Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Chief Aim of the Gospel

The chief aim of the gospel is the glory of God in His bringing sinners to Himself through the work of Christ whereby God's justice is upheld and His grace is magnified because of our penal substitute, Jesus, the Righteous One. Here is a 6-minute sermon excerpt from a sermon preached at Perryville Second Baptist Church on 1 Peter 3:18

Friday, September 8, 2017

3 Reasons Not to Baptize Young Children

Clear Water Drops

EDIT: Here is a 2014 Christianity Today article highlighting a growing trend in the SBC of baptizing children age 5 and under.

First of all, let's be clear. Can young children come to faith in Christ? Absolutely! This post isn't about whether or not a 4-year-old can be saved. This is about whether or not we should be baptizing young children who profess faith in Christ. My argument is no. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. There is no admonition in Scripture to do so -

I don't mean to suggest this is the be all end all argument. But, if Scripture showed us an example or gave a command to baptize young children then the argument would be over and we would be compelled to baptize and let the Lord sort it out later.

Instead, we have clear instruction that Baptism is for Believers (Acts 2:41) and those who can appeal to God for a good conscience (1 Peter 3:21). We rightly say that babies can't do this but too often Baptists are willing to immerse a 4-year-old simply because she said yes to the right questions. This is not a healthy understanding of Believer's Baptism.

2. Children are super impressionable -

One of my own children could articulate some very good answers to salvation questions at the age of 3. Could he have genuinely been converted at such a young age? Well, it takes the same miracle of regeneration rather one is 3 or 93 but the real point is, how could I possibly really know? And that's the issue when it comes to baptizing young children. As a church, we've been called to baptize genuine believers.

Children desire to mimic their parents. If dad loves hunting, or football, or Jesus, the child will naturally be inclined to those things too. This is why an 8-year-old who says they love Jesus might not be ready for the baptismal waters. Do they love Jesus or are they just trying to mimic their parents? Children are impressionable, and will often say whatever is necessary to please adults. With this in mind, don’t be too hasty to admit them to the baptismal waters just because they’ve said ‘yes’ to the right questions. Continue dialogue with them. Look for fruit. We want to see the fruit of the Spirt in someone’s life (Galatians 5:22), not merely a modification in behavior.

3. The plague of false conversions in our day -

It's actually quite easy to get a child to repeat a sinner's prayer. The problem is, thousands (millions?) have done this at a young age and later walked away from the faith. Others have truly been converted later in life and had to be "re-baptized" (although the idea that Baptists 'rebaptize' is not true. Their first 'baptism' wasn't biblical baptism).

When we baptize children too early we are putting a seal on them that perhaps the Holy Spirit has not. As they go out into the world later in life many may still hold to their baptism as valid even though they are in love with the present world. It gives them a false sense of assurance and puts their blood on our hands. If we love our children and grandchildren, then we must exercise prudence and wait until they can give a credible profession of faith. A credible profession isn't saying the right answers only, but also being able to demonstrate a change in life. It's quite difficult for young children to demonstrate whether or not they are simply modifying behavior or if they've truly been born again.

So, how do we handle childhood conversion? We encourage it! We encourage children as soon as they can understand to repent and believe the gospel. We pray with them, we read the Bible with them, we catechize. But we don't admit them to the baptismal waters until we can have a true understanding of whether or not they love Christ. Frankly, that's very difficult to do if they are 7. So, this isn't to say that a 4-year-old can't truly be born again. But it is to say that we have no real way of affirming that happening until they are a little bit older.

Historically, many churches have waited until adulthood to baptize. There are solid Baptist churches around today who still hold to that practice. I'm not advocating that per se, but I am pleading with you to be more discerning about this subject. If we are serious about regenerate church membership we need to be cautious about baptizing children too early. I don't have a magic "age" I'm thinking of, but children under the age of 10 seem to be a bit premature. Again, however, this isn't to be a hard and fast line. Prudence should be exercised. If you were baptized at a young age, I'm not at all saying your baptism is illegitimate! But what I am saying is, that for every 1 legitimate baptism of a young child there are probably 10 or more illegitimate. How do I know? Well, in the SBC alone there are about 1/3 of people on our rolls actually meaningfully involved in the local church. The majority of the remaining 2/3's were baptized at a young age but have now left the church, thus showing their profession of faith, and subsequent Baptism, to be invalid (1 John 3:14).

Therefore, if we love Christ and we love His church and we love children, then we should not want to confuse them or place on them a false sense of security.

I'm not saying a church is in 'sin' by baptizing too early, but they might be. If the motivation for baptizing early is just to increase statistics for the year, then that's sinful. Or, if the early baptism stems from a complete lack of care to exercise discernment in conversion, then that is also sinful. If we care about being a Baptist church, then let us care about the very word that is in our name, i.e. baptism. It matters. Let us be diligent to think through these issues biblically as we seek to make Christ known among the Nations! To God be the glory. 

If you've made it this far, I'd encourage you to check out a new project my friend and I are doing: The Rural Church Podcast...

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Why the Rural Church Podcast?

My friend Eddie Ragsdale and I have started a new side project known as The Rural Church Podcast (iTunes link). At the time of this post, we are all of two episodes in. I just wanted to write about the heart of this podcast and some reasons we wanted to do it.

First of all, the impetus behind this is that there aren't a lot of discussions out there from the rural church perspective. By rural, we don't mean small necessarily, but outside of an urban environment. As a friend of mine recently said, the rural church is the backbone of American Christianity. I think there's a lot of truth in that. Don't get me wrong, I think cities are important and I think reaching cities with the gospel should be a priority for us. At the same time, the reality is that there are millions of Americans who do not currently and will not ever live in a truly urban environment. How do we minister to them? That's a lot of what this podcast is about. We'd also like to demonstrate that there are a lot of faithful churches out there in the rural context. Sometimes you can feel alone in the ministry and we want other brothers to know that there are other churches out there in the rural context seeking to follow Christ just like they are. We don't know all the various directions our episodes will go, but we just plan to have fun with it and hopefully be a help to other brothers out there in similar situations as us.

Another reason for doing the podcast is the excuse to talk with Eddie every week! In ministry, we can get so busy that we neglect some of our dearest friends. By doing this podcast I am now obligated to talk with a great brother once a week! Win win. Eddie Ragsdale is one of the greatest men I have been privileged to know.

Finally, it's great to talk through issues together because by talking through issues, we learn. I've been blessed by the podcast already and I'm a co-host! So, it's a great motivation for me to keep going knowing that this is something that helps me to grow in ministry.

I can't tell you what future episodes will hold, but we'd love to have your feedback or suggestions for topics. I am contemplating doing a 'sermon of the month' where we feature sermons by known and unknown preachers. Hope to have one up in September. If you have any other ideas for us, let us know!

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sweet Hour of Prayer

Thanks to my friend, Adam Willett, for this blog post. Coincidently, you can hear Adam preach at Perryville Second Baptist Church coming up in October! Click here for more details.

Here's Adam's post:

I would imagine not many of us have gone through life without having at least heard of the song, Sweet Hour of Prayer. But I wonder how many of us have actually experienced prayer that we would describe as “sweet”; or being so wrapped up in prayer that we lose track of time. Maybe the idea of an hour of prayer doesn’t even register because you’ve never had a consistent 15 minutes of prayer. If you would consider your prayer life lacking, you're certainly not alone. Many in our churches, I would dare to say most, don’t have a prayer life they would be glad to speak about. Much like our Bible reading, I believe the problem lies with the fact that most of us have never been taught. We don’t know how to pray because we've never been exposed to good prayer and have never known what it is to personally and intimately meet with the Lord every single day. We try, we struggle, and then we give up. We feel hopeless before God and that simply won't do for the Christian. The good news is that we can be taught and we can learn how to pray.

I would suggest that the first real battle we face when trying to have a meaningful prayer life, is the battle of consistency. If you are not consistent, then everything will fall apart. We know that it’s true with other common goals, like diet and exercise, and it is just as true with prayer. We must be willing and determined to spend time with the Lord every single day. That’s not always easy to start considering most of us already have a routine and structure set up that we don’t want to part with, so this may very well mean that we will have to sacrifice other things that take up our time. Jesus would wake up before everyone else to meet with his Father in private. Even though Jesus was fully God, He was also fully man and was willing to sacrifice sleep in order to have that time in prayer. If you are not willing to sacrifice your time for Christ, then your priorities would suggest that time with the Lord is unimportant. No lover would ever accept a beloved that didn’t care about being with them. So it should be for the Christian. That means that we must discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness. (1 Timothy 4:7)

I think something also important for the Christian prayer time is that it is done in private. I referenced the prayer life of Christ above. He would wake up to be alone with the Father. Personally, I can't seem to focus with a million things going on around me. It is almost completely unprofitable for me to try to read my Bible with noise around me, much less when I try to pray. Of course, I still try to pray throughout the day, but that set apart time with God should certainly be an alone time. We can't rely on a prayer life consisting of sporadic 15-second prayers throughout our day. While we are called to “pray constantly”, that alone is not adequate. We must be spending time with God alone every day. Also, Jesus told us to do it this way in Matthew 6. It is not only the most profitable but a direct command from Jesus. This allows us to be honest and lay bare before God; with nobody to impress or even to hide behind. We can cast our petitions before God with only Christ Jesus there as our witness. We have many that are scared to death or even refuse to pray to God in public. Perhaps it is because they have done so little praying to Him in private.

Now we must look at how we should pray. Most would say they find themselves praying the same old ways about the same old things. I'm sure you’ve been in services and heard a church member pray the same things he prays every week. It is because we are creatures of habit that often struggle to move outside of our routines. This is the same for our private prayers. The answer is not simply to go to our thesaurus and come up with alternative words that say the same things. The answer is not that we need to be more creative. The answer is that we need to become more Biblical; and I mean that quite literally. We need to go to the Bible to learn how to pray and we also need to be praying the Bible. First, we have example after example of saints going to God in Scripture. The entire book of Psalms is prayers and petitions before God! We also have the prayers of many New Testament saints that pray by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are in no way lacking examples of how we should pray and what our prayers should be focused on. It is clear in the Bible that the saints prayed in a way that would seem strange to our 21st-century congregations. The bulk of their prayers weren’t about the physical well-being of others. In fact, physical issues are mention few times in the prayers of New Testament saints. That seems odd considering it was the New Testament saint who experienced much persecution and hardship. Yet, their concerns centered on growing in Christ and bringing God all glory. Imagine how different our prayer lives would be if we found ourselves praying with Christ at the center rather than ourselves. We would be far more biblical in that way, and far more profitable.

I believe it is also extremely helpful to pray passages of Scripture. This has been the most profitable adjustment that I have ever made, and it may be the case for you as well. The Scriptures are inspired by God Himself, so what better way to ensure that our prayers are in line with what He would want us to pray? If we find ourselves often not knowing what to pray, praying through Scripture allows us to have guidance and direction rather than trying to be creative and innovative. Start, for instance, with the Psalms. Read through a Psalm and then pray to the Lord that very word! Scripture is often filled with an author’s own spiritual concern and pleas before God. While praying through Scripture, we are able to use their words as a springboard of thoughts and suggestions of prayer. Look to the very first Psalm as an example. The psalmist says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…” So we could perhaps pray, “Lord, let me not take counsel from ungodly sources. Keep me from relying on the counsel of the world or the guidance of those around me, rather than guidance from you.” Later the psalmist states that the blessed man is one who delights “in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.” So, we could plead with the Lord that we would delight in God’s law and that we would enjoy Scripture and that we would conform our lives to Christ. We cry, “God, give me a joy like the psalmist; a joy that comes from you alone.” We pray for discipline to be one who meditates on God's Word and who relies on it for our strength. Are you starting to see how profitable this could be? Praying Scripture never gets old and never runs dry. It never leads us in the wrong direction and never fails to point us to our Creator. Praying Scripture only brings us closer to the God of the Bible and to the one to which our prayers are for.

Lastly, I would suggest writing down prayers. This helps us to focus our thoughts when our minds want to do anything but. It also helps us remember what to be praying for. You have probably been in a situation in which you told someone that you would pray for them, only to later forget. It is incredibly simple but it may be what helps you keep your thoughts in order.

Prayer is essential for every believer. It is not something that we can ignore or something we reserve to those fleeting moments right before we fall asleep at night. We should be committed to spending time with the Lord every day. If you only have a small amount of time, spend some of it reading Scripture and some of it praying through Scripture. Also, start small. If you have a meager prayer life, then you are probably going to feel lost trying to spend two hours with the Lord each morning. You can't spend years distancing yourself from the Lord and expect Him to flood your prayer closet with His presence. You must labor in prayer. Spending daily time with the Lord is vital for the Christian and must be something we long for. It is impossible for the believer to have a heart for Christ, while at the same time being apathetic toward prayer. We must be willing to fight for communion with God even when you feel cold and distance. Your seeking the Lord in prayer and Bible reading is what cultivates a heart that God is pleased to draw near to.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Why You Should Preach Dressed Up

I'm sort of snickering as I write this because I know you probably clicked this link thinking I was going to write a post about why you should wear a suit and tie to preach in. As an aside, I don't think you should look like you just rolled out of bed when you preach, and I personally like a suit, but that's another blog post.

For this one, I'm talking about the dress referred to in Jeremiah 1:17 -
But you, dress yourself for work; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them.
That's from the ESV which sort of loses the luster of 'gird up thy loins' as translated in the Authorized Version.

It's a dangerous method to jump straight from the office of Old Testament prophet to New Testament preacher without any clarifications. The prophets of the Old Testament literally heard the Word of God audibly. Furthermore, the office of prophet in the Old Testament was fulfilled perfectly by Christ who is our Prophet, Priest, and King. Finally, the prophet in the Old Testament is most similar to the New Testament Apostle, the office which is no longer in service to the church.

However, with all of those qualifications aside, I think there are some excellent applications for preachers of the gospel. I'm sure I'm not the first one to use these alliterations, but let's consider some encouragement from the text for New Testament preachers.

Preachers should:

1. Prepare for the Task

The LORD tells Jeremiah to 'dress for work.' In other words, prepare for the task. Preachers need to preach dressed up. And by dressed up, I don't mean a suit and tie, but from a prepared heart. And not that preparing for sermons is not important, but I don't think this text means that kind of preparation. I think it means to prepare for the reality of the task. Realize the gravity of what it means to proclaim the Word of the living God. Gird up thy loins!

When we proclaim the word of the living God in its proper context we are saying to the people 'Thus saith the Lord.' This isn't child's play. This isn't waking up and fixing a flat tire. This is preaching the truth of God's Word. Our hearts should tremble at the Word of God (Isaiah 66:2) and at the awesome task we have in preaching the very oracles of the living God. Don't walk into the pulpit, or street corner, or any other preaching venue jovial. Have a reverence for the task at hand. Dress up and preach.

Preaching the Word is a man's task. It's not for boys looking for a quick buck. It's not for charlatans. Preachers, prepare for the task. Preach dressed up.

2. Preach the Truth

Again, Jeremiah had a direct audible command from the Lord. "Say to them everything I command you." Not the same for us. However, we do have His infallible, inerrant, all authoritative, all sufficient Bible. The 66 canonical books of Scripture are the very commands, promises, and descriptions of God from God. You aren't smarter than God. Preach what He says. You don't have a better understanding of how to win people to Christ than God. Preach what He says. You don't know how to grow a church better than God. Preach what He says. Preach the truth. If the Word of God says it, you preach it.

Gentleman, let's preach the Word. Let us not preach our hobby horse, or ear tickling sermonettes. Let us dress up and proclaim the truth of the Living God. Let us endeavor to preach the full counsel of the Word of God. Let's preach book by book, verse by verse, and not shy away from any of it. Preach the easy doctrines. Preach the hard doctrines. Preach when you know the people will say 'amen!' Preach when you know it might be hard for them to hear. Preach when they pat you on the back and preach when it may cause them to talk behind it. Preach everything.

It is the truth of God that sanctifies His people (John 17:17). It is the Word of God that is a rock and a hammer (Jeremiah 23:29). It is the Word of God that is a sword (Hebrews 4:12). People don't need our jokes, charisma, hair gel, or eisegesis. They need Scripture. Preach what God says and see Him work.

3. Persevere without Timidity 

I'm sure most people reading this are familiar with Jeremiah's ministry. He saw basically no real fruit in terms of nationwide repentance. But what is his charge? Do not be dismayed! There is nothing more discouraging in preaching than being prepared, giving a solid proclamation, and seeing no visible fruit. But what is our charge? To keep preaching. We aren't given a pass in being boring, but we do need to remember that the power is not in us, but in the Word. After all, God tells Jeremiah that He is watching over His Word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12).

In other words, as we faithfully expound Scripture, God is using it to bring about His sovereign purposes. Trust in that! Do your due diligence in sermon preparation and prayer. But when you preach you must understand that God is bringing about change not because of you, but through His own Holy Word.

The word for 'dismayed' in our text carries the connotation of fear or terror. If we are rightly understanding the fear of the Lord, there is no room left for the fear of men. Persevere without timidity. Keep preaching in boldness. I'm not saying 'yell' at people. Decibel level doesn't equal passion. But people can tell whether or not you've been gripped by the text or if you're just another dog and pony show going through the motions for a pay check. No, my brothers. May we not preach that way. Persevere without timidity. Preach with passion for you are God's herald. What can man do to us if God is for us? True, they threw Jeremiah down a well. And they threw John Bunyan in a jail. And they threw Adoniram Judson in a Burmese prison. And they killed Nicholas Ridley. But guess what? We won't answer to men after death but to our holy and awesome God. Fear Him and preach the Word. Keep laboring brothers. Persevere in the task. Persevere without timidity. God is for us in Christ. Preach the truth.

"I am with you declares the LORD" (Jeremiah 1:19). And I don't think its unacceptable to the text to claim this promise for preachers who are faithfully expounding God's word.

I'm thankful for faithful men of God like Jeremiah. More importantly, I'm thankful for our true Prophet, Jesus Christ who bore the wrath of God in our place. Because of His atoning work we have a right standing with God and truly good news to proclaim to the Nations. Proclaim it all. Preach the Law and the Gospel. Prepare for the task, preach the truth, and persevere without Timidity. Our God is faithful. This is why you should preach dressed up.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Don't Sing Noisy Songs

Some churches like to crank it up to 11. But honestly, this post isn't about decibel level. It's about noise. Noise, after all, doesn't require electric amplifiers.

Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen. (Amos 5:23)

The Lord addresses this to Israel who had been treating religious practices as a mere formality. If you read Amos 5:21-22 you see the Lord say some astonishing things:

I hate
I despise
I take no delight in
I will not accept
I will not look upon

Woe to us if the Lord should say such a thing about our worship services!

In American evangelicalism, we have been conditioned to believe that just because we show up to church on a Sunday morning, that God is present to bless and He is pleased with what is going on. I think we need to think through that a little better, for God is not after our lips or hand motions, but our hearts. Many churches think intentionally, and some even pay a staff person, to create a good 'atmosphere' of Sunday morning worship. I do believe careful thinking about worship is important, but I also know it's possible to have a service that moves the people emotionally and is simultaneously offensive to God.

Yes, I wrote that: offensive to God. So offensive that He might just say "I hate it" or "take away from me the noise of your songs." Again, this isn't about volume, but hypocrisy. The Hebrew word for 'noise' in this text carries the connotation of 'multitude'. I think what it is communicating is that the songs being sung were just layers of empty noise not because of the style or words of the particular song, but because of the lack of honesty in the heart. There may have been a lot happening musically, but there was no substance to the worship. Instead, the songs just piled up in such a way before God that the were like a burden to Him. 

Is God weary of your worship?

It's actually sort of alarming how well we can sing songs in church without a heart that is fully devoted to God. The Israelites were going through the motions of worship but they harbored sin in their hearts. For us, this isn't about singing out of the Heavenly Highways vs. the newest Christian songs out there. This is about singing from a heart that is clinging to Christ and repentant of sin vs. singing from a heart that has no real interest in treasuring Christ. 

It's scary how easily a noisy song can lead our hearts to believe everything is ok just because we feel worshipful. It's the song you've sang since you were 5 or it has the beautiful melody or the bridge almost always causes a tear to form in your eye. But if we are singing these songs with a heart that loves sin, God doesn't want to hear them.

Doctrinal fidelity does matter. I think songs that are more 'me centered' and devoid of any clear gospel or could be sung to a boyfriend/girlfriend just as well as to Jesus do tend to be more dangerous in deceiving our hearts.  We sometimes think that by virtue of us singing how much we love Jesus that it automatically makes it so, all the while our hearts are clinging to sin. Or we can sing the same line of a song so many times that we are convinced we believe it even if our hearts aren't really submitting to the truth (the Senior Saints call these '7/11' songs - 7 words sang 11x!). So, singing songs that are gospel heavy, doctrinally sound, and Godward focused are vital. However, doctrinally sound songs don't necessarily preclude noisy-ness. It's reasonable to assume that the Israelites were singing at least a portion of the Psalms. Is there anything more doctrinally sound than songs breathed out by God Himself? Your lips can go on autopilot singing some of the most beautiful and gospel rich songs ever written all the while your heart is not truly on the same page. Instead, it's secretly in love with gossip, sexual immorality, drunkenness, the idolatry of Sports, greed, lying, and the list goes on. It would be like telling your wife how much you love her while fantasizing about another woman. It's spiritual adultery. Singing the right type of songs does not necessarily mean that God is pleased with our worship. He's after our hearts.

So, how do we avoid singing noisy songs? 

You guessed correctly: it begins with the heart. It's a really tragic endeavor to create an atmosphere of worship that thousands of people want to be part of but that the Triune God wants no part in. You need to remember that our hearts can be terribly deceitful and even compel us to continue in noisy singing simply because it makes us feel good and numbs out the reality of our situation. 

Does your whole heart belong to the Lord? 

When you sing, is it an act of faith trusting in the great promises you're singing about? Are you approaching God as though He must accept you by virtue of your attendance at a worship service or are you clinging to the hope of the gospel that God accepts you based on the finished work of Christ? Is there sin in your heart that maybe even others don't know about that you need to repent of, trusting that the blood of Jesus is enough to cover even that sin? Whatever you are clinging to other than Jesus, it's not worth it, turn from it and trust Christ.

We can also avoid singing noisy songs by taking more seriously the corporate worship of God's people. If Sunday mornings are just 'sometimes' given to the Lord, then you're not taking worship seriously. If Sunday mornings are something you just 'show up to' without any though of the 'one anothers' of Scripture or any prayer for your leaders or your own heart, then perhaps you could stand to take worship a little more seriously. Christianity is personal, don't get me wrong. But it's not just personal. If you miss the seriousness of the corporate aspect of Christianity, you are missing a big portion of the Bible.

We can further avoid noisy songs by remembering that the heart is not meant to lead but to be led. This means that truth must inform our worship. Yes, it's true that we can get stuck in truth without feeling but I think the more prevelant danger in many places is feeling without truth. Knowing who God is, what He has done, and how that applies to our lives is vital for true worship.

The people of God are singing people because we serve a singing God (Zephaniah 3:17). As His image bearers, we delight to sing to Him for who He is and what He has done for us through the work of Christ. What a travesty to let singing become mere formality and noise! 

I want to encourage you that the gospel is still big enough to address the sin of noisy singing. Jesus' death is still enough to cleanse us of the sin of mere formality in worship. So, rest in Jesus today and don't sing noisy songs.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How to Leave Your Family a Treasure

I was given the Bible of a 92 year old woman today. She passed away peacefully in a nursing home recently and I had the honor of preaching her funeral. 

I wasn't 'given' the Bible for keeps mind you! It was just so I could learn a little more about this saint since I did not have the privilege of knowing her very well in this life. 

I can't say how old this bible was but I was scared to flip through it. The pages were barely hanging on, clinging to the binding with all their might after having been turned and turned again through the decades. There were notes and markings on several pages and I'm sure if I could have examined closer I would have found a few tear stains in places. 

I'm actually using the notes she wrote to preach the funeral. This is a precious treasure that her family will have for generations to come. I wonder if we might not strive harder to leave such a treasure for our own families?

You know, financial experts say one of the best ways to keep wealth in your family is to have good life insurance. I honestly don't know about that. But I do know a way you can leave your family a treasure that has the potential to bear eternal fruit. 

Leave them a bible that's falling apart. 

A bible that is falling apart speaks volumes about a person's life. It tells that the owner didn't merely say the Bible was important, but that they actually read it. They spilt their coffee on it. They flipped the pages quickly in search of an answer. They turned the pages slowly meditating on Truth. Some pages are worn more than others as the reader turned to that portion of Scripture over and over. They pressed the pages down as they knelt in prayer with both hands clutching Scripture. A tear drop of joy, or pain, or longing has fallen here or there. Not just a day or two here or there, but throughout a lifetime. Day in and day out they turned the Bible's sacred pages as they caught a glimpse of the glory of God and reveled in what He has accomplished for us in Christ. 

Furthermore, underlining, markings, sermon notes, study thoughts, meditations, and exhortations that are in a bible will live on long after a person is gone. Though dead, you will still speak. Imagine your great great grandson reading some thoughts you had one day about Proverbs 3:5 and the Lord using that to convert him! Imagine being able to speak into the lives of generations to come by the way you handle the Bible tomorrow morning! Imagine leaving your posterity such a treasure. 

I hope I've piqued your interest. The question now is, How? How can you leave your family something so valuable?

First of all, no matter your age, resolve to do this now. I don't care if you're already 80 years old. I don't care if you're 13. Start this today. 

Secondly, find a good bible and stick with it. For this purpose you will need a NON-Study bible. Just something with the text will be sufficient. And binding is important. A nice leather one would be a good investment. Something with wider margins would be helpful. You could always start with a hard back and maybe have it rebound later in life (my current plan). Translation is important too. I prefer a more formal equivalent translation like the ESV. 

Thirdly, get some good pens. Try these.
Good pens are important so they won't bleed through. If you want to leave more than just a worn out bible, pens are a necessity! 

Fourthly, read your bible daily for YOU! Don't think about your posterity so much as thinking about what your soul needs from Holy Writ. Read it. Study it. Meditate on it. Memorize it. Why? To feast on the glory of God in Christ! To mature in the faith. To be convicted, corrected, rebuked, encouraged, challenged, and comforted. Find a reading plan. Read through the Bible in a year or read through a book or two over and over. Or some sort of mixture of both. But, find a plan and do it. Mix it up over the years. But make bible reading a daily habit. 

Fifthly, WRITE in your Bible. You might write a note of prayer. You might write some meditative thoughts. You might jot a note or two of praise, exhortation, challenge, or comfort. You might write a study note or two about historical context or word usage. You may even put a few notes down from the sermon you just heard. Write cross references. Over the years your bible will begin to fill up. Again, it's ok to think about generations to come, but write notes primarily for you. This will be most beneficial for those who come after you. 

Sixthly, circle, box, underline, star, etc. Circle repeated words in a passage. Underline important truths. Draw arrows to make connections. Star key ideas. There's no magic formula here. The important thing is that you engage the text. Mark the text as a way for you to soak it in better. 

Seventhly, repeat steps 1-6 if necessary! What I mean is, if you fill up a Bible, praise the Lord. Set it aside and buy another one and start over. The Word of God is rich. You will not regret spending a lifetime mining its depths. 

Can you imagine at your funeral, a preacher holding your worn out bible, and preaching the gospel to your family in your own words? Can you imagine your family rebinding the Bible and having it in the home for years to come? Can you imagine the legacy you could leave in the lives of your great grandchildren just by loving the Bible today? This gets me excited! With just a little effort you could leave your family an invaluable treasure. 

What are you waiting for? Make it happen today. It's worth the investment, I promise. 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Come to Christ

All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sin is breaking God's holy law. It is doing the things God says not to do and not doing the things God says to do. All sin deserves justice.

Jesus has endured that justice on our behalf. He has lived an obedient life to the Law, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again in victory. 

Our only hope is Christ. Come to Him.

Listen to the end of a recent sermon at Perryville Second Baptist Church (full sermon here):

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

When Bad Stuff Happens

Fire Fighter Wearing Black and Yellow Uniform Pointing for Something

I've been reading through A Little Book on the Christian Life by John Calvin recently I think he has some excellent words for us to consider. His words below:

We are continually harassed by one illness or another: the plague advances; we are cruelly vexed by the calamities of war; frost and hail render the land barren and leave us with little, devouring our expectation for the year's crop. Wife, parents, children, and close relatives are snatched away by death: homes are consumed by fire. These are events which make men curse their lives, despise the day they were born, hold in contempt heaven and its light, rage against God, and being fluent in blapshmeies, accuse God of unfariness and cruelty.

But the believer must in these same circumstances consider the mercy and the fatherly kindness of God. If the believer, then, should see his house made lonely by the loss of those nearest to him, even then he must not stop praising the Lord. Rather, he must turn himself to this thought: "The Lord's grace continues to dwell in my home and will not leave it desolate." If the believer should see his crop consumed by drought, disease, or frost, or trampled down by hail and famine threaten him, even then he must not despair within his soul, nor should he become angry toward God. Rather, he must persist with confidence in this truth: "But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever" (Ps. 79:13).

God, then, will provide for us, however barren the land. If the believer should be afflicted by illness, he must not be so stung by the severity of his hardship that he erupts in impatience and demands from God an explanation. Rather, he must, considering the justice and gentleness of God's discipline, recall himself to patience.

Indeed, the believer should accept whatever comes with a gentle and thankful heart, because he knows that it is ordained by the Lord. Moreover, he must not stubbornly resist the rule of God into whose power he has placed himself and all his affairs. So let the Christian make it his priority to drive from his breast that foolish and unfortunate comfort of pagans, who, in order to bolster their spirits against all adverse events, credit those events to fortune. They think it's silly to be angry at fortune, since she is reckless, aimless, and blind - inflicting her wounds equally on the deserving and the undesdrving. In contrast, the rule of godliness is to recognize that God's hand is the sole judge and governor of every fortune, and because His hand is not recklessly driven to fury, it distributes to us both good and ill according to His orderly righteousness.

Monday, May 22, 2017

New Fish, New Bait?

Brown Black Fishlure on Rod Selective Focus Photography

I wanted to post a quick response to a blog I read today (here) on Catching a New Kind of Fish.

I'm hesitant on posting because #1, we live in a society where any sort of push back is seen as judgmental. That's not my goal. I don't want to be contentious. I want to help. This isn't a bashing post. It is a desire to help us think through this from all sides. And 2ndly, I'm running short on time this afternoon, so I know this won't be as long as would do it justice.

So, read the first post, and then see the reply below:

Let me start by saying I am thankful for Arkansas Baptist church planters! I am thankful for their zeal for the lost and their desire to see the kingdom of God grow. If you are a church planter, I want to tell you thank you! To the brother who wrote the original post, thank you for your heart of wanting to see sinners come to Christ. Thank you for the time and effort you put into seeing people experience the life-changing encounter with the gospel. This post is not an attack on you. However, there are some things I'd like for all of us to think through from a different perspective.

Let me specifically respond to this paragraph:

So what do we do to get people through the door? Well, to catch a new kind of fish, we need a new kind of bait!I would say New Faith has moved away from a lot of traditions. We don’t have a pulpit where the preachers sit up front on the stage. We don’t ask people to turn around and look at the congregation after they’ve made a decision.On the fourth Sunday of the month, we wear jeans and t-shirts on Sunday morning! 
What if the new bait is simply the old bait packaged differently?

You see, we've been on a kick the last couple of decades of doing away with 'traditional' and all we've really done is create the same problem on the other side of the pendulum so to speak. Moving away from traditional doesn't actually move away from traditions - it only creates new traditions that someone else will try to 'move away from' in 50 years (or less).

In other words, when we make 'church' about 'traditional' or 'anti-traditional' we have the same problem. The paradigm of ministry is not as much the issue in our day as is the substance. Not to be too cliché here but the answer really is the gospel. The pure, unadulterated, life-changing gospel of Jesus Christ is our only hope. We must put all the effort we can into preaching this gospel to the masses, into helping churches keep their focus on Christ as their greatest joy and treasure, and into showing others what the power of the gospel really can do in the local church. 

What I mean is, do we want churches where people say "I go here because they don't have a pulpit"? Or "I go here because they sing heavenly highway hymns"? Or "I go here because they have deer heads on the wall", or "we can wear cowboy boots"? Is not the bait for winning souls to Christ the free and full forgiveness offered in the completed work of Christ? Nay, it's not the bait! It's the true food! 

So, it is my plea to have us eschew any attractional methods we are tempted to employ and simply proclaim Christ and Him crucified. May He be the center! May He be the draw! 

Brother pastors, and brother church planters, please do not have something other than Christ and your commitment to Him and His Word as the 'draw' for uniting with your local body. I maintain that if we truly want to catch new fish, we have to listen to the chief Fisherman. Let us be less concerned about creating the right 'atmosphere of worship' and more concerned about being faithful to what the Head of the Church would have us do. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

We Did Not Seek Him According to the Rule

It may be surprising to many but God is not only concerned that we seek Him, but also how we seek Him. You are probably familiar with the story of Uzzah from the Old Testament but just in case you're not, let's do a quick review:

After David became King he desired to move the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem. While they were moving the Ark there was a great celebration of joy and praises to God for the victories He had given David and the very fact that His presence, symbolized by the Ark, was among His people. But during the midst of this celebration something awful happened. Perhaps it was at the very crescendo of one of the praise choruses that the Lord struck down Uzzah. God killed someone during a worship service.

Our initial response may be like that of David. Absolute disbelief and even anger that God would behave in such a manner. After all, isn't God obligated to be pleased that we seek Him regardless of the 'how'? Shouldn't the Almighty be giddy by the fact that of all the things we could be doing we are setting aside time to come to Him, even if it's on our terms?

David needed to snap out of such man centered thinking and so do we.

By chapter 15 of 1 Chronicles David understands his error and tells the Levites:

"You are the heads of the fathers' houses of the Levites. Consecrate yourselves, you and your brothers, so that you may bring up the ark of the LORD, the God of Israel, to the place that I have prepared for it. Because you did not carry it the first time, the LORD our God broke out against us, because we did not seek him according to the rule." - 1 Chronicles 15:12-13

God had given specific instructions on how to carry the Ark and He had made it explicit in His Word that touching the Ark would result in death (Numbers 4:15). As R.C. Sproul has quipped "Uzzah thought the mud was dirtier than his hands."

Because we are sinners we have to come to terms with the holiness of God. And coming to terms with the holiness of God means that we must understand that God will not be approached in anyway but only in His way.

There are many worship services that occur every Sunday across our Nation and even the World that deserve God's death sentence. Many gather each week expecting God to be impressed by the fact that they've gotten out of bed and showed up to corporate worship. There are a myriad of songs sang that have no place on an elevator playlist let alone a worship gathering for the Lord of hosts. There are other practices performed by churches each week that aren't found in the Word. In fact, I think that in some places (many?) the Lord has left a long time ago leaving the people to carry out their abandonment of His Word. Many people leave these gatherings feeling the 'spirit'; the only problem is it's not the Spirit of the Lord.

Here is the point: God is to be sought according to His rules. This isn't legalistic. It's biblical. God is not impressed with our ingenuity. We must hold to what the Word says. And we must see that the Word actually does prescribe not only that God should be worshiped but also how He should be worshiped! God deals with us according to His terms, not ours. Here are a few application points:

1. All worship must be gospel focused

Hebrews 4:16 says "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace..." Confidence yes, but in context this is grounded in the finished priestly work of Christ. In other words, all approaching of God must come through the veil of Jesus. If I approach God based on who I am and what I've done, I am not seeking Him in His way. We must have the mindset of the hymn writer: Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling!

In fact, this has application for how a sinner comes to God in the first place. We don't demand for God to compromise His holiness for us. We see our filth and we repent and cling to Christ in faith. The only worshippers God accepts are those who come to Him through Jesus.

2. All worship must be Word driven

If Uzzah had listened to the Word, he wouldn't have been killed. Instead, he invented his own way of doing things. Churches must take heed here! We would do well to examine all we are doing on Sundays periodically to make sure it aligns with Scripture.

Furthermore, I wonder if your service highlights the same things the Bible does? Here are some things that must be part of our services:

1. Preaching the Word (2 Tim. 4:1-2) The preaching of God’s Word is essential. It should be central and priority to all other things happening on Sunday morning. Perhaps you do all the rest on this list on Sundays, but if you leave out this one out you’ve missed the “main ingredient” to God’s intent for our gatherings. 
2. Singing the Word (Colossians 3:16) This doesn’t mean you have to find a chapter in the Bible and sing it exactly word for word (although that can work at times!). But it does mean that you should actually be singing portions of Scripture in your songs, and songs that are not portions of Scripture should be able to be easily “proved” to be implied by portions of Scripture. 
3. Reading and Praying the Word (Acts 2:42, 1 Timothy 2:1, 4:13) Yes, this element is included in the Sermon, but it should not just be during the sermon that the church is reading and praying the Word. There should be other times during the service that the Word of God is read publicly and that the prayers of the Saints are prayed according to the Word. 
4. Living the Word– This is the local body living out the Word during corporate gatherings (not just “go act like a Christian when the services are over”). What I mean is that there are other elements that God says to include in our services that I am classifying here as “living the Word.” So, these elements include:

  • Financial Giving (2 Corinthians 9:6-8) Giving to the church is not just a “good idea” but it’s the duty of Believers! This doesn’t mean you have to “pass the plates” during a service, but it does mean there should be at least a designated area (offering box, etc.) Where the Body can give financially in worship and obedience to Christ.
  • The Lord’s Supper and Baptism (Matthew 28:19, 1 Cor. 11:17-34) These may not actually happen every Sunday but for a healthy church they should be happening on a regular basis.
  • Fellowship (Hebrews 3:12-14, and many others!) This does not mean merely eating (although, I’m down for lunch any time) True fellowship is sharing the truths of Christ with one another. We must constantly be willing to ask how one’s walk with Christ is going and to share what Christ is doing currently in your life.

3. All worship must be God-centered

If we our worship is gospel focused and Word driven we can be sure that this one will more readily fall into place. However, some things still need to be noted here.

There can be a tendency even in gospel focused, word driven services to make things about us. We can too easily drift into making our preferences the priority over God. That might be 'style', dress code, or even preferred length of sermon. 

God is not like us (Psalm 50:21). He is the Triune God of the universe! May we be in awe of Him. Not what we can bring or do in a worship gathering.

4. All worship doesn't merely have vertical aspects but also horizontal

Part of worship is not only glorifying God but also actually serving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. Singing robustly, praying before and during service for one another, and listening attentively to the exposition of the Word are all important aspects of worship not only because they are gospel focused, word driven, and God centered, but also because they help serve one another. Again, look at Colossians 3:16. 

I might also mention here that the gifts of the Spirit are to be used to serve one another (1 Cor. 12). Any use of the gifts that seek to magnify self and not serve the Body are gifts of the wrong spirit. Consider also Hebrews 10:24-26.

5. We can please God in our worship

Ephesians 5:10 says "and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord." When we worship God we don't have to wonder if He is pleased if we are gospel focused, Word driven, God centered, and serving others. God has not left it to us to figure out how to worship Him. He's laid down His desires in Scripture! Will we labor to discern what is pleasing to Him? We don't find this out by what 'feels' right but what the Word says.

So, let us be in the Book. Let us search His Word so that we will have worship that pleases God. It is possible, and sadly too often the case, to have a worship gathering that pleases man, but not God. Let us strive to seek Him according to His rule! And we will find any worship that please God will always be satisfying to the souls of true Believers.

Monday, May 15, 2017

"Are we going the right way!?"

It may not sound all that fancy but we took a Mother's Day drive with our family of 7 in our now maxed out 9 year old dodge minivan on some back roads here in Perry County. It was a fun time of singing, enjoying each other's company, and seeing some of the beautiful scenery that we have almost literally in our backyard. 

Apparently, my kids aren't overly confident in my navigational abilities because several times during our little excursion they asked "Dad, are we lost!?" Hey now! C'mon. Give the old man a little credit. This is where I grew up! I can still get us around. Just enjoy the ride and trust me.

And for the record, no, we didn't get lost one time!

The next day I was amused that my 3 year old's confidence was still (unfairly!) waning as en route to our newborn's checkup she asked several times "Are we going the right way!?" Yes honey, we are going the right way. Daddy knows what he's doing.

Ok, I did make ONE wrong turn this time because I didn't realize we the pediatrician's office had moved!

I do have a point in all of this. When our children are young they may be perceptive enough to ask if parents are leading them in the right physical direction. Are we lost? Are we going the right way? Are you sure dad? But when it comes to spiritual matters they seem to have a lot of confidence in us! They don't often ask us if we are doing the thing or going the right way. They just follow our lead. They assume we know what we are doing. And boy, are they watching us closely.

  • Dad says it's ok to miss church for sports, or hunting, or fishing. I'll follow him. 
  • Mom says this tv show is ok for me to consume. I'll follow her. 
  • My parents don't open the Bible except on Sundays. That works for me too. 
  • The gospel has no real impact on my parent's marriage, or friendships, or lifestyle in general. It must just be some secondary aspect of life. 
Are we going the right way?

The privilege of parenting is a gracious gift isn't it? But along with that comes the high expectation and responsibility the Bible puts on parents. We are to:
  • Teach our children diligently (Deut. 6:7)
  • Raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4) 
  • Train them (Prov. 22:6)
  • Explain spiritual matters to them (Exodus 12:26)
  • Aqquaint them with the Scriptures at a young age (2 Timothy 1:5, 3:14-15)

And these are just a few biblical examples! To what destination does this journey that you're leading your family on lead? Your children are watching you. They are learning from you. What you say and don't say are showing them a picture of who God is. The priorities you put forth for your family are teaching them where your faith really lies. And the road you travel is the same one they will most likely venture down as well. Is it the right way? 

Can your children entrust their souls to your navigational ability? 

What place does the Bible have in your home? Is it the well respected relic that sits on the coffee table but is never used? Or is it the centerpiece of the home that is well read? Is it treasured? Do you treasure it? Your children notice. And more than likely they know the real answer to that question. 

The stakes are high. And in a sense we should feel the weight of the consequences of making a wrong turn every day. But at the same time, don't be so overwhelmed that you're frozen in inaction. When God called you to be a parent, He also equipped you with everything you need to get the job done. No, He really did! He's given you His Word. He's given you His local church. This local body should have a pastor who can help you in this. It should have brothers and sisters to encourage you in this and to hold you accoutable. Furthermore, God has given you the church universal in which many faithful brother and sisters throughout church history have written helpful resources that we can put to use. And most importantly, He's given us His own Son to be crucified for our sin, including the sin of neglecting intentionality in raising our children in the Lord. This doesn't excuse our sin, but it does compel us that we can rest it in Christ! And because of Jesus we can (and must!) repent of it and strive to now be faithful in this area. 

Dads, lead. Moms, if dad is out of the picture or won't step up in this, you lead. Here's an example of family worship here. And here's an excellent sermon from a pastor friend on family worship here. And if you'd like more information or more resources don't hesitate to contact me! May God be glorified in the way we raise our children. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are the children of one's youth (Ps. 127:4)! Use those arrows wisely. May be weapons that the Lord uses to push back the domain of darkness and bring many sons to glory. 

Are you going the right way?

The Rare Jewel of Biblical Observation

Today's post is from my friend Adam Willett. Adam is a husband and father who loves Christ and has a desire to see the gospel advance in our state (Arkansas) and the nation. I am blessed to call Adam a close friend and I know you will be edified by what he has to say. Read and heed! His words below: 

One of the biggest benefits I’ve ever experienced in my Christian life is that of biblical repetition. What I mean is simply reading the Bible over and over again, specifically reading the same passage over and over again. I once heard John MacArthur tell his church of the importance of staying in a specific text and reading it repeatedly. He suggested taking a group of about 5 chapters and reading those everyday for a month. For instance, read the book of Galatians every day for the entire month of May. I was immediately drawn to the idea because of the simplicity of it. I am no biblical scholar and I am certainly no Greek or Hebrew scholar, so I need every help I can get. I started in the book of First John. I read the same five chapters every day for a month. Honestly, I was more engaged with the text that month than I ever had been. The way the Spirit worked through the word was incredible. I continually learned the text and continually found myself asking questions and wanting to know more. There were days when light would shine bright on a text, and I would see things on day 17 that I had not in the previous 16. Repetition helps my weak mind remember and pay attention to the word.
Since I started reading the Bible this way, the Lord has been gracious to reveal more and more of who He is in His word. I’ve since modified how I read the text. Instead of simply reading through a set of chapters daily, now I read through a set of chapters and every day pick one of those chapters to pray through. So, if I were reading through Galatians every day, on Monday I would read all five chapters and then pray chapter 1. On Tuesday I would read all five chapters then pray through chapter 2, and so on. Reading the Bible in this way has been a huge encouragement and has yielded much fruit for meAt one time I would drudge through a passage just trying to get to the end. My goal was quantity and not quality. There is a certain emptiness and despair in reading the Bible that way. It leaves me clinging to self-righteousness – that I had accomplished something by reading the Bible – but left me spiritually wanting more. Reading through the Bible in a year and other ventures of the sort aren’t necessarily bad suggestions, I just believe that repetition is a better, more fruitful way for the Christian who longs to glean from the Holy Scriptures. In fact, I would suggest doing both, but it may take you longer than a year to read the Bible in a year.
This is really not some revolutionary new way to read the Bible. It couldn’t be sold as a new “how to guide.” All it really comes down to is observation. All it really comes down to is spending time in the Word of God and letting the Holy Spirit lead and guide. It is certainly pragmatic. I genuinely believe that a Christian must grow by reading the Bible this way. He has no choice. The Bible is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, right?
     Again, this is not a Bible study program meant to make us scholars. This is simply reading the text and the Spirit showing us things we may normally glance over. I’ve found as I read through several chapters repeatedly, I notice the context of the passage and how each idea fits together. It’s not that I'm looking for context. I haven’t sat down with medical instruments ready to dissect the text. I am just reading and the context shows itself. After several days, the theme of the author is made apparent. I start to understand why Paul said what he said in Galatians 4 and how it relates to his opening chapter. I start seeing his concerns and how the Holy Spirit moved him to use those specific words. I start noticing the same words used often, that tell me of the authors concern and focus. 
     One of the most incredible insights I have gained is seeing the love and concern the author has for the readers. I spent a few months reading through the Thessalonians. After several weeks, it became glaringly obvious that Paul had a deep and caring love for the people of Thessalonica. His words were dripping with love. It wasn’t just one verse that I could pinpoint either, it was chapters and the book as a whole that lead to that conclusion. I don’t think I would have ever really understood that without reading it over and over.  Such knowledge was and is invaluable to me.
     We are not called to be like the teenage pupil in 8am biology class, dozing as the instructor reads through the book. We are called to be paying attention. We are called to see, hear, and obey what is in the text. Read through and notice the imperatives. See how the author focuses on one theme throughout a passage. Don’t just focus on the core verses, like the John 3:16’s, but also read the verses in between. We often scan through passages looking for the verses that would look nice highlighted, but remember that the rest of the text is inspired too. The letters in black are just as inspired and important as those in red. Read both with a thirst for knowing Christ and knowing the God of the Bible.
     And I haven’t even mentioned the benefit of praying through the word. That’s for another article but it is imperative we know and believe that the Holy Spirit of God works through his word. He works both by the reading of His word and by praying through it. 
     Ultimately, if we cherish God's Word, we will want to read it like we would a love letter from our beloved. We would read it over and over and focus on each little word. We would notice how the letters are rounded off a specific way or how they dot their I’s. We would notice the smell and the paper on which it was written. We would fawn over those words like they were more valuable than any precious stone. Well, the scriptures are much more than any love letter and they are more precious that jewels. They tell you of the holy and righteous King of the universe, God Almighty. Dive into those words.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Mutants and their Immutable God

What follows below is a guest post by Eddie Ragsdale, Pastor of First Baptist Church in Marshall, AR. I've known Eddie only 4 years but he has become a dear friend and brother in Christ. I appreciate his pastoral heart and theological insights. Hope you are blessed today from his writing:

Last evening I was watching a science show about genetic modification. In the course of this show there were several interesting topics being discussed such as bioethics and just how expansive an impact these new technologies might be. However, what seemed to stir my thinking the most was an off handed comment about how that we are all 'mutants' and the very important role the ability to mutate is for us to adapt and survive. Now I would of course take a different view of history and origin issues than those on this program. They would clearly have an evolutionary worldview whereas I would have a biblical young earth creationist worldview. But still the fact that there have been mutations in all of our genomes is clear and observable scientific information.

What seemed to be so intriguing to me is the fact that we are mutable. We change! As a matter of fact we are always changing. You are not the same person you used to be. Have you ever had the experience of reconnecting with an old friend that you haven't communicated with in years? Now I know the sappy stories of people picking up where the left off and bonds lasting even through time and separation blah blah blah. But my personal experience has been that even close friends I once had are almost strangers after years of separation because we have both changed so much. As a matter of fact I think that's healthy. I mean if you can pick right up with someone from twenty years ago with out any problem, what have you been doing for twenty years? Personal growth and life experiences should change us. I'm not even sure if I could relate very well to myself from twenty years ago. The fact is all this change can be both exciting and terrifying.

So what's the point, why am I writing all of this? Well, I was drawn into thinking about this whole subject of our mutability because that word 'mutable' made me also think about the word 'immutable'. Now it would be a tragedy if we were immutable because we need to grow and develop. A child that didn't grow and develop would quickly be found deficient for the next stage of life. The fact is we need to change because we as imperfect beings need to get better; we need to improve. Our current state simply isn't good enough. So immutability would be a bad thing for us.

However, there is One who is immutable! The Bible says that God does not change. "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). Now while it would be a bad thing for fallen imperfect beings like us to be immutable, it is an altogether great thing for a holy, righteous and perfect triune God to be immutable. Actually, in a universe filled with so much expansion and change the only reason that we can know anything is because God who has made and continues to hold all things together is unchanging. If our God could change or did change then everything we think we know could change. All of our understanding of matter and science is built on the idea that there are absolute laws that must exist in the universe. These laws depend on God and if He changed then they could change. However, even more important than any of these physical things is the reality that if God changed then we would have no confident hope in His promises. We can trust God's promises and His amazing work of redemption because He does not change! So much more could be discussed here: the immutability of His word or of His will or of His ways. But for the moment let us marvel at His glorious immutability. I might add also let us as sinners take full advantage of our mutability by repenting of our sins and putting our settled trust in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Was Acts 2 the first Altar Call?

Peter's Sermon in Acts 2

In my discussion on Altar Calls, I had some interaction with a brother on Facebook who disagreed with my take. He said this:

"I fail to see how an altar call is in itself substantially different than what happened at Pentecost."

Well, then. Was Acts 2 an Altar Call? I don't think one can really build such a case. Here are some very important differences:

1. No one was told to come forward in Acts -

They weren't invited up front. They weren't asked to close their eyes and lift their hands. They were commanded to repent and believe the gospel. 

2. No music was played

Often music is employed as a way of setting the 'mood'. There was not 'invitation hymn' in Acts 2.

3. v.37 - The Holy Spirit moved upon the hearers, not Peter's manipulation

The hearers are actually the ones who initiate the response to the sermon, not Peter! They cry out "What must we do!?" I'm telling you, that would be simultaneously startling and amazing if someone stood up during a sermon I preached and cried out "What must I do to be saved!?"

4. No one was told to pray a prayer or led in a prayer or to recite a prayer -

This is the end game of altar calls. Get the sinner to recite a prayer and then tell them that if they really meant it, they are saved. That's not anywhere close to Acts 2 methodology. Peter commands his hearers to repent and believe the gospel. 

Furthermore, he testifies to God's prerogative and sovereignty in salvation saying that "promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.

5. The gospel was preached, they were told what to do, and it was left to them and God what would happen

Peter simultaneously calls the hearers to repent while letting them know that God must be calling them. Again, as I said in a previous post, we can't close the deal. That's the Lord's work in the sinner.

6. There was no concept of 'this prayer is the beginning of a relationship with God'  

That's problematic theologically on a few levels. We have to see that the initiating work of salvation is not our response but what God has already done in Christ and His application of that in real time by the Holy Spirit when He draws us. The point here being that one's calling on Christ is not what prompts God to begin a saving relationship. 

7. Because of the culture we've been raised in, I think we actually see people in Acts 2 "coming forward". 

I've heard men preach on Acts 2 who actually seem to think that's how it went down. This is a misunderstanding of not only the situation of Peter's preaching but also the point of the text as well.

The point being in all of this that Acts 2 is most assuredly not a proof text for altar calls. However, it is an amazingly beautiful encouragement of the power of God in the gospel and His willingness to save sinners! So, let us rest in that. Let's proclaim the gospel from the rooftops and compel all men without distinction to come to Christ in repentance and faith. Let us extol the mercies of God in Christ and share them the glories of the gospel and the reality of the wrath that remains upon them if they refuse to bow the knee to King Jesus. Trust in the work of God in the hearts of sinners, not in our ability to extend an Altar Call.

Keep laboring brothers.