Take Your Bible to the Movies

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Suspension of disbelief.  It’s something we do every time we step into the movie theater–or else we don’t really enjoy the film.  The film Hugo from two years ago celebrated the fascinating way in which movies transport us to another place.  The only way this can happen is by setting aside our notions of reality and choosing to go with the director.  A movie is not fun to watch if you are sitting next to someone who is constantly pointing out the special effects, questioning the plot line, or exclaiming, “That’s not right! That’s not how it’s supposed to happen!”

Why is it that we are so willing to lay aside our disbelief for the sake of a fictional movie, but no one is willing to do the same for the Bible?  People allow themselves to be sucked in by a good mystery novel or a book from the Hunger Games trilogy.  However, when it comes to the Bible, they wear disbelief like a pair of thick-rimmed Raybans through which they might chance the occasional glance if only to make it the target of yet another snarky remark.

My friend Patrick Schreiner posted a review of a book by Michael J. Kruger in which he concludes that the Bible is self-authenticating.  Unfortunately, suspension of disbelief is the only way anyone will truly understand the Bible, because the Bible’s authority is affirmed by its own testimony about itself.  Skeptics out there will point out, “Hey, that’s totally circular reasoning.”  Well, unfortunately, someone else beat you to that punch:

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.”

-John 8:12-13

The fact that the Bible declares certain things about itself does not make them immediately false.  The question is whether you are going to suspend your disbelief long enough to allow the Bible to speak for itself.  You were willing to do it for The Dark Knight Rises and the Twilight series–works of fiction that have absolutely no eternal value.  Why won’t you set those foggy glasses aside for a few minutes and let the Bible do some of the talking?  You just might find yourself on the verge of being sucked in…

“Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is true.”

-Jesus (John 8:14)

Shame On Us, Men: Women and Warfare

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The announcement by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today has been viewed by many women in the armed forces as a “duh” moment.  Women have been serving in combat roles for a while now, but they just haven’t been officially recognized as such.

However, the public acknowledgement of this phenomenon is one more step in a society that reminds me of Israel from days gone by.  It was a time when men were wicked and cowardly, and women like Deborah and Jael had to do what needed to be done.  When Deborah confronted Barak (Judges 4), the general of the armies of Israel, about facing Sisera’s army, this was his response:

Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.”  And she said, “I will surely go with you.  Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.”

Deborah’s words to Barak were meant to shame him.  He was unwilling to stand up as a man and take action.  In an America where women see their husbands vegging out on the couch night after night with a beer in their hands laughing at mindless television, while they tirelessly care for the children and the important duties of the home, why on earth would they want to entrust the future and protection of our nation in the hands of such imbeciles?

I believe women shouldn’t be serving in the military, but it’s not because I think they are incapable–I bet half of the men in America today are less physically capable than their wives.  I believe men should serve in the military out of a sense of duty to protect (and I praise God for those men and women who are willing to serve this country in this way–many of whom are members at our church).  It is a privilege that the men of our nation should afford all women that they be spared the gore and harsh realities of the battle field.  I understand that many will disagree.  My opinion stems from my understanding of 1 Peter 3:7.  The obligations of war are incumbent upon the oafs of the male race and shouldn’t mar the graceful and beautiful creature that is called “woman”.

Hey, you may vehemently disagree.  I’ll tell you one thing, however.  Those who wish to argue that men and women ought to be treated equally in every way have no foot to lean on to insist women shouldn’t be drafted into the armed services.  My fear is that one day my daughter (when we have one) will be forced by our egalitarian society to leave her husband and children to fight a foreign war.

How can we prevent this?  It starts at home.  Men have lost any last bit of respect from this society, and we have to start leading at home first.  Our wives and children have to know that we are willing to be self-controlled protectors.  They have to know that we are there to fight for their good, not to be a lump on the couch.

Baptists Need to Come Out of the Closet

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I was reading Manual of Church Order this afternoon, and I stumbled across a great quote from J.L. Dagg (1794-1884).  He is recounting how he chose in his youth between the options of being a lawyer or a minister:

At length the advice of Mr. Powell rose before me, with success at the bar, and honor, and affluence.  Over against those I contemplated the reproach of being a Baptist minister, and the poverty to be expected.  In full view of the contrast, my heart said, ‘Give me reproach and poverty, if I may serve Christ, and save souls.’  From that hour, I never doubted my call to the ministry.

Today, it is a trend among baptist churches to downplay the…well, baptist part of their name.  Many new churches don’t even put it in their name, and you wouldn’t know they were Baptist unless you found that one statement tucked snuggly in a corner of their About page online that reads: “We align ourselves with the Southern Baptist Convention”.

I understand their reticence for encouraging division (which is what most people see denominations as), and I can see how these churches feel like they will attract more unbelievers if the name “Baptist” isn’t on their sign.  However, it seems like an unfair bait and switch if you ask me.

What is more, I believe that men like Andrew Fuller, John Bunyan, J. L. Dagg and a host of other men who suffered for wearing the name “Baptist”, were thrown in prison, denied preaching licenses, and were associated in general with the riff-raff of society, would be rolling over in their graves to know that Baptists these days are ashamed to bear the name proudly.

When Dagg, one of my favorite Baptist theologians, chose to be a Baptist minister instead of a lawyer, he knew he was choosing a career that put him at the bottom of society.

At these same churches, members are not ashamed to wear their UNC hats or Steelers jerseys, but they are somehow afraid that claiming a legacy of flawed, but admirable, Christians will turn people off to the gospel.  We champion our sports heroes, why shouldn’t we champion our spiritual heroes?

Rather than seeing denominations as divisions, I’d rather see each of them–whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, etc.–championing their distinct legacies, and lifting up their heroes as models for the church worldwide.

C’mon, Baptists.  Be willing to claim the team.  Get out of the closet!

Brothers, We Are Not Sexy

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It is the day before the anniversary of the tragic Roe vs. Wade Decision, and we had the brand new Crisis Pregnancy Center with us yesterday, and I preached on Matthew 5:9, encouraging our congregation to make peace (by means of the gospel) in a world filled with violence and men at war with God.

That being said, I believe that the trend among young seminarians and new pastors is to emphasize half of James 1:27, and forget (perhaps unintentionally) the other half.  We have to remember that James admonishes us to care not just for orphans, but widows as well.

Why is it that orphan care has taken off, but widow care is…well, forgotten?  First, orphan care and adoption are way sexier as far as ministry goes.  Who wouldn’t want to fly around the world, rescuing cute children from horrible circumstances and neglect?  Who doesn’t like adoption t-shirts?  Who doesn’t love the gospel picture it presents to the rest of the world?  I certainly love adoption and orphan care for all of these things–and I hope the Lord blesses us with the ability to adopt children.

Unfortunately, caring for elderly widows, just doesn’t have the same instant appeal that adoption does.  It just doesn’t seem as “cause”-worthy to sit in the nursing home or a small apartment and listen to an 80 something talk to you about her life.  And yet, this is exactly what James is calling us to do as Christians and pastors.

I think part of the problem also is that there aren’t many or any elderly widows in the churches we as seminary graduates and young pastors seek out.  I love the church planting movement that is taking place across America.  However, for every pastor who chooses to church plant, there is one less pastor to care for the widows in our older congregations.  Unfortunately, an 80 something elderly woman will probably not be attending your hip church with loud git-fiddles (that’s what they call guitars here) and crazy signage.

In our small church there are probably more than a dozen widowed ladies (many of them have lost more than one husband) who are sweet as can be, and who need the care of young families and other church members in their old age.  When they became Christians, we as the Church made a commitment to them “til death do us part”.  We must care for our members both “in sickness and in health”.

We have to realize that when we talk about “letting churches die” that we are leaving dear Christian widows uncared for in their time of need.  My prayer is that more young pastors and seminary graduates will be convicted to care for our aging brothers and sisters who need a humble pastor who will simply love, cherish, and visit them in their last years.  So what, the church sign is 50 years old?  So what, the bulletins don’t have a sweet logo?  So what, they have an 80 year old playing the piano for service.  So what, they don’t have community groups?  So what?  Is that what James (or Jesus) called us to?

Brothers, may we not seek sexy ministry, but humility.  Let us care for both widows and orphans.  The sanctity of life should be championed both at its beginning and at its end.

How God Made Peace by Way of War

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As I was preparing to preach on Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, because they shall be called the sons of God,” I was struck by the fact that Jesus blesses peacemakers, not peacekeepers.  Peacemaking is on the offensive, while peacekeeping is on the defensive.  I then realized that God is a God who establishes peace by way of war.

“No, no,” you may protest.  Didn’t Derek Webb sing something like, “Peace by way of war is like purity by way of fornication”?  The problem is that Christians today view “peace” like its some kind of washed up Precious Moments figurine in a pastel colored room with turtledoves painted on the wall.  God is not interested in this kind of peace.  Listen to the encouragement Paul gives in Romans 16:20–“The God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”  You have to love the juxtaposition.  The God of Peace will crush Satan.

We have to realize that a Kingdom transfer has occurred.  When Jesus came to this world, his entire life was directed toward that final battle on Calvary.  He marched like a soldier toward the bloody battlefront in a world at war with each other and at war with God.  “The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). Ultimately, Jesus is the blessed peacemaker described in Matthew 5:9.  He was willing to fight for peace.  And he is now leading a triumphant offensive campaign on the Kingdom of Darkness that has this world held in captivity.

Peace always comes at a cost in war.  Just ask some of the WWII vets in my church (yes, WWII).  As Christians, we have been called to go on the offensive.  Are we sons of God?  Then we shall act as our Father did–who was willing to sacrifice his only Son in order to make peace with us.  None of us in America are in danger of losing our lives for the gospel, but we have to be willing to sacrifice our time, money, and anything else we have for the sake of the Kingdom.

Unfortunately, we are always willing to settle for a truce.  Will the Kingdom of Darkness honor a ceasefire?  The only way to finally achieve “World Peace” is to defeat the Kingdom of Darkness once and for all with the power of the gospel.

Are you willing to fight for peace in your city?

Why Running Outside Is Better Than a Treadmill, Self-Discipline, and Other Things

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“Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths.  Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” –1 Timothy 4:7-8

Treadmills are for sissies.  I have run on treadmills before; they are fine.  However, treadmills are the tool of the undisciplined.  Here is what I mean: when you run on a treadmill, you can quit at any time without any consequences.  You may have come into the gym intending to run for 30 minutes, but once you hit that two mile mark, you convince yourself that that is far enough, you step off the treadmill, and go about your day.

However…if you had gone running outside, and you ran two miles away from home, you wouldn’t have the option to quit.  If you quit, you would have the indignity of walking all the way back home.  If you quit at the halfway point, you are stranded away from home.  It’s a lot harder to quit outside than it is inside.

In our Christian lives, I think most of us prefer the treadmill.  I know I do.  We commit to Christian growth, but like the treadmill, we commit in ways that leave us an easy out.  We decide to do more Bible study, memorization, or prayer, but we don’t find ways to kill the old man and his annoying habit of convincing us to quit so easily.

We need to seek out ways to “run” our Christian lives outside. For instance, if I want to work on Scripture memory, how do I go about it in a way that won’t allow me to quit so easily?

One of the instructions Paul gives to Timothy is to guard his life and doctrine carefully as a young minister of the gospel.  Self-discipline is essential in the life of any young man (or old man, or woman, or any Christian for that matter).

I had a professor at Southern, Dr. Gentry, who used to say, “Do it right the first time, and you will save yourself a lot of work later.”  It is so much easier to do it sloppy first, and forget about the extra work later, isn’t it?  If we were more diligent on the front end of our Christian life, it would save us a lot of heartache and headache with the same sins and problems later.

May God grant me, and you, His energy to work powerfully in us to get off the treadmill and to take a jog outside. (Col. 1:29)

misled activism

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Being Southern Baptist, I associate with a group of people who love the boycott.  We were famous for boycotting Disney–I was raised wishing I could watch the Disney channel at home, though now I wonder why.  Here are some reasons why I think we like the idea of boycotting corporations and organizations:

We like that “us vs. them” feeling.  I think this is a good thing.  King Jesus is an “us vs. them” kind of King, and we have to realize that there are only two kingdoms in this world: Light or Darkness (they’ ain’t no in between).

It makes us feel like we are doing something for the Kingdom.  Again, this isn’t bad; most “Christians” in America do absolutely nothing, so I have to applaud those who understand that Christianity is more than “belief”.  Faith without works is dead.

It’s easy.  This gets more to the heart.  Is it easier to stand up to a faceless corporation, or is it easier to confront an individual like a friend or family member with the message of the Kingdom?  I would argue it is easier to skip a Big Mac or to go to Lowe’s instead of Home Depot than it is to confront someone about their sin.

We are afraid that America is no longer a Christian nation.  That fear is justified; unfortunately, America never was nor will be a Christian nation.  The Church is (2 Peter 2:9).  This is one of the saddest parts of this mentality; it misunderstands our citizenship.

We think that taking a stand on moral issues will turn our nation back to Jesus.  This is possible. The only way for man to see his sin is to be confronted by the moral character of God.  However, we stop short in that once we have won the moral victory (i.e., the corporation relents from whatever egregious sin they have enacted), we are satisfied as though morality=Christian.

Here is why Satan likes the Christian boycott:

It gets Christians fired up–about the wrong thing.  Can you imagine if Christians took all of that effort and energy used to organize boycotts and channeled it into winning people to Jesus?  Satan is more than willing to fight Christians on the corporate stage because nothing is at stake.  If the Christians win, what have they won?  Has anyone’s eternal soul been rescued?

Satan knows that we settle for less.  If he can convince us that participating in a boycott fulfills our Christian duties, then he doesn’t have to worry much about his kingdom.  Christians will be content with their efforts and will never venture beyond the corporate moral battles.

The Boycott mentality only fuels the Christian misconception that America is a Christian nation.  As long as Satan can keep the Church confused, fighting for a moral America rather than fighting for our churches, he can quietly tear our churches apart until we have neither a Christian nation nor a Church.

Boycott is hypocritical.  Satan loves this.  The entire Christian community was up in arms about the whole Chick-fil-a issue a few months back.  When people were calling for a boycott of Chick-fil-a because of its stance on marriage, Christians were offended.  But this is exactly what we do to corporations.

Paul gives us instructions in 1 Corinthians 10:25-26,28-29–“Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience.  For ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof’…but if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed, and for the sake of conscience–I do not mean your conscience, but his.”

We are not held responsible for what a vendor or corporation does with our money.  We are to be wise, but we do not have to burden our consciences with the ‘meat’ we bought from the ‘market’.  Our time and efforts would be much better spent if we realized that the Kingdom of Heaven does not consist of corporations and companies, but of people and souls.  If we will spend less time convincing organizations and more time convicting individuals, King Jesus’ dominion will spread to the glory of God.