Saturday, December 31

Hope for the Happi-less Pt. 2

Some of you may be wondering if I've become a disciple of Norman Vincent Peale, the father of modern-day evangelicalism's infatuation with positive thinking and it's power. You remember his theory of "if you think good thoughts, good things will happen to you."

Well, I don't agree with Norman Vincent Peale or his disciple, "The Hour of Power's" own Robert Schuller. In fact I would be an adamant opponent of this kind of thinking and theology. So, what are my intentions (the same question my wife's father asked about 12 years ago!)?

Let me explain with two personal examples of my tendency toward cynicism!

Example 1 ... My response to the tsunami in Southeastern Asia on December 26, 2004: Yep...God is judging all those Muslims. That region of Asia is arguably the darkest spiritual region of the world...and the tsunami is God's way of getting even with them.

Example 2 ... My response to Hurricane Katrina ravaging New Orleans on August 29: Yep (again) ... God is judging America's version of Sodom and Gomorrah. With all that revelry and promiscuity they call Mardi Gras, God's judgment was sure to come, and it did in the form of a category 3 hurricane.

So, how did I view these disasters through my theological eyeglasses? I simply felt that "THIS IS WHAT THESE PEOPLE DESERVE." Cities were ravaged, people were swept away, children lost their parents and their lives...and my response was, "Well, that's God's judgment on their sinfulness...these are such sinful places...what has happened shouldn't surprise us."

This is cynicism at its best (or worst). You see, cynicism exploits our pride (or maybe reveals it). Now for the translation of what I really was saying...

"I sure am glad I'm not like one of those Muslims...or New Orleans residents. Those Muslims are always building bombs and blowing up trains and planes. And New Orleans is such a wicked place filled with such wicked practices. Lord, those people are such great sinners...good thing I'm not."

Do you realize who I sounded like? You got it...the Pharisees. Cynicism, causticism and criticism cause us to sound more like a pharisee than like Jesus. So, what has God taught me from these experiences?

He has taught me that my cynicism is the result of thinking I know why God does what He does. Paul reminds us in Romans 11:34, "For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor?"

Do I know why God ordained a tsunami for Southeastern Asia rather than Africa, where spiritism rules? Do I understand why God ordained a hurricane for New Orleans and spared Las Vegas and St. Louis? I cannot know God's reasons, nor could I ever begin to understand them.

Here's my hope (dare I say "resolutions") for a happier 2006. By God's grace I will...

1) Remember what I, as a sinner, deserve rather than focusing on what others because of their sin, deserve.

2) Understand that God's reasons for doing what He does in heaven and earth are beyond my comprehension.

3) Show compassion rather than judgment toward all who are suffering, regardless of whether it is what they may deserve.

Next I will consider the apparent dilemma between happiness and holiness. And Lord-willing, the world will look a little different from my window next year!

1689 Baptist Confessional on Free Will

What a wonder it is to study church history in light of many of our modern day practices. In the modern day movement of evangelism if one is not careful we make ourselves to be the final determining factor in regards to the conversion of a lost person. When talking about the doctrines of grace with others who have not been exposed to its teaching or just vehemently deny them all together we are usually confronted with the question of - "Hasn't God given all of us a free will?" My answer is always - Yes! However, we must look at free will in a Scriptural sense and not in a rational sense that man attemtps to make of it.

Take a look at the Second London Baptist Confessional on the subject of free will. You can read it here. It has been mindboggling over the past several months looking over several Baptist confessionals from the past. What has been the most profound discovery is that many of the Baptists from over a hundred years ago had a completely different idea about evangelism and soteriology and perhaps even eschatology that we have today. I'm afraid that we have become so pragmatic in our "results driven" evangelism that we have taken the sole power away from God Himself who is ultimately the one who brings a lost person to faith and repentance through the work of regeneration (which comes first).

May our evangelism be completely focused on God's glory alone!

Thursday, December 29

Hope for the Happi-less

I've grown to appreciate Dan Edelen over at Cerulean Sanctum. Although we may disagree over the cessation/continuation issue (maybe semantics?), I have been greatly blessed by Dan's uncanny ability to lovingly confront me through my computer screen, without ever addressing me...or even knowing me!

This post hit me where I tend to dwell quite often...in the "Cellar of Cynicism!"

As Christians we are too often stricken with the cynicism bug. We become caustic, critical, and overly confrontational in our thinking and attitudes. And worse, we sometimes pride ourselves in being this way! Why? Because we tend to think "holiness" necessitates this kind of attitude.

So, can we truly enjoy the life to which God has called us when we live in such a godless world? Doesn't the call to discernment lead us to cynicism? And is it really possible to be holy and happy? How would you answer these questions?

Check back soon for further discussion. I really expect you will, because to think otherwise would be...well...you know c_ _ _ cal!

Early Baptist Confessional on Sanctification

The London Baptist Confessional (1689) very eloquently talks about the very same subject that Ken blogged on earlier today. You can read it here.

This will, I believe, confirm Ken's conclusion that sanctification is totally a work of God and something that we cannot attain to with our own strength, will power, or determination. Let us know what you think.

How Does Progressive Sanctification Work?

This has been a great debate in "fundamentalism" since the founding of the movement nearly a century ago. Mike even alluded to it in his personal testimony yesterday. So, is our Christian growth the result of our effort (this would tend to be the Arminian view) or God's grace (this would tend to be the Calvinistic view)?

How we answer this will greatly affect the way that we teach and preach and counsel God's people from His Word. My concern is that we have made (modern day Christianity in general) progressive sanctification the result of human effort rather than God's grace. If we can't save ourselves, can we sanctify ourselves? I think we would all agree the answer to be "NO". So, the question is "how much of sanctification is our part (commitment) and how much is God's part (grace)?"

I believe "moralistic" (follow these rules, do these things, don't do these things...and these will bring growth) teaching and preaching leads to frustration rather than growth in a believer. I believe the gospel not only saves us but is the power by which we are sanctified as well. Consider these passages...

John 15:5, "Without Me, you can do nothing." Not a little, not a lot, NOTHING! Apart from God's grace, we bear no fruit!

Philippians 2:12-13, "Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." WE DO RIGHT ONLY BECAUSE OF WHAT GOD WILLS FOR US AND DOES IN US -- THIS IS GRACE!

1 Co 15:10, "But by the grace of God I am what I am and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me." Notice the present tense here, "by the grace of God I AM WHAT I AM." Paul is not speaking of something that's happened in the past (he does later in the verse), but something that is true now!

This is (at least in part) the hope of the Gospel...God is able to finish what He starts. Jesus' resurrection proves this, and this is the power that's working in our lives through His Spirit! I believe we are saved by God's grace AND sanctified by God's grace. Let's proclaim this truth, it's God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure! Praise God for His sanctifying grace!

"Revolution" Hardly Equals Reformation

Kevin Miller who writes for Christianity Today and is also a deacon at the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton Illinois has written a review or more like a critique of George Barna's new book - "Revolution". You can read it here. More than likely you will be reading many critiques of this book in the coming weeks so mine will be just one of many.

This is just one of many attacks that the unenlightened world has made on the local church. What a colossial mistake to say that we can be in God's will and not be in a local church! This has not only made inroads in the secular community but it has also spelled out for those who do go to solid Bible-believing evangelical churches a more shallow view of church membership and commitment. For many who go to evangelical churches their attendance and faithfulness often takes a back seat to sports, television, leisure time, golf, sleep, or from the sounds of this book, Bible studies, small groups, and seeking the Lord on your own time. It seems as though that Barna has concluded that the church has failed. That would be an all out misrepresentation of the facts!

If you recall in church history going all the way back to the book of Acts that the Gospel propelled people into local churches. The same is true with the Reformers, and those involved with the Great Awakening. At the very heart of the Gospel is the regeneration of a dead sinner who is now made a new creation in Christ. At the very heart of the local church is the centrality of the Gospel and our continual need of God's grace, fellowship and accountability with other believers, corporate worship, believer's baptism, the Lord's Table (together as a community of believers - I'm not sure how you would incorporate that outside the context of a local church), the preaching and teaching of God's Word, and evangelism.

What Barna has failed to realize is that as far as the local church is concerned, the need for revolution is not needed, rather a need to stay true to God's Revelation and subsequently we can have a much needed reformation!

Be sure to check out this article and let us know what you think.....

Wednesday, December 28

The Difference Between the Church and the Lottery?

Evidently not much, at least in this church.

So, why not use "gimmicks" like these to get non-Christians to enter our doors and hear the gospel? Well, according to Jesus...

Luke 19:46, "...It is written My house is the house of prayer: but you have made it a den of thieves."

When the house of God (the church) is transformed into a retail center (regardless of the reason), God's honor and glory are displaced by man's own selfish drives. So, what's the result? Evangelism? Hardly!

Here's what still works today... Romans 10:17, "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

What our churches need today is Christ-centered preaching rather than man-centered gimmicks. True hope is still found in Christ, not a new home or motorcycle.

I wonder what these people think heaven will be like?

Spiritual Anniversary

Fourteen years ago tomorrow will mark my spiritual anniversary. As a seventeen year old young and confused teenager I went to church for about the third or fourth time in my life. I personally believe that the work of regeneration happened before I actually went to church that morning. My good friend had already shared the Gospel with me and God had already been working in my life for several months if not years. Though I am not a fan at all of the modern day "invitation" I am one of those that did go forward under the compulsion of the evangelist who pointed me out as the only one who raised his hand about not being sure that heaven was his home when he died. So in my t-shirt and blue jeans I walked forward and prayed the prayer. My whole purpose for going to church that morning was to "get saved". I had heard the Gospel a few times before that and my heart was ready to receive God's wonderful gift of grace. Looking back, there is no doubt that this time fourteen years ago was totally according to God's perfect plan and good pleasure and had nothing to do with my own doing.

The church that I was brought up in spiritually was your a-typical independent Baptist, KJVO, no pants or britches on women, pray this prayer Baptist church. Though I am eternally grateful for what I learned there and the friendships that God enabled me to have there I became fully aware of the dangers of the legalism and shallow theological teachings that have crept into much of modern day fundamentalism. I would say that the first 7 or 8 years after my conversion I lived in constant fear and guilt over side issues that were often preached as bedrock foundational truths. After spending several years at a fundamentalist institution that is claiming that it baptized over 25,000 people this past year I broke away from much of the tradition that I was embedded in for all of my life as a Christian. A few years later, I would be introduced to the wonderful Doctrines of Grace that have completely revolutionized how I look at evangelism and conversion. Many of our counterparts would say that those of us who believe in the Doctrines of Grace (a.k.a. Calvinism) are not involved in evangelism and have no reason to zealously reach others for Christ. I BEG TO DIFFER! I take great comfort in the fact that God has an elect that will be saved and knowing that with the spread of the Gospel there are those who will be saved because God has chosen a people to be saved accroding to His good pleasure. Not believing totally in God's sovereignty in all things including conversion from my perspective belittles God into nothing more than a mere by-standard who is dependent upon our faithfulness and obedience to accomplish His will. The God that I read about in Scripture is much bigger than that my friend.

The more I study about conversion and God's sovereign grace the more I rejoice about the fact that God had chosen before the foundation of the world to have Mike Hess be His child according to His good pleasure. I still have many friends that are in what I would call the "Sword of the Lord" persuasion of fundamentalism. I can sincerely appreciate their zeal to reach souls (of which I share) and the strong stand that so many of them have taken over the years. But overall, I think that much harm has been done to the cause of Christ over the past hundred years or so with the implimentation of evanglistic methods that are totally man-centered and focus on emotionalism and mental manipulation rather than the Holy Spirit and God's grace. I also grieve over the man-centered view of growing in grace. I personally experienced the harm of believing that it was actually within my own power and grasp to live the Christian life by keeping a long check list of man made rules that did nothing more than seek the approval of man rather than God.

Galatians 1:10 - "For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I still striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ." - NASB

From the sound of God's Word - if we are seeking to please man then we have basically disqualified ourself from being a true servant of Jesus Christ. May all of us have as our heart's desire today to be pleasing to our wonderful Savior and captivated by His wonderful grace that not only saved us but also secures us and sanctifies us!

2 Cor. 5:9 - "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him."

I am often convicted when I think back to the zeal and fire that I had soon after my conversion. By God's grace I can honestly say that I absolutely love preaching Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and risen again as much as I ever have. What a privilege it is to be in His ministry, to preach His inerrant Word, and to reach others with His Gospel!

Tuesday, December 27

A Day with Abraham Lincoln

Today is a day I will not soon forget...I spent it with President Abraham Lincoln at the Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois. Oh, and my wife and in-laws accompanied me through this historian's paradise.

For those who do not know, I possess a rabid interest in the Civil War era. President Lincoln, of course, was the most influential figure of this period (my others would include Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Joshua Chamberlain).

So, today, I was in "history heaven." This 200,000 square foot state-of-the-art facility brought history to life. After 4 hours, I walked out the front door feeling as if I had spent the day with the President. Honestly, this was an amazing experience. The exhibits were more than interesting (the White House exhibit takes you from Lincoln's election through the political cartoons; from the death of a son in the White House to the day he revealed the "Emancipation Proclamation" to his cabinet; from the floor of the Ford's Theatre to the House of Representatives where the President is lying in state), the history was accurate (no revisionist history here) and honest (Lincoln was not popular while he was living), and the theatre presentations were incredible.

Now for what I learned during my time with one of America's greatest presidents...

1) Many blacks were not impressed with Lincoln's "Emancipation Proclamation" which they viewed as nothing more than a simple political maneuver.

2) Because of the turmoil in America during his presidency, Lincoln endured much personal and political hardship. You can see the pain in his rapidly aging face just prior to his assassination in April of 1865.

3) John Wilkes Booth was the most popular romantic actor in America at the time he murdered President Lincoln. This man was also a merciless white supremacist.

My advice to every historian, every politician, and every red-blooded American...a trip to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is a MUST! This experience will leave you as it has me, with a renewed appreciation and affection for our 16th President; a man of great wisdom, great conviction and great resolve. And spending the day with him has made me want to be a better man...and a better pastor!

Thank you, Mr. President, for letting me spend the day with you...I now see what the world looked like through your window!

Narnia Review

I first began reading C.S. Lewis about five years ago beginning with the apologetic masterpiece "Mere Christianity". I would also be the first to admit that I loathe reading fiction or allegorical novels with the exception of the classic "Pilgrim's Progress". But Lewis had the rare gift of being able, in a very unique way, to tie in the message of redemption with the uniqueness of his allegorical style of writing.

"The Chronicles of Narnia - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe" opened about two weeks ago with a large endorsement from the evangelical community. So it goes without saying I had on my agenda going to the theatre to see this for myself. I had also been encouraged by many close and respected friends to go and see this.

So what is my review of this? Having never read the books that the movie was based on I am well aware that I am at a disadvantage. Even with the touch of Disney's magic the movie maintains the allegorical message of redemption, substitutionary atonement, the resurrection, and forgiveness. I am not saying that the message of the Gospel is crystal clear but the underlying truth is still there. The special effects were very impressive as well. Without spilling all of the beans (so to speak) the battle scene at the end is very impressive. The movie also does a good job of conveying the message of good verses evil and with the allurement of evil being very seductive and strong. Also, the message of the consequences of evil is there as well. The young actors who played the four children were in my opinion very well played.

Would I take the whole church as an outreach activity to go and see this movie? Perhaps not. However, I do feel that this would be a helpful tool for those who take an interest in a more clearer understanding of the whole underlying message of redemption being laid out in a clear allegorical sense. Overall I would give the movie four stars out of five - nicely done and would be a good flick to watch!

Monday, December 26

Monday's Musings

After a few days of time off, no schedules and lots of family time...I guess it's time to get back at it. Therefore I post again. I trust each of you had a Merry and Christ-centered Christmas.

Here is the conclusion to last week's Monday Musings. It is my prayer that the Lord will use these devotional thoughts to draw you closer to Himself. So, again, here is the view from my window...on A Christmas Love Story (pt. 2).
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WHAT GOD’S LOVE DOES IN US

God’s love enables His children to risk much in radical obedience to Him! The Christmas account is full of people who risked much in radical obedience to God. Not only did Mary and Joseph risk much, so did the shepherds and the wise men!

The shepherds are my favorite characters in the Christmas account! These guys were nobodies. Being a shepherd was not a noble profession. And it was a 24/7 job. There were no days off for shepherds. Not only did their jobs stink, their sheep stank! The local want ads were full of “shepherd opportunities.” They probably read something like this…

Come to a hillside outside of Bethlehem and pursue your childhood dream, watching and counting sheep! This opportunity has a great upside, You get to spend all your time with your clients (your sheep) and no time with your family! And there are added perks…you don’t have to brush your teeth, you’ll never have to mow the pasture, and you’ll get a great tan! Come and join the Bethlehem Shepherd’s Union…the experience is simply “a-grazing!”

You see, when you weren’t qualified to do anything else, you could always be a shepherd.

And yet when God chose to announce to the world what was happening in that Bethlehem stable, He informed these guys! He chose to give these “nobody” shepherds (we don’t even know their number or names) the responsibility of spreading the news to the world. You talk about excitement…these guys had never seen angels before. And they had never left their sheep before (the middle of the night is when the sheep were most vulnerable to attack). And although they had watched many lambs born, this night they witnessed The Lamb’s birth! And as far as Scripture details, these nameless shepherds were the only guys to witness Jesus with the wet hair and the wrinkly rosy-red skin of a newborn!

And then what did they do? They proclaimed the news of Jesus birth (Luke 2:17)! Even the simple shepherds had a story to tell…the story of God’s love for them…for they had seen Jesus! It was just like the angel had told them, “Unto them was born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

So, let us, like these shepherds, be convinced of our God’s radically unconditional love for us. And let this fact motivate us to, like these same shepherds, risk much for the cause of Christ!

It’s unlikely that you’ve heard of George Atley. I hadn’t either until a few weeks ago. George Atley was killed while serving as a missionary with the Central African Mission. There were no witnesses, but the evidence indicates that Atley was confronted by a band of hostile tribesmen. He was carrying a fully loaded, 10-chamber Winchester rifle and had to choose either to shoot his attackers and run the risk of negating the work of the mission in that area, or not to defend himself and be killed. When his body was later found in a stream, it was evident that he had chosen the latter. Nearby lay his rifle…all 10 chambers still loaded.

George Atley’s life and death points us all to Jesus, who, Himself, gave up much to come and give life to those who believe! 2 Corinthians 8:9, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich.”

So, why would Jesus, the King of Glory, give up He kingly perks and possessions, for this, a manger and a cross? Because He knew His Father loved Him!!! John 17:23 (ESV), “…that the world may know that You have sent Me and loved them even as You have loved Me.”

So, let us be convinced of our Father’s eternal and unconditional love for us. Mary and Joseph and the shepherds were convinced, as was George Atley. And so these Christians were willing to risk much for the sake of Christ.

This is the story of Jesus, the greatest love story ever told! It’s more than a story about a manger; it’s the story of a cross (Romans 5:8)! This is love…and this is Christmas!

Saturday, December 24

Does Eschatology Equal An Essential?

A new interview out from 9Marks Ministries with C.J. Mahaney (Sovereign Grace Ministries), R. Albert Mohler (President Southern Seminary), Ligon Duncan (1st Presbyterian Church of Jackson MS) and Mark Dever (Pastor of CHBC Washington D.C.) covers this issue as well as the whole "cooperative" issue with other evangelicals. You can listen to it here.

I was most intrigued by the question that I believe Mohler asked as to whether we would have someone preach in our church who could not join our church due to a polity issue. That was a great question! One that I think should be pondered by many of us who are currently sifting our way through many of the "secondary separation" issues that are not going to go away in the near future.

It was also interesting to take note of the fact that many of our Baptist forefathers made cooperation with serious evangelicals in the past an imperative and open thing whereas today it has become somewhat "anathema" to even think of having a paedobaptist lead in prayer much less preach for us(this was based on some past baptist confessionals - it would be of great benefit for all of us as baptists to take a renewed interest and look at these).

I will be blogging on this more in the near future but for now I would like to focus on eschatology. Does this need to be an issue that we would separate over? Or, why has this become such a divisive issue as of late? For starters, I think that all of us can agree that there are many things about the future concerning our Lord's return that we are uncertain about. And to go a step further, we can also say that there are a number of verses and passages that we would all disagree and agree on that can be taken both literally and figuratively. With all of that being said I think that we can also agree that it would be a stretch to call someone a "heretic" or "apostate" simply because of their eschatological persuasion when they hold firmly to the rest of the orthodoxical truths that Scripture is so clear on.

I would be the first to say that the major doctrines of God's Word (e.g. the Virgin birth, the sinless life of Christ, His incarnation, His attesting miracles, the atonement, a literal heaven and hell, inerrancy of Scripture, and a bodily and physical resurrection) are all imperatives. I would also go so far to say that if one denies any one of these it would declassify that person in my mind as being a true biblical Christian. However, would we go so far as to say that if one has a different persuasion concerning eschatology that we would make it an imperative to break fellowship or cooperation with them? Or better yet, does eschatology distract from a clear presentation of the Gospel??? I think not!

Take some time and listen to this interview and I pray that it will shed some light on what I am attempting to convey.

A Christmas Meditation on the Incarnation

This Christmas, as I have reflected on the glory and beauty of the incarnation, I have been drawn to a New Testament meditation in Hebrews 2:5-18 (ESV)...

5
Now it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking. 6 It has been testified somewhere,

“What is man, that you are mindful of him,
or the son of man, that you care for him?
7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels;
you have crowned him with glory and honor,
8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.”

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. 9 But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

10 For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. 11 For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, 12 saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”

13 And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.”

14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

_____________________________

What a wonder...that the Lord of this universe took on human flesh. What a wonder...that in doing so, He became the Captain of Salvation in bringing His followers to glory. What a wonder...that He is not ashamed to call us brothers. What a wonder...that Christ in His death, defeated the devil so that we would no longer fear death. What a wonder...that He would become like us in order to be a merciful (praise God!!) and faithful High Priest. What a wonder...that God Himself would take on human flesh in order to make propitiation for the sins of His people (and to do so without compromising His holiness). What a wonder...that when we're tempted we can find strength in the One, who like us was tempted (yet without sin).

May the Lord bless you and yours as you celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 23

Reflections From A Last Minute Christmas Shopper

Procrastination is the best word that describes my shopping habits during the Christmas season. So last night my wife Christina and I spent a great evening ALONE (which does not happen often) and spent several hours at the materialistic shrine that our world calls the "mall". So we suffered through the long lines, full parking lots, crowded stores, and nervous shoppers. I must admit that my children do very well on Christmas morning as far as gifts go. With very generous and loving church people and grandparents my children never need to worry about getting a plethora of gifts. But there is a struggle. The main battle that I was facing in my mind last night while purchasing item after item was - "How am I teaching my children to treasure Christ above all things with these gifts that I am buying them?"

Tedd Tripp in his book "Shepherding a Child's Heart" does a wonderful job clarifying our role as parents as God's agents and ordained authorities in our children's lives. Tripp also reflects that balance between discipline, time, spiritual upbringing, and actually listening to our children. This book uses Scripture as its foundation and not as its crutch like many of the "Dobsonesque" books that are out there today that build self-esteem rather than Christ-centered thinking. With that being said I truly believe that our Christmas gifts that are given can instill into our children a heart of gratitude, generosity, and sacrificial giving.

Are my children and many of the children in America spoiled? In comparison with the fact that the vast majority of children in this country live far better than 95% of the rest of the world then the answer would be yes. Nevertheless, the fact remains that even in the midst of incredible temptations to succomb to the cheap and fake gods that our world tries to offer us to dethrone the true and living God from the throne of our hearts we can still have Christ as our ultimate treasure during this time of year. If you recall, the early believers in the book of Acts used their possessions to draw them closer to the Lord and to become more effective for Christ. With that being said, all of us have far more than we deserve as hell-deserving sinners who must constantly keep ourselves at the foot of the cross. May the fakeness and imitations that this world offers us during this time of year not divert us from the real truth of the Virgin born Christ-child who came to die for those who would be redeemed.

Thursday, December 22

A Taste of Reality from the Prayer of Jabez

According to this Wall Street Journal article, Bruce Wilkinson (formerly of Walk Thru The Bible Ministries and the author of the bestselling The Prayer of Jabez), who had set out to minister to children of AIDS infected parents in Swaziland, has returned home without seeing his dream realized.

Dan Edelen over at Cerulean Sanctum has an interesting (and accurate) take on the Wilkinson story.

Having read Jabez through twice, I wonder how this setback will put a damper on Wilkinson's "prosperity theology?" Maybe, just maybe, God wants us to come to the realization that Jabez, in asking the Lord to "enlarge my territory," was referring to spiritual rather than material blessings.

This, most certainly is a subject I would do well to ponder...especially as I look at all those gifts under the tree...and begin to count up the ones that are for ME! So, rather than being too critical of Mr. Wilkinson, I would do well to humbly recall the times God has taught me a difficult lesson...and to praise Him for it!

My own selfish tendencies are what I see from my window today!

Wednesday, December 21

Why A Wife Should Read What Her Husband Writes

Victoria Osteen, wife of Pastor Joel Osteen (pastor of the largest congregation in America, Lakewood Church in Houston) was asked Tuesday to leave a plane bound for Vail, CO. You can read about it here.

Joel, who is also the author of the bestseller, Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps To Living Your Full Potential, believes that faithfulness to God produces "God's favor"...such as faster seating in restaurants, better parking places, and exemptions from an airline's baggage policy (he records a personal example of this in his book).

Hmm...maybe a wife should've read her husband's book!!!!

I wonder what the world looked like through the window of that plane?!!

Barbara Walters on Heaven???

The temptation was too much to bear. I just had to watch and see how the secular media would put their anti-Scriptural spin on the doctrine of Heaven. And of all the people to do a special on this - the left leaning Barbara Walters! The characterizations were not surprising to say the least but I found myself scratching my head as to the people that Walters had interviewed.

In the spirit of political correctness Walters proceded to interview those from all faiths - Roman Catholicism, Muslim, Buddhism, Celebrities (who knows what they believe), and one evangelical (NAE President Ted Haggard). With liberal fury Walters proceded to back Haggard into a corner and ask the point blank question of "If one does not accept Jesus Christ as Savior they cannot enter Heaven?" Kudos to Haggard for his candid and Scriptural answer "That is correct" (this is not an all out endorsement of Haggard or his church). One of the most amusing answers came from the Washington D.C. Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick who commented that Heaven is what we want it to be and our resurrected bodies will be exactly how we want them to look (a far cry from the Scriptural resurrected body that will be raised in the likeness of Christ). The muslim expert gave us no surprises when be proclaimed that Heaven will be full of sex, young women, silk sheets, and eating galore. I must confess, that I could only bear watching this for about 30 minutes before I became sick to my stomach with all of these misrepresentations of what Heaven will really be like. The interesting part came when Walters asked various "religious leaders" what one has to do in order to get there. Being a "good person" (though according to what standard was never really mentioned) was the overwhelming mandate given by the majority of the leaders interviewed.

So what is the point of all of this? The sad fact of the matter is that most Christians have a totally misconceived idea of Heaven as being a place of pure fleshly indulgence that does nothing more than provide us with all of our earthly and coveteous wants and desires. Even Haggard made the comment that "Heaven is a place where you can eat all that you want to and not get fat." As if being in good physical shape is the chief goal of man. Basically, Heaven is all about what you want - an all inclusive paid vacation with all of the amenities. So, for the evangelical Christian what is the best part about Heaven? The best part about Heaven is same thing that is the best part about the Gospel, Scripture, godly living, prayer, evangelism, giving, and growing in grace - the Lord Jesus Christ! We will no longer have our fallen desires of the flesh and will only want to praise and delight in Him alone!!! Christ is what makes salvation so glorious and He is the one who will make Heaven so wonderful as well. When we look in Scripture we find those who had a small glimpse of the Shekinah Glory taken back and made aware of their own sinfulness immediately (e.g. Isa. 6 and Rev. 1). Heaven is not about us at all, but totally centrally focused on Jesus Christ and the redemption that He provided totally out of His grace according to His good pleasure.

Sadly, even in the realm of evangelical Christianity we have made Heaven the central subject of the Gospel instead of Jesus Christ. When many Christians are asked about Heaven they love to reply that they have "asked Jesus into their hearts", "prayed a prayer", "walked an aisle", or "signed a card". The Gospel is so much more than that!!! Through the work of regeneration, God has actually imparted to us new life according to His good pleasure and pre-ordained plan and out of no merit or works whatsoever that we have mustered up on our own. In many circles, Heaven is the end all instead of Christ Himself. The best part of redemption is reconciliation with a just and holy God who grants His grace on undeserving sinners who are totally and completely unable to save themselves. What a glorious truth!

An Interesting Take On The Commercialization Of Christmas

Gene Veith, of WORLD Magazine and Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals fame, takes a "counter-intuitive" (according to Justin Taylor) approach to all the lights and trimmings of the Christmas season!

You can read what Mr. Veith has to say...it will cause you to think...even if you don't agree with his conclusions!

I'm not sure what this looks like from my window! But I am, at this moment, listening to Bing Crosby sing Christmas music...and I love the way our living room looks all decorated up for Christmas...and I put lights on the house this year. Commercialization? Not me, I'm a pastor (and not the least bit amused by the church growth movement's "commercialization of the church")! Certainly not me. And "celebrate"...is this really a good thing for a Baptist pastor?

Well, bring on the eggnog. I love the Christmas season (and the trees, the trimmings, and the last minute trips to WalMart...I need to make a couple). As Christians, we must celebrate this season well. For in doing so, we make much of the true reason behind the season (the first advent and coming second advent of our Savior). Won't a lack of doing so play into the hands of those who want to do away with any mention or celebration of Christmas?

I wonder if the commercialization of Christmas looks different from your window...

Tuesday, December 20

Signing an Ordination Certificate

While talking with a pastor friend of mine some time ago I was told of a refusal from one of the council members to sign an ordination certificate due to a disagreement with an issue concerning soteriology. While I can respect an honest disagreement over an issue that theologians have been debating for centuries I have to scratch my head in wonder asking myself as to why he would refuse to sign the certificate because of a disagreement (I believe the disagreement was over definite redemption). Last time I checked, an ordination was simply an opportunity to convey what he believes and to defend his position. It also gives the candidate a chance to perhaps ask questions of the council if he is not well versed in a particular subject.

This is not to say that I would sign a certificate of a theological liberal who denies the inerrancy of Scripture, Christ's deity, His miracles, His death, burial, resurrection, and triumphant return. However, to say that someone is unfit for the ministry because of an honest disagreement would be to say the least a bit presumptious and narrow minded.

Welcome Pastor Mike Hess

Mike Hess has joined "The World From Our Window" team. I eagerly welcome him. You, too, will come to appreciate Mike's wisdom and insight into God's Word and Theology. You can read his first post here... Getting from Point A to Point B.

Thanks, Mike, for joining me...I look forward to looking at the world through your window, too!

Getting from Point A to Point B

Mark Dever (of 9Marks Ministries) stated once - "If your church is not accustomed to doing church discipline then do not start right now, it can be one of the most harmful things that you could do to your church". All of us can agree that our churches are not exactly where we would like them to be at this point. This is a broad brush that paints across a myriad of areas, but I'll just name a few.

1. The commitment level - this would include attendance, giving, service, and spiritual maturity.

2. Evangelism - this area of growth is an imperative for every church no matter how healthy we are in this area.

3. Prayer - do our churches really pray? Do we set aside times when we corporately and privately pray over the needs of others and our church?

4. Church discipline - this is the great forgotten New Testament command that went by the wayside near the end of the 20th Century.

This is far from an exhaustive list but nevertheless gives us an idea of the major areas that we need to work on for the most part.

So what is the solution? The same solution that has always worked - the PREACHING OF THE WORD! But not only the expositional preaching of God's Word.....but also a strong emphasis on the Gospel. With the plethora of "church growth" books that are sitting on bookshelves across our country there are very few that still insist on the centrality of the Gospel and the power of God-centered preaching. Not only a preaching of the Word, but also a dependence upon God's grace. Many of us have experienced the frustration of keeping certain do's and dont's attempting to achieve God's favor. The travesty behind that is a total misunderstanding of man's fallen nature and the inability of man to achieve God's approval through man made traditions that nullify the grace of God.

Why Did Mary and Joseph Name Their Baby Jesus?

Philip Ryken, from Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia reports the following...

According to a recent report in the London Times, "A Christian charity is sending a film about the Christmas story to every primary school in Britain after hearing of a young boy who asked his teacher why Mary and Joseph had named their baby after a swear word. The Breakout Trust raised 200,000 pounds to make the 30-minute film, It's a Boy. Steve Legg, head of the charity, said: 'There are over 12 million children in the UK and only 756,000 of them go to church regularly'."
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This young primary school boy asks a great theological question (don't get excited, it has nothing to do with swearing)! "Why did Mary and Joseph name their baby Jesus?" Well, Scripture gives us at least three reasons.

Matthew 1:20-22 (the angel of the Lord speaking to Joseph in a dream), "...Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is concieved in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet (Isaiah)." (ESV)

Luke 1:30-31 (the angel Gabriel speaking to Mary), "...Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have foundfavor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus." (ESV)

Reason #1: Because they were commanded by God to name Him Jesus. So, the naming of this baby was for Mary and Joseph, an obedience issue. They were commanded to name this baby Jesus...and they obeyed. Sounds rather simple, doesn't it?

Reason #2: Because, according to the divine revelation Mary and Joseph had received, this baby (by His sacrificial death) would save His people from their sins (see Acts 4:12 and Ephesians 1:4-7).

Reason #3: Because this baby would be the fulfillment of God's Old Testament promises to send a Messiah, provide a Savior, and reign as King (see Matthew 1:23 and Luke 2:32-33).

It wasn't man's idea to call this baby Jesus...it was God's idea! Let us praise God that it is so. Redemption was His idea, His plan. Yet we are the beneficiaries of God's grace, revealed in a manger and proven on a cross!

So where do we find God's perfect grace and glory? In the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6)!

And this is the view from my window.

Monday, December 19

Oh That We Might Learn From Josh Harris

The pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, displays some great courage, wisdom, and humility in changing course concerning Christmas Day services. Wouldn't Christianity in America be different if more of our churches were led by this kind of man? See what Tim Challies has to say about this decision.

And if, by chance, you are interested in the rationale (which, in my opinion, leaves much to be desired) of a pastor who vehemently defends his decision to cancel Christmas Day services, you can read about it here.

This is what it looks like from my window.

Sunday, December 18

Monday's Musings

Each Monday I will be sharing some brief devotional thoughts. It's my prayer that God will use these words to open our eyes to His grace and glory.

My first post is a message I preached a week ago. So here is the view from my window...on A Christmas Love Story (pt. 1).
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As humans, we are attracted to love stories. Every year at this time we watch Jimmy Stewart fall head over heals for Donna Reed in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” We watch Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney fall in love in “White Christmas.” Even the Christmas commercials are brief, but sappy and sentimental love stories (especially those jewelry commercials)!

But Hollywood doesn’t have the corner on love stories! The Bible is full of love stories, the stories of men and women giving themselves to a romantic, storybook, lifelong love to another. People like Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 24:62-67); and Jacob and Rachel (Genesis 29:18-20); and Boaz and Ruth (Ruth 2:5-8)!

Then there’s the story of Mary and Joseph. Because Mary’s tummy was growing before her marriage to Joseph, the insinuations were flying. The stares of others were dagger-like. The comments were cutting. And the loneliness suffocating. Amid all this…their love endured!

And yet, as inspiring as each of these biblical stories is, they weren’t revealed to us in Scripture as stand-alone love sagas. They were revealed to point us to the Messiah, the great lover of our souls, Jesus Christ! John 3:16 proclaims the greatest love story of all time. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”

WHAT “GOD IS LOVE,” MEANS

A popular greeting card company has adopted as their motto the phrase, “For those who care enough to send the very best.” Although they coined the phrase to describe their greeting cards, the Bible tells the story of a God who loved enough to send His very best…His only Son! This is the story of Christmas, that “God is love” (1 John 4:8). It’s so simple a child can understand this statement. Yet this truth is so profound that it renders even the greatest scholar speechless! So, what does this statement mean?

It means that it’s God’s nature to love. That’s who He is! He is love! There is nothing unloving about God or in God! GOD IS ABSOLUTE, PERFECT AND ETERNAL LOVE. He proved it in a manger where God came to man…and He proved it on a cross where man can come to God! 1 Peter 3:18, “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God…”

It means that God never ordains anything unloving for His children! He never does anything in our lives that isn’t perfectly and totally loving! My first response to this statement was, “But what about…our first baby?” I’ve never met our first baby. I’ve never held our first baby. I don’t know if our first baby was a girl or a boy. How could a loving God cause our first baby to die in my wife’s womb? Is this a God who loves?

I can say, “Yes!” Although I’ve yet to hold our first child, I am confident that by God’s grace someday I will, in heaven! This is my hope, and this is His love: a love that works all things for our good and His glory (Romans 8:28), even the death of a baby I’ve never met.

Now let’s tie these truths into the Christmas story. God, in His love, chose Mary and Joseph to be the earthly parents of the King of kings. And in His love He didn’t make this assignment easy (God rarely does)! But, God didn’t keep Mary or Joseph wondering about what was happening either! He revealed His plan to them. Gabriel visited Mary, and God spoke to Joseph in a dream. This is love…think of what may have gone through their minds if, without any warning, Mary’s belly started growing!

And God, in His love, chose a smelly stable to be the birthplace of a King. Would Mary and Joseph have considered this loving? Well have you ever considered the numbers of people who were present in Bethlehem that night for the census and taxation? Certainly hundreds of couples spent that night on the streets of Bethlehem. A cozy stable wasn’t so bad after all!

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Next Week...the conclusion...What God's love does in us!

This is the view from my window today!

Saturday, December 17

Welcome!

Welcome to "The World From My Window." This site is my feeble attempt at entering the booming blogosphere. My hope is that what is written here will inspire you to meditate on the person and works of our great God and King.

Therefore, I will spend the majority of my time here discussing Theology and its implications for our world. Come on in, take your shoes off, and stay awhile...and Soli Deo Gloria!