Monday, June 30, 2008

Selling Your Life for a New Start?

A man in Australia auctioned his life on eBay but was disappointed in the final bid. Bidding closed at $384,000. He hoped to get $480,000. After a painful breakup with his wife, he was looking for a new start so he put his life up for sale. His offer included his house, furnishings, car, jet ski, introductions to his friends, and even a trial run at his job.

The story of this man reminded me how often we equate our lives with our material possessions, jobs, and even our friendships. It also reminds me how often we think that relocating to a new city, getting a new job, and hooking up with a new set of friends will make us happy. The truth is that the bulk of our unhappiness is tied to what we have or don't have inside us. I have counseled many a couple who were convinced that some change of venue or circumstance would fix their marriage or their unhappiness. It is difficult for us to face the hard fact that our lack of equilibrium is due to finding contentment in the wrong things.

Jesus told us that true happiness is not in "finding ourselves" but in losing ourselves in Him (Matthew 16:24-26). I wish the man in Australia all the happiness the world can't give. I wish the happiness that only Jesus can give. This kind of happiness will never show up on eBay because it cannot be bought, sold, traded, lost, or stolen. It is the happiness of finding your greatest joy in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Where the SBC Could Have Gone - Update

Baptist Press posted this article online this week. It is another assessment of the recent CBF meeting. This article confirms what I pointed out in an earlier post this week. The CBF has rejected biblical authority. When that happens, anything goes.

The Blame Game

Having just preached on the fall in Genesis 3, this post over at Desiring God Blog hit me square between the eyes. Sin has the effect of making us play the victim rather than embracing our personal responsibility. Read the post and repent.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Signs of Erosion among Evangelicals

A new study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reports that evangelicals are losing their grip on one of the longstanding markers of evangelicalism - the exclusivity of Christ as Savior. The report stated that 57% of evangelical church attenders believe that many religions can lead to eternal life. 70% of Americans with a religious affiliation share that view. Rice Universtiy sociologist of religion D. Michael Lindsay commented, "The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles wide and only three inches deep...There's a growing pluralistic impulse toward tolerance and that is having theological consequences."

Dr. Albert Mohler commented that the survey confirms that "the exclusivity of the Gospel is the most vulnerable doctrine in the face of the modern world." It certainly seems that the foundations of evangelicalism have been shaken by pluralism. It is increasingly difficult to publicly affirm the words of Jesus that He is the way, truth, and life and no one can come to the Father except through Him. Just go back and look at the transcripts of Joel Osteen's Larry King interviews if you want to see how some high-profile evangelical preachers struggle with affirming the exclusivity of the gospel.

I have experienced this pressure to a lesser degree. I was once asked to give an invocation before a meal at a tip-off luncheon for a local university basketball program. The organizer of the luncheon gave me some instructions for the prayer. "Keep it brief and keep it generic," she said. There is pressure to make Christianity just one dish in the buffet line of religion. Don't pray in the name of Jesus. Don't suggest that Jesus is the only Savior and way to heaven. Don't say anything that smacks of exclusivity. Don't suggest that Jesus is the way. He is just a way among many others.

Of course, evangelicals must be respectful to those of other religious faiths. We don't want to unnecessarily offend people by being abrasive. Yet, we must be careful not to equivocate on the truth of the gospel lest we offend God in the process. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 2 that the gospel is a problem for people. It is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. It is not going to be a crowd pleaser. For Paul (and for evangelicals) the issue is not whether the gospel is a hard sell to popular culture. The issue is whether the gospel is true. If it is true, then it is the only saving message and only hope for the people of this world.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Where the SBC Could Have Gone

The recent meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship demonstrates with crystal clarity where the SBC could have gone under certain Baptist leaders. For those who may not be familiar, the CBF is the group which splintered off of the SBC when it became clear that the SBC was going back toward theological conservatism. The key doctrine of the CBF crowd is soul competency which is interpreted as one's right to believe whatever one wants to believe.

This article provides an overview of the CBF meeting. One of the most telling paragraphs in the article is this one which quotes Randy Hyde, the chairman of the event's steering committee:

“In the scores of rooms set aside at our assemblies for break out sessions, we have leaders who express myriad beliefs, ideas and opinions that virtually cross the board of beliefs,” Hyde said. “Being free and faithful Baptists means we listen to these voices and respond as guided personally by our relationship with God through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”

Baptists have not historically made the personal, subjective guidance of the Holy Spirit the determinative factor in evaluating truth claims. Historically, the Bible has provided that function for Baptists. The Word of God has been the objective standard by which all truth claims are measured. Bush and Nettles made an airtight case for this in their book Baptists and the Bible. The Bible is the standard for faith and conduct, not "what I think the Holy Spirit told me."

This became an issue because one of the presenters, John Killinger, suggested that we need to rethink the incarnation and deity of Jesus. He suggested that John's gospel presents how the church interpreted Jesus years after his ministry while the other three gospels present what Jesus thought of himself. The response to the angst some of the people had to Killinger's approach was for Hyde to suggest that we need to hear all viewpoints and let the Holy Spirit personally guide us in whether we accept or reject such ideas.

This whole scenario demonstrates the very reason why the conservative resurgence was necessary in SBC life. With all of its extremes and ongoing issues, the resurgence at least understood one essential thing - God has spoken in the pages of Scripture. They were unwilling to abandon the SBC to people who have more confidence in their personal understanding of what the Holy Spirit might be saying to them in a given moment than they do in the Word of God. A man, regardless of how helpful his intentions or how sharp his intellect, is still a man. I'll take the clear words of God revealed in Scripture any day.

Evangelicals and Oprah

This article from the Kansas City Star (online) looks into the evangelical dissatisfaction with Oprah's spirituality. Evangelicals are beginning to speak out about the nebulous spirituality of Oprah which is often expressed in Christian lingo. A famous YouTube expose also details the issues with Oprah's brand of spirituality.

Oprah has been pushing spiritual issues through her program and her web site. Books like Ronda Byrne's The Secret and Eckhart Tolle's A New Earth have been heavily promoted by Oprah. In addition, the Course in Miracles was featured with daily lessons on Oprah's web site. She has been endorsed by the Unity School of Christianity as well. The KC Star article documents the support from Paula Coppel, VP for Communications for Unity:

Coppel said Unity is “quite in sync with Oprah’s focus on the Christ-consciousness within each of us.” She said Unity defines “Christ-consciousness” as “the perfect mind that was in Christ Jesus.” It results from a process of self-mastery and “spiritual unfoldment,” she said.

Unity believes there are many paths to God and that everyone can achieve a "Christ-consciousness." Coppel stated that Oprah was "very much aligned" with the principles of Unity. Unity applauded the efforts of Oprah to raise the spiritual consciousness of her viewers.

The Oprah spirituality phenomenon is similar to the way some Hollywood celebrities seem to become experts in political science. Fame and fortune does not make one an expert in foreign policy...or theology. There are far too many people who are willing to seize on the spiritual lingo Oprah dispenses without really considering what she means when she talks about God.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Good Thoughts on Resolution 6

The SBC resolution #6 on Integrity in Church Membership has elicited a great deal of reflection and comment recently. Dr. Ken Keathley shares his thoughts over at Between the Times. His words are filled with balance and wisdom regarding the relationship between accountability and church discipline.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Paul Tripp Blog

I have been blessed by the speaking and writing ministry of Paul Tripp. His books such as Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands and How People Change present a very gospel-centered way of dealing with the issues of life. I recently discovered that Paul has a blog. I recommend it to you.

http://www.paultrippministries.blogspot.com/

Monday, June 16, 2008

Darwinists for Jesus?

An article in the NY Times presents a bizarre take on a man they refer to as "an evolutionary evangelist." Michael Dowd began as a conservative who rejected Darwin's theory. Later, he rejected his earlier views to embrace Darwinian evolution. Now, he seeks to wed this theory to Christianity. He travels the country seeking to convince churchgoers that evolution is a potentially liberating idea which "explains our frailties, our addictions, our infidelities and other moral deficiencies as byproducts of adaptation over billions of years." Dowd has even published a book entitled Thank God for Evolution.

Rejecting the idea of original sin, Dowd seeks to help people understand that their addictions and the accompanying guilt are the residue of billions of years of evolution. The following excerpt from the NY Times article demonstrates how Dowd's assertions play out in the pews.

Nonetheless, Dowd’s views do bring solace to some, going by reactions from parishioners who claim that a scientific perspective has helped them come to terms with their follies of the past. For some at least, the recognition of genetic and biochemical frailty is a healing act. Last fall, for example, after Bob Miller, an 81-year-old man, heard Dowd’s sermon at a Unitarian church in Pensacola, Fla., he felt his guilt over a string of affairs from four decades ago melting away. “I could never quite understand why I had behaved that way,” says Miller, who was climbing the corporate ladder when his infidelities began, leading to the breakup of his marriage. When Dowd began talking about viewing moral lapses against the backdrop of evolution, “suddenly a light went on inside my head,” Miller says. His rising status at his company, he concluded, had probably contributed to increased testosterone. “I think the physical change in my body was so strong that it completely overpowered any moral teachings and religious beliefs I had,” Miller says. “It was still inexcusable, but it made more sense.”

This paragraph demonstrates the real drift of Darwin's theory. It provides a convenient reason (excuse) why we are not really responsible for our sin. A string of affairs really isn't about lust and betrayal, it is about how a promotion caused a rise in testosterone which led to increased libido which led to sexual escapades. In Darwin's world of mechanistic materialism there need be no moral culpability or guilt. Adultery is not a sin. It becomes a bio-chemical response to stimuli. If there is no God who created everything and revealed His will in the words of Scripture, then there is no ultimate accountability. Sounds like Romans 1:18-32.

Somehow this seems far removed from the Jesus who said if you look upon a woman with lust in your heart, you have already committed adultery. The reality is that Dowd takes neither Darwin or Jesus very seriously if he believes they are compatible. The term "darwinian evangelist" wouldn't please Darwin. It certainly wouldn't please Jesus. It is truly an oxymoron.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Regenerate Church Membership Resolution Update

For those interested in reading a little more about the resolution passed yesterday at the SBC annual meeting, follow the links below. I am very encouraged by this action of the SBC. May the Lord use it to move us toward a healthy practice of membership in our convention.

Baptist Press story on the passing of the resolution.

Full text of the resolution passed by the convention.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Big Change Moment for the SBC

I just read that the SBC has passed a resolution on integrity in church membership. Hallelujah! It appears from this report that the resolution ended up being a combination of ideas from the resolutions proposed by Tom Ascol and Malcolm Yarnell. The original resolution did not contain any statement about repentance of our failure to practice biblical membership. Ascol proposed an amendment (which was opposed by the committee?) and the amendment passed by 60%.

The resolution states that the SBC boasts 16,266,920 members on the Annual Church Profile but only 6,148,668 attend a primary service of their church in a typical week. We have been a denomination in denial over the true condition of our membership. This resolution should be a step toward waking us up from our sleep on this issue.

Thank God for the tenacity of Tom Ascol. He kept presenting his resolution year after year. Finally, the convention actually got to hear a resolution on this issue and passed it with a substantial majority. This could be a big change moment for the SBC.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be

Working our way through Genesis 1-3, last Sunday our congregation looked at Genesis 2:4-17. This section of Genesis 2 presents the picture of man before the fall. Cornelius Plantinga has a thought-provoking book about sin called Not the Way It's Supposed to Be. The title reminds us that man's rebellious and broken relationship with God was not his original condition. God created man in His image with the capacity to live in loving, dependent relationship with God. Sin ruined this relationship and plunged man into a world of sorrow and death.

Genesis 2 tells us about two trees in the lush garden of Eden which stand as reminders of the relationship man was intended to have with God. First, there was the tree of life. Adam was given free access to this tree. In the New American Commentary on Genesis Ken Mathews writes, “Ultimately the tree’s power to convey life was due to its Planter, who alone grants or refuses to give of its fruit. The presence of the tree indicates that the garden enjoys life, and the eating of the fruit will result in continued life—a gift that only God can confer…” Man was created by God, given the breath of life by God, and given access to the tree of life. This relationship was characterized by God's abundant provision of life and man's humble dependence on God for life.

There was also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. This tree was the only tree from which man was forbidden to eat on pain of death. This tree represented wisdom. The prohibition against eating from this tree did not mean that God was opposed to man understanding the issues of good and evil. Rather, it was a reminder to man that his knowledge of good and evil - his wisdom - was not to be obtained independent of God. Man was to depend on God's revelation and in obedience to that revelation to gain wisdom. It was not something man was to grasp for on his own. Calvin writes, “We now understand what is meant by abstaining from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; namely, that Adam might not, in attempting one thing or another, rely upon his own prudence; but that cleaving to God alone, he might become wise only by his obedience.” Like Proverbs 3:5-6, man was not to lean on his own understanding but in all his ways acknowledge the Lord and find direction for his life. He was to gain wisdom through the fear of the Lord.

These two trees in the garden remind us that man was created to live in humble, dependent, loving relationship with God. God would provide life and wisdom to man as man trusted and obeyed God. The problem came when man decided to live in autonomy from God. Rather than trusting God and living in humble dependence upon Him, Adam and Eve decided they knew better. They leaned on their own understanding. They rejected God's command. Sin entered man's existence resulting in death.

The good news is that Jesus Christ, the second Adam, lived a perfectly obedient life on this earth. That life was ended in a sacrificial death on the cross to satisfy the just demands of God's law against sin. After three days in the grave, Jesus rose triumphant over sin and death. Now all who trust in Him will be forgiven of their sin and rebellion. In addition, the perfect obedience of Jesus will be credited to them because of their union with Christ by faith. What man lost in the fall is restored by faith in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Ecclesiophilist.com

I have recently registered the domain name ecclesiophilist.com. Now there is a new way to access the blog. Just go to www.ecclesiophilist.com and you can read my latest musings.

Thanks to everyone who has an interest in this blog.

SBC Presidential Candidates

The candidates for President of the SBC recently responded to some questions. Below are links to their responses for your perusal. The unprecedented thing is that there are six - count them SIX - candidates for this office. For most years in recent memory there were normally two candidates - the conservative candidate and the perceived non-conservative candidate. This year there are six candidates who would all be considered theologically conservative by most.

To say the least, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. There will probably be more than one vote since no one is likely to get a majority in the first vote. These are interesting times for the SBC.

Frank Cox
Wiley Drake
Johnny Hunt
Les Puryear
Bill Wagner
Avery Willis

Excellent Perspective on Church Membership Controversy in SBC

Dr. David Dockery is one of the premier scholar-statesmen in the SBC today. He writes, speaks, and leads with clarity and insight on issues facing the SBC. Baptist Press recently ran an article on Dr. Dockery's views regarding the issue of church membership. This is a pressing issue in the SBC right now. This is bound to be one of the hot potatoes at the convention this month. There are competing resolutions on integrity in church membership which will, no doubt, generate a lot of discussion and potentially controversy.

I recommend the article. You can read it here.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Ed Stetzer on the State of the Church

The magazine FFV (Faith & Family Values) published by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the SBC recently ran an article by missiologist and researcher Ed Stetzer. The article was on the state of the church. It addressed evangelical churches with a primary focus on the SBC. Stetzer said some interesting things in the article that bear repeating.

First, he began the article with a statement that was both hilarious and needed. As one who is not afraid to criticize things I feel are wrong with the church, this statement gave me some perspective.

People have been swinging away at the church like a low-hanging pinata on Cinco de Mayo. I hesitate to join the fray, because the church is God's vessel and His tool to tell the story of redemption to a lost world (Eph. 3:10).

Stetzer referenced a statistic that I found alarming. He said that every category for baptisms in the SBC was on the decline except one - children age 5 and under. Now, those who know me know that I am not big on baptism statistics as a marker for true church growth. However, any person who loves Christ and the gospel would mourn the fact that there is an apparent downward trend in evangelizing the lost. That is alarming. Perhaps just as alarming to me was the fact that we have a baptism category for children 5 and under. Are you kidding? God can save any person who is able to hear and understand the gospel. But it seems unreasonable to me as a pastor who values believer's baptism to start baptizing children 5 and under. I wonder how many of them end up getting counted again later on when they are baptized as teens or adults?

Stetzer then gave three conclusions based on recent research.

  • Church attendance is declining in North America. 77% of our culture does not attend church and only 12% of those who do attend evangelical churches. Over the last 15 years the population has grown by 52 million but church attendance has remained unchanged.

  • Influence of the church is declining. 86% of the unchurched say that they can have a good relationship with God without being involved in a church.

  • Commitment is fading. Stetzer cited a discipleship weakness in the church which led to such statistics as only 36% of those who attend church once a month try to put God first in their values and priorities. Stetzer commented that "They've figured out how to live without God and still claim Him."

Stetzer ended his article on an optimistic note. He stated that Jesus Christ and His church remain the hope of the world. He concludes,

We need a church that knows and lives the Gospel and cares deeply for the harvest. We need a church rooted in Scripture, living in the Spirit, and confident and focused on proclaiming the Gospel to an increasingly lost world.

And the state of that Gospel is strong.



Ox in the Ditch?

I came across this gem from Billy Graham last week during preparation to preach on Genesis 2:1-3.

Jesus spoke about the ox in the ditch on the Sabbath. But if your ox gets in the ditch every Sabbath, you should either get rid of the ox or fill up the ditch.