Presuppositions and Division

Everyone has a point of view – Fact.

And everyone filters their life experiences and observations through their point of view or perspective – and this is where the term “presupposition” comes in. A presupposition is one’s beginning point – it is an assumption or set of assumptions that may or may not be backed with evidence.  Presuppositions can be helpful, or in the case of many in our nation today – can be a major component of growing divisions, hate, and even violence.

In the world of theology, we often defend our viewpoint or even our entire faith system with what is called presuppositional apologetics, that is – defending our faith based on a pre-established and “assumed” foundation. Unfortunately, using presuppositional techniques to defend the Christian faith tends to fall a bit flat in the face of those most often being answered, as they do not hold the same presuppositions.  For example, I build my typical defense on my own absolute assurance that the Bible is the Word of God, inerrant and unchanging. For those who absolutely deny this about the Bible – it makes a very poor and unconvincing starting point indeed!

My theology is centered on the John 1:1 statement that The Word (aka – Jesus) IS God. Indeed, it is very difficult to make an argument for the efficacy of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross if He wasn’t really God in the flesh.

In the secular world (and in some churches… but this is a whole other discussion and can of worms), many people view their neighbor through a set of presuppositions (assumptions). For some, they have a racially intolerant set of presuppositions. In the history of our nation, we see entire sets of laws, regulations, and general treatment of people groups based on a flawed and unjust set of presuppositions.  Why is it that young black men were sometimes beaten or even lynched by hateful mobs based solely on a single, unverified accusation? 42831064_10156051385028823_9148553096673099776_n.jpgStories like that of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old who was lynched in 1955 after a woman accused him of sexually assaulting her. No proof, no evidence. But the mob who brutally sought “justice” accepted the accusation as the truth specifically because of their erroneous presupposition that black males are criminals.

Our presuppositions are sometimes developed by our own study, growth, and experiences, while others develop from their environment – in the case of racial presuppositions – they are often the product of parents and those they choose to be around.  When you add in what has been experienced – we become pragmatic – our own experience just MUST be a universal experience – and therefore taints everything we see. I remember vividly to this day my mom being mugged by an African-American man when I was still an elementary student. And I confess, that jaded my view of black men for a time. Thankfully, my mom had a far different view – and made it clear that I could not and must not judge all black men by the actions of this one brutal criminal.

Presuppositions, fueled by those filled with hate, politics, and the media are dividing our nation along with many different lines. Those who have been brought up and/or immersed in bias and hate tend to accept as fact the narrative being pushed from every corner.  We see some who insist that White Men are the “devil” and are responsible for the world’s problems.42790180_2144218252263768_3159811803353972736_n.jpg Therefore, those who buy this presupposition then view all news with an expectation that White Males (aka – the “privileged” class)  are always to be blamed. This carries over to the accusations of racism. When your presupposition is that racism can only be perpetrated by whites and that the victims of racism can only be Black (or more broadly, non-whites) – then you turn a blind eye to a major portion of the actual racist behaviors and troubles happening in our nation. Add to this the widespread propaganda of the #BlackLivesMatter movement – that (whether intentionally or not) promote a presupposition of a single racial group to have more value than others, and we further bend the public presuppositions and actually FEED hate and divisions.

The answer is startlingly simple: View all people with this Presupposition:imago-dei-concert_blog.jpg

#ImagoDei

You see, Scripture clearly says that mankind was made in the Image of God. That is all of mankind – all nations, tribes, tongues. We all are image-bearers of the Creator. And while individuals do act contrary to their Creator and His character, we all are touched by sin, we still have value as image bearers. Judge each individual by the content of their character, not the color of their skin (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.).

More recently, we have seen a literal disgusting circus fed by other twisted presuppositions. Judge Brett Kavanaugh stands as the latest nominee for a vacant seat on the United States Supreme Court. By all measures and his record, he is imminently qualified, has lived a life and served a career with integrity. He has been honest in admitting his alcohol consumption in high school. Yet this man stands accused of ugly violent behavior against a woman when he was 17 years old.  Accusations made some 36 years after the alleged crime. And many in the public sphere have been more than willing to accept the accusations, despite vast holes and inconsistencies. Why? Because of faulty presuppositions: That a privileged white boy from a well-off family, who was a student (and apparently an outstanding student and athlete) at a prestigious private school, who liked to drink absolutely MUST have committed the alleged crime. That is just what rich, white boys do – and “always” get away with it.  We have a collision of class warfare, class jealousy, and a massive #metoo movement that presumes women are always the victim and that any doubts about the validity of a woman’s accusations against a man are nothing but #misogynistic #womanhating efforts to shame the #victim.

There is a similar issue that happened just a few years ago when the #Ferguson Missouri riots were going on as a (purported) response to the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a Ferguson Police officer. The narrative followed the presupposition that police nationwide were engaged in an “open season on black men”, as originally proclaimed by US Representative Hank Johnson (D- Georgia). When you believe in such a presupposition, you will be a willing participant in the supposed response.  Closer to home here in Arkansas,  Judge Wendell Griffen of the Sixth Judicial Circuit (and infamous anti-death penalty protestor while having an active death penalty case before his bench) began issuing very aggressive support for the rioters – actually justifying their actions because of Hank Johnson’s proclamation! One would think a judge would be willing to actually see what the evidence would say as opposed to jumping on the racial and anti-police bandwagon absent any meaningful evidence. But for Judge Griffen, his racial presuppositions trump truth and evidence. And he willingly became another part of the division in this nation.

So what is the answer? I’ve already given it to you – viewing our neighbors as being image bearers of God. Quit basing our judgment on skin color, economic background, or whether one is male/female. Begin with the evidence. Be willing to withhold judgment until the fog of the event or circumstances can settle a bit.

Filter what you hear, even if it comes through your favorite media outlet or your best friend, through a presupposition of that Image-bearer lense and seek the truth, not assumed guilt simply because of race (or more recently – because of gender). Quit swallowing the vitriol being spewed from every angle.

And let us look at what the Bible says about our differences – and the “great equalizer”:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. -Galatians 3:27-28

Only in Jesus do we really begin to see each other as God sees us. Further, when we are In Christ, as new creations – we can set aside our former selves, our previous flawed and sinful presuppositions, and begin to see our neighbor through a new lens – as a person and soul – that has value and who is, at the core, in need of the same salvation we need.

And after all – who is the author of confusion and hate? Satan.

Baptism and Faith

XIV. Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
We believe that the Christian baptism is the immersion in water of a believer, into the name of the Father, and Son, and Holy Ghost; to show forth in a solemn and beautiful emblem, our faith in the crucified, buried and risen Saviour, with its effect, in our death to sin and resurrection to a new life; that it is prerequisite to the privileges of a church relation, and to the Lord’s Supper; in which the members of the church by the sacred use of bread and wine, are to commemorate together the dying love of Christ; preceded always by solemn self-examination.

Acts 8:36-39; Matt. 3:5-6; John 3:22-23; John 4:12; Matt. 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:12; Acts 16:32-34; Acts 18:8; Acts 10:47-48; Gal.3:26-28; Rom.6:4; Col. 2:12; I Peter 3:20-21; Acts 22:16; Acts 2:41-42; I Cor. 11:26; Matt. 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; I Cor.11:28; I Cor. 5:1-8; I Cor. 10:3-32; I Cor. 11:17-32; John 6:26

 

The New Hampshire Confession of Faith is a beautiful document that is the original foundational statement of faith the church association I am a part of rests. it does a beautiful job of describing baptism.  This document itself finds its origins in Scripture (of course), as well as a preceding Confession which is somewhat more detailed and the one to which I prefer to fall back on – the Baptist Confession of Faith 1689, as it holds more details. The chapter on Baptism is as follows:

Chapter 29 Of Baptism

1 Baptism is an ordinance of the New Testament, ordained by Jesus Christ, to be unto the party baptized, a sign of his fellowship with him, in his death and resurrection; of his being engrafted into him; of remission of sins; and of giving up into God, through Jesus Christ, to live and walk in newness of life.(Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:12; Galatians 3:27; Mark 1:4; Acts 22:16; Romans 6:4)

2 Those who do actually profess repentance towards God, faith in, and obedience to, our Lord Jesus Christ, are the only proper subjects of this ordinance. (Mark 16:16; Acts 8:36-37; 2:41; 8:12; 18:8)

3 The outward element to be used in this ordinance is water, wherein the party is to be baptized, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:19-20; Act 8:38)

4 Immersion, or dipping of the person fin water, is necessary to the due administration of this ordinance. (Mat 3:16; John 3:23)

I bring this up because of an all too common issue that comes up from time to time in ministry:  Those who make professions of faith, especially at a very young age, that FromD2L-Nelsonmight not have been genuine professions at the time. But because of “our” relatively modern methodology of “get them to say a prayer and dunk ’em” has led to many false assurances of salvation, and ultimately spiritually dead church members. In his book Death To Life, Allen Nelson IV refers to these folks as the walking dead. The startlingly sad reality is that there are (and have long been) those who – as he put it:

We would be stunned at how many people have a date written down in their bible but not their name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Even more alarming is how many of these people might be pastors, deacons, Sunday school teachers, or other prominent leaders within the church. Just because people feel saved, doesn’t mean they are saved. (From Death To Life: How Salvation Works, Chapter 2, p. 19)

This is a reminder of why I am so thankful for several brethren the LORD placed in my path as I began ministry. One that really sticks out in my heart on the issue of salvation and baptism is Bro. Harrel Herring. Bro. Harrel’s real burden and passion was for not just professions of faith – but for genuine conversion.  His own testimony was one oft-heard – having “walked the aisle” when his brother did, and an evangelist who asked all the wrong questions and offered raving, yet false, assurance of salvation.  Bro. Harrel knew at the time he wasn’t genuinely saved – but who was he to question or argue the 

image1point as a youngster?  But Harrel knew what the problem was and did indeed come to
genuine repentance and saving faith.  But this experience planted in him the passion he spent much of the rest of his life trying to help other to avoid false professions and to find real, saving faith. Indeed, I first met Bro. Harrel at Budd Creek Baptist Camp during the BMA of Arkansas week back in 2006. At camp, Bro. Harrel had the privilege of meeting with each young person who made a profession, to ask the right questions to at least have some basis for recording decisions.  He also gave out copies of a booklet he had put together specifically for new believers titled Starting My Life With Christ. I still have a handful of copies and find it quite useful!

The problem Brother Herring was trying to address is a real one. Every church I have been a part of in my walk since conversion has had more than one similar illustration – someone who made a profession, but then at some point later determined that it was not a genuine conversion and came to Christ afterward.  Unfortunately, there are those in churches who never do realize their repeating of a “sinners prayer” was nothing more than the “vain repitition” Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:7! They are, as Allen Nelson labeled them – The Walking Dead.

But God is indeed full of Amazing Grace! And He does still call many from that spiritually dead state to new life! He is indeed faithful to call ALL who are His to repentance. And the responsibility of those He does call out of that dead state is to, as those lowly fishermen Jesus called in Galilee did – drop your nets and follow Him!

And one of the first steps one called to new life to take is baptism. Even if you were dunked in a pond, creek, pool, or “official” church baptistry – if it was on a false profession – it was nothing more than getting wet.  It was not a genuine act of obedience in faith. Therein lies the rub for many – whether it is pride or shame, some who realize their old profession was without merit find it difficult to publicly proclaim their newfound salvation for fear of shame or for their position. And many shudder at the thought of submitting themselves for “re-baptism” (a misnomer if the first was not scriptural). Sadly, some never make known their latter genuine conversion for fear of what others will think. And this is what brings me to the impetus for today’s entry:

As both a father and a pastor, I am always extremely concerned about the possibility of pressuring a young person, particularly my own daughters, into a “decision” that is not God-initiated, and preceded and empowered by the Holy Spirit and HIS complete work in salvation. In this case, my youngest daughter, Selah, made a profession several years ago while I was still in my first pastorate (Park View Baptist Church, North Little Rock). She followed on the heels of her older sister. Both had been immersed in the gospel from birth (or before if you consider in-vitro time in church!). Both had received the benefit of not only their mom and me trying our best to speak and demonstrate the gospel, but a church with many caring souls who also poured into them the words of Life. So when Selah came to me and said she had asked Jesus into her heart, she had all the right answers, to the right questions (as Bro. Harrel would put it). Selah is sharp and while casual observation might lead you to believe she is paying zero attention – she soaks in what is going on around her in an amazing way. So – after several of us visited with her, she submitted herself to be baptized.

Yet far too often, we saw signs that gave her mom and I serious pause regarding her actually having seen genuine regeneration. Some of her actions going way beyond “childhood indiscretions” or “immaturity”.  Six months ago, Diana and I both voiced concern about Selah’s spiritual condition and began praying in earnest for answers, guidance, and for God to truly work in her.

On Wednesday evening, July 18, those of us at Ozark Baptist Encampment, Week 1, those of us at camp knew something was up.  But when I got the message that I was needed at our girl’s cabin at nearly 10:30PM, I knew something was serious.  Selah was afraid that I would be mad if she told me – but she knew without a doubt that when she made her “profession of faith” several years ago – it wasn’t real – she just did what she knew the rest of us wanted – and what got her positive attention. There were signs this time of genuine contrite heart and very heavy conviction.

And the Sunday after camp, Selah came before First Baptist Church and confessed before the entire assembly of what had happened, including her false profession years ago, and submitting herself humbly for baptism! I am pleased to announce that on Sunday, August  19, I get to genuinely baptize my precious daughter! And don’t ever doubt my joy and thanksgiving that God didn’t just leave her to her own case of The Walking Dead! And don’t ever doubt the power of God to call His own unto repentance and genuine salvation!

And preachers – never tire of preaching the gospel, the whole gospel, the saving gospel always!

…because we love the brethren

As the pastor of a relatively small church who is always looking at the condition of not only the congregation I lead, but to investigate the history of churches that have seen divisions, splits, and much more.  Since long before I was ever called to ministry, I have “suffered” from a constant yearning to know “why” and “how”. It is just part of my core being.

As a pastor, I try to grasp the whys and whats of a church’s history – why people join or leave a church, why young people (as much are wringing their hands today over) seem to be leaving churches in alarming numbers, and even why a church might split. Part of that ongoing series of quests is a look at the problem of swollen church membership rolls – that often include names that possibly no current member even knows the identity of! I believe one of the core problems (or diseases) responsible for a lot of these symptoms and issues is a spiritual issue – and in many cases, the problem is unregenerate church membership.

Bear with me for a bit – as this will take a few steps to explain.  You see, Jesus assembled His church – that first local church (as Christ’s Church is nearly always referred to) in Israel – a “church” that moved around following Him until He returned to His rightful place in Heaven. That church settled in Jerusalem where it gained the respect – dare say even admiration from their neighbors (Acts 2:47 records that they had favor with all the people). What inspired this period of favor (that also appears to have drawn people to Christ – and thus to be saved?) – the relationship these members of that first church had with each other – they were:

And all those who had believed were together and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ACTS 2:44-47)

Quite simply, their love for one another was such that they made sure everyone in need had their needs met (through sacrificial giving), worshipped God gladly and sincerely, and were day-by-day (regularly, even daily meeting together including fo worship). This early church was demonstrating what Jesus identified as one of the biggest of hallmarks of being a genuine Christ-follower:

“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

The word love here comes from the same Greek word (ἀγάπη – agapaō the same self-scarificing love Jesus demonstrated on behalf of His sheep on the cross!  And this is the exact same term translated as love in the source passage for my tltle today:

We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death. (1 John 3:14)

This is the same love that Peter wrote of in 1 Peter 4:8 to the church under great persecution: Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.

I have long chewed on the concept of “love covers a multitude of sins”.  A genuine, personal, self-sacrificing love for your brothers & sisters in Christ overcomes/covers more sins than we can comprehend – just as Jesus’ perfect demonstration of this same kind of self-sacrificing love covered 100% of the sins of every person who would ever trust Jesus alone for Salvation – His sheep. We are called, time and again, to have and to demonstrate self-sacrificing love, beginning with our “brethren”.  It is this same love that drives a God-called pastor to fulfill the charge Paul had for Timothy (2 Timothy 4:2) to be ready in and out of season to REPROVE, REBUKE, EXHORT. Indeed, anyone claiming to be a pastor who is unwilling to reprove (put to the proof – point out error based on proof), rebuke – to boldly address, call out, to put/shut down errors, and to exhort – to call to action/correction – literally to plead with urgency for change. A pastor who loves his (Christ’s) people is willing to stand on Scripture and to take the steps necessary to correct those in error (sin, as well as doctirnal/theological errors).

And out of love for Christ and love for their brethren (including such a pastor), born-again church members should desire and even be glad to receive such correction with a right attitude.

Likewise – even a pastor with the best of intentions can make an error, and should have such a love that he can take correction with gladness.

Within the local church – genuine, intentional discipleship begins when members have this same self-sacrificing love tha they are willing to invest of themselves and their time to walk side-by-side with fellow believers to teach, lead, and help mature those believers.

It is the same kind of unselfish love that will draw together a local church as nothing else will – and will actually attract those around them who need to experience that same kind of love.

And it is this same love that will lead the born-again to regularly assemble together to worship God, to grow spriritually, and to edify their brethren – and lead you to not forsake the assembling together (Hebrews 10:25).

Which brings us full circle to the title verse – and the sobering reality penned by John under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit in 1 John – that we boil down as beign able to identify thsoe who are not abiding in life (Christ) by their lack of love for the brethren.

Do you love your fellow Christians? Does that love cover a “multitude of sins” – aka when they mess up, as humans do? Do you desire to be WITH Christians – beginning with the regular meetings for corporate worship as the local church, but also that you would spend a significant portion of your life with fellow chrisitans sacrificially giving to them of your time and self (disicpleship)? Does the church you are a member of have a pastor who loves you enough to be willing to deal with the real and hard issues and to reprove, rebuke, exhort the body to follow Scirpture?

Or do you abide in death?

What are you Protesting?

One of the foundational rights we have in this nation is the right to assemble – including for the purpose of making a statement of protest or support. A major part of the Civil Rights battle here was won on the backs of those willing to take a stand and assemble in protest over discrimination and racism. I myself have participated in more than a few marches or gatherings – from the annual March For Life to multiple TEA Party assemblies at our state capitol.  Indeed, I am all in favor of the people making their voices heard – even when I disagree with their position.

So we take a look at current events – and the last few years of “protests” that cross the line from protest to simple anarchy and even criminal activity that is NOT protected by the Constitution.  Whether it be protests that turn to riots and looting in Ferguson to Baltimore and Charlottesville. We see professional athletes who proudly disrespect this nation and those who gave all to protect their right to protest, by taking a knee during the National Anthem.  When asked, most of these highly-paid athletes cannot even begin to articulate a coherent and logical purpose behind their act of “protest”. Sometimes it is said that they are making a point regarding police violence against Black Males (despite statistics that actually prove that Caucasians are more likely to be shot by police). Others say the protest is about systemic racism – yet few actual examples are provided. Others simply throw up a hand and speak of the #BlackLivesMatter movement (thought few can really even explain what that means). Amazingly, those who hinge their Anthem protests on the death of Black Americans completely ignore the leading causes of death among this same population – with Abortion being #1!  They ignore the inner-city violence that kills far more African-American males than all police shootings. They ignore the systemic crime and generational poverty caused by drug addiction and gang violence. They chase a narrative that flies in the face of facts. They blame “the system” instead of the real causes of death.  Simultaneously, many of those in this same movement get truly angry when you try to say that ALL Lives matter.  Hypocrisy.

And now we have the latest cause to march for – Gun “Control”.  All spawned by a tragic shooting in a predominantly white school in Florida. Immediately (even before the bodies were removed from the school), calls for banning guns, expanded background checks, age restrictions, and more were flying across the airwaves.  Quickly, a handful of student “survivors” became the public face of what has become “March For Our Lives” – what is billed as a “grass roots” movement of students sick of being scared for their lives in schools because of a supposed epidemic of mass shootings in schools.  The media has been beyond supportive. And the claims and numbers being published by the media, uttered by these self-appointed leaders are duplicated and repeated ad nauseam despite being proven to be either twisted or in many cases total fabrications. And again, we see total hypocrisy as blame is again placed on inanimate objects. No mention at any of the protest marches (amazingly organized and funded) in Washington DC and in cities around the nation this past weekend) of the FBI’s utter failure to even begin to investigate credible and documented threats by the Florida shooter. No reference to an agreement between the school and the Sheriff’s department which meant no students would be arrested or charged with crimes – even when they proved to be violent and a clear danger to themselves, their family, or other students. No mention of the school resource officer who took cover and made no attempt to save lives.  Not a word about an entire Sheriff’s department that showed up yet again, simply took cover and chose to not even attempt to save lives. No mention of the shooter being diagnosed with mental disorders that SHOULD have prohibited him from purchasing a firearm regardless of his age.  An entire system that failed.  No blame even placed on the young man who carried out the horrific shooting.  The only blame they are willing to place is on a piece of metal and plastic that is perfectly legal and is incapable of inflicting injury on its own.  Their response – additional laws.  I’m sorry, but how do new laws accomplish what old laws that are not enforced could not do? They are actually going to further trust a system that has blood on its hands?

You see – it’s really totally misguided and misdirected outrage:

These students (backed by big-money including Michael Bloomberg) claim to be scared for their lives – even though, statistically, they are exponentially more likely to be injured or killed by their own texting while driving, by drunk drivers, or by being killed by bare hands. Where are the organized marches (supported by, or even mandated by schools) against these far more threatening devices, tools, and actions? Compared to the tragic number of students who have been killed in schools by shooters, where is the outrage over the thousands of unborn babies ripped from their mother’s wombs every day? Where is the outrage over their fellow students killed by illegal drugs?  Where is their outrage over a mental health system who’s “solution” to those with depression and other personality issues is to heavily medicate with psychotropic drugs with a proven history to CAUSE or encourage violence (one fo the most common threads between the various mass shootings).

Where is the outrage and protests regarding widespread bullying and school failure to reign it it (or the penalties that seem to penalize the one being bullied more than the one carrying out the bullying?).

I  can’t help but harken back to the words of a parent of a Columbine school shooting victim – who testified that it isn’t a gun issue, but a heart issue. You see – our society has grown progressively away from valuing human life.  This is the product of many factors, but among the most damaging are that our entertainment (movies, television, gaming, etc.) have become progressively more bloody, and our ongoing defense of abortion – the taking of human life that represents the most innocent and defenseless of humanity. And of course – how can we miss that the problem of violence is a hate issue – one that runs directly contrary to the commands of Jesus who said to LOVE your neighbor? We as a nation of rejected God and His precepts (the very same precepts identified by this nation’s founders as the foundation of our freedom and national system).

I am heartbroken for the senseless death we see going on.  I grieve for those who’s lives are taken, regardless of the circumstances. But I also grieve for the many misguided individuals and groups who jump on the protest bandwagon while failing to actually know what you are protesting – or whether it is actually a problem.

The Problem…

As I sit on my scheduled “day off”, soaking in the after effects of our Palm Sunday services while also ruminating on all that I see in the news of the day, I can’t help but reflect on all the insane finger-pointing. The United States is a nation in decline.  Yes, our economic state is slightly improved, but that is rapidly being undone by uncontrolled Federal spending (thanks to a brand new Omnibus spending bill of over $1.3 Trillion that carries us through 6 months… seriously!) We see lots of senseless death, from school shootings, to a literal epidemic of young black males killing each other on the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago and other major cities.  We see a radical discrimination – where the media and rabid freedom-hating protestors get emotionally up-in-arms, organizing widely-expensive “March For Our Lives”, funded in large part by radically Leftist (and almost universally unregenerate-acting) celebrities, over a single school shooting where the victims were, interestingly enough – caucasian, while these same deep-pocket celebrities essentially ignore the hundreds already dead in inner-city, predominantly black communities.  It takes the “tears of white mothers” to stir up action?  And then the “action” is against inanimate objects and totally ignores the perpetrators, the government and law enforcement agencies that flat-out failed to take any action that would most certainly have prevented this most recent mass shooting altogether – all adding up to a failure to see our problems as symptoms of a greater illness – indeed a disease that is absolutely going to destroy this nation.  It isn’t guns.  It isn’t video games. The disease isn’t violent entertainment or misogynistic, hate-filled music, or a failure for people to be able to even acknowledge basic biology (gender). The problem is not a tool or the endless list of symptoms above – but a heart issue.

Scripture is clear – Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us that:

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?”

We have a problem known as sin – and it is a disease that has infected mankind since almost the very beginning. In fact, Scripture clearly says that All have sinned… (Romans 3:23).  And the sin problem in our nation (and world) is not improving – and I would like to propose that a major part of the problem is “US” – the evangelical world.  Oh – we may say we love Jesus.  For that matter, we have libraries full of love songs to Jesus (that too often sound more like love songs between high school sweethearts than adoration of the Holy, Righteous, and glorious Sovereign Creator!)

We have a sin problem – and while the problem isn’t new, the “Church” (especially evangelical churches) have dropped the ball – whether it is simple laziness, complacency, or even proclaiming what the Apostle Paul called “false gospels” – we have actually contributed TO the sin problems in our nation.  Doubt this?  Take an honest look into your local church. Look around – what do you see?  Yes, you see a room full of sinners – we all fit that category.  BUT – do you see in those same people – growing, maturing, and sin-shunning (constant-repenting) believers who are walking by faith?  Chances are, in many “evangelical churches” (regardless of denomination), you will find quite the opposite.  You will find a percentage that fit the above, but you will find far more who are little more than church attenders who have two persons – a Sunday Morning face, and the other 6.5 days personality. Let me further explain.

Jesus gave His great command to His church to make disciples.  For many years, from the first church in Jerusalem, we see a model laid out before us – people lived out their faith in a way that strengthened said faith, that aided each other to grow together in their walk – to see lives genuinely transformed in such a way that they were a beacon of hope, even when under incredible persecution. We still see some startling examples today in nations that are far from Christ-friendly; where Christians indeed walk in faith and where they absolutely understand the need to make disciples.

Return for a moment to the USA – where many see a man-centered religion. What happened? Back in the late 1800’s, a wave swept across evangelical Christianity – some look back with fondness, while most Bible-believing Christians who look through a more Berean lens (discerning) see something far different.  Preachers like Charles Finney began preaching dramatic, emotionally-charged sermons pleading for listeners to come to Jesus. It was the advent of the “ask Jesus into your heart” movement – where “decisions” were made based on feelings and tears (often contrived) verses genuine conversion via the Holy Spirit’s conviction and regeneration. The movement became all about what is known as “synergistic salvation”: a gospel that lays as much or more of salvation’s work on the heart of men (remember the Jeremiah quote near the beginning of this entry?). A feelings-based, emotionally-driven profession of faith, followed rapidly by baptism and adding to a church roll. Great!  But where are the growing disciples who are then to be disciple-makers?  That just didn’t really happen.  Numbers-driven ministry  only continued to take over Gospel-driven ministry. In fact, it was this same existential, pragmatic religious movement that gave birth to what we now know as pentecostalism and other Charismatic faiths, and the erroneous belief that mankind, once genuinely saved, can somehow be plucked form Jesus’ own hand (John 10:28-30). As the dramatically evolving Christianity in America began to spread – Christianity became more and more man-centered and less God centered.  We saw church building expanding along with growing church staffs to manage these growing churches – and with it the ever-growing budgetary needs to sustain these growing organizations.

But it wasn’t just these growing local churches (and so-called “mega-churches”), but even smaller local churches also started to shift towards man-centered ministry and beliefs (even doctrines). With this came the various degrees of the “prosperity gospel” and now the Social Justice/Social Gospel that substitutes the doing for proclamation and motives.

Let me return in this rambling post back to core doctrines that have contributed to our national issues – We have two common models that have evolved since/from the Finney/revivalist era – those that have attempted to remain true to core doctrines and biblical teaching – but have slipped into a form of practical legalism: after a person says a prayer for Jesus to come into their heart (I have yet to find a biblical reference or example), and we get them quickly baptized – we then throw what amounts to a list of rules for Christian conduct at them – then hope it sticks. Keep the 10 Commandments – Don’t make or bow down to idols – yet we have no problem with filling our homes and lives with literal shrines to our favorite sports team, entertainment stars, or hobbies (Whoo Pig Sooie!), don’t kill (though we forget Jesus equated hate towards a neighbor to be like murder), honor your mother and father (while we sit idle by watching society tell kids to dishonor parents and always buck the system). We say to not steal (while many cheat on their taxes, have no problem with being accidentally under-charged for a purchase, or take advantage of someone’s lack of understanding to gain an extra dollar). We say “thou shalt not commit adultery”, while turning a blind eye to the rampant divorce and remarriage rate WITHIN churches.  We MIGHT say to not “covet” what others have – yet we church folks can run with the best of the “keeping up with the Joneses”. And the list goes on –

On the other branch, we see churches that make similar please to “love Jesus”, yet make no expectation at all of change.  Indeed, the functional message is – come as you are (great!), and when you go home – go home unchanged – except with a smile on your face! We see a catering to the tastes and preferences of specific “target groups” through affinity-based churches (churches that are centered and founded on interests or lifestyles – think biker churches, cowboy churches, outdoorsmen churches, etc.) We see the growth of entertainment/flash-based churches where style, excitement, and experience reigns supreme over the Word of God and the clear-preaching of it.

The Gospel, when it is proclaimed is a gospel that helps people understand the genuine nature of sin – the genuine cost of sin (both in this temporal world and more importantly – in eternity).  The Gospel isn’t just about God’s love that was demonstrated in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but is also recognized as genuinely good news because we see also Gods’ wrath that is poured out on ALL unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). And when God (not man) applies the true, and full Gospel to the hearts of men – regenerating their heart of stone for His heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), we should anticipate – indeed fully expect change to come. A desire to please God, to know God, to serve God who paid such a high price for our forgiveness – the same God who, through Jesus Christ, who endured the wrath WE deserve.

And with that change of heart and progressive sanctification (the ongoing growing more like Jesus) we begin to better reject sin and more interestingly – we begin to be able to exercise Judgment/Discernment.  Yes – that ugly word that so many, even professed Christians, are so scared of. We mis the understanding of just what KIND Of judgement we are suppose to exercise.  Our judgment should be connected to and based on Scripture.  We should see God’s Word as inerrant (in its original manuscripts) and completely trustworthy from cover-to-cover and trust it to be the judge of all that we see and must make decisions about. See more about this HERE.

And as we bring this all forward and look to the downward spiral of our nation- where we point fingers at guns, politicians, organizations, etc – let us not forget that many who march against rights, who point blame, who even spew some pretty nasty words – are folks who sit in a char or pew on Sundays. Let us not forget that many who commit crimes and other acts of violence were “brought up in church” and were even considered by some to be “good people”.

Some shout: “THEY NEED JESUS” to which I give a hearty “AMEN!”. But they need Jesus then they need to see good, biblical, Godly examples – not a soup of rules and contradictions along with selective picking and choosing of what parts of the Bible are applicable and dependable.  They need Jesus – and discipleship.  They need churches to not just throw rules at them, but preach doctrines that are 100% Bible-based. They need genuinely born-again Christians to extend a hand to them to demonstrate the love of Jesus Christ (that we can’t forget included whips and overturning tables as well as calling sin – sin, and calling wolves and snakes what they are). It means that, while we recognize that God is the “Great Physician”, He owes us nothing! While God can and will provide our needs, He is under no obligation to provide the lusts of our flesh! It means recognizing the absolute necessity to die to self every day (to prefer the will of God and the needs of others over ourselves).

This also means that we must come out of our little protected enclaves we call “churches” and open our hearts and lives up to “those people” – whether they look different than us, act differently than us (are we shocked when people who are unregenerate and without Jesus act like they are unregenerate and without Jesus?). It means we must be willing to call out those who profess to be born-again believers in Jesus who walk in unrepentant sin, reflecting the flesh of the world instead of the Light of Christ.

Lest we forget the message of this little Jewel from the Mark Trammel Quartet:

We cannot guilt and arm-twist people into saying a “sinners prayer” and expect real change. WE must recognize that salvation is not of man, of grand speech, or clever argument – it is 100% of the Lord – as a FREE GIFT, granted by faith, not of any merit of ability we have – (Ephesians 2:8-10). But again, this is just the beginning. While genuine salvation is sure – and we can confirm it by seeing the very change it brings both immediately and long-term, we are called to repentance for a purpose – to be the living, breathing Gospel to those around us as we ourselves journey to know Christ and to make Him known!

And the sooner we realize and trust that it is God who converts the sinner into a saint, the quicker we begin to get about doing what Jesus actually commanded US to do – MAKE DISCIPLES.  Not mindless religious zombies.  Not another generation of unrepentant and shallow “church members”, but to teach, equip, and walk along-side those who we know and seeing them through from lost, to saved, to growing and mature Disciples who then become disciple-makers themselves.  If we in the Evangelical world would take Christ’s command as given, turn lose of measures that revolve around numbers (seats filled in church services and offering totals), and get serious about helping people to grow to be genuine disciples of Jesus Christ – we will see first – a resurgence of the true Church of Jesus Christ – we will see churches that are spiritually healthy.  But as an extension, we will see communities changed for the good, the needs of those around us better met – and we will see the Kingdom of God as never before!

But as I preached yesterday (Palm Sunday) – it will cost us something – it will cost us our idols, our selfishness, our prejudices, and our comfort zones. But let us not forget – it cost Jesus everything!

It isn’t about being a “social justice warrior” as many en the evangelical world have become – for the works of our hands alone will make no real difference. It isn’t about a social “gospel” – for that makes no eternal difference at all (indeed – it makes do-gooders who can’t seem to do real good at all). Let us be Christ-followers – as individuals and as local churches.

If you currently are a part of a local church that not only proclaims the whole and true Gospel of Jesus Christ – a church that places a top priority on actual, one-on-one, Bible-based, Christ-glorifying disciple making – congratulations – you have found  a Jewel!  Treasure it and be an active part in it.

If, on the other hand, you find upon real, Berean-like examination according to Scripture that your “church” really isn’t much of a church at all – but a purveyor of man-centered doctrines and theologies – of flesh-pleasing programs, of man-glorifying religion – then I implore you – seek out a church that truly sees the Bible as the Word of God: every page of the 66 books of the inspired, divine revelation of our Lord – a church that takes seriously the command to make disciples – submit to sound Biblical teaching and to being discipled – with a goal of becoming a disciple-maker and using what God has given you in material and spiritual gifts to serve Him.

And to that – I humbly submit the church I pastor – not because I am the pastor, for anything good First Baptist Church may have or display is more in spite of my leadership than because of it! Yes, we have “issues”, as any and every institution made up of human beings will have.  But you will also find that we recognize our shortcomings and are constantly seeking ways to grow in Christ, to deal with the “demons”, and to be the salt and light.  We would love to have you visit, but even more – if you genuinely want to be what Christ has called people to be – join us in our journey! First Baptist Church.

Gunshots, Death, Schools, and God…

I have intentionally held off this afternoon and evening commenting formally on the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. One reason is that I needed to have time to pray about it and to give authorities time to make sure things were clear and victims being taken care of. Also, to give others plenty of time to speak up and respond. Further, my desire was and is to not overly politicize this tragedy. Many already are trying to use this shooting as yet another foundation to push their own misguided political agenda.

I was pleased to read President Trump’s quick and measured Tweet:

 But was further saddened to see the immediate responses by many who’s ugly and vile response to the President’s message betrayed the core of why I believe we are seeing these horrible acts of violence.

Let me begin by saying – we are seeing ugliness in this nation – acts of violence including mass shootings, we are seeing increases in all sorts of crimes, and at the same time we are watching an entire generation appear to collectively lose their minds (demonstrated by such acts as the recreational “eating” of Tide Pods!). We see cities like Philadelphia celebrate their professional football team’s Super Bowl victory by taking to the streets and systematically causing as much destruction as they can, while simultaneously looting businesses of their merchandise and other property.  You see – these are all symptoms (and some may say – “signs”) of both the times we live in and the absolute corruption spreading in the hearts of mankind in our nation.

The horrible and deranged acts of madmen shooting up concerns venues, night clubs, movie theaters, schools, and more, are all the product, not of WHO the President of the United States is, it isn’t the result of the “NRA” and any undue influence or money they seem to exercise towards politicians.  These acts that so shock us are not the product of a vast Right Wing Conspiracy, or of racism.  They are not the product of “white privilege” or the desperation of the poor in the “inner city”.  Every one of these acts are the direct result of unregenerate hearts.

Mankind has been carrying out violent acts and murder against man since soon after the creation of the world.  Cain killed Abel because of self-pride and a corrupt heart. Joseph’s brothers beat him, cast him into a hole, then sold him into slavery out fo pride and a real hatred for their own brother.

Jesus Christ, the very Son of God was murdered – put to death, though innocent of any sin or violation of the law Himself – because of jealousy and sinful pride of the religious leaders of His day and the willing, unregenerate population of Jerusalem.

Even in “church” history – the sad reality is – many have killed in the name of Jesus – but out of their own hate and pride or who was “right”.

Violence has been a part of this creation since the fall of man in the Garden. It is one fo the many symptoms of the who don’t know the Lord our God, and instead “turn each one their own way” doing “what was right in his own eye”.

Within minutes of today’s shooting, and on the heels (and in reply to the President’s prayerful Tweet posted above), very real hate, vitriol, and total heart corruption was put on display.  Hearts that are every bit as corrupt before a totally righteous God spewed fowl language at the President, mocked not only the President but all Christians for their “useless” prayers. Posts and Tweets across social media mocking God in particular –

And I say this – every one of them serve as a vivid reminder of just WHY God ALLOWS these horrific events to happen.  The answer is quite obvious to anyone who has ever spent any effort to read the Bible.  Just take a look at what has happened to every nation that rejects God – that turns from God (in the case of Israel/Judah). When a people functionally kick God out – turning to their own idols and pride – God has regularly allowed judgement to come in the form of unholy leaders, oppression, violence, suffering and much more.

While the context is not the modern USA (in context, God was speaking to nation Israel in a specific time and set of circumstances), the message still rings loudly –

My people who are called by My name humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land. ~2 Chronicles 7:14

Or the words God spoke to Isaiah:

“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; Yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.”  ~Isaiah 1:15

You see – all we really need to do to face the horrible things we see unfold before us and begin finding solutions, is to see that we – a nation that at one time really was known as a “Christian nation”, has blood on its collective hands.  We have sat idle by (either literally, or functionally) and watched as 60 million babies have been murdered, depriving them of the most basic and fundamental right of man – the right to LIFE.

We have, as a nation, systematically torn down the institutions that God instituted from Creation – redefining those institutions to suit our own fancy, instead of honoring the God-ordained order.

We have decided that gender is an artificial construct and not set by any standard by your own “feelings”. Need mind that even at our very biological core – the DNA specifically identifies our gender.

We have not only thumbed our noses at God’s ordained patterns and systems, we have also collectively told God to “take a hike” – shoving all mentions of the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit from the public square. We have wedged in definitions of the founding Father’s choice of guaranteeing the freedom of religion to be free FROM all religion that includes the biblical God (but amazingly have tolerated or even promoted the false “god” of Islam and other pagan religions, ultimately setting up a national religion (specifically prohibited by the Constitution) of Secular Humanism.

No – it isn’t “the guns” that are responsible for these killings (in fact, I have never seen a gun load and fire itself at anyone). It isn’t because some people actually understand the Constitution and the reasons for the Amendments wisely included.  It is the corrupt hearts of man – that will continue to kill and hurt others until Jesus Christ returns and sets things straight.

NO amount of finger-pointing at Presidents or politicians, organizations, or inanimate objects is going to fix the corrupt hearts of men.

Might I suggest we begin by humbling ourselves before God, repenting of our hard hearts – confessing that we have failed to speak up, failed to witness to the saving power of Jesus Christ (in words OR in our actions). Might I suggest inviting God back in to this nation as a welcome King? Might I urge the reader to not just let this latest horrible event just add to your hate and anger – but instead to turn your eyes upon Jesus…

Are there major problems in our society? Of course.  And yes, we have a responsibility to act responsibly – but we must begin in the strongest position of all in this world – on our knees before a Holy and Righteous God –

“The Christian religion, in its purity, is the basis, or rather the source of all genuine freedom in government. . . . and I am persuaded that no civil government of a republican form can exist and be durable in which the principles of that religion have not a controlling influence.”

“The moral principles and precepts contained in the scriptures ought to form the basis of all our civil constitutions and laws. . . All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery, and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible.”

Noah Webster, (author of the first American Speller and the first Dictionary)