Monday, January 29, 2007

Way to go Moscow!

I don't know the back story, nor do I know the man's (the mayor) theology, but I've got nothing but a warm feeling for why the mayor of Moscow rejected some sort of a gay parade. Check out the story.

Again, I don't know with what tone this whole thing has gone down, but any mayor (of any city) is a big man to step-up for the kind of ridicule that he's going to get.

By the way, wasn't it interesting to note the way that he referred to the west (U.S. and Europe)? It sounds like the sentiments of Christians in parts of the world who are more persecuted. They see the American (or western) version of Christianity as a non-Christianity, and in a lot of ways, they are probably right. I've heard that they pray for persecution to come upon us so that we would be purified. It's a scary thought, but it wouldn't surprise me if that is exactly what God does.

There are so many things wrong with this idea...

When you remove biblical teaching and the Bible no longer becomes the final, inerrant, and infallible guide to all things pertaining to life and godliness, you get the "U2-charist". The "U2-charist" is the Church of England’s newest way to grow their churches.

Yes, it’s as bad as it sounds. The "U2-charist" substitutes famous songs by the Irish band U2 for traditional singing. Also, the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Rev Timothy Ellis said that the service would be inclusive, welcoming anyone to come.

I am not even primarily concerned with the doctrine of the Eucharist (as I am familiar with it in Roman Catholic theology), although is a concern, but it is with this continual prostituting of the message of Christ by people who claim to be Christ followers. How far has the gospel slipped from the minds of any Christian that would consider this form of secular music an acceptable means by which to draw people to church?

Now, on one hand, I too would encourage any and all people to come to church. I would want them to hear the clear gospel that calls for repentance from sin and trusting in Christ alone for salvation. However, I would not ever say that a church should be inclusive in the sense that all ideas and lifestyles are equally valid in those who would be members or workers in the church.

In an attempt to be relevant, these Anglican leaders have missed the most relevant thing to their desired parishioners; namely, every single one of them will die, and how will God reward them at that time? The gospel is the most relevant thing to everyone. That doesn’t mean that everyone will (a) like it or (b) accept its validity, but that does not diminish the overall importance of it. If all I am concerned about is trying to sooth the distressing lives of people around me and I am unwilling to ever cause any grief at all, I will simply add U2 songs to my worship music rotation and make the message to my congregation so cryptic, superficial, and generalized that anyone and everyone can get whatever they want out of what goes on.

However, if my goal is to save people from the ultimate wrath of God (which is also wrong as a primary motivation), I will preach the saving gospel of Jesus Christ to them. Will it offend them? Yes. But will some be offended and yet bend their will and their knee to the truth of the gospel and be transformed and saved? Yes. This is what is truly loving and truly compassionate and truly relevant.

Why is a goal or motivation of saving men from going to Hell an insufficient or unsatisfactory primary motivation for proclaiming the gospel? Because our goal as believers is not primarily about other people, it is primarily about glorifying God. And our primary motivation with anything should always be to glorify God. And we glorify God by proclaiming His message. Oh, because we love God we will have a compassion for the lost (just like He does), but our love and devotion to Him comes before any other motivation for doing Christian work.

read the story

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Spanking Children

Updated on 1/29/07 (audio clip)

Recently Sally Lieber, a California lawmaker, seems to have made it her mission to outlaw spanking in her state. She seems to have a skewed idea of what spanking is and how it is used. "’I think it's pretty hard to argue you need to beat a child,’ Lieber said. ‘Is it OK to whip a 1-year-old or a 6-month-old or a newborn?’"1

I don’t know anyone who would argue that beating a child or whipping a 12 or 6 month-old baby is ok. But it is a straw man argument to state that spanking, in any way, is equal with “beating” or “whipping” a child. Furthermore, if someone is abusing their child (i.e. neglect, beating, and sexual molestation)2, they are already punished (rightly so) by law. But equating the controlled spanking of a child on his or her buttocks for the purpose of correcting a wrong behavior with that of uncontrolled or rage filled beating of children is truly an abuse; an abuse of language.

So, if this lawmaker succeeds in California and the same law eventually reaches Minnesota (knowing the state of Minnesota politics, it wouldn’t take too long) making spanking children illegal while I have young children, I would be guilty of breaking the law. I would continue to use this form of discipline on my children when it was appropriate.

Apparently the California lawmaker believes that spanking should only be outlawed for children who are under four-years-old.3 I have only been blessed with the duty of parenting two children so far (#3 is on the way), and my oldest is going to be four-years-old this coming summer. My son has been spanked, when appropriate, for about the last 2 years of his life. And he will continue to be spanked until that is no-longer the most effective corrective deterrent to bad behavior.

What do I mean when I say that it is “the most effective corrective deterrent” relating to my son’s behavior? According to the article, Governor Schwarzenegger is not opposed to this bill and is reported to have said that when he was raising his children, “they found it more effective to threaten to take away their children's play time if they didn't do school work” as opposed to spanking. Furthermore, he was quoted as saying, “They hate that much more than getting spanked."

I think that Gov. Schwarzenegger’s comments clarify this issue, but as with the case of Ms. Lieber‘s reckless equivocation of traditional spanking with child abuse, the clarification is not the way that he intended. He said that his children responded better to a threatened losing of privileges if schoolwork was not completed, but four-year-old children are not in school. This example is as irrelevant to the issue as it could be.

A two-year old child may not like to have a toy taken away, but within seconds (literally seconds), that same child may be more content doing something else and completely miss the reason for having a taken away. I want to argue for the validity of spanking as a worthwhile form of discipline to young children in two areas; personal experience and the biblical witness.

First I will look at my personal experience. As always, personal experience and “traditional” ways of doing things are always subject to being corrected or changed based upon the Word of God. So, admittedly, my first argument is what I perceive to be the weaker of the two and, if taken by itself, could almost be disregarded. However, if taken in conjunction with biblical teaching, it very powerfully shows the truth of Scripture.

A Child’s Perspective (Experience)

When I was a child, my parents spanked me…a lot. I don’t remember when it started (which means it started early on), but I do remember a few things about my own experience of being the “spankee”. I remember that it was very effective as a deterrent to my misbehavior. My parents had a spanking tool that was used to spank both me and my brothers.4 It was a deterrent in two ways.

First of all, the stinging that follows spanking (which dissipates fairly quickly, in retrospect), caused me to remember the price of disobedience clearly. So I was less likely to be disobedient in the same manner as frequently in the future. Secondly, the visible reminder of the spanking tool was key, I think. I don’t remember if my parents would take it out to be seen by me if I was heading down the path toward a spanking, but I do know that seeing it made me think of the consequences of disobedience.

As a college student away from school on some sort of a break, I was sitting with both of my brothers and we all had a similar conclusion or thought from our childhood; we probably should have been spanked more than we were. This came out of discussion of the (then) possibility of becoming husbands and fathers and how we could use our experience to help us as we assumed the parental leadership role. We were not scarred by the fact that our parents spanked us, on the contrary we saw the reason (even if we didn’t understand it totally as a child) for spanking.

A Parent’s Perspective (Experience)

All children are sinful from the get-go. Sure, they are cute, cuddly, funny, but they are ultimately sinful from the very beginning of life. Even knowing that this is true, it was hard to come to grips with it and how to deal with it when it concerned my own child. Specifically relating to spanking, my wife and I didn’t spank our son until he was right around 18 months old. We haven’t used spanking as the primary method of correction, but it has always been setup to be the final punishment for disobedience. Because we have used it regularly, but not frequently (i.e. when disobedience calls for a spanking, it is used, but it is not invoked frivolously), Micah has an understanding of the gravity of disobedience when he is warned with something similar to, “Micah, if you continue to disobey Mommy, I will have to spank your bottom. Do you want me to do that?” To which he replies with a quick “No,” and we have a little discussion about being obedient. It has served as a good deterrent against common childhood problems of tantrums, hitting5, and overall disrespect of others (Sunday school teachers, grandparents, etc.).

As for the general impact on Micah, it is quite remarkable. Frequently we are around other children that are of a similar age of Micah, so we are able to see how other children act as well as how their parents act or react towards their own disobedient children. I will not go into any great detail about any one of these experiences except for one story. Some of our family does not agree with spanking children, and therefore the children in these family units are not disciplined in this manner. One such relative must have seen me talk to my son (in a corrective/disciplining manner) at a family event and didn’t approve of my action. I don’t remember the specific circumstances that led me to (a) take my son away from the action, (b) speak to him in a serious manner about being obedient, and then (c) sent him back to play in a more controlled manner, but I know that I was the only parent to have intervened. The reaction of this relative was to say, basically, “They are too strict with that boy.” The irony of this comment was that later on that same day, this same relative said, while witnessing a general mayhem that had taken over the other children that was now out of control, said, “My, Micah sure is a well behaved boy.”

That is just one example of how the manner that my wife and I parent our children, not perfectly by any means, is readily apparent already while our son is less than four-years-old. This brings me back to the statute that Ms. Lieber is trying to force on the people of California. If I were to not have spanked Micah at all yet, and we were to wait for another 6 months, we would have to deal with the entire course of his little life of learned wrong behaviors that were unable to be corrected properly or effectively. This, I think, would be much harder on everyone, both the children and the parents. Again, I am not saying that spanking is to be used all of the time for every opportunity to discipline or correct a child; I am simply saying that without the deterrent of spanking, Micah would have more areas in need of correction that had corrected earlier.

The Biblical Witness

  • The biblical passages that I am going to look at next need little in the way of explanation. However, modern thought or methods cause us to defend the strikingly (no pun intended) obvious verses that deal with the corporal punishment of a child.
  • “On the lips of the discerning, wisdom is found, But a rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.” (Proverbs 10:13)
  • “He who withholds his rod hates his son, But he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” (Proverbs 13:24)
  • “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)
  • “Do not hold back discipline from the child, Although you strike him with the rod, he will not die. You shall strike him with the rod And rescue his soul from Sheol.” (Proverbs 23:13,14)
  • “The rod and reproof give wisdom, But a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother.” (Proverbs 29:15)

So, as far as the Bible is concerned, there is not a debate as to whether a parent should spank a child who needs to be corrected. I think that it is helpful to hear some solid Bible teachers on how they apply the truths of parental love and correction as it relates to spanking.

“’A rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.’ Now very simply, folks, how do you get this little guy or this little girl to obey? Bottom line, you hit them with something, it's here called a rod. You say, "You sure that's what it means?" Well, what's the point in just saying...look, here's a rod, would you please obey? If the rod has never been applied, I don't think they understand the picture. You basically are called to use corporeal punishment. That's what it says. A rod is for the back of him who lacks...and isn't it interesting the Lord even tells you where to hit them? Not on the front and not on the top, on the back, where they've been designed to be hit.”6

“Can I suggest to you, it really isn't that hard? What it says here is pretty straightforward. You have a depraved and foolish child, if you want him not to be so foolish, spank him. That's it.”7

John Piper makes the case that children react to the “thou shalt” commands of police officers, parents, the Bible, God, by saying, “But I want….’ And that this is something that emanates from the sinful roots of their (and our) humanity. He then exhorts his congregation with how parents must respond to the “but I want” reactions of the children with this plea:

“You must teach children ‘NO!’ You will be spanked if you do what you want here. And if you continue [to follow your own will] to the end of your life you’ll go to hell, which is why we spank lovingly. If kids don’t learn the meaning of the wrath of God and the love of God from their parents, who love them, where are they going to learn it? [If] somebody tries, later on, to convince them that a loving God is also a wrathful God, if they haven’t seen that in daddy – that daddy can hug, and kiss, and roll around on the floor, and be sweet and pure and kind and gentle, and really have fire in his eyes when you disobey – if a kid can’t put that together in a parent, how’s he going to put it together in God?”8

This last quote from John Piper expresses exactly the reason why we see the necessity for spanking our children. It is because the rod of discipline will drive home the importance of obedience and show the penalty of disobedience. Another interesting note is that David says that he is comforted by the rod of God (Psalms 23:4). The rod is used to beat off wild animals just as it can be used to swat (if necessary) the sheep to get it back in line.

The essence of this whole issue of whether someone should spank a disobedient child comes back to sin and how we as sinful people need to understand what it is and where it comes from. We also need to know how to react to spanking, both as a parent (discipliner) or child (discipline). So, later in that same sermon, Piper goes on to talk about sin and what it is at its core.

“What’s the ‘nub’ of sin? What is sin? Here my efforts to put it into a few paraphrases. The essence of my condition apart from Christ is not first and mainly that I break specific laws of God. That’s way down the river; that I break specific laws of God is not my main problem. My main problem is that I am hostile to God; that I do not want to submit to God. The essence of my sinful condition is the unwillingness to be told what to do. I don’t want to be told where to find happiness. I don’t want to be told ‘this choice will ruin my life’; ‘that choice will make my life.’ ‘I will not be told what to do. I will tell me what to do.’ This is the beginning of sin in the Garden of Eden, right?

“’No!’ she said and he said, ‘I will eat what I want to eat,’ and there’s sin. ‘I will trust me. I will be my own god, thank you, anyway.’ The essence of sin is a passion for self rule before there is any rule on the scene. My essential problem is that I break laws. My essential problem is that I hate laws. I hate them before the even appear, and as long as they don’t appear, my hatred lies dormant. Which is why there are so many good people in the world. ‘Good’ people. ‘Good’ people.

“The main thing, or the essence of sin, or the sinful nature, is self deification. Deification means ‘I will make myself god; I will be god. I will deify, I will make myself a deity.’ Self deification, that’s the essence of sin.”9

Until we understand what sin is, and we really get a grasp of what we are as people because of sin and its effects, we can never have any way to deal with the present issue of disciplining children. My main goal, hope, or dream for my children is that they will be saved by God’s grace through faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And if spanking my children will create a more humble attitude as well as opportunities in which to share the gospel, then I am all for it.

When I say that spanking can be an opportunity to share the gospel, that is just what I mean. In my home, we teach Micah that stealing and lying are wrong, we basically teach him the moral guidelines by using the Ten Commandments.10 So, when Micah is in need of a spanking, we have a conversation as the first part of the disciplining process. I first ask him to recount what he has done wrong. In our conversation he communicates the reason for his discipline, that he has done a “no-no”, and that “no-nos” are sins.

Once we walk through that part of the discussion, we are able to begin the gospel portion. God is angry with sins, and we deserve to go to “the bad place” because of them. And in order to show him how serious God is about sin, I tell him that the Bible tells daddies and mommies to spank their boys in order to help them to be obedient. And because he is in this position because he broke a rule, it is a clear correlation to the breaking of God’s rules that leads to damnation.

One main point in all of this is that at two points during this whole spanking process, I make it clear that his sin is not primarily against me or anyone else, but against God Himself. I make this clear prior to spanking him, as well as after it is done when I ask him if he needs to say anything. Usually he apologizes to me, but I always ask him further until he says that he needs to apologize to God too.

Spanking, as the practical application of the consequences to disobedience, makes our Bible time when we talk about sin, the cross, and salvation much more clear in his young mind.

Way of the Master Radio had an interview with Ted Trip on this topic of spanking children. It's a good listen (about 15 minutes long) and worth while. Click here to listen (the interview portion begins about 5 minutes into the program).




4 It was a small, thin, white cutting board that had a handle on it.

5 Micah hit Stephanie once. When I came home that day, we dealt with it, and it has never happened again. I think this might be a key to forming good behavior. Come down on a rebellious action like this hard, and it should not happen again.

6 “God's Pattern for Children, Pt. 1” by John MacArthur

7 Ibid.

8 “Dead to the Law, Serving in the Spirit, Part 3” by John Piper, originally preached on February 11, 2001 (Transcribed from the 11/30/2006 audio Netcast)

9 Ibid.

10 You can read “Christmas thought #2: Children and Christmas” for a sample of how I teach my son using the Ten Commandments.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

An Edifying Discovery

American IdolUPDATED 1/26/2007

It is confession time! I must admit that I do enjoy watching American Idol (hate the name, though) once in a while. I could take or leave the weekly competition singing, voting, and finale, but I do enjoy watching the painful display of self confident singers who can’t sing. So, my wife and I were watching the Tuesday night edition of the audition phase of show and we not being disappointed. There were a few people who were given the kudos for being good singers, but we also saw some painful (and I mean painful) displays of performance singing.

About half or three-quarters of the way through the program, we were introduced to an interesting fellow. One of the highlighted tryouts was a guy by the name of Sean Michel, who has an interesting look to himself. Actually, in his own words, “Everybody says I look like either Osama bin Laden, or Jesus, or Castro, or just a homeless bum.”

Osama bin LadenFidel CastroSean Michel

Anyway, this guy came in and sang a pseudo-pop version of Johnny Cash’s song “God’s Gonna Cut You Down”. I had only heard this song for the first time in the previous few days on Way of the Master Radio. This song instantly grabbed me because of its lyrics, tempo, and the music. Here are the lyrics of that song:
You can run on for a long time,
You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.

Go and tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambiler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down.

Well my goodness gracious,
Let me tell you the news.
My heads been wet with the midnight dew.
I've been down on bended knee,
Talkin to the man from Galiee.
He spoke to me in a voice so sweet,
I thought I heard the shuffle of angels feet.
He called my name and my heart stood still,
When He said "John go do my will"

Go and tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down.

You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.

You can throw your rock, hide your hand,
Workin in the dark against your fellow man.
But as sure as God made black and white,
What's done in the dark,
Will be brought to the light.

You can run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Run on for a long time,
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.
Sooner, or later, God'll cut you down.

Go and tell that long tongue liar,
Go and tell that midnight rider,
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter,
Tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down.1

Granted, Johnny doesn’t get around to the gospel in this song, but he does emphasize the judgment of God on those who deserve His retribution. So I’ve already been thinking about the meaning of the song (that I think Johnny Cash had well in mind when he wrote it) when Sean sang it on American Idol. As it turned out, we watched the show on a tape delay (after the kids were in bed), so I was able to rewind it after he auditioned and listen to something he said before the audition that also tickled my ears. After recounting how people describe how some people think that he looks like a bum, he said, “But really, I think all of us are kind’a homeless. When it comes down to it, all of us are really poor inside.” Now, again, I know nothing about this guy or what he’s all about, but I have been thinking about the concept of being poor inside for a few weeks too.

You see, John MacArthur has been preaching through the Sermon on the Mount and has talked about being poor in spirit, or in his words, being spiritually bankrupt. The whole idea is that this understanding of your place before God, being spiritually bankrupt, precedes conversion because we need to be brought low and to the end of ourselves so that we can see that it is only by Christ that we are saved.

I was hooked; my curiosity had been peaked, so I went on a search to see if I could find out anything relating to this guy, Sean Michel, and his beliefs. Well, the first hurtle was finding out his name, and after that it was smooth sailing. I came across his myspace page and I found that he is a musician (duh) who writes some pretty good Christian music. Not the fluffy stuff that you may hear on contemporary Christian radio, but good solid stuff that is edifying (so far, anyway) to me.

So whatever happens with Sean’s time on American Idol, I hope and pray that there will be (or has been) some good opportunities to share the gospel or that he would be given the opportunity to share the gospel with others through his own ministry apart from American Idol.


Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Gay Marriage

I received a bulletin from one of my high school friends on my MySpace profile the other day that was simply titled "Gay Marriage". Basically it was originated by someone else (far removed from me or my friend) who was trying to use MySpace networking to get the names of 300 people who give their approval for gay marriage. Part of the rationale given for people to add their own names to the list and then pass it on was so that this pro-gay marriage petition would be completed before an opposing one.... Quite frankly, I really don't care about the initial reason for sending it out or even this specific issue. Don't get me wrong, I am committed and convinced of the truth of human sexuality and it's proper expression (only in marriage between husband and wife), but this was not the primary reason for my concern in this situation.

You see, the person who sent it to me (sent it to all of the contacts on her friend’s list) and I went to the same high school. She dated my best friend, went to a prayer group that we started, and other Christian activities. She claimed to be a Christian at that time, and she still claims “Christian – other” as her religion.1 So, it was not the social and political issue surrounding same sex marriage that concerned me, but it is the status of her soul. I will simply copy the text of the e-mail that I sent her, and I hope that my concern comes through as genuine and that it is evident that I am concerned for her soul, and not in making a political stand or argument (even though those two things that are valid to do).

So here is the response that I sent to my friend today:

I haven't been on MySpace to do much for a long time, but I saw this bulletin that you forwarded, and I must say that I'm a bit...well, saddened by it.

Do I support gay marriage (I don't think that calling it "gay marriage" is even a fair title because gay people have always been able to get married just like anyone else - with the same rules, so I would argue that a better and fairer descriptive title would be "same sex marriage", but...I digress)?

Why do I oppose government sanctioned unions between same sex couples? Well, there are many reasons, but I will tell you two reason - 1 Social and 1 Biblical.

Socially: Basically when you cut it down to it, if we sanction this type of union in our society, there will be no legal way to "prefer" a man & woman couple over a same sex couple in the case of adoption. When all things are equal, what this does is that it ends up making the state the means of depriving a child of a mother or father. What I mean by that is that if you have a committed same sex couple who adopt a child, there would not be (most likely) a consistent parent of the opposite sex to instruct, care for, and otherwise mold a child. I think that kids need their mommies just as much as they need their daddies. And even though there has never been a society that has ever matched up to this calling perfectly, I think that it would be disastrous for us to

Biblically: God finds all sin (and any sin) detestable. However, homosexuality is distinctly contemptible in God's eyes because it seems to be a (sort of) reaction of God to continuous rebellion and unbelief that He "gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper," (Romans 1:28). So endorsing or approving of same sex marriage would be to put my stamp of approval on an activity that God has specifically deemed as detestable. (Leviticus 20:13) I will not and cannot support this idea because this type of a lifestyle (just like lying, fornication, adultery, pride, etc) is the evidence of an n unsaved and condemned person.

However, Sonya, it is not about the political or social ramifications that cause me to be concerned about this issue and anyone who supports it (that's you). The Bible is clear that no unrighteous person will go to heaven. Some of the traits of the righteous is that they will not be "fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers," (1 Corinthians 6:9,10). It is for this reason, that of the eternal soul and destiny of the unsaved and the all-important aspect of God's own glory that I make my concerns known.

And I know that you have heard this, but this is the reason that Christ came into the save and cleanse all of us. It is not enough to simply acknowledge in your mind that Jesus is Lord and that God raised Him from the dead while your life does not reflect His desires and thoughts (this is a progressive change in the mind and heart of a Christian, but it is evident). And it doesn’t matter if a person is a homosexual or a heterosexual living in unrepentant sexual (or other) sin…the result is the same. That result is eternal damnation by God. And if we really care about our homosexual friends, yours or mine (yes I have homosexual friends too), the loving and caring response is not to endorse their sin and look the other way, but it is to use the law of the Lord to show them their sin and then proclaim the glorious and transforming gospel of Jesus Christ who can set them free from sin and transform them into new creatures.

This gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God to bring people salvation. It is by this transforming work of God that enables Paul to write to the Corinthians and say that, yes, certain types of people (fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers) will not inherit the kingdom of God (because they have not been forgiven of their sins), but “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) God is able to save all people from their sin, but they must repent of it and trust in Christ.

Sonya, we haven’t seen each other for about a decade, and I don’t know where your life has taken you. I know that in high school, you went to church activities, attended prayer-type meetings, as well as other things. However, I also know that 10 years can do a lot to change people’s hearts, minds, and desires. Basically, I don’t know if you’re saved or not – only God truly knows for sure. I’m not around you enough to even see the fruits of your life that we (Christians) are supposed to use in order to make some conclusions as to the spiritual state of any person claiming to be saved.

I will close my comments with one final thought, and that will be in the form of a question. Do you consider yourself to be a good person? I am asking that honestly, and I only ask that you answer it honestly before you read the next line.

Most likely you (like virtually everyone else) answered this question with a “yes” and you thought of various supporting reasons. If you did answer yes, please take a few minutes to visit and look at what is presented (it’s in the form of a quiz).

Finally, I would love to hear from you with any thoughts concerning these ideas, but most specifically about the gospel.

May God grant you grace and faith,

The issue here is the gospel, plain and simple. If one is truly a Christian, it will be evident in that person’s life. Can some (or even many) Christians be wrong on some social or economic issues of the day? Absolutely! However, when something as basic as marriage and the sin of same sex relationships are concerned, we are not wrong. As Christians we still need to watch our attitude and our tone, but our stance that it is sinful, and therefore wrong, is not.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Saving Faith

I'm studying the book of Galatians in Sunday School, and so the theology of Justification by faith apart from works of the Law has been center stage on my mind and heart. I heard the following quote about a week ago, and it was really powerful:

“And I want to make sure that you understand; saving faith is not a believing in something you don’t like. Saving faith is not believing in a person [that] you don’t cherish and treasure and love. Saving faith is a believing in and a receiving of a treasure or it does not save.”1

Not only do I agree with John Piper here, but I would also like to add to his idea with defining faith. Some critics of the doctrine of Justification by faith (alone) apart from works of the Law try to accuse the Reformers of believing that faith was merely mental assent. I find this accusation rather dubious for a few reasons.

First of all, even if some of the reformers did have tendencies toward this idea, it was the fact that "mental assent" was the lynch pin of the reformation. It was seeing the fact that the Bible railed against works righteousness (what was taught then and now in Roman Catholicism), and so if some did truly hold to this idea of "mental assent" was most likely due to the extreme opposition of the Roman church. But it was as wrong then as it is now.

Secondly, faith is defined in the Bible in a way that cannot be wrangled to only mean mental assent. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) The words "assurance" and "conviction" blow right past mental assent and straight into an idea of trust. I think that "trust" is probably one of the best synonyms to communicate (in English, anyway) what faith truly is.

In the same way that an historic (Roman Catholic accusation) and contemporary ("Easy Believism") idea that faith is a mental assent to some creed or statement of faith is wrong, saying or believing that faith, that is not ongoing, saves is just as wrong. Faith for one moment that ends, and doesn't continue or show a changed life in Christ by the fruits of the Spirit is not saving faith. Saving faith continues on because one must be sanctified in order to receive eternal life. All people who are truly justified are sanctified. To quote another “Piperism” from the same sermon, you can’t make an “end run” around sanctification (Romans 6:22).

If I were to define faith, I would define it like this:

Faith is the God given (Ephesians 2:8), evident (James 2:14-26), and continuing (Colossians 1:21-23) trust in Him and His promises.

1 “Dead to the Law, Serving in the Spirit, Part 1a” Desiring God Broadcast aired on November 24, 2006 that was originally preached on January 28, 2001.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The 50 Most Influential Christians in America

During the Ted Haggard fiasco that occurred late in 2006, one of the bigger reasons used to insult Christians was that Ted had, only recently, been named as one of the single most influential evangelicals in America for his involvement in many evangelical organizations. I didn’t really search for the poll, story, or survey (whatever it was) that gave Mr. Haggard this honor because it was pretty irrelevant as it related to my concerns about the man and the situation.

But recently, I was made aware of another article that features the top 50 most influential (contemporary) evangelicals in America. I would normally not pay attention to this kind of an article, but this time I did. I must say that it was an interesting article, and it may have served as a good catalyst for a series of questions that have been brewing for a long time.

I am disappointed, but not shocked by any means, that the number one most influential Christian in America (from and their survey) is Joel Osteen. Joel Osteen’s health, wealth, and motivational speaking masked as preaching is, in my opinion, a cancer on the face of the gospel. People are wooed to strive for possessions, promotions, money, and happiness that is from God, but very little emphasis seems to be put on finding happiness in God.

Some time ago, I was reviewing some different articulations or defenses of the gospel by various religious leaders, and one of them was Joel Osteen. I was commenting on his rather infamous appearance on the Larry King Live program when Osteen made a comment that people in India somehow loved God. This is completely shocking since it was clear by the context that those people in his example were not Christians and that it is inconceivable that people in an idolatrous false religion would truly love God. They may love some version of a god that they’ve created in their minds and out of rock or wood, but they would not know the true God. And even if they knew who the one true God is, discarding the gospel of Jesus Christ for pagan idolatry would be anything other than a display of loving God.

Furthermore, regarding people of other faiths and people who hold those beliefs, Mr. Osteen said, “I don't know if I believe they're wrong.” This would be nothing less than concerning if it came out of the mouth of any Christian who’d been saved for any length of time, but for this to come from a pastor is inexcusable. He probably made this statement out of a sense of humility or out of a desire for not wanting to seem overbearing or judgmental, but for a pastor to make this statement, “is to skip past humility and jump straight into a denial of God’s Word and it is heresy of the first order.”1

But I don’t want this to be a slug-fest on only one man. In fact, I would like to look at the top 10 that were listed and give my own thumbnail-sketch understanding of who they are:

  1. JOEL OSTEEN – (see above)

  2. BILLY GRAHAM – Historically he’s been very solid even though he has been a little less than clear or steadfast in his old age. That being the case, I am more prone to ‘chalk up’ the inconsistencies to his age rather than to his convictions.

  3. BILL HYBELS – His ministry is best known for the “seeker friendly” movement and training to support that model of church.

  4. BISHOP T.D. JAKES – In one word: Heretic. He denies the Trinity, and therefore is not a Christian.2

  5. JAMES C. DOBSON, PH.D. – Of the Focus on the Family fame, Dobson is not outspoken for his theology, but for his cultural application of Christian Values.

  6. PAUL CROUCH – He is the founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network. Of the many things that he has done, I will say that he has given a platform for the worst type of Christian programming (Benny Hinn, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and many more) who preach the false prosperity gospel.

  7. JOYCE MEYER – I have only seen her a few times, but she is in the same health, wealth, prosperity, word-of-faith false teachings that most of the preachers on TBN’s programs are.

  8. LEONARD SWEET – I don’t know anything about him except that he is associated with the United Methodist Church and seminaries. Quite frankly, that alone is enough to make me be leery of anyone.

  9. JOHN PIPER – Rock solid. He boldly preaches the historic, unashamed, and powerful gospel of Jesus Christ. I can recommend few preachers as highly as him.

  10. ROB BELL – My best exposure to him in his work is from his video “Bullhorn guy” where he distances himself from preaching a clear gospel of repentance from sin. He is also part of the emergent church movement that, if those in the movement can be bunched together, is in the concept that “truth is overrated” or that there is some subjectivism in all truth.3

The top ten does a fair job, in my estimation, of representing the tone of the whole 50. My problem is not necessarily that there are some people on the list who differ with me about some disputable theological issue. My problem is that this list contains at least 1 person who denies the Trinity, several members of the Word of Faith and Prosperity Gospel movements, and some Catholics in addition to some very solid preachers and other workers for the gospel.

So what is my concern? It is simply that this article does not really do anything to make distinctions between the beliefs of the people on this list. And I’m not talking about Spiritual gift or Church organizational issues, but it is with the gospel itself. For instance, in my study of the Bible, I find it to be so clear that sinful man is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. That faith is a living faith that is shown in repentance of sin and the continuous bearing of fruit. There are some people on this list who I know would articulate it correctly (MacArthur, Piper, Mohler, Kennedy, and some others). However, there are people on this list who use “the sinner’s prayer” seemingly as the “ticket” to salvation (Hagee #36), people who add works to salvation with either good works (Cardinal Mccarrick #49) or baptism (T.D. Jakes #4 and Cardinal Mccarrick #49). The list also includes at least one man who is in the protestant arena but wants to downplay the doctrine of hell and ultimately the sinfulness of man and the righteousness of God, re-examine the doctrine of Justification by faith by saying that it is not about being saved from the wrath of God, and who’s movement is subjectifying truth (Rob Bell #10).

I wonder if enough votes or nominations for a Mormon leader would have been received if they would have placed his name on this list? It may sound like a silly question, but I don’t think that it is as far fetched as I would hope. It seems like one of the current Mormon angles is to attempt to be identified alongside of actual Christians.4 I have experienced this by looking at some of their web materials and speaking with some of their missionaries and seeing how they try to blur the distinctions between us and them so as to lower the guard of normal confessing Christians.

What’s worse than my previous thought is the reality that most of the people on this list would classify themselves (or allow themselves to be classified by others) as an evangelical. The term evangelical (coming from the Greek word for the gospel, or good news) refers to those people who defend the gospel or people who defend the singular authority of Scripture and holding to a historically protestant interpretation of them. So then I ask you, if being described as a Christian or even as an evangelical is just as applicable to John MacArthur (#42) as it is to Robert Schuller (#13), or to T.D. Jakes (#4) what does that tell you? Nothing, it tells you nothing. The word “evangelical”, as it is understood popularly, might as well refer to someone who makes statements that may be loosely arrived at from the Bible, and there is no understanding of what this term has historically meant.

So here is my conclusion, call for action, or shout in the darkness (whatever). Should we start calling ourselves something different? Don’t get me wrong, I think that we deserve the title of Christians and of Evangelicals, but if those titles have been co-opted, should we not do our best to distance ourselves from those who claim to be in the same group but do serious damage to the gospel?

I don’t know what that title should be, but I do know that if being labeled as a Christian includes everyone from Albert Mohler to Robert Schuller and almost everyone else who uses the name of Jesus in their teachings, we have a serious category problem from the beginning. But, if the title of evangelical extends from people like John Piper to those like T.D. Jakes, then Evangelicalism has a problem. Because men like T.D. Jakes and Robert Schuller don’t deserve the title of Christian much less the title of an evangelical.

1 “a Rabbi, a Priest, and a minister... “ by Eric Johnson

2 I wrote an e-mail to a friedn who enjoyed T.D. Jakes, you can find my blog entry about that at


4 This is in direct contradiction to what their founder, Joseph Smith. He claimed that all other denominations or segments of Christianity were apostate and that the new Mormon religion was he only true Christian church.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Persecution vs. “Persecution” (context is everything)

Last night during the “ask anything” time of our Wednesday night children’s program, the 5th & 6th grade girls got onto the topic of suffering or persecution for the sake of the gospel. I honestly don’t remember how we got onto the topic of persecution and martyrdom, but the springboard into this part of the discussion was the response of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego to King Nebuchadnezzar.

Of course these three are famous because of their faith and their rise to prominence in the kingdom of Babylon, but they are less well known because of their greater contemporary, Daniel. Basically, these three guys are remembered for their miraculous deliverance from a death sentence in a blazing furnace. Their famous response to the threat of a horrible death in a fire so hot that “flame of the fire slew those men who carried up Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego” to have them executed. When they were threatened with this fate, they replied in one accord by saying, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king.” (Daniel 3:17) And we know that God did, in fact, save them from their death sentence and the result was that a decree was made by the very king that had condemned them, “that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way." (Daniel 3:29)

However, it was not this part of the story that we looked at. As great and miraculous and praise-worthy of their deliverance by God or of the great faith to make such a seemingly absurd claim of this very deliverance, it was another part that really is important for us to see, understand, and mimic. Just following their bold declaration that God would deliver them from their death sentence (Daniel 3:17), they make this, even more, bold statement, “But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18)

It is this statement and unwavering faith in God that is a very important lesson that we must learn and grasp. So often, Christians (especially children) see that God delivers His people in times of trial or persecution like this, but the reality of the fact that God may not deliver Christians from persecution is not a solid reality. With that in mind, I took these five girls to Hebrews 11 and read the following accounts of those people who were not delivered from death, but nevertheless held onto their faith in Christ to the bitter end:

“and others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35-38)

Of course we believe that God can save us, and He will do so if he desires to. That is relatively easy to say and believe. However, it is quite another thing to say that even if He doesn’t deliver us from death, we’re still not going to bend the knee to a false god (or deny God) and accept death.

It is not just that we don’t think about the fact that God doesn’t always deliver Christians from trials and persecution that is the problem. This problem is compounded by the fact that we live in America, and in America there is no real persecution for being a Christian. For instance, I can think of a few times in my life where I have been adversely treated because of my faith in Christ. The most recent (and the least deserving of the title of persecution) happened today, or I was made aware of it today.

I came to work after a day off to find some tracts1 piled on my keyboard at my desk. I then saw an e-mail from my boss with the subject line “Religious Materials on table” and it read:

“I put some pamphlets on your desk of materials that were on the table in your work area. Please do not leave those lying out as some have found it offensive.”

As lame as this may be, this is close to the extent that I have endured hardship for the sake of the gospel from anyone with authority over me. Sure, in a previous job, people inserted various blasphemous and bad pictures inside my Bible and a few other things done to me, but this is about as bad as it’s been in the past 10 years. Anyway, I wanted to be a good witness in this most recent experience, and so I replied to my boss with the following e-mail:

I’m sorry if the things in my work area have offended some people, it was not my intention to offend anyone as I had not accosted anyone with any material or placed the material on someone else's desk. As a matter of fact, a few co-workers told me that they read some of them and thought they were interesting, but nothing was ever said about causing offense.

Is there a specific work code/policy that defines what is or is not able to be sitting out at one's desk area (i.e. what things are offensive)? Is my bible (which sometimes is left open after I read it on my break/lunch) offensive to people as well? Please don't misunderstand me, I am not asking these questions in order to protest, fight, or otherwise make waves at the office, I simply want some clarity on what codes or rules I have violated so that I may make every effort to avoid this error in the future.

In any case, I will make a point of not having these pamphlets lying around, but a little more clarity of the rules (for my sake) would be appreciated.

To this, I received the following reply:

If your bible is at your workstation that is fine. Leaving pamphlets on a table that is not your work station, where others can see, is what some have found offensive. My best advice is that anything that references religion, just keep at your desk.

So, besides the fact that there was no rule broken and all material was in my work area as well as the fact that the only “violation” is that someone walked into my work area, looked at what was on my table, didn’t like it, and complained. Now, I am just speculating, but I am sure that if I complained about things on my co-workers’ desks or things that are said (which I will not do), I doubt if the same treatment would be dealt out on a non “religious” issue.

My point in relating this story to you is simply this: this is not persecution. Too often, I think, we Americans simply call any hardship a “trials, tribulations, or persecutions” when they are little more (usually) than inconveniences or social pressure without any teeth (i.e. you don’t get killed, beat up, tortured, or fired from your job). Persecution, true persecution, is where life, liberty, or livelihood are threatened because of an unwavering proclamation of the gospel and an unwillingness to go against your conscience or the Word of God to comply with the unjust or ungodly demands of those in authority over us.

We should be careful to never trivialize the word persecution by using it to describe being laughed at in America2 to someone being sawn in two in the first century, being burnt at the stake in the 16th – 18th or 19th century, or being raped, mutilated, and murdered or being sold into slavery today in Africa.

1 They weren’t tracts necessarily, but it was a bunch of stuff (namely printed posts from this blog) that contained the gospel message.

2 Hebrews 11 does mention being scoffed, and it is persecution to be mocked and ridiculed, but how much of what happens to most of us even qualifies for that? It may happen, and I don’t want to diminish the suffering of being genuinely ridiculed and mocked, but I doubt that this happens all that often or with any degree of harshness for most of us.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Monday, January 08, 2007

The UnFair Gospel

This past Wednesday I began teaching some of the children (K – 6) in our mid-week church service in the role of bible instructor. Even though I do teach adults and kids at different times, this was going to be very different for me. You see, this children’s program has been setup to have 3 “stations” where the kids rotate throughout the course of the evening. My station is set to be a time for prayer and a chance for the children to “ask anything” about anything related to God, the Bible, life, or almost anything at all.

Having worked with children before, I know that kids can ask really good questions that totally catch me off guard. Knowing this, I tried to be prepared for it, but I received questions from “Why do Americans care about popularity when we say that we believe that all men are created equal?” to “Why does God allow sin to exist?” With these (as well as others) questions, I started off by attempting to answer the question by finding out the reason for the question (i.e. what motivated this question from this child), answering that question, and finally moving into some biblical truth or principle that we can learn from looking at this question and the issues that are raised by it.

The best question of the evening was from a little boy who must be no older than 7 or 8. His question was, basically, “Why is life not fair?” His reason for the question came from a recent event at school where his class had watched a video, but the teacher had told the class that they’d get an extra break during the video. Well, they didn’t get the extra break because they ran out of time. He was upset and didn’t understand why his teacher would say one thing and not deliver on it. I totally understood his disappointment, so I tried to explain that his teacher probably meant to give them another break, but because they ran out of time watching the video, the teacher couldn’t follow through. I then asked him if he would rather have had regular class with an extra break or if he would have rather watched the movie. To that, he smiled and answered (very quickly) that he’d rather have watched the movie, and (although it was unfair) preferred what had happened.

Well, all of that to say this: that question made me think. So, after I addressed his situation and answered the question, I then told the children (4 boys around the ages of 8 or so) this story.

ME: In this room where we are now there are many rules. If any of the rules are broken, the person who broke the rule is given a specified punishment. One of these rules is that if you kick me in the shins, you will have to pay a $50,000 fine to me. All kicks to the shins must be punished and payment must be made in full.

Even though they know the rules, both Billy and Tommy kick me in the shins. Since they did that, what would be the right and fair thing to do? Would it be the fair thing to make them both pay me the $50,000 fine?

Kids: Yes.

Me: Yes, that would be the fair thing to do. But, what if I decided to have Billy pay me the $50,000 fine, but instead of having Tommy do the same, I made my son, Micah, pay Tommy’s fine for him? Would that be fair?

Kids: No.

Me: Why?

Kids: Because Micah didn’t kick you in the shins, so he shouldn’t be made to pay.

Me: That’s right, it isn’t fair because Micah is being punished for something that he didn’t do, and you’re not being punished for something that you did.
I then went on to talk to these kids about how this is exactly how God acts if we repent of our sins and place our trust in Christ Jesus. When that happens, God poured out His wrath – the wrath that would have and should have come to me – upon Jesus Christ for the sin of the believer. God has done this so that He could welcome man into His presence as well as satisfy His justice.

This truth, as it is flushed out and really dealt with for all that it entails, is really foreign to most people. And not just 8 year-old children, but older kids and adults alike don’t grasp this (or haven’t dealt with it) either. The weight of what happened on the cross, the truth of the substitutionary atonement that we find in Christ Jesus, was made most clear to me when I considered the following facts.

  1. Sin (any sin) is deserving of punishment in Hell.

  2. I have sinned, and therefore it would be just to punish me in Hell.

  3. The Bible is clear that man’s punishment in Hell will be eternal, because man can never pay it in full.

  4. Jesus Christ is and was perfect and sinless before, during, and after His incarnation.

  5. Jesus Christ deserves no penalty, no condemnation, and no punishment from God.

  6. Jesus Christ paid the full penalty for my sin (as well as for the sin of all true believers of all time) on the cross.
Implication: The just punishment of me and my sin that would have been inflicted upon me by the pouring out of the wrath of God, and which I would have spent an eternity paying for but never satisfying, has been paid in full by God Himself. Jesus Christ endured the wrath of God necessary to fully atone for my sin. That is something that I could never, in an eternity, do myself.

It was thinking about the fact that caused me to more clearly and truthfully appreciate the work of Jesus on my behalf. Namely, I would have been in Hell for all eternity and yet I’d still be no closer to satisfying the justice of God than when I first began my time in hell. I am convinced that only when we think of the cross of Christ in this manner, with this detail, that we can have any sort of tangible grasp of both the wrath and the love of God.

It is from meditating on this truth, this unfair treatment of Jesus Christ by God the Father, and the unfair treatment of me by God the Father, that my love and adoration for God has been increased higher and farther than ever before. Even now, I believe that my understanding of this great exchange, this double imputation of sin and righteousness, is very dim. The clarity that I have to understand this comes from my knowledge of the Word of God and my knowledge of my own utter depravity before a Holy God. And I am sure that when I am near death and I look back at this time of my life where I have such clarity and understanding about this great truth, that my current understanding will be a flickering candle next to the roaring fire of the understanding that only many more years of walking with God, studying His Word, and warring with sin can bring.

To God alone be the Glory for His grace and mercy, His unfair treatment, in the salvation of sinful men.

Copyright © 2005-2010 Eric Johnson