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.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

GCR Report Impressions, Part 6

This is the sixth part of my continuing effort to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. My assessment will consist of three subsequent parts over the next few days.

The fourth component of the report is far narrower in its scope than the previous components and seems to be the only one that proposes direct ministry changes to the Executive Committee. This proposal continues the theme of decentralization that is seen throughout the report, but does so in a much more consistent way. As a general rule, I prefer decentralization because it moves the decision making process closer to the people who implement those decisions.

I am, however, having difficulty pushing past the rhetoric in this component to see what potential impact it will have. I fail to see how a marketing campaign (on any level) will bring the spiritual change necessary for individuals within a local manifestation of the body of Christ to treasure Him above their possessions. There is a fatal theological flaw to a marketing based approach to stewardship, in that it never fails to treat the primary issue as a money problem. The Southern Baptist Convention does not have a money problem. Neither do any of our local churches. Money is just a small symptom.

The problem lies in the fact that we treasure things (including buildings, budgets and baptisms) more than we treasure Christ. The fact that, “the average church member gives only 2.56% of their income away,” says less about stewardship than it does about lordship. Shifting marketing responsibility from the Executive Committee to the State Conventions will do nothing to solve that problem. Neither will, “Preach[ing] a series of messages on biblical stewardship annually.” Banging a topical drum might produce temporary reform, but that temporary reform has the potential to come with the added baggage of psychological (as opposed to spiritual) guilt, manipulation, pride and self-sufficiency. The fact is that God is not needy. He will accomplish more with humbly sacrificed lives that He ever will with pledge cards and stewardship campaigns—whoever promotes them.

The next post will consider the fifth component.

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Ex Libris Review and Giveaway: Holy Subversion, by Trevin Wax

How should the lordship of Jesus Christ play itself out in the lives of believers? Trevin Wax answers that question in his book, Holy Subversion: Allegiance to Christ in an Age of Rivals.

To see more and enter for a chance to win your own copy, check out my review on Ex Libris.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

GCR Report Impressions, Part 5

This is the fifth part of my continuing effort to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. My assessment will consist of several more parts over the next few days.

While the second component dealt exclusively with the North American Mission Board, the third component concerns the International Mission Board. By the tone and tenor of the report, NAMB is broken, but the IMB only needs tweaked. In fact, the task force is recommending an expansion of the IMB into NAMB territory. Their proposal is to, “Unleash the International Mission Board upon American soil to reach the unreached and under-served people groups without regard to any geographical limitation.”

If one has ever interacted with immigrant groups within our borders, this move only makes sense. Many times they retain their culture, language and customs while living in America. They also retain significant ties to their homelands. This seems to be a sound strategy to reach those people groups effectively and efficiently, however it will be interesting to see how immigrant church plants will be handled. The next post will consider the fourth component.

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Let Me Learn

Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Taken from Valley of Vision: A collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions

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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

GCR Report Impressions, Part 4

This is the fourth part of my continuing effort to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. My assessment will consist of several more parts over the next few days.

The second component moves from philosophy to practice. It speaks of the necessity to reinvent the North American Mission Board. Reinvent is an applicable word, because what will emerge from this will bear little resemblance to what currently exists. The task force is recommending that NAMB will be primarily a church planting organization. It will decentralize into up to seven regional offices assumed to have regional foci. Many things are introduced in the report that will have to await the details for final judgment, such as the cessation of reciprocating funds to state conventions. I wonder how this will impact small conventions like West Virginia’s. My initial impression is that support will continue, but with far less state autonomy. That point was driven home by the report’s emphasis on project driven funding and the repeated references to accountability. That seems to run counter to the stated and much-needed goal of decentralization. Also running counter to the idea of decentralization is the highly centralized plan for church planting. The report endorses the creation of the Leadership Center of North America. Details of this entity are not given, but the generalities are troubling. It will have the purpose of assessing and equipping church planters. Does that not go against the stated primacy of the local church? Should not the local pastor be the primary assessor of a potential church planter? Additionally, how will this leadership center equip church planters that cannot be better performed by our seminaries and our state and local associations? If one of the primary stated objectives of this component of the GCR is to decentralize NAMB, this is a huge step in the wrong direction with the chief consequence being the choking out of our state conventions. If that is the plan, then state it openly in the report. If that is the most effective way to reach the lost for Christ in North America, then so it shall be—say it openly and convince me. But political obfuscation does nothing to move us in the right direction as a convention. As it stands, I have serious doubts that regional NAMB offices will be more effective at assessing, training and equipping church planters in Southern West Virginia than people who live here.

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GCR Report Impressions, Part 3

This is the third part of my continuing effort to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. My assessment will consist of several more parts over the next few days.

The first component concerns developing a convention-wide missional vision that parallels Matthew 28:19-20. I am glad that this is the tack they took. It has never made sense to me for churches to build elaborate mission statements that sound nothing like the mission statement Jesus already gave us. From the missional vision statement, the report lists and explains eight core values. Christ-likeness, truth, unity, relationships, trust, future, local church and kingdom. The fact that the task force felt these to be necessary underscores the dire situation in which we find ourselves. The core values listed are clear, biblical and should ideally be completely unnecessary to address. Throughout the report’s introduction and first component, I was impressed by the task force’s repeated reference to the primacy of the local church. The next post will consider the second component.

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GCR Report Impressions, Part 2

This is the second part of my continuing effort to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. My assessment will consist of several more parts over the next few days.

The strongest part of the report was the introduction. It conveyed an attitude of humility and called for convention-wide repentance. It acknowledged our full dependence on God and recognized Jesus’ love for the local church. The report was very clear in stating that the focus of ministry in the Southern Baptist Convention is not the convention—it is the local church. All Southern Baptist entities, whether local, state or national, exist to serve the local church. That is biblical, Baptist and historically Southern Baptist. The introduction did a fine job in bringing the real problem into focus. As Southern Baptists, our problem is not budgets or boards or bureaucracy. Our problem is that the vast majority of the world is lost and have never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our problem is that, although we are the largest and richest evangelical denomination in the history of the world, we are failing in our mission to accomplish the Great Commission. The task force recommendation to better facilitate the accomplishment of the Great Commission includes six components. The next post will consider the first component.

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GCR Report Impressions, Part 1

Like every other Southern Baptist with a blog, I am going to weigh in on the Great Commission Resurgence interim report that was given in Nashville on Monday, February 22nd. As is to be expected from an initial, interim report, there are many questions that remain unanswered. It is my prayerful desire that those questions will be answered satisfactorily in the final report, scheduled to be released on May 3rd. My assessment will consist of several parts over the next few days.

First, I must divulge my opinions concerning the need for a Great Commission Resurgence and what I think it should entail. I voted for and wholeheartedly supported the appointment of the committee to examine the structure and bureaucracy of the Southern Baptist Convention. Over the years, like all other large organizations, the SBC has trended toward becoming bloated, unbalanced, myopic and self-important. Even though those are harsh words, they are not meant maliciously. Despite those weaknesses, I believe that as a denomination, Southern Baptists love Jesus and desire nothing more than to see His gospel proclaimed to everyone. The Conservative Resurgence and Baptist Faith and Message 2000 have re-set our feet on solid theological ground. This Great Commission Resurgence has the potential to re-set our feet on solid, efficient missiological ground. Judging by the overwhelming vote at last year’s convention, Southern Baptists recognize the need. I understand and support the need to restructure, streamline and focus our convention for the purpose of facilitating a Great Commission Resurgence. The question is, How? That is what the GCR Task Force was charged with determining. On Monday, they revealed their interim report. The next post will consider the introduction.

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Monday, February 22, 2010

The SBC Great Commission Resurgence Interim Report

The SBC Great Commission Resurgence Interim Report. A seminal moment for the Southern Baptist Convention.

GCR Progress Report from GCR on Vimeo.

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The first words Jesus spoke from the cross were words of forgiveness. Have you ever wondered what that really means? This message looks at the depth and bredth of the forgiveness that Jesus offers. Click to listen or use the player at the bottom of this page to download.

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The Existence of God

The opening words of the Bible relay the fundamental assumption of the text: “In the beginning God…” Unlike systematic theology books which have bled ink on hundreds of pages in an attempt to lay out the case of God’s existence, the Bible opens with an unabashed, bold, unquestioned claim that God simply is. Whereas Hodge spends over 170 pages filled with unbearably small print, Chaefer barely uses 50. These and countless other theologians proliferate explanations of the simple yet confounding Scriptural commencement – “In the beginning God…”

The Bible does not attempt to prove the existence of God. Instead it begins with an assumption – rather a statement of fact – then builds from there. Moses, borne along by the infallible inspiration of the Holy Spirit, recorded words that turned the worldview of the Egyptian-influenced world on its head. The religions of Egypt and the world told the children of Israel that personal gods with whom they could have contact were fallible and often petty. Behind them was the “original” god – the great unknowable god behind all gods. This god of the universe could not be known and was referred to in their myth stories as “chaos.” Moses’ writings stated that the true God of the universe was a person and he knew Him by name. To add to the shock, he recorded, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void.” The Hebrew word translated “without form and void” is the word for “chaos.” Moses essentially told the Egyptians of his day, “This unknowable chaos that you think is behind everything was a created thing – and I have a personal relationship with the God who created it!”

It was not necessary for God to list reasons why He exists in His Word. By creating man in His image, we were built to have relationship with Him. Many have historically referred to this as a “God-shaped void.” Philosophers throughout history have been astute enough to recognize there are certain things that are inherent in man – ethics, a need to know, an appreciation of beauty, a need to communicate, and a religious nature, among others. Apart from the blinding lies of our adversary Satan, these inherencies should be sextants that inevitably focus on the stellar light of God. Depraved man, due to his unwillingness to submit to a holy and righteous God, covers up and pushes down his innate knowledge of God. Paul put it like this in his letter to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
Paul goes on to say that because of man’s inherent knowledge of God, he is without excuse. In other words, God has revealed enough of Himself in His creation that all men everywhere know He exists. Oddly enough, the Scriptural passages that deal with God’s existence speak exclusively of the foolishness of those who suppress His knowledge and deny His existence.

Rather than spend His time telling people what they already know, namely that He exists, God used His Word to record His acts of faithfulness, love, grace, and mercy to those that love Him and are called according to His purpose. The Bible does not attempt to prove God’s existence, rather it proves His character and is, in essence, His love letter to us.

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Extreme Truth

The godless professor smiled at the photo of Lenin hanging next to the door and then stepped up to the pitcher of water sitting on a table. He pulled out a packet of powder, and as he slowly poured it in, the water turned red.

“This is the whole miracle,” he began his lesson. “Jesus had hidden in his sleeves a powder like this and then pretended to have changed the water into wine in a wonderful manner. But I can do even better than Jesus; I can change the wine into water again.”

He pulled out another packet of powder and put it in the red liquid. It became clear. With another packet, it became red again.

One of the students sat at his desk, shaking his head, unimpressed. Finally, he challenged the professor: “You have amazed us, Comrade Professor. We ask of you just one more thing—drink your wine!”

The professor chuckled and said, “This I cannot do. The powder is poison.”

The Christian replied, “This is the whole difference between you and Jesus. He, with his wine, has given us joy, whereas you poison us with your wine.” The professor angrily stomped out of his room and had the student arrested and thrown in prison. But news of the incident spread very far and strengthened many in their faith.

The enemy’s promise of an easy exchange is a lie. Most department stores have a user-friendly return policy that allows customers to exchange their purchases in order to be satisfied. People stand in line to swap a smaller size for a larger one or one color for another in hopes that it will make them look thinner or prettier or just plain happier. Likewise, many people in life are standing in line, God’s truth in hand. They are told to swap God’s truth for anything, and it will make them satisfied customers. We always end up disappointed in the end. God wants you to see through the enemy’s lies. Hold on to God’s truth—at any cost.

Readings taken from
Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs

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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Sustaining Grace

Not grace to bar what is not bliss,
Nor flight from all distress, but this:
The grace that orders our trouble and pain,
And then, in the darkness, is there to sustain.
--John Piper

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Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy Birthday to My Precious Baby Girl

Today is the 17th anniversary of the time when Miranda and I ran through the gate of Keesler Air Force Base. I was driving our little Ford Escort as fast as it could possibly go and refused to be deterred by the young Security Policeman with the M-16 strapped to his shoulder who was guarding the gate. Although undeterred, I did have the wherewithal to roll down the window and shout at him as we flew past. In the mirror, I caught a glimpse of the man’s face going pale as my words registered in his brain: “WE’RE HAVING A BABY—NOW!!!” Amazingly, we survived the ordeal, made it to the Keesler Medical Center just in time, and within a few minutes, I was holding our new, beautiful, precious baby girl.

Although it seems like just yesterday, that was 17 years ago today. She is still in a hurry to get where she wants to be and is more beautiful, smart, talented, graceful and tenderhearted than ever. And she is still my baby girl. Happy birthday sweetheart—Daddy loves you!

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

For Starters

This is the first message of a new sermon series in the book of Philippians titled, "Impossible Joy". Do you need to experience true joy in your life? Then join us as we explore this great book of joy in the midst of impossible circumstances.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ex Libris: Plan B, by Pete Wilson

Life rarely goes according to plan. Most of the time, our Plan A gets quickly scrapped and we're forced into an undesirable Plan B. How should we respond when that happens? That is the subject of Pete Wilson's, Plan B: What Do You Do When God Doesn’t Show Up the Way You Thought He Would?

Read my review over on Ex Libris.

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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Think About It

Does life ever seem frustrating? Does it ever seem like all the money you earn goes into a wallet with a big hole in the bottom of it? Does it seem like your life is busier than ever but you have less to show for it?  If that describes your life, then this series of messages is for you.  The series is titled, "Think About It," and is taken from the tiny Old Testament book of Haggai.

Simply click the links in the player below to listen or download each of the four messages in this series.

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Monday, February 15, 2010

Relating to God

God is personal, yet transcendent. He created man in His image in order that man could have a relationship with Him. Of course that relationship was broken when Adam sinned in the garden. Even though man was (and continues to be) rebellious and broke the relationship, he still bore (and bears) the image of God. Though it is marred by the effects of sin, the image remains. So what is the image of God? The image is the common link shared only by God and man, the crown of His creation. The image cannot be the principal of existence because God exists as do all elements of His creation. In that sense, God shares the principal of existence with everything He created. Similarly, God shares the quality of life with all the plants and animals in His creation, so the image cannot be life. More exclusively, He shares self-determined movement with the animals He created, so that can’t qualify as the image. These three qualities demark the limits of the god the Greek philosopher quoted by Paul described when he said, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Merely sharing life, movement, and existence provide no more means for knowing a transcendent God than would be possible between us and an ant. There has to be more. Of all the vast differences between God and man, the one commonality that only man shares with God is personality. Only God and man share in the essence of what it means to be persons. Persons can only know one another by entering into relationship with each other. Just as with the relationship between a husband and a wife, a relationship with God cannot be based solely on knowledge of data. Although relationship is not based on or formed out of data, information gleaning is a natural, inevitable byproduct of being in a relationship with someone. Likewise, a relationship cannot be based solely on experience. Experiences, while not foundational, are resultant of relationship. True knowledge of God is based entirely on sharing a personal relationship with Him that bears the fruit of data and experience.

That, however, leads to a problem. How can man have a relationship with God? God is infinite while we are finite. That fact alone is an incomprehensible chasm. God is invisible and transcendent while we are visible and mortal. By definition, a transcendent being is one who is “beyond the limits of all possible experience and knowledge.” How can a mortal man know something that is beyond knowledge? Additionally, God is spirit and we are flesh. How can one relate to a being with which he cannot sensually interact? Most devastatingly, God is pure and holy and we are defiled and sinful. The holiness of God can allow no imperfection in His presence. These things and more indicate a great impassible gulf which is fixed between man and God that, despite the commonality of personality, cannot be bridged. In unfathomably inequitable circumstances such as this, the greater must reach down to the lesser. In other words, the Creator must initiate contact with the creature – but how? Only one was capable of bridging the gap – one who is fully God and fully man. God, because He is personal, desired (not needed) to have a relationship with His personal creation. He didn’t need to because He exists in perfect, full relationship within the Trinity. He desired relationship with man out of His unfailing, unfathomable, αγαπε love. If a relationship is to be had, God has to initiate it. Because of the depravity caused by rebellion and sin contrasted to the holiness of God, man attempts to fulfill his innate desire for relationship with everything but God. God, out of His love for us, sent His Son – Immanuel, God with us – to bridge the gap and provide a way for us to enter into relationship with Him. He woos us and courts us with His Holy Spirit. He provided the Bridge. He gave us His Word to show us the way. All He asks is that we know Him by following Him in the way He has provided for us.

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Extreme Family

In the Cambodian jungle, Haim and his family were given shovels and told to dig their own graves. They were hostages of the Khmer Rouge who considered Christians “enemies of the glorious revolution.”

The soldiers allowed Haim and his family to kneel, hold hands, and pray. Haim then urged the soldiers to repent and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The soldiers were puzzled by the compassion in his voice in the face of death.

As he spoke, one of his sons jumped up and fled into the woods. The soldiers started after him, but Haim stopped them. His calmness convinced the Communists to see what he would do.

While his family knelt with the soldiers’ guns trained on them, Haim stepped to the edge of the forest. “Son, can stealing a few more days of life as a fugitive in that forest compare to joining your family here around a grave, but soon free forever in paradise with Christ?” After a moment, there was a rustling of some brush as Haim’s son tearfully walked out and knelt down with his father.

Haim looked at the soldiers, “Now we are ready to go.”

But none of the soldiers could pull their triggers. Soon, however, an officer came by who had not witnessed the boy’s return, scolded the soldiers as cowards, and killed the Christians.

Some families are known for being extremely close-knit. Others pride themselves on being extremely wealthy. Still other families point to their extreme busyness for significance. While God can use these other things, his idea of influence is very different. What makes a family useful in God’s kingdom? Extreme obedience. It’s not the size of a family’s minivan that counts; it is their commitment to Christ. God designed family as a place where parents lead by example in order for children to learn how to obey Christ. While Haim’s scenario is unique, we can be just as obedient in our own situations. How would you characterize your own family’s commitment? Whose family is an example of an extreme family?

Readings taken from
Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Ex Libris: The Unlikely Disciple, by Kevin Roose

What would happen if a liberal, Brown University student took a semester off and enrolled at Liberty University? That is exactly what Kevin Roose did. He tells his story in The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. Read my review over on Ex Libris.

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Fifty-One Percent

Fifty-one percent.

It seems as if I am inundated with statistics nearly every day. Statistics on the breakup of the family. Statistics on divorce. Statistics on the number of unchurched people in my community and in my state. Statistics on the decline in baptisms. And then there are the secular news polls that flood the airwaves. Approval ratings, healthcare polls, numbers of unemployed people, foreclosures—statistics are so prevalent that they have become nearly invisible to me. Except for the one I just read—fifty-one percent. That one shocked me. In his book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University Kevin Roose quoted the one statistic that completely shocked me. On page 9 he wrote, “One recent study showed that 51 percent of Americans don’t know any evangelical Christians, even casually.” Let that number sink in for a minute. That means that over half of America does not have an effective Gospel presence in their lives. Sure, they probably have access to TV preachers and radio ministries, but access to media ministries is far different that actual contact with an actual Christian.

So, what does that mean? First, it means that I am really out of touch. I assume that every place is like my place. The place where I live has churches on every corner, sometimes two or three. Many are dead or dying, but the fact is, they are there. Very seldom do I meet a person in my area who will openly deny Christ. Some will acknowledge that they aren’t saved. Many claim to be saved based on an experience as a child, but show absolutely no evidence in the way they live their lives. But the idea that someone has had absolutely no contact with an evangelical Christian in my area is totally foreign. Living and ministering in an area like this has blinded me to the complete ineptitude of our greater witness.

So, the next question is what has been our greater witness? How do people who don’t know us view us and what has shaped their views? Apparently, by at least the 51% who don’t know any of us personally, we are viewed primarily as a right-wing political movement. We are seen as gun-toting, gay-hating, misogynistic tea-partiers. Amongst those who don’t know us, we are immediately recognized for those things we are against. It is no wonder that evangelical Christians are viewed with such vitriol and distrust.

I realize that the Bible consistently declares that followers of Christ will be reviled and rejected by the world. But it also clearly states the reason why. We are to be rejected by the world because we have clearly communicated the Gospel to them and they reject us for the same reason they reject the Gospel. We are not to be rejected because of our outspoken political stances. Should individual Christians vote to stop abortions? Yes. Should we vote to stem the tide of the homosexual agenda? Of course. But is that what we should be known for?

Evangelical Christians should be known as people of the Book. We should be known for the way that we try to love people to Christ. We should be known for the way we loudly and boldly proclaim the Gospel with the quality of our marriages, our parenting, our community involvement, our compassion, our friendships, and yes, even our verbal witness. After all, Jesus did not say that they will know we are His disciples by our voting bloc. He did not say that they will know we are His disciples by our firm stance on conservative social issues. He did not say that they will know we are His disciples by our ability to run through a Gospel tract with dozens of complete strangers. No, Jesus said that they will know we are Christians by our love. And how can we love people if we don’t even know them? Fifty-one percent of the population desperately needs to get to know us.

John 13:35

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Deep Riches: Knowing God

After a long hiatus, I am once again posting theological articles over on Deep Riches.  Essentially, these articles are brief essays that I have written on various theological topics that I plan on posting each Monday.  Remember that the Bible is the only infallable source of truth.  As you read these essays, I encourage you be a Berean (Acts 17:11) and check to make sure what I write is in line with Scripture. Feel free to leave a comment.  I do moderate comments, but I'm not just looking for people who agree with me.  My only criteria are that your comments have to be germaine to the topic at hand, they must be civil, and they must be intelligible. If I can't understand the point you are trying to make, I probably won't embarass you by posting it.

This week's installment of Deep Riches is the subject of Knowing God.  Is there a difference between head knowledge and heart knowledge?  Is there a dichotomy between the two?  Read and enjoy--and think on these things!

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Knowing God

By way of simple definition, propositional knowledge of God is knowing facts about Him. This type of knowledge is what some might term, “book learning.” For example, I could have spent a lifetime pouring through historical data studying Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson. I might know every fact about him down to the most trivial minutiae. As the world’s foremost Stonewall expert, people worldwide could seek to drink from the fount of my knowledge. Historical timelines, attributes, characteristics, personal quirks, and identifying traits would be well within my grasp of recollection. With all that vast amount of informational knowledge, could I say I knew him like his beloved esposita? She was probably closer to him than any other person. Could I say I even knew him like his commander, General Robert E. Lee? He knew the nuances of Jackson’s drive, determination, and fire and the weaknesses of his impetuousness. The fact is, even the lowly artillerymen who most briefly served him knew him better than I ever could. They shared fire, emotion, and tribulation together. Even if he knew very little about him, he knew him because he served with him and had a relationship with him. Relational knowledge is knowledge that can only come about from the basis of a personal relationship. While distinction should be made between relational and propositional knowledge, a dualistic dichotomy needn’t be set up. A vital, necessary part of true relationship includes growing propositional knowledge. Many today try to swing the pendulum away from propositional knowledge by equating personal relationship to experiential knowledge. This is a potentially dangerous link that has its roots in existentialism. A relationship is much deeper than either knowledge of facts or an experience. Think about it in terms of the husband and wife relationship. Marriage is not referred to as the “marriage experience,” although many failed marriages have been grounded on the fading luster of dynamic experience. Nor is a healthy relationship devoid of experience. A husband and wife will share many experiences as a part of their growing, ongoing relationship as they cleave to one another. Likewise, although the marriage relationship is not quantified by a laundry list of facts and statistics about the partners, as the relationship deepens, the couple’s knowledge of one another will deepen.

Concerning knowing God, Ephesians 3:17-19 sums it up well: “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” First, Paul prays that our minds can plumb the infinitude of who God is – that we can attempt to measure the immeasurable dimensions of God. This would seem to make the case for actively pursuing propositional knowledge of God. Then, he makes what seems to be an incompatible statement when he requests we know something which passes knowledge. Throughout man’s existence, his epistemology has traveled one of two paths. He has sought to know ultimate reality by either using his reason or evaluating his experience. The path of rationalism invariably leads to the dank nihilism of Nietzsche. The alternative path of empiricism, the evaluation of sensual experience, leads to the conclusion that in back of everything that can be experienced is a vital principle. In other words, everything is god. Francis Schaeffer referred to this as “pan-everythingism.” Isaiah 55:8-9 records: “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.” God’s ways are certainly not our ways – He cannot be found by traveling either of the paths man has chosen to look for Him. He is only found in a personal relationship after He reveals Himself to us through the testimony of His Word.

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Extreme Devotion

Before burning at the stake for teaching the Bible, Dr. Rowland Taylor wrote these beautiful words:

“I say to my wife and to my children, the Lord gave you to me, and the Lord has taken me from you and you from me: Blessed be the name of the Lord! I have ever found him more faithful and favorable than is any husband or father. Trust in him by means of our dear Savior’s merits: Believe, love, fear, and obey him. Pray to him, for he has promised to help. Count me not dead, for I shall eternally live and never die. I go before, and you shall follow after, to our eternal home.

“I say to you my dear friends of Hadley, and to all those who have heard me preach, that I depart from here with a quiet conscience concerning my teaching, for which I pray you thank God with me. For I have, in keeping with my little talent, declared to others those lessons that I gathered out of God’s book, the blessed Bible. Therefore, if I, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you another gospel than that which you have received, God’s great curse be upon that preacher!

“Departing from here with sure hope, without any doubting of eternal salvation, I thank God my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ my certain Savior.”

Rowland Taylor

Can you recall your most memorable childhood teacher? Perhaps it was a certain perfume she wore. Maybe it was the peculiar way he smoothed his bald spot. Something about the person remains in your mind. However, when we grow older, we value teachers for different reasons. We recall what they taught us—lessons we’ll never forget. We’ll always remember the one who first taught us God’s Word. We cannot afford to forget the basic truths our teachers shared with us about God’s love and his salvation. When someone else comes along in the name of enlightenment or academia, God’s truths will protect you and help you recognize falsehood. They are more than mere memories. They are your most valuable possession.

Readings taken from
Extreme Devotion: The Voice of the Martyrs

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Monday, February 1, 2010

Statement of Faith

Statement of Faith:

Based on my current, incomplete understanding of Biblical teaching, I wholeheartedly and without reservation affirm the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. Additionally, for elucidation of my views of Scripture, I echo the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

For the purpose of doctrinal clarity and specificity, I also humbly affirm the following:

1. Scripture

a. God, as the infinite, omnipotent Creator of the universe, has chosen to reveal Himself personally and propositionally to His creation by His Word.

b. God gave His complete Word in objective, written form and does not add to nor take away from it through subjective visions, dreams, or ecstatic experiences. It was written during specific, God-ordained time periods beginning with Moses and ending with the Apostle John.

c. The human authors of Scripture were men borne along by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit retained the writers’ unique personalities even as they were prepared, superintended, and guarded from error by Him. God’s textual inspiration included the use of verbal dictation (e.g., Exodus 20-23), secular sources (e.g., Daniel 6:25-27), and inspired writings reflecting the style and personality of the authors. Each type of writing was authenticated miraculously and preserved from error by the Holy Spirit.

d. The sixty-six books contained in Protestant Bibles are the only Scriptural writings that ever have been or ever will be produced. The canonical Books of the Bible were recognized as Scripture by their authors as they were being written and by their godly contemporaries under the divine guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Biblical Canon did not come about because of any vote or decision of man—church councils merely publicly recognized and endorsed the self-evident God-breathed writings as a polemical strike to fend off heretical imposters.

e. All Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, is God-breathed and therefore is the only complete, sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. Scripture is the only sufficient, objective way God has provided of knowing who He is and who man is in light of Him.

f. Scripture is inerrant and infallible. It is completely without error in all it contains and teaches—including, but not limited to, physics, anthropology, history, archeology, literature, philosophy, biology, and psychology.

g. The Bible is truth. It does not simply contain truth. The Bible is true regardless of man’s opinion of it. It does not become truth as man interacts with it. There is no dichotomy between Christ’s truth and the Bible. God is truth, Jesus is truth, and the Bible is truth—they are one and the same truth.

h. Since the Bible is truth with no mixture of error, all data must be judged in light of Scripture and not vice-versa. Where contemporary scientific, historical, social, and literary theories contradict the Bible, the theories are in error and the Bible continues to prevail as truth.

i. The Bible is to be interpreted literally using a grammatical-historical hermeneutic. Literal interpretation is according to the natural use of language and takes into consideration literary genres, devices, and forms, including figures of speech.

j. Although God miraculously preserves His Word, only the original autographs are verbally and plenarily without error. Translations, no matter how meticulous, contain potential textual variances. While some translations are more faithful to the original text than others are, none is on par with the original autographs. This fact does nothing to lessen the Bible’s role as the only sufficient, certain, and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Where differences occur between various translations, the original languages must be consulted.

k. Other than Hebrew and Greek texts, functional equivalent translations (literal or word-for-word) are the only Biblical texts suitable for study. While dynamic equivalent translations (thought-for-thought) and free translations (paraphrases) are valuable for children and casual reading, their value for study is only in using them as commentaries.

l. Because of this very high and proper view of Scripture, the following beliefs have basis, meaning, and are well founded.

2. God

a. “There is but one only living and true God, who is infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, most wise, most holy, most free, most absolute, working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, for His own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him; and withal most just and terrible in His judgments; hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty” (Westminster Catechism)

b. God is, in and of Himself, immense and unknowable but has freely chosen to make Himself known to man whom He created in His image. No unfulfilled need, want, or desire prompted Him to create man, much less propositionally and personally reveal Himself to him, save His eternal love.

c. God is personal, displaying all the attributes of personality, self-awareness, self-sufficiency, and self-existence. He is not a mystical, underlying principle behind all existence. God is not an emanation and nothing emanated from Him. He is separate and distinct from all creation, including time, space, and physical principles, yet has chosen to actively step into creation and providentially exercise sovereignty over it.

d. God is consistent to and inseparable from His attributes. Additionally, His attributes cannot be accurately manifested apart from His presence; e.g., all true love is God’s love. Since God’s attributes are manifestations of His nature, they can be used to describe Him, but are insufficient to define Him comprehensibly; e.g., God is love, however love is not God.

e. God rules and reigns over His creation sovereignly. He providentially sustains, cares for, and provides for His creation. He works all things occurring inside or outside time, within or outside of space, together for His glory and according to His purposes. As an integral, inseparable part of His sovereignty, God permits the free-will expression of man to fulfill his responsibility to obey or disobey Him. The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are not incompatible concepts, for they are both taught in the Bible. However, they are part of the eternal counsels of God and are not fully comprehensible to the finite mind of man.

f. God is one, yet exists eternally in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These three are one in essence and distinct in person and function. The following are excerpted from the doctrinal statement of Liberty University:

i. “God the Father is the first person of the Trinity, and the source of all that God is and does. From Him the Son is eternally generated, and from Them, the Spirit eternally proceeds. He is the designer of creation, the speaker of revelation, the author of redemption, and the sovereign of history.”

ii. “The Lord Jesus Christ is the second person of the Trinity. Eternally begotten from the Father, He is God. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary through a miracle of the Holy Spirit. He lives forever as perfect God and perfect man, two distinct natures inseparably united in one person.”

iii. “The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity, proceeding from the Father and the Son, and equal in deity. He is the giver of all life, active in the creating and ordering of the universe; He is the agent of inspiration and the new birth; He restrains sin and Satan; and He indwells and sanctifies all believers.”

3. Man (both male and female)

a. God, at a particular time in the past, created the first man, Adam, from the dust of the ground. Adam was created as a single, human male from which the entire human race has descended—not evolved. His wife, Eve, was created as a single human female by God to be Adam’s helpmeet in all things. Adam was incomplete without her. God created both Adam and Eve in His image, that is, as personal beings capable of rational thought and requiring relationship. Each was created uniquely with different roles, but equally culpable and responsible to obey God.

b. God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth, breathed into him the breath (spirit) of life, and he became a living soul. Therefore, man is holistic—a living soul, comprised of a union between body and spirit. Eve, being fashioned from Adam’s side, was also holistically created as a living soul containing the same dust of the earth and the same breath of life as Adam.

c. Sin entered the world when Adam and Eve made a free choice to rebel against God and disobey His command. As a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion, God cursed His creation. Adam’s sin has been and will be imputed to all men, making them guilty of sin both by heritage and by action.

d. Though still possessing the image of God, as a result of the curse, it has been severely marred in generations of man subsequent to Adam and Eve.

e. Man, as God’s creature created in His image, is responsible to obey Him. The obedience required by God has manifested itself in different ways throughout history. For example, Adam’s obedience toward God before the Fall required different responsibilities than Israelites after the giving of the Law.

f. God knows that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually and he is incapable of obeying God in the ways in which He has prescribed. In and of himself, man is totally depraved and incapable of righteousness. Apart from God’s grace, he has and will fail every test of obedience. Therefore, he is separated from God by an impassible gulf that can only be bridged by the miraculous work of an omnipotent God.

4. Salvation

a. Because of man’s imputed sin nature and realized sinful behavior, he is incapable of relationship with a holy God. God, because of His unfathomable love for man, graciously provided the only way possible to reconcile man to Himself—the incarnation, death, burial, and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

b. God, as part of His gracious, eternal, all-wise, omniscient council, has mercifully chosen and designated certain individuals for salvation. His choice is inscrutable and is made separate, distinct, and outside of time and is not based on any temporal, creaturely factors, such as future human merit. This fact does not mean that God creates individuals specifically for damnation and does not implicate Him as the author of sin. It also does not preclude human responsibility. Rather, due to God’s omnipotence, His sovereign plan of election is the only soteriology which accounts for both the efficaciousness of human responsibility and the necessity of free will. God’s election is fundamentally and wholly inconsistent with and antithetical to fatalism. It is not only compatible and consistent with the free agency of man; it is the only way to logically and philosophically account for it.

c. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is reborn. He is regenerated as a new creature—old things have passed away, all things are become new. Salvific regeneration is not simply a reformed lifestyle. It is a miraculous work of God’s grace, wrought by the Holy Spirit, resulting in repentance toward God and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

d. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is clothed in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as Adam’s sin is imputed to all men, Christ’s righteousness covers that sin and is imputed to man upon his salvation. Therefore, the saved man can stand righteous before God—not because of his righteousness, but because of the righteousness of Christ.

e. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is legally justified before God, the Righteous Judge. God cannot declare one justified who is not righteous—He cannot ignore sin. It is only the imputation of Christ’s righteousness upon the believer that allows God to declare him justified. Since he is clothed in Christ’s righteousness, he is justified by God—that is, declared righteous and no longer culpable for his sin.

f. God hates sin to the extent that death is its non-negotiable penalty. Any deviation from His holiness instigates His omnipotent wrath. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, his old nature is mystically identified with Christ’s crucifixion, thereby eternally satisfying God’s wrath for his sin.

g. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, the blood of Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary covers his sin, thus providing forgiveness. Since, despite salvation, man cannot escape his fallen sin nature, he will continue to periodically engage in, and subsequently be convicted of, sin. Sin in the life of believers results in lost joy and blessing, but not lost salvation due to the eternal, atoning covering of Christ’s blood.

h. When a saving work of grace is wrought in a person’s life, he is immediately, positionally set aside as specially belonging to God. Subsequently, throughout the life of the believer, the Holy Spirit will progressively fashion his posture into the image of Christ. Since even saved men possess a fallen sin nature, this progressive posture is not necessarily linear and will suffer periodic setbacks—spiritual peaks and valleys. Finally, upon death or rapture, believers’ posture will fully match their sanctified, holy position—finally attaining to the image of Christ.

i. Culminating salvation, in the last days, the spirits of dead or raptured believers will be united with new glorified bodies. These glorified bodies will be fit for eternal existence in the presence and service of God.

j. All true believers will endure until the end. Once a saving work of grace has been wrought in a person’s life, it is impossible for anyone or anything to remove him from God’s gracious salvation. Since it is God’s grace that saves apart from works, God’s grace also preserves, perfects, and completes salvation apart from works. There is, however, a sin unto death, reserved for those believers who blaspheme God by actively, perpetually, and continually pursuing sin. If the rebellious believer insists upon rejecting the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and God in His omniscience determines him to be incorrigible, He reserves the option of terminating his physical life. He will reach Heaven, though as by fire.

5. The Church

a. The Church universal is known as the Body of Christ and is comprised of all true Christians throughout history. It began at Pentecost, is empowered by the Holy Spirit, has the Lord Jesus Christ as its head, and is being prepared as the bride of Christ to be presented to Him soon after the rapture. Its mission is to spread the gospel of Christ to the world. Incidental to, and consequential of its primary mission, the Church will exert a positive impact upon culture and be the vehicle by which the Holy Spirit restrains evil in the world.

b. The Church is separate and distinct from God’s chosen people, Israel. God has a definite and unique plan for the Church in addition to and apart from His eternal plan for Israel. God graciously planned the existence of the Church as a means to woo the nation of Israel back to Him. God paused His sovereign program with the nation of Israel upon their rejection of Jesus as Messiah. He will resume His program for Israel immediately upon the rapture of the Church.

c. Due to the fallen nature of individuals within the Church, denominations are inevitable. The only One capable of unifying the Church is Jesus Christ, which will happen after the rapture at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. Prior to that time, denominations serve a purifying purpose to the Church by fostering discussion, honing doctrine, and displaying the importance of submitting to the primacy of Scripture. All ecumenical attempts to unify the Church by ignoring or compromising between doctrinal differences are humanistic and elevate human harmony over dogmatic scriptural truth.

d. The Church universal manifests itself throughout history as individual communities of believers, sharing like faith and doctrinal understanding. Each individual local church is an autonomous flock, individually responsible for submitting to the headship of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. The pastor, a man who is God’s ordained undershepherd, is uniquely and singularly responsible to God for leading His local church and equipping its members for His ministry.

e. While specific types of church polity are not explicitly taught in Scripture, most types have advantages and disadvantages. The autonomous local church is obligated to establish its own polity consistent with biblical precepts and considerate of fallen human nature. Church polity should neither be a dictatorship nor a tyranny of the majority. In most instances, democratically considered decisions are appropriate. In all cases however, churches should prayerfully submit to the leadership of the pastor, who, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, shepherds and leads the people in doing God’s will.

f. Church offices:

i. Pastors are neither priests nor kings and should be sensitive to the Spirit-led desires of the people in all practical matters of the church. The primary mission of the pastor is to equip the saints for the working of ministry. He does this by devoting himself totally to prayer and the exposition of Scripture. While all other ministry functions are very important, they are secondary and are better performed by well-equipped church members.

ii. While individual deacons may hold leadership positions within the church, the God-ordained office of deacon is a position of servanthood rather than leadership. The biblical role of deacons is to do the work of ministry so the pastor can be free to give himself over totally to prayer and the exposition of Scripture.

iii. Should an autonomous local church choose to appoint a group of men into a position of leadership under the pastor, their role would be consistent with the scriptural title of elder rather than deacon. Likewise, associate pastors fill an eldership role in the local church.

g. Church ordinances:

i. Baptism is the first step of obedience expressed by a newly born-again believer in Jesus Christ. The New Testament method of baptism is by immersion, however, rare exceptions can be made in the case of handicap, illness, or infirmity. Baptism is a public symbol identifying a believer with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has no mystical, sacramental power to add to or take away from the essence of salvation. As an ordination prescribed by Scripture to the local church, baptism by immersion is prerequisite to church membership. Baptism publicly identifies a believer with Jesus Christ and enters him into full fellowship with the local church, represented by church membership.

ii. Believers are to remember the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ until He returns by ceremonially partaking of the Lord’s Supper. The elements are merely representative of Christ’s body and blood and are reverentially to be partaken in remembrance of Him. Although all believers may participate, partaking of the Lord’s Supper is to be within the context and fellowship of the local church. The Lord’s Supper is to be taken as an act of obedience and has no mystical, sacramental power to add to or take away from the essence of salvation.

h. Cooperation should be a given among Southern Baptist churches. After all, a key distinctive of being Southern Baptist is financially participating in the Cooperative Program. The stewardship principles drawn from the Old Testament tithe apply just as much to churches as to individuals. Since the Great Commission was obviously not given by our Lord Jesus Christ to one particular denomination, cooperation must go beyond just Southern Baptist churches. While individual churches should not deny, ignore, or moderate doctrinal differences to create false unity and ecumenicalism, they should find common ground with which to propagate the Gospel of Jesus Christ. In order to cooperate interdenominationally, churches must at least agree on the essentials of the faith—man is a lost sinner without hope and in need of a savior; Jesus Christ is God with us, who died a perfect atoning sacrifice in man’s stead and was raised on the third day that man might have eternal life with Him; God’s gift of salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone. Those won to Christ through cooperative evangelism must be nurtured and cared for with proper discipleship in the context of a local church.

6. Last Things

a. God created man as an everlasting being. Death, being an unnatural result of the curse, rends man’s spirit from his body. The spirit does not sleep, but rather is immediately in the presence of the Lord or in torment. It will remain there until a future time when it will once again be joined to a resurrected body fit for either eternal glory or damnation, once again becoming a holistic living soul. Man’s eternal destination is fixed upon death.

b. The Lord Jesus Christ will personally return to earth. His return will be visibly, tangibly physical and unmistaken. While His first advent was marked with humility and frailty, His second coming is imminent and will be triumphant, majestic, and authoritative.

c. The order of events surrounding His return is the subject of much speculation and debate. A particular eschatological framework is not a test of orthodoxy, nor should it be a test of fellowship between believers. Neither is it a subject to be avoided. With that in mind, grammatical-historical hermeneutics consistently yields a pretribualtional, premillennial interpretation of end-times prophesy.

d. The current Church Age will terminate at a particular time in the future when Jesus Christ will rapture the church home to be with Him for eternity. At that time, He will meet the entire Church universal in the air, thereby removing the physical, restraining presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit from the earth. This event is the rapture, not the second coming. This rapture begins a seven-year time of terrible tribulation set aside for God’s renewed dealings with the nation of Israel. The tribulation will end with a great war, the binding of Satan, and the onset of the Millennial Kingdom where believers will rule and reign on the earth with Christ for 1000 years. At the end of the Millennium, the final judgment will occur and the final state of the lost in Hell and the saved in Heaven will commence.

e. The fact remains that currently, we look through a glass dimly and future prophesy cannot be understood as plainly as we would like. Eschatological studies are to be exhortative and encouraging. They are not to be divisive, nor are they to be all-consuming. They are a part of the whole council of God, not the sole council of God. Eschatological prophesy is to be understood in light of the clear teachings of Scripture, not in accordance with today’s headlines or current events.

A statement of faith is exactly that—a statement. It is not a covenant, nor is it an assurance of future beliefs. As a finite, fallible man, thanks to the continual blessing and illumination of the Holy Spirit, my understanding of Scripture will grow. As a result, my dogma likely may shift. By God’s grace, any dogmatic modification will be fueled by increased scriptural illumination rather than personal circumstance.

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Extreme Devotion

The people of Hadley begged Dr. Rowland Taylor not to go see the bishop of Winchester and Lord Chancellor. They knew the bishop was furious at the teachings of Dr. Taylor.

For nearly twenty years, the English Bible had been legally distributed in England. Dr. Taylor had simply taught all those in his church to read the Bible for themselves and to follow its teachings. In contrast, religious leaders under the brutal rule of Queen Mary I called for strict adherence to the customs of the church.

After being insulted and accused by the bishop, Rowland replied, “I am a Christian man. I have not blasphemed against the church. In fact, by your own charge, you are the heretic. Christ died once and for all for the sins of mankind. It is sufficient. You and your traditions can offer nothing more.”

For the next two years, Dr. Taylor was a prisoner. When he learned that he would be burned at the stake outside Hadley, he leaped for joy. He was not concerned for his safety. Instead, he rejoiced at the thought of traveling through Hadley and once again seeing his brothers and sisters in the faith.

Dr. Rowland Taylor was martyred in the winter of 1555.

Love is spoken in many different languages. People need to hear love in their own language in order to recognize it. Some husbands serve their wives breakfast in bed to demonstrate their love. Still other spouses need a thoughtful gift in order to hear “I love you” loud and clear. Greeting card companies hope we’ll say it with words. Jesus, however, says that his love language is obedience. That is how we express our love to him. When we obey him, we show that we love him. Taylor was martyred for teaching his followers to speak Jesus’ love language. He taught them to read the Bible and obey its teaching. Show Jesus you love him, and honor Dr. Taylor’s memory today.

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