Friday, October 17, 2014

Festival fun or pagan practice: Four myths about Halloween

I honestly dread this time of year.  Don't get me wrong, I love the Fall.  There is nothing like the changing of Summer into this cooler, crisp feeling that just makes you want to sit outside and enjoy a nice cup of coffee as you watch the yellow, red, and orange leaves float to the ground.  But beginning around the end of September the villagers come out of their hiding with pitchforks and torches to hunt down any fellow believer who "sinfully" dares to dress their children up in costumes, ask for candy, and/or carve pumpkins for October 31st.  Yes, I am talking about the dreaded day of Halloween (insert dramatic music here).

Now, before I start diving into the deeper portion of this blog I need to make two clear statements first:

1) I am in no way stating that all Christians MUST participate in Halloween.  There is no biblical mandate to do so.  This would be just as legalistic as those who say Christians cannot participate.
2) I understand the biblical teaching of the weaker brother.  This is not meant to alter your convictions but to ensure that your convictions are based on facts and not folklore.

You might want to reread those two points before continuing on...I'll just wait right here.

Still here?  Great!  Let's dive right into the subject at hand.

I want to address the top four myths about Halloween.  Many of these beliefs of this day hinge on the date itself which is where I will begin.

October 31st
"October 31st is the Devil's Holiday", "Even the Devil needs a holiday", and a slew of other pithy remarks regarding the date of Halloween attract many well-intentioned but ill-informed believers to jump into this seat on the bandwagon.  Most Halloween aspects are believed to find their supposed origin in Celtic practices of the Druidic religion.  The story of the date goes something like this:

"These Druids believed that on the night before November 1 (October 31st) Samhain called together wicked souls or spirits which had been condemned to live in the bodies of animals during the year which had just transpired. Since they were afraid of these spirits, they chose October 31 as a day to sacrifice to their gods, hoping they would protect them. They really believed that on this day they were surrounded by strange spirits, ghosts, witches, fairies, and elves, who came out to hurt them. In addition to this, they also believed that cats were holy animals, as they considered them to represent people who lived formerly, and as punishment for evil deeds were reincarnated as a cat. All this explains why witches, ghosts, and cats are a part of Halloween today."-Where Did Halloween Come From?

There is a fundamental problem in this statement as it assumes that the Druids operate off the same calendar as we do.  The Druids, like many other cultures in the world, operated off the lunar calendar.  Their months and number of days in their year (354.37) were based on the phases of the moon.  We, and typically much of the western world today, operate on the solar calendar (also called the Gregorian calendar) which is based on the rotation of the earth around the sun (365.25 days).  The difference in the number of days prevent the two calendars from consistently overlapping regarding dates.  A good overview of this can be found at this link:

If the Druids did select October 31st on their lunar calendar as the date for their pagan worship, while it would remain consistent on their timeline, it does not correspond to the calendar we use today.  For example, this year's Gregorian calendar date of October 31st is actually October 8th on the lunar calendar.  This completely eliminates the idea that our October 31st is somehow tied to their pagan festival date.  It then becomes difficult to condemn that date since it is several weeks behind the actual date they would have used.  This means that when October 31st roles around, it is just another day with no pagan meaning.

With the elimination of the date myth, as you will see, the other points fall like dominos.  The issue of costumes is our first example of this.  Many connect the wearing of costumes by children on Halloween to pagan acts of the past.

"They originated with these terrible Druid death rites also.  As people and animals were screeching in agony while being burned to death the observers would dress in costumes made of animal skins and heads.  They would dance, chant, and jump through the flames in hope (of) warding off the evil spirits.  Again the early origin of costumes is repulsive.  On the evening of October 31st, the Druids, who were the occultic priests and teachers of the Celts, ordered the people to put out their hearth fires.  The Druids built a huge new year's bonfire of oak branches, which they considered sacred.  They burned animals, crops, and human beings as sacrifices to their sin god Muck Olla and Samhain, their god of death.  During this diabolical ceremony PEOPLE WORE COSTUMES made of animal heads and skins. They then practiced divination, loped for omens in the struggle of the victims sacrificed in the fires, jumped over the flames or dashed through them, danced and sang.  All of this was done to frighten the evil spirits away."-Halloween Exposed

Of course such a description brings a revolting response to the Christian reader.  Who would want to be associated with such atrocities and displays of death?  But a brief overview will find that there is great variety in the assumption of exactly what happened during these festivals.  There was undoubtedly very ungodly practices but the specifics are still unclear even to practicing Druids today. Notice the connecting thread in the above quote.  It is contingent on the date and partly on the attire and purpose.  No believer would bring charge against a brother for dressing up as John Calvin or Martin Luther for a play or festival.  How many arrows are being fired at believers who work in film and must dress in a variety of costumes?

The point here is rather plain; dressing up is not the issue with the costumes, but it is instead the purpose and type of dress that is the problem.  The last time I checked, no kids had come to my front door attempting to set me, my dogs, or my trees in fire in the hope to attain some occultic knowledge.  They may deprive me of my precious candy, but I willingly give that over along with a few Gospel tracts.

Trick or Treat
It is believed that this modern-day phrased originated first half of the 20th century in America.  It had become well established by 1951 when it appeared in a Peanuts comic strip.  Numerous cultures throughout the world had practices of offering food to the dead or evil spirits intent on causing mischief.

When All Saints' Day was established in the 11 century, certain practices began to creep their way into some "christianized" cultures.  It is believed that the poor would visit houses of more prominent members in their area to beg for pastries known as soul cakes and would in return promise to pray for the souls of their dead relatives.  Unfortunately, the specifics and validity of this are unclear proving again how much of these traditions are based on folklore.

By the mid-20th century trick-or-treating was used by some to actually inflict a trick or prank on an individual.  Egging homes and tossing a ludicrous amount of toilet paper over a neighbor's tree became a bit of a nuisance in some areas of the country.  But this was not common of every Halloween.  Most children simply adopted the phrase as a greeting to accept candy from any kind adult willing to open their door and congratulate them on using their parent's bed sheet as a cape or toga.

Of all the elements of Halloween, trick-or-treating has very little ties to pagan practices.  Attempting to make such a connection requires a great deal of stretching and illogical concluding which is usually fueled more by their intensive presupposition rather than fact.

Pumpkin carving
Nothing says "family fun" like hollowing out a large orange gourd full of squishy veggie innards riddled with seeds then painstakingly carving a face into its side.  Some believe this to be a pagan tradition that has also found a root in the lives of ignorant believers today.  But like many of the other traditions of Halloween, you will find a variety of beliefs regarding its origins.  Its transition to American soil is actually easily traced back to the early Irish and Scottish immigrants.  But rather than pumpkins, which were more common here, in Ireland turnips or potatoes were used.  Imagine trying to carve one of these smaller veggies instead...yikes!

The Irish practice of carving these innocent vegetables originated in the story of "Stingy Jack":

"According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him.  True to his name, Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks.  Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form.  Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul.  The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit.  While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree's bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died.  As the legend goes, God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven.  The Devil, upset the by the trick Jack played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell.  He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way.  Hack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has been roaming the Earth ever since.  The Irish began referring to this ghostly figure as "Jack of the Lantern", and then, simply "Jack O' Lantern"".  -History of the Jack O' Lantern 

Nearly every element of a typical folktale is included in this story.  It is one of many legends surrounding pumpkin carving though.  Some believe that it should be linked more to a Druidic practice of "capturing spirits" into carved out turnips or warding off evil spirits instead.  But the americanized version is far from any of these stories.  In fact, one may assert that because of both a lack of substantial evidence regarding its origins and the fact that neither the object used has changed, there really is no link between the two aside from the act of hollowing out the item and inserted a light source to proudly displays one's artistic talent (or lack thereof).

Are we consistent?
As believers we are often easily pulled into the intentionally enflamed rhetoric and teaching.  Some well-intentioned men of God have warned us of some of the practices mentioned above and others have gone so far as to insist that a Christian who participates in Halloween-like activities should have their salvation questioned.  But as I have hopefully shown, much of the links between Halloween and pagan practices are more myth than fact.  Further, if one were to assert that these practices should be cast out because of a link pagan cultures or occult activities we would need to be consistent and apply the same to other areas as well.

Here are a few examples of everyday items or practices that should also be thrown out, if we are to apply the same line of reasoning that some use regarding Halloween:

1) Wedding rings and their placement on the left hand-believed to have originated in either ancient China or ancient Egypt.  While the details are a bit blurred, both believe that the ring finger on the left hand has some mystical significance.  Should we somehow now convince our spouses to throw out their ring because it's origin is not found within the pages of Scripture?  Let me know how that one goes over.

2) Wind chimes-thought to have been brought to the Western world from early traders to China, these trinkets are not just relaxing sound producers that tell you when a gentle breeze is blowing.  They are instead adaptations of similar chimes used to ward off evil spirits and warn the inhabitants of a home when such spirits are present near the entrances.  So tear those demonic pieces of metal, bamboo, or twisted kitchen utensils and then bury them far enough from you home to ensure no one accidentally stumbles upon them and brings horrid misfortune (heavy sarcasm intended).

3) Days of the Week-every day's name...I mean EVERY one of them, originate from non-biblical origins.  Sunday is named for a pagan Roman holiday worshipping the sun.  Monday finds its origins in the Anglo-Saxon word "monandaeg" which means "day of the moon".  Tuesday is named after the Norse god of war, Tiu.  Wednesday is based on the chief Norse god Odin's alternate name "Woden".  Thursday is named after Thor, the Norse god of Thunder.  Friday, also from a Norse god named Frija who was believed to be the goddess of love.  Saturday brings us full circle back to the Romans as being named after the god Saturn.  Norse gods, Roman gods, and lunar linkage.  Which legalist is going to start preaching against using these names because of this evil connection?  (I can actually hear the crickets chirping!)

What are we to do?
I believe if you truly feel strong enough for or against something, you should stand by your convictions as long as they are based in truth and not in conjecture.  When we are presented with evidence that refutes whatever teaching informs those convictions it is never an easy thing to accept.  But we may still hold to those convictions for personal reasons as long as we ensure that we hold it as our conviction only and not one which others should adopt.

I have seen the quotes from Wiccans and Satanists claiming the events and day of Halloween for themselves.  But in reality they have simply highjacked the day, twisting its history, and using it as a scare tactic against Christians.  We have buried our heads in the sand rather than confronting them with facts.  We have allowed them to take an innocent day and overlay it with darkness.  I think it's time to stop letting the world decide what they own and start remembering that all things are under the sovereign governing of Christ.

Dress up your kids or enjoy an evening relaxing in PJ's.  Cut on your porch light and hand out candy and tracts or lock the door and watch "The Sound of Music".  Enjoy alternate activities provided at a local church or play a game of Scrabble with the family.  Neither choice is more holy than the other and neither choice will condemn one's soul to Hell.  But let's not pretend that these activities are anything more than they really are...a chance to get candy, hand out tracts, pretend to be your favorite character, and wonder just how late those kids will stay up after ingesting enough sugar to send a man back to the moon.

And by the way, HAPPY REFORMATION DAY!!!

In Christ,

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A contrasted view on life

Life...second only to salvation, it is the most precious gift God could ever bestow.  Psalm 127 is reminder to us that children truly are a blessing.  As I sit and type this, my wife is only 10 hours from being induced into labor as we begin to welcome our 8th child into this world.  Every brith, every child is different and unique.  God has beautifully knit each of them, and us, together with features, characteristics, and abilities unlike anyone else. 

The absolute worst abomination in regards to life is to beleive that any human life is unworthy of having the chance to live.  To disregard this basic essential is to negate the fundamental blessing of human existence.  As I read the article "Why I filmed my abortion" my blood boiled.  It boiled with the absolute lack of respect and dignity granted to the life which this woman elminated.  It boiled with the disdain for life she and others have.  It boiled with the utter arrogance that she portrays in regards to the baby she once held in her womb.  But I have come to expect nothing short of this kind of hatred towards children from self-centered, self-righteous (yep, I am using that word correctly in this context) pro-choicers who don't bat an eye at murdering babies. 

Amidst my indignation though there came a peace. A peace in Christ knowing that He is sovereign over all things. That even though the heathen rage against Him, He is not shaken from His throne. And then...He reminds me of precious stories that are constrasted against the hatred towards life some hold tightly to.  He brings to the forefront stories like these and my blood cools, my stomach sinks, and my eyes water.  Watch, cry, and praise God for life:

Blessed by God,
Adam Gray

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Outward fatherly success

During my morning devotion in Psalms as I was reading through chapter 17, a particular section struck me.  Verses 13 and 14 read "Arise, O Lord!  Confront him, subdue him!  Deliver my soul from the wicked by your sword, from men by your hand, O Lord, from men of the world whose portion is in this life.  You fill their womb and treasure; they are satisfied with children and they leave their abundance to their infants."

Here David is crying out to God to actively engage his personal enemies and restrain them from doing evil against him.  This was a common theme in the tumultuous times of David's life.  When his enemies surrounded him, David could be found in petition to God for deliverance.  But something in this Psalm seemed rather poignant and it had nothing to do with David.  It instead has to do with his enemies whom he calls "men of the world". 

David describes them prior to these verses as wicked and deadly enemies (9), calloused in their hearts and arrogant (10), and finally as murderers (11, 12).  Needless to say, they are not spoken of well.  These are attributes we ourselves may have carried prior to Christ (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) but they were the traits David uses to describe his enemies of that day as well.  A picture comes to mind of blood-thirsty men, wearing tattered clothing as they wait in the brush to pounce upon David and his men.  They snarl and cackle at the thought of David's blood on their hands gambling amongst themselves who would be the one to strike the first blow.  They are unruly, hateful men with no care for anyone but themselves.  Likely, if you visualize such descriptions, you have one such image in mind right now.  Perhaps a near Eastern BC era "pirate" of sorts.  Now hold that image for a moment and let me restate the rest of David's description of these men.

They are successful and prosper financially.  Their children likewise benefit from their fathers' wealth and live comfortably.  These men even have the gain and foresight to have enough to leave as an inheritance for their children.  All this is described in the latter half of verse 14 as quoted above.  Now rethink that image you had conjured in your mind of these men of the world.  They do not display the outward examples of what we may stereotypically think regarding God's enemies and the enemies of His people. 

These men of the world have stable income, stable homes, and may even outwardly display an example that many believers wish to adopt.  The first group of people that come to mind when I think of this is the cult known as the Latter Day Saints, also known as the Mormons.  The Mormon men who are fathers often have very well structured homes with polite children and secure business plans for growing prosperity both in their lives and the lives of their children.  Outwardly they display a model that many wish to copy, making their beliefs attractive to others.  We know the reality of what lies beneath this thin veneer though.  The cult of Mormonism is an enslavement to works righteousness, social and practical ostracizing of former or disobedient members, and a plethora of heretical teaching which space does not permit in detailing here (Christ is not God, God is one god among a multitude, faithful Mormon men can become gods, etc.) 

We can often become so caught up in the outward examples of men that we fail to truly examine the fruit.  I don't mean a mere cursory glance from a distance, but active examination of what hangs from their branches.  But in doing so we always remember that grace is to be extended, for no man is fully sanctified this side of Heaven. 

Maybe his finances are not in perfect order.  Maybe he is struggling just to get by, living from paycheck to paycheck.  He wants to get out of debt and tries yet his current situation makes it extremely difficult.  But he understands the enslavement of debt and seeks to break loose from its chains. 

Maybe he and his wife have no children or have a few. Perhaps their children are not sitting with their hands on their laps with smiles and clean pressed clothes.  Maybe they have to be told something more than once, or even be punished for not listening at all.  But he strives to train them to faithfulness (Titus 1:6) impressing upon them the commands of God and the Gospel of Christ.

It is possible that he struggles with catechism, family devotions, and/or family worship.  He desires to be a Deuteronomy 6 father and finds his inconsistency to be the only thing his is consistent in.  But he seeks guidance from his Elders and other godly men for practical examples of how to apply these vital aspects of biblical fatherhood.

Take this man and compare him to the man of the world in Psalm 17:13-14.  If you met both men and knew nothing of them aside from these outward definitions, who would you call faithful?  Who would you say is blessed by God?

A man may appear to have it all together in temporal measures but if he is without Christ, or worse still if he is a hypocrite who professes Christ yet dwells in unrepentant sin, he is still an enemy of God.  No matter how successful in his finances and in his own home this man may appear, he is spiritually bankrupt in regards to God.  He has nothing because his "portion is in this life". 

And yet another man may appear to not have it all together in temporal measures.  His home is not in complete disarray but his children are not the model of perfection which so many command of them.  He struggles everyday but his life is bathed in prayers laced with repentance, petition, and praise on behalf of himself, his wife, and his children.  His success is not measured in numbers but in humility and even the smallest of spiritual fruit which hangs newly on his branches.  He has everything because his portion is in Christ alone.

Maybe our outward measurements of a man need more reforming to Scripture.  Not that we should gloss over unfaithfulness but that we extend a little more grace particularly remembering that sanctification is not an overnight process.

In Christ,

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Practical church planting lessons learned

As stated in the previous blog, my family and I recently moved to Millington, TN under military orders.  Our plans is for me to retire after this tour as we settle into our 14 acre farm (still under construction).  We have been faithfully searching out a local church and were interviewed for membership this past week.  Prayerfully, the church will vote for our acceptance in the next two weeks.

During our time back in North Carolina as we labored to plant Albemarle Reformed Church, I received great counsel from several fellow Elders including Dr. Carlton McCleod from Calvary Revival Church in Chesapeake, Scott Brown (also the director of the NCFIC), Dan Horn, and Jason Dohm of Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest.  These godly men were a great source of encouragement and teaching to me and ARC.  I cannot express sufficiently the level of respect I have for each of them.  They have made and continue to make an incredible impact on me, my family, and the ministries in which we serve.  If you are able to sit under the guidance and teachings of these men, I am certain you too will be blessed.

During this time, the Lord taught me much in planting the church.  While I could spend numerous blogs detailing the finer elements of these points, I would rather present some of the more practical lessons.  Some may seem basic but are often the most overlooked of lessons.

Respect long-standing biblical churches
Too often we see a single issue in a local church and suddenly want to jump all over our brethren when it is discovered.  Even if it is one Scripture would not declare heretical, many still want to forcefully redirect that church to come in line with their position immediately.  Fill in the blank as to what you may think it would be, but there is a certain degree of respect which should be granted to these churches that have labored so long.  True, there are plenty which compromise the Gospel (and I am not speaking of these), but there are also many which do not and are still looked down upon.  Know that much time, prayer, and study went into the decades of that church getting to where it is.  Men of God likely spent countless hours pouring over the Word, bathed in prayer, and seeking counsel before making the decisions that led to where the church is now.  You are not the Apostle Paul.  Do not go barging through the door of that church holding it in contempt of a court of your own making.  

Not everyone who begins with you will continue
This point is not meant in bitterness or spite.  Even if the decision to leave is not a biblical one, we should not hold a grudge against our brethren for such.  There are those who are excited in the initial beginnings of a church who easily lose their motivation for various reasons.  Some don't want to do the hard work of structuring the church and want a more "free-flowing" service.  Others did not realize the amount of time and devotion it would take to get such a church going from the group up.  For whatever reason it is important that we acknowledge that some initially jump onboard but will eventually depart at the next port call.  Do not take it personally, but chalk it up as a part of sanctification.  

Be prepared for odd responses
Being the only Reformed Baptist church in the area meant that most were unfamiliar with the title.  When you attempt to explain that it is a confessional church it gets even more complicated.  Have patience with them and understand that in different parts of our country and the world certain denominations are more prevalent than others.  If you are a particularly different doctrinal slant it will take some time to explain and establish a good understanding with other brethren regarding this.

Place more emphasis on local outreach rather than travelling 3 hours to preach on the streets
This was a point that I ensured I held to from the beginning.  I did not engage in certain outreaches outside of my area if there was the possibility of doing the same nearby.  Frequency on the streets and in the neighborhoods sharing the Gospel will be noticed.  If you cannot devote yourself to witnessing in your "Jerusalem" then do not venture to "Judea".  Local missions should not be forsaken for the notoriety of outreach elsewhere.  

Don't go it alone
Thankfully, the Lord sent a fellow Elder nearly 9 months after the church was started but the time between proved to be a rather difficult one.  While I had a fellow brother who started with me, he did not have the understanding or pastoral experience to help make some of the necessary decisions.  Having a plurality of Elders is not only wise but biblical.  It helps with accountability, oversight, and serves as a great opportunity to share burdens.

I could of course continue on and expand on many of these 5 points (not a Calvinism pun) but they are the basics that I personally experienced.  I am pleased to hear and see through sermons posts that ARC is continuing onward and continue to pray that they will be used mightily by God.  So whether you are planting a church or considering it, I hope these few lessons will help you in some way.

Thanks for stopping by.

In Christ,
Adam Gray

Thursday, May 1, 2014

In the meantime....

On June 14th my family and I will be (prayerfully) making our last move under military orders.  Our new home will find us in Millington, Tennessee only 20 minutes from my new unit.  After 4 years living in our hometown area of Elizabeth City, North Carolina the Lord has sovereignly chosen to move us to another location.  We moved to the area with the high hopes that this would be our final destination prior to my retirement but the Lord had other plans. 

Through events that have transpired since then we have been blessed to be a part of planting the first and currently only Reformed Baptist church in the area.  I have learned much from attempting to plant this church...but those lessons will be laid out in another blog post.  A particular burden has been weighing on my heart for over a month regarding this move and my engagement in various forms of street ministry.

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I am a firm beleiver in accountability to the local church.  The secular proverb states "No man is an island unto himself".  Likewise, no Christian is a church unto themselves.  We are commanded to not neglect gathering together as beleivers (Hebrews 10:25) and those who do not heed this command often find themselves falling into abhorant if not heretical teaching.  Every beleiver should be a member of a local church.  So then it logically follows that any believer engaged in ministry must be a member of a local church as well.  This ensures that they are being held accountable for their actions when engaged in such ministry and that they are under the guidance and counsel of church Elders.

This requires that the Christian be in regular fellowship with that church.  If they cannot be seen nor their actions examined by this church and its leaders, they have true accountability.  It is common for most churches today to place the membership of a member on hold if they leave on biblical grounds (moving, called to serve in a position in another church, etc.).  Typical in Souther Baptist circles is the transfer of one's membership to another church by letter.  This occurs when one requests membership in another church and does so by seeking a letter of affirmation regarding their good standing in their previous church.  This letter then serves to affirm their profession of faith as observed by another like-minded body of believers.  While this is a regular practice the time "in between" means that the individual is not accountable in the biblical sense. 

When we are on the streets we are first to be representatives of Christ. What we say and do reflects directly upon Him. Yet we are also representatives of our local churches. Once others know what church we are a member of they will immediately begin associating our actions, both good and bad, with that congregation.  When I step up to preach I first mention who I am, what I am there to do (preach the Gospel), and what church I am a part of.  This shows them that I am not some rogue lunatic standing on a stool but a professing Christian who submits to a local congregation.

I currently engage in various forms of street ministry under the prayer, support, and accountability of Albemarle Reformed Church.  While I link arms with believers and Elders from a fellow church in Chesapeake, Virginia I am immediately accountable to the local church in which I pastor.  Because I hold to such a staunch position on the need for biblical membership I have come to a decision regarding my own "in between" time. 

Once we depart for our new home in June I will not engage in open-air/street preaching or other organized evangelistic outreaches until I have found a church home for my family and I.  Once we have joined a new church I will request time of its leadership to express my desire to continue preaching on the streets and engaging in various forms of external outreach.  This will require them to examine me, what I have done, and my desire to continue to do.  In addition, if they choose to endorse and support this aspect of ministry I will also be seeking the church's support of every outreach I engage in from that point forward.  I am not speaking of financial support but the type of support that endorses me going out as a representative of that church to carry out the Great Commission.

After June 14th I will continue to share the Gospel with others 1-2-1 and by handing out tracts.  But in other forms of evangelism, preaching, and outreach I will intentionally wait until the Lord places my family and I in a local church where we can faithfully minister and be ministered to.

As the time approaches, my family and I covet your prayers as we seek the Lord's guidance and direction.

Standing on His promises,

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why I am not a part of AHA

Over the past year, like many, I have been witness to the rise of the Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) group.  With chapters in various states and regions, they have quickly become one of the more recognizable groups of any in recent years.  They have harnessed a truly untapped area of marketing with their unique and yet simplistic logo designed to invoke a inquiring response from even the most ardent of opponents.

About a year ago, as I was gearing up the formation of an abortion clinic outreach for our church, I began looking into AHA as a possible ally and assistant in our future endeavors.  With a quick search I was able to locate a chapter in North Carolina on Facebook and began browsing their page.  To my dismay I quickly noticed that this particular chapter of AHA had made the abolition of abortion their sole cause and placed the Gospel in a chair in the far corner of their room.

At that time, on their site they boldly stated that they were willing to partner with anyone (key word) to end abortion.  I sent the administrator of the page a message asking for clarification fearing that I might misinterpret what they typed.  My concern was that they would partner with non-Christians to end abortion which would require them to ignore the Gospel in doing so.  The response never really answered my question but instead reiterated their belief that abortion must be abolished.  The decision at that time was a very simple one for me; I would not partner with any group that would hold hands with unbelievers to end abortion no matter how repulsive and ungodly it may be.  Doing so would mean the compromise of the Gospel or its complete suppression under the banner of social correction.  I remained quiet for some time as I continued to watch the issues with AHA grow and come more into the light.

Fast forward many months later and AHA affiliates began emerging in larger numbers.  Starting with their “Church Repent” project and then their “Project Frontlines”, they became a notable face in the abortion contention.  While many Christians applauded their efforts there was still the nagging issues that loomed just under the surface to which many knowingly ignored either for sake of being ostracized themselves or for the “greater good” as they perceived.

My more recent interaction has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that AHA is not an organization that should be joined nor supported.  Alan (I purposely have not sought out his last name), or as he is calls himself on Facebook “Rho Logy”, commented on my post of a Gospel Spam article dealing with their “Church Repent” project.  While cordial at first, Alan insisted that we should Skype to discuss the issue offline on a more personal basis.  First, I do not accept “Skype” offers just because one calls themselves a brother in Christ.  I only Skype with those whom I have personally met beforehand and have a one-to-one relationship with.  Secondly, AHA has made all their materials, videos, and blogs public which therefore means they are to be addressed in public.  And no, Matthew18:15-17 does not apply in this case because that passage deals with a private sin committed between brethren and not a public issue such as this one.

Our online discourse resulted in other AHA proponents coming to his aid and what eventually became the longest comment thread I have ever had on my page.  Interestingly, some commented that such strong public discussion between brethren was a disgrace and brought shame to Christ.  Withholding the apparent hypocrisy of the person posting this publically, I continued onward in the discussion.  A charge was incorrectly made against an AHA member that was later corrected in a private message between several of us. 

After this engagement ceased I was resolved that AHA was quickly becoming one of the unhealthiest works aimed at the local church from within Christendom that I had personally seen in recent history.  For this reason I drafted up the five reasons why I am not nor will be a part of AHA or an affiliated chapter.  These are not intended as personal attacks against individuals but of the apparent representation of the organization and its chapters by some who support, are directly involved in, or have organized local chapters themselves under the banner of AHA.  While I have personally met some great brothers who link arms with AHA and are a part of a local chapter, this is not directed at them but at the overall sub-culture and the issues that it has manifested.  But these issues must be stated for the sake of clarity regarding my position in relation to AHA:

1.  They have no true love for the local church.
Their “Church Repent” project clearly shows this.  While they say they are exhorting the church to take a stand, they are completely unaware of the difference between exhort, admonish, and rebuke.  To admonish someone means to lovingly warn them.  This is sometimes accompanied by a call to repentance but also occurs before an offense as a warning.  Paul uses this word in 1 Corinthians 4:14 while calling the believers his “beloved children”. 

Exhorting is closely related to admonishing but its Greek root is derived from the same root as Christ's description of the Holy Spirit as the “Comforter” in John 14:16.  Therefore, it describes a closer relationship to the recipient and one which is more personally encouraging toward correction rather than standing outside of a church's building with signs and a loudspeaker. 

Rebuking is much more stern and serves to call out a sin directly.  While it is used in Luke 17:3 regarding brethren, it must also be noted that it is done so with the clear identification of the specific sin of that brother personally.  Rebuking has become equated with protesting in today's culture because of its public display.  While AHA insists that their presence outside these church buildings is not a protest, it is not only pereceived that way by passers by but is in fact in line with the practical application of the word more than it would be if they were actually exhorting or admonishing according to Scripture.

What the "Church Repent" project has also done is fuel the disdain many have developed for the organized local church.  Seeing posts of AHA members and supporters easily reveals this.  They have nitpicked their way through the issue negating the element of sanctification still occuring in the lives of believers around them.  While there are evidently unbeleivers in the local churches disguised as false converts, many AHA proponents treat these local churches as though they are solely filled with false converts and have no placement in the Body of Christ.

What are these churches truly guilty of that they must be called to repentance?  To what extent does AHA exhaust themselves by speaking with the leadership of that church personally?  Do their "non-protest" protests show love as Paul exemplifies it in his epistles and as Christ demonstrated His love for the Church?  When dealing with the local church, AHA misses the point that their approach must differ from how one speaks to the unsaved.  This approach as exemplified in their videos is a far cry from how Paul addressed the church in Corinth, one of the most disobedient churches in the New Testament.  One can only imagine the length to which AHA would go for a modern day Corinth church.

2.  They are becoming, if they have not already become, an entity unto themselves
One of the most beautiful things about the local church is the accountability that lies therein.  Every member is accountable to the assembled body and its leaders (Hebrews 13:17), its leaders and the assembled body are accountable to every member (Ephesians 5:19-21).  There is no final authority on such matters aside from Scripture.  Discipline is lovingly carried out for the care and sanctification of the local church and Church universal.  How then can a group which is not a local church hold those who are a part of it accountable?  What prevents rogue abolitionists from infiltrating its ranks and altering the course of the group or inserting false doctrine?

One of the ways to root out the pride in a heart is the use of a single word.  One word which pride hates and leaves it lashing out toward moments after it is spoke.  That word is "submit".  Submission requires humility against which pride stands as the staunch opponent and is layered throughout Scripture.  It is a picture not of weakness but of meekness.  Yet many proponents of AHA cringe at the idea of submitting to a local church and its leadership.  Some use recently coined words like "quasi-papist" as personal attacks against those who propose such. 
AHA makes no claims to leadership within its formation.  It steers clearly away from such terminology and prefers the idea of mutual cooperation instead.  This sounds nice and friendly but if all are mutually cooperating with no leadership, how many hands are on the ship’s wheel and who is the Captain to which they turn when the ship is off course?  AHA members have answered questions like these by asserting that Christ is their “Captain”.  And yes, He alone is in control but He does appoint responsibility to others in the government circles of the civil arena (Romans 13:1), family (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), and church (1 Peter 5:1-3).  By AHA’s own structure and teaching, they do not fall into any of these three arenas and therefore are left “leaderless”.  They have become an entity with no accountability as prescribed in Scripture aside from their own individual discernment.  One wonders how to discipline if there is no structure or guidance from Scripture to do so.

3.  Their misinterpretation and misapplication of Scripture.
My discussion with Alan (Rho Logy) proved one thing to me:  some AHA members will use any Scripture they can to get their point across even if it means twisting it to do so.  I was regularly referenced to the epistles to the Corinthians and Galatians as well as Revelation 2-3 as to examples supporting AHA’s “Church Repent” project and other actions.  However, if anything, these verses show why their actions are not in line with God’s Word. 

Take Revelation 2:1-7, where Christ directly admonishes (there’s that word again) the church in Ephesus.  The church's orthopraxy is beyond reproach.  They have shown great endurance amidst persecution but their love for Christ had waned.  They had forsaken that which is of greater importance for the sake of…wait for it…social action.  They had elevated the external beyond the internal to the point that their fervor for these issues was not fueled by love of Christ.  Apply that as you see fit!

Elsewhere, Rho Logy had posted a call to repentance for brothers such as Tony Miano, Jon Speed, and Marcus Pittman (among others).  Comments, which were uncorrected at the time, by other supporters of AHA stated that AHA should just “wipe the dust off their feet” of these men.  While the passage was not cited in this comment, the reference is obvious. 

In Matthew 10, Christ appoints the twelve disciples and sends them out to proclaim the Gospel first to the Jews.  He gives them clear instruction as to what they are to do and what they are to preach.  In verse 14 He states

“And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town”. 

Who is this action against?  Is it fellow believers who will not hear correction or admonishing?  If the verses beforehand did not answer this, then verses and 16 certainly will:

“Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.  Behold, I am sending you out as a sheep in the midst of the wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Christ is speaking of an open reaction to unbelievers resisting and trampling over the Gospel.  This is not an action demonstrated towards brothers in Christ…unless of course AHA is now asserting that these men and others like them are not born-again.  Either they are playing fast and loose with Scripture or they have revealed their hand in their belief that those who do not oppose abortion as they do are not Christians.

4.  They elevate one horrific issue over many others
Abortion is a horrific issue which should be abolished.  The idea that anyone could murder children in the womb is sickening…but it is not the only horrific issue we must face in this world.  Child pornography, the sex-slave trade, domestic violence, pedophilia, rape, drug abuse, and a plethora of others problems manifesting from sin are a daily reminder of the fallen world in which we live.  So take your pick.  Which of these is more important than the others?  Is the abolition of child porn more important than the abolition of domestic violence?  Is the abolition of rape less important than the abolition of abortion? 

Abortion is deplorable.  The depravity of the murdering of a child which has barely been given the chance to live cannot be understated.  But is it any less important to abolish than other issues?  If so, why and who gets to make that decision?

Flip the tables for a moment and imagine that another group (let’s call them ACP) has formed to abolish child porn.  They contact AHA and ask them to partner with them to accomplish this task.  AHA states that their focus is on abortion and cannot lend themselves to assist but they agree with ACP's position.  ACP believes AHA should engage the issue in the same way as them and begins a campaign against AHA to stand outside their meetings with signs just as AHA does with churches today.  Would ACP’s action against AHA be just and biblical?  If a supporter of AHA is consistent then they must also join ranks with ACP against AHA.  While I think this point will fall on deaf ears for some, ponder this one thought:  whether someone was shooting a child in the head across the street from you or committing other unspeakable acts against them, does either somehow diminish the impact of the other and the action we as Christians should take against both? 

5.  They condemn anyone who does not have the same fervor as they
This final point is given from experience as one who has been fully guilty of doing the same himself.  I have stood before a congregation over which I once pastored and condemned them for not having the same practical zeal for the lost as I did just because they were not out on the streets weekly with me.  I have since repented of such and still hang my head in shame of this past event.  I openly condemned others for not acting the same way as I, and in turn made myself the standard and not Christ.  There were believers in this church who humbly shared the Gospel with family members, co-workers, and in various ways that I believed was just not at the level it should have been. 

I see this same grave error in many who are a part of AHA.  Just because their brother or sister in Christ does not have their trunk full of signs, tracts, a megaphone, and other items to openly stand against abortion outside of a local clinic they are labeled as not “loving their neighbor”.  Just because a Pastor does not mention the horrors of abortion from the pulpit each week (a point Alan and others have stated must occur), these faithful men are condemned for not “loving their neighbor”.  But loving one's neighbor is manifested in various ways and to various neighbors.

A final plea
I do not want to paint with a broad brush in these 5 points nor do I wish to add fuel to the already growing fire.  I readily acknowledge that there are brothers who support AHA and participate in local chapters, some of whom I have had the distinct pleasure of fellowshiping with.  I also recognize the fervor and passion those within AHA have regarding the abolition of abortion but along with this passion must come accountability.  Not accountability to YouTubers, Facebook friends, or around a cup of coffee with fellow abolitionists.  While this is some level of accountability, it does not replace the biblical mandate of the local church and the loving accountability that lies therein.

With this said I cannot partner with an AHA chapter.  I will treat a professing brother or sister in Christ who does the same way I would any other brother but with a clear explanation of my position.  I would no more question their salvation than any other brother or sister.  I would lovingly admonish them to abandon AHA completely and work through their local church to engage in a ministry outreach at the abortion clinic.  I would further encourage them to be patient with their church and Elders/Pastors as they work through the practical application of this issue as well.  Do not undermine their leadership but love and respect them enough to realize that this issue is among the many that need to be addressed. 

If they are not a member of a local church I will completely ignore the abortion issue and admonish them to find a Christ-centered church.  If they refuse to do so they will find themselves in rebellion to to the Word of God and in danger of becoming their own authority in discerning truth and error.  The example and command to be a part of a local body of beleivers cannot be ignored unless one reads Scripture with a black marker in hand.

The Gospel is primary.  I realize that some in AHA say this but their actions show otherwise.  Brothers, if you are at an abortion clinic and you are not preaching the Gospel first then you are wasting the breath God has given you.  We are heralds, ambassadors of the King and we come to proclaim His Good News. 

And finally, take a step back….in fact, take several steps back.  Spend several months in prayer over this issue.  Shut off your social media and resist the temptation to engage in the discussion of this with anyone other than those in your local church.  Ask your Elders for prayer over this.  Seek their counsel and guidance as they walk with you through Scripture.  Ask them and the rest of the church for their support of you abortion ministry.  This support may come in the form of prayer, physical presence, financial assistance, or simply positive promotion of your actions.

Put a hold on your AHA blogs, posts, or other public mediums as you seek to examine this issue in its entirety.  Know that myself and others who have made such public statements against AHA do so out of love and concern for those involved as well as love for the local church and our Savior.  Sometimes clarity over an issue comes when we actually stop talking and start listening.

May the Lord guide and direct your paths.  May whatever facet of ministry you are equipped to engage in glorify Him and be served through your local church.  May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward for His suffering!

Shackled to the Savior,

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Why World Vision hates children

The Christian community is all in uproar over the recent declaration by World Vision's American branch President Richard Stearns in the decision to hire gay "Christians" in same-sex "marriages" (quotes intentionally added).  As Phil Johnson, Executive Director of Grace to You, stated in a Facebook post "Anyone truly shocked by the World Vision announcement hasn't been paying attention to the drift of this organization".  Any statement such as Stearns' rarely comes without the precedence of prior compromise on God's Word.  But the issue at hand needs to be addressed by Christians as a whole and individually.

Those who pull their support from World Vision are accused of neglecting children in need for the sake of positional differences.  "What about the children?" they cry out, "Can't you look past your shortsightedness at the bigger issue here:  the kids".  If this is really what many believe to be the bigger issue, then they have lost full sight of Scripture.

Do not misunderstand me, we are called to show forth our faith through goods works (James 2:18).  During His earthly ministry Christ showed compassion on the sick, the poor, the lame, and the outcast.  He healed the paralytic to show that He was the Son of Man in Matthew 9:1-8.  Twice he fed the multitude in Matthew 14:20-21 and Mark 8:8-10.  He brought children to His side as He taught and rebuked those who would refuse them from His presence in Luke 18:15-17.  Christ is compassionate and such compassion is reflected throughout Christian history as His Church has been on the forefront of building hospitals, orphanages, and shelters to show the twofold evidence of Ephesians 2:8-10.  But if one clothes the naked, heals the sick, feeds the hungry, houses the homeless, adopts the orphan, and cares for the widow yet withholds the Gospel of Christ they show that they do not have love for their neighbor but utter hatred for them.

World Vision hates children!  You read that right, World Vision hates children!  Despite their staggering numbers, their countless records of finances poured into poverty stricken countries where children lay starving in the streets, their compromise and redefining of what the Bible defines as a Christian and marriage proves that they do not love those they claim to.  How is this?

The first act of love is to express truth.  I had a conversation this past Saturday with a woman who pulled up to us as we were ministering outside the abortion clinic about this very point.  She agreed that abortion is murder but said we should not have signs that stated such.  She wanted us to use alternative words to express the atrocity that was happening only yards away in the abortuary.  When I asked what the first thing love should provoke you to do, she answered with a muddled response layered with an incoherent understanding of the answer.  I told her "love tells the truth".  Without this first point, anything that follows is not loving no matter how well intentioned.

World Vision says they love children, but what they love is to do good deeds while withholding the saving Gospel that everyone created in the image of God needs to hear.  What World Vision has done is removed themselves from the umbrella of the Great Commission by defining the issue on their terms.  Many will continue to support them, showing the absolute double-mindedness of many in our churches today, but unless they repent of this and their steady slide away from Scripture they have no business calling anything they do loving.  Worse still, those who continue to proclaim Christ as Savior and support World Vision's statements through their financial giving are themselves truly unloving of the children they claim to help.

It's time we plant the flag of "Here I Stand" again.  It's time we stop giving into the weight of the minority in the world and declare that Christ is King now, not in the future.  He is King over all Creation now and forever more.  Away with the escapist mentality that we have no stake in this world which God still commands us to take dominion over.  Away with the passivity that tells Christians to keep their faith within the four walls of their homes or church buildings.  World Vision is another organization that has fallen prey over time to the undermining of Scripture and the compromise of Christ's commands.  Let them be the last!  For the glory of our King, let them be the last!  Let us show love as Christ commands not as we define.


On March 26, 2014, World Vision President Richard Stearns has released the following statement reversing his position:

Dear Friends,
Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.
We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.
In our board's effort to unite around the church's shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.'s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God." And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.
We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board's intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.
While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.
Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be "an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God."
Sincerely in Christ,
Richard Stearns, President
Jim Beré, Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board

For King and Kingdom,

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Examine then embrace

This past Sunday evening much of America tuned in to what became one of the highest viewed showing of the Academy Awards. Oscar after Oscar was handed out over the night for the variety of categories. The Hollywood elite lined up in outfits more expensive than two years of my salary to show just how in touch they are with the common man (sarcasm intended).  They smiled and thank a list of people who helped them achieve such an accomplishment.

Every year in one award show or another someone mentions God or the name of Christ in their acceptance speech.  Since “Jesus”, “Christ”, or “Lord” is more specific, the general thanking of God is more readily accepted by the masses.  This year was no exception with Matthew McConaughey thanking God during his own speech.  Here is the clip:

At 1:30, Matthew (and yes, I am only using his first name because that last name is a beast to spell) says “Now, first off, I want to thank God. ‘Cause that’s who I look up to. He has graced my life with opportunities that I know are not of my hand or any other human hand. He has shown me that it’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates. In the words of the late Charlie Laughton, who said, “When you’ve got God, you got a friend. And that friend is you”. 

Aside from the karma-laced statement that “gratitude reciprocates”, who was Matthew referring to in this expression of appreciation? I have capitalized "God" in my writing but that is only because I am referencing the one, true and living God.  Is this who Matthew is referring to? Is he speaking of the Triune God of the Bible, the Creator, the Redeemer, and only God? Honestly...I don't know. He could be. He could have actually been converted to Christ moments before his speech by the working of the Holy Spirit and the regeneration of his heart to repentance and faith. But how would I know that simply by his speech? I wouldn't and I can't.  Neither can anyone else.

Yet there are many Christians who are suddenly praising him for thanking God and his supposed boldness for doing so. Apparently most of us professing Christians forget the error of quickly hoisting anyone who could possibly, perchance, maybe, hopefully be a believer in God on our shoulders. How many friends do you know who follow Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, TD Jakes, Joel Olsteen, or Oprah because they claim to believe in God or even use the name of Jesus? What about the praises of young parents towards Miley Cyrus only a few years ago for professing to be a Christian? That didn't exactly end up well did it?  Which Christians are still holding her high as an example of one who is born-again by the blood of Christ?  (Insert chirping cricket sound here!)

Have we not learned our lesson yet? Apparently not!  Does Scripture warn us again such knee-jerk accolades?

In 1 Timothy 5:22 Paul advises young Timothy:

"Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure".

The immediate context speaks of the ordaining of men into church offices. Timothy was to carefully examine these men prior to allowing them to serve into positions of leadership. The caution was to protect the body from false converts and heretical teaching. Note also that the verse also warms him to not take part in the sins of others and stay pure. If Timothy did not heed this command then he would entangle himself with a false convert if he was later made known to others.

Matthew Henry says in his commentary on this passage:

"Some understand it of absolution: "Be not too hasty in laying hands on any; remit not the censure of the church to any, till time be first taken for the proof of their sincerity in their repentance, neither be partakers of other men's sins, implying that those who are too easy in remitting the censures of the church encourage others in the sins which are thus connived at, and make themselves thereby guilty." Observe, We have great need to watch over ourselves at all times, that we do not make ourselves partakers of other men's sins. "Keep thyself pure, not only from doing the like thyself, but from countenancing it, or being any way accessory to it, in others."

Matthew Henry asserts that this is not just whether the person is able and ready to serve in leadership but whether their lives have shown the fruit of repentance.  Elders, leaders, and teachers of the Word are held to a higher standard of judgment (James 3:1) because of their responsibility to carefully handle the Scriptures. But when does this kind of examination of these men begin? Does it begin when they express their desire to serve in such a position? No. It should begin upon their profession of faith. Every preacher, Elder, teacher, Deacon, or other church leader began their service to Christ in the pews and their homes.  Their testimony to salvation is the starting point of their examination. 

Some local churches today apply this in regards to membership by only allowing someone to join after a period of examination.  When the person expresses the desire to become a part of that fellowship, the Elders spend time answering questions the person may have and inquiring of their testimony and life in Christ.  For new converts, this testimony is rather shorter than for one who has been in the faith for many more years but it nevertheless should be one that is focused on the saving grace of Christ.  Only after the Elders are assured that the person understands the doctrines of the church, has had all their questions answered, and has been observed to show fruit of salvation are they then permitted to request membership in the local body.  This is the point where some churches differ though.  Depending upon one’s denomination, either the Elders vote to allow the person to join or their request is brought before the congregation as a whole for a vote accompanied by the assurance from the Elders of appropriate examination of the individual.  The period of time for examination will vary depending upon both the church and the person in question.

This is an important and vital aspect of guarding the local fellowship from sin.  The Elders are accountable to God not only who they allow to preach from the pulpit but how careful they are in allowing for others to actively participate in the work of that local church.  One of the benefits of membership is the access one has to other functions within that local church.

Immediately, I know the objections that some reading this may have.

“That sounds legalistic.” 

“The church in the New Testament didn’t have such stringent requirements.”

“Don’t you trust their verbal testimony?”

And the list could go on.  Is it legalistic?  No, it is cautious and loving.  Does it exceed the requirements in the New Testament?  Not when we examine the whole of how the church was forming through Acts and the epistles.  Don’t you trust their verbal testimony?  When has someone’s word been sufficient for not examining them? 

Let’s frame it this way:

I come to your church and talk to your Elder (Pastor) before the service.  I say I believe in God and thank Him for everything He has graced me with (sound familiar?).  Then I tell him that I want to join the fellowship this morning and would like to be brought before the congregation to be welcomed into their membership.  Maybe a few parishioners know a little about me.  Maybe others know nothing of me.  Should I be allowed to join and given full access to everything membership affords me?  Should I be allowed to teach a class, oversee the church budget, have access to the building, or work in the nursery?  If you toss out one of the objections against examination and answer no to these questions then you are being inconsistent in your position.

No one in their right mind would allow a stranger to sit in the nursery with kids without first examining him.  No Elder worth his salt would allow someone to step up and teach the congregation without examining him.  No church would allow a previously unknown man access to the building and the church funds without first examining him.  So why then would it be kosher to throw our arms around everyone to “thanks God” in a public forum?  Whether it is joining a church or linking arms with a public figure, caution and care must be demonstrated so as to not cause harm to the name of Christ.

The greatest objection to such careful examination is probably the most pitiful of them all:  “At least it gets people talking”.   But talking about who?  With such a vague reference to deity even a Hindu could clap his hands at such an expression as Matthew’s.  Moses did not venture down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments in hand and see the golden calf erected by the Israelites saying “Well, at least it gets them talking about religion”.  Now read that last part again and think about how ridiculous of a statement that is…then apply it to Matthew’s statement at the award ceremony and realize that he could have very well been talking about his own self-constructed golden calf, a god of his own making.

I believe the major motivation for wanting to cheer to Matthew is rather simple:  many are looking for that one big “star” to represent Christianity in the spotlight.  For some reason this is thought to validate faith in Christ.  The hope is that this shows the world that we’re not a bunch of ignorant, back woods, hell fire and brimstone, maniacs who walk around blindly without any evidence of our beliefs.  But doing so shifts the focus and faith from Christ to the new representative of the Christian faith.  The person is quickly adopted as the spokesperson for our faith with the dreams of validating the claims of Scripture rest on their shoulders. 

When will we learn that our hope is not dependent on worldly validation or mountains of evidence?  When will we stop embracing every person who mentions some belief in a higher being as though we have the ability to adopt them into the faith ourselves?  Let us instead examine the fruit of those who profess Christ before we jump to wrap our arms around them.  This type of examination, as with all things, can be taken to the extreme if left up to the devices of men.  But if we instead lovingly walk alongside that person we will soon come to know if their profession is genuine or temporarily fueled by some fleeting emotion.

There will always be those who seem to walk with Christ for years only to be revealed as apostates, but if we take care initially I believe we will end up with fewer issues than we have in recent past.  Not everyone who mentions Christ, God, or belief in Heaven gets a free pass…no matter who they are.  Check the fruit before you bite into it too deeply, lest you end up with a handful of rotten evidence contrary to your initial inclinations.

Thanks for stopping by!

In Christ,

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Writing for a smaller audience

Some time ago I sat at a Father/Son conference and listened intently as one of the speakers told the conception of one of my favorite commentaries bearing the name of its author Matthew Henry.  I purchased a paper copy of the concise commentary years ago and was immediately taken aback at the extensive nature of this piece.  This commentary was compiled into one book consisting of 2485 pages with font smaller than the normal reader would be accustomed to.  I later acquired an electronic copy and found that it was one of the widest distributed free commentaries available online.  The depth to which it exposites Scripture has made it my first commentary resource.  It was for this reason that I was intrigued at the conference to learn that Matthew Henry never personally wrote a full commentary of the entire Bible.  He had portions of it written out prior to his death but what we have available to us today is also constructed from his personal notes, writings, and the information his children obtained through him teaching them Scripture on a regular basis.

The devotion to which this man possessed in regards to teaching his children God's Word is beyond inspirational.  For them to be able to complete their father's work based on what they had been taught should spur every father to devote the same level of commitment to family worship today.  I used this example last October at the Fall for Greenville outreach in at Pendleton Street Baptist Church in South Carolina.  Since then though I have been struck by an additional thought that has continuously tugged at my soul.

Just about everyone has a blog today.  Take me for example.

Who am I?  To be honest, I am no one special. You can find a little about me in the blog elsewhere but you will notice that there is nothing of apparent noteworthiness about what I write or what I do.  Yet, I have the opportunity to express my thoughts, convictions, and teachings through this medium.  My regularity for doing so has purposely waned over the past two years as my focus had shifted more to my own home and local ministry than it had before.  I still post blogs here and elsewhere with no plans to completely cease any time soon.  However, none of them are groundbreaking doctrinal treatise but rather the simple musings of a Christian man, husband, father, and currently a Pastor.

In the coming decades the number of bloggers with increase exponentially.  Whether they are full-time working for some publishing outlet or just your average person with a few hours to spare, the internet will contain a larger amount of people expressing their thoughts openly.

But what if I took a note from Matthew Henry?  What if I also sought to leave something that my children could read long after the Lord calls me home?  Not by searching the web for things I have written which was available to the whole world, but something more personal which was written specifically with them in mind.  How about a book or, better still, a series of journals that detailed not only my personal studies but my struggles, my hopes for them, and the progressive process of God's sanctifying work in my life.

Mind you, journaling is nothing new.  But the purpose for my journaling is specifically aimed at my children.  Matthew Henry likely never thought his children would use his teachings and personal writings to assist in writing his commentary, he only sought to do what He believed God had commanded Him as their father.  Yet what he left them was more than a lifetimes work of treasure that they were able to pass along to their own children.

Below is what I wrote as the opening page in the first journal to give you an idea of how it is starting out.  Aside from this, nothing of what I write in the journals will be posted on any blog because you are not really my target children are.

"It hit me a few weeks ago that when the Lord calls me home there will not be much written for my children to know about me.  I am not some noteworthy preacher, sought after speaker, or award winning author.  What my kids know of me is what they see me do and hear me teach.

But I wanted them to know more.  I want them to know my thoughts, my struggles, my victories, what I study in Scripture, my silent prayers, and the many desires God has burdened me with that I often fail to convey.

That is why I have written this.  My prayer is that you (my children) will read these words and be able to speak of me to your own children and grandchildren knowing that I held nothing back.  

Know that I love you all greatly.  I love you more than I can express.  I fail often in showing this and I pray that  God works to change that in me.

This journal and the ones to follow are dedicated to you that you may know my daily thoughts as I have sought to glorify God in all I do."

Serving the Savior,