Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Biblical Rationale for Avoiding R-Rated Movies

One of those pastoral quandaries is how to respond to forms of entertainment. The lines are clearly blurred as to what is considered wholesome and harmful. Often the casual Christian can be overheard talking about the merit of a particular movie in Christian fellowship. It is an understatement to say people crave entertainment and it is quite plain that people patronize Blockbuster over their local libraries. Movies are an immensely popular form of entertainment yet one that has seriously deleterious effects on the Christian.

Though a hearty argument could be offered to forbear of television and movies altogether, possibly a topic for a future post, an argument against viewing R-rated movies is readily apparent from Scripture. R-rated movies each have particular thematic elements that would characterize them as R; nudity, violence, language, sexual themes, disturbing and horrific images, and drug usage. However, many Christians see no reason to avoid them altogether.

I often hear of Christians viewing movies with these elements with no prick of conscience at all whatsoever. Though there are good R-rated movies out there, most Christians, if not all, would see that a Christian who watches any R-rated movie would interpret it as blanket acceptance of all R-rated movies. This principle works out really well with teenagers and I have experienced this first-hand.

I decided to refrain from R-rated movies after agonizing through Saving Private Ryan. As family night entertainment, Ryan is a casualty, but as a mortality feature underscoring the graphic brutality of armed combat, the movie is brilliant. However, consider a few of the film's non-violent specifics. There is gross foul language, coarse exchanges about promiscuous sexual encounters, and as far as respecting faith and God, Ryan offers very little hope. Though I have heard the argument and redress is offered below, the second World War indeed may have been realistically portrayed in Ryan, it is still rated R. The decision to refrain from R-rated movies became a matter of personal conviction and one that I believe is biblically founded.

I had seen no R-rated movies in the length of time between Ryan and The Passion, making the mistake of seeing it. Though I will refrain from commenting on Mel Gibson's epic attempt at attaining grace, when the teenagers in the church I serve caught wind that I had seen it, they were appalled! It was rated R and they could not see beyond that. Many then quickly equivocated and drew the conclusion that since it was acceptable for the pastor to watch an R-rated movie, notwithstanding the fact that it was a movie about the passion of the Savior, it was also acceptable for them to watch an R-rated movie. Not long after that, one asked me if I had ever seen a particular horror movie. Needless to say, the foundation I had erected for opposing R-rated movies crumbled in just over two hours of viewing pleasure.

So Paul's words fell hard upon me: "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge, eating in an idol's temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols (1 Corinthians 8:10)?" Against better judgment, I rationalized that since it was a movie about Christ, regardless of the rating, I should see it. I also needed to see it simply because my church folk will see it and I need to be able to speak coherently about it. My rationalizations did not stand up to divine scrutiny and it caused others to stumble. I ate the idol's food and emboldened others.

Obviously then, viewing R-rated movies cannot fall under the auspices of Christian liberty, that as long as I do not harm anyone else then my actions have no (real) consequences. But isn't what I do in the privacy of my own home my own business? But are not all our actions seen by an omnipresent God? To whom then must we give account?

Moreover, viewing R-rated movies is a clear failure to abstain from evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:22 calls on every believer to "abstain from every form of evil." Romans 12:9 tells the world-weary Christian to "Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good." Philippians 4:8 calls on the faithful to meditate on these: whatever things are noble, just, pure, lovely, of good report, anything virtuous and praiseworthy. God calls each one of us to abstain from those things which would cause us to sin or lead us and others into an unhealthy relationship with the world.

In addition, the viewing of R-rated movies breaks the law of love, outlined beautifully in 1 Corinthians 13. Love does not rejoice in iniquity (verse six); it does not participate in the sins of others by giving approval to them. Approval is given to the filmmakers of Hollywood by watching their sordid diddies, not to mention paying to watch them. Does this smack of John Tetzel selling indulgences?

Elementary health texts opine that you are what you eat. Computer programmers still abide by the now ancient adage, garbage in, garbage out. Jesus said, "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and defile a man" (Mark 7:21-23). Why then would you feed the beast within?

And a closing word to those who preach and teach the Word of God: be careful of the illustrations you use to amplify your preaching. Preachers can make the congregations they serve stumble into sin when using illustrations from popular but R-rated movies. Do not think that you must be so contemporary that you cannot connect with your congregation unless you use popular media to keep them engaged. Illustrative material can be found in a plethora of other places without resorting to food offered to idols.

This is a painstakingly brief post, but from the heart of one who desires himself, his family, and the congregation God has given him so richly to serve, "to be presented perfect in Christ Jesus" (Colossians 1:29).


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Blogus Nomenclaturus

Heavenly Heartburn has become one of my favorite readings out in blogdom and today's post was an appeal on Barb's behalf over at Chelsea Morning. She has requested that in order to meet new bloggers and make new friends, that we post a link to our blogs on her blog with an explanation why we chose the names of our blogs.

Seeing is how I am new to blogdom and just getting out here myself, I just recently posted my reasons for writing with an explanation of who the rambling prophet is and why I chose that name. In a nutshell, if you don't want to read the whole post, it is simply my intention to ramble through some theological and church issues and make some new friends along the way. (Incidentally, I don't consider myself a prophet!) Plus, I want to have my thinking challenged.

I hope that my blog is a blessing to those who read and it inspires us to serve Him more faithfully.


Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Offense of Bibliolatry

"Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." Colossians 3:16

In the May 2006 issue of American Legion (one of the homebound in the church I serve gives me his copy when he is done with it), there is an article about the treatment of detainees at Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The article dispels myths that detainees are treated harshly. They receive three good meals a day and full medical treatment. They have a basketball court and soccer field. Each cell even has an arrow that points east, toward Mecca, so that the Muslim detainees know which direction to pray at the appointed times. Guards handle copies of the Koran, the sacred literature of Islam, cradled in a surgical mask, respecting the Muslim belief that infidels should not be allowed to defile their holy book by touching it.

This handling of the Koran caught my attention because it illustrates the great reverence that Muslims have for their holy book. It graphically represents dedication of devotion to the study of their sacred literature, a lesson all Christians should heed. As a pastor I hear all the time about a church member having read a certain book and how greatly it impacted their walk with the Lord. This excites me! Church members reading Christian books to gain a deeper understanding of God's Word elicits great approval from me. However, in no way should this ever take the place of the regular reading, study, and memorization of God's Word.

Church folks are intimate with the words of Rick Warren, David Jeremiah, and Chuck Swindoll, yet only fairweather friends with the Word itself. Those who place the words of mere men above the Word of God are walking on thin ice. It is a mistake to elevate mans' opinions of a matter over that of the Biblical Author. A church member once accused me of bibliolatry. Frankly, I had not heard that word before and I was concerned, so I asked her what she meant. She responded by telling me that I had more respect for "that book" than Jesus Himself. I patiently tried to explain, but to no avail, that to not know Christ's Word is to not know Him. How else can we know Him?

In Christian experience there seems to be a great emphasis on the subjective and the elevation of that subjective experience over that of biblical revelation. Subjectivity has its place in the life of a conscientious Christian. However, it should never supersede that which God has revealed to us in the Bible. What is read in God's Word ought to temper and shape those subjective experiences. I am not doubting that God does not work in supernatural ways anymore; what I am saying is that it is not the norm because we have a completed canon of Scripture.

Joanne Shetler wrote a fascinating book called And the Word Came with Power. Ms. Shetler was a Wycliffe Bible translator working among the Balangao people of the Philippines. Ms. Shetler chronicles in her book how the Word of God literally transformed the Balangao culture. Demons were haunting the Balangao people, driving them to sacrifice their choice livestock, divine with butchered animals' bile, and to give in to every superstition the spirits bade them obey. However, Ms. Shetler, in spite of the fear of the people whom she loved, children dying at the hands of merciless spirits, and blood spilt daily, she continued to learn their language and translate the New Testament.

Ms. Shetler then prayed a bold prayer: "God, show the Balangaos that You're stronger than the Spirits. Make the Balangaos desire You; help them believe Your Word." Amazingly, and not apart from His Word, God answered that prayer. Here is an excerpt from her book (pp. 87-88).
After a while the Bible studies following Melisa's death waned. Then one day Ama [Ms. Shetler's adopted Balangao father] casually picked up an English New Testament from my shipping-crate desk. He opened it to the first page, Matthew 1, which is a list of names. He stood frozen, staring at it. Incredulous, he asked me, "You mean this has a genealogy in it?"

I said, "Yeah, but just skip over that so you can get to the good part."

"You mean this is true?" he asked. Eyes riveted to the page, he struggled through the list of names.

Something's going on here! I got some shelf paper and made a genealogy from Adam to Jesus, from the ceiling down to the floor. Ama took it all over the village. He carefully explained, "We always thought it was the rock and the banana plant that gave birth to people. Look, here are ALL the names--written down!"

A genealogy written was powerful. Balangaos loved that genealogy from the Gospel of Matthew. It proved the Bible was true: for the first time they had the actual names from the beginning of the world--written down.
That genealogy rocked the Balangao world--turned it upside down! A reading like this will cause you to never skip over those long genealogies ever again in your daily Bible reading plan. Imagine, that if God can transform an entire culture from a genealogy, think about what He could do in our lives and in the life of His precious church if Christians indeed obeyed Paul's admonishment, "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly."

The Holy Scriptures ought to be at the forefront of every Christian's mind. This is what Paul meant when he said that the word of Christ should dwell in you richly. Like the prophet Jeremiah, His word ought to be like a fire shut up in your bones. The Word of God ought to be all-consuming, soul-searching, and sin-revealing. If one truly desires to be like Christ, he will then dedicate himself to Christ's book. Do not place subjective experience with Christ above His objective revelation, because Christ will never do anything contrary to His Word.

I was once accused of elevating knowing Scripture above knowing Jesus. I responded that if one is to know Christ, then he will know His book. Like the detainees at Guantanomo Bay, I have a holy reverence and fear for the holy book God has given to us. I am not so foolish that I handle it cradled in a surgical mask, for fear that I might wrinkle the pages. My Bible is open, marked up, wrinkled, the cover cracked and faded. These are the tell-tale signs of a reverently treated Bible. A church member once showed me a ragged, beaten up Bible with the binding just barely hanging together. The pages were dog-eared, written on, and rumpled, which in many places looked like tear stains. She proudly said, "This was my daddy's Bible." I myself also swelled with pride at that statement. The maxim is trite and overused but nonetheless true; a Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn't.

May God bless you as you earnestly seek to know Him through His Word.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Yet Another Pastor Falls

The 25 August 2006 issue of the Gazette Virginian contained yet more fodder for the world to disparage Christians, shame the name of the Lord Jesus, and mock Christian ministry. Bold letters on the front page noted a "Pastor Charged with Stealing from Church."

The article does specify that the pastor was a former native of the area, so fortunately he has done no damage to any existing ministry in our little corner of the world, but certainly disillusioned a few saints and compromised a few folks' trust. He was dismissed from the church he served in our area in 2004 for unknown reasons yet after dismissal, continued to use the church's account to pay personal bills until January 2006. If that does not raise an eyebrow as to the handling of the money bag at this church...

However, my heart breaks for this man because it very easily could have been me. Oswald Chambers said in the June 1st devotional in My Utmost for His Highest that “…there is no criminal who is half so bad in actuality as you know yourself to be in possibility.” Mr. Chambers concurs with the prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 17:9; “The heart is deceitful above all else and desperately wicked, who can know it?” I am not above this fallen pastor in any way because my heart has the same wicked tendencies. Perhaps he had lost hope, perhaps he did not know where the next dollar would come from, perhaps he lost faith that God could provide. Any number of things could have dissuaded this man from trusting God.

The fact of the matter is, I myself can be a closet atheist. I find myself failing to believe God's precious promises everyday. I find myself walking a narrow chalk line between faith and disbelief. I find myself fearful at times. This sinful world we live in can overwhelm a man if he is not careful and lead him trip-tropping down a pretty path of destruction. God can and will forgive Mr. Kelly. The state of Virginia will probably not be so lenient.

May those of us who love the Lord and love serving Him pray for this man and others like him who would throw their ministries, their reputations, and their families away for table scraps. May we also pray that Christian congregations learn to discern the hireling Jesus warned about and be bold enough to dismiss that man before he can bring shame upon himself, his family, Christian ministry, and most importantly, the name of our precious Savior.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

On Blessings and Being Blessed

What is a blessing? What is a reward? In the biblical sense, what does it mean to be blessed and rewarded by God? In the simplest of terms, to be blessed by God is to enjoy His favor. God is pleased with you, your relationship with Him, and your service to Him. The word reward in the Bible is almost synonymous with blessing. What then does a blessing look like? Christians who love the Lord should truly want to understand what a blessing is.

Lamentably, pop Christian culture has twisted the concept of being blessed by God to mean something other than what God intended. (Kudos to Joel Osteen, Paula White,
et. al. for that.) The church has allowed the world to influence its understanding of what it means to be blessed by God.

The heresy of the prosperity gospel has taught for too long that to be blessed is to enjoy material favor with God and too many believers readily accept it. If God loves you, if God'’s favor rests upon you, then God will give you a lot of stuff. This is not what the Bible teaches. Material prosperity is often included in the blessing of God'’s people, but it is not at the expense of minimizing the gift of Himself. Materialistic Christians have made it their ambition to acquire a lot of things and then when they get those things, they fool themselves into believing the lie that God has given those things to them. And often they get these things to the detriment of their families.

Nowhere do I believe this false concept of being blessed and rewarded by God has shaped our understanding of it than in the family. The family is no longer considered a blessing. Christians do not guard their families at all costs anymore. Children are nuisances and not beautiful gifts from God. Children are a burden and not a joy. Children are to be seen but never heard. Children are a hindrance to selfish moms and dads not getting what they want. Children are a trophy case for soccer moms with appearances to keep up. It was normal fifty years ago to have more than 2.2 children and a dog. Now, if you have more than the societal norm you must be crazy and need to be checked into an insane asylum, or are at the very least expected to be on some sort of medication. Whenever we get the groceries and fellow shoppers start counting noses (I have four children), they almost always turn and mouth a sickening platitude. Children, in short, are not a blessing. I have yet to see one Bible verse that shuns having children. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite.

"Behold, children are a gift of the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward." Psalm 127:3

"[Esau] lifted his eyes and saw the women and children, and said, 'Who are these with you?' So he said, 'The children whom God has graciously given your servant.'" Genesis 33:5

"Joseph said to his father, 'They are my sons, whom God has given me here.' So he said, 'Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.'" Genesis 48:9

"So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women said to Naomi, 'Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may His name become famous in Israel.'" Ruth 4:13-14

"God blessed them; and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply...'" Genesis 1:28

"So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will confirm my covenant with you." Leviticus 26:9

"The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning and...he had seven sons and three daughters." Job 42:12-13

"Now the time had come for Elizabeth to give birth and she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and her relatives heard that the Lord had displayed his great mercy toward her and they were rejoicing with her." Luke 1:58

Is it any wonder that because God thinks so highly of children, that He chose to bring the ultimate blessing to this earth as a child? "Behold, a virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

The book of Ruth is one of my favorite Old Testament books. The conclusion of the book teaches us much about the current state of the family in our churches. In the conclusion, there is no list of material blessings. Details about Ruth's shower, the wedding, the celebration that followed, and the honeymoon are all conveniently and purposefully left out. The book does not close with a lengthy list of possessions; it does not close with a list of oxen, sheep, and donkeys; it does not close with a four bedroom, two and a half-bath Victorian situated on three and one-half acres with a bubbling brook, but rather a family history.

That is what was important to God and still is. Stop evaluating your children at the cost of diapers, formula, insurance, and a college education. Stop thinking about what you could have had if you had not had kids. Stop blaming your kids for all of your faults. Stop criticizing them for your mistakes. Stop degrading them in front of others. Stop talking about them like they are not there. Stop avoiding them with little escapisms like the Internet and bringing work home. Stop feigning busyness. Stop valuing your friends over your children. Stop thinking things like, "If it were not for the kids..." Stop feeling noble if you have supper with your family and its the first time in a week. Stop leaving all your responsibilities to the public schools.

Start talking to them. Start making them feel important. Start loving them. Start touching them in loving ways. Start hugging them. Start smiling at them. Start telling them they are wonderful, in spite of their shortcomings. Start training them to do as you tell them to do. Start expecting obedience. Start laughing with them. Start playing with them. Start reading to them. Start taking them to church. Start worshipping with them. Start praying with them. Start intentional conversations about Christ with them.

The Bible is consistent; to be blessed of God meant God had given you children. To be fertile meant that God'’s favor rested upon you and to be barren meant that God had cursed you. Are children a blessing from the Lord? Are they a reward? Certainly Joseph and Mary thought so. Hannah was so excited she burst into song. Isaac was the apple of Abraham's and Sarah's fading eyes. Hosea cared for his three in spite of Gomer's harlotry. And the next time you count my four little noses, remember you are counting little blessings.


Monday, August 21, 2006

When Christians Misread the Bible

There is quite a humorous interchange between Sherlock Homes and his cohort, Dr. Watson, from the story, A Scandal in Bohemia. Holmes begins by saying to Dr. Watson, "You see but you do not observe. The distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room."”

Dr. Watson responds, "Frequently."

Holmes asks, "How often?"”

Watson says, "“Well, some hundreds of times?"

Holmes then seriously asks Watson, "Then how many are there?"”

Watson exclaims, "“How many? I don'’t know."”

Holmes then rebukes Dr. Watson saying, "“Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point. Now, I know that there are seventeen steps, because I have both seen and observed."

This failure to see and observe gets several Christians in trouble when it comes to Biblical interpretation. How often I have heard well-meaning Christians quote verse after verse yet fail to see the important context from which the verse is taken. Scripture cannot be approached piecemeal; accurate interpretation requires the studious Christian not only to see and understand what a particular verse says, but also to see how it functions in its broader context.

The temptation to lift verses from context is seen clearly in the way popular Christian culture uses Scripture with paltry regard to its original intent. Many greeting cards, refrigerator magnets, and devotional calendars are inscribed with the words of Genesis 31:49: "May the Lord watch between you and me when we are absent one from another." In context, this is Laban's perpetual threat to do harm to Jacob if he should ever return to Laban's territory, not a farewell blessing. Many brides have beamed as they recite to their new husbands Ruth's great promise in Ruth 1:16-17. However, these words were originally spoken by a woman to her mother-in-law. Recently I read in the temperance arguments aflame in the Southern Baptist Convention the use of Numbers 15:7-10 as carte blanche approval of alcohol use. God received a wine offering as a "soothing aroma" but this passage does not give the Christian liberty to use alcohol freely or even temperately.

A favorite and oft-misquoted verse is Matthew 18:20; "For where two or three are gathered in My name, I am there in the midst of them." This verse has become a proof-text for prayer services, dinner meetings, and to a lesser degree, house churches. It sounds noble to claim this promise when there is a less than usual turn out for prayer meeting but does this Scripture speak to other such gatherings and even impromptu ones? In context it does not. Matthew 18:20 is Christ's promise to the church that faithfully exercises church discipline that His presence is guaranteed in confrontational meetings with errant believers. It is not a Scriptural warrant for any other kind of meeting.

Some verses mean what they say and say what they mean even when extracted from their original context. In everything give thanks; not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven; all have sinned. However, the majority of verses are completely dependent upon their context. Otherwise, how could you determine that in Galatians 5:15 that the Apostle Paul is not warning against childhood mischief or rabid dogs set to attack in Philippians 3:2? One of my personal favorites is the nursery placard of 1 Corinthians 15:51: "We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."

Dr. David Black rightly compares the Bible to a large puzzle. Individually, the pieces are an accidental junk pile, without cogency or coherence. However, when the pieces are assembled, the larger picture comes into view. An isolated piece cannot make sense when removed from its proper place. Each piece fits into the others that surround it and seeing this whole pattern will protect the observant Christian from doing damage to the parts that make up the whole.

When the Bible was written, it was written by a particular man, during a particular time, to a particular audience. Scripture is never meant to be understood apart from this historical context and it was never meant to mean something that it never meant. The writer of each individual book of the Bible had a purpose, a uniform sequence of ideas, and a holy unction from Almighty God. Therefore, meaning must be derived from the passage and not attributed to it.

If we allow our imaginations to determine the meaning of any given passage, then our imaginations become the authority. Every time we read about water, it could be pressed to mean something about baptism. Each time we read about a leper, we might immediately identify him with the lost sinner. Every paralytic that needs to be healed must be lowered through a roof. I have purposefully used hyperbole so that the argument would be borderline ridiculous, but this is exactly what feminist and gay theologies do. (For instance, see Galatians 3:28. It is often used as Scriptural justification for their sordid positions.) Scripture can be contorted to mean just about anything if the context is ignored. God grant us the discernment to notice the inconsistencies.

Besides, is it not hypocritical to assume that the meaning I give a passage of Scripture has more relevance than what God intended it to mean?


Thursday, August 17, 2006

God's Indelible Pen: A Brief Commentary on Revelation 3:5

He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father in heaven. Revelation 3:5 NKJV
In studying this verse recently in preparing for a Bible study, it presented a theological conundrum. Often I have heard many preachers after having received a new believer during an invitation make a curious statement: "Such-and-such's name has just been written in the Lamb's Book of Life." I had never really thought about it, and following suit after I began pastoring, I have used that curious phrase after having received a new believer, affirming the new Christian in their commitment to follow Christ.

However, the phrase actually does not accurately represent what the Scripture teaches about election, as it is presented in Revelation 3:5. Many Christians have the idea that God keeps a running tally of all those who profess faith in Christ and then with a divine permanent marker, He writes that believer's name in the Lamb's Book of Life. However, this is not what this verse teaches. It actually teaches that everyone's name is already in the Book.

A divine register is not a new idea in the Scriptures. After the Golden Calf incident in Exodus, Moses approaches God, hopefully to make atonement for the sins of the children of Israel. Moses says to God, "Oh these people have committed a great sin, and have made for themselves a god of gold!" Moses then beseeches God that if He cannot forgive the people, that God could just blot his name out of the book which He had written. God's anger against their sin was not sated, so He responded to Moses in Exodus 32:33, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book."

Keeping a register was also a common practice in the city of Sardis. She was one of the most prosperous cities of Ancient Greece, yet by the time the letter found in Revelation 3:1-6 was delivered, the city was declining. Foolish over keeping city records, officials kept a great city register in which the names of all her inhabitants were recorded. There were only two ways an individual's name could be removed from the register; either criminal activity or death. So, one can draw an interesting conclusion from these details.

All names are already in the Book of Life and only the ones who fail to receive Jesus Christ in repentance and faith are blotted out. This seems to follow from the idea behind "blotted out." Doesn't something need to be written down first in order for it to be blotted out? I actually remember the advent of erasable ink. If a student writing in ink were to make a mistake, grace was there so as to erase his error. Before that silly paper-saving convenience, if one made a mistake, it had to be scratched over; blotted out. This also raises a second theological conundrum; that if one's name is written in the Book of Life only after salvation, then the possibility exists that one's name could indeed be removed and salvation could be lost.

The idea of blotting out something that is already there precludes this notion. An individual's name is already written in the register and the Lord Jesus will make the final decision at the judgment seat, so if one has failed to make a genuine decision for Christ, then that is when God will use His great indelible pen, and blot that lost sinner's name out from the book of eternal election, as Matthew Henry calls the Lamb's Book of Life. Incidentally, when Jesus speaks these words for the Apostle John to record, He uses a double negative, a no-no in English grammar but perfectly acceptable in Greek syntax. He actually says, "[To] He who overcomes...I will no not blot out his name from the Book of Life." Why then would Jesus place a peculiar emphasis upon the permanence of those whose names are written in the Book if He meant not that they would be saved to the uttermost?


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Has Preaching Become Entertainment?

In many respects, American culture is not much unlike the ancient Roman Empire, not the least of all American's hunger for entertainment. Just as the Romans had monstrous structures, professional actors and actresses, and inexhaustible resources so we have all these things and more. Our hunger for constant entertainment has seeped into church life and often unrealistic expectations are placed on the preacher to "outpreach" himself.

While in seminary, it was not uncommon to see a line up of "big-name" preachers on the chapel list; the likes of David Jeremiah, Johnny Hunt, and James Merritt. The president of the seminary even said during a chapel service that, "Frankly, if we don't invite the big guys, you just won't come." I always had a problem with that attitude, primarily because I am biased toward small churches. I will cover why in later posts. However, he was right, simply because the chapel was packed out on those days. If a man that had "Rev." in front of his name was scheduled, the chapel would barely be one-quarter full. Those were the days that I made sure to go to chapel.

However, when the big guys did come, there was always a different atmosphere; the air almost seemed electric. They would name-drop, make fun of one another's preaching style, or even poke fun at the others' stands on secondary and even tertiary doctrines. Needless to say, I felt more like I was being entertained rather than taught the Word of God. This attitude is indicative of the overall view of the church on preaching. Now don't misunderstand, preaching must entertain in some ways so as to capture the attention and stir the will. This is exactly the point of illustration. The most effective illustrations drive points home to the degree that they stir a decision in the heart of the listener. As Stuart Olyott mentions in his useful little book, Ministering Like the Master, "We must put eyes into people's ears." Jesus typically used illustrations! Who can forget a lamp hidden under a basket, a boy feeding with pigs, or a fisherman fishing for men? So much preaching has become about who can tell a better story. My thought is that delivery and style should never override content. It smacks of sounding brass and clanging cymbals, all for the sake of self-aggrandizement.

I believe the preacher is walking too close to the world when he feels like the next sermon he preaches must be better than the last and seeks primarily to entertain. Emotional response is no indicator of how effective a message is. I laugh when I watch cartoons with my children; I cried at the end of Shadowlands; I swelled with pride watching Band of Brothers. None of these things stir me to action, though. None of these things grab my will and shakes it by the nape of the neck. When I hear the Word of God preached, I do not seek to be entertained. I seek rather to be challenged in my depraved thinking and encouraged to make a Christ-honoring decision. This is a primary goal of preaching, to illicit a response in the hearts and minds of the listeners.


Saturday, August 12, 2006

Reasons for Writing

Knowing that I am a very small fish in a blogosphere of Pacific proportions, I feel compelled that I must write and get my thoughts and ideas out there. The need to write has been so overwhelming, I have needed an outlet of some description and it occurred to me that the blogosphere may just be the right place.

During a mission trip, I had the opportunity to be on a Christian radio show and offer counsel as well as insight to a Christian in a particular situation. After that experience, God put it in my heart to minister in such a way and the desire has not let me go. I had thought about looking into radio because the fit just seemed right yet seeing as how it is nearly impossible to get on unless you have just the right connections, which I do not have, I stumbled upon blogging. So, I will add my voice to the teeming masses, desperately seeking an audience.

I call this blog The Rambling Prophet. I will not ramble in the sense of chasing rabbits or failing to stick to the subject at hand. However, I desire to ramble through several issues and hopefully narrow those to how they apply in a small church setting and how to work those out. I have a heart for the small church and I will emphasize and celebrate the small church as the most effective means of ministry. She is still the Bride of Christ though there are so many new ideas about church and what the truest expression of what the called out body is supposed to be. I do not say that in a derogatory manner. Many are leaving traditional churches (or avoiding them altogether) to seek a better "connection" with God, failing to make that "connection" in a traditional church. I also hope to be prophetic, calling on the church to repent, reform, and renew her relationship with the One who died for her that she might live.

Note however, that I do not refer to myself as a prophet. I am like the prophet Amos in that he declared, "I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet." I simply desire to be prophetic along the same lines as the Old Testament prophets.
I bring no new revelation, but only seeking a faithful understanding of what God has given us in His Word. The prophets preached and taught the people what God expected of them and then with heart-wrenching fervor, pleaded with them to return to their first love. My heart's desire is that this blog will serve a great purpose, hopefully, to minister to people just like me, seeking answers to questions that need to be answered. And if we discuss some deeper issues, then that will be good, too. I actually hope so!

I would like to make it clear what I believe and the context from which I will write. These are convictions that I hold and I dare not let them go.

  1. I believe every syllable of the Bible.
  2. I believe God is one God, eternally existent in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things.
  3. I believe that Jesus Christ is virgin born, the only begotten Son of God, lived a sinless life, and He died a penal, substitutionary, atoning death. He was buried yet He was gloriously resurrected on the third day, just as He said.
  4. I believe regeneration by the Holy Spirit is necessary and the Holy Spirit resides in and enables every believer to live a godly life.
  5. I believe man, created in the image of God, is hopeless and helpless apart from the saving grace of God. Man's relationship with God is broken because of sin but can be restored by salvation. Jesus Christ is man's only hope and He is the only way to God. Salvation is freely offered to all who accept Christ as Savior, repent of their sins, and commit their lives to His lordship.
With the exception of these essentials, we can discuss just about anything. I hope to touch on several theological topics, especially ecclesiology, and I just want to talk about God; His character, nature, ways, His will for my life and yours. What does He want? Not having all of that figured out yet, I do have a few things figured out and they are as follows.

I don't want to get in any shouting matches. That is not why I am here. I want to be edified, corrected, rebuked, and learn the Word of God and how it applies to my life. I want to learn to live more fully and completely by the Spirit. I am open to criticism as long as it is shared in love with respect for my walk with Christ. I will respond in a like manner. My watchword is Colossians 4:6, "Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one." With that being said, I would love to hear your thoughts. Passionate discussion is welcome and encouraged.

I believe that iron sharpens iron and that I can truly learn something here. Most of all, my reasons for being here are purely selfish. I have felt compelled to write, and that is what I intend to do. My heart's desire is to see God glorified in my life and yours and if this blog serves that end, then I am certainly here for the right reason.