. In order to get on base, one must stand in this box and hit the ball that has been pitched to you by the pitcher. You cannot hit the ball anywhere else but inside the box, or you are out. In the Christian life, to be out in God's ball game is to be sent directly to Hell. First Base In the Christian life, we stand before a holy God who demands our obedience to Him in order to be saved. God stands on the mound, His throne, holding the ball, the Law, in His hand. He requires of us to hit the ball pefectly and safely in order to get a hit and reach base. This means that first base represents salvation. But we have a problem. God is throwing this special pitch called the Law at us harder than Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson combined. Imagine a fastball coming at you at 200 mph! You could never hit it, let alone see the ball clearly! That is what the Law does to us - it is thrown at us so hard and fast that we fail to hit it at all. We feebly swing in hopes of hitting it. And as such we strike out miserably. The Pinch Hitter But God, from eternity, had a game plan. He knew that when we got into exactly this situation, we would strike out. So instead of us performing what is required of us, He sent Jesus His son to bat in our place. Jesus is our pinch-hitter. Jesus alone can hit the ball and reach base safely. And He actually accomplishes this! Jesus has hit the ball, run to first base, and reached it safely in our stead. Salvation is now accomplished for all whom God has elected to pinch-hit for. Now, here comes the neat part. Jesus, having reached first base safely, now turns to us, sitting on the bench, and commands us to get off the bench and run the bases! That's right, this is the effectual call illustrated. We cannot finally resist the call of Jesus, just as a baseball player cannot finally resist the orders of his coach. To those on the team (the elect), they will obey. To those not on the team, the fans and spectators (the non-elect), they will simply sit where they are and watch. Maybe even boo, hiss, and jeer. But by faith you and I get off the bench and trot to first base where Jesus is waiting patiently for us to take the salvation He has secured for us. Jesus then leaves us with the Holy Spirit as our base coach to guide us around the rest of the bases. Second Base Second Base is now possible for the runner, the believer. The believer can now be baptized and join a church. This means second base represents baptism and church membership. But a runner does not take second right away. He must either steal second or be advanced by the next hitter. This means that a believer must first mature to some degree before he can be baptized or join a church. This is what in baseball is called "taking a lead," that is, legally cheating a few steps towards second base. The parable of the seeds becomes heavily relevant here. A runner taking a lead can still be picked off. If one has truly accepted Christ, one cannot be picked off. If one has not really accepted Christ, one's lead is not enough to return safely to the bag when attempts are made to assault your faith. Those whom are like thorny or stony ground to the Gospel will get picked off easily. These were never truly saved, never truly believed. Those whom are good soil will always be able to take refuge in Christ their salvation. One cannot advance to second base unless one truly possesses first base. Then when the Holy Spirit gives the church, our third-base coach, the green light, the church will call you to be baptized and accept you as a member. Third Base Third base is famously known as "the hot corner." I played third for many years and can attest to the heat that rises from this position. But once you have joined a church, what's next? One must serve in the church. This means third base represents Christian service. Think about this. Why were we saved? Ephesians 2 tells us that we were saved to do good works, and God had set things up before hand that it would be this way. See, God has a game plan! In baseball terminology, this means God desires for us to "manufacture" runs instead of swinging for the fences. We have to work for the bases! The only difference is that Jesus has already secured first base for us, and instead of working the pitcher, we accept Jesus' base hit in our stead by faith. We truly work out this salvation in fear and trembling! Home Plate What is home plate? It is where the runs are scored. It is the reward for faithfully and fervently running the bases. The runs don't count until one crosses the plate. In the Christian life, home plate represents eternity with God. Think about all the previous bases. Unless they lead to eternity with God, they are worthless. That's right, worthless. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross is worthless if it does not send the repentant sinner to the Father with eternal life. Church membership and baptism are worthless because it actually does not send people into eternal life. Christian service is also just as worthless because it cannot give eternal life. This is why first base is so very important. In baseball, if you miss first base but touch second and third, all the opposing team has to do is tag first base with the ball and you are out. Oh-yew-tee, OUT! This should be sobering for us as Christians. We cannot, cannot afford to miss first base! It is the well from which all other bases spring forth. You cannot have church membership without salvation, nor can you have true Christian service without salvation. It is sad to see many of our churches violating this simple principle with an unregenerate membership. And, as Paul says, if Christ did not actually do what reaching first base was intended to do, we among all people are most to be pitied. But His resurrection is the evidence of a secure first base, because He was then able to order us to get off the bench and run! He was not dead in the batter's box, He has risen indeed! And because of this, we can run confidently to second and third, and mosey home safely scoring the run for all eternity. Well done, good and faithful servant.