Friday, August 29, 2008

How Sinful is Man? Ephesians 2:1-3

In this series on the sinfulness of man, I've previously posted about Genesis 6:5-8, Jeremiah 17:9, and Romans 3:10-18. Why blog on this topic? The reason is simple. When we accurately understand how dreadful sin is and how corrupt we are, Christ's substitutionary death on the cross takes on even greater beauty.

Ephesians 2:1-3 makes one of the clearest cases for the absolutely corrupt nature of mankind. In these verses, Paul writes, "And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." (To read Ephesians 2:1-10, click here.)

The fourth word in this passage is critical. The word is "dead." In the original language, Paul uses the word "nekrous," which means dead. Based on the context of this passage, it is clear that Paul is talking about spiritual death.

As we read the above passage, it is also important to point out what Paul did not say. He did not say that we are "dying." The apostle clearly states that the death has already occurred. We are not in the middle of it; it is rather a past event.

The picture gets uglier and scarier as we look at Paul's description of this spiritual death. Paul describes us all, prior to salvation, as being followers of Satan. Ouch. When Paul writes, "the prince of the power of the air," he is referring to Satan himself. We followed Satan is the course of this world. It is clear that we ran after what this world has to offer. We were not seeking God, but were instead enjoying earthly pleasures.

Paul continues by writing that, "
we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind." Instead of being motivated by the things of God, we were driven by lust. This may have been mental and/or physical. Regardless of the specific nature of the sin, they key is that our desires were focused on the things of this world and not on God.

Finally, Paul says that we, "
were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind." Due to the corrupt nature of our hearts and minds, which manifested itself in sinful behavior, we deserved the wrath of God. Since sin is an eternal affront to an infinitely good and holy God, all who sin deserve the pure wrath of the God of heaven.

The key to Ephesians 2:1-3, as I stated above, is the word "dead." The reason for its importance is that stresses the permanence of our situation unless saved by another. We, as sinful people, could do nothing about our problem because we were dead. A dead person cannot respond when someone else simply calls out offering help. A dead person needs someone else to take the initiative to rescue him. As dead person cannot even help with the rescue.

Once brought back to life, a dead person ought to respond one way: with great gratitude. In the case of spiritual rebirth, a gracious response should be accompanied by worship and adoration of God.

Ephesians 2:1-3 accurately portrays our wretched state in the eyes of God before salvation. When we contemplate this, it should cause us to both shudder at the horror of it and also bow in awe to the One God who would save us from this state.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Help! What Would You Want in a Church Website?

I need your help. Specifically, I need your comments.

Our church (Chevis Oaks Baptist) will soon be putting together a website. I'm looking forward to this process, but I'm also no expert. We are blessed to have a few members who are technologically savvy. When all is said and done, they will have done most of the work.

As we construct the church website, I want to make sure that it is done well and addresses all important issues. However, I don't want it to be overwhelming. This is a relatively small church that doesn't need a mega-church type of website (like this, this, or especially this).

The site needs to be user-friendly and beneficial for both members and visitors. We will be placing a link entitled "What We Believe" in an obvious location near the top of the main page.

Other than that, I'm not sure what to have on the site. We can get ideas from other church sites, but I'd also like to hear from you. What do you think is helpful on a church website? What do you think is potentially harmful? What is unnecessary?

Please take just a minute or two to hep with this by leaving a comment. Thanks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

"What Women Wish Pastors Knew"

I recently realized that I rarely read books written by women. I'm not sure why this is the case. It may be that most theological books seem to be written by men. Regardless, I wanted to read a good book by a woman.

I was pleased when I ran across What Women Wish Pastors Knew at a local bookstore. The author is Denise George, who is the wife of Dr. Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School at Samford University.

This book is interesting because it is based on the results of a survey of hundreds of women. This survey looked at various aspects of church life through the eyes of women. The purpose of the survey was to learn how women feel about their churches and what they wish their pastors knew about them.

Since I'm a new pastor, this book seemed very appropriate. I'm glad I read it because I learned a great deal about how women view the church in general and the pastor in particular. Before reading this book, I think I knew that women see the church differently than men do, but now I know this to be the case. I do not mean that to be a criticism; rather, it is probably a good thing. Men and women can both bring their strengths to church life, thus building up the body more effectively.

One interesting thing that I learned was what Mrs. George first mentioned. The results show that women want their pastors to know that they are tired and that they hurt. It was beneficial for me as a pastor to be reminded of just how busy young mothers often are. One description of a typical week in the life of a young mother had me exhausted just reading it. I also benefited from being reminded that many women are hurting in a wide variety of ways.

Another interesting piece of information came up in a chapter entitled, "Pastor, we have some problems in our church." Mrs. George discussed the eight concerns that she said kept occurring over and over. They were:

#1 - Men and women working separately
#2 - Lack of respect shown to women
#3 - Women lacking new opportunities
#4 - Women treated as second-class citizens
#5 - Age discrimination
#6 - Men and leadership issues
#7 - Competition among women
#8 - Secularism in the church

Because the above problems were mentioned by many different women, it's clear that they are occurring in many different churches. It was helpful for me to read this, and then think about how these sorts of things may be happening at Chevis Oaks.

If you are a pastor or active male at a church, I would recommend reading this book. It is good for us to be reminded that women and men have different needs, and see the world somewhat differently. The church should be a place where both men and women feel welcomed and needed.

A church only functions well when all its members are working together as Christ intended.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Goodbye Fay

There are many advantages to living near Savannah, Georgia. It is a beautiful, historic city that is not too big nor too small (population of about 250,000). As far as the weather goes, it's also a good spot. We don't have blizzards, ice storms, fire storms, earthquakes, or dust storms. Because the east coast of the USA is farther west on the Georgia coast (named the "Georgia bite") than it is at either the North Carolina coast or the Florida coast, we don't often take direct hits from hurricanes. In fact, the last hurricane to make a direct hit on Savannah was Hurricane David in 1979.

Every once in a while we do have to deal with tropical weather that does something strange. If you have been watching the news, you know about the weird path of Tropical Storm Fay. Over the last few days, it has dumped vast amounts of rain on central and northern Florida (it now appears to be finally headed westward across the panhandle). Unfortunately for us, tropical storms and hurricanes are strongest on their northeastern quadrant. Therefore, if a storm hits central to northern Florida, we take a hit here in Savannah.

On both Thursday and Friday, we experienced band after band of wind and rain coming in off the coast. The sky would be light for about 30 minutes and then turn dark and ominous. I'm sure we received several inches of total rain. The wind gusts, which probably reached 40-50 miles per hour at times, for the most part knocked down just tree limbs. I'm glad to say that although a few large limbs fell to the ground behind our home, they only crunched part of an aluminum fence.

Things could be much worse here. Much of central Florida remains submerged and the latest reports indicate that seven people have died.

I'm thankful to God for the rain. We needed it. I'm also thankful that Fay didn't seem to do too much damage here.

I'm also thankful to see Fay go.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

How Sinful is Man? Romans 3:10-18

Romans 3:10-18 says:

10
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one;
11
no one understands; no one seeks for God.
12
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
13
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16
in their paths are ruin and misery,
17
and the way of peace they have not known.”
18
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

(To read all of Romans chapter 3, click here.)

Many churches today discount the power and pervasiveness of sin in mankind. However, when we read passages like the one above, we are reminded that sin is man's greatest problem. In verses 10-18, Paul paints an ugly picture of man's state apart from God.

In this passage, Paul strings together several passages from the Old Testament. He proves in graphic fashion that both Jew and Gentile are guilty before God. Additionally, Paul shows us that sin is not some sort of little problem. Sin pervades all of humanity, making all of us evil rebels before a holy God.

Several points stand out from this passage. We see that "none is righteous." None of us can do anything to justify ourselves before God. Also, "no one seeks for God." On our own, none of us even looks for God or has interest in Him. Furthermore, "no one does good." None of our acts count as good in God's sight if we do not know Him.

Later in the passage, Paul uses several specific examples to illustrate the depravity of man. Paul closes by stating, "There is no fear of God before their eyes." No person, on his own, ever fears, respects, or stands in awe of God.

So what do we learn from this passage? It is clear that all people are sinful. Beyond that, we see just how depraved we really are. Sin is not a little issue. Rather, it is a rebellious condition that we cannot overcome. In fact, based on this passage it seems that we actually enjoy it.

Since no one is righteous, no one seeks God, no one does good, and no one fears God, it is quite obvious that we are 100% guilty in God's sight. We cannot rescue ourselves, nor would we even want to do so. We certainly would not choose God over the things of this world.

In light of Romans 3:10-18, we have to admit that someone pure and holy must rescue is from our sinful state. Someone sovereign must change our wicked hearts.

Thanks be to God that He regenerates the hearts of sinners!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Reformation Heroes

I like this image because it has six of my heroes of the faith. Not surprisingly, they all happen to be Reformed. From left to right, we see Jonathan Edwards, John Owen, Martin Luther, John Bunyan, John Calvin, and Charles Spurgeon. All six of these men have impacted my life through their writings. They all have a high view of the glory of God and His absolute sovereignty over all of life. All six have probably impacted to one degree or another the church family you are a part of.

The above image is actually the homepage picture of Reformation Theology. This is the blog from the Monergism.com website. Monergism "is the doctrine that the Holy Spirit is the only efficient agent in regeneration - that the human will possesses no inclination to holiness until regenerated, and therefore cannot cooperate in regeneration." I'll give a hearty "Amen!" to that. I certainly didn't want God before He regenerated my heart.

I'm very grateful for those heroes of the faith who went before me. I'm thankful to God for their writings. I'm thankful that they helped me see that God is completely sovereign and free. I'm thankful that they helped me see grace for how amazing it really is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

First Day of Homeschool

To see and hear about our first day of homeschooling for 2008-2009, click here.

The Best Book I've Read in a Long Time

Hyperbole is all too common is the blog world. I am probably guilty of it myself from time to time. However, that is not the case in this post.

The Great Exchange is the best book I've read in a long time. In this text, Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington do a masterful job of looking at all of the biblical passages from Acts through Revelation that deal directly with the atonement of Christ.

The authors repeatedly emphasize the absolute necessity on the part of man for someone to take our place. We as sinful people have no righteousness to present to God. We stand guilty and condemned. Bridges and Bevington show time after time how Jesus Christ stepped in and exchanged His righteousness for the guilt of all the redeemed. He bore that guilt on the cross, and paid for our sins so we wouldn't have to.

They say this of II Corinthians 5:21, which happens to be my favorite bible verse, "It would not be an understatement to view this verse, properly understood, as the single key verse of the entire bible."

This book is well-written, gospel-saturated, and fully biblical. I highly recommend it. It is not a text that you will want to read quickly because of the deep truths the authors discuss. The writing style is not difficult; rather, the atonement is such a rich doctrine that it should not be sped through by the reader.

Since the book chapters correspond to the books of Acts through Revelation, the book itself breaks down into 10-15 relatively short reads. Understandably, the chapters on the books of Romans and Hebrews are longer than the rest. The Hebrews chapter is one of the best chapters in any book I have ever read.

In case you aren't convinced, this is what Alistair Begg says about The Great Exchange, "The next time I am asked for my top-ten reading list, this will be included! Clear and comprehensive, it leaves the reader in no doubt that this 'great exchange' is not only the heart of biblical theology but also the pivotal event of human history."

Monday, August 18, 2008

How Sinful is Man? Jeremiah 17:9

Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"

Whenever we read the bible, we must keep context in mind. In chapter 17, Jeremiah is discussing Judah's sin and deserved punishment. In verse 9, the Lord is quoted as saying the above verse. In verse 10, God goes on to say, "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings."

Although the direct context is Judah's sin, the statement that God makes in 17:9 is a general one that appears to apply to much more than just Judah. Considering that God in verse 10 speaks of "every man," it seems clear that Jeremiah 17:9 is an accurate descriptor of the hearts of all individuals prior to salvation.

What are we to make of this? What is the significance of Jeremiah 17:9?

I think we can come to a few conclusions. First, since the heart is designed to describe the most important parts of a man, we can conclude that man is completely deceitful and wicked. There are no parts of him that are good. Second, it is safe to say that all people are sinful. Third, it is clear that all people are guilty before God. Fourth, all people need a Savior because they deserve God's righteous wrath.

Jeremiah 17:9 accurately shows us the state of man before salvation. He is deceitful and wicked. The verse is very helpful because it shows that there is no room for pride in this world. We are all equally guilty before a holy judge. We all need to be saved, but because we are wicked we cannot save ourselves. We need someone righteous to save us.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How Sinful is Man? Genesis 6:5-8

I've been thinking a lot lately about both the power of sin and the even greater power of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. The more I ponder the depths of sin, the more I cherish what Jesus endured at Calvary.

That has led me to a question: Just how sinful is mankind?

All Christians (I hope) agree that all people have sinned. However, Christians tend to disagree over just how damaging and pervasive sin actually is. In light of that, in the next few posts I'd like to look at several different bible passages that shed light on this issue. They should help us come to some conclusions about just how chronic, ugly, deadly, and devastating sin is.

(For the sake of this topic, sin will be defined as "any thought or action that transgresses the law of God.")

As with any discussion, a good place to begin is Genesis. After the perfection of creation in Genesis 1-2, we run into the Fall in chapter 3. Interestingly and sadly, the first murder occurs just one chapter later. Then, after only two more chapters, we read this frightening critique of mankind in Genesis 6:5-8, "The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, 'I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens, for I am sorry that I have made them.' But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord."

We read that man's wickedness was great. That is bad enough. However, what really catches my eye is what happens next. We read that "every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually." This is an amazing statement. Basically, all day long every day all of man's thoughts, intentions, and desires were only sinful all the time.

This statement shows us that mankind is completely corrupt. At that time, everything within man (all thoughts and actions) was only evil. The biblical statement is clear in both the depth of the sin and the all-encompassing nature of it. There was not only no good in man, but no possibility of him doing any good.

There is no reason to think that man is any different today. As we look around this world, what we see only confirms exactly what we read about in this passage.

We would all agree, I believe, that once a person comes to know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, he is then capable of living a holy life that pleases God. What we see in this Genesis account is the state of man prior to salvation. Unless man has changed significantly since that time (which he hasn't), this continues to be his state prior to salvation.

Genesis 6:5-8 shows us an ugly picture. It is clear that man is, apart from God, morally bankrupt, exceedingly sinful, and totally corrupt.

When we ponder the reality of this, it makes the cross look that much brighter.

I Peter 2:24, "who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed." (NKJV)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

"The Beauty of the Small Church"

As pastor of a relatively small church, I look forward to reading as much as I can about the nuances and peculiarities of small church life. I'm thankful to Les Puryear for putting together a 30 page booklet entitled The Beauty of the Small Church. In this booklet, Les describes various aspects of churches whose average attendance is less than 200.

One of Les' main points, with which I whole-heartedly agree, is that the small church is not broken. There is nothing wrong with a church just because it has 100 in attendance. Related to this, a church of 500 is not automatically better than a church of 50.

What is most interesting for me is that Les describes very closely what I am now experiencing. For example, family is very important in the small church. This is certainly the case at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church. Certain traditions are also important at Chevis; Les talks about this in his booklet. In fact, I've run into very little that Les did not describe.

One other bit of information that Les spelled out is that the vast majority of Southern Baptist churches are small churches. This booklet shows that over 25,000 of the roughly 40,000 Southern Baptist churches average less than 100 in primary worship service attendance. Another 8,300 average less than 200. Meanwhile, less than 2 percent of Southern Baptist churches have over 1,000 in attendance.

Despite these numbers, Southern Baptist denominational leadership is always dominated by pastors of mega-churches and prominent figures from Southern Baptist seminaries. A primary example is that in June Dr. Johnny Hunt was elected as the latest SBC president. He is also pastor of the large First Baptist Church of Woodstock (GA). This is life as it is within the SBC.

Getting back to the topic, if you are a member of a small church, regardless of denomination, this booklet would be helpful to have. If you are a pastor of a small church, it would be a great benefit.

If you want to order copies of this booklet, e-mail Les at lespuryear@hotmail.com with the quantity of booklets you need.

Les, thanks for writing this booklet. I look forward to handing it out to our church members at Chevis Oaks.

Healthy Bobby

Most of you know by now that our son, Bobby, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma in March of 2007. We are thrilled beyond words that the Lord has healed him. Below is a very recent photo of healthy Bobby assisting in a Cub Scouts car wash at our church (he is the one with the sprayer). It is wonderful to see Bobby doing regular things that other boys his age are doing. Praise the Lord for His healing power!

Monday, August 11, 2008

"We Don't Have Any Food"

Today I had a significant reality check.

I received a phone call from a woman who asked for some food from our church's food pantry. Most folks who call to use the pantry have some food at home, but not enough. When I began talking with this woman, however, she said something different. She told me that she, her husband, and her kids had no food right now. I was surprised because most people have at least a little food. She apparently had none. I believed her because she sounded somewhat desperate. I invited her to stop by the church.

When this couple arrived at the church building, I could tell they had been through some tough times. They looked unkempt, thin, and tired. Their hair wasn't combed. They also smelled like old cigarettes. I felt so sorry for them. I was glad to be able to give them some food and tell them that we do this because of the love Jesus has shown to us.

Both of these folks were kind and appreciative. I have no idea how they have gotten into such a situation, but I definitely feel compassion for them. I hope they return again so that I am able to share more of the gospel with them.

As I think about my life, I take much for granted. For example, I never wonder where my next meal is coming from. I know there will be food; all I wonder about is what it will be. I have much to be thankful for, and one of those things is having enough to eat. God has been very gracious to always give our family enough to fill our stomachs.

The next time I begin to complain about something in life, I hope God reminds me of this couple I met today. When you meet someone who has no food, it does put things in perspective.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

I Can't Wait for This to be Released!

I've already pre-ordered the ESV Study Bible. You should, too.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Great News for California (and All) Homeschoolers

Praise the Lord for this great news from the HSLDA:

In a unanimous decision, the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District today ruled that “California statutes permit home schooling as a species of private school education.”

Today’s decision stands in stark contrast to the opinion this same three-judge panel issued in February, which would have made California the only state in the union to outlaw home education had it remained in effect.

“It is unusual for an appellate court to grant a petition for rehearing as this court did in March,” said HSLDA Chairman Mike Farris, “but it is truly remarkable for a court to completely reverse its own earlier opinion. We thank you for your prayers and give God the glory for this great victory.”

To read the complete story, click here.

John Piper on Why Everything Exists

Why does everything in the universe exist? Why are we even here? What is the point of it all?

These are deep, important questions to ask. John Piper, one of my favorite authors and preachers, answers these questions here. Enjoy.

Ordo Salutis and a Couple of Questions

In Latin, ordo salutis means simply "order of salvation."

The "Theological Word of the Day" widget that I just added to this blog explains this well today. This is what it says about ordo salutis:

"Ordo Salutis refers to the successive order of events in the process or event of salvation. This order includes necessities such as predestination, regeneration, faith, justification, repentance, atonement, and glorification. Depending on ones particular stance on theological issues having to do with salvation, he or she will see these events in differing successions. For example, the Calvinist would normally place regeneration before faith in their ordo, while the Arminian would see regeneration as a result of faith. The Roman Catholic would see justification as an event and a process that takes place throughout the Christian’s life, while Protestants would see justification as a definite event resulting from faith. Therefore, the Roman Catholic and Protestant ordo would differ respectively."

I have two questions for the readers of this blog: First, which do you think occurs first, regeneration or faith? Second, why scripturally do you believe this?

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Lamb of God, Sin, and World

John 1:29 says, "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!'" (Read John 1:19-34 by clicking here.)

This verse recounts John the Baptist's famous reaction upon seeing Jesus near the Jordan River. In reading this verse, it is clear that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and that Jesus takes away sin. What is not immediately clear is what John means by "world."

Many people read this verse and immediately assume that "world" refers to all individual people on the globe. If that is the case, then the verse is telling us that Jesus takes away the sin of every individual on earth.

The obvious problem with this interpretation is that if Jesus did, in fact, take away the sin of every individual on earth, then all sin of all time would have been paid for on the cross. If this is the case, then all people will be saved because there is no more sin to be paid for. This, then, means that no one will end up in Hell. However, we know based on various parts of scripture that many people will end up spending eternity in Hell.

So in John 1:29 what does "world" mean?

I believe that when John the Baptist says "world" he is referring to people all over the globe. John was making the point that Jesus would be THE sacrifice for sin that would save people from all over the earth. Jesus was to be more than the Jewish Messiah; He would also be the Savior for people all over the world.

If "world" does refer to people all over the globe, then the verse makes perfect sense in light of what we see in the rest of scripture. Jesus takes away sin of some people. This is what we see when some people go to Heaven and some go to Hell. Jesus takes away sin of some people all over the world. This is what we see in scripture as both Jews and Gentiles repent and believe in Christ. Even some people as far away as Rome trust in Jesus for salvation.

We must be careful when we read scripture. We must interpret bible passages in light of other passages. This verse is one of many that shows us that Jesus died for the sins of His followers - the elect. He did not die for the sins of the entire world; if this was the case then everyone would be saved.

Jesus is the Lamb of God. Jesus takes away sin. Jesus takes away the sin of some people all over the globe.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Theological Word of the Day

Every once in a while I stumble across a new widget that I enjoy. Today was a bonanza.

I just added 3 new widgets to the sidebar of this blog. The first is entitled "Theological Word of the Day." Every few days this widget is updated with another theological word and/or concept. It is a good way to remain sharp regarding various aspects of theology. Anyway, if you are interested, just scroll down and take a look.

The other two widgets are called "Daily Bible Verse" and "The Daily Spurgeon." You can't go wrong with either of those.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Church, Baseball, and Steven Curtis Chapman

This past Saturday was a long, tiring, hot, joyful, fun, and wonderful day all at the same time.

Our family, along with several others from Chevis Oaks Baptist Church, caravaned to Atlanta to see the Atlanta Braves play the Milwaukee Brewers. We had a great time watching the game, talking with our church friends (who numbered about 25 total), and eating lots of unhealthy food. The only bad part was that the sun made it feel like it was about 120 degrees where we sat in right field. The Braves lost, but the game was still very enjoyable. The photo to the left is a view from about where we sat.

After the game, the best part began - a Steven Curtis Chapman concert. Steven is one of the best musicians in Christian contemporary music. The reason we were willing to sit through a hot baseball game was that we wanted to see and hear him play. Steven and his family have recently suffered a great tragedy with the death of their young daughter Maria Sue in a freak car accident. We were curious to see how this would affect his performance.

As the band was setting up all of the musical equipment after the game, the sky grew increasingly dark and ominous. Soon after this it began to rain. The wind blew trash from the stands all over Turner Field. We headed for cover by the food stands. After about an hour's delay, the rain stopped and Steven walked onto the stage.

God had plans that none of us anticipated. Due to all the water lying around, the band could not play. Therefore, Steven just pulled out his acoustic guitar and began playing. In between songs he read from the bible and talked about his family's life since the loss of Maria. It was very encouraging and inspiring to hear him speak about God's faithfulness in the midst of this trial. Despite the pain, he was still able to sing "Blessed be the Name of the Lord" as his first song of the night (this video was taken at a previous concert). He later sang "Cinderella," a song which he wrote about an older daughter, but which speaks a great deal about what has happened with Maria Sue (also previous video).

Although I like Steven Curtis Chapman as a musician, I am even more impressed with him as a person.

It was a great day hanging out with my family and church.

The Death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the great Russian writer, died on Sunday at age 89. He is most remembered for writing about the Soviet Union's horrific prison system under the reign of Joseph Stalin. To read more about Solzhenitsyn, click on the articles below by Al Mohler and John Piper.

"One Word of Truth Will Outweigh the Whole World" -- the Death of Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Thank You, Lord, for Solzhenitsyn

Saturday, August 2, 2008

The Only Vote that Matters

With the presidential election fast approaching there will be lots of talk about voting over the next few months. By the time November roles around, we'll probably have heard way more about voting than we want to.

On a much more important scale than politics, there is really only one vote that matters. When talking about salvation, only one person has a vote. That person is God. God elects who is saved and who is not. Many people do not like this because they think it infringes on their free will, is not fair, kills evangelism, or just isn't biblical. However, election is a doctrine that the bible is very clear about. I'll list a few verses that specifically relate to this doctrine:

Matthew 24:31 “And he will send out his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”

John 6:37-40 “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

John 10:27-29 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.”

Acts 13:48 “And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.”

Romans 8:29-30 “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”

Romans 9:10-13 “And not only so, but also when Rebecca had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad- in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of his call - she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’”

Romans 11:7 “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened.”

Ephesians 1:4-5 “Even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.”

Ephesians 2:1-10 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ - by grace you have been saved - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

I Thessalonians 1:4 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you.”

I Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”

Revelation 13:7-8 “Also it was allowed to make war on the saints and to conquer them. And authority was given it over every tribe and people and language and nation, and all who dwell on earth will worship it, everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.”

The Ephesians 1:4-5 passage is extremely important because it is probably the clearest statement in the bible about God's sovereign election of whomever He choses. Paul tells us in those two verses that God literally elects. Paul uses the Greek verb "eklego," which even sounds like our word "elect." Paul then goes on to say that God predestines (very similar in meaning to elect) according to "the purpose of His will." Notice that God doesn't elect by looking into the future to see which people would choose Him. Although this is taught in many churches, it is simply unbiblical. God chooses completely based upon His own will and nothing more.

So what are we to do with this doctrine? We should rejoice in it! If God is all-powerful (which He is), and if He is all-good (which He is), then we can trust Him to do what is right. This extends even to election. The reality is that if God didn't elect anyone to salvation, then no one would get saved. Why is this the case? It's because our hearts are wicked and rebellious against God. If God doesn't elect and then regenerate a human heart, there is no way that person would ever turn to God.

We ought to rejoice, proclaim, teach, and exult in God's election of some sinners to salvation. This is our only hope.

Election should also give us great hope in sharing our faith. If we believe that God has elected some people to salvation, then all we have to do is share the gospel and some folks will get saved. If salvation is up to God, then the pressure is off the person evangelizing. He can simply proclaim the gospel and leave the results up to God.

I praise the Lord for His electing grace! I'm thankful that God has the only vote that matters.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Beach Builders

One of the nice advantages of living near the beach is that we can go there for just a few hours basically anytime we want. Yesterday we spent some good family time together at Tybee Island playing in the sand and ocean. Bobby and I worked for quite a while constructing what he later dubbed "Castle Alice." It might not look like much in these photos, but it took a lot of work because we were limited to little-kid, plastic shovels that were smaller than my hands. The exterior square is a moat, while the interior is composed of an outer wall and the inner keep. It won't win any awards, but we still had fun making it.

As a new pastor, I hope to learn how to effectively balance family life and church life. I hope days like yesterday go a long way towards this.

If you are looking for a relatively quiet vacation spot, Savannah is a great choice.