The Iconic Venue

“In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  (John 14:2-3)

     

I’ve long been a baseball fan.  With zero athletic ability, I never played much, but as a boy I followed the game.  At night, I sometimes picked up games on AM radio stations in major league cities, and often listened to the games of our local Denver Bears triple-A minor league team.  I looked at box scores each day in the newspaper.  My brother and I collected baseball cards, and we selected teams and played a game with those cards and a deck of playing cards.  On Saturday afternoons as a boy, I often watched “NBC’s Major League Baseball Game of the Week,” with announcers Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek.  This was before cable television, and since my city did not have a major league team then,  this was usually the only televised baseball I saw.  Those games were televised from different stadiums in different cities each week.

The major league stadiums that were in use during the era of my childhood are mostly all gone.  Places like Yankee Stadium, Tiger Stadium, and Comiskey Park have been torn down.  Even most of the multi-purpose stadiums built in the 1970’s and 1980’s have met the wrecking ball.   Three iconic baseball venues, however, remain in use – Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, built in the early 1960’s, and Wrigley Field in Chicago and Fenway Park in Boston, both built early in the twentieth century.

My wife and my son both enjoy baseball; our son played the game in high school, and baseball remains a connecting point between us.  He and I drove to Omaha for a couple of college world series games the year of his high school graduation, and the next year we flew to Arizona for a few days at Colorado Rockies spring training.  Last year, after some thought and discussion, my wife, my son, and I went to Wrigley Field in Chicago.  I still remember in my youth watching games that were televised from that stadium; I remember the names of many of the Cubs players from those days.  I carefully planned out the trip, shelled out the cash to buy airfare and tickets to the games, and we attended two games along with a stadium tour where we were able to go onto the field and stand in front of the unique ivy-covered outfield walls, and had most of a day to go into downtown Chicago as well.  Wrigley Field lived up to our hopes.  A modern scoreboard has been added along with a few renovations, but the stadium retains its charm.  It sits partially surrounded by an older residential area, and the footprint of the stadium is small; we walked all the way around it several times, along Waveland Avenue, along Sheffield Avenue, along Addison Street, and Clark Street, the main street in front of the stadium.  The Cubs won; the fans sang “Go Cubs Go.”  For a baseball fan, Wrigley Field is an iconic venue.  We’d like to go again.

Wrigley Sign

This year, we are going to Fenway Park in Boston.  After thought and research, a pile of cash even bigger than last year has been invested.  Tickets to two games have been purchased from the ball club and are in a drawer (yes, old fashioned paper tickets), along with documentation showing the  purchase of a stadium tour.  I’m not going that far without the proper admission documents in hand, and airline tickets were purchased only after baseball tickets were purchased, at a stadium where sell-outs are common.  A hotel a couple of blocks from the stadium has been reserved.  A day will be available for a visit to a couple of historic Boston sites.  We’ve  planned a great trip and visit to historic, iconic Fenway Park and hope it lives up to our visit last year to Wrigley.  We await the trip with much anticipation.

     

As a boy, I also learned of an Iconic Venue that far exceeds the grandeur of any baseball park.  The cost of entering this Place is incalculable.  But I learned that the Designer and Builder of this Great Place wants me to come, wants all to come, and so paid the vast cost of admission Himself.  While the requirement to enter was not something I could pay and it was paid on my behalf, nevertheless something was required from me.  I had to humble myself and ask; I had to acknowledge that I was unable to gain admission on my own merit but needed to request admission based on the immense price that had been paid for me.  That wasn’t too difficult for me as a boy, but that process of humbling oneself, admitting one’s inability to meet the entrance requirements, admitting that one has in fact no right to enter, proves a great obstacle to many.

And so, in my childhood – I don’t know the date – I came to believe the promise of the Great Designer and Builder of this venue, humbly asked Him, and received my entrance credentials.  I did not receive a paper ticket, but rather gained every confidence in my innermost being that my future entrance into the iconic venue is assured.  I believed the gospel, and the witness of the Spirit speaking through the Word.  I don’t know the future date or the circumstances of my eventual entering this place, but I know that the One Who has paid the price for me does.  By faith in Christ and what He paid on my behalf, I have lived in anticipation of one day entering this Place; in a way, in that innermost part of my being, in my mind and in my heart, I am already there.

Biblical Christianity has a profoundly future focus.  For many who will one day enter this Place, those living under persecution or those living in difficult circumstances, going there is their daily hope and expectation.  Entrance into this great Place has a downside, however, at least to me as a prosperous, healthy, and happy American.  Unlike going to a ballpark or going on a vacation, one never returns from this place, and I am not anxious to leave my life in this world.  I have a great life, with many places to go, many experiences to experience.  My beloved wife and I have plans for a great future.  I enjoy my new grandchild; maybe there will one day be another.  As life here continues, perhaps the Designer and Builder of the Great Place will enable me to help someone in their life as they look forward to that Place, and certainly He wants me to encourage others to humble themselves and seek their own admission.  The Apostle Paul wrote (Philippians 1:21-24),

“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell.  For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.”

     

The great old sports stadiums are mostly gone, and those that remain will eventually be gone too.  The Great Place where I will one day go will last forever.  Many people expressing the ideas of folk religion might speak of “going to that great ballpark (or, great “fill-in-the-blank”) in the sky.”  Heaven is far more than that; it is the eternal home of believers who know Christ as their Lord and Savior.  I do not know exactly what one does, what one sees, or what one experiences, after entering this place.  I do know that it exists for the honor and glory of its Creator and He has designed it exclusively for those who have humbled themselves and asked for admission on His terms, and so we will worship and praise Him.  I know that, because He Himself has paid the inestimable price of admission for those who enter, He loves us greatly and will delight in our enjoyment of our life in this Great Place.  We will be free from the presence of sin and the results of sin; we will have fellowship with God.

God’s redeemed people should live in the perpetual anticipation of the eternal home He has prepared for us.  The American evangelical church seems to have forgotten this.  Pastors speaking to self-absorbed audiences talk much of topics like prosperity and success and happiness and better relationships and social justice, and imply that following Jesus is merely a way to have a better life in this world.  The church seems to try to reflect and conform to society as much as possible, incorporating current entertainment trends and current social topics in place of speaking clearly and often of the the gospel and eternity.  It has decided to meet human desires and perceived needs rather than calling men to faith and repentance, the necessary entrance requirement to enter eternal life.  Many churches avoid speaking of or singing of topics like salvation from sin, death, and the second coming of Christ.  This is a grievous error.  As in the past, sermons in sound churches today often concern heaven and how to get there, although unfortunately sometimes to excess and failing to remember to also speak of the important implications of the gospel in daily life now.  Hymns and gospel songs often remind us of sin and salvation, heaven, and the return of Christ.  The motivational talks of today’s seeker-sensitive church no longer feature such themes, and the contemporary entertainment that has replaced singing of hymns and gospel songs in many churches does not do so.  The gospel must affect every part of our life in this world, but we must never forget that “this world is not my home, I’m just passing through,” and our real task is to offer the gospel so that others might believe it and come to live their lives in anticipation of their eternal home.  Christians live with the perpetual consciousness that this life can meet with disaster or even end at any time, but we have an eternal home awaiting us.  Further, Christ may come at any moment and bring the present evil age to an end.  This is our hope.

In Revelation 21 John wrote,

Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

A Desire For The Pure Milk of the Word

Baby

Since my daughter’s maternity leave ended, I’ve had several occasions to watch my infant granddaughter for a few hours in the morning before my wife gets home from work to assume babysitting duties.  It has been a delightful experience.  This beautiful baby is as well-behaved as a four-month-old can be.  She has even been considerate enough to only soil her diaper twice when I’ve been on duty!  She sleeps, we play, we “talk.”  But almost on schedule, she gets hungry, and when she gets hungry, there is no other solution.  She wants her bottle of formula!  I give her the amount that I am supposed to per my daughter’s instructions, with the powdered formula mixed with the proper amount of pure bottled water, not watered down further, not adulterated in any way.  The baby is given just what she is supposed to have per her mother’s instruction in conjunction with her conversations with the pediatrician.  At this point, I don’t sneak in anything else – not a different brand of formula, no dairy milk or other snacks.  (There will be time later when Grandpa can sneak in a few unapproved treats!)

In 1 Peter 2:1-3, we read, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,  if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”  Just like a baby that has a single-minded focus on receiving milk, Peter reminds believers that we need to have a powerful focus on being nourished by the scriptures.   

     

Recently I traveled with my brother to the northern panhandle area of Nebraska to attend a memorial service for our cousin after her passing.  As we traveled, we listened to three recorded sermons by a noted Bible teacher and pastor, part of a series delivered some two decades ago entitled “Lessons From The Dungeon” concerning the Old Testament account of Joseph.  The story of Joseph gives us profound lessons about life, how we should live, how we should react to circumstances and to adversity, which was the emphasis of these messages.  This Bible teacher is a faithful expositor of Scripture; his thoughts are not only profound, but completely in accord with the passage from which he is preaching.  These messages are timeless and could be applied in any culture in any period of history; with little modification, they could have been delivered to an English-speaking audience a century or more ago, or a century in the future, or translated and delivered to Asians or Africans.  He compared scripture with scripture, teaching the principle that Joseph came to understand when he declared that “God meant it for good,” the principle of Romans 8:28, that God works all things for His glory and our ultimate good according to His wisdom and purposes.  This pastor has a sizeable church, and a following via radio and other media of people who are “hungry” for true and meaningful teaching from scripture.

Several days before our trip, I had heard a very different teaching based loosely on the account of Joseph.  Via a YouTube video, I listened to a “sermon” from one of the more prominent megachurch pastor/entertainers in the broad evangelical sphere.  He speaks to a few thousand people each weekend at his main megachurch campus plus many more watching at satellite campuses.  In a talk entitled “The Danger of a Dream,” there was a reading of Genesis 37:5, “Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more,” relating Joseph’s divinely-given dream that he told to his brothers causing them to reject him.  This speaker used this as a pretext for an upbeat and energetic talk about developing a “dream” from God, about having a good idea and a  “dream” that will make one’s life different.  I noted that he spoke much about himself, but nothing of Christ or the gospel.   Minus the verse, this would have been a great talk for a Silicon Valley company’s corporate event.  The development of a personal vision or dream is popular in such megachurch circles, and there is of course nothing wrong with and everything right about developing purpose and direction.  But there is everything wrong with a supposed evangelical church substituting such themes for those found in scripture.  His talk would have been preceded by a generationally-focused contemporary christian pop concert; any mention or hint of Christian themes in the performance would have exceeded the biblical content of the speaker’s presentation.  He is a deception.  He is giving his audience of mostly younger people who are hungry for something not “the pure milk of the word” but grossly watered down, aberrant teaching.

Joseph is not memorialized in Scripture because he did amazing things when he dreamed big.  For most of his life, he lived a nightmare, not a dream.  Nor is he remembered because he added the wisdom of the Hebrews to the wisdom of Egypt.  A type and foreshadow of Christ, Joseph is memorialized in scripture because he was a man of great faith and belief, because he obeyed God, manifested the highest of character, and did what he knew to be right, because he remembered and lived out the principle of “God meant it for good.”  The faithful Bible teacher got it right; the other guy got applause almost on cue from his audience, but in truth he gave them nothing.

     

Christians need to exercise good judgement in selecting a church and in selecting teachers who they read or to whom they listen.  More importantly, we must have a disciplined, healthy feeding on the Word of God.  We must regularly read and study the Bible; we must have a strong desire for it.  There is no other way to progress in the Christian life.

My healthy granddaughter takes in her formula and grows.  She makes no effort; she simply follows her natural desire and is nourished and continues to grow.  Here, the analogy begins to break down.  We must make an effort to make the time for fellowship with God, to exercise discernment, to take in the Word and to grow as a result.  Mere knowledge of the Bible isn’t the end.  In the 1 Peter 2:1-3 passage, Peter wrote, “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,  if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious.”  The context of maintaining this desire for the Word is behavioral and attitudinal change.  We take in the truth of the Word, we pray, we put the Word into practice, we lay aside sin, we experience the grace of the Lord, and we grow to maturity.  Then, whether we live a dream, or sometimes live a nightmare, we can bring honor and glory to God and declare His grace to those around us.     

 

Observing Communion

The church in which we hold membership observed communion on a recent Sunday night.  We’ve been present as the ordinance has been observed a few times since we began attending the church, and these services are substantive and meaningful.  For whatever reason, I was reminded of the contrast between this Lord’s Supper service and a time a couple of years ago that we attended a local megachurch on a Saturday night to observe, and they had communion.

          

Entering the megachurch’s expansive venue, I noted on the hand-out that they were going to have communion at the end of the event.  They were having a global outreach month, as I recall.  The speaker that weekend was a thirty-something who was involved with a project in Mexico, and must have had an ongoing relationship with this megachurch.  The topic for his talk centered on the value of remembering Jesus as our friend.  He was an able and articulate speaker, but I began to wonder if there might be any use of the Bible before he referenced a few verses well into his talk.  In the end, I wasn’t sure what his purpose might be for his mission or ministry.  He did not really mention anything of the Gospel; I wondered if perhaps his concern was primarily social or benevolent.

At the end of the sermon, the lead pastor returned to the stage, and he and the speaker sat for a few minutes and chatted; I don’t recall much of the topic of the conversation, likely related to the value of the concept of Jesus as my friend.  At the end of their chat, the pastor indicated that the communion elements should be distributed, and he reminded the crowd to remember the similarity between “communion” and “community.”  I assumed that when the distribution of the elements was completed, the pastor would return, and there would be an explanation or discussion of the meaning and purpose of the ceremony.  The band began to play a bluesy version of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” as volunteers circulated buckets of pretzel chips and individually-packaged communion juice.  A few people soon got up to leave, perhaps in a hurry, I thought.  Then, as more people began to leave, I had an almost visceral reaction, as it occurred to me, this is over!  These people in a supposedly evangelical church, designed to attract people who might not like “church,” have participated in a communion ritual without hearing anything of the Gospel, nothing about what the elements might mean.  Volunteers at the doors collected the empty juice containers.  I remarked to my wife that it would have been better to skip the communion elements and just distribute granola bars at the door at the conclusion of the chat.

           

The recent service at our home church was decidedly different.  It was neither somber nor cheery.  The congregation sang joyful and reverent songs appropriate to the occasion, songs about salvation from sin, songs about the body and blood of Christ that the elements depict, songs about Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sin.  The pastor didn’t preach, but worked through the Gospel of Matthew, following Jesus’ movements that ended with his death and resurrection at Jerusalem.  The elements were distributed by the deacons after the pastor spoke, and prayer was offered.  Congregants were invited to stand and offer public prayers as we held the bread and juice and reflected on the symbolic meaning of those items before taking them together.  The Gospel was declared, and God was worshiped as we participated together in this remembrance, as we considered the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ as the atonement for our sin, just as believers have for two thousand years.  My thoughts went to I John 1:9, the joyful promise that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

 

 

Crossing An International Border

My wife and I recently visited Niagara Falls for a quick vacation.  We flew to and from our destination, and both times we presented documentation and were screened before we were able to board the plane.  It was inconvenient, but in the age of terrorism not unreasonable.  From the New York side where we stayed, we crossed into Canada twice, once with our rental car, and once on foot.  We paid a small toll at the bridge, and both times we presented our passports and were briefly questioned by border patrol agents on both sides of the border.  This is exactly what should happen when one crosses an international boundary; crossing without proper documentation should be allowed only rarely for limited reasons and with intense scrutiny.

The Canadians were happy to have us as American tourists.  I am confident we could have stayed in that country for an extended period of time if we wished to do so and followed Canadian law.  Every time we might make a financial transaction, we would pay taxes and support an employed Canadian selling us a product or service.  Should we have required emergency medical care, I am confident we could have secured it.  Beyond that, I have doubts as to our eligibility to receive Canadian welfare-state benefits or “entitlements” at the expense of the Canadian taxpayers.  I have not investigated it, but I am confident that I could not secure employment there without some sort of additional documentation or work permit.  I doubt that I would have been recruited to vote in the next election.  Canada is a sovereign nation of which I am not a citizen.

Meanwhile, hundreds of undocumented aliens pour into the United States each day, from who-knows-where, for who-knows-what reasons, carrying who-knows-what contraband.  Most are simply poor and uneducated and seek to come to a place of affluence.  They are not scrutinized, almost welcomed into the country, and recruited to claim their “entitlements” from the American taxpayers, settling into sub-cultures that continue to divide society.  Most remain in the country permanently to bear or father children who will be financial wards of the American taxpayer.  The social and economic costs are enormous.  Progressive politicians seem to favor open borders, almost as if they wish to profoundly change the country according to their vision, through a flood of illegal immigrants.  Progressive religious leaders seem to be in favor of this as well.

Something is not right here.

                                                                          

There is no illegal immigration into the Eternal Kingdom of God.  All who enter God’s kingdom are immigrants.  No one is born a citizen, and entrance into eternal life is not universal.  All who enter into God’s kingdom must submit to the One who is Sovereign over that Kingdom and enter in by the manner He has proscribed.  Jesus said, recorded in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  The body of Scripture affirms this.  Peter spoke, as recorded in Acts 4:12, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  Romans 3 spells out the necessity of faith and repentance, predicated by God’s grace, made possible by the atonement that Christ has made for us.  The gospel – the good news of eternal life – is that Jesus has atoned for the sins of all who acknowledge their sin and inability, repent of their sin and call out to God for salvation.  And the Scriptures tell us that He wants us to come.  He seeks us; He has commissioned the church to actively proclaim the gospel and take it to all the world, near and far.  But without the proper “documentation,” if you will, we are not citizens of God’s kingdom and cannot enter into eternal life.  We must enter on His terms.   

The American church is forgetting this message.  There is much talk of God’s love, much about health and happiness and about what He wants to give us in this life.  We hear from liberal churchmen of the universal fatherhood of God but not much of the unique fatherhood of God toward those who believe.  This is a deficient message, leaving out a biblical view of the saving gospel.  The same liberal post-christian religion that seeks to facilitate illegal immigration into the country deceives people into believing that they can enter into an eternal kingdom of God that is without borders, with no entrance requirements.  Increasingly, this message is permeating evangelicalism.

The writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews wrote, in chapter 11,

13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. 14 For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. 15 And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.

The Goodness of God

I recently attended an event where I heard a contemporary christian entertainment song that I have heard many times before.  Here are some of the lyrics:

You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh
Let the King of my heart, Be the wind inside my sails, The anchor in the waves
Oh, He is my song
Let the King of my heart, Be the fire inside my veins, The echo of my days
Oh, He is my song
You are good, good, oh, You are good, good, oh, Yes, You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh
You are good, good, oh (when the night is holding onto me)
You are good, good, oh (You are holding on)
You are good, good, oh (when the night is holding onto me)
You are good, good, oh (You are holding on)
You are good, You’re good, oh
You are good, good, oh
When the night is holding onto me

I submit that these words are a deceptive half-truth.

Say what?

I believe that, indeed, God is good.  Unquestionably, God is good, always good, depending on one’s perspective.  And I understand from Scripture that God often delights in blessing His people with good things in life.  As I write this, it is early May.  A tree in our front yard is in bloom, with a beautiful fragrance that I very much enjoy, and beautiful blooms cover the tree.  I go to the front door several times each day just to appreciate the tree.  Any person with a sense of smell and any sighted person can appreciate the tree.  The general goodness of God allows for this.  The magnificence of the Creator is on display everywhere.  But, is God still good when one loses the sense of smell, or the ability to see?  Is God still good when one is hungry with no food, when one loses a relationship, when one becomes unemployed?  Depending on one’s perspective, does God sometimes let me down?  Or, is He just always the wind in my sails and my anchor and my inspiration who never lets me down?

The idea of never-ending triumph sets us up for failure.  The contemporary church often tries to be attractive to society by presenting this overly positive triumphant happy attitude.  God really, really loves and affirms and accepts you just like you are and wants you to add Jesus to your life and be happy and successful and so do we.  This is not the message of the Bible.  Further, in this life, Christians are not promised that they will never know difficulty.  In fact, often our faith can cause difficulties, heartaches, and conflicts.  God’s love is not a divine version of the love of a spouse or boyfriend or genie-in-a-bottle.  Sometimes God allows conflict and difficulty, and this is according to His plan and purpose.  When we don’t acknowledge this reality, we set up both ourselves and others for failure.

In Romans 2:4 (New King James Version) we read, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?”   Mankind is not merely living in a broken world, and I don’t just make mistakes.  Mankind is hopelessly lost in sin and rebellion against the Creator.  Mankind is subject to the righteous wrath of God against sin.  The very nature of God demands that sin be dealt with, atoned for.  Jesus didn’t die on the cross because He spoke truth to power, because He made religious hypocrites and those in political power uncomfortable.  He didn’t come primarily to bring a message of justice and love and affirmation.  He came according to the divine plan and purpose of God in order that He might suffer and die on the cross as the only perfect and acceptable sacrifice for the sin of those who would repent and believe.  That is offensive to many.  How could a good God be involved with blood and sacrifice and suffering and death?  Why would a good God allow people to go to eternal loss in Hell?  Why wouldn’t a truly good God just overlook sin and declare everyone righteous by divine fiat?  All that blood and sacrifice and eternal punishment stuff, many would say, doesn’t sound like love.  In fact, it is repugnant to post-modern man.  So too often the church no longer preaches and teaches and sings these truths.

The Bible tells me that I don’t merely make mistakes that He can just overlook; I am a born sinner who commits sins, acts of disobedience and rebellion against the eternal, holy, righteous, perfect God.  While this sin of the created is a massive affront against the Creator, it is His goodness that allows for His forgiveness.  It is His goodness that provided a way for my regeneration through faith and repentance.  Incomprehensible divine love provided for the Savior to atone for my sin on the cross.  His goodness doesn’t just accept and overlook sin, like a loving grandparent or a spouse or boyfriend or other offended human, but His goodness provided the avenue for my salvation from the consequences of sin.  And that requires that I believe that the gospel is true, that I acknowledge my sin, and turn to Christ in faith.  It isn’t enough to just acknowledge that God is good and is my inspiration and will never let me down.  I must acknowledge my sin and true guilt and acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior.  I cannot reform or perform religious rites or vow to become a better person to merit salvation; salvation is all of God’s grace.  But salvation doesn’t just affirm me in my sin; it requires that I turn away from sin and willingly give myself to Him as Lord and Savior.  This is the essence of the gospel, the central message of the church.

Further, we must acknowledge the reality of God’s goodness in the context of His sovereignty and His divine plan for us.  I don’t completely understand human suffering.  I don’t understand why good things happen to seemingly bad people while bad things happen to seemingly good people.  But I do rejoice in the fact that it is all for His ultimate glory and therefore for the best.   Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.”  No, He never “lets me down,” but that is a matter of perspective.  An eternal perspective.  I think H. G. Spafford presented a more realistic tone a century ago when he wrote, after the tragic loss of his family in a shipwreck, “When peace like a river, attendeth my way, and sorrows like sea billows roll, Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul.”

An Old Testament Hymn of Praise

I have the joy of being part of a church where the Bible is systematically preached.  Not merely referenced, but actually taught and preached.  The pastor is in the midst of preaching through the book of Isaiah, one chapter each week.  A benefit of this approach is that, knowing the text for the next week, one can read and ponder the text for the coming week and over time develop a better understanding of the book.  The chapter for the address for the coming week as I write this is Isaiah 12.  I was moved as I read through this chapter yesterday.  I’ve read it aloud more than once since, as a prayer, as a song of worship.

Isaiah 12  (NKJV)

“And in that day you will say:

“O Lord, I will praise You;
Though You were angry with me,
Your anger is turned away, and You comfort me.
2 Behold, God is my salvation,
I will trust and not be afraid;
‘For Yah, the Lord, is my strength and song;
He also has become my salvation.’ ”
3 Therefore with joy you will draw water
From the wells of salvation.

4 And in that day you will say:

“Praise the Lord, call upon His name;
Declare His deeds among the peoples,
Make mention that His name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord,
For He has done excellent things;
This is known in all the earth.
6 Cry out and shout, O inhabitant of Zion,
For great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst!”

I do not know Hebrew, but in English this poem easily divides into two sections, section one the first three verses, and section two verses four through six.  They are parallel both in feel and in content, like two verses of a hymn.  Earlier in Isaiah, there have been recurrent denunciations of the sins of the Jewish nation and prophecies of coming judgement and destruction, as well as promises of the future Messiah and preservation of a faithful remnant.  Chapter eleven speaks of the future Deliverer and regathering of the Jewish nation, and chapter twelve is a hymn of praise to the future Deliverer and celebrates the future kingdom.

This is a writing of true worship.  It worships God for Who He Is, for salvation from His just anger at sin, for what He has done and has promised to do for His people.  The words are deeply meaningful, substantial, and true.  It is not merely a song of faint praise for how He might make someone feel or how He might make someone feel good when He gives them a lot of good stuff or makes them successful.

The old commentator Matthew Henry wrote of this passage,

“This is a hymn of praise suited to the times of the Messiah.  The song of praise in this chapter is suitable for the return of the outcasts of Israel from their long captivity, but it is especially suitable to the case of a sinner, when he first finds peace and joy in believing; to that of a believer, when his peace is renewed after corrections for backslidings; and to that of the whole company of the redeemed, when they meet before the throne of God in heaven. The promise is sure, and the blessings contained in it are very rich; and the benefits enjoyed through Jesus Christ, call for the most enlarged thanksgivings. By Jesus Christ, the Root of Jesse, the Divine anger against mankind was turned away, for he is our Peace.”

As a believer, I’m excited to, as verse five says, “Sing to the Lord, for He has done excellent things.”  I’m excited to sing that song of Who He Is and what He has done for me in Christ, both now, and in “that day.”

I can’t wait to hear this chapter preached on Sunday!

What Easter Is – And Isn’t

Perhaps more than at any other season, professing Christians throughout Christendom will attend a Good Friday or an Easter Sunday church service.  They will hear any of a variety of perspectives.  Easter might be presented in the context of thoughts about Spring, a time of new beginning after Winter.  Jesus might be spoken of as a divine messenger from God, a fabulously inspired teacher, who offended  the religious and political authorities of His day and so was silenced, but whose inspired teachings didn’t die but live on in the minds and hearts of His followers.  Jesus on the cross might be presented as demonstrating the love and acceptance of God for all of humanity, who bore the sins of His people on the cross in the sense that His sacrifice served to inspire and motivate us to overcome our difficulties.  Like a great cosmic boyfriend, He inspires us to reach our full potential and accepts us and affirms us just as we are because, after all, He really, really likes us!  I once listened to an Easter sermon that was built on the premise that the moved tombstone at the empty grave of Jesus was a metaphor for obstacles we need to have removed in our life.  The real point of the moved tombstone, however, and the point of the empty grave, is much more than a reminder about our personal obstacles; it is that Jesus was alive after being dead, and because of that there is eternal life in Christ.

The Bible teaches that humans are sinners in need of salvation, not merely salvation from bad things that happen to us in this life, but from the righteous anger of God against our sin and rebellion both individually and corporately as part of the human race.  In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the Bible reminds us “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”  Jesus died to deliver us from the wrath of God, preaching and repeatedly warning of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of divine wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.  Jesus’ work on the cross was to placate the wrath of God.  He didn’t die by accident; it was the divine plan of God from the very beginning.  He didn’t die because He took a risk of offending, He didn’t die merely as a martyr or an example, or as a general expression of love and acceptance toward all of humanity.  He died as the perfect sacrifice, the One Saving Plan of God, to turn away God’s righteous anger and make possible a change of God’s disposition toward those who would repent and believe the Gospel.   The idea of placating the wrath of God is not popular today.  Some would say that it is beneath the dignity of God to think that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him.  But this is the very core of the biblical concept of salvation, not that we ourselves can do something to merit salvation, but that it has been done for us by God Himself in Christ.  The only hope of escape from God’s wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.

What Christ’s achieved on the cross is nothing less than the reality that He placated the wrath of God that is inherent in the nature and purpose of God and which condemns us if we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ.  Further, the atonement at Calvary didn’t take away the sins of all of humanity and so leave us with a Gospel defined as merely a path to living a better life in this world since we’re all going to heaven anyway, about making one’s life better or to becoming part of a movement to “make the world a better place.”  Many speak such ideas about “Jesus,” but they don’t acknowledge the real message of Jesus, which is the  Gospel of the Holiness of God and His Law and the truth of our utter lostness in light of that.   Without the real Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith and repentance, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, human beings remain under the penalty of their sin.  But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about.  That is what The Cross – and the Resurrection – is all about.

The Bible says that everyone born in Adam is a sinner at birth and needs to repent of their own sin and look to Christ by Faith Alone.  The apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans clearly explains this.  All have sinned, and have fallen short of the glory of God, everyone born in Adam is an enemy of God and must be born from above as a supernatural work of God, a work that only the Holy Spirit can do by virtue of regeneration.  A failure to do so will result in receiving the payment of their own sin–the wrath of God.

We understand the love of God only in this context.  He doesn’t merely love us as His created beings.  He doesn’t merely love us and accept us and affirm us and forgive us just as we are.  He loves us far more than that.  He loves us enough that “He became sin for us, Who knew no sin.”  Christ the God-man became the sacrifice for those of the ages who simply by God’s grace through faith would believe the Gospel.  God suffered and died on the cross for us!  He loves us enough to forgive our rebellion – creature against Creator – by providing Himself as the only acceptable atonement for our sin.  He loves us and forgives us on that basis.  The Resurrection and empty tomb demonstrate that He has conquered sin and death for us and has given us eternal life.  Good Friday is “good” because of the good news that if you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior you get eternal life with Him.  It is “good” because He died on a Roman cross willingly as a substitute for you.  He conquered death for you.  On the cross the Father turned His back on Jesus as all of the sins of the world were placed on Him.  Jesus bore our sin, guilt, and shame.  And now you just need to trust Him.

The empty tomb guarantees the end of the dominion of death over those who believe the Gospel.  In John 14:19, speaking to His disciples shortly before His arrest, Jesus told them, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me.  Because I live, you will live also.”

“Because I live, you will live also.”  That is the real meaning of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.

 

The Ten Commandments and God’s Love

Some suggest that the Ten Commandments are harsh and are not really consistent with the message the church should present today.   Recently a well-known megachurch personality even delivered an address titled “Thou Shalt Not Obey the Ten Commandments.”  The thought is that the Commandments and the Old Testament Law in whole comes across as judgmental and unattractive to the people who today’s church seeks to attract, and besides, the Beatitudes are really more demanding and more consistent with the message for the current age.  We should hold out the Sermon on the Mount and the love of God, not the Old Testament teachings.  Yet, throughout the history of the church, pastors and theologians have upheld the Ten Commandments as well as the whole of the moral and civil requirements enumerated in the Old Testament as an expression of God’s character and of His requirements for humanity.  The church needs to recover the practice of considering and meditating on the Ten Commandments as we grow in understanding the ramifications of the gospel and pursue the life of Christ has for us.  The church needs to present and proclaim the requirements of the moral Law and the Ten Commandments, recognizing that failure to do so is a grievous error.  It is not judgmental to recognize the commandments; rather the Ten Commandments and the moral Law are supremely the expression of God’s love.

In the first table of the commandments, the people of God were told to rigidly uphold the centrality, primacy, and holiness of God.  They were to recognize no false deity, have no idols, reverence the true God supremely, and set aside a day each week to consider and meditate upon Him.   The second group of commandments regulates human behavior in family and society.  The family unit was to be upheld, parents to be respected.  The sanctity of human life was to be observed, with murder prohibited.  Honesty and truthfulness were commanded.  Private property rights were advanced with the prohibitions against theft and coveting.  And the prohibition against adultery regulates sexuality in society and upholds the sanctity of marriage.  These principles appear throughout the moral and civil Law in the Old Testament.  Further, they are not replaced or repudiated in the New Testament; rather, they are foundational to the principles of the Sermon on the Mount and the way of life exhorted throughout the New Testament.

It is abundantly clear that the Scriptures present the necessity of salvation from sin, salvation not by works or upholding the Law, but by grace and faith.  One cannot be saved by the Law, by upholding the Ten Commandments, or for that matter by aspiring to live by the high standards of the Sermon on the Mount.  The New Testament, particularly the books of Romans and Galatians (especially chapters 3 and 5), make it absolutely clear that salvation is not obtained by keeping the Old Testament Law, but by grace.  And yet, the Law points us to Christ.  First Corinthians chapter 6 beginning in verse 9 tells us, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived.  Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.”  Recognizing their sin, repenting of sin, lost people turn to God by faith in Christ and are saved.  That is the only way of salvation.

The Ten Commandments and the Old Testament moral Law demonstrate God’s love to us by showing us the folly of sin and rebellion against God, and thus pointing us to the Savior.  In so doing, by pointing us to the great atoning acts of Christ, they direct us to the love of God.  Even in the Old Testament ceremonial Law, God’s plan for redemption through the atoning sacrifice of Christ is demonstrated.  Seeing our own sin and unworthiness, we then begin to understand the surpassing greatness of the love of God.  Christ paid the penalty for all sins so that God might be merciful to all sinners.  On the cross Christ satisfied God’s justice.  We need not shy away from the Old Testament; we need to embrace it and clearly explain it.

Yet sadly many pastors reference sin (many won’t even refer to it as such) as if it’s little more than brokenness, hopelessness, lack of motivation, or an overly negative perspective.  While these things show some of the alienating effects of sin, they obscure its real nature and undermine the reality of true guilt before the Lord.  It’s the language of postmodern culture but not biblical truth.  Unbelievers’ most essential problem is not that they’re ignorant, apathetic, or without purpose or direction, but that they’ve personally, willfully, and happily rebelled against the God who made them. Their real enemy is not merely the challenges and difficulties of life in the world, but themselves and their sin.  If this is true—and the Scriptures say that it is—then what unbelievers must concern themselves with is nothing less than escaping the just judgment of God.  And yet, many supposedly evangelical churches and leaders tell them to merely affirm the person who stares back at them in the mirror and aspire to be the best person they can be, to look to Jesus as their divine life coach or inspiring cosmic boyfriend.  This is nothing less than a redefinition of salvation and of the gospel.

I saw a quote recently that indicated it is a mistake if you think that your “mess-up” is bigger than God’s grace.  This is a half-truth.  Sin is far more than just a “mess-up.”  As a child, I might have “messed-up” when I carelessly broke my Grandma’s favorite vase.  I might have felt a bit of remorse, and certainly a little panic.  She loved me, and, though a bit miffed, would have forgiven me.  But my momentary remorse, and her gracious forgiveness of my mistake, hardly compares to God’s grace in the forgiveness of sin.  The poverty of spirit Jesus spoke of in the Sermon on the Mount means recognizing how truly deficient we are apart from God.  It means seeing ourselves as we really are: spiritually lost, hopeless, and helpless.  The “poor in spirit” are people who have recognized their spiritual destitution and their total inability to save themselves and who acknowledge their complete dependence on God.  They know their only hope of salvation is to repent and ask for forgiveness.  No person can enter the kingdom of God until he or she realizes they are unworthy of that kingdom, until he or she realizes the gravity of their sin.  Our sin is not merely a slip-up.  The kind of gospel (so popular today) that omits any need for repentance and mourning because of sin is a false, unscriptural gospel–or, as Paul calls it, “a different gospel” (Gal 1:6).

Churches should speak about sin primarily as personal and willful rebellion against God. They should be clear that Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners (Romans 3:25; 1 John 2:2, 4:10), not as a guide, inspiration, or rudder for the rudderless.  Jesus didn’t come with a controversial, inspiring message and take a risk of rejection that resulted in His martyrdom; He came as the promised sacrifice for sin determined by God before creation and foreshadowed in the Old Testament.  Mercy that ignores sin is false mercy; Christ paid the penalty for sins so that He might be merciful to all sinners.  On the cross Christ satisfied God’s justice.  Thus churches should be clear that humans are sinners by nature and by choice, and we need salvation from that reality, and not just salvation from social and indirect problems given to us by others or ourselves.  Of course, sin in the world causes bad things to happen to us.  It isn’t hard to convince someone that they sometimes make mistakes or that they’re a victim of others’ sin or have been materially affected by others’ sin.  It doesn’t require a work of God to convince people that we live in a flawed world.  It doesn’t take much effort to convince most people that they have “issues” that need to be addressed in order for them to become happy and successful and have better relationships.  But it’s quite difficult, certainly so apart from God’s grace, to convince someone that they themselves are guilty of sin against both God and others.

Scripture reveals an overarching narrative played out in the history of mankind – creation, the fall, redemption, and consummation at the end of the age.  God created mankind, and mankind sinned supremely by rebelling against the Creator.  Yet the Creator in love chose not to merely destroy creation, but to provide for the salvation of sinners.  It is the Law that reveals our sin and leads us to the Saviour.  And further the Law reveals for us God’s standards both for salvation from sin and the standards by which we should live.  The law reveals our sin and leads us to our Saviour.

Following the commandments of God not only points us to salvation from sin, but  regulates human behavior in a positive manner.  It is no accident that societies that have engaged in the enlightened fulfillment of the Judeo-Christian ethical standards have been demonstrably more prosperous, just, and free.  Individually, following God’s wise instruction allows us to escape the consequences that come from choices we later wish we could change and make us freer to enjoy our lives.  The high ethical standards of the Ten Commandments make for happier, more fulfilled lives.  The traditional family enjoined in the Bible is for the benefit of people, not an impediment to their imagined happiness and pleasure. The standard of one man, one woman for life marriage is a bedrock of western civilization, and the ongoing retreat from that standard is leading to societal disaster.

Regrettably, American evangelicals are sometimes known more for their commitment to public displays of the Ten Commandments than to actually obeying them.  But the Ten Commandments are a faithful summary of God’s requirements for humanity.  We need to, in love, remind people of this, both lost people and believers.  God doesn’t want to control us with dos and dont’s; rather, His guidelines show that He loves us.  Romans 13:8-10 tells us, “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”  This passage doesn’t negate the value of the commandments, but tells us that we should observe these principles and present them not in a spirit of judgmentalism or harshness, but with a spirit that shows the love of Christ in us.  God does not give us commandments that are arbitrary or simply designed to prevent our enjoyment of life.  He loves us.  All of God’s commands are for His glory and for our good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change

Human-caused climate change is real.  But I don’t think that it is based on carbon emissions.

I recently picked up an old paperback world history book in my library.  This book was first published in the 1940’s, and I don’t agree with the the authors evolutionary presuppositions and philosophy.  I noted that in the early chapters of the book, the author wrote of the advance and retreat of glaciation during prehistoric ages and the associated effects on the early development of civilization, which is the accepted position of most historians.  Such climate change would precede any possible involvement by humans.

In recorded history, we know of many climate cycles.  Causes and effects can be debated.  For instance, the Medieval Warm Period, roughly ninth to twelfth centuries AD, preceded the industrial era of human development, and it was followed by the Little Ice Age from about the fourteenth to the nineteenth centuries AD.  Seemingly, there has been a sustained period of slight, measurable warming since, with slight cooling periods included in that trend.

I recall as an elementary school student a publication used in school called “The Weekly Reader,” and I recall one memorable edition on the subject of global cooling and the possibility of a coming ice age.  A search of records of “The National Geographic”  and other publications from that era would reveal similar concerns, in light of the slight cooling period that began roughly mid-1940’s.  In 1975, “Newsweek” published an article predicting a coming ice age.  This concern was replaced a few years later, however, by concerns over global warming, as a slight warming trend began perhaps early 1970’s and continues to the present.  The movie “An Inconvenient Truth” was produced in 2006, predicting all sorts of negative effects of global warming, and this helped advance the almost non-stop talk of global warming and  anthropogenic climate change – climate change caused by human environmental pollution and production of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

A number of years ago, several municipalities in the Colorado mountains considered a lawsuit against big oil companies, contending that fossil fuels produced by these companies was going to ruin the ski industry.  Since then, there have been a couple of dry winters, especially in the southern part of the state, and several winters with normal and even above average snowfall.  The ski industry is expanding, the mountain towns are flourishing, and their biggest problems center on transporting skiers and snow boarders from and back to Denver, and finding enough workers to accommodate their crowds.  Over the last couple of decades, many Colorado forested areas have seen areas of dying pine trees caused by beetles, leading to large forest fires; the thought is that it hasn’t been cold enough for long enough during the winters to kill the beetle larvae due to climate change.  As I write this, the US mid-west and eastern areas have just emerged from record cold weather due to a “polar vortex” phenomenon blamed on polar region warming.  (Too bad the “climate gods” didn’t steer that cold further west to take out some beetles.)  Unusual record snowfall has this winter hit Seattle and areas in the US northwest, likely, of course, because of climate change.  Immigration issues have been blamed on global warming and climate change, as the effects of climate change prompt people to migrate.  Every extreme weather event, every flood or famine, even wars, are blamed on anthropogenic climate change.  Elements of the progressive Left have proposed their “Green New Deal,” a socialist fantasy to radically alter the American economy, fundamentally alter our way of life, and thus save the planet.  The plan includes ending air travel, stopping American fossil fuel energy use, and even banning meat consumption.

Last summer, I visited the Pawnee National Grasslands in northeastern Colorado, basically in the middle of nowhere.  The countryside near this pristine area was filled with giant wind power generation towers.   A later trip through prairie and farmland in eastern Colorado and western Kansas featured mile after mile of views spoiled by these giant supposedly environmentally-friendly windmills.  Photovoltaic solar panels are becoming commonplace on residential rooftops and in large solar power “farms.”  More and more electric vehicles are on the roads.  Somewhere down the road, the fact of toxic metals in the solar panels and in batteries will become an issue, but enough investment in such supposed environmentally friendly technology will save the planet; at least that is the thought.

Humans do have a responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and our environment.  I’m glad that Denver’s winter time air pollution “brown cloud” is less of an issue than in the past.  I’m glad that people can play in the South Platte river in central Denver, unthinkable fifty years ago due to pollution.  I bemoan the urban sprawl along the Colorado front range.  Efforts to protect clean air and water, to protect sensitive environmental areas, to use technology to decrease pollution and advance the quality of life, are to be lauded and encouraged.

There is validity to the concept that sometimes small actions can cause big results in the future.  Call me a skeptic, but I don’t believe that what vehicle I drive or how many miles I drive it or how much meat I consume will have the slightest impact on the future temperature of any point on earth.  Nevertheless, I do believe in human-caused climate change.


Psalm 2:4 tells us, “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision.”  This isn’t a reference to a divine sense of humor.  God holds the vain imaginings and futile efforts of sinful humanity in derision.


In the opening section of the book of Genesis, we are told of God’s creation of our universe.  We find the first created humans in Eden, an idyllic environment, in a world unspoiled by any pollution or imperfection, living in perfect harmony with their environment, themselves, and with God.  And then, they rebelled against God; sin came, disaster happened.  They lost their previous relationship with God, and were removed from Eden.  Their posterity would be born with the effects of sin as part of their nature.  But it wasn’t just human nature that was changed.  Their relationship with nature changed, as the effects of sin came to be reflected in the world created for man’s home.  Climate change came, caused not by carbon gas emissions, but because of man’s sin and rebellion against God.

Time passed, and human sin continued.  God acted against the excesses of man’s sin by sending, in effect, a catastrophic climate event to destroy debauched human society.  It seems evident in reading the Genesis account that the climate before the Flood was different than the climate after the Flood.

Everywhere we look, we see the magnificence of God in creation.  Biology, chemistry, astronomy, meteorology, all sciences demonstrate the perfect creation of God.  The nature of water and the associated hydrology cycle involving evaporation, atmospheric circulation, condensation, and precipitation regulates climate and weather (water vapor has far more “greenhouse gas” effect than carbon dioxide).  The cycle of oxygen and carbon dioxide in perfect balance sustains plant and animal life.  God’s grand design is everywhere evident.  And yet everywhere we look, we also see the effects of the Fall, certainly in human affairs, but even in nature.  Floods, droughts, wind storms, earthquakes, all express not the original intent of the Creator for man, but rather the effects of man’s sin and rebellion against God.

Again, we have a responsibility to be good stewards of our planet and our environment.  Technology and human genius can and should be used to advance the condition of all people on the planet.  But ultimately, we need to recognize that the future of the world is in God’s hands, not the vain imaginings of atheistic humanity.

Both the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament writers speak of cataclysmic events, including climate events, at the end of the current age that will precede the coming of Christ.  Events that are not merely caused by greenhouse gas pollution but rather by the outpouring of God’s judgement against man’s sin.  And these writers speak of a coming age when by God’s grace the redeemed of the ages will live in a perfect environment to eternally know, love, and serve Him.

Fig Leaf Fellowship

I fully understand that a local church should be judged on vital and important things like the nature and character of its ministry more than on its name.  But I wonder about the trend toward local churches employing generic names.  Names like The Storybook, The Happy Place, or Fig Leaf Fellowship.

The Southern Baptist Convention, for instance, shows this trend toward generic church names.  The new president of the SBC heads a megachurch that does not call itself by a name that includes the word Baptist.  Several “wacky” seeker friendly/attractional megachurches were begun as SBC churches but don’t use the name and manifest nothing of traditional Baptist teaching.  I’ve noted that most SBC congregations in my community  now present themselves by a generic name.  The trend is by no means limited to the SBC or to Baptists.  There are several start-up churches in my rapidly-growing locality, and most have a generic name; I have no idea what they might believe.

My background is in, gasp, independent Baptist churches.  Few groups are more maligned, often rightly so.  I’ve experienced independent Baptist churches that were, at best, not very good.  Nevertheless, I’ve in recent months attended three independent Baptist churches in my community, one small and relatively new, one older and somewhat larger, and one perhaps the largest and most effective Baptist congregation in the state.  All were different in style.  All were warm and welcoming, and would have been so even if I hadn’t been an appropriately dressed middle-aged White guy.  The messages from the pulpits were worth listening to, and two especially show a commitment to systematically teaching and preaching the Bible.  The churches were each very different in style, but the services in all three were more than worth attending and I could recommend all three.  I knew what I was getting when I attended the service; the commitment each church showed was consistent with the best of Baptist tradition.

I’m sure many generic Fig Leaf Fellowships are doing a good job.  But I have to wonder, what are they hiding?  What are they ashamed of?  What is wrong with an identifier like First Evangelical Free Church or Second Baptist Church or Faith Bible Church or Third Community Church?  Likely the rationale is that the audience the church seeks to somehow attract doesn’t like Baptists, or Presbyterians, or church, or the Bible.


The 1980’s television sitcom “Cheers” was set in a fictional Boston bar named “Cheers.”  The characters came in to the pub to have a drink and chat, to unload their problems, to be amused, to enjoy friends, to perhaps hear some sage words of advice.  The lyrics of the show’s theme song expressed this:

Making your way in the world today
Takes everything you got
Taking a break from all your worries
It sure would help a lot
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name
And they’re always glad you came
You want to be where you can see
The troubles are all the same
You want to be where everybody knows your name
You want to go where people know
The people are all the same
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

It occurs to me that many local churches want to use something akin to the thought behind these lyrics to characterize their church.  And that is where the issue becomes more than just eye-rolling trivia.


A local congregation should be accepting, warm, and welcoming to visitors and new people.  The church should actively seek to reach out to people outside of the church, and when new people come to a service or event they are to be welcomed.  Congregants should become friends.  They should be concerned for one another, share in each other’s lives.  But a church should never pattern itself after the corner bar or a lodge or benevolent society.  Church services should be enjoyable for congregants to attend, becoming more so as they grow in their faith, but should not become patterned after the entertainment of the day.  Rather, church services should, gasp, reflect the purposes noted in the New Testament; services should reflect regulatory principles from the New Testament.  Services should include careful systematic consideration of Scripture, prayer, reading of Scripture, and appropriate use of “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.”  The vast majority of attendees are believers, part of the congregation, and come to be instructed from Scripture and to be a part of corporate worship.  Thus, unchurched people visiting a church may not feel completely comfortable.  The church should teach, preach, and sing doctrine and truth from Scripture.  The church in all of its activities and certainly in its services should clearly present and adhere to the Gospel.  And here, I think, is the problem of the generic church.

“Cheers Church” increasingly is becoming more “Cheers” and less “Church.”

I Corinthians 2:14 reminds us, “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The church can never moderate to be completely inoffensive to the unchurched and still declare the Gospel.  When it dumbs down to be inoffensive and affirming, never teaching doctrine and truth from Scripture that might offend, it ceases to be the church.  Instead of church “equipping the saints to do the work of the ministry” so that church members can grow in their faith and reach people with the Gospel, the church focuses on numeric growth through things like fun, entertainment, benevolence, community, or motivational talks with a few verses thrown in.

There is a great and growing hostility toward Christianity.  Many people want nothing to do with organized religion, and we don’t want to give the unchurched any more reason to reject attendance or identification with church.  Perhaps an individual has had a bad experience or otherwise has gained a bad impression toward a definitively-named church.  (One wonders what might happen when that person has a bad experience at Cheers Church or Fig Leaf Fellowship.)  In truth, I’m less concerned about the name than I am about the nature, character, and faithfulness of a church.

Again, I’m sure many generic Fig Leaf Fellowships are doing a good job.  But more than questioning what they are hiding, I have to wonder if in fact they are not hiding anything because there is nothing there to hide.  Do they believe lost people are really lost and in danger of eternal loss, or do they believe that their task is to help people have a better life in this world by sparking something good that is inherently in the heart and mind of people?  Have they walked away from the Gospel and the rather harsh truth that lost people are lost and need to come to Christ in repentant faith or face eternal judgement?  Have they removed the essential nature of the New Testament church?  Have they become focused on positive thinking, motivational speeches, relationship advice, keys to success, generationally-focused entertainment, benevolent and charitable acts, etc.?

The name of a church may not matter.  The real issue, though, is that many evangelical churches regardless of their name or brand are becoming not just generic, but placebos.  A  generic pharmaceutial should have the same effective ingredients as a name-brand medication, and if so it will be effective.  A placebo medication, on the other hand, is a pill, medication, or procedure that is administered for perceived or psychological benefit but has no real therapeutic benefit.  It lacks effective ingredients.  It may please or calm, but it doesn’t cure.  A church that in its services does not hold obviously and tenaciously to Scripture (all of it), truth, and the Gospel, is a placebo.  A church that substitutes a sense of community and “doing life together,” relational advice, keys to success, human reasoning, or empty talks referencing a verse or two, but is devoid of doctrine, is a placebo.  A church that shuttles real content off to discussion groups that too often become chat groups, and never engages in authoritative teaching from the Bible, is a placebo.

People don’t need a placebo church.  They need a real church that convinces them of their true need and points them to the One Who is truly the Cure.