Invasive Species

A local media story headlined “Invasive New Zealand mud snails lead to closure,” noted that access to a popular creek area was closed after the discovery of that invasive species in the creek.  The mud snails are about the size of a grain of rice and one can produce a colony of 40 million snails in a year because of their ability to rapidly reproduce through cloning, disrupting aquatic ecosystems, harming fish populations, and displacing native insects.  The species can easily move from one body of water to another by attaching to things like an animal or fishing equipment.  The parks department, struggling with how to manage the presence of the species, urged people to avoid accessing streams or creeks where the snails have been found, to thoroughly clean waders and fishing equipment, and to brush dogs to make sure that they are not carrying any of the snails.  Invasive species like this tiny mud snail can bring great harm.

Our nation is currently in turmoil and in great danger.  Our constitutional republic has seemingly become an oligarchy, ruled by a small Leftist elite.  “Patriot” has become a word considered to be almost hate speech.  Virtue is mocked while immorality is rampant and accepted.  Christianity has largely been abandoned.  This did not happen instantly; it began with small steps that over time grew and ultimately brought about the perilous state in which we find ourselves.

The history of the church is marked by the presence of “invasive species.”  The New Testament writers observed that this was happening and wrote against it.  Theological error was present very early in church history and is addressed in the New Testament.  False teachers and unworthy leaders, full of pride and bad character, were already present before the closing of the writing of the New Testament.  Immorality infected the early church and is denounced by the New Testament writers.  Paul, Peter, and Jude in their writings clearly warned against these “invasive species” and gave instruction to be diligent and to deal with these and other issues.   

This has continued through the centuries.  By the nineteenth century, rationalism and liberalism began to invade many denominations and churches and eventually drove out gospel truth.  In the twentieth century, as theological liberalism continued its destructive path and theological error became widespread, the sins against which the New Testament authors warned became accepted, and by the twenty-first century even unspeakable immorality has become accepted and celebrated.  Slowly at first, in almost imperceptible steps, “invasive species” have infected churches and institutions, diverting them away from truth and true gospel ministry. 

Often there is not much we as individuals can do about these things.  But perhaps more importantly we need to be vigilant about “invasive species” in our own lives, things that distract us, things that will sideline and ultimately do great harm to us.   Anger can become destructive if we nurture it and allow it to grow in our life.  In Ephesians 4:3, Paul instructed, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice.”  Fear and anxiety can grow and sometimes paralyze us, especially when we focus on difficult or disagreeable circumstances.  The Psalmist wrote in the 118th Psalm, “I will not fear.  What can man do to me?”  Envy and jealousy can become poisonous.  Immorality may start out in small, almost imperceptible ways and grow into something that brings disaster.  In the Ten Commandments, there is a prohibition against idolatry and having any sort of other god before God, and this is repeated throughout the Bible.  All sorts of attitudes and actions can grow and become idols and take us away from devotion to the Savior.  Further, in the Commandments we are forbidden to murder, commit adultery, steal or even covet, bear false witness, or dishonor parents.  These forbidden things can become introduced into our lives in small ways.

Philippians 4:8 reminds, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”  The closing of churches in response to the virus disrupted the church life of American believers, and it has become too easy for some to continue to stay away from church and the discipleship and fellowship that is so vital to assist us in the task of “meditate on these things.”  Diligence is required.  Nations – churches – families – individuals – are brought down slowly by the “invasive species” that are everywhere. 

Proverbs 4:3 reminds, “Keep your heart with diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”

Idols of Our Own Making

Augustine wrote, ” O poor soul, how you debase yourself when you love earthly things.  You are better than them!  Only God is above you and you were made to love him only!”

God – the God of the Bible – is the Creator of all and leaves no room for any other imagined deity.  He is eternal, uncaused, self-existing and absolute perfection, and nothing can be added to him or taken from him.  No other being is its own cause.  No other being rivals the One True God.  In the Ten Commandments we read,   

6 ‘I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.  7 ‘You shall have no other gods before Me.  ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; 9 you shall not bow down to them nor serve them.  For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, 10 but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.  11 ‘You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain.

Deuteronomy 5

That message is repeated throughout the whole of Scripture.  The Christian believer is to love and serve Him as Lord and as God; there is never to be any place given to any other god, idol, or power.  Further, we are to worship and revere Him as He is, as He has objectively revealed Himself to us in His Word, and not merely as we might wish or imagine Him to be. Idolatry, at times incorporating the religious influences of the pagan nations around them, and ultimately essentially forgetting the One True God, brought ruin and destruction to the Jewish kingdoms in the Old Testament.  Isaiah 44 conveys a key and powerful message:

 Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
‘I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.

The superiority of God over idols is the main point of this writing of Isaiah, proven by the ability of God to foretell the future.  At the end of the chapter is a detailed prophecy of events fulfilled more than a century in the future at the time of writing, and throughout the writings of Isaiah there are a number of very detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled.

And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.  Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock; I know not one.’ ”

Other “gods” made by men are idols that cannot see, speak, hear, or even do what humans can.  The ancient workmen who created idols from the natural elements of creation were mere men who could make nothing superior to themselves. 

Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
10 Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up; Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.

12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.

13 The craftsman stretches out his rule,
He marks one out with chalk; He fashions it with a plane,
He marks it out with the compass, And makes it like the figure of a man,
According to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, And takes the cypress and the oak;
He secures it for himself among the trees of the forest.
He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it.

15 Then it shall be for a man to burn,
For he will take some of it and warm himself;
Yes, he kindles it and bakes bread;
Indeed he makes a god and worships it;
He makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; With this half he eats meat;
He roasts a roast, and is satisfied.
He even warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.”
17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, His carved image.
He falls down before it and worships it,
Prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

18 They do not know nor understand;
For He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see,
And their hearts, so that they cannot understand.
19 And no one considers in his heart,
Nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say,
“I have burned half of it in the fire,
Yes, I have also baked bread on its coals;
I have roasted meat and eaten it;
And shall I make the rest of it an abomination?
Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”

Nothing could be more foolish than worshipping something made of metal or wood or other materials of creation.  Idolatry is declared to be a deception, which profits nothing and brings judgement.  The chosen Jewish nation failed to maintain strict loyalty and obedience to God.  Few of us, either individually or in our churches, have any sort of statue or image that might be considered an idol, but too often we too are given to very real idolatry. 

In Colossians 3:5, Paul wrote  “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.”   John warned believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols.”  Earlier he warned, in 1 John 2:16, “For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”   To love the world is to make an idol of some element of it.  Sexual sin, materialism, jealousy, covetousness, hunger for power and prestige, the inordinate pursuit of pleasure, selfish pride; these things are idolatry and displace God from His rightful place in our lives.  Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:1-5 “But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”  Too many of us are guilty of these things, and often we must be reminded to turn away from such behaviors and attitudes. 

But all idolatry is not so obvious.  John’s statement to believers in 1 John 5:21 to “Keep yourselves from idols,” is perhaps a contrast with reference to “the true God” in verse 20, essentially a warning against false teachers and false teaching.  A god who is not the god of Scripture becomes in effect an idol, a false god, and the god of growing segments of perceived evangelicalism is just that, a false god of their own making.

“Lovers of self” leads the list of Paul’s description of the last days in the 2 Timothy passage; if unrepentant self is loved and admired it is an idol.  This has been forgotten by a broad part of the church with people often essentially encouraged to be “proud,” “unholy,” and “lovers of themselves” by the church.  God isn’t championed as the living sovereign God of Scripture, holy, righteous, just, intolerant of rebellion and sin, while also love and grace and mercy; but rather merely as accepting and loving as defined by human reasoning.  The gospel that is presented is broadly a man-centered gospel of happiness, hope, prosperity, and success; Jesus the life-coach. The Jesus of history becomes a divine source of inspiration and timeless wisdom but not the source of salvation through His atoning death and resurrection, for a god of purely human-defined love and acceptance requires no atonement. There is little mention of the sin of man and his utter helplessness in turning to God for salvation.  Jesus is frequently referred to in literature, sermons and teaching, and especially in music in terms of filial or erotic love; Jesus the divine boyfriend.  Compromise and secularization of the church is justified by saying that this is necessary to appeal to a broader segment of society and attract the un-churched.  Pragmatism rather than revealed truth becomes a driving principle, with churches that warn no one of eternal judgement or teach that anyone should repent of their sins. As a result of these compromises they are no longer worshipping the living God but are worshipping an idol of their own making.  This is idolatry as surely as bowing down to a statue.

Ideology often becomes, in effect, an idol embraced by the church.  Patriotism and love of country is a good thing, but it can never be allowed to displace the gospel as the dominant theme of the church, and at times this has become a problem in conservative American evangelicalism.  But God, as it were, is neither Republican nor Democrat.  Themes of socialism, “social justice,” critical theory, multiculturalism, and leftist-Marxist ideas have begun to gain acceptance in the perceived evangelical community; these ideas are completely antithetic to the gospel.  The god envisioned by those who accept these ideologies is not the God of Scripture but rather an idol, a god of human making. 

“Jesus” must be the Jesus of Scripture, the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity who came to atone for the sins of all who will repent and believe His gospel.  The prosperity-promising Jesus, the sin-affirming cosmic boyfriend Jesus, the life coach Jesus, the inspirational philosopher Jesus, the example of divine love martyr Jesus, the socialist Jesus, the Jesus adapted to fit the culture of the day – these are idols, abominations to God.  The Jesus of the Bible will be all or nothing, Lord and Savior, and anything else is a lie and a deception. 

John Calvin (Institutes, 1.11.8) rightly said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.”  Just as idolatry brought disaster to the ancient Jewish nation, it will bring disaster to us. 

6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play.” “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” 

1 Corinthians 10:6-7

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.

On Faith and Repentance

In Luke 13, Jesus said, “There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.  And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.  Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?   I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

I once heard the speaker at a local attractional megachurch reference this passage.  He noted that the world is imperfect, and we should stop asking why and recognize that in this imperfect world, mistakes happen.  Builders make mistakes; the tower fell; and bad things continue to happen in a broken world.  He explained that to repent means to stop and rethink the way you think about God and suffering.  We should align our life toward God, recognize that suffering is not God’s will, and He is not just waiting for you to screw up so He can punish you.  God’s desire is to leverage our suffering, and so we should rethink our thinking about God.  A well-know hypercharismatic personality has said that repentance means to go back to God’s perspective on reality, since “re” means to go back, and “pent” is like the penthouse, the top floor of a building, and so repent means to go back to God’s perspective on reality.

While change of mind toward God is certainly involved in repentance, it strikes me that these are inadequate expressions of the idea of repentance we find presented in Scripture, and further it strikes me that failure to understand true repentance undermines the doctrine of salvation and the very nature of the gospel.  Repentance is an essential part of salvation.  It is essential for a sinner who has offended God to turn from that sin.  The repeated message of the Old Testament prophets centered on the need for repentance.  The first recorded words Jesus preached, in Matthew 4:17, were “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”  True repentance comes from the awareness that by nature we are fallen and we have done wrong, and repentance produces a desire and commitment to turn from our sin.  The requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God is to repent and believe in the atoning work of Christ; repentance accompanies regeneration.

The Puritan writer Thomas Brooks wrote, “One of the devices of Satan is to persuade the soul that repentance is an easy work.  . . . But repentance is a mighty work, a difficult work, a work beyond our power. . . . Repentance is a turning from darkness to light.  It affects the sinner’s whole heart and life.  It changes the heart from the power of sin unto God.  Every sin strikes at the honor of God, the being of God, the glory of God, the heart of Christ, the joy of the Spirit, and the peace of a man’s conscience.  A truly penitent soul  strikes at all sin, hates all, and will labor to crucify all.”  Second Corinthians 5:17 says,  “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Another Puritan, John Owen, reflecting on this passage, wrote that “Regeneration does not consist in a mere moral reformation of life.  It requires the infusion of a new, real, spiritual principle into the soul and its faculties.  It brings spiritual life, light, holiness, righteousness, and the expulsion of the contrary, inbred, habitual principle of sin and enmity against God.  This alone enables true acts of holy obedience.  The principle of true regeneration always, certainly, and infallibly produces the reformation of the life intended. . .  . Regeneration and reformation are inseparable.”

In Luke 18:13, a repentant tax-gatherer pleaded, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner.”  Pastor and author John MacArthur (“The Gospel According to Jesus,” page 32) reflecting on this passage wrote that “Repentance as Jesus characterized it in this incident involves a recognition of one’s utter sinfulness and a turning from self and sin to God (cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9).  Far from being a human work, it is the inevitable result of God’s work in a human heart.  And it always represents the end of any human attempt to earn God’s favor.  It is much more than a mere change of mind – it involves a complete change of heart, attitude, interest, and direction.  It is a conversion in every sense of the word.”  Further, “The Bible does not recognize faith that lacks this active element of active repentance.  True faith is never seen as passive – it is always obedient.”  In a sermon in 2000, MacArthur noted “What the sinner needs to do is not accept Jesus Christ or make a decision for Christ, but to repent and cry out and ask Jesus Christ to accept him in spite of his sin.

Failure to understand the necessity of repentance and the nature of the gospel of  repentant faith has brought all sorts of problems.  Many have been deceived into thinking they have been saved when really they have not.  In recent decades, emotional manipulation was often used to invoke a response from people who really did not understand the gospel but responded to maudlin invitation hymns after being warned of the danger of Hell.  It is relatively easy to “make a decision” to walk an aisle, sign a card, or repeat a repeat-after-me prayer after being handed a tract; it is another thing to acknowledge one’s sin and inability and call out to a Holy God in repentant faith.   While some who responded to such appeals fell away, thankfully many did indeed understand and believe, and many later came to acknowledge the truth of the gospel and were truly born again.

But perhaps of much more danger is the total disregard of the idea of repentance we see today.  Part of the issue is doctrinal; doctrine is seldom taught.  Belief in original sin and the sin nature of humans is not an often-considered topic in the American church today and seems to be doubted by an increasing number of evangelicals.  The holiness and just wrath of God is as likely to be downplayed or ridiculed as it is to be taught from the Bible.  Positive thinking preachers are not likely to call people to repent and believe; they are more inclined to remind people of how much God loves them just as they are and try to motivate them to reach their full potential and be happy and not worry about much beyond that.  Prosperity theology also centers more on human worthiness than on human sinfulness.  The seeker-friendly and attractional church movement are loath to mention sin and judgement; that might offend and won’t help attract a target audience.  People need to be attracted and have fun and be comfortably entertained so they keep coming.  Maybe they’ll be inspired to make a decision and live a better life.

But Jesus came to seek us and save us from our sin.  He did not come merely to save us from the consequences of the bad actions of others.  He did not die on the cross just to aid us in overcoming our problems or circumstances.  He did not die on the cross to make us happy, successful, or wealthy.  He came as the One True Saving Plan of God.  He came to die on the cross to atone for the sin, and the sins, of any and all who would repent and believe.  He came to call us to stop loving sin and start loving God.  He came to call us to both a changed mind and a changed life.

Thus, a repentant sinner should manifest brokenness and remorse over sin, and not just the consequences of sin.  Repentance and renunciation of every sin should become an attitude and a way of life.  Repentance calls us to turn from sin and embrace God.  And when we do that, we will know the life of purpose, joy, and fulfillment God intends for us, both eternally and in the present.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preaching and Teaching Doctrine

I was “blown away,” as they say, by his lesson.

I recently attended a relatively large Baptist church’s Sunday night service.  The church is, in my estimation, very healthy.  The pastor didn’t so much preach but taught, and I was “blown away,” as they say, by his lesson.

A solid expository preacher on Sunday mornings, the pastor taught this night on a doctrinal subject related to the doctrine of soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), as part of a Sunday night series on doctrinal subjects.  My first reaction was that the subject matter (pertaining to the precedence faith as opposed to regeneration) might be over the head of most of the people in my circle of family and friends, though I personally was very interested in listening to his approach to the subject matter as well as his conclusion.

As I listened, several things struck me.  Most Christians I know, including most pastors I have known, probably couldn’t intelligently even discuss the subject.  This pastor (who is personable and engaging)  is both a theologian and student of Scripture and is willing to do the hard work of taking an important,  detailed, and difficult subject and preparing  a lesson that is understandable to his congregation.  He has, as an able teacher of Scripture, put his congregation in a place where they can listen to such teaching.  He understands the primacy of Scripture and the importance of teaching the Bible and doctrine to his people.  He is systematically “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” as Ephesians 4:12 tells us.  They are being built up in their faith, growing in their understanding of the teachings of the Bible, gaining the ability to live out their faith and answer the questions of those in their circles of influence.

This Sunday evening gathering wasn’t the sort of low energy afterthought that helped kill off Sunday evening services in many churches.  It wasn’t a small group meeting devoted to chit-chat and sharing of opinions, or an entertaining video presentation.  It wasn’t a silly motivational talk; it was solid, vital teaching.  The pastor was not overly dogmatic or riding any sort of “hobby horse” in his presentation, but he discussed the clear teaching of Scripture as well as leaving room for disagreement on finer points, even charitably pointing out opposing views on some of the details of the issue.  He was teaching people to study the Word.  The minds of people were engaged as students of the Word.

Days earlier, I had been in a conversation with a person who had grown up in church and been in church for many years, but who seldom has heard solid preaching and teaching.  The conversation broadly pertained to confusion and questions related to soteriology.  Reflecting on the Sunday night lesson, I wonder if this person might have profited from hearing what that pastor said that night, and more importantly, hearing such solid teaching on a weekly basis.   There is no substitute for preaching and teaching Scripture and doctrinal truth from Scripture.

On another recent occasion at the same church, I heard a speaker who had emigrated from China.  As a youth in China, as well as after coming to North America, he had struggled with the question of “what is the meaning of life?”  Post-modern Americans, at least when they allow themselves to think, struggle with the same question.  Christianity has the Answer to that question!  And so many other vital questions!  But, churches will not help people find that Answer without an emphasis on content.  Jesus said, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth (John 17:17).”

Church as a Corporate Event

An internet Christian-themed video streaming provider recently sent out an invitation for a series from a well-known megachurch pastor.  I decided to watch at least the first session.

The series was recorded as the sermons at the Sunday service at the speaker’s megachurch, reportedly one of the largest evangelical churches in America.  In his introduction to the week one lecture that introduced his theme, the pastor invited hearers to put aside any skepticism about the Bible, and spoke of the conversion of Saul and his transformation to the Apostle Paul in Acts.  The speaker noted, “You don’t have to accept any of this,” “This has nothing to do with believing the Bible,” and “Take this question seriously, even if you are not a Christian.”  He displayed Ephesians 5:15-17, noting that Ephesians was a letter written telling Christians how to live, and introduced his theme for the series, “What’s the Wise Thing to Do?”  Using words from the Ephesians passage as a sort of springboard, he exhorted hearers not to be “unwise,” or careless, but to be “wise,” or careful, and that “the days are evil”, so “don’t let the flow of culture take you where you don’t want to be.”

He then introduced three questions as a formula for making wise decisions.  With the first, “In light of my past experience, what’s the wise thing to do?”, he emphasized that what is ok for one person may not be ok for another because of differing past experiences.  The second question was, “In light of my current circumstances, what’s the wise thing to do?”, and the third, “In light of my future hopes and dreams, what’s the wise thing to do?”, noting that personal vision is often a catalyst for wise decisions.  At the end of the talk, he assigned homework – “Ask it,” noting that in so doing one might learn something about oneself, and that perhaps people don’t always have their own best interests in mind, but maybe God does.

What hit me as I listened was not anything negative about this megachurch pastor’s formula.  He could make a mint as a corporate motivational speaker.  What really hit me was the thought that many hundreds of people had come to this church and its various satellite locations that week, and heard nothing of the gospel, had heard nothing of grace, nothing of faith and repentance, had heard the word “Jesus” mentioned in passing once or twice, had heard nothing from the Bible.  The attenders likely heard a rousing contemporary music concert before this lecture, but at the end of the day they had not in any way worshipped God and had heard nothing from scripture that would impact their lives.  Perhaps subsequent lectures in this series might have clearly included something like scriptural principles for decision-making or the Christian life or even included a clear explanation the gospel, but not this lecture.  I listened to most of the second and last sermons in the series, but never heard anything of sin, salvation, grace, faith, or doctrine, and barely a mention Jesus.

Several weeks earlier, the same megachurch pastor was featured on a nationally syndicated Christian radio broadcast that I passively listen to on occasion.  The two-part broadcast that aired around July 4 featured a sermon delivered at the megachurch, likely delivered the previous year in conjunction with July 4.  He delivered a good lecture concerning American history, the founders, and patriotic themes.  I recall agreeing with what he said almost in total.  But at the time I remember thinking how tragic it was that a few thousand people had attended this man’s megachurch services that week and heard nothing of the gospel, nothing of Christ, nothing really from the Bible.  They went to an event at what was billed as church, but it was devoid of worship and anything distinctly Christian.  It was essentially a corporate event.

We are told that this is the way to “do church” today.  It is surely a road to destruction.  The New Testament book of Jude, verse 4 reminds us,  “For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”  Verses 12-13 remind, “These are spots in your love feasts, while they feast with you without fear, serving only themselves. They are clouds without water, carried about by the winds; late autumn trees without fruit, twice dead, pulled up by the roots; raging waves of the sea, foaming up their own shame; wandering stars for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.”  Impressive clouds, but empty.

 

Jonathan Edwards and the Sufficiency of Scripture

Shortly before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus observed the Passover meal with His disciples.  As He spoke to them and explained what was to come, He told them,

“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you.  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you”  (John 14:25-26, NKJV).

As one person of the Triune God, the Holy Spirit was of course always present in the world.  Jesus promised the disciples in this passage that the Spirit was to come in a new and fuller sense.  Jesus told them that, when He was gone and the Spirit came, the Spirit would teach them, help them to understand what they had seen in Jesus, help them to see Christ as the fulfillment of the messianic anticipation and prophecies in the Old Testament.  And the Spirit would “bring to (their) remembrance” the events they had seen and experienced in their time with Jesus.  In John 20:22, after the resurrection, “He breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”  The eyewitnesses, as they later recorded the gospels and the writings of the New Testament, wrote not just as witnesses with fading memories.  They wrote as eyewitnesses under the teaching, guidance, and inspiration of God the Holy Spirit.

Peter later wrote, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21, NKJV).  The Old Testament writings were from men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  The New Testament writings are from those who were both witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and were under the inspiration of the Spirit.  The authors of the Bible wrote the objective message of God that He wanted to convey to mankind.  Jonathan Edwards (1703-1751) is regarded as perhaps America’s foremost early theologian.  He was a brilliant man who spoke and wrote extensively of the sovereignty and holiness of God.  He understood this principle of the sufficiency of scripture.  Edwards wrote,

“And yet some people actually imagine that the revelation in God’s Word is not enough to meet our needs.  They think that God from time to time carries on an actual conversation with them, chatting with them, satisfying their doubts, testifying to His love for them, promising them support and blessings.  As a result, their emotions soar; they are full of bubbling joy that is mixed with self-confidence and a high opinion of themselves.  The foundation for these feelings, however, does not lie within the Bible itself, but instead rests on the sudden creations of their imaginations.  These people are clearly deluded.  God’s Word is for all of us and each of us; He does not need to give particular messages to particular people.”

The Spirit gave us the Word, and it is that written Word that tells us all we need to know.  The written Word communicates the gospel to us, the gospel that coupled with the ministry of the Spirit brings us salvation.  His continuing ministry to us is to illuminate the written Word.  He does not give us, and we do not need, new revelation outside of the Bible.  It is the Bible that teaches us what the Savior did and taught.  Learning to hear the Spirit in the Bible is our lifelong assignment.  Through our prayerful and careful study of Bible, the Spirit develops our ability to discern truth from error, make decisions, and live the life He has for us.

We don’t need dreams, visions, voices, or impressions.  We don’t need to seek continuing revelation, and we can and should be skeptical of the claims of others that they have received such direct communication from God apart from the written Word.  We need the Spirit’s ministry through the Word.  Reading and studying the Bible, however, might be the easy part.  Obeying it and putting it into practice, well, that is sometimes the real challenge.

 

The Need For A Countercultural Church

Evangelical churches in the twenty-first century seem to be enamored with fitting easily into secular society.  Current social and cultural trends are invited into many churches with numeric growth seen as the primary goal and perceived as being dependent on attracting unchurched people in a manner that will make them feel as comfortable as possible.  Long observed characteristics of church have been completely left behind and, in many instances, what happens in a church today is almost unrecognizable from a traditional perspective.  To some degree this must be expected, as the church will of course reflect the social and economic setting in which it exists.  Times change, society changes, and this will of necessity be reflected in churches.  It is not to be expected that a twenty-first century church in the inner city will have the same look and feel as a church in an American rural area a century earlier.

Unfortunately, this has brought about a tendency for many evangelical churches to become completely focused on being culturally acceptable.  Relevance has been emphasized and misunderstood to mean that the church must be contemporary and completely affirming and accepting toward anyone in its target audience.  Entertainment, consistent with current secular entertainment, has taken center stage as the preferred method to reach unchurched people.  When the Bible is referenced in a sermon, it will likely be used as a backdrop for some sort of affirming motivational talk that the speaker presents rather than as an authoritative basis for the sermon.  In a blog on the “Grace to You” website dated August 22, 2018, pastor and author John MacArthur wrote, “For decades the popular notion has been that if the church was going to reach the culture it first needed to connect with the style and methods of secular pop culture or academic fads. To that end, the church surrendered its historic forms of worship. In many cases, everything that once constituted a traditional worship service disappeared altogether, giving way to rock-concert formats and everything else the church could borrow from the entertainment industry. Craving acceptance in the broader culture, the church carelessly copied the world’s style preferences and fleeting fads.

One wonders, however, if churches wouldn’t be better served by the idea that they should be counter-cultural.  Historically, the church has been counter-cultural in most societies.  In the early centuries of Christianity, the church existed and enjoyed rapid growth completely outside of social acceptance and often under intense persecution.  A countercultural church will have characteristics that will make it unpopular from a postmodern twenty-first century perspective just as was the case with the early church.

A key issue will be authority.  American pastor and theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote in his “The Great Evangelical Disaster,” published in 1984, Notice though what the primary problem was, and is: infiltration by a form of the world view which surrounds us, rather than the Bible being an unmovable base for judging the ever-shifting fallen culture.  As evangelicals, we need to stand at the point of the call not to be infiltrated by this ever-shifting fallen culture which surrounds us, but rather judging that culture upon the basis of the Bible.”  Postmodern thought rejects the very idea of authority.  Right and wrong, the binary/non-binary concept, has been replaced with personal choice and relativism.  A church with a focus on incorporating current societal ideas will do little to challenge this perception of personal autonomy, focusing on how to affirm, aid, and motivate the hearers.   The church operating from the more traditional and biblical perspective, on the other hand, will boldly challenge personal autonomy and declare the absolute authority of God and of the Bible.   People will be reminded that they were made by God for His pleasure and will flourish under His authority.  Authority in a countercultural church will clearly and obviously be presented as coming from scripture.  “The Bible Says” as a concept will be embraced, and the Bible will be affirmed as the Word of God.  Right and wrong, thesis/antithesis, will be presented, affirmed, and taught by a countercultural Christianity.

A countercultural church will challenge current social thinking concerning gender, sexual ethics and morality, and egalitarianism.  To reach people with the message of Christ, there must be a proper emphasis on loving sinners as Jesus did, and churches must present a winsome attitude toward anyone who will come.  Believers must live out the gospel and express love toward all.  The difficult life circumstances of people that may have taken them into sinful behavior, addictions, or relationships will be recognized and confronted in a loving manner.  But there can be no attempt to hide or soften the teaching of scripture.  Biblical marriage must be upheld and cannot be defined as anything other than one man and one woman for life.  Christian homes and marriages that demonstrate submission to the authority of scripture should be the norm among believers, and churches must be dedicated to teaching scripture so that people are instructed and enabled to live out their faith.  The countercultural church will proclaim the teaching of both the Old and New Testament that sexual sin is wrong and will clearly define what constitutes sexual sin according to scripture.  Further, biblical roles for men and women in the home and in the church will be clearly taught and demonstrated.  Male leadership in the home and in the church will be upheld according to biblical teaching.  Relativism in these areas will be challenged, with an appeal to the standards of right and wrong from Scripture.

Social justice issues are ever a focus of media but cannot become confused with the mission of the church.  Speaking out on issues of race and perceived economic issues might be popular, and scripture does give instruction on these issues.  Materialism should be condemned.  It is right and necessary that the church should teach honesty, charity, and benevolence, both corporately and individually.  A church cannot display racism and should teach from scripture that racism is wrong.  But social justice is not the primary mission of the church, and scripture nowhere teaches socialism or wealth redistribution.  The mission of a countercultural church will be tightly defined and tied to the declaration and communication of the gospel.  Further, the nature of the gospel will be clearly defined according to the teaching of scripture.

It is not enough, however, just to make statements.  Churches must reflect and demonstrate biblical authority and teaching.  The weekly gathering of the church that centers on contemporary entertainment and low-content sermons does not accomplish this.  Nor do small groups that focus on social interaction to the exclusion of serious consideration of scripture and Christian teaching.  The weekly gathering of a countercultural church will include a sermon from scripture that is true, substantial, and, well, scriptural.  Music will focus on more than just entertainment or “Jesus as my good luck charm.”  Music in church gatherings will sing back to God His attributes and nature, His grace and the great acts of the atonement in Christ, as an act of corporate worship.  Sermons, lessons, and small groups will proclaim the gospel from scripture and all of its ramifications for life.  Believers will be equipped to live in this world, even as they continually focus on the next world.  Salvation through repentant faith with an eternal focus will be taught, to the exclusion of merely an emphasis on popular themes like prosperity, success, and self-affirmation.  A countercultural church will thus tend to be reflective of a more traditional model than of more contemporary ideas of church.

Francis Schaeffer wrote in “The Great Evangelical Disaster” that If the truth of the Christian faith is in fact truth, then it stands in antithesis to the ideas and immorality of our age, and it must be practiced both in teaching and practical action.  Truth demands confrontation.  It must be loving confrontation, but there must be confrontation nonetheless.”  That confrontation will often be uncomfortable.  The countercultural church, indeed the countercultural Christian, is likely to experience a degree of rejection, ridicule, and even persecution.      

In his 1970 work “The Mark of the Christian,“ Francis Schaeffer wrote, “The Christian really has a double task.  He has to practice both God’s holiness and God’s love.  The Christian is to exhibit that God exists as the infinite-personal God; and then he is to exhibit simultaneously God’s character of holiness and love.  Not his holiness without his love: that is only harshness.  Not his love without his holiness: that is only compromise.  Anything that an individual Christian or Christian group does that fails to show the simultaneous balance of the holiness of God and the love of God presents to the watching world not a demonstration of the God who exists but a caricature of the God who exists.”  Sadly, the contemporary church, and the contemporary Christian, too often are thoroughly wed to current culture and thus demonstrate a bad caricature of God.  The church will not be effective in communicating the gospel if it is not to a great degree countercultural.