Romans 11:33-36

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Clear and Unambiguous

When I saw this picture on Zach Nielsen’s blog (Take Your Vitamin Z), I couldn’t take my mind off it. As you can tell, the sign serves as a warning—bluntly, succinctly and to the point. It clearly communicates its message, is free from ambiguity and is universal in its application. It does not waste space with superfluous information.

It’s awfully plain though. Its message might have been more entertaining, using contemporary illustrations from TV and movies. It might have been flashier, using the latest multimedia technology. It might have been more practical, and dealt with things like the weather, current events or politics. It certainly could have used a joke or two to lighten the mood a little bit. But that would have only been if the sign’s purpose was to call attention to itself.

As it stands, the sign’s purpose is clearly not to call attention to itself. The sign’s purpose is to call attention to what lies ahead. It is to stand as a clear and unambiguous warning to all who pass that way. The message is clear—if you continue in your present direction, in your present state, the consequences will be severe.

I wonder if the message is equally clear and unambiguous from the pulpit of the little brick church in the picture.

As I prepare for next Sunday’s messages, I pray that I remember that my purpose is the same as that sign’s. As a preacher of the Gospel, my purpose is not to entertain. My purpose is not to be flashy. My purpose is not even to give “practical” advice. My purpose is to proclaim the Word. My purpose is to point to Jesus and call attention to Him.

Lord, grant that I may be as clear and plain as that sign.

1 Timothy 4:16

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is a special day. It’s not a national holiday or a religious festival. It’s not a famous anniversary or day of remembrance, but it’s still a special day. Today is special because it is my mother’s birthday. I won’t tell you which birthday, because I would like for tomorrow to be special as well.

Along with my wife, my mom is the strongest woman I know. She has allowed Christ to shine through her life in good times and bad and has served as a living testimony to the truth of James 1:2-4. Through circumstances that would destroy most people, she has stood firm and strong in the grace of her Rock and Sustainer.

Each day of her life is a living testimony of God’s grace. The grace of God in her life shines through in her devotion to Christ and her witness to others. It shines through in her care for the children she teaches in public school as the only gospel many of those children will see. It shines through in her care for her homebound mother who most of the time remembers who she is--and that's about all. It shines through in her care for her Bible Drill and Sunday School kids. And it shines through in her care for her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.

“Her children [and grandchildren] arise up and call her blessed…”

Happy Birthday Mom!

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fathers, Teach Your Children

I pastor a church with a vibrant children's ministry. We have age-graded Sunday School and mission classes as well as a thriving AWANA program. Vacation Bible School, Fall Festivals and block parties are the outreach highlights of our church calendar.

In addition to our children's ministries, our youth ministries are fantastic.  We have an outstanding group of young people who are involved in every area of church life, from teaching, to ministry, to leading congregational worship. 

Despite our focus and prayerful dedication to reaching and discipling children and students, we are fighting an uphill battle.  We neither coddle nor consumerize our children--our programs are not entertainment driven--yet we still lose them at an alarming rate. 

I have noticed three times of significant drop-off.  We lose many as soon as they enter the "tween" years and we lose many more toward the middle of high school.  Several more drop out after high school. 

One pattern consistently emerges as I reflect on the children we have lost over the years.  The vast majority of them have either been dropped off at church or we have brought them in on our van.  Some were brought by their grandparents or even their mothers.  I can recall none of the children we have lost being brought to church by their fathers.  This article by Robbie Low in Touchstone Magazine highlights that fact. The points he brings out are both fascinating and terrifying and the article is well-worth reading.

Dads--do you want your children to grow up with a solid foundation? Do you want them to understand the value and purpose of hard work, family and community? Do you want them to be able to withstand temptation and not fall into the traps of drugs, alcohol, teenage pregnancy and rebellion?  Do you want them to become good spouses and parents and have long and happy marriages?  Then get up off of your backside and take them to church.  Don't just drop them off. Don't just call the church van to come get them. Don't just send them with their mother or their grandparents.  If at all possible, find a way to get up and go with them. The more effort they see you putting into taking them to church, the more value they will place on it.  They will never recognize the importance of church attendance unless they see it is important to YOU.

Dads, if you are faithful to take your children to church, can I guarantee that nothing awful will ever happen to them? Of course not.  Sometimes good, faithful Christians do dumb things too.  But what I can guarantee you is that they will understand and learn to value what is really important.  And they will truly begin to value it, not just from your words, but from your actions.

Proverbs 22:6

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Monday, July 12, 2010

The Problem of Evil

There are five basic approaches taken by theologians to resolve the problem of evil. The first considers God as not powerful enough to conquer or eliminate evil. This approach is expressed as one of two manifestations. Arminians see God sovereignly limiting His own powers to allow for the existence of evil while dualists see evil as eternally co-existent with God and therefore equally as powerful. Either view sees God as finite and impotent concerning evil. Both see God as incapable of holding the thread which suspended the sinner over the pit in Jonathan Edwards’ Sinners in the Hand of an Angry God.

Instead of limiting God’s power, the second approach maligns God’s knowledge. They claim that if God had known man would have chosen evil, He would have acted to prevent it. As with all Arminian views, in the quest for the unfettered free will of man, man’s freedom is lost. Following the logic of the open theists posited in Greg Boyd’s God of the Possible, God would have destroyed or not even created man had He not been surprised by the fact man would rebel against Him. According to their line of thinking, there is no way He would have made the mistake of creating Lucifer had He known then what He knows now.

A third approach for resolving the problem of evil is to limit or redefine God’s goodness. As opposed to the Arminian views espoused above, this is the view of the Hyper-Calvinist. Ironically, Hyper-Calvinist views were not even held by the namesake of the system, John Calvin. As is the case with most extreme theologies, the original beliefs were distilled and distorted by the originator’s later disciples. This view credits God as not only allowing evil, but creating it. The system destroys God’s goodness by making Him the author of sin and evil.

Another basic approach is to deny the presence of evil altogether. Whereas earlier mentioned approaches had dualistic characteristics, this one is distinctly monistic. As with many eastern religions, evil is seen as an illusion that can be overcome by inward reflection. Like the cave dweller in Plato’s Republic, what we see in the world is merely shadows or forms of the transcendent ideal.

The final approach is consistent with reality, but more importantly, the Bible. The ultimate resolution of the sin problem is eschatological. Erickson sees evil as a necessary possibility for creatures to truly be responsible. Notice he avoids making God the author of sin by using the descriptor, “possibility.” To say that evil is necessary pits God as the positive pole of a dualistic universe and removes the hope of an eternity free from evil. Man without the responsibility to choose between obedience or rebellion is less than man – he is an automaton. Man as the sole arbitrator of good and evil is more than man – he is autonomous. Neither extreme is true. God, in His sovereignty, gives man the responsibility to choose between good and evil. God's sovereign plan includes and is over all human choices from before the foundation of the world. His plan encompassed the fact that man would rebel to the point of brutally killing His Son, yet He loved man enough to create him anyway. Man’s depraved choices have warranted God placing a curse upon the earth. Briars, thorns, disease, storms, and natural disasters are a result of the original sin of Adam and Eve. Each individual sin committed from that time forward has resulted in manifold pain and suffering. The cumulative weight of the sins of mankind coupled with the curse God placed upon the earth combine to explain all forms of sin and evil in the world today. When looked at in that light, it is miraculous that there is any good and beauty in the world at all. God’s grace is amazing!

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Monday, July 5, 2010


One of the many facts the testimony of Scripture attests to is the sovereignty of God. God’s sovereignty is manifest in His governing activity and His providential dealings with man. The fact that God providentially interacts with His creation results primarily in two things. First, history has purpose and meaning. In all other non-theistic world religions, history has no meaning. It is seen either as an endless cycle, or perfectionist vortex, or as a meaningless drone of nothingness with no beginning or ending. When God is seen as sovereign, time is part of His creation. As part of creation separate and distinct from God, it cannot be eternal as He is – it must have a beginning and ending. History can then be seen as having a purpose. It is “His story.” History teaches us who God is, who man is, the nature of sin, and the interaction between God and man. Second, God’s governing activity shows us that God is in control. As creator, God is acknowledged as the one who established things the way they originally were prior to the curse. As sustainer, God is the one who perpetually controls the actions of His creation. Solely based upon natural revelation, early philosophers termed this governing activity as the “unmoved mover.” Even our finite minds could grasp the concept of an ethereal gearbox in which an unmoved mover cranked on one end to elicit a robotic response on the other. What our minds cannot comprehend, however, is the role man’s free will and responsibility play. That is why God’s governing activity is seen as sovereignty rather than fatalism.

God accomplishes His sovereign governing activity either by performing supernatural acts or by using the laws and forces of nature. The Bible records many instances of God displaying His sovereignty supernaturally. At times, He has stepped out of the normal course of events to do an act that would otherwise be inexplicable. For example, when Jesus turned the water into wine at the wedding feast, there could be no logical explanation other than the performance of a miracle. It is physically impossible for H2O to transform into fermented fruit juice. Likewise, it is physically impossible for life to return to a body that has lain dead, moldering in the grave for three days. Not only does God accomplish His sovereign governing activity using supernatural acts, He uses laws and forces of nature. Examples include the plagues of locusts, flies, and frogs brought upon Pharaoh and the Egyptians prior to the Israelite Exodus. Another example is God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. It is possible God used some type of volcanic eruption or other seismic activity as the means to accomplish His prescribed ends.

The extent of God’s sovereign governing activity is limitless. God is sovereign over all creation. As such, there is nothing beyond God’s control. Included in God’s span of control are the good and evil acts of individuals. It is within His prerogative to restrain man from committing sin if He so desires. He also permits sin to occur. Since God is not the author of sin, and sin is an existential verity, if God is omnipotent, He must allow His creatures the freedom to sin. Though He doesn’t cause sin, He uses its results to accomplish His foreordained will and determines the result of sinful actions. Finally, He determines boundaries and sets limits to sin and sinful behavior.

Understanding the fact that God is sovereignly governing His creation is the only true ground for hope. The only hope of the humanist is progressivism, but progressivism is irrational because it is contrary to the testimony of history. Conversely, the testimony of Scripture heralds the faithfulness of God and the obvious comfort provided by His sovereignty. True peace results in the divinely bequeathed comprehension that God is in control of everything and will work all things together for good to them that love Him and are the called according to His purpose.

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Friday, July 2, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Who deserves to hear the Gospel?

A disturbing trend in some very influential circles in our convention is the attitude that no one deserves to hear the Gospel twice while there are those who have yet to hear it once. That might sound good. It is certainly emotionally moving and motivating. That mantra is being used to stir people’s hearts for the nations. But at what cost?

Jesus charged us with reaching the nations. Since our inception, Southern Baptists have always been passionate about joining together to reach the nations for Christ—it’s in our DNA. But we have also always been passionate about joining together to reach our Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria for Christ. I have never seen an area that we can afford to neglect with the Gospel. Have most of our resources as Southern Baptists been concentrated in the American Southeast? Yes. Is that area so evangelized that we can now pull out and martial our resources in another area? No.

During the period of time commonly referred to as the First Great Awakening, there was no place that was more evangelized than what is now the American Northeast. In the subsequent years, evangelism efforts focused almost exclusively outside of that area. The thought was, everybody has already heard and responded to the Gospel in that area—now it’s time to move on to those who have not been evangelized. Within a generation, the area which had been so fervently on-fire for Christ was now what historians call, “The Burned-over District”. The decline continued to the point that the American Northeast is now one of the most secular regions of the Western World.

I am not arguing against our emphasis on getting the Gospel to unreached people groups. I applaud this emphasis. But Jesus has not called us to an either/or mentality. He has called us to be witnesses everywhere at all times. That includes those who have never heard the Gospel as well as those who have heard and rejected it 1,000 times. Remember that God still sent Isaiah to preach to Israel—even though He told him that they would continually reject his message. The entire history of God’s relationship with Israel is one of them rejecting Him, but God continually sending His prophets to them. I thank God that He has never had the attitude that, “No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice as long as there are those who have never heard it once.” God has never had that attitude and neither should we.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

God's Gift, Given this Day

On this day a few years ago (I won’t say how many), God blessed our world with one of His greatest masterpieces.

He made her beautiful
It goes beyond the physical beauty that all can see. She has a beautiful spirit that is evident in the way she cares for me, our family and our church.

He made her tender
She has the softness of skin and tenderness of heart that can only be forged in the fire of motherhood, then tempered with the trials of first being a military wife, then a pastor’s wife.

He made her wise
Her wisdom is not a worldly wisdom. It is not measured in books she has written or titles she has earned. Her wisdom is a godly wisdom. It shines in both the simplest and the most difficult circumstances. It keeps me grounded, guides our children and stabilizes our home and church.

He made her selfless
I have never seen a better example of the mind of Christ described in Philippians 2:1-11. Her wants, needs and desires always come behind the desires of others. She selflessly followed me all over the world during my 20-year Air Force career. She built and sustained our family during an 8-year period while I was gone from home 300 days per year. She eagerly serves me, her children and her church before she even thinks about herself.

He made her pure and lovely
Despite difficult circumstances in her life that have destroyed many people, she has always had a pure and lovely heart. She sees the best in people when I tend toward suspicion. When cynicism rears its ugly head in my life, her loveliness melts it away. One day, as my bride, I will confidently be able to present her to our Lord in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she is holy and blameless (Ephesians 5:27).

He made her smart
She is an accountant—keeping the books at our home. She is a teacher—at one time homeschooling three children. She is a master chef—feeding our often unappreciative, ravenous crew. She is an executive assistant—flawlessly handling calls, correspondence and scheduling. She is a beautician, physician, psychologist, counselor, transportation director, efficiency engineer, quartermaster, motivational speaker, and manager. Most people only have the brains to handle one job. She is smart enough to handle all of those and more.

And what I thank God for most of all—He made her mine
I will never fully understand God’s goodness and grace toward me. All I know is that I have a living, breathing example of it waking up beside me every morning.

Happy birthday Miranda!

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Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Messengers must be allowed to vote online.

The only way for our convention to accurately reflect the will of the majority of our churches is to recognize the voice of every possible messenger. It is no secret that over 80% of our churches run less than 200 in average Sunday morning attendance. Because of the outstanding Cooperative Program giving of most small churches, we are allowed the same number of messengers as even the largest mega-churches. The problem is, most small churches and small church messengers cannot afford to send their full contingency of messengers. For example, due to our CP giving, Brushfork Baptist Church is allowed to send a full slate of messengers to the convention. Financial considerations only allowed us to send me and my wife. Even though we will only allow the church to pay for our hotel, it is a significant expense that causes a strain on our finances. Similarly, the gas, food and other expenses that my wife and I choose to pay put a tremendous strain on our personal finances. Many small churches and churches with bi-vocational pastors are simply not able to absorb that cost and send any messengers.

I believe that each messenger from each of our 40,000-plus churches needs to have every opportunity to participate in the business of our convention. Technology provides that opportunity.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Never depend on someone else to do the right thing.

Early on in discussions about the interim report of the GCR Task Force, several of us commented on the necessity of voting on the recommendations individually. Although I was fairly confident that the Task Force was going to presented them that way, we discussed the parliamentary possibilities if the report was presented as a whole. There were several options available that would have at least forced a vote on considering the recommendations individually. Had that happened, I think the outcome might have turned out differently. We will never know.

I sat amazed as the Task Force boldly presented their recommendations as a whole. My amazement grew to shock as no one moved to divide the question. A motion was made to table it, which would have effectively killed it. Although opposed to the recommendations, I voted against the motion to table. I thought that the diligent work of the Task Force should at least be decided upon. Another motion was made to refer the recommendations to the Executive Committee for further study and consideration. This seemed to be a fair motion, but was soundly defeated. The mood of the messengers (whether for or against) was to deal with the issue without further delay.

The right thing to do was to decide the issue that day. I still believe that the right thing also would have been to decide on each of the recommendations separately. I was not alone in feeling that way. As a matter of fact, nearly everybody that I talked to—both for and against—felt that way. So why did it not happen? It didn’t happen because no one made the motion.

A motion to divide the question is a simple motion. It requires a second (which the man in the rear-left of the convention hall would have eagerly and loudly made). It does not even allow debate, so absolutely no eloquence would have been required. After the motion and second, all it requires is a simple majority vote. I believe it would have had a good chance of passing—but we will never know. We will never know because no one made the motion. We will never know because I did not make the motion.

Sitting back and hoping someone else will do the right thing is the same as doing nothing. I did nothing, so we will never know what might have happened.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

Why Creation Is Necessary

The first vital aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is ontological in nature. Creation is antithetical to dualistic ideas that have persisted for millennia. Dualism states there are two ultimate principles that are essentially real – good and evil, male and female, hot and cold, forms and ideals, yin and yang. Tied up in the dualistic worldview is the concept that matter is evil. Syncretism with ancient philosophical dualistic beliefs led the medieval church into tragic monasticism and its priests into masochistic self-effacement. The biblical doctrine of creation, on the other hand, sees God as higher than and separate from His creation. Evil is not an eternal counterbalance to God’s goodness – it is a result of the free rebellion of His independent creatures. Dualism’s only means of providing hope is by the “progressive” nature of Hegelian synthesis. In reality, hope becomes hopelessness if good (thesis) has to become bad (antithesis) to progress. The non-dualistic nature of biblical creation allows for hope because it declares that evil is not necessary. This is dealt with in more detail by the third aspect.

The second aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is its uniqueness. It is unique in that God’s creative act was not limited by the nature of preexisting materials. Although man’s mind can conceive of a warp-factor-nine Starship Enterprise, he is unable to create such a vehicle due to the physical and mechanical limits of the materials available. God, on the other hand, spoke the universe into existence ex nihilo. He was in no way limited by the intrinsic properties of raw materials. Even when He created man from the dust of the earth, man did not become special until God uniquely breathed into him the breath of life.

To expand on the first point, the doctrine of creation means that nothing was originally made intrinsically evil. In a dualistic worldview, evil is eternal and is therefore necessary. Existence can be seen as a cosmic seesaw with good and evil in a constant struggle for balance. To the dualist, the highest form of being exists in the balance point. There are many names for this ethereal equilibrium but it is most prominently known as Utopia, harmony, or Nirvana. The Bible contradicts this notion in its opening chapter. God ended every act of creation by declaring the results good. When I previously installed antennas for the Air Force, the team’s final quality control act was to affix a metal tag to the highest point of the tower. The tag was stamped with the words: “738EIG – Installed with Pride, Worldwide.” God’s declaration of the goodness of His creation not only indicated satisfaction with a job well done, but also was God’s personal stamp of perfection on His work. Everything was created good in order to reflect God’s glory but was later marred by sin and the resultant curse.

Fourthly, the doctrine of creation places responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the human race. Once again, this is a natural outflow of a non-dualistic creation. If matter is not evil, and God is not evil, who is responsible for the obvious presence of evil in the world? Where we err many times is when we answer that question by saying, “the Devil.” While Satan is an extremely powerful evil being, it is important to remember that he was created good. The fact is, sin is responsible for the presence of evil in the world. Sin is not a “who” or a “what”, it is a volitional act of the will of God’s created beings. When sin is seen in its proper light, there is no other choice but to see man as solely responsible for the presence of evil in the world.

Another outcrop of the non-dualistic nature of the doctrine of creation is it guards against depreciating the incarnation of Christ. Those who hold to a dualistic worldview cannot reconcile the hypostatic union of God and man in the person of Jesus. The influence of dualism throughout history has led to most heresies that deny either the deity or the humanity of Christ including Gnosticism and Docetism. Immanuel, God with us, flies in the face of any attempt at dualism and could only have been accomplished in accordance with biblical creation.

The sixth aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology is the interrelationship of all creation. According to Erickson, there is a connection and an affinity among the various parts of creation. Francis Schaeffer identifies this by showing the commonalities man shares with the remainder of creation. He also points out common points shared between God and man. Finally, he shows the things that separate man and creation from God. He uses this chain of logic to define what he terms man’s “mannishness”. Erickson indicates this connection and affinity among the various parts of creation leads to responsible ecological stewardship of God’s creation.

The final aspect of the doctrine of creation in theology moves away from the dangers of dualism and tackles the equally hazardous heresy of monism. The biblical doctrine of creation makes it plainly clear that God is separate from His creation. Monism purports ultimate reality as the unknowable force that lies behind all existence. Gods, demigods, angels, spiritual beings, men, and animals all emanated from the unknowable force as light rays emanate from the Sun. Not only does the Bible specifically state that God is distinct from creation, it also shows He is knowable. He spoke creation into existence and formed man out of the dust of the ground. He personally, intimately interacted with His creation while remaining distinct from it.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

It’s hard to see past our immediate context.

It's hard to see the forest past the immediate tree we're looking at.  People automatically tend to filter methodological decisions through their immediate contextual grid. Diversity is not only important to our convention, it is essential. Achieving racial diversity, non-essential theological diversity, regional diversity and church-size diversity throughout our denomination is crucial as we move forward. A white, urban Calvinist hipster has valuable insight for the direction of our convention. So does a black, inner-city revivalist missionary. So does a mega-church, multi-staff nationally known pastor. So does a rural, traditional, bi-vocational pastor. We are not a convention of white, Southern mega-churches. We are a convention of churches of all types, styles, sizes and stripes. We have churches that need planted as well as churches that need to be renewed. As a convention, our focus must be on Jerusalem (local), Judea (regional and national), Samaria (those in our region/nation who look and act different than us) and the ends of the earth—at all times in all ways. The only way that can happen is if we diligently strive to have diversity in all areas of our convention. On the boards, committees and staffs, and even on the platform.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

All issues are theological at their core.

The only way to figure out the best methodologies is to have your theology right. While the Southern Baptist Convention has settled the question of biblical inerrancy and authority, there are still great differences of interpretation in what the Bible actually says and its implications for how we function as a convention of churches. Our words clearly articulate the primacy of the local church. Our recent actions have not matched our words. Is the convention to try to act as one large church? Are the entities of the convention to take on roles and tasks traditionally and theologically reserved for local churches? How is our polity theologically informed and should we maintain and defend our traditional role of boards, committees and trustees made up of hundreds of members of diverse local churches scattered throughout our convention? Or should their clear will be usurped or manipulated by small ad hoc committees of influential personalities? Our ecclesiology should consistently inform those issues and prevent us from potential denominational shipwreck.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Things I learned at the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting

Politics are necessary, but don’t have to be ugly.

“Politics” carries a negative connotation in our culture. “Polis”, the word from which we get “politics” simply refers to a gathering of people. In other words, politics is what happens anytime a group of people gather. Despite the negative connotation, we can’t escape the fact that politics happen. Whether in the local church, or at a denominational level, politics are a necessary fact of life. Since politics are inevitable, we must focus on how we conduct ourselves during and after their processes. Will we be fair and just in trying to promote our positions and accomplish our ends? Will we be gracious and humble in defeat? In the months leading up to the convention and in the convention itself, we saw positive and negative examples of both. It is my prayer in the days to follow we will exhibit the mind of Christ as we move forward. I praise God that political differences were publically handled gracefully and peacefully from both the floor and the platform of this year’s convention.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

2010 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting Follow-up

It's been a few days since the conclusion of the 2010 SBC Annual Meeting in Orlando.  Commentary over the past few days has ranged from utter despair to sheer ecstasy.  Over the years, I have tried to cultivate a teachable spirit.  Whatever circumstance I experience--whether immediately perceived as good or bad--I try to learn something from it.  I have made it no secret that I oppose the recommendations made by the Great Commission Resurgence Task Force. I was surprised that they passed, although I suspect that there were many who did not fully understand the implications of what they were voting on.  Rhetoric is a powerful tool and it was skillfully employed during the Pastors' Conference and Convention.  Those decisions are now in the hands of our entity trustees. We should now pray specifically for their wisdom and discernment as they go forward.

Later on, I may post my thoughts on where I think we should go from here.  I am still prayerfully sorting through my thoughts on how I will lead our church in these matters.  For now, I want to share with you some of the immediate things I learned in Orlando.  I will be posting these thoughts over the next several days, so continue to look for them.

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Monday, June 21, 2010

Creation and Evolution

When discussing contradictions between two conflicting sources of information, there are three options one can take. Either the first must be true, the second must be true, or neither can be true. So it is between the Bible and science. While this is an overly simplistic statement, it encompasses the debate between Biblical creationism and materialistic theories of origin. Too often, Christians have bent the rod of Scripture to accommodate the musings of scientists who themselves even acknowledge the theoretical nature of their work. One would think Christendom would learn from history. Every time Scripture is contorted to support the “flavor of the day” in theoretical science, empirical data later prove the theory wrong. Take for example the early geocentric view of the universe. Much is made today of the Catholic Church’s rejection of Galileo’s endorsement of the Copernican heliocentric theory. The history is presented from the bias of comparing the Church’s ignorant allegiance to geocentricity, even as scientific data opposed it, to modern Christian objections to evolution. Virtually no quarter is given to the idea that the Catholic Church was tenaciously holding to a false doctrine based on incorrect scientific theories purported years before. They saw the geocentric science of the day, then bent Scripture to proof-text and accommodate it. When the scientific theories were empirically proven wrong, the Church believed it had to protect the false theory to preserve the veracity of Scripture. We would be wise to see that it has never worked to bend Scripture to accommodate science. This brings me to consideration of Millard Erickson’s view of origins.

In his systematic theology, Christian Theology, Erickson professes belief in what is termed the “age-day theory”. Erickson wrote, “The age-day theory is based upon the fact that the Hebrew word yom, while it most frequently means a twenty-four-hour period, is not limited to that meaning. It can also mean epochs or long periods of time, and that is how it should be understood in this context. This view holds that God created in a series of acts over long periods of time. The geological and fossil records correspond to the days of his creative acts.” There are many problems with this theory, of which I will deal with two.

First, there is the Biblical problem. While it is true that yom can be rendered as “age” or “epoch”, it is only done so when there is clear contextual support for that concept. Otherwise, it is translated in its most natural sense as a 24-hour period. There is clear contextual support to insure the proper translation of yom in Genesis 1. Instead of supporting the age-day rendering, the inclusion of “the evening and the morning were the X day” adds support and therefore emphasis to the most natural translation – that of a 24-hour period. This is, in fact, a triple emphasis. The first is 24-hour period is the most natural rendering of the word. Second, the 24-hour periods are bracketed the same way that every 24-hour period man has ever experienced has been bracketed – with a morning and an evening. While a new age can be said to be dawning, I am not linguistically familiar with any reference to an age’s evening. The third emphasis is the enumeration of the days. Not one Scriptural instance of yom being used to describe an age or epoch is modified by a number. On the other hand, it is common Scriptural practice to numerically quantify 24-hour days.

The second problem with Erickson’s age-day theory is a scientific one. While accommodation theories such as this one were formulated to bend Scripture to support the latest scientific theories; once again, science pulled the rug out. The irreconcilable tension between Newtonian physics, Einstein’s theory of relativity, and quantum physics has led to strange new theories involving multiple dimensions and strings. According to string theory, creation could have happened in 7 seconds – two weeks from now. Time has no concrete meaning in the mind of modern theoretical physicists. To add to the scientific problem, astronomers can’t figure out if our universe is expanding or contracting – or both. Certain astrophysicists with one type of bias search out data that “irrefutably proves” the universe is expanding. Others, with opposing biases find different data that “irrefutably proves” the universe is contracting. One thing virtually all modern scientists agree upon – Darwinian evolutionary theory is untenable. The age-day hypothesis originated as a way for the Bible to show enough time to account for the billions of years Darwin, Dawkins, and Hawking called for. Their brand of evolutionary theory is now passé due to modern conceptions of time.

Erickson’s support of the age-day theory is untenable and unnecessary. Hopefully, one day we will learn to bend our rational and empirical studies toward the unbendable Canon of Scripture. When we do, we will find that God’s Word was right all along.

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Why I Am Running for First Vice President of the SBC

My name is Jim Drake. Odds are, you’ve never heard of me. Let me take a few minutes to tell you about myself. First of all, I am a child of the King—chosen, purchased and redeemed by Jesus Christ. All that I am and all that I ever will be is because of Him. My chief desire is for everything I do to bring glory and honor to His great name. Second, I am a husband to Miranda—the finest woman I know. She has graced me by joyfully serving in the two most difficult callings a person can have, military wife and pastor’s wife. She is my continual support, encouragement, council and companion. Third, I am a father to Kyla, Katelyn and CJ. Kyla (21) is married to Josh Lange and is expecting my first grandson in August. She is enrolled at Auburn University Montgomery in Montgomery, AL. Katelyn (17) just completed her junior year at Mercer Christian Academy and dreams of dancing with Bellhaven College’s Ballet Magnificat. CJ (15) just completed his freshman year of homeschooling. He thinks he is being called into some sort of ministry—possibly youth ministry. Finally, I am a pastor to the wonderful people of Brushfork Baptist church. You have probably never heard of Brushfork, but if you are like the vast majority of Southern Baptists, our church is just like yours. We are a small congregation in a dying community. For us, growth often means replacing those who have gone home to be with the Lord. Thank God we have been able to do that over the years. We will never make national news, but we are able to see people saved. We are able to see people baptized. We are able to see them grow in the Lord. We are able to disciple them and even ordain some and send them off on mission. We are able to plant churches in cooperation with other churches in our local association. We are able to accomplish the Great Commission. From our little post in Southern West Virginia, we are able to reach our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even the furthest reaches of the earth.
I believe that my situation pictures most of you. Brushfork Baptist Church is not unique. Small churches on mission for Christ are historically normative. The historical anomaly of the handfuls of mega-churches in our convention are a tremendous blessing, but they are not the backbone of our convention. The backbone of our convention are small, local community churches, linked together with a common core theology, love for the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God and a passion for reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thousands of local Southern Baptist preaching points are precious in the sight of the Lord and should not be overlooked or discounted as “insignificant”.

I think it is time to remind ourselves that the majority of our churches are small. The vast majority of our baptisms come from small churches. The vast majority of our giving comes from small churches. The vast majority of our leadership originated in small churches. IMB, NAMB, ERLC, EC nor our six seminaries would exist without the cooperative support of small churches. They would not exist without churches like Brushfork Baptist. And they would not exist without churches like yours.
I did not seek this office nor have I campaigned for it.  I believe this is a door of opportunity that the Lord is placing before me.  If it is His will that I serve Him in this way, I will serve with a whole heart.  If not, I will continue to serve Him wherever He would have me.  Whether or not you support me for 1st Vice President, understand this—your church is significant. It’s not significant because of its size or location. It’s significant because of Who it belongs to. It is significant because Revelation 1:12-20 tells us that Jesus is walking in its midst and holding your pastor in the palm of His hand. I have allowed myself to be nominated for this office because I think Southern Baptists need to be reminded of that.

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Is This the Best of All Possible Worlds?

In his book, Christian Theology, Millard Erickson has developed a unique model for reconciling the perceived problem of the sovereignty of God and the freewill of man. He agrees with the Calvinist in holding to the Biblical notion that God’s decree has predetermined all human outcomes. At the same time, he propounds the notion of human freewill. His definition of freewill is somewhat unique, but not unheard of. Freewill to him concerns man’s ability as opposed to his actual performance. “What we are saying is that God renders it certain that a person who could act (or could have acted) differently does in fact act in a particular way (the way that God wills).” In order to unite the two seemingly disparate concepts, he has brought forth the hypothesis that God, in His foreknowledge, looks at all the infinite genetic combinations possible. He then only brings into existence those people who have the chemical combinations that will desire to accomplish the ends He has predestined. His hypothesis falls mainly on two points as I see it. First, it purports a form of chemical determinism that I think is incompatible with the Scriptural concept of being created in the unique image of God. When God breathed the breath (spirit) of life into the flesh of man, He caused him to be a living soul. This union of spirit and flesh that God combined to form the soul of man is what makes him unique among all creation. It is this imago dei in man that makes him uniquely capable of relationship with God as opposed to some sort of materialistic bent. If, after all, the ability to relate to God were inexorably linked to man’s genetic structure, his relationship would be destroyed with the destruction of the body. The foremost problem with Erickson’s hypothesis is its link to chemical determinism and materialism. The second problem with the theory is the concept of “possible” beings verses beings God “brings into existence”. This is reminiscent of and is dangerously similar to the Mormon concept of “spirit babies”. There is an eschatological difference, but the concept of God placing a predetermined person (whether termed “spirit”, or “genetic combination”) into a body upon conception seems to be a violation of the Bible’s concept of anthropology.

A correct concept of anthropology is at the root of this argument. While I have not studied Erickson’s anthropology, this theory would indicate he holds to a materialistic view of man. This theory is based on the fact that man’s physical, chemical makeup determines his actions, down to, as Erickson wrote, the very choice to move his finger to the left rather than the right. James Watson and Francis Crick would agree. In Kevin Davies’ book, Cracking the Human Genome, Italian Nobel laureate Renato Dulbecco, while he was publicizing the Human Genome Project, was quoted as saying, “DNA is the reality of our species, and everything that happens in the world depends on those sequences.” No matter how Erickson tries to circumvent the problem, when man’s ontology is reduced to material combinations, he has no freedom. The Bible teaches man is much more than a programmed combination of chemicals. If that were the case then salvation would be reduced to the modern psychological concept of curing chemical imbalances through medication. As with most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill, either man is made less than he is or God is made less than He is.
As Erickson admitted, his hypothesis is, “in many ways similar to the argument of Gottfried von Leibniz in his Theodicy. Whereas Erickson posits God examining all possible chemical combinations, Leibniz saw God as knowing the “realm of essences that contained an infinite number of possibilities.” Their theories differ in God’s activity in the world once His initial choice is made. By recognizing God’s day-to-day involvement in His creation, Erickson skirted the almost inevitable conclusion of deism drawn by Leibniz. By doing this, he moved the apparent tension from sovereignty/freewill to a deistic verses Biblical view of God’s involvement in the lives of man.

While seemingly similar, the Arminian idea of foreknowledge differs from Erickson’s concept. Arminians see God as knowing all future possible actions of existing individuals. As stated above, Erickson sees God’s foreknowledge as seeing all possible genetic combinations and only bringing into existence the ones who will mechanistically accomplish His will. In the Arminian view, God is simply looking into the future at the freewill actions of his creation and declaring that to be His will. Despite the problems with Erickson’s theory, he does hold a higher view of the sovereignty of God than the Arminian. His view has God’s foreknowledge based on possibilities that He will actively bring into existence. It keeps sovereignty in God’s hands rather than transferring it to the control of man. As I indicated earlier, most attempts to rationally reconcile God’s sovereignty with man’s freewill result in the loss of who God is, or what Schaeffer calls man’s “mannishness”. The Arminian loses God – Erickson loses man.

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Does Prayer Really Change Things?

In his book Christian Theology, Millard Erickson puts forth the proposition that prayer really changes nothing with respect to God’s eternal purposes. He wrote, “prayer does not change what he [God] has purposed to do.” That seems to fly in the face of the contemporary Christian conception of prayer. Take for example the huge commercial success of the little book, The Prayer of Jabez. Modern Christian society has fallen for the notion that prayer is a method to talk God into doing what we want Him to do. As I read the mantra authored by Wilkenson it reminded me of Macbeth’s hags – except instead of conjuring spirits with, “double, double, toil and trouble,” he suggests we conjure God’s Spirit with “bless me Lord indeed.” The idea that man by the force of his finite will can change the eternal purposes of Almighty God elevates man to a higher plane than God. How is that different from Satan’s temptation of Eve in the Garden: “you can be like God”?

When most modern teachers attempt to show how to pray, they mishandle the Word of God and site examples where God supposedly changed His mind based on the prayer of a believer. The text where Moses intercedes on behalf of the Israelites for God not to destroy them after their worship of the golden calf is frequently cited. When they use this passage as a proof-text, they never consider the fact that if God had destroyed them, He would have been unfaithful to His promises. Since God cannot break His Word, it would have been impossible for Him to do anything but affirmatively answer Moses’ prayer. God was using the intercession of His servant Moses to solidify Moses’ pastoral compassion and care for his people. God was going to preserve His chosen people no matter what Moses did. God used Moses’ intercession to conform Moses to His will. Intercession doesn’t change the One being entreated, it changes the interceder.

Abraham’s apparent bidding war with the Angel of the Lord over His destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is another proof-text often cited. Abraham asked the pre-incarnate Christ if He would destroy the righteous with the wicked. He then seemingly began to talk Him out of destroying the city if there were 50, then 45, then 40, then 30, then 20, and finally 10 righteous people living there. The question is – did Abraham’s superb skills in the art of persuasion convince God of how unreasonable He was to destroy the city if there were righteous people there? Or was God longsuffering in teaching Abraham how He was just in the destruction He was about to rain down on the tremendously wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham learned a lot in that encounter – he’s the one who changed. He learned of God’s justice and he learned of His mercy. God also taught Abraham He was merciful in saving Lot and his daughters even though they had absolutely no effect on the culture in which they had steeped themselves.

A third proof-text is James 5:16b, “the effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” I have heard this verse used in every sense from “name it claim it” (or as a pastor once said, “gab it, grab it”), to a treatise on fervency, to how to get God to do what you want Him to do. I have never heard this verse used in the context with which it is given. Prayer is an essential part of the Christian walk, which is the subject of James’ epistle. The problem comes in interpreting what the “much” is that effective, fervent prayer avails. I would contend, and I think Erickson would agree, that prayer doesn’t avail God of His immutability. It also doesn’t avail Him of His eternal plan, His decree, or His foreknowledge. However, I would say that prayer avails man of his ineffectiveness. It also avails him of his tepidness and his unrighteousness. Prayer doesn’t change God – He doesn’t need changing. He is perfect and immutable. We, on the other hand, are depraved creatures who, although created in the image of God, are marred by sin. We are marred to the point that even our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. We are the ones who need changing. Even after we have been saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, the Bible tells us we have to strive to attain the mind of Christ. We still have an old nature to battle. Prayer changes the one who needs changing, not the One who doesn’t.

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Monday, May 31, 2010

God's Justice and His Love

God’s attributes are the chief way He has chosen to reveal who He is to man. When His attributes are viewed from the perspective of finite man, they can seem contradictory. For years, liberal theologians have tried to drive a wedge between aspects of God’s character. The textual critics have even gone to the extreme of saying the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath and justice and is somehow different than the God of the New Testament, portrayed as a God of love, grace, and mercy. These apparent contradictions stem from the inability of man throughout history to answer the question of evil. One of the seemingly most asked questions is, “if God is a good God, how can bad things happen.” This is not a new question, as the Psalmist even struggled with its converse idea: “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” Rabbi Kushner’s book Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People has epitomized an entire generation who questions the nature and character of God. Part of the fallout from such questioning is, even in evangelical circles, the idea that somehow God’s attributes must be balanced against one another. For example, I once heard a conservative seminary-trained Southern Baptist pastor say that God’s wrath and justice are balanced by His love and goodness.

Though well meaning, statements like that are contrary to Scripture and an offense to the nature of God. God is an ontologically whole being whose attributes exist in perfect fullness and harmony within His personality. The idea that any of His attributes stand in tension to one another is absurd. Balance is an unbiblical, Eastern philosophical concept that has permeated Western thinking and even, as evidenced by the above testimony, crept into modern evangelical discourse. According to The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, of the 18 times a derivative of “balance” is used in the Bible, none refers to balancing two of God’s attributes or precepts against one another. All references speak of the literal or figurative weighing of objects using balancing scales. An analysis of the concept of balance reveals thinking not only excluded from, but completely antithetical to Scripture.

To illustrate the concept of balance, picture a child’s seesaw. When two items are balanced, they are counterposed to, and in constant tension against, one another. An increase in elevation of one item requires movement and decrease of its polar opposite. None of God’s attributes or precepts is in tension against another. The focus of the seesaw’s tension is its fulcrum. Hypothetically, if God’s attributes could be in tension against one another, logic would dictate the fulcrum would be the midpoint between the two truths. The balance point would be reminiscent of Aristotle’s Golden Mean or Hegel’s Synthesis, instead of revealed, absolute Scriptural Truth. In the Taoist worldview, the concept of balance is essential. For the dualist-minded Eastern mystic, the goal of life is to achieve equilibrium in the balance between good and evil – hence the derivation of Yin-yang. Some human characteristics are designated as “yin” while some are classified as “yang”. For example, they purport the negative emotion of wrath needs to be counterbalanced by the positive emotion of love. In their worldview, the ideal is reached when one is stoically “balanced”. It is obvious from even a cursory examination of the Bible that God is not “balanced” in this way. He is pure love, pure righteousness, pure grace, pure holiness, pure mercy, and pure justice. The God of the Bible deals with man out of the fullness of His attributes, not in a synthetic, Hegelian compromise between them. God’s attributes are 100% pure and full, 100% of the time and are in perfect harmony with one another because they flow from the perfectly harmonious relationship existing in the Trinity. God can only exercise true justice because He is love. By the same token, He can only truly love because He is just. There is no contradiction or tension, only perfect characteristics of an infinite God.

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Saturday, May 29, 2010

Lord Guard and Guide the Men Who Fly

By Mary C. D. Hamilton

Lord, guard and guide the men who fly
Through the great spaces of the sky;
Be with them traversing the air
In darkening storms or sunshine fair.

You who support with tender might
The balanced birds in all their flight,
Lord of the tempered winds, be near,
That, having you, they know no fear.

Control their minds with instinct fit
Whene’er, adventuring, they quit
The firm security of land;
Grant steadfast eye and skillful hand.

Aloft in solitudes of space,
Uphold them with your saving grace.
O God, protect the men who fly
Through lonely ways beneath the sky.

Taken from my personal copy of The Airman's Bible, pg. 1129, that was presented to me upon my retirement from the US Air Force in 2006.

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Friday, May 28, 2010

June Edition of the West Virginia Southern Baptist

The latest edition of The West Virginia Southern Baptist, the state paper of the WV Convention of Southern Baptists, is available here. You can also use the sidebar link throughout the month.

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Monday, May 24, 2010

The Unchanging God Who Repents

How can God be described as unchanging when Scripture speaks of Him as repenting, regretting and experiencing pain? This question is at the forefront of the current debate with those who refer to themselves as “open theists”. Open theists such as Clark Pinnock, John Sanders, Gregory Boyd, and others believe God does not exercise complete foreknowledge. This process theology derivative holds that God is forever changing and adapting to the free-will choices made by man. He “knows” some future events based on His complete understanding of present circumstances and psychological and sociological factors. In their view, God is in indecision until man chooses a certain path. He then reacts to man’s choice and waits to react again. The root of the open theist’s heresy is a failure to answer properly the question of evil. In their quest to absolve God of responsibility, they have reduced Him to a figure that is much less than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. While they scarcely address the root question, they proof-text Genesis 6:6 and other passages as evidence of God’s changeability.

As with most instances of proof-texting, context is the key to refuting improper hermeneutics. Some scholars attribute Scripture speaking of God as repenting and regretting as either anthropomorphisms, dispensational changes, or the fact that man in relation to God changed. I draw my analysis from Millard Erickson’s discussion of the subject in his book, What Does God Know and When Does He Know It? The question behind the open theist’s argument is, can a person know what is going to happen and at the same time experience remorse for the inevitable? It would stand to reason that if an example of this existed in our temporal world that it would be possible for it to be a part of God’s realm of existence. When a man and a woman unite in marriage, the traditional vows they affirm acknowledge the fact that one of them will die. When each partner promises, “till death do us part,” they are in a sense telling gathered friends and family they understand that nothing short of death will sever the earthly bonds of their marriage. By making that statement, the happy couple realizes that death is inevitable. The inevitability of death, however, does not remove the pain felt years later when the wife lies on the brink of death. Using the errant logic of the open theists, it would follow that the grieving husband should feel no pain because he knew it was coming all along. After all, he understood death to be the inevitable end to marriage years before at his wedding. This, of course, is completely absurd. When God spoke of His regret or repentance in Genesis 6:6, He was not taken aback at what He saw. To put it simply, He saw it coming. God, in His foreknowledge, knows the end from the beginning. Of course, “end” and “beginning” really have no meaning when one speaks of eternity, but in order for the finite mind to begin to grasp the infinite, God has “put the cookies low enough on the shelf for us to reach.” Because God knows and has foreordained the future in its entirety does not remove the pain and remorse associated with man’s rejection of Him. If one asks the mother of a handicapped child if she regrets having the child, she will say, “No,” despite the pain and hardship associated with it.

God’s experience of pain and remorse does not lie in opposition to His foreknowledge. Rather, God’s absolute foreknowledge speaks of His abundant grace. I have often asked the question, “If you knew before you had a child, that child would grow up to curse you, reject you, separate you from your own parents, beat you, and even kill you, would you still have gotten pregnant?” Virtually all couples (who are not giving the “Sunday School” answer) say they would have practiced birth control instead. If God has no foreknowledge, He can only claim to love us after the fact. He can only claim that things did not go quite as He planned and He has to come up with new and creative ways to get things to work out right. But the God of the Bible is so much more. He knew me before He created Adam. He knew I would rebel, yet He still created me – but there was even more. He knew the only way He could have a relationship with me was for His Son to be separated from Him and die. He knew that would be required before He laid the foundations of the world – from eternity past – yet He still created me. He did not need me, He existed in perfect triune relationship with the Holy Spirit and His Son – the Son He would have to forsake on the cross to atone for my willful and inherited rebellion – yet He still created me. That is the true meaning of grace. In an attempt to recuse God from the responsibility of foreknowledge, the open theists have made Him something less than God. Their god is one who only bestows mercy as an act of pitiful reaction rather than love. He only loves me based on my choices or current events – after he learns who I am. That kind of god is not the God of hope and assurance. He could not be my refuge or strength. Conversely, as the Psalmist declared in Psalm 139, the unchanging, immutable God of the Bible knew from eternity past where I will be in eternity future. It brings to mind the words of the song, “What a mighty God we serve!”

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Monday, May 17, 2010

God's Attributes

God is known by man as He chooses to reveal Himself. Since God is transcendently over and above man, He cannot totally reveal Himself. As God revealed through the prophet Isaiah, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord. ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts.’” The only way finite man can know who God is, is through His attributes. In the preface to Charnock’s classic work on the attributes of God, the writer describes God’s attributes as, “a grand foundation for all true divine worship, and should be the great motives to provoke men to the exercise of faith, and love, and fear, and humility, and all that holy obedience they are called to by the gospel; and this, without peradventure, is the great end of all those rich discoveries God hath in his word made of himself to us.”

While some would state that God’s attributes are synonymous to His properties, in reality, they are quite different. According to Erickson, “The attributes are qualities of the entire Godhead. They should not be confused with properties, which, technically speaking, are the distinctive characteristics of the various persons of the Trinity. Properties are functions (general), activities (more specific), or acts (most specific) of the individual members of the Godhead.” For example, Jesus has the property of having a physical, corporeal body. Even after his resurrection, Jesus bore flesh – albeit glorified – and had the properties of a physical state. He ate, walked, talked, and was able to be touched. God the Son has always had the property of a physical state. Realizing this truth makes it easy to understand all appearances of God to man have been Christophanies. After all, God told Moses that no man could see the Father and live. On the other hand, “God [the Father] is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” God the Father and God the Holy Spirit have the properties of a non-physical state – they are incorporeal beings. The key difference between the properties of the Godhead and His attributes is that God can divest Himself of His properties and still be fully God. If God were even to temporarily lose even one of His attributes, He would no longer be God.

God’s attributes are essential to His nature. All three persons of the Trinity share in all of the attributes of God. Omniscience is an example of an attribute of God. By Pinnock and the “open theists” contending that God has limited knowledge of the future, they take away a significant portion of who God is. If God is limited in one of His attributes, since they are all inherent to His very nature and character, He is no longer God – at least as He is described in Scripture. While God’s attributes are intrinsic to who He is, it is important to recognize that the attributes themselves are not God. In contemporary society, it is common to isolate a single attribute of God and hold it up in reverence as a deity. For example, it is understood by most people that God is love. This, however, is not a reflexive statement. In other words, while it can be said that God is love, it cannot be said that love is God. Unfortunately, many people today try to make that statement. There is another implication of the essential nature of God’s attributes to who He is. Many people seek to contrapose God’s attributes and pit them one against another. A prime example of this is when people say that God’s love must be balanced against His righteousness. The concept of balance requires a point of tension midway between two competing objects. God’s attributes are not in some sort of yin-yang face-off with each other. God’s character is manifest in His attributes and He is not bi-polar. He is perfect and He makes Himself known by His perfect attributes – all of them, in all their glorious, inscrutable fullness.

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Monday, May 10, 2010

The Personal Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit has been recognized as the third person of the Trinity since the earliest days of church history. While this is understood, it is also recognized that the doctrine has not been accepted without its dissenters. The Council at Nicea articulated the doctrine of the Trinity, and Constantine banished those bishops who opposed it. While Chalcedon and Constantinople further clarified the doctrine, there were still those who refused to believe it. Even today, there are those sects who deny the personhood of the Holy Spirit. The acceptance of the doctrine of the Trinity is a key watermark in determining the orthodoxy of believers. Although there are many reasons why it is important to orthodoxy to affirm the personality of the Holy Spirit, three stand out above the rest.

First, denial of the personality of the Holy Spirit is denial of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that God is One yet exists in three persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is widely accepted, yet is difficult to understand because there is no sufficient exigent analogy with which to liken it. If one were to believe the Holy Spirit was impersonal, He would stand in contradiction to the Father and the Son. Acknowledging the fact the Trinity is a mystery, it still must be understood that in order for three persons to exist as one, they must be ontologically identical. By way of illustration, the Bible declares that marriage is to be a man leaving his father and mother and cleaving to his wife, becoming one flesh. Is it possible for a man to cleave to an impersonal force? Can he become one flesh with gravity or quantum mechanics? In the same manner, God the Father and God the Son could not be One with an impersonal force. If one denies the personality of the Holy Spirit, one denies the fundamental truth of the existence of the Trinity.

Second, to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit is to deny the deity of the Holy Spirit. Throughout the 66 books of the Bible, God is recognized as personal. He has a mind, emotions, and will. The God of the Bible is not seen as an impersonal force that is to be conjured and manipulated by man. To say, as pagans throughout history have, that God is the unknowable chaos behind everything, or He is the vital principle that exists in everything is to say that a personal relationship with Him is impossible. This flies in the face of everything that is taught in Scripture. To avoid monistic or dualistic heresy, God must be a person to interact with man in a personal way. Either Jesus was an avatar as the Gnostics said, or He shared the traits of personality with the other members of the Godhead. Since it must be said that the God of the Bible is a personal God and, as argued above, exists in Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, it automatically follows that the Holy Spirit is a personal God.

Finally, to deny the personality of the Holy Spirit is to deny the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit’s personality is evident in the work He is described as performing. The Bible declares the Holy Spirit teaches. John 14:26 quotes Jesus as saying, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” This speaks of personality on two fronts; first, it declares acts to be performed by an actor. Second, it speaks of a personal replacement for a personal being – namely Jesus. Romans 8:14 testifies that the Holy Spirit also guides. “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.” In American churches, we talk so often of being “led of the Holy Spirit,” it often takes on the connotation of “may the Force be with you.” Even in Star Wars, by making the Force a leader, the writer betrayed the non-personal, vitalistic, Eastern mystical principles he was trying to convey. Man can only be led by a personal being. Probably the most vivid display of the personal work of the Holy Spirit is shown by His intercession for us. This speaks of personality two ways. The first goes back to the Trinitarian argument brought forth earlier. The only being capable of standing in the gap between man and God is God. God is personal. The Holy Spirit stands in the gap between man and God. The Holy Spirit must be God and therefore must be personal. The second, more touching, way the Holy Spirit’s intercession speaks of His personality is in the intimacy it displays. Romans 8:26 proclaims, “Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” The sheer emotion carried by the weight of this passage’s words speak of compassionate personality. How can my weakness be helped by a non-personal force? How can a non-personal force translate my often incoherent, selfish, finite mutterings into Holy prayers, worthy of the Righteous Creator of the universe? The Holy Spirit is God and He is a person.

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Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Mother’s Work Is Never Done

Have you ever noticed that we are always looking for a future time in our lives when things are supposed to get easier? The same is true with mothers. Any of us who have gone through all the cycles of raising children know that it never gets any easier. The fact is that a mother’s work is never really done.

The manuscript of this Mother’s Day sermon from Titus 2:3-5 is available here. You can listen online or download the .mp3 audio file or podcast here.

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Monday, April 26, 2010

The West Virginia Southern Baptist

The latest edition of the West Virginia Southern Baptist is available for download here. The latest link is always available in the sidebar of this blog.  In addition to church and mission news from around the state, this edition includes an article from our Executive Director, Dr. Terry Harper, concerning the SBC Great Commission Resurgence Task Force Interim Report that was released in February.  Also included is information on how to become a messenger to the Southern Baptist Convention this year in Orlando.

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The Son of God

As Christians, we have referred to Jesus Christ as the Son of God all of our spiritual lives. The assumption is that those three words connote the same meaning for non-believers as for believers. Unfortunately, this is not true. A regular, historical-grammatical reading of the Bible makes it easy to distinguish the times when “Son of God” speaks of the divine nature of Christ as opposed to mankind, angels, or other created beings. The problem comes when humanistically biased forms of literary criticism are used to interpret the Bible. When this happens, ghosts of contradiction are “seen” lurking behind every page. The simple explanation is that the title “Son of God” has more than one meaning. To say this solution is not without precedent would be stating the obvious to the point that it would insult even the most modestly intelligent. When Jesus is referred to as the Light of the world, no one confuses that with the light God created on the first day. Furthermore, He is not confused with the light that caused the shadow to go backwards for a sign to Hezekiah. Even more absurdly, who would confuse the light of the darkened sun during the Tribulation as equaling Christ?

Jesus used previously identified titles to refer to Himself such as “Son of man” and Son of God”. Some of the time, the context of His usage was ambiguous enough to keep the legalistic, word-parsing Jews at bay. Just as His parables were not given for everyone to clearly understand, His self-references to deity were partially veiled. Interestingly enough, He did not refer to Himself as the Angel of the Lord, a name that commonly designates pre-incarnate appearances of Christ in the Old Testament. There were times, however, when Jesus lifted the veil and plainly told others who He was. You can recognize those times in the Gospels as the times when the Jews picked up stones. John 8 is the classic passage. Jesus started by claiming to be the light of the world – from the perspective of the Jews, bold, but not blasphemous. Jesus was just getting warmed up. Then, He laid a nice foundation for equating Himself with His Father without telling them who His Father was. Then Jesus did a curious thing – He told them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM and I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” You can almost hear the Jews saying amongst themselves, “Did He just say what I think He said?” In that statement, Jesus continued building the foundation of identifying Himself with His Father, but with a unique twist. He threw in the line, “then you will know that I AM” (most English texts incorrectly add He). He subtly called Himself Yahweh, the Tetragrammaton. He equated Himself with His Father, then called Himself by the name of God. Many people immediately understood and believed in Him. Jesus pushed the envelope even farther – He told those who did not believe, they were sons of Satan. He topped that off by telling them, “He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore you do not hear, because you are not of God.” Once again, you can hear the Jews asking, “Did he just say that when He speaks, God is speaking?” That brought the confrontation level up a notch. Jesus ended the conversation by telling them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” Finally, they got it! It reminds me of how, when I really wanted to get my point across, I would hold my son’s face in my hands and talk very slowly to him. It is as if Jesus finally broke it down enough that they could grasp that He was claiming to be God. They understood, because they picked up stones to execute Him for what they saw as blasphemy. They did not believe Him, but they unmistakably understood His claim. When Jesus made His most unveiled proclamation of deity, he said it in the context of being the Son of God.

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Monday, April 19, 2010

Jesus Is God

The deity of Christ has been under attack since the incarnation. As a matter of fact it was questions about His deity which led to His crucifixion. Throughout the generations of church history, heresy after heresy has arisen denying Jesus’ divinity. Even today, groups like the Unitarians and the Jehovah’s Witnesses deny that Jesus is God. Strangely enough, one of the first heresies (and one with the most profound impact) affirmed the divinity of Jesus, but actually denied His humanity. The Gnostics were dualists who believed Jesus was a type of avatar who simply appeared to be human. It would be nice to say that the Councils of Nicea and Chalcedon put the controversy surrounding the issue of Jesus’ divinity to rest, but that has not been the case.

An early heretical group which denied the divinity of Christ was the Arians. Arius was an early fourth century presbyter from Alexandria. He was very articulate, passionate, and had a large following. He, however, did not have a good relationship with his bishop, Alexander. Some histories account this strained relationship to the fact that Arius was jealous of Alexander and wanted his position. Regardless of the personal conflict, they disagreed on key doctrinal issues. The story is told of one day when Alexander was addressing his congregation, telling them that Jesus is co-eternal with the Father, is of His same essence, and is His co-equal, Arius vehemently disagreed. He stated his belief that there was a time when the Son did not exist, since he had been begotten by the Father. This “church feud” was the start of a rift that would ripple through church history for several hundred years. The rift was such that it spread like wildfire throughout Christendom. Finally, to preserve peace in his kingdom, Constantine called the first ecumenical council in 325 – commonly called the Nicean Council. At the council, Arius presented his case which was summed up by his quote: “The Father is a Father; the Son is a Son; therefore, the Father must have existed before the Son; therefore once the Son was not; therefore he was made, like all creatures, of a substance that had not previously existed.” The matter was resolved on paper in the council with the adoption of what has come to be known as the Nicean Creed. The creed affirmed the Biblical notion that Jesus is, “begotten of the Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.” Despite the clear teaching of Scripture and the affirmation of orthodoxy, the embers of Arianism continued to smolder for several hundred years. Even today, many modern cultic religions bear witness to the beliefs of Arius.

In contrast to the heresy of Arianism, the creed adopted by the council of Nicea testified to the Biblical fact that Jesus is God. Notice that the Nicean Creed did not create new truth – it affirmed the truth previously laid out in the Bible. Across its pages, the Bible affirms that Jesus is God in every way. As the second Person of the Trinity, He is one God in three persons – co-eternal, co-existent, and sharing the same attributes, qualities, and powers. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have existed in perfect relationship for time immemorial. Countless Scriptures confirm Christ's divinity, including Isaiah 40:3, Matthew 3:3, and John 3:31. Jesus disclosed his own deity several times in a discourse with the Jews in John 8. He culminated that discussion by boldly proclaiming, “before Abraham was, I AM (YHWH).” Though many who read the English translations might not recognize the impact of that declaration, the Jews did. They were so incensed, they immediately took up stones with which to execute Him for blasphemy. Paul went on to further elucidate the doctrine in what is perhaps the most emphatic, concise Christological passage in the Bible – Colossians 1:15-20. “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.” To deny the deity of Christ is to deny the very existence of God. Likewise, the only way to deny that Jesus is God is to deny the Bible as truth.

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Monday, April 12, 2010

The Real Jesus of History

Those such as John Dominic Crossan and his colleagues on the Jesus Seminar who have tried to “demythologize” the Bible have done so largely under the auspices of pursuing the quest for the historical Jesus. One has to look no further than the History Channel or Discovery Network for apparent documentaries that seek to discover who Jesus “really was”. This is not a new endeavor. Thomas Jefferson, one of the most revered founding fathers of this nation published a “gospel” wherein he attempted to separate the ethics of Jesus from His deity. Needless to say, it was only a few pages long and was cold and hollow. Few people have heard of Jefferson’s Bible and in another generation, Crossan will only be a short footnote in history. This is because their self-inspired humanist mission is impossible. One cannot separate the Jesus of history from the Christ of the Bible. When man attempts to have a Jesus that is removed from history, he inevitably will fall into one of three camps. Interestingly enough these three camps have existed as heresies since the earliest days of church history.

The first camp is total denial of the person and work of Jesus. People in this camp are rare and usually consider themselves hard-core Atheists. As self-proclaimed atheists, they have put blinders on with regards to all historical and philosophical evidence of the existence of the three members of the Godhead. They are philosophically dishonest in the face of overwhelming evidence.

The second camp is made up of those who accept that Jesus was a person who lived in Palestine in the first century A.D. (Those who believe this way typically use the more “tolerant” C.E. designating “common era”). Usually these people believe there was a charismatic young rabble-rousing Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century. He was wise, made some good ethical statements and had a small contingent of followers, but he was merely a man. He lived, died (we don’t exactly know how), was buried (Crosson believes he was eaten by dogs and scavengers), and rotted in the grave like all other men. According to them, Paul is the one who made Christianity into a religion. If Jesus is made to be a mere man, not only do you have to eliminate the Pauline epistles, you have to eliminate the Gospels as well. The Gospels are peppered with examples of Jesus claiming to be deity. If one denies the divinity of Jesus, he is faced with the dilemma so clearly stated by C.S. Lewis: if Jesus isn’t Lord, he is either a liar or a lunatic. The Jesus seminar escapes Lewis’ polemic trap by denying the validity of most of the statements Jesus made in the Bible. They did this by introducing a new kind of textual criticism never before used on any literary work. The members of the Jesus Seminar polled themselves as to whether certain statements of Jesus claimed by the Bible and other documents were, in their opinion, made by him. Judgments were made solely by their perceptions, biases, and opinions. You see, in order to separate Jesus the man from Christ the Divine, man has to destroy history and resort to speculation.

Finally, the third camp contains those who, while they say a person like Jesus might have lived, there is no way we can know anything about him. What is important is the message and the concept of Jesus. These are modern day mystics who attempt to syncretize their “spiritual” concept of Jesus with the spirit of man and the spirit of the world. This was prominently seen in several ecumenical services held during the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In Asheville, NC, where I lived at the time, there was a service at the University of North Carolina, Asheville, that featured a well-known local Baptist preacher, a Muslim Imam, a Wicca Priestess, a humanist poet, and what was billed as an African spirit drummer. All were spouting the venomous rhetoric that all religions were essentially the same and we just needed to tap into the spirit within ourselves to overcome evil in the world. The fact remains that when the anchor point of history – the history of the Bible – is removed, Jesus can be defined as anything. Modern New Age spiritists can define Jesus with the same meaning as Gaia or Buddha or Shiva or Shirley MacLean. If Jesus has no propositional grounding in history, he can be anything man wants to make him.

God chose to reveal Himself in history (Hebrews 1:1-2). He chose to reveal Himself in the flesh, as Immanuel, in a particular point in space and time. God the Son co-existed with God the Father in eternity, but humbled Himself to enter history, take on flesh, and become like me—except without sin. Then, 33 years down a specific, real, and measurable timeline, He willingly gave His life in the most excruciating death possible. His crucifixion happened at another specific point in space-time. The specific, real, and measurable timeline continued another three days while He lay in a specific, physical, locatable, identifiable tomb. Finally, at another specific point in space-time, He physically rose up out of that grave. His physically nail-scarred feet took actual steps and walked out of that tomb. He placed one foot in front of the other, each gathering dust and making a measurable, identifiable footprint. Had God not chosen to reveal Himself in that way, how could we have a relationship with Him? Without acknowledging the historicity of Jesus, it is impossible.

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Monday, April 5, 2010

The Unchanging God of the Old and New Testaments

God chose to reveal Himself very clearly in certain ways in the Old Testament. Since orthodox Christianity holds to the fact that God is immutable, it would stand to reason that He would reveal Himself in the same ways in the New Testament. Were that not the case, it would lend credence to those heretics and cynics who claim the God described in the Old Testament is entirely different than the so-called Platonic, Hellenistic God of the New Testament. In fact, the God revealed in the Old Testament is the same as the God revealed in the New Testament. That is made clear by the many parallel descriptive names and references common to both texts. For the purpose of this essay we will concentrate on only four.

The first way in which the Father’s self-manifestation parallels between the Old and New Testaments is in His name “El Elyon”. El Elyon was the name used by Melchizedek when he blessed Abram: “Blessed be Abram of God Most High (El Elyon), possessor of heaven and earth; Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” This was a declaration of God’s sovereignty and was an acknowledgement of God’s control of Abram’s victory on the battlefield. This name for God was used by several others in the Old Testament, including by Daniel. When Daniel was called in to Belshazzar to interpret the meaning of the divine writing on the wall, he referred to God as the Most High God: “O king, the Most High God (El Elyon) gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor.” Once again, the name signified God’s absolute control over circumstances. In the New Testament, the name is also used several times. It is used several times by those people possessed by demons who recognize the presence of God. The one from Gadarenes who was possessed by Legion called out to Jesus, “What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God?” Later, a demon-possessed woman followed Paul and his company announcing, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” The most significant use of this name of God was in Luke, when Gabriel announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the coming Messiah. He described Jesus as, “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David.” The use of “Son of the Highest” directly equated Jesus with God the Father, the sovereign King of the universe.

The second parallel is seen in the use of the qualifier, “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. This title is seen throughout the Old Testament and was meant to give immediate historical context to who God is and what He has done. It spoke of His faithfulness and gave concrete, point-in-time reference to His eternal presence. Likewise, in the New Testament, “the God of Israel”, or “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is used as a historical anchor point and a testimony of God’s faithfulness. Even though it was short-lived, the multitudes who followed Jesus “glorified the God of Israel” as He healed many through the Decapolis and Sea of Galilee region. Where it shows up mostly is in the preaching of the disciples after the resurrection. Peter used these words when he preached to the people outside the temple in Solomon’s portico: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go.” Later, after Stephen was accused of blasphemy, he addressed the high priest with one of the earliest recorded Christian apologetic statements. In it he traced God’s plan of salvation from the call of Abraham, through the patriarchs, Moses and the Exodus, to Jesus Christ. Each step of the way, he identified God as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. There was no doubt in the high priest’s mind the point that Stephen was attempting to convey – that Jesus is God. That’s what angered them enough to stone him.

The third parallel is between the use of Jehovah and Alpha and Omega. Once again, orthodox Christianity holds to the truth that God is timeless. That attribute is found in His name He revealed to Moses in the burning bush – I AM. I AM has been phonetically transliterated variously as Yahweh or Jehovah. Jehovah (I AM) is a profound statement of God’s timelessness. Jesus equated Himself to God when He stated to the Jews, “before Abraham was, I AM.” The parallel is continued in timeless statements of God’s character throughout the New Testament, especially in the Book of Revelation. Jesus is referred to as the “Alpha and Omega, the First and Last.” The first and last letters of the Greek alphabet are analogous of the eternality of Jesus Christ in His Trinitarian relationship with (and as) Jehovah.

Finally, God’s steadfast love and mercy permeates both Testaments of the Bible. Those who futilely attempt to create schism between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament often declare they have different character traits. They claim the God of the Old Testament is a God of wrath while the God of the New Testament is a God of love. Nothing could be further from the truth. God’s character qualities remain consistent because He is immutable. The Psalmist perfectly describes the God of steadfast love that some would have us believe doesn’t show up until the New Testament. According to many Hebrew scholars, hesed (steadfast love and mercy) is the thread that weaves through and binds all the Psalms together. Additionally, Revelation pictures the God of wrath that those would say disappeared (worse yet, evolved) after the Old Testament.

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