Jun 272017
 

The revival of civic religion…

The tragedy of Asa…

A brief thought about mass evangelism…

How Jay Sekulow makes his big bucks…

Free textual criticism class…

The turquoise table movement…

The reason for Christian higher education…

On the side of truth…

The churches biggest challenge in 2017…

Is there a new form of lynching in America?

Most Christians have non-Christian worldviews…

Giving and getting numbers…

Five things egalitarians believe about gender differences…

The sickness killing the church…

10 reasons Mormons dominate multi level marketing…

How religion contributes to the economy…

The dangers of faking it in ministry…

Anxiety by Levi the poet….

Tracing grace in the contours of my face…

The growing generational gap on same sex marriage…

Does your church have the right model?

Tucked inside…community in the worn and used…

Is penal substitutionary atonement necessary?

Big thanks to EricL for the link help…support him at top right.

Need low cost web hosting with personal service? Use the company I do…

 

 

 

 

Jun 272017
 

Linkathon! and other…stuff….will be late today as I have some medical stuff to deal with this morning.

Hopefully, our regular content will be up around noon…

Jun 262017
 

The Calvary Global Network side of the Calvary Chapel split begins its pastors conference today.

For some, this is a blessing if only for the fact that the barrage of invitations and exhortations to sign up for the conference will mercifully end.

For Brian Brodersen, this conference will show the viability or lack of same of his fledgling version of Calvary Chapel.

For the Calvary Chapel Association, it will undoubtedly provide more fodder for their increasingly vicious opposition to Brodersen.

We’ll be watching as we can and hopefully, we will have some boots on the ground in Costa Mesa reporting back.

Stay tuned…

 

Jun 262017
 

Things I Used To Think

(With Apologies to Michael Newnham)

I used to think that theology could be argued and by such argument, one could convince another person of the truth of a position.  Now I know that whatever is not presented in love to another person will be seen as having little, if any, value.

I used to think that preaching could change people’s lives. Now I know that while a sermon may entertain, educate and/or inspire, it is only the life of the one behind the sermon that can touch another life, for good or for ill.

I used to think that there was value in absolute certainty.  Now I know that uncertainty leads to further questioning, further knowledge and a deeper appreciation of those who think differently than oneself.

I used to think that people in a congregation were there to be spoken to and led.  Now I know that, in the words of Chrysostom, “Sometimes the ears of the people are holier than the mouths of the priests…” and some of them may know more of God than myself.

I used to think the Bible was a single book to be outlined, categorized and interpreted. Now I know that the Bible is a collection of history, poetry, chronicles, laws, memoirs and letters, all of which combine to form a unique and singular narrative of God’s revelation and his love for the world he created.

I used to think that the Church was the creation of the Bible.  Now I know that God used the Church to assemble the canon of writings we know as the Bible.

I used to think that Tradition was restrictive and dead.  Now I know that Tradition can be liberating and alive.

I used to think that no one had struggles and disappointments like myself.  Now I know that everybody has struggles and disappointments like myself, and many have far worse.

I used to think that God would eventually bring all “true believers” into my particular Church tradition – Evangelical, Anglican, Catholic, Lutheran, Orthodox, Reformed, Baptist, etc.. Now I know that Our Lord has “other sheep… which are not of this fold…” and he leads each of us to places best suited to who we are as individuals.

I used to think that there were answers to all theological questions, you just had read enough, study enough, pray enough and/or work hard enough to find them. Now I know that we indeed “look through a glass darkly”, and some answers have to wait until we “see face to face”.

I used to think that there was some God given meaning in all tragedies. Know I now that we simply live in a fallen world and tragedies come with the territory and many cannot be explained.

I used to think that with enough theological education and learning, we could arrive at definitive answers.  Now I know how much I don’t know and that, if we are theologically and intellectually honest, any definitive answers will likely lead to yet more questions.

I used to think that The Beatles would get back together….

I was wrong about that one as well…

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD

The Project

Jun 242017
 

Coffee in one hand

leaning in to share, listen:

How I talk to God.

 

“Momma, you’re special.”

Three-year-old touches my cheek.

How God talks to me.

 

While driving I make

lists: done, do, hope, love, hate, try.

How I talk to God.

 

Above the highway

hawk: high, alone, free, focused.

How God talks to me.

 

Rash, impetuous

chatter, followed by silence:

How I talk to God.

 

First, second, third, fourth

chance to hear, then another:

How God talks to me.

 

Fetal position

under flannel sheets, weeping

How I talk to God.

 

Moonlight on pillow

tending to my open wounds

How God talks to me.

 

Pulling from my heap

of words, the ones that mean yes:

How I talk to God.

 

Infinite connects

with finite, without words:

How God talks to me.

Kelly Belmonte

Jun 242017
 

Matthew 22:34-45

The Great Commandment

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together.

So the Pharisees seeing that the Sadducees had failed, regroup.

  • I wonder in the sense of competition and jealousy if the Pharisees snickered at the Sadducees as theological lightweights?

35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him.

  • So they send out a lawyer to ask a law question – they send out a specialist, bringing in the closer in the 9th

36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”

  • Again with the teacher title – although they are unwilling to learn from him.
  • This question is quite similar to the question asked by the Rich Young Man.

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

  • OK, softball question, I will give you a softball answer – Love God.

38 This is the great and first commandment.

  • OK, this seems simple enough.
  • I like the way he divides great and first.

39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

  • You asked for one, but I will give you two.
  • Love man
  • Hey, the Rich Young Man asking a similar question got this one; Sell all that you have, give it to the poor and come follow me.

40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

  • Hey guys, it’s all here.
  • Note that he takes the lawyer back to the scriptures.
  • Now this is a summary of the law – not the elimination of the individual laws.
  • We do not have the freedom to do whatever we want in the name of love.
  • A deeper Look; what does God want from us / you with each command?
  • Loving God is a summary of the first 3 commandments.
  • 1st – God wants your heart. He wants you to trust him.
  • 2nd – God wants your mouth – to call upon his name properly in prayer and thanksgiving.
  • 3rd – God wants your ears by which he comes to you in his words so he can ‘holy you’ (make you holy). How do we keep holy? By letting God holy us — through his word.
  • Loving Man / your neighbor is a summary of the remaining 4-10 – as you interact with your neighbor.

Whose Son Is the Christ?

41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question,

  • Jesus wants to take an opportunity to talk to the Pharisees while they are still gathered together. This would be like “let’s try this one more time.”

42 saying, “What do you think about the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.”

  • So far so good – good answer – 2 Sam 7 stuff.

43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, in the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”’?

45 If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” 46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

  • Jesus is saying “don’t you even know your own scriptures?”
  • But I think they had never seen that passage in that light before.
  • This is the state that the unbeliever reads scripture – without the illumination.
  • I don’t know that you can understand the scriptures in a saving way without preaching. I don’t think someone can say, “I was just reading the Bible on my own and I became a Christian.”
  • God says through Paul, faith comes by hearing and then goes on to talk about how can you have a preacher if one is not sent etc.
  • Just like the Ethiopian Eunuch could not figure out the mysteries of the scripture until Philip was sent, preached God’s word and immediately baptized him.
  • Although I don’t think it helped the Pharisees, I doubt they looked at that passage in the same way going forward.
  • And that is probably what happened to every one of us who thought “we knew the Bible” – even if it was just enough to reject it, when we hear God’s word preached the blindness left us.

 

Jun 232017
 

When the local television station filmed the front of the house, I knew it could not be the home of my friend.

She would never tolerate an overgrown yard and weeds growing up through the cracked cement.

Same name, different person…had to be someone else.

 

Then they showed the mugshot and my old friend had indeed been the person that had allegedly shot and killed her husband.

The picture was not flattering…the alcohol was wearing off, but it looked like she had worn off a lot of alcohol since last I saw her.

Of course, the last time I saw her she was buying wine in the biggest receptacle offered.

Before that she was a co-worker and a consummate professional, irascible, untamable, and witty, but with the ability to be all that and hold a job.

The brass were terrified of her, but no one produced like her.

Sometime when she wasn’t looking, the alcohol took over.

Alcohol then became a factor in taking two lives, one in death and one potentially to a life in prison haunted by a single intoxicated outburst.

The ripples out from there are every bit as terrible.

They always are.

I do not know all the details of this horrible incident, and I hope that there is some information that mitigates her guilt, but those hopes are small.

This will end up being what we call one of those “senseless” tragedies, as if any tragedy actually makes sense.

Farther down a Facebook thread that spoke of these ruined lives was a invitation to another one of those “theology pubs”.

Come with us to the bar and talk theology.

We will demonstrate our liberty and and a thick veneer of cool while pitching Scriptures between pitchers of Coors.

I’m not a teetotaler, but I think I’ll pass.

When I needed Jesus, I actually went to church.

It looks like my old friend will miss it too.

She stayed home and drank…

Oddly enough, her neighbors said they knew there was a problem because the yard was overgrown and weeds were coming through the cement…

Make your own application… 

Jun 222017
 

God’s Birthing Suite

“Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ ” (John 3:1-3)

 

Unlike most of Jesus’ followers, Nicodemus was an esteemed public figure, highly educated, and a devout Jew. Although he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, Nicodemus was convinced that Jesus was “a teacher come from God” and “God is with him.” Nicodemus honored Jesus. Therefore, Jesus’ abrupt and unfriendly rebuff of Nicodemus probably caught him off guard.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ” (John 3:3)

Jesus applied the Law bluntly to humble Nicodemus so that he might recognize his illness and seek salvation in a Savior. Nicodemus desired to learn something from Jesus, but he thought it was something he could add to his considerable learning and piety. Jesus, by contrast, impressed on Nicodemus that what he needed was not advanced theology or more holiness, but to become an entirely different person. Otherwise, he “cannot see [i.e., understand or enter] the kingdom of God.”

“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ ” (John 3:4)

Nicodemus had the external marks of righteousness and holiness. He obeyed outwardly God’s commandments, tithed, prayed, gave alms, etc. But these were works of the Law. These marks could not heal Nicodemus from the poison of his sin coursing through his old nature. None of the things Nicodemus had accomplished – his religious education, his seat in the Sanhedrin, his piety – could reckon him righteous before God. All of his accomplishments only aggravated his spiritual blindness and lostness.

Nicodemus did not understand that it is impossible for a man born of the flesh, in his old nature, to enter the kingdom of God. A new nature is required; one that is righteous in the sight of God. Therefore, Nicodemus would have to repent of his own righteousness; it would not help him. He must be born again, by the will of God (John 1:13).

“Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ ” (John 3:5)

This new birth will be entirely God’s work, administered by the Holy Spirit in baptism, as Ezekiel prophesied: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses…. I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.” (Ezek 36:25-26a) Baptism, as Paul wrote, is: “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” (Tit 3:5). It is a washing away of our sins (Acts 22:16). Peter described baptism as a washing that now saves us (1 Pet 3:21). The font is God’s birthing suite for His new children.

There are three elements required for a baptism: God’s Word, water and the Holy Spirit. When Jesus speaks of “water and the Spirit,” He is speaking not of two baptisms (one by water and the other by the Spirit), but of one baptism of water and the Spirit. Moreover, Jesus does not leave out His Word, because the Spirit works through the Word: “he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak” (John 16:13). Similarly, when Paul speaks of baptism as a “washing of water with the word” (Eph 5:26), he does not leave out the Spirit, because the Word sends the Spirit.

The third element is water. By itself, water has no spiritual properties. But when, by His command and promise, Christ’s Word, is added to the water, it becomes what the Prophet Ezekiel termed “clean water” (Ezek 36:25), through which the Holy Spirit births a new child of God.

“That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:6-8)

Jesus used a parable to describe the new birth. One knows the wind is present when he hears its sound and feels it blow. In an analogous fashion, one knows the Holy Spirit is present in baptism when he hears the Word and feels the water.

“Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can these things be?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?’ ” (John 3:9-10)

The gift of new birth was promised in Israel’s Scriptures. Jesus chided Nicodemus, as a teacher, for not knowing his own Scriptures. David understood: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10) Ezekiel also: “And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh” (Ezek 11:19).

“Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (John 3:11-15)

Jesus then proclaimed His Gospel to Nicodemus that the new birth and entrance into the kingdom of God will come by God’s grace through faith in Him alone. The bronze serpent that Moses affixed to a pole in wilderness, which cured the Israelites physically from the bite of venomous snakes, prefigured the cure from the poison of sin that Jesus procured for the world on the cross.

The Israelites were without any cure from the deadly venom of the snakes, which God sent as punishment for their murmuring against Him. But on account of the people’s repentance and the intercession of Moses, God had mercy on the people. According to God’s command and promise, Moses made a bronze snake, which was neither alive nor venomous. By itself, the bronze had no curative properties. But wrapped inside God’s Word, “everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live” (Num 21:8), the bronze serpent became a salutary symbol.

Similarly, all humanity has been bitten by the poison of sin for which we possess no remedy. Therefore, God’s Son, came to us incarnate of our flesh, but without the poison of sin. Notwithstanding His innocence, Jesus gave up His life for our sins on the cross to destroy the power of sin. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom 8:3b). His death is salutary for everyone who believes in Him.

God offers us the forgiveness of our sin, not by seeing with the physical eye, as the Israelites looked at the bronze serpent, but by hearing with faith (Gal 3:2). We do not receive our adoption as children of God by looking at a bronze object, but by feeling clean water applied to our skin while hearing the names of the Triune God given to us at the font, by the command and with the promise of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

Jun 212017
 

“I believe in the Kingdom Come

Then all the colours will bleed into one

Bleed into one.

But yes, I’m still running.

You broke the bonds

And you loosed the chains

Carried the cross of my shame

Oh my shame, you know I believe it.

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.

But I still haven’t found

What I’m looking for.”

I recently heard Bono refer to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” as a “gospel song with a restless spirit”.

Along with being one of the most accomplished and recognizable rock bands in the history of the genre, U2 has long been known for its use of spiritual imagery and sometimes outright Christian lyrics.  There is often much curiosity as to the faith and religiosity of the group.  While the band would never fit into the category of Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), there is still the impetus by some to classify them as a “Christian” band.  Bono has been quite outspoken about his faith, especially in more recent years, while other band members are more reserved in what they share about whatever beliefs they do or don’t have.  In many ways they remain an enigma when it comes to their “Christianity”.

This is frustrating to some of us.  We want everything to be neat and tidy when it comes to the faith.  You’re either in or out.  You’re either a Christian individual/band/author/etc. or a secular one.  You’re an Evangelical or Reformed or Lutheran or Catholic or Orthodox or etc., etc., or else you’re not a believer.  And for some of us, if someone claims membership in one of the formerly mentioned categories of faith, that just might actually place them in the latter category of unbeliever.

Beyond the categories, we also want everything to be nice and neat in the spoken faith and actions of someone who has a professed faith.  While we don’t expect everything to be perfect, we do expect that once someone gets saved or “rededicates” their life or joins the Evangelical/Lutheran/Anglican/etc. Church that they have found what they’re “looking for”.  They shouldn’t be saying they believe in Jesus on one hand and remaining on some kind of unsettled search on the other.  After all, shouldn’t faith in the work and person of Jesus Christ be the ultimate answer and destination and fulfillment of our needs and yearnings?

Now, of course, in reality nobody can be “sort of” a Christian.  Everyone is either truly in the faith or not – there is no middle ground.  Everyone is either in or out of the Lamb’s Book of Life.  However, there is only One who is the owner of that book and knows all the names present or missing.  For the rest of us, it can be a bit messier than we want in trying to “know” the truth about everybody else in regards to their faith and spiritual state.  We don’t want somebody professing a faith in Christ and then seemingly remaining in a restless state.  Even if we may all have our moments of doubt or uncertainty about matters of the faith, we don’t like it when somebody is regularly questioning the status quo or frequently looking for something more.  These things just don’t fit nicely into our boxes.  If someone is really saved, shouldn’t they be more settled?

It is wonderful when someone comes to faith in Christ and they find true contentment.  It is great when someone joins a church and they feel like they have found a home and no longer struggle with restlessness or anxieties within their faith.  I would hope that each and every believer would be able to experience such a state.  Yet for some professed believers, it would appear they struggle to reach such a state and some seemingly never get there this side of eternity.  Some may have gone through harrowing circumstances in their lives that make it difficult to come to such a peaceful standing.  Others may not have had any specifically terrible traumatic experiences, yet a restlessness gnaws at their soul.  I do not claim to be able to precisely describe and diagnose each such situation.  But for those who struggle to reach that state of comfort and contentment, does that make them lesser Christians?  Does that make them less genuine?  Does that possibly put them out of the faith all together?

I certainly don’t want to play God here and act like I know all the answers and can explain it all.  But I do tend to think that God has a purpose for that restlessness that resides with some believers.  And that it doesn’t automatically make them lesser Christians in any sense.  Maybe it is a tool that God sometimes uses to keep people searching after Him.  Maybe He sometimes uses it to spur them into action.  Maybe Bono wouldn’t have advocated so greatly for the poor and needy in this world if he didn’t have that restlessness.  I don’t know these things, it is just speculation.  But I think they are things worthy of consideration.

I recently heard a popular Evangelical preacher exhorting people to search their Bible when they have questions.  Certainly good advice and a wise thing to do.  But he then went on to say that whenever he has had a question about anything, he has never not found the answer in the Bible when he went looking for it.  In fact, many times it has been quite simple to do, he said.  

I called bull. 

Tell that to the parents who lost their child to a grisly fight with cancer.  Tell that to the one who lost a loved one to a senseless murder or terrorist attack.  Tell that to someone who suffers with a severe and incurable physical or mental or psychological condition.  Many of them are not going to find their answers in the Bible of why they have had to experience such a terrible matter.  Yes, they may find comfort and peace and even contentment.  But answers to why God has allowed such a horrible thing to happen?  I would doubt many ever receive direct answers to such when searching the Word.  Things just aren’t as nice and neat and simple as the big popular preacher wants to tell you that they are and that we want to believe them to be.

And so, a group Like U2 defies the expectations of many of us as to what we expect Christians to be.  Even for those who know substantially more about the band than I do, in some matters there probably would be honest acknowledgment of perplexity.  And yes, there are many things that U2 has said and done that could be worthy of criticism.  They have been far from perfect in their actions or in some of their stated or veiled theologies….. just like the rest of us.  But I don’t know if their restlessness is necessarily a bad thing.  Maybe God has a purpose for Bono and the rest feeling like they “still haven’t found what they’re looking for”.

But this really isn’t about U2.  They are just the popular example.  Some of us have found a deep contentment in our faith and/or church.  Others of us have that restless spirit with varying degrees of intensity for varying lengths of time.  All of us are hypocrites from time to time when contrasting what we say Christians should do versus how we actually act.  And so it isn’t always so nice and neat, even for those of us who are content.  Why should we expect differently from those who are a bit more unsettled?

No matter what our state, we don’t always do all the right things or always rightly represent Christ or have all the answers (nor does God always reveal all the answers to us).  Not everything within Christianity is always as befitting as we sometimes think it should be.  And maybe that’s not always a bad thing.  Whatever our lot in life, may God bless us and keep us.                      

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