Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joy of True Friendships

Over the last two blogs, we have highlighted some of the difficult things that can happen in life concerning friendships. First, it is a reality of life that some friends will walk away from their professed faith for a number of reasons. Secondly, we touched on the fact that Satan seeks to attack and separate true friends, and that we should be overly sensitive to the impact sin can have and protective of our friendships in the body of Christ.

But rather than running the risk of sounding too negative, we will end this three part series on a much more positive note – the value of godly friendship.

There are very few things in life that are more valuable than true godly friendship. The Ancient Proverbs says that “a friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Prov. 17:17). It is true that the most meaningful friends are the ones that last through the hardships and triumphs of life, friendships that are based on mutual respect, forgiveness, companionship, trust, and love. A friend is one who can see you for who you really are, ugly warts, sin, and all – and still love you and stick with you no matter what.

These are rare jewels. Rare finds. But the truest friendships are nothing short of miraculous blessings from God. They are relationships that span distances and time. For example, I have some friends in far away places that I haven’t seen in years, but in picking up the phone, we can have a profoundly direct and weighty conversation and can achieve a level of depth almost instantly whereby there is immediate connection, empathy, and mutual understanding. You can be yourself and share your true feelings without being judged or misunderstood. And the encouragement, affirmation, accountability, and affection shared has a way of nourishing the soul instantly.

Your true friends are the ones that are quick to forgive and are not simply in the relationship for what they can get out of it. They aren’t simply sponges, but are those who are committed to giving generously with the primary motive of love. In this way, it is definitely true that the richest and purest friendships on earth are those that are shared between Christians. For the foundation of such friendships is the love of God, the One who has truly defined love for us.

There is an openness and honesty within a great friendship. I recently had a friend tell me that when he talks to me he doesn’t feel like he has to be “on his game” but can actually let his guard down and just be himself, relaxed and transparent. That was such a compliment to me. And the feeling is mutual. I can laugh and make mistakes in front of this friend and he will love me just the same – a true brother. I praise God for him.

It is true that each one of us will at some point be required to give an account of himself to God (Rom. 14:12). And one of the ways that God prepares us for that is by giving us friends here and now to which we can give an account. Like iron sharpening iron, an accountability partner or friend is a must for anyone who wants to live a godly life that pleases God. In this way, the wisdom of Ecclesiastes is put into practice. For Solomon wrote,

ECC 4:10 If one falls down,his friend can help him up.But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! 11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? 12 Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Indeed, Christians must have accountability relationships and friendships. But in order to have such a friend, you must first begin by having a willingness to be such a friend. You have to be willing to open your life and heart to someone else. You must learn the value of and practice unconditional love, selfless giving, and humility yourself. If you do this, you will find that you will acquire a great many friends, ones that will last a lifetime. And you will be best prepared to be the kind of friend that people want.

Speaking metaphorically, Aristotle said that a friend is like “a single soul dwelling in two bodies.” I like that picture, for it shows how yoked together two friends really are. “Soul mates” as we would say.

Commit yourself to being the kind of friend that somebody would want to have. Loyal, true, open, honest, with a true servant's heart -- full of love. As you walk with the Spirit, you will overflow with God’s love and this will enrich your relationships. In fact, you will see the quality of your friendships increase, and the numbers thereof as well. Therefore, the depth of your relationship with God will directly impact the quality of the friendship that someone may find in you.

God truly blesses Christian friendships. May you find this to be true in your life as you walk with the Lord this Christmas season. Hold on to your friends. Love them unconditionally, and in doing so you, yourself will be blessed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

When Satan Attacks Friendships - Friends that Fall Away from Each Other

In keeping with the similar theme of my last blog, it is another human reality (and a tragic one at that) to have friendships that become strained and even come to an end during the course of one's life. Even good Christian friendships slip in this regard, such that all Christians should be on their guard against it. I recently heard a sermon by one of my favorite preachers, Dr. James MacDonald, and in his message he said he has been absolutely stunned by how even Christians “burn bridges” with one another. (See his message series entitled “Balcony People Build Bridges” available on his podcast).

In true Christian circles, the theme should be “once a friend, always a friend.” But personal agendas, fear, pride, critical spirits, inappropriate judging, jealousy, selfishness, hypocrisy, misunderstandings, poor communication, control battles, private sins, and unmet expectations are often the majority of reasons for much of the relationship tensions, withdrawals, and severances that happen today among Christian friends. (I'm sure there are other things that I didn't mention that could be added.)

Now I never thought I would borrow the overused song lyric from the 80’s coined by Michael W. Smith, but it is true that friends should be friends forever “if the Lord’s the Lord of them.” Instead of “bridge burners,” Christians should be filled with such grace that they should be continual “bridge builders.” MacDonald talked about the fact that many times he’s had friends who have distanced themselves and broken off the friendship even though he never did, stating “there’s some people that I wish would be friends with me but they won’t anymore, though I’m still willing.”

Now people change. Let’s be real here. And when that happens, relationships are bound to change. No one is saying that the level of reciprocating affection in a relationship will always remain constant or increasing. I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. People move away. Interests change. Shared experiences don’t always happen every day. Differences in opinion and preferences occur. But at the baseline level, there should always be an ongoing cordiality, spiritual and relational connection, and a genuine friendly interest in someone else’s life within the circle of all Christians. If we are truly committed to forgiveness like we say we are, then friendships should always stay in tact to some degree. We are family -- brothers and sisters for eternity, equally saved by grace.

It is when “roots of bitterness” take hold, based on any number of reasons, that relationships can crash like the stock market. The writer of Hebrews said, “see to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15) Any of the sins I mentioned above in paragraph two could lead to bitterness that causes relational trouble and defilement. But it’s interesting to note that the Scriptures here give indication that relationships that fail not only affect the immediate parties, but they can affect the whole community of faith. One friendship that tanks can bring many others down with it.

Therefore we must be overly protective and supportive of each other and careful with our friendships in the body of Christ, lest we give the devil a foothold. These are people with whom we will spend eternity, and so we better seek to maintain them here on earth. Thus the emphasis on reconciliation among believers by Jesus (Matt. 5:23-24; Matt. 18:15-17) and even among the Apostles (e.g. Eph. 4:25-32; Col. 3:12-14; 1 Pet. 4:8-9) was meant to preserve what God has chosen to build, namely, his church. Surely there are people in the church that we will like more and relate better to than others – BUT we must be on guard against “cliques,” preferential prejudices, judgmental sarcasm, and stereotyping within the body of Christ. God has meant for all of us to embrace each other as brothers and sisters, being patient and forgiving and friendly to one another. At the heart of such success in relationships is the virtue of humility, the kind of humility modeled by Jesus who stooped down as a servant to wash the feet of his disciples. In fact, I would argue that humility as at the root of thriving relationships among Christians.

Perhaps this is why Jesus is now willing to call each of us his friends (John 15:14-15), because he was willing to abandon status and privilege and embrace a humble life, and in doing so made many eternal “friendships” that are based on the principles of reconciliation and forgiveness, a reconciliation and forgiveness that he himself provided for in his death on the cross.

So guard your friendships. They are precious. Be a person of grace. Seek forgiveness and reconciliation if needed. Protect the reputation and unity of the body of Christ. Don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought. Embrace an attitude of humility. Seek mutual understanding. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Be the mature one who is never willing to withdraw unless it is clear you have to for biblical reasons (1 Cor. 5:11). And above all, put on love, which always binds believers together for all eternity. These friendships we have in Christian circles have been forged by God, and what God has joined together, let no one or no thing separate.

Monday, December 7, 2009

When Friends Fall Away or Walk Away From the Faith

Many seasoned Christians will tell you that if you live long enough, you are bound to have friends that fall away from the faith. Friends who, for no apparent reason, walk away from what they have professed to believe for years, or who fall into a certain line of teaching that is clearly unbiblical. Others fall prey to temptation and shipwreck their faith and witness. It is a sad sight to see, a grievous reality, but not uncommon.

What are we to make of this? How are we to respond?

First, we would do well to be reminded that this is not something new. The Apostle Paul often mourned the loss of friends and partners in ministry, as there were some who embraced false teaching, some who fell prey to the love of money, some who simply were caught up in worldliness, the list could go on. Among them are names like Demas (2 Tim. 4:9) and Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Tim. 1:15). Especially painful for Paul was the desertion of many who were unwilling to support him when times got tough. Yet even then Paul was willing to forgive – his love for them held fast saying, “may it not be held against them.” (2 Tim. 4:16)

The Apostle John, one of the inner three disciples of Christ who perhaps lived the longest and saw the longest portion of the church’s early history, reported that some people who refused to remain in the faith actually proved that they had never truly been converted and incorporated into the church. He wrote:

“They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.” ~1 John 2:19

Others who have not been trained, lack discernment gifts, or grounding in sound theology can also be easily swayed by experiences or cultural trends that they are unable to sort out through a biblical lens or put in proper perspective. When this happens the impact of such dramatic experiences may cause them to question their underlying assumptions of what they’ve traditionally been taught or it may cause them to find a way to reinterpret the Scriptures to support their experience. In either case they may leave the church.

Surely everything that we’ve taught should be tested – but if it’s truth it should pass the test. The true danger lies in having “an experience” with God and rather than using the Word of God as a filter to interpret it, the person finds a way to discover a proof text and twist the Scripture out of its proper context in order to legitimize what they “already believe and are convinced of.”

It has been my experience that cultural, societal, and political trends have had a huge impact on the church’s reading of Scripture and the implementation of church practice. Surely this is true of every age to some degree, but I think it has been much worse on the evangelical church in America today.

But to our main point, this is why some friends have wandered off into bad teaching or poor church practice or have left the church altogether due to experiences that they have been ill-equipped to handle, sort out, or interpret.

Further, though the church should always be prayerfully seeking reform, it is true that there are some discontented Christians who are so fed up with the church for one reason or another that their cynical spirits and bitter attitudes have driven them into areas of belief and church practice that are clearly out of bounds in a biblical sense. Unfortunately, they may lack the grace and maturity to patiently reason with one another, and as a result they would rather distance themselves and go their own way. A sad but common reality, and relationships can be severed.

And then finally, some have not rejected the faith so much as they have rejected the church because of a horrible experience or a lack of grace that they may have encountered from immature believers who did not know how to handle someone else’s sin, failures, or differences in perspective. Some of these people take years to recover from something like this – and it is not always their fault. But it still results in a rejection of the “community of faith.”

So the three reasons we’ve covered are this (and they are not meant to be exhaustive): Some fall away relationships or the church because they never really believed in the first place. Some fall away because they are ill prepared or equipped to handle winds of bad teaching or experiences that they do not know how to interpret biblically. And then finally, some have walked away simply because they’re angry and impatient or have legitimately been hurt. They don’t have the energy to persevere or desire to forgive.

So what is our response? Love. Sympathy. Grace. Humility. Patience. While at the same time, we should be committed to prayer for them, always willing to engage and embrace, and prepared to defend the faith. Perhaps in some cases we should even be apologetic if the friend was genuinely hurt for unjustifiable reasons. Live long enough, and this will undoubtedly happen to you. But we must remember, that the kind of Christ-like love we are called to is the kind of radical love that imitates our Savior, the One who loved us even while we were yet sinners (Rom. 5:8). If our loving God was willing to leave the comforts and privileges of heaven to come here and sacrificially give his life towards those who were hostile to him, how much more should we seek to love those who have turned, walked away from, or rejected us, the church, or the faith for one reason or another?

Don’t give up on them. No matter what. Keep preaching, speaking, and living the Gospel. Pray, and love unconditionally. Be prepared to give an answer for the hope you have, and season everything with grace. You may “win your brother or sister over.”

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

"The Already Not Yet" Aspect of the Christian Life

The Christian’s dilemma could be best characterized by the “already not yet” reality of the Christian life. As those who have trusted in Christ for our salvation, we stand before God in a positional state of “grace” (Romans 5:1-2). What this means is that we are no longer condemned, exonerated from wrath, covered by the blood of Jesus, promised an inheritance, and so forth. That’s the “already” aspect of being saved.

But then there is the “not yet.” Here in this life, we still struggle with the flesh, a battle with sin that reminds us that we are not yet perfect, nor ever will be in this life. We must rely on God’s ongoing forgiveness and grace and the empowerment of the Spirit to have any measure of victory over our sin. So as Paul said, we “press on,” we labor and strive to be holy and set apart for God. In Philippians 2, Paul says we should “continue to work out” our salvation. Not work for, but work out. We don’t earn our salvation, rather we are to demonstrate that we’ve received it by faith and that this Spirit-led faith compels us to change and grow spiritually. In other words, we seek to become like Jesus in character and conduct, and with the help of the Holy Spirit, seek to win souls and conform our lives to God’s will.

In sum, we are saved by grace, we stand in grace, and we grow spiritually by God’s grace which we need everyday in our lives. In one sense we are perfect in our standing before God, but still in the practical sense, not yet freed from our ongoing battle with sin. This is why we still need “daily grace” to forgive and cover our sin. Thanks be to God who gives us that abundantly.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Heart and Hands - What I Want to Copy and Paste from Jesus

I have found that after several years of ministry that there is no replacing personal time with God and a personal touch with people. As for the former, there is much to discover within the recesses of God's heart that cannot be discovered by mere experience but only in private consultation. I see his character within the pages of His revelation, but until I have stopped to ponder it over and again in my mind, I no nothing of it in any real tangible sense. It's just knowledge until it sinks deeper into my soul and takes root and shows itself in my consciousness, motives, and intentional activities. Perhaps this is what is meant by "participating in the divine nature" (2 Pet. 1:4). Not merely an awareness of God but a partnership and fellowship within the secret activities of the heart. Perhaps I am never more like God than when I am simply with him, enjoying the sweetness of joy that comes from a conversation that saturates the dry parts of my soul. This is where he reveals to me his heart in such a way that it changes mine. Truly this is what Brother Lawrence meant when he wrote "Practicing the Presence of God." I've noticed that even the Savior himself went up to the mountainside to pray. There's nothing like recharging with the Father. I want to know his heart.

As for the latter, God has been reminding me of what really matters in ministry. Nothing replaces quality time, purposeful interest, active listening, genuine encouragement, and timely follow-up. These are the things that touch the hearts of people. It expresses care and love, and it cannot be substituted in any way. It is the heart of a shepherd that people crave. For whether we pastors know it or not, we represent in some mysterious way the Chief Shepherd in a surrogate sense. We are "under shepherds," entrusted with the flock of God to whom we will give an account. And people can see right through us. They can sniff out a fake. But for the one who is the real deal, they will be quick to entrust their lives to you because they know you care.

How have I represented him? Have I shown others his heart? Do I reflect His compassion and come alongside others with an empathy and sympathy that would communicate His presence? These are the questions I must ponder. They are gripping. And I'm afraid that there are times when I fall way short of His holy calling. Paul said, "who is equal to such a task?" I know what he meant. And I know what Jesus meant when he said, "apart from me you can do nothing."

The temptation to do ministry "in the flesh" is there daily. Pride is a constant battle as I'm sure it is for most people. One must intentionally humble oneself to be used rightly. It's not that one should just pray for humility, but rather one must knowingly seek to place oneself in a humble state, looking for a way to lower oneself. God intentionally came to earth not as a man but as a baby. It was a purposeful choice. He pondered his path and took the low road. That's what we all must do. That, in some slight way, may be what Paul meant when he said that Jesus "emptied himself" (Phil. 2) -- he did not consider his equality with God something to use to his advantage, but became like one of us (except for sin). He went into the trenches with people, touched the untouchable, consoled the unconsolable, listened to those overlooked, gave grace and attention to those who called out for help, and did it all with dirty feet and unwashed hair. He also gave his life away...

That's what a shepherd does, and that's how he should minister to his flock. Lord make me like that. Make me like you in prayer, and make me like you with people.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Powerful Definition of Christian Counseling

I ran across this definition of what it means to receive counseling in the church by John Piper, and I felt it was instructive, insightful, and encouraging to share with you. May you be the "church in action" today on this weekday -- encouraging each other daily as the Day approaches.

"What is counseling? The God-centered, Bible-saturated, emotionally in-touch use of language to help people become God-besotted, Christ-exalting, joyfully self-forgetting lovers of people. Biblical counsel does not direct people to esteem themselves – it directs them to esteem God, and doing this means waging war. A Sunday sermon isn’t enough; neither is a weekly small group. To persevere in this fight, we are to “exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13). Hebrews teaches us that perseverance is essential in salvation, and that it is a community project. Satisfy your soul in the ultimate Treasure so you move away from comfort and toward need; fight for the salvation of your brothers and sisters in Christ; hold fast to the faith; encourage one another." ~ John Piper

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Speaking with Passion on What's Most Important

Recently I preached a series of messages on the Christian’s relationship to the governing authorities. It is not a subject that I am deeply endeared to but felt compelled to preach on as a result of encountering Jesus’ statement, “render to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” in Mark 12. In this statement Jesus legitimized human government, and in Romans 13 Paul expanded on it to teach us that government is something that God has sovereignly established on earth for the purpose of governing society, rewarding the good and punishing the bad, while providing a sense of restraint to evil and order to a sinful world.

His was not a statement of endorsement of all that an earthly government does, but merely an affirmation that God is the One who has established it for his sovereign purposes. Surely though, government exists for our good in the general sense even when it is not operated by godly people or is advocating biblical perspectives and policies.

It seems that on every street corner in this country the subject of politics, postmodern cultural warfare, economic and foreign policy, and health care are on the lips and minds of all who are alive and breathing. Opinions are as varied and strong as ever. The past two elections have seen more participation than in much of recent American history, and the intensity of the conversations and emotional weight that is thrown into them seems to be at all time high. I am a bit jealous of the intensity, to be honest, wishing that all Christians were mimicking it in our righteous living and in our conversations to all about how the cross saves believing sinners.

In a time like this, I believe that Christians have reached some fertile soil for sharing their faith. The firm foundation of absolute truth is a needed ointment to the disease of cultural relativism. People are longing for something stable, something true, something to believe in that is a much needed fix to the brokenness they are experiencing in the world, and they are fast coming to the conclusion that no political entity or process is going to be their salvation any time soon, no matter who is in charge.

We know the real truth however, that there is no salvation to be found in any earthly institution or authority, but rather true salvation is found only in the name of Jesus Christ. We don't need political salvation, but spiritual salvation. And this is where the blindness of Satan has captured many. For they think that if the economy is right, war is eradicated, and their political preferences all line up and are in place, that their lives are going to be profoundly fulfilled. They forget that spiritual matters are more important than anything else. And they don’t see that the personal sin issue is the biggest one of all.

All of what we see in the world comes right back to this. The spiritual nature of these earthly battles cannot be overlooked. There is a spiritual war going on here. The economic, cultural, social, and literal wars we are going through are merely symptoms of that greater spiritual warfare that hovers over them all. And without the right spiritual resolution, these things will only get worse. It could very well be that the common grace that God has used to restrain sin is being lifted a bit so that our world system is all the more in line with that which is described to come at the end.

I am no predictive prophet, but the feeling I have is that the time is short. The ground is fertile, and Christians need to be speaking God’s truth with a little more courage, purposefulness, and intensity than before. Come on Christian! Stand up. Proclaim the truth – speak the Gospel daily. Talk about the cross. Talk about forgiveness. Show unbridled love, a contagious joy, and an excitement about Christ.

Don’t despair. Don’t lose hope, and don’t place that hope in earthly temporal processes and institutions. Should we be voting and talking to our leaders about matters of right and wrong? Absolutely. We should do this as God has given us the miraculous freedom to do so. We should use the resources given to us to speak about matters of truth in areas such as abortion, medical ethics, marriage, and so on. Since these effect areas where we live, we must be engaged. Not consumed, but engaged. God’s truth is timeless and eternal, and is the standard by which all will be judged. So we better be speaking it with regard to all the practical areas of life. And to do this effectively we must also know our Bibles and know what God’s truth is (a plug for more biblical study).

There are some who spend all their days on the computer forwarding emails about political issues that bash this or that leader while their Bible sits on a shelf and their neighbors suffer in silence because no one is relationally loving and reaching out to them. My brethren, these things should not be. Merely making the world moral through political policies is not our ultimate goal – saving souls who are hell-bound without the Gospel of God’s grace is. This does not dismiss us or silence us from engaging on moral issues, it just rearranges our priorities so that the spiritual comes first in our minds before the earthly and temporal. And don't you think it might be important that before we speak one word about political issues in the coffee shop or the workplace, we must have already spoken ten words about Christ to our family members – our fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandchildren, and anyone else in our close quarters.

Remember this, God is in control of history. And He may be setting this world system up for His return. He is not responsible for evil, man is – but God orchestrates everything for His ordained ends. And He has commanded us to “hold on loosely” to this world and to go preach the Word! Go Christian – get up, get out there, and live and love radically for Christ. Fear not! The Lord is with you. He is mighty to save! (Zeph. 3:17)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

An Often Overlooked but Critical Moment

The Reality of the Resurrection
It’s Meaning for the True Believer

1. It means that God is not dead, or that He’s some impersonal force, or simply an idol or inanimate object that I bow to.

Instead, the Christian God is alive, personal, real, knowable, and we are able to relate to Him through repentance and faith.

2. It means that God is true to His promises.

The Bottom Line: I can trust God.

3. It reminds me that I should never fear death.

Someday in the future, I will rise from the dead.

4. God’s power that He used to raise Jesus from the dead is the same power that He is using to change me, giving me new spiritual life in through faith in Him.

5. Since God accepted Christ’s perfect life and perfect sacrifice and put His stamp of approval on it by raising Him from the dead, so I can trust that God has made me acceptable in His sight through faith in Him.

6. The reality of Easter Sunday means my life should be filled with joy, with thanksgiving, with worship and praise. It means that I can live victoriously even now over sin.

7. It means that God’s plan of redemption for this world is being brought to intended Goal, and for those who believe this will become a reality that they too will participate in.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Evangelical Christianity, Premarital Sex, and Early Marriage

Through my experiences as a pastor, I have become increasingly concerned about the situation our younger generation of Christians are facing when it comes to marriage, premarital sex, schooling, careers, etc. They are growing up in a culture where the struggle of relationships, and specifically premarital sex is itself a daily battle. But first, let’s get a few operating assumptions and facts out of the way.

1) The Bible says that any sexual activity outside the bonds of marriage is not honoring to God – ok, let’s call it what it is – its sin. Why? Because that part of life was meant to find expression in a lifelong commitment to a spouse. It is a natural and healthy part of a growing, monogamous, marriage relationship. Sex is not evil, it is God-ordained and healthy, but like a fire in the fireplace it must be kept in its context or else it can be destructive. Thus we believe in abstinence before marriage.

2) Secondly, we live in a way too sexually explicit culture. Need I say more? It is a battle every day for young people. From every angle, they are pressured and taught lies about sex, and the casual nature of it that is portrayed in the media outlets of television, movies, and the internet has led many down the wrong path. It is sooo tough for so many young people today.

3) Third, couples are waiting much longer to get married than ever before. A recent survey said that the average median age for first marriages in the United States is now age 26 for women and age 28 for men.

Now having said all this – I have a few thoughts to consider. Doesn’t all of the above facts make for the “perfect storm” when it comes to the battle that our younger generation of Christians go through when it comes to sexual temptation and premarital sex?

The pressures are so intense. The hormones are so intense. The battle with what one can do and what one can’t do in a dating relationship and be “technically” honoring to God is so intense. But to be honest, I think there is a greater issue at stake here in all of this. And I think it has to do with our views on marriage in general -- and this is the main intent of this blog.

So the question for consideration is this. Why is it that we insist that they need to be “done with school, financially secure, and on a career path” before they consider the idea of marriage? Can that be defended biblically?

Side note -- this is not to say that people who are in their late 20’s or early 30’s who are single are in any way wrong for being in that spot – it may not be God’s will for them to marry just yet, or at all. But they will be the first to tell you that it’s not easy and that they need God’s grace every day to be patient and focused on God.

In the Bible young people were married much earlier than they are now. The “Virgin Mary” was most likely in her early to mid teens when betrothed to Joseph. (It had much to do with the Jewish view of procreation, blessing, and the ability to have children). I’m not suggesting that this should be the Christian norm today, for certainly we live in a different culture and different time. We don’t need to arrange marriages at age 14. But is there some merit to avoiding all the battles we sometimes face by getting married a little earlier than we currently do?

I think so. I was 25 and my wife was 19 when we got married. My parents were 21 and 19. Now someone may say – “19?!!! Wow, that’s a little young – don’t you think they should grow up a little more and finish school first?”

My answer is this – not necesarily. I think it's possible that we've simply put a strong cultural prerequisite on them. It is true that in some cases it may be wise to wait, but we cannot make that a blanket expectation that is true for every young couple who thinks that God is leading them to marriage. Long engagements are hard, for it is natural for couples to come together emotionally, spiritually, socially, and physically all at the same time. And when we tell them that they have to wait on this one part while the wedding is two or three years away – boy that’s tough!

Though there are challenges and some cons to the argument for early marriage, I believe that there are some definite pros that we are overlooking.

1) Sometimes being dirt poor is a good thing. And young couples who get married early are not usually rolling in the dough. They are forced to make sacrifices. They are forced to cling tight to one another, make important decisions together, battle their tendencies to be materialistic, etc. And all of that is a good thing. You may have to live off of borrowed furniture for a while, eat off paper plates, drive an old Honda. This just might be the situation God wants for them in order to develop in that young couple a deeper conviction about God, money, and trusting in Him for what they need rather than what they want all the time?

2) I think when we get older we get more stuck in our ways, and perhaps even more selfish. Getting married early can help with that problem, for it forces us to grow up together. We learn to compromise, making sacrifices for each other. There is no doubt that maturing socially, spiritually, and relationally together brings a bond to the relationship that sets it up for surviving the long haul. Many older couples who married early can attest to this benefit. Growing together spiritually at an early age has tremendous benefits. Biblical convictions can be cultivated together and most young students in their early 20's can catch on fire for God as they are in the midst of considering their life calling.

There is something to be said about a young couple getting married in school, working and paying for their education, growing together, being dirt poor for the first couple years, growing together, learning to live within their means, growing together…oh, did I mention growing together? Yes, that's what they do.

Don’t misinterpret this. No one should rush into marriage. Some who do, regret it later. One must be fully convinced of discerning God’s will before doing so. And like I said before, those who are single in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s can surely be blessed by God. Not all need to or should marry. Each one must consider their own giftedness and unique calling or place in life. And Paul did in fact commend singleness, saying that it can be a gift. So I’m not saying the early marriage or marriage in general is the ideal for everybody.

But what I am saying is that we should be very careful about the cultural prerequisites that we put on young Christian couples when a relationship gets serious and seems to be heading towards marriage, being especially mindful of the sexual temptation our young people face today. Sometimes early marriage is a better option, even if it means life is tough for a while. They may not be as tempted and they may grow up faster because of it.

No, we should not get married just so we can have sex. That’s crazy. But when we get married much later in life, get ready for an emotional and physical battle until that day comes. To be sure, with God’s grace it can be done, but perhaps much of the struggle can be left behind if we are willing to consider the alternative and leave our biases behind.

Another topic for consideration -- Where are the men? We have lots of godly young women who are looking for godly young men? But where are they? I think in some sense the church has utterly failed in this. To be sure, men themselves have failed in this. I have intense compassion for the women in our church who are bright, spiritually strong, single, who wish to get married but who look around and find nothing. But that’s another topic for another blog.

If one some point you think differently than I do on these things, then please see Philippians 3:15b. I’m not being contentious, but I see the battle every day in the lives of our younger Christians. Let’s pray for them, shall we?


While writing this blog, I discovered a recent article about this, and it argues my point much more thoroughly and better than I do. Might I encourage you to read Mark Regnerus’ recent article in Christianity Today magazine (August 2009) entitled, “The Case for Young Marriage.” It, in my opinion, is a powerful read. You can read the article here:

In reading it, I feel affirmed in what I was thinking. And for further critique and comment on Regnerus’ article and early marriage, see also Al Mohler’s commentary at…

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Faith IS and What it is NOT

How much do we really live by faith? Do we live the kinds of lives that really require us to exercise a certain amount of faith or do we base our goals and lifestyles on goals that are very achievable on the human level, within our own power? And further, can faith be merely equivocated with risk taking?

The most important aspect of faith is its object. If God is the object of faith, then it is faith. Why? Because God is fact. God is certain. God is absolute. If an educated guess or risky living is the definition of living by faith, then we are operating under an unbiblical definition, because the Bible says,

HEB 11:1 Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

So under that definition, ideas like "confidence, assurance, and certainty" are necessary components to faith. This is only possible if God is the sole object. So that is why we can “live by faith” and not by sight, because we know that God is the author of life, the sustainer of life, is sovereign over all of life, and is the goal of life. So in the end, to live by faith is to trust God with all of life.

Therefore, “taking chances,” “risky investments,” and "counting the odds" are not what it means to take “a leap of faith.” Because in those things, there is no assurance and certainty of anything. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t. But that’s not faith. Faith involves certainty. We would be much better to call those things “educated guesses.” Nothing wrong with educated guesses – just don’t call it faith.

So practically speaking, to live by faith then is to be certain that God will provide everything I need that He has promised. Not everything I want, but everything I need. We can be certain of that.

MT 6:25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

28 "And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Living Theologically in the Church

One of the primary criticisms that is directed toward the arena of academia is that it often produces material that converses with the theological elite while leaving behind the common layperson who seeks to understand and encounter God throughout their daily lives, and weekly in a place of worship. An unhealthy division of the Christian faith is seemingly promoted between theory and practice. On the flip side, the evangelical Church of today is often guilty of perpetuating this gap when it focuses primarily on attainting an “experience” with God, devoid of any profound theological reflection, dialogue, or foundation

Reflection upon the doctrine of God, his attributes, names, and nature, as well as the ways in which we acquire that knowledge, may be studied in seminaries and Bible colleges, but at times is often thought to be irrelevant by the Christian on the street. However, on the other hand, John Armstrong asserts that the church for too long has been preoccupied “with everything from revivalism to church growth” and “has almost sterilized our schools and churches to serious doctrinal reflection, especially in written form.”[1]

Today, however, there seems to be a desire from both the academy and the church to come together, to increase dialogue, and to share the glorious reality of connecting the mind, the heart, and the daily walk in a more holistic approach to life and theology within the community of faith.

As Paul wrote to Timothy, God has given divine revelation for many purposes, including ones that necessitate doing theology, but the ultimate reason for giving divine revelation and for theologians doing theology is that the people of God may be fitted for every good work. (2 Tim 3:16-17)[2]

Recent theological discussion has taken special notice of how theology, and the doctrine of God in particular, should be understood as more than a mere assent to cognitive truth claims. At its heart, the truth about God must be seen in the lives of each individual Christian and the practical, corporate life of the Church, especially in its worship and concrete, biblical practices.

This is one of the primary arguments and basic assumptions that serve as the foundation for a recent series of essays edited by James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, found in Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church. In these essays the authors aim to bring theology and practice together, arguing that biblically speaking there is no such thing as head knowledge of the truth that is divorced from the “faith, worship, and godly life of all who are incorporated into Christ as members of His body.”[3]

Therefore one of the primary goals of theology should not only be to help build and articulate a deeper understanding of the doctrine of God, but to help incorporate such an understanding and its relevance into the life and ministry of the church. In this way, our theology, daily walk, and church life should inform, interact, and shape one another.[4]

Bernard Ramm has pointed out the significance of theology for the Christian life when he writes,

. . .to the evangelical, theology is a matter of life and death, vindication or judgment, to be in the love of God or under the wrath of God. Theology must then be built on the most absolute foundation possible–the revelation of God in Scripture. And that revelation can only be known by the evangelical's becoming an expert in the exegesis of Scripture and a master of its contents.[5]

So the Biblical text and the theology it conveys serve as the absolute foundation and cornerstone of the Christian life and the practices of the church. As Ramm has stated, it's a matter of "life and death." Similarly, Millard Erickson, in speaking of the critical nature of one's theology, emphatically states that "our theological beliefs affect the nature of our relationship with the Lord,” and so theological reflection cannot be separated from encountering or experiencing God and his purposes for us in our daily lives.[6]

Indeed, we are to think biblically and theologically so that we, by God’s grace, may live faithfully and obediently as the children of God in a foreign world. You can’t have one without the other. Why would anyone want to? If you refuse to believe or reflect on the fact that God is sovereign then you will always question whether he has the power to have control over anything that happens in your life. If you think that Scripture may contain historical or scientific errors in it than this may inevitably cause you to question the trustworthiness of God himself, who was said to inspire every word of it. (2 Tim. 3:16) Do you see how important this is? But as we gain knowledge, the knowledge that changes us, let us also live it out with simplicity and fidelity, so that head and heart can go hand in hand. Let us master the basics and dive deeply into the waters of the Word all at the same time as the Spirit will guide us in both. Then we will be living out a healthy spiritual life.

[1]John H. Armstrong, “The Trinity: What and Why?” Reformation and Revival Journal 10, no. 3 (2001): 9.

[2]John S. Feinberg, No One Like Him: The Doctrine of God (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), xxiii.

[3]Thomas F. Torrance, The Trinitarian Faith: The Evangelical Theology of the Ancient Catholic Church (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1988), 33; quoted in James J. Buckley and David S. Yeago, eds., Knowing the Triune God: The Work of the Spirit in the Practices of the Church (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 9.

[4]Our standard for practice should proceed from a biblical theology, derived from a sound literal, grammatical, historical exegesis of the text.

[5]Bernard Ramm, The Evangelical Heritage: A Study in Historical Theology (Waco, Tex.: Word, 1973; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 154, emphasis mine.

[6]Millard J. Erickson, Where Is Theology Going? (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 12, emphasis mine.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Memorial Tribute to a Dear Brother -- Dave Hahn

At approximately 7:45 AM this morning, our dear friend and brother Dave Hahn stepped into what I like to call, “phase 2 of eternal life.” Our heavenly glory - that future glory that awaits all believers who have trusted in Christ alone for their salvation. It is as real a place as anything ever known – a place where we are more alive than we are today – spiritually alive, spiritually complete, morally perfect and fully aware of being in the Lord’s presence. For Paul said that to be “absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.”

Dave had an extensive battle with cancer, much more extensive than we would have liked. The way he died has had an effect on all of us, in more ways than one. First, no one would ever pick to have something that is slow and drawn out. But even though Dave passed this way, it truly gave him a platform to speak to so many people about the love of God in Christ. There is a mountain of people who came across this man who are now changed for life because of his love and testimony. We have no idea how many people have been touched for eternity simply by seeing this man stare at the face of death with confidence and assurance of his eternal destiny because of his Christian faith.

Perhaps one of the most healthy and most powerful expressions of faith amidst the dying process came when Dave spoke in our church several months ago, sitting comfortably in a lounge chair on the stage, telling us what it was like to “get one’s house in order” while trusting in God who heals or carries us to heaven, whichever it may be. Dave’s counsel, advice, experience, and blunt honesty had a huge impact on so many. He talked of things that we don’t normally speak of, things that are often “uncomfortable” for us. He said what we all thought and wondered about, and when the time was done, he played his favorite song over the loudspeakers and sat there with his hands in the air in a spirit of worship. There was not a dry eye in the house.

Truth be known – Dave was a fighter. He was a self-avowed “analytical warrior” when it came to the medical side of his cancer fight. Just the other day, in some of final moments of lucid conversation, he told me that the dying process has been fascinating for him – calling it “Dave Hahn’s Great Scientific Experiment.” He had a real sense of humor and was refreshingly transparent. He always wanted to remain conscious for as long as he could so that he could track what was happening to his body. It wasn’t until the very last weeks that he finally agreed to some pain medication.

Always the picture of health, Dave enjoyed the study of nutrition. This is why his passing is so puzzling for us – Dave wasn’t careless with his health. He wasn’t overweight. He didn’t smoke. He exercised and took care of his body. And yet cancer invaded him anyway. Humanly speaking, we have many questions with little answers. But cancer is no respecter of persons. Our response is to put our trust in God, who numbers our days and holds our lives in His sovereign hands. We consider it a blessing from God that He gave us 49 years with Dave Hahn.

Dave’s life and death has brought us together. It has put things in perspective. We have seen a church family come together to rally around a family in need. We have been drawn into prayer as God’s people. We have seen many use their spiritual gifts to minister to his family. The love that has been expressed in so many ways is a true reflection of Christ’s love spilling out of this wonderful church. What do people do without a church family? I have no idea. This is what it’s all about. God has raised up many who have stepped forward to care for Dave. His small group, his many friends and family, you name it. Oh, how we’ve loved one another.

On Tuesday Dave and I talked about what the final moments would be like. We speculated on the fact that perhaps there will be angels that may come to usher him to glory. What would he see? How would he feel? All these were things we pondered, considering all the Scripture says and more. A glorious thought – seeing the face of Jesus. Joining the “great cloud of witnesses,” to the place where “the souls of righteous men have been made perfect” (Heb. 12:23). It’s a heavenly Jerusalem. It’s not our final place. For there will be a day when the Lord returns to earth with his angels and those like Dave who have gone before us, and there will be a resurrection body granted to Dave that will be immortal. And then glorification will be complete in the fullest sense.

Oh Lord, haste the day! It won’t be long beloved. Mind you, there are “birth pangs” to this world right now, and soon our Lord will come.

I will miss Dave. We all will. It is still for us to care for his beautiful wife and daughter, a privilege we will take seriously, I know. Faith allows us to grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope. Jesus rose from the dead, victorious over death. Therefore, it is a sad day and a day of victory all wrapped into one. Finally, one more story.

The story is told of a young man by the name of William Dyke, who at the age of 10 went blind. Yet even though he was blind, William went on to be a very intelligent, witty, and handsome man. He attended graduate school in England, and he met the daughter of an English Admiral, and he fell in love.

The two were engaged. He had never seen his future wife’s face, but he loved her very much. Right before they were to be married, a new treatment was developed that could possibly reverse William’s blindness.

In a rather unusual request, William decided that he did not want the gauze from the treatment removed from his eyes until the wedding ceremony was in full swing. If the treatment worked, the first thing he wanted to see was his new bride’s face.

As the bride came down the aisle, William’s father began to unwind the gauze from his head and eyes – still not knowing whether the operation was a success. When the last piece of gauze was removed from his eyes, William blinked several times and then looked into the face of his new bride for the first time.

And his first words were, “You are more beautiful than I ever imagined.”

I can imagine that this is what Dave felt the very moment he stepped into his heavenly dwelling and saw the face of his Savior for the very first time. And I can hear him humming his favorite song, “some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away. To a home on God’s celestial shore…I’ll fly away.”

Dave, yes indeed, that “glad morning” was this very morning. We’ll see you soon brother. We love you.

PS 27:4 One thing I ask of the LORD,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Need for Daily Spiritual Sensitivity

Looking back on your life, where have you seen the Holy Spirit at work? Whether it’s over the years or even in the last few months, where have you seen God at work in an obvious way? Can you easily identify God’s hand? In Ephesians 1, Paul prayed this for the church:

“18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Ephesians 1:18-19a)

Paul wanted the church to see life through a fresh set of eyes. He wanted them to experience an enlightened heart, to see and experience spiritual realities in a way that changed their whole perspective on life and life’s situations. I have found it a little a little easier to look back in 20/20 hindsight and trace God’s finger or hand on my life from past experiences. But it is quite another thing to cultivate the kind of spiritual sensitivity that is able to trace his guiding hand on a daily moment by moment basis.

When you step foot in a foreign country, you might be stepping foot in a place that is rather unfamiliar to you. The sites will look different, the people will look different. The language will sound different. You have stepped into a new world. You will notice things you’ve never seen before. You will have a heightened sense of awareness. Things will stand out to you. You are much more sensitive to your surroundings.

In the same way, there is also a heightened sense of spiritual awareness and sensitivity that God wants to cultivate in you, even now right where you are. You would do well to ask yourself, where do I see God at work here? Where is there a need that I can help meet? Where is there a situation that is calling me to address it through prayer? Where is the Holy Spirit at work and how and how can I join in on that work so that God might use me as well? What is God doing in my heart and how is he speaking into my life through all of this?

Try not to let unconfessed sin cloud your spiritual vision. Let us be mindful of the potential for spiritual laziness that may make us blind to what’s happening. Let us be careful not to be so focused on our own daily agenda that we miss out on what God wants to show us or do with us. Pray for God to wake you up with a new set of glasses on. May you have eyes to see, because God has much to show you, and He wants to cultivate that kind of sensitivity in you every single day of your life.

Pastor Eric

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Church Celebrating 40 Years

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Clearwater Community Church. It is a church with a rich history centered on the Gospel, the preaching of the Word, and the Great Commission. Throughout our history (see below) God's faithfulness has truly been evident, and it's to His praise and glory that we celebrate this milestone.

A Brief History of Clearwater Community Church

God began His work in what is now known as Clearwater Community Church when five families gathered together to worship and pray in February 1969. Their hearts were committed to the idea of glorifying God through worship, discipleship, and evangelism.

The church soon rented the teaching auditorium at St. Petersburg Junior College (Clearwater campus) and began to hold services there. The needs of the children were met with the purchase of a large empty house trailer, which served as a portable nursery. About 100 worshippers attended the first service where Dr. Haddon Robinson, a former professor of Dallas Theological Seminary, provided the sermon. Guest speakers continued to lead the congregation until Pastor Jim Rose was called to serve as their first full-time pastor/teacher.

By 1980, God continued to bless the church and in the latter part of that year, the congregation moved into its own building on Landmark Drive in the Countryside area of Clearwater. It was during this time that God blessed CCC with remarkable growth and eventually there was a great need for expansion. Then in 1992, after much fervent prayer, the church voted to sell the existing building to a nearby Methodist Church, and services were temporarily held at the Kent Jewish Community Center while the church began the process of building its present facility on Belcher Road.

A spirit of unity and excitement filled the hearts of the congregation as they moved into the new facilities on Belcher Road in November 1994. Now today, as God continues to build His church, the hearts of those who make up Clearwater Community Church are committed to glorifying God by making disciples who will use their gifts to meet the needs of the greater Clearwater community. There is much excitement about what lies ahead, and as the church remains faithful to its original calling, we will, by God’s grace, bear much fruit for the Kingdom of Christ. It is indeed His church, and we are His people, the sheep of His pasture (Psalm 100:3).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Forgiveness...The Nature of the Cross

"Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Crucifixion was one of the worst ways a man could die. The Romans often killed people this way, and here in Jerusalem their sight of crucifixion was a place called the Skull – an appropriate title since this place came to represent death. The process of dying was drawn out over a period of time. It began with what was called scourging – where a prisoner was bent over, tied to a post, and whipped on his bare back with a lash or a whip that had either pieces of bone or metal tied to the end of it.

It was a cruel punishment. And the punishment continued as the criminal was to carry the cross on his bloody back all the way up the hill, where the even more graphic details of death were to be carried out.

But why this man? Was he a wicked criminal deserving of death? No, in fact, we know him as a man without sin who raised people from the dead, who caused the deaf and the dumb to hear and speak again, who gave sight to the blind, who told the lame to get up and walk, whose gentle touch and words of love could restore hope and joy, and heal the body and soul.

But now, here he was. Jesus, the man who healed, was now himself bruised and battered, spit upon and falsely accused. And he said, “Father forgive them?”

The teachers of the law had claimed that he was a blasphemer, and even said that, “he was of the devil.” Over and over insults and spit were hurled at him, as if beating him wasn’t enough. The soldiers had placed a crown of sharp, skin piercing thorns upon his head. In order to make the pain more treacherous, they jammed the crown down further and further as they struck him on the head with a staff. Some people were ruthless; their blood was burning with hate and filled with anger. But there were also those who were laughing. Some thought it was funny. Scripture tell us that the soldiers would sarcastically fall to their knees and pay homage to him, shouting “Hail, king of the Jews.” And he said, “Father, forgive them?”

Christ was condemned to death like a common criminal -- as if he was nothing more than a thug or a thief! And everywhere there was more shouting, more words were tossed at him. But the words that Jesus returned were very different.

Out of all this injustice, all these lies and all of this pain, when nails were being driven in his feet and hands, Jesus had every right to bring down words of instant judgment upon them. He could have called a legion of angels to strike down each soldier, or to silence each laugh, in order to make right this wrong he was suffering, to end this misery that he was facing.

But he didn’t do that. Instead of words of hate and retaliation or revenge and justice or firing out words of death, he spoke words of life. Words that would have a sudden impact on a Roman centurion and a few who surrounded him. In fact the centurion said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”

Jesus’ words were words filled with compassion for these people who did not realize what was actually happening at that very moment –when the enormous weight of sin was placed upon his shoulders. No, they weren’t words of judgment, but words of grace and life, and some of them sounded like this: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” It is the substance of these words that today remind us of one of the most undeserved blessings that God showers on those who believe, and that is the blessing of forgiveness. Forgiveness, resulting in eternal life.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Different Perspective on the Recession

How do we understand what we are going through? In these times when all of the worldly securities are seemingly so insecure (like jobs, houses, retirement funds, etc.), how are we as believers to understand what God may be doing in the bigger picture? For there is war, genocide, poverty, terrorism, financial chaos, the destruction of families, along with many other areas of crisis that have caused many to panic, fear, and fall into despair.

But for Christians who trust in the sovereignty of God, and who have placed their lives and trust in God alone for their salvation, identity, purpose, and security, this recession serves as a means for our faith to be strengthened and a longing for our true home to be on the forefront of our minds. It also provides us with an opportunity for our values to be tested, our eyes to be opened, and growth in areas we may never have thought about before.

In a recent sermon entitled, “What is the Recession For?,” Dr. John Piper, Pastor/Teacher at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sets forth five purposes that God may have for us during this time of recession. I think they are rather insightful and present a well thought out biblical worldview on the issues of suffering, trials, and money. Piper says that some of God’s purposes might be that:

1) He intends for this recession to expose hidden sin and so bring us to repentance and cleansing.
2) He intends to wake us up to the constant and desperate condition of the developing world where there is always and only recession of the worst kind.
3) He intends to relocate the roots of our joy in his grace rather than in our goods, in his mercy rather than our money, in his worth rather than our wealth.
4) He intends to advance his saving mission in the world—the spread of the gospel and the growth of his church—precisely at a time when human resources are least able to support it. This is how he guards his glory.
5) He intends for the church to care for its hurting members and to grow in the gift of love.

Surely these are not exhaustive or comprehensive in nature, which Piper admits, but they are very “right on the money” if you will pardon the pun. There are two sides to every trial – there is the natural, worldly side where which is how we are often tempted to view it most, and then there is the other spiritual side where seeing things from God’s bird’s eye view gives us a whole new perspective. If we view this as a time when God is further sanctifying us while giving us a hunger for heaven, then our souls will find rest even when the world crumbles down around us. Remember, God is good, all the time, and all the time, God is good.

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” - James 1:12, (NIV)

Friday, March 6, 2009

An Expected but Horrifying Reversal on Stem Cell Research

This coming Monday, Barak Obama, the President of the United States of America, is set to reverse a previous Executive Order issued by former President George W. Bush that prevented federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. This research involves the harvesting of human stem cells obtained from the destruction of live, viable human embryos. In other words, it allows the medical research community to receive funds (i.e. taxpayer money) from the Federal Government for the purpose of doing research on already conceived children whose lives will be terminated for the purpose of “scientific advancement.”

It is thought that embryonic stem cells hold great potential for developing replacement tissues that can potentially cure diseases and heal neurological disorders. And even though other forms of stem cells, mainly adult stem cells, have shown to have just as much promise as that of embryonic stem cells, researchers are calling the embryonic stems cells the “most flexible” of all cells. It is what they want most.

Yet they already have them. It has never been illegal to do this kind of “research” with private funds, and now we are taking it to the next level, using taxpayer money to fund it. So if you think about this a minute, what is happening is this. We are required by law to pay taxes, and the taxes we pay are being used to provide funding for the destruction of unborn children, all in the name of “science.” Scientists can now start applying for research grants from the National Institute of Health at any time after this.

Obama declared that he would “ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight." But for those of us who come from a biblical worldview, where we believe that life begins at conception, any research of this type that destroys viable embryos has already crossed the line of moral and ethical responsibility. It results in death, death of children who have received a soul from God the moment the sperm and the egg merged and conceived a human life. This is most grievous.

One has to imagine how long the Lord will put up with the blatant immorality that we have fallen into. I still believe that we live in the greatest country in the world, and if called upon would give my life to defend it as many before me have done and are doing now, but ever since the Roe v. Wade decision of the early 70’s, there have been almost 50 million innocent children that have been destroyed in the womb by abortion. And now we are doing it in the lab under the auspices of research. If I’m not mistaken the Nazi’s did the same thing in World War 2, using people for experiments. The only difference is the stage of development of the person being sacrificed. The soul is there. King David ascribed personhood to conception (Psalm 51:5). And further, even if these stem cells taken from the destroyed embryos show signs of “promise,” the end does not justify the means.

The ancient Proverb reads, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint” (Prov. 28:19a). Certainly there is no underlying conviction wrought by God’s revelation (God’s Word) that is being considered, understood or regarded here, and therefore the secular world has no reason to practice ethical restraint on this. There is no conviction about it whatsoever. None of this should surprise us, because it is the Holy Spirit that brings conviction, repentance, and faith, and even the illumination necessary to discern the truths of Scripture, that which is right and wrong.

It is our duty as Christians to hold fast to the sanctity of human life, both at the beginning of life as well as the end. We should oppose any and all legislation or executive orders that disregard the sacredness of human life, at any level. Therefore we should pray that our President may somehow change his mind on this, though I think it is unlikely that he will.

This blog is not so much about politics, rather it is about Christians speaking out about issues of morality, what is right and wrong. We have a duty as Christians to speak out against wickedness wherever we see it and to call all those who will listen to repentance from sin and faith towards God (in keeping with our Great Commission). Further, we have an obligation to pray against unrighteous actions, that the Lord himself will “deliver us from evil” (Matt. 6:13). Yet we should not be surprised if things get worse for those who hold to biblical principles, because the world system is continually and gradually being set up and primed for the return of Christ. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind it if the Lord came back right now, even before this order reversal takes place on Monday.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Remembering and Being Inspired by His Suffering

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained.” - 2 Timothy 2:8-9 (NIV)

These are the words that Paul told Timothy. He wanted to remind Timothy of the necessity of keeping Jesus Christ at the center of his mind. Paul reminded him that this Jesus has been, “raised from the dead” – and thus proven to be fully God, while at the same time a human “descended from David” – and thus fully man. So Timothy, as Paul might say, it is the suffering “God-man” that must be at the center of all things, and we must have such a view of him before us that it would cause us to be willing to suffer as well for the sake of His gospel.

What does such a view entail? It means seeing God for who He is, in all of His majesty and glory, discovering him anew from different angles as we read the Scriptures and experiencing him daily in our prayers and worship. And it means taking special notice of His suffering. The focal point of all of history is found in the One who took on flesh. And He suffered, and we should be living out our faith so boldly that we suffer along with him, thus identifying ourselves as His followers.

But I have a hard time believing that we can actually have that sort of view of him or even have a willingness and desire to suffer when our eyes are fogged up with temporal things and worldly distractions that never satisfy. I am guilty of this. Even the noble business of doing “ministry” may clog up one’s spiritual arteries and jerk your mind off of Jesus if you're not careful. Which is why Paul said to Timothy – remember Jesus Christ! And specifically - remember his suffering. Take hope from that, and consider it over and again in your mind.

We should have such a love and holy boldness for Christ (and such a clear identification with Him) that it naturally ought to bring a measure of persecution and suffering to us who live in world that is hostile towards Jesus. Let us evaluate our lives to see if we are suffering in any way because of our allegiance to and outspokenness for Christ.

I would go as far to say that in the same way the Fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) are necessary marks of a Christian life (as is faith, hope, and love – 1 Thess. 1:2-3), so is the idea that “suffering in some measure for the name of Christ” must also be a mark of an obedient Christian (2 Tim. 3:12). That’s bold to say – and may generate some comments. But where are we experiencing that hostility? I hate to say it, but if we are not suffering (in this sense), perhaps it is because we look like everybody else and are much too in love with and conformed to the pattern of this world (1 John 2:15-17; Romans 12:2).

Remember Jesus, beloved. Remember his suffering. For until we fully grasp how He suffered for us, we will never be inspired and inclined to live the kind of obedient life that God expects for those who are to be suffering as “aliens and strangers” to this world.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Beware of playing "matchmaker"

Recently at my church we have been discussing the topic of marriage and singleness. Few areas are more near and dear to people’s hearts than their “love interests.” Being single in today’s world is not easy. For some it may be a “spiritual gift” ( 1 Cor. 7:7), for others it may be a matter of not yet finding the right mate, and for some it may be a matter of making school or a career a priority for this season of life. Singleness may be by choice, or not by choice. Everybody is different.

The pressure that singles often feel from our social culture, whether by family or friends, can often times be overwhelming. Some have felt opinions of others who may wonder if there is something “wrong with them. They can’t seem to find love.” The expectations that are placed are often unfair. “Maybe someday they will grow up and settle down,” some may say. Even parents and grandparents have hopes for grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s not bad to want those things, but when those expectations and judgments hover over someone’s head who is single, it can be devastating.

Yet being single is not anything to be “ashamed” about. In fact, in God’s sight it is honorable, right, and good (1 Cor. 7:1). The freedom one has to serve the Lord (1 Cor. 7:32), the unbridled devotion to give of themselves to Kingdom priorities, being spared from some of the unique challenges and encumbrances that married life can bring (1 Cor. 7:28), are just but a few of the advantages of remaining single if God so wills it.

Don’t get me wrong. Marriage is a gift of God. It is a unique way to portray the relationship that Christ has with his church (Eph. 5:22-33). It is a blessing in numerous ways. But marriage is not the end all. It is not to be elevated and idolized above all else. Our primary satisfaction should not come from an earthly relationship, but from a heavenly one. A relationship with our Savior, Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we should be careful what we say and how we approach friends and family who for whatever reasons are single. It may not be God’s will for them to get married, or at least not just yet. And if they do desire to get married, but haven’t found the right person yet, we should still do everything we can to encourage them to be content with where they are right now until God chooses to bring the right person along. Because if they are not content when they’re single, it’s not likely that they will be content once they are married. Contentment is not merely achieved by a change of circumstances. No, it runs deeper than that. Contentment is a spiritual issue.

For example, Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks…will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.” (John 4:13-14) Our goal then should find our delight and satisfaction not in the temporal, but in the eternal. That’s contentment. So true contentment comes from knowing Christ, not from things of this world, no matter how good the love or the relationship may be at the human level.

Why do I say all of this? Well, I think it’s important to remember all this when it comes to our attempt at “matchmaking.” It may be all in good fun, and maybe on occasion it might actually work. But beware of once again putting unwarranted pressure on someone and feeding into an attitude of discontentment by always coming up with someone to solve their “problem” of being single. Like I said, singleness may be no problem at all, but God’s will. But we may make it harder for someone to find that contentment if we are always suggesting somebody new that they could go out with.

A word of advice. If you want to set someone up with someone else, ask permission first. Ask your friend whether he or she even wants you to offer to do that for them. Don’t assume they need your help, unless, of course they ask for it. Remember, our deepest desire for them is that they are happy and content, and they have to find that part in their relationship with Christ first. “The best way to find the right spouse is to be the right spouse.” And that’s what you want to aid them in the most, preparing them spiritually to be satisfied in Christ (and thus the "right spouse" for someone else) so that if they do enter into a relationship it is on solid footing right from the start. That’s the best thing you will ever do for them, whether they get married or not.

So have fun, but be careful, and mindful of what people really need more than anything. They need Jesus. As do we all.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A Bible Without "Error"


Thanks to God’s providence and power, Scripture, in the original manuscripts, is for us a completely errorless text in all it affirms. Every word, every fact, every matter of faith and practice is without any error, in keeping with the character of God, who inspired (God-breathed) the text. In the process of writing Scripture, the Holy Spirit spoke infallibly through fallible men, all the while allowing the style and personality of the writer, and the cultural distinctives (including the various literary genres) to shape the final form of the original text.

We must certainly be willing to acknowledge the potential for errors to occur in the transmission process, and comparing what known manuscripts we currently have can substantiate many of these errors. This is likely to happen through hundreds of years of copying by scribes. With this understanding, the science of textual criticism is then employed, so as to arrive to as close a reading as we can to the original autographs. We can acknowledge mistakes in transmission, but it is more important to acknowledge the fact that God does not lie and does not communicate to us in such a way that what he says is contrary to fact. Using the context to aid us, we can safely conclude that we have the original manuscript with 99 percent accuracy and that none of this compromises important doctrine. Furthermore, it is not necessary to see discrepancies in numbers (which may be rounded) and a lack of concrete language as “errors” in the text. To be imprecise is not necessarily to be in err. Modern day tests of precision and accuracy need not usurp inerrancy. As John Frame rightly asks and answers,

But why does God allow vagueness in His inerrant Word? Because vagueness is often both necessary and desirable for communication, and God’s purpose in Scripture is to communicate, not to state the truth in the most precise form possible.[1]

With regard to numbers which may be rounded, for it to be concluded that what was written is factually in error, it would have to be shown that “the degree of precision implied by the speaker and expected by his original hearers” is completely or grossly contrary to historical fact.[2] Thus to claim that there were 1,000 men killed by Samson (Jud 15:15) when in fact it could be substantiated that there were only 3 or 4 killed would be to indeed find an error.[3] The issue we are getting at here is truthfulness, which must be measured in its rightful context. It is essential to affirm that chronicles in Scripture can and do provide accurate “informational” content, because it is impossible to disconnect the theological or moral meaning from its historical moorings. Much work has been done to show that many “problem texts” in Scripture can indeed be resolved and harmonized through deeper historical, linguistic, and literary study. I find it interesting that even as I write this, archaeologists have just uncovered the ancient wall in Jerusalem built by Nehemiah. I love it when this happens!

The analogy of faith is also a binding conviction in my understanding of Scripture. This is a principle of interpretation that recognizes the inherent unity of the Bible (Genesis through Revelation). We then can clarify “problem texts” that are suspicious that would seem to advocate more than just a factual error. For example, a contextual study of James 2:24 would help us see that it does not contradict Ephesians 2:8-9 or Romans 3:28. The harmonization of these texts reveal to us that although we indeed are saved by grace through faith alone, a true saving faith is one that will embody fruit or works in keeping with repentance. Therefore, the Bible does not contradict itself resulting in some doctrinal and moral error. It is, as Wayne Grudem puts it, a “gracious condescension” for God to speak to us in human language through the Holy Scriptures. And as such, it is an "action" of God that is without error.[4] In what the Bible claims, whether this is a historical fact or a theological or moral assertion couched in such, it is wholly true.

[1] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Knowledge of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1987), 221. The latter emphasis is mine.

[2] Wayne A. Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 91. Grudem also notes that it was acceptable in the ancient world to loosely quote the content of an earlier speaker or writer without presenting an exact quotation (92). Surely this is what many of the Apostles did in the NT when quoting the OT. Yet using a loose quotation (an indirect quote) does not deny the truthfulness of what is being said or cause one to note a contradiction resulting in a false assertion.

[3] For a helpful essay which seeks to resolve some alleged errors in the text, see Gleason L. Archer, “Alleged Errors and Discrepancies in the Original Manuscripts of the Bible,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980), 57-82.

[4] The connection of seeing Holy Scripture as divine action embodied in human language is further reason why one can advocate inerrancy. God is performing an action when He speaks, and all His actions are perfect. These are known as "speech acts."