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Archive for the ‘Theology’ Category

Whether you move to a new community or your church decides to shut its doors, you may find yourself looking for a new church home at some point.  When you are looking for a church, what do you consider the most important issues or reasons in selecting a particular church.  As I consider this, these are what I consider the most important issues in the selection process of a new church home.

1. Agree on primary theological issues. The first and most important characteristic needs to be that we agree on the primary theological issues. That is, they must have a biblical understanding of the gospel. This is a non-negotiable point. They must understand the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ’s work on the cross. They must agree that one’s salvation is by grace and grace alone. Salvation is a work completely of God and He doesn’t need our help. You must only repent. The church must agree with the inspiration, authority, and sufficiency of Scripture. We may not always agree on how to interpret Scripture but we must at least agree that the Bible alone is the rule for all that we do.

2. Credobaptism. Any church that I join must practice believer’s baptism. I will not join a church that does not practice baptism by immersion. Sprinkling is not baptism. Baptism is, by definition, dipping someone under water. Baptism must be reserved for believers who have demonstrated a credible evidence of regeneration and who want to join the church and become part of the community of believers. They cannot baptize infants. They must baptize only believers.

3. Ministry to all ages. I need the church to minister to all ages, at least the ages of the people in my family. Since I have youth aged children, I need it to be a place where my youth aged children can live in community with other youth. I need it to be a community of believers where adults speak truth into children’s lives and show them what it means to live as an intentional disciple of Christ. I need the church to be intentional about preparing the youth biblically for a world that is hostile to Christian ideas. I don’t need it to be about parties, concerts, and amusement parks. I need it to be intentional and gospel driven. I need to it to be a church that understands the parents’ role in the youth’s lives but will alongside the parents in discipleship.

4. Expository Preaching. I believe that a church needs a steady diet of expository preaching. It is okay to depart from it on occasion but in general, expository preaching needs to be the practice of the preacher. It helps in preaching the full counsel of God and not just focusing on the favorite texts of the pastor. It also allows the text to drive the message rather than using a Bible verse for a launching pad to say whatever they want.

5. Welcomes workers. I hope that my next church would be open to having new people serve and minister in the area of their gifting. There are areas in which we could contribute to the ministry of the church but I need the church to be open to having new people get involved. I don’t want to be a part of the church that always goes to the same people to step in and minister.

6. Missions. I would hope that the church would have a biblical understanding of missions. But, if they don’t, it needs to be a church where the pastor is leading them to give financially to support missions. It should be a significant part of the budget, prayer, and preaching.  It should be a climate conducive to the church growing in this area.

7. Love in spirit and practice. Does the church have a sense of unity in spirit? Do they love on one another? Are they welcoming to visitors?

The answer to these should be a resounding “yes!” These are really the minimum of what I think should characterize a church that I join. There are several other traits that I think are important but are not must-haves such as high expectations and accountable church membership.  However, if the church is getting a steady diet of expository preaching, these other issues will eventually fall into place.

What are your thoughts?  What do you look for in a church?

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I really enjoy Kevin DeYoung’s blog over at the Gospel Coalition called DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed.  I usually agree with him theologically on most points.  I even subscribe to his blog via email.  However, he recently published a post entitled Are Christians in America Persecuted?  He basically said that it happens all of the time but persecution happens to Christians in America “not as frequently, consistently, or with nearly the intensity that Christians are persecuted in many other parts of the world.”

While I agree with the last statement, I do not agree with his assessment that it happens all of the time.  I also do not agree with his reasons for making that statement.  I really appreciate the fact that he brings in the Bible but I believe that his exegesis is fallacious.  He equates the biblical word for persecution with “harassing someone because of beliefs.”    He points out that Old Testament prophets were reviled and spoken against and Jesus calls this persecution in Matthew.  The problems is that reviling and being spoken against is not equivalent to harassing someone.  Harassing in our modern English is very subjective.  You can consider someone calling you a “Right Wing Bible Thumping Radical” harassment or even being reviled.  But this is not being persecuted.  You don’t have to be killed or be tortured to be persecuted.  I think we are going down the road towards persecution but it does not happen all of the time to all Christians.

DeYoung argues from Scripture that persecution is not something that happens only to a few Christians.  The Bible says that it happens to all Christians.  I wholeheartedly agree but we must read the Bible in its context.  It was written to Christians in the first century who were persecuted for following Christ.  In 21st century America, I don’t know that it applies.  The context is totally different.  I think we need to count to the cost and be willing to be persecuted but we live in a culture where persecution is not widespread.

He also brings in Acts 5:41 which says that it is a privilege to suffer for the name of Jesus.  This is true.  However, that does not mean that all American Christians have this privilege.  Our Christian brothers and sisters in other parts of the world face persecution and it is our privilege to pray for them and encourage them and work for their release as we are commanded in Hebrews 13:3.  To equate what we face in America with what Christians face in places like Eritrea or North Korea is wrong.  When they are placed on the same level, we minimize the significance of real persecution.  It is like me saying to my wife about the pain she has in her back from a herniated disc, “I experience pain everyday and all the time.  In fact, I experience pain when I burned my mouth on my coffee this morning.”  To equate the two, minimizes the real pain that my wife faces.

Please, I understand people talk about you behind your back for being a Christian at work.  You may even get passed up for a promotion because you don’t work on Sundays or you won’t lie to get ahead.  Don’t equate this with someone being hung upside down and having boiling grease poured over his feet.  Don’t equate it with Christians in Ethiopia who are put in sea containers in the desert heat and don’t even have a place to go to the bathroom.  Don’t equate it with a man who is forced to watch prison guards rape his wife because they are Christians.  They are very much different in nature and degree.

Let us not overstate what happens to Christians in America.  Let’s pray for Christian brothers and sisters who face persecution.  In fact, some in American face persecution also but this is the exception and not the norm.  Let’s remember Hebrews 13:3 and “remember” those who are in prison and those who are mistreated for their faith.  For more information on how you can learn how to pray or support our persecuted family visit the website of The Voice of the Martyrs.

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I work as an engineer.  I think I am pretty good at what I do for a living but it is just that; what I do for a living.  It is not something that I am necessarily passionate about.  It is what I do in order to fulfill my biblical responsibility to work and provide for my family.  There are other things such as various ministries in which I am involved that are really my passion.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard statements similar to the following from Christians.

“I am an accountant but my real passion is apologetics.”

“I work as a salesman in order to make money but what I really enjoy is the work I do at church.”

“I am an engineer by profession but my passion is preaching the Word.”

Have you heard this from many people?  I hear it frequently in the circles in which I am involved.  I am left with the question, “Are we supposed to enjoy our jobs or are we called to endure whatever it is we need to do in order to bring home a salary?”  Is it wrong to wish I was doing some other kind of work related to ministry?  I know the Bible tells us that we should be content in our situation.  Does this mean that it is wrong to desire to be doing something else more fulfilling or even some sort of full time ministry?  I have been thinking about this and do not have the answer quite yet but for now this is what I think.

1. Work is a blessing from the Lord.  It was something that was given to Adam and Even before the fall and is therefore a gift and a blessing.  We can do work to provide for our families while at the same time enjoying the work.  I believe that God even intends the work to benefit us and even society as a whole, especially if your job provides employment opportunities for others.

2. Work became less enjoyable after the fall.  I don’t think I need to cite verses about the curse on humanity after Adam and Eve sinned.  I believe that after the curse, work became less enjoyable and became hard.  By God’s grace some people can still do things they enjoy for the job but I don’t think that this is the norm to be expected.  For those of us who long to be involved in ministry on a full time basis we long for the new heaven and new earth but until then we are called to labor in secular work as well as in ministry.  The grass is not greener on the other side although we think it might be.  We are where God want us for now.

3. For those of us who want to be involved in full time ministry and are stuck in secular careers, we need to understand that there is not enough money to go around.  The economic times are tough.  God can use us as lay people in ministry while we keep our secular professions.  This allows us to have some income that is not dependent on the generous giving of other Christians.  It frees up money for the kingdom and it also allows us to not be beholden to those who give.  In other words, you can spend your ministry time and effort as you want and you are not accountable for what ministry you want to devote your energy to.  You also don’t have to worry about people withholding funds from you because of a controversial stand against something like homosexuality.  You have income and it is based on your work, not on what you teach.

This is where I am for now.  I am an engineer who loves to excogitate.  I would rather be out there teaching or reaching or defending the faith.  But wait, I am doing that.  I am just not doing it on a professional basis and I have an engineering job that pays my bills.

Just to add another comment.  By having a non-ministry job, we are able to come into contact with lost people and people who need to be confronted with the gospel on a daily basis.  If you were a ministry professional you would be in a Christian bubble and would only have limited access to lostness.  But as a member of the secular workforce we have ready-made relationships that are in place.  All we need to do is use those in order to share the message of hope we have within us.

What say you?

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It seems that a common practice in American Evangelicalism is take a Bible verse, pluck it right out of its context, and make it mean what we want is if it is all about us.  We think that the Bible is about us.  It is most definitely for us but it is not primarily about us.  One verse that I hear taken out of context often is Matthew 18:20.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (Matthew 18:20)

I have had heard this verse used many times as evidence that God listens to us at prayer meeting — because there are multiple believers there — and where there are two are three gathered God is there among them.  Is this really what the verse means?  If this what the verse means, one must take the corollary to be true also: if there are not two or three gathered in His name, He is not there.  Do you agree with that?  I don’t think so.  This would mean that all that time Richard Wurmbrand was is solitary confinement in a Romanian communist prison, that God was not there.  This means that when I pray alone to God in my car driving to work, that God is not there.  I do not believe this — especially since God is omnipresent.  In John 15:5, Jesus says that if we abide in Christ that whatever we ask will be given to us.  He does not say that this is true — if 2 or 3 are gathered in His name.  The way many people interpret Matthew 18:20 does not square with the rest of Scripture.

As you look at the context of this verse, it is in a paragraph that is abut confronting a brother about his sin.  If the brother does not listen to you when you confront him about sin you eventually should escalate it to the church body and he should be treated as a tax collector.  Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  He should be removed from the fellowship of the local church and we should pray for his restoration.

Let us be careful how we handle God’s Word.  Let us not make texts mean something that they don’t.

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There are many people who die every day and slip into eternity without having the opportunity of hearing about Jesus Christ and his gift to us of eternal life.  There are many that use a language in which a Bible does not even exist.  I remember being told a story about a missionary who went into a remote area of a third world country to share the gospel with a particular village.  While he was in this village, he visited a man’s home and had an opportunity to share the gospel message with him.  The missionary explained to the man that the only way to heaven was through the forgiveness of sins available through Jesus Christ.  Understanding what the missionary had shared with him, the old man in tears asked the missionary, “If this is true, why did my father not know about this?  And his father, and grandfather, and his father?”  This is such a sad story.  We have fallen short of our responsibility to carry out the Great Commission.  How would you have answered the man in the village had you been in the missionary’s shoes?  How can a just and loving God condemn those like this man’s father and grandfather and great grandfather who never had the opportunity to hear about Jesus?  Is it right for God to condemn people for their sin if they did not even know about God?  If they did not know about God, why would God judge them for their sins?  The apostle Paul deals with this issue in Romans 1:18-20 (NASB):

 “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is know about God is evident within them; for God made it evident within them.  For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”

Judgment on Sin

In verse 18, Paul writes that the “wrath of God is revealed from heaven.”  When Paul writes about the wrath of God, he is writing about God’s judgment.  Verse 18 says, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.”  This means that God’s judgment is revealed against all sin.  God is going to judge every man for his ungodliness and unrighteousness.  What is ungodliness and unrighteousness?  Ungodliness is being unlike God, of course.  Ungodliness could be any sins committed against God.  What is a sin that would fall under this category?  I believe one example of this is how so many people use God’s name so lightly in our culture and in the church.  How many times to you hear God’s name used inappropriately on TV, in the marketplace, and among church members?  For some reason people feel like they have to do this to get their point across.

God will not only judge sins against him but sins against other men.  This is what Paul is referring to when he says “unrighteousness” in verse 20.  There are so many example of this that it would be pointless to try to list them.  Just turn on daytime television or watch the evening news.  We are constantly hearing about crimes being committed against other members of society.  There are robberies, murders, scams, rapes, assaults and the like just to name a few.

But Paul says that judgment on these sins is revealed to men “who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18)  What exactly does Paul mean here by truth?  I believe that the world truth can be understood as truth about God.  So God’s judgment is revealed to men who suppress the truth about God.  This may be a little confusion but Paul explains it further in verse 25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.”  Paul is saying that men suppress the truth about God by serving and worshipping the creature rather than the creator.

When we think of creatures in the English language we think of animals that are not human.  A creature to us is basically any animal that is not a human being.  When I think of a creature, I think of an animal that walks on all fours on the ground.  The Greek word for creature used in Romans 1:25 actually means a little more than that.  It actually means “building, creation, creature, or ordinance.”  Therefore, this word does not mean creature as we would normally understand it.  Its meaning is very broad.  By the word creature, Paul could be referring to the worship of a physical building or something created by the work of mankind.  The meaning of the Greek word also includes creation and creatures.  This of course encompasses all of nature and animals that God has created.  This word, creature, can also refer to the ordinances or laws and regulations made by man.  The Greek word for creature, then, basically is an overarching umbrella including everything that is not God.  Another way of putting it is, “worshipping anything made by God or by man.”  It is made clear in Romans 1 in verses 18 and 25 that God will judge the sins of everyone.  It is made abundantly clear that this includes all sins.  Paul points our in verse 18 that he is referring to sins against God and against man.  It is evident in verse 25 that “those who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” who Paul refers to in verse 18 are those who distort the truth of God and worship anything other than Jesus Christ alone.

God Revealed in our Conscience

“How is the wrath of God revealed from heaven?  Hoe does God reveal Himself?” some may ask.  Paul tells us in verses 19-20.  In verse 19 he writes, “because that which known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them” This means that we all intuitively know that there is a God.  There is no one that does not know intuitively that there is a God and this is one way which God has revealed himself and his wrath that will come upon man for his sins.

Several years ago I read a book called Blood Secrets: The True Story of Demon Worship and Ceremonial Murder.  It was a book on a religion called Juju.  Prior to reading this book I had not heard of Juju but it is a religion similar to Voodoo.  Voodoo is basically a milder and watered down version of Juju.  Juju is more grotesque than Voodoo.  The book was a retelling of a story by a priest name Isaiah Oke about his life in this religion and the rituals in which he had to take part.  The book starts out retelling Isaiah Oke’s secret initiation ritual into the religion and it goes on to explain many of the acts he performed as a Juju priest.  Many of the details were graphic and utterly disgusting.  Among other things, the Juju rituals included drinking blood and offering human sacrifices.  The book retells a fascinating event that happened when Isaiah Oke placed a Juju curse on a Christian girl at his college.  This curse and two later additional curses he tried had no effect on her.  When this happened, Isaiah became distressed and questioned his own god.  To make a long story short, Isaiah eventually became a Christian after he realized that his blood rituals had no power against the God of the Bible, the Creator of the universe.  My point in mentioning his story is this: As he retells the stories of some of the rituals he performed, he said that he knew deep within his heart that he know intuitively that what he was doing was wrong.  He knew that killing people and terrorizing people in the name of Juju was wrong.  He had a sense of guilt when he was doing some of those rituals.  He knew he was sinning.  How did he know this?  He didn’t have the Bible to tell him what sin was.  He didn’t have any Christian missionaries to tell him that it was wrong to take the life of another person even though it is an accepted practice of Juju.  I believe this Juju priest Isaiah is a good example of what Paul is referring to in verse 19 when he says, “that which is know about God is evident within them.”  Isaiah Oke knew intuitively about God and know what he was doing was against God’s law.  Like Isaiah Oke, the Juju priest, all people know about God because God made himself evident to us.

Another example of how God is intuitively evident to a person is found in Romans 2:14-16:

“For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the tings of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”

The Gentiles did not have the Law that God had given the Israelites but they obeyed the law?  How can this be?  Paul says that they instinctively know about God since their conscience bore witness to Him.  Paul says that the law was “written on their hearts.”  How did it get there?  Paul says that these are “Gentiles who do not have the law” but “the law is written in their hearts?”  These Gentiles did not have to be told about God to know about the tings of God just as Isaiah Oke did not have to be told that his Juju rituals were sin.  They both had the law of God written in their hearts.  We all have the same sense of God within us.  We know within our conscience about the things of God even if we do not know everything.  We know within our hearts when we are acting against God.  This is what Paul is saying in verse 19.

God Revealed in Creation

There is yet another way in which God revealed himself to mankind.  Verse 20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  God’s invisible attributes can be clearly seen through what he has made.  These attributes can be seen through all of creation.  There are several other places in the Bible which speak to the idea of God being revealed in creation.  One of them is Job 12:9-10.

“Who among all these does not know

That the hand of the Lord has done this,

In whose hand is the life of every living thing

And the breath of all mankind?”

God and his invisible attributes are revealed to us through his creation, the human race.  The human body is amazingly complex and equally amazing is the fact that we are able to sustain life.  As Job says, “how can we not know that God has done this?”  As Job attests here, God has revealed himself to us through his creation of man.

Another passage we can point to is Psalm 19:1-2.

“The heavens are telling of the glory of God,

And their expanse is declaring the work of his hands.

Day to day pours forth speech,

And night reveals knowledge.”

The heavens tell of God’s glory.  All of creation declares the work of his hands.  Nature, the earth, our solar system, the vastness of our galaxy and universe are testimonies to us that the hand of an almighty God is behind them and this God whom they reveal is their creator.

This reminds me of a story a friend tells about her experience working at Glacier National Park in Montana during college.  Before going to Glacier she thought that religion and God were just a crutch for weak people to make it through life.  However, while she was working at Glacier National Park she was struck with awe of its magnificent beauty.  She knew that something so awesome could not be by chance.  She knew that there was a god who created everything in Glacier National Park and the rest of the world.  Because of creation, in this case Glacier National Park, she became convinced that there is a god.  This is a testimony of what Paul writes in Romans 1 and Psalm 19.  God’s invisible attributes can be seen through his creation.  The world around us that God has made is an awesome creation and he is revealed through it.  When talking about his creation, rain and seasons also testify to God as it is written in Luke 14:17, “and yet he did not leave himself without witness, in that he did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hear with food and gladness.”  It is very clear in these verses that God’s invisible attributes can be seen all around us through the work of his hands.

We are without Excuse

Romans 1:20 says, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”  The last part of the verse says,”they are without excuse.”  This means that when we die and stand before God in judgment, nobody has the right to say, “I did not know.”  “I did not know” is not an option.  There is none who can say, “I did not know.”  Clearly God makes himself known through our conscience and the creation around us.  This is why we are told in this verse, “they are without excuse.”  No one has an excuse.

Not only will no one have an excuse but also no one will be without sin.  The Bible says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  All of us are sinful no matter how good we may think we are.  Since we have all sinned, God’s wrath will be on us all.  This places us in a hopeless situation.  We are all sinful and we are all going to be judged for our sins.  There is, however, a way out of this dilemma.  God loves us (John 3:16) and has provided hope for us in a hopeless situation.

Hope is found in forgiveness for our sins.  Even though we are all guilty of committing sins, God offers us forgiveness.  The fantastic thing about God is that he has offered this forgiveness to all of humanity.  Forgiveness is not limited to the wealthy.  It is not limited to Americans.  It is not even limited to white middle class Republicans.  It is available to everyone.  The only catch is that we don’t get it automatically.  We have to ask for it.  The Bible says, “that is you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved.” (Romans 10:9)  In a nutshell, if you turn from your sinful way of living and turn to Jesus and put your faith in him, God will forgive you of your sins.  The forgiveness is free to us but we must make God Lord of our lives and ask for his forgiveness.

This forgiveness is our only hope.  Without it God will condemn us since we are all sinful.  As the Bible says in Romans 1:20, we are “without excuse.”  There is nothing we can say to escape this judgment but to repent of our sins and accept God’s forgiveness, making him lord of our lives.  When we die and come face to face with God we will not be able to say, “I did not know.”  We will not be able to say, “no one ever told me.”  You will not be able to say, “I never believed in God.”  God has clearly revealed himself to us in our conscience.  God has revealed himself to us in his creation.  So we will be without excuse.  If you have been ignoring God’s revelation of himself don’t do it any longer.  If you have not done so, won’t you accept the gift of forgiveness and abundant life that Jesus offers to everyone?  It costs you nothing but repentance and making him lord of your life.  It cost him his very life.

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