Monday, September 29, 2008

The Pitfall of Pastoral Pride

Pastoring a church is a great joy. I continue to be amazed at what a wonderful privilege it is.

Sunday, in particular, is my favorite day of the week because it is when our church family gathers twice. Spending time together and building one another up is something that I look forward to all week long.

Sunday is also a day that I must be careful. Many folks within the church say very nice things to me on that day. This encourages and edifies me. However, there is a danger. The danger that lurks in the midst of this is pride. Once in a while, after someone has said something nice, I can sense myself feeling good about myself. I am not referring here to some sort of healthy self-concept. Rather, I'm talking about feeling prideful in my own actions, skills, and abilities.

When I realize that I am feeling this way, it makes me sick. Over the past few weeks, I have been preaching through Genesis chapter 1. That chapter makes it painfully clear that all abilities come to us as a gift of God. In fact, even our very lives are a gift from His hand. In light of this, pride is absurd.

When we become prideful, we are basically dethroning God in our lives and placing ourselves on the throne. Because of this, God condemns pride.

Proverbs 11:2, "When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom."

Proverbs 16:18, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall."

Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride will bring him low, but the humble in spirit will retain honor."

In Mark 7:20-23, Jesus lists pride among evils that come from within man. He says, "What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man."

Additionally, Paul writes something interesting to Timothy in discussing qualifications for an elder/overseer/pastor. In I Timothy 3:6, Paul says that an overseer should not be, "a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil."

Pride is a sin that all followers of Jesus Christ should resist. When the temptation arises, we should squash it by remembering that it is God who has given us all we have, including our abilities to do any good at all.

As pastors, we must fight against this temptation when the church gathers. In fact, even as we are being edified, we must watch out for Satan's attempt to use this to make us think that we are something special.

As pastors, we should pray that God will constantly remind us that we are profoundly unworthy of our calling.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Years in a Row!

The only team in baseball that matters, the Philadelphia Phillies, have won the National League East for the 2nd year in a row!

Living in Georgia means living in Atlanta Braves country. For this reason, I am a bit of a baseball outcast down here. However, I've been a Phillies fan for all my life. How can I possibly be unloyal to my team?

Also, most of the years of liking the Phillies have been painful ones; they are usually just plain bad. The last few years have been sweet. Go Phils!

Friday, September 26, 2008

What Causes Unbelief?

Paul tells us clearly in Romans 10:9, "because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

But what causes a person to believe or not believe? At an ultimate level, what is it that makes someone have faith? What is the root cause of trust or a lack of trust in God?

My guess is that most Christians would say that it is a person's free choice as to whether or not he believes. The would say that each individual's choice is the ultimate reason for his belief or lack of it.

However, is this what the bible says? What do the scriptures tell us is the primary reason a person has faith? John answers this question for us in John chapter 10.

John 10:26 says , "But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock."

The context of 10:26 is Jesus talking with the Jews in the temple during the Feast of Dedication (read John 10:25-30 by clicking here). The Jews want to know if Jesus is the Christ. Jesus talks to them about their lack of belief. Jesus makes it clear that the Jews who He is talking to do not believe because they are not Christ's sheep. Therefore, we can see that in order to believe, a person has to be one of Jesus' sheep.

How, then, does a person become one of Jesus' sheep? Many people would answer by saying that when a person believes, he becomes a sheep belonging to Jesus. However, this passage says the reverse ordering is true. A person only believes because he was already one of Christ's sheep. Therefore, it cannot be that faith causes a person to be one of Christ's flock.

So what does cause a person to be, as Jesus says, "part of my flock."? Fortunately for us, John answers this very question in 10:29. That verse says, "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."

The key phrase in 10:29 is, "My Father, who has given them to me..." What we see in 10:29 is that a person is part of Christ's flock because the Father has given him to Jesus. It is the Father in heaven's prerogative, then, who is given to the Son to be his sheep. It is clear that faith does not cause God to give us to Christ because the order of what we see here is:

1. God the Father gives certain people to God the Son.
2. Those people become part of Christ's flock.
3. Those in the flock are able to believe.

The ordering of what we see is extremely important. This passage shows us that it is God who decides who believes and who does not. It is God's sovereign decision who is able to have faith and who does not.

This passage is entirely consistent with what Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:8-9. Paul writes, "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." This verse makes it clear that faith itself is a gift of God.

We also know that passages such as John 10:25-30 and Ephesians 2:8-9 in no way conflict with our calling to evangelize the lost. We know this because of passages such as Matthew 28:19-20, Mark 16:15, and Acts 1:8. The bible never contradicts itself.

So what significance does it have for us that God is the one who ultimately causes belief or unbelief? As believers, our response should be wonder and awe that God would grant us the gift of belief. As sinners, we know that we do not deserve it. It is all of grace.

When we admit that it is God who has caused us to believe, we are saying that faith is not a work, but it is all grace. When this happens, God receives all the glory.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Darwin Foiled

A Reformed Southern Baptist is...

The description of this blog refers to me as a "Reformed Southern Baptist." What in the world is that?

I have written previously (click here) about what I believe a Reformed Baptist is. I have also admitted that I have a bit of a Fundamentalist stream in my thinking (click here).

So what is a Reformed Southern Baptist? Quite simply, a Reformed Southern Baptist is a Reformed Baptist who wants to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). This answer may seem painfully obvious to some people, but it should be noted that many Reformed Baptists have departed from SBC life.

How does this work? How does someone who holds to Reformed theology remain in the SBC? There are several different answers to this question. Some Reformed folks within the convention are determined to change the beliefs in the convention as a whole so that the SBC itself becomes Reformed. Quite frankly, I think this is very unwise. It will just lead to more fighting within the convention. We certainly do not need this.

Others who are Reformed have all but left the SBC. In other words, they are technically in the convention, but have little to do with the convention or other SBC churches. This seems isolationist to me and accomplishes little.

My position on the issue is that I will, when appropriate, talk about issues such as the Doctrines of Grace, God's complete sovereignty, Calvinism, etc. This may occur within or outside the church setting. I'm determined to be open about this. However, I'm also determined to do this in a kind, loving manner. I also have no agenda to change people's minds.

Since I have the wonderful opportunity to preach and teach during the week, issues of God's sovereignty will certainly arise. For example, right now I am preaching through Genesis 1-3 in order to prepare for a series through the entire book of Matthew beginning in December. Genesis 1-3 shows us a completely soveriegn God who is Creator and Owner of all that exists. I certainly hope that at the conclusion of Genesis 1-3 the people of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church see God as sovereign. Why? Because that is what the text shows us. My agenda is to be biblical, but not to force any sort of system.

Currently in the SBC, there is at least some concern and some confusion over issues such as Calvinism, Reformed Theology, etc. Reformed Baptists within the SBC can do ourselves a favor by loving God and loving others first, and discuss issues such as Reformed theology second. Reformed theology must not be what we are primarily known for.

A Reformed Baptist does have distinct beliefs (5 "solas" of the Reformation, believer's baptism, Doctrines of Grace, inerrancy of scripture, independence of the local church, separation of church and state, etc.). These beliefs, however, must not be what Reformed Southern Baptists are most known for. If it is, we will have little impact within the convention.

If Reformed Baptists are most known for lovingly living out the gospel in order to advance the Kingdom of God, then we may be able to influence the SBC in a positive light.

Let's let Reformed Theology be a positive in the SBC and avoid the fighting that has plagued the convention for so many years.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Alistair Begg on Pastoral Ministry

Although I am happy to be a Southern Baptist, I enjoy looking outside the SBC landscape for both sermons and books. One of my favorite preachers is Alistair Begg. Begg is senior pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio. He also has a radio ministry at Truth for Life. You can download and/or listen to Begg's sermons by clicking here.

I recently completed reading a book about pastoral ministry that Begg co-authored with Derek Prime. The title of the work is On Being a Pastor.

This book is an excellent overview of pastoral ministry within the traditional church setting in both Great Britain and the United States. Since it is co-authored, the text contains many different concrete examples of what pastoral life and ministry is like.

This book is the best that I have read on the subject of pastoral ministry. The reasons for this are that the authors have years of experience, have a high view of biblical authority, write in a humble manner, deal with theoretical and practical issues, and seem to really love the people they are under-shepherding. The book is also engaging and fairly easy to read.

Another positive about this book is that I will be able to use it as a resource in the years to come. For example, if I cannot remember how I should deal with a certain issue, such as church discipline for example, I will pull out this text and read over the section dealing with that. In this way, it is a resource book.

I would recommend this book to anyone involved in pastoral ministry. Even if you do not read it from cover to cover, it will be good to have around for dealing with specific issues.

By the way, if you have never heard Begg preach, listen to some of his sermons. It will be a good investment of your time.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Take a Look at Nature Worshipers

Click here to watch a video a those who worship nature. It is sad and pathetic. When I watch things like this, I praise the Lord for His glorious grace in saving me from spiritual bondage.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Can You be a Christian and Not be Part of a Local Church Family? Yes and No

Can you be a Christian and not be part of a local church family?

This is a question that we, as Protestants, usually answer with a hearty "YES!"

The answer I give to the question, however, is "Yes and No." This is how I came to this conclusion:

I believe, as Protestants have historically believed, that salvation is based on God's grace alone. This salvation is confirmed by our faith. Salvation is based on grace alone, not based on works. This may be most clearly stated in Ephesians 2:8-9. If we confess Christ and trust in him, we will be saved (Romans 10:9).

In theory, then, a person can be a Christian without attending any church. He can follow Christ without attachment to a local church body. He can be assured of salvation without being a part of a local gathering.

He can be a part of the universal church of God without being joined with any local manifestation of that church.

This is where it gets difficult. When I look in scripture, I see Christians who want to be with other Christians. I see followers of Jesus Christ sharing life with one another. I read about Christians gathering on a regular basis to build one another up in Christ, to encourage one another during times of trial, to confront one another if one is in sin, and to support each other as they live for Christ as part of the Kingdom of God.

In the bible I do not see Christians who are not part of a local church. There may be instances where a local church does not yet exist (I'm thinking of the Ethiopian eunuch), but that's not what I am discussing. I'm referring to followers of Christ who consciously reject fellowship with a local body. As far as I can see, they do not exist in the bible.

In our day we all know about Christians who have recently moved to a new location and are not yet part of a local body. We also know about those who are too sick to attend anywhere. We are aware to followers of our Lord who have been hurt within church and are a bit "gun shy" of church life. These are not folks I am talking about.

What I am saying is that in the bible we do not see Christians rejecting the church. What we do see is Christians thriving within the church. We see them growing in Christ in part because they are edified by their brothers and sisters in Christ.

So what are we to make of folks who today claim to be followers of Jesus but want no part of church life? We must be careful not to assume anything about their salvation. We ought to try to get to know them and ask to hear their story. If they have no desire to be part of a church, we should love them, serve them, and share the gospel with them. If they continue to reject the church even after we have spent time with them, then we ought to worry about whether or not they know the Lord.

It is normal for Christians to be part of the local church. It is not normal for them to be alone.

So can someone be saved but not be part of a local church? Yes and No.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Question: How Do You Organize Your Library?

Ever since returning from the mission field, I have been collecting books. It is a passion of mine to read all I can of theology, the church, preaching, Christian biographies, etc. I can't even keep up with the books I have purchased. One problem I have is that there is a discount Christian bookstore within just a couple of miles of Chevis Oaks. It is a great source of temptation (good, I hope).

Back to the subject at hand. Since I am collecting books to form a theological library, I want to organize them in the most useful way possible. Currently, my books are semi-organized according to subject and author. This is not the best system, and is sometimes completely confusing.

So, if you have a personal library (theological or not), how do you organize your books? Do you go strictly by the author's name, the subject, or something else? Please let me know becuase my situation is not good now and will continue to deteriorate as I collect more.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two Amazing Creation Patterns

I can't wait for this Sunday. I will be preaching on Genesis 1:1-25 during the morning and evening services (Last Sunday I preached on just Genesis 1:1). It has been a great pleasure this week to study through this text. I am always amazed by how God shows me new things whenever I read over a text that I have studied many times before (with the help of study bibles, commentaries, etc.). In studying Genesis 1, I came across two patterns that I had not previously thought about. You may already be aware of these, but if not, then enjoy. Either way, we should stand in awe of both the splendor and the order of God's creation.

The first pattern, which I had been somewhat aware of but hadn't given much thought, is the five step process that is followed on almost every day of creation (Just in case you are curious, I believe creation occurred in 6 literal 24 hour days. If that labels me a fundamentalist, then so be it).

The five step process goes like this:

1. The announcement - "God said..."
2. The command - "Let there be..."
3. The report - "and it was so."
4. The evaluation - "God saw that it was good."
5. The placement in time - "the evening and the morning, ____ day."

The second pattern, of which I was not aware, is how God first creates locations or spaces on days 1-3 and then fills them up on days 4-6.

Day 1 - God creates light.
Day 2 - God separates the sky from the seas.
Day 3 - God creates land and plant life.

Day 4 - God fills the light with the sun, moon, and stars.
Day 5 - God fills the sky with birds and the seas with sea creatures.
Day 6 - God fills the land with first animals and then humans.

These patterns indicate that God was intimately involved with His perfect creation. There is no suggestion of either a "Big Bang" or any sort of evolutionary process. It seems that the author (probably Moses) went out of his way to emphasize God's active role in even the details of creation. This account portrays God as an artist bringing about a masterpiece. Of course, a human artist can't do it ex nihilo like God did.

What an amazing God we serve!

On a related topic, below is my Genesis 1:1 sermon on Wordle.

Are Large Families a Problem?

One word answer: No

Psalm 127:3-5, "Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one's youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate."

Dr. Al Mohler of SBTS agrees. Click here to read about it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

No Christian is an Island

We survived two years without a church family. I'm grateful beyond words that that time is now behind us.

Let me explain. In June of 2006, we moved away from Wake Forest, NC. We had lived in Wake Forest for four years for me to attend seminary. While there, we attended Messiah Baptist Church. During that time, we cherished being together with our Messiah friends. It was very difficult to leave.

We departed Wake Forest looking forward to moving to South Asia. As you probably know by now, we lived and served in South Asia from October 2006 until March 2007. That's when our son, Bobby, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (a form of cancer). We came home in March and headed directly into hospital life.

After Bobby's treatments concluded in May of 2007, we did not know what to do. We spent the remainder of 2007 seeking the Lord's will and assisting Bobby in recovery. By the end of the year, we believed we knew what the Lord wanted us to do.

In January 2008, we resigned from our sending agency. In God's sovereign providence, He allowed me to begin supply preaching at Chevis Oaks Baptist Church in February. In June, the church called me to be pastor. God has provided the entire time.

I review all this because from June 2006 until June 2008 we were without a church home. It was more difficult than I could have ever imagined!

At this point, I must clarify. Within those two years of homelessness, there were many, many Christian people who loved and served us. For example, when we were clueless new folks in South Asia, several experienced foreigners in our city helped us in many ways. We also enjoyed worshiping with them. When we returned home to the USA, many Christians in the Savannah area helped us. Friends at Rothwell Baptist Church in particular have been very generous to us. We still live in their missions house (although we are trying to find one of our own to purchase)! Additionally, friends from all over the USA have encouraged us through e-mails and phone calls.

Still, throughout that time we were not fully engaged in the lives of a church family. Part of the reason for that is that we did not want to get too close emotionally because we knew we were likely to leave. We did join with Rothwell in many activities, but never threw ourselves fully into church life. We were especially trying to keep our children from getting too emotionally attached.

Because of this, even though we had people loving us, we were never fully sharing in the lives of other Christians. It was incredibly difficult because we sensed a need to be encouraging others, helping others, serving others, and building others up in Jesus Christ. We wanted to give of ourselves fully as we were being given to. In some ways, June 2006 - June 2008 felt like wandering through a church desert with water close by but never reachable.

Those two years have made me cherish the church more than I ever have before. I have no idea how some Christians do not join actively with a church family. Every time I am with my new church friends at Chevis Oaks I get so encouraged that I almost can't stand it. I love encouraging and being encouraged. I love serving and being served. I love building others up in Christ and being built up.

As difficult as those two years were, I do think I benefited by coming out of it with a better understanding of both the church and the individual Christian's need for church life. I sense better what the writer of Hebrews (whoever he was) meant when he wrote in 10:24-25, "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."

As a follower of Jesus, I desperately need His church. I cannot stand on a spiritual "island." I need to be embedded in the lives of my brothers and sisters in Christ. This extends far beyond just Chevis Oaks, but also to the lives of other followers of Jesus with whom I come in contact.

Christian isolationism doesn't work and isn't biblical. I need others.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Gospel in 6 Minutes

Please watch this excellent, heartfelt discussion of the gospel.

Thanks to my friend Nick, from whose website I swiped this video.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Why I Preach and Teach from the NKJV

Sometimes within church life the bible translation that the pastor uses can be a big deal. In some situations, it even leads to problems. I'm thrilled that is not the case at Chevis Oaks Baptist.

As I have preached in several churches over the last 5 years or so, I have used various translations. Up until this year, I hadn't really decided on which version to use. Quite honestly, I'm not sure exactly why I used certain translations in the past. That changed this year as I began thinking about preaching consistently within one church family.

Since coming to Chevis Oaks, I have been preaching from the New King James Version of the Bible.

As I began to think about what version to use, I first made up my mind to choose one version and stick with it. I at least knew enough to know that the people listening would want consistency in version choice. Over time, some people tend to purchase bibles that are the same version their pastors use so that they can follow along more easily during the sermon. This has already happened here with several folks buying NKJVs.

As I was deciding on a version to use, I held one assumption: there are several good translations of the bible in English. Some people disagree with this and believe one version is simply the best, and should therefore be used due to its superiority. I have yet to be convinced of that. As I have looked at the original languages (I don't claim to be any sort of expert), and then looked at English translations, I have found the following to be good translations: the King James Version (KJV), the New King James Version (NKJV), the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV), the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB), and the International Standard Version (ISV). All are basically word-for-word translations that do a good job of expressing the meaning of the original authors. To see a good comparison of several different versions, click here.

When I study, I don't stick with one version. I recommend to any bible teachers that you look at several versions when analyzing any passage. If you can afford it, purchase Bibleworks. It has helped me a great deal.

At a personal level, my favorite translation is the ESV. The reason is that it is a good translation that is also very readable. I don't struggle with any of the language and at the same time I know that it is an accurate translation. The HCSB is similar.

When I blog, I usually bounce back-and-forth between the ESV and NKJV depending on what I am writing about.

Now to preaching and teaching. Why do I use the NKJV? The reason is simple: it is what I think is best for this church family. Many of the members of Chevis Oaks enjoy the KJV. However, there are others who use a modern translation such as the NIV (New International Version). I have found the NKJV to be a good "middle-ground" between those two versions. A person can listen to a sermon from the NKJV and still follow along with either a KJV or an NIV. Since the goal of preaching is to teach people what the bible says in order to bring about a life-change, it makes obvious sense to use a bible that they can understand in the first place.

This is a very small sacrifice on my part. I do it because it is what I believe will most build up the body here at Chevis Oaks. So far it seems to be working well.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

"Atheism Remix"

I love short books. When I say "short," I'm not talking about a 20 page book. What I mean is a book that is 100-150 pages long. For the most part, books of this length get right to the point, don't mess around, and don't contain added fluff.

Atheism Remix is just such a book (108 pages). In this book, Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, analyzes the new brand of atheism that is creeping more and more into mainstream American life. Mohler's purpose is to both discuss the dangers of the New Atheism, and to call Christians to continue to proclaim the truth of biblical theism.

Mohler suggests that atheism is on the rise in American culture. This is due in no small part to the writings of four men: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. These four men, who Mohler says could be called "The Four Horsemen of the New Atheist Apocalypse," have all written and spoken about the benefits of a naturalistic/materialistic worldview. They see religion as untenable and even dangerous.

Mohler helped me better understand the New Atheism by listing and discussing eight of its characteristics:

1. The New Atheism is marked by an unprecedented new boldness.
2. There is a clear and specific rejection of the Christian God of the Bible.
3. The New Atheists explicitly reject Jesus Christ.
4. The New Atheism is specifically grounded in scientific argument.
5. The New Atheism is new in its refusal to tolerate moderate and liberal forms of belief.
6. The New Atheism attacks toleration.
7. The New Atheists have begun to question the right of parents to inculcate belief in their own children.
8. The New Atheists argue that religion itself must be eliminated in order to preserve human freedom.

I find numbers 3, 7, and 8 particularly frightening.

What are Christians to do in the face of the New Atheism? Mohler writes, "Then, as now, the task is to articulate, communicate, and defend the Christian faith with intellectual integrity and evangelistic urgency. We should not assume that this task will be easy, and we must also refuse to withdraw from public debate and private conversation in light of this challenge."

I highly recommend this book. I appreciate Dr. Mohler's work in opening my eyes to this new strain of an old unbelief.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Other Languages Online

I was looking for BBC coverage of the awful flooding in India when I realized that I could look at the BBC in a wide variety of other languages. I cannot read these languages, but I still find them fascinating to look at. Some of the most interesting looking are Arabic, Persian, Pashto, Hindi, and Tamil.

"The Truth War"

I highly recommend almost every book I read. This book, however, does not fall into that category.

John MacArthur, in The Truth War, certainly has much good to say. As is typical with MacArthur, he doesn't pull any punches. MacArthur stresses the importance of biblical truth being objective as opposed to subjective. Biblical truth is determined by God, not by human feelings.

MacArthur rightly criticizes the postmodern view of truth, which suggests that truth is ultimately unknowable. Postmoderns, instead of seeking truth, stress a warped humility that suggests that truth is beyond us. What this leads to is relativism and subjectivism.

In talking about postmodernism's seeping into churches, MacArthur speaks out against the false teachings of Brian McLaren. McLaren has written several books from a theologically postmodern view. His most well-known work is entitled A Generous Orthodoxy. MacArthur correctly criticizes McLaren for his refusal to stand up for the truth of the core doctrines of the Christian faith.

MacArthur also describes emerging churches, which are generally churches that adhere to postmodern thought.

Most of what MacArthuer writes needs to be said. For that, I appreciate this book.

The problem with The Truth War is that it seems somewhat repetitive and redundant. I could have read the first two chapters and that would have been enough. The remainder of the book seems to rehash what has already been said, while adding a few more details.

If you have studied postmodernism before, then don't bother with this book. If you have not looked into the problems with postmodern thought, then I recommend that you check this book out of your local library and read the first two chapters. That will be enough.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Taking the Lord's Supper to a Widow

This past Sunday we celebrated the Lord's Supper as our church gathered. It was a joyous occasion. This was the second time we have practiced this ordinance since I have become pastor. On both occasions, I believe the church was edified through it.

We have one woman in our church who is not able to attend due to physical problems. She is a sweet, elderly widow who lives with her daughter. This precious lady would have loved to attend the church gathering on Sunday, but her physical frailty kept her from being with us. Although she wanted to celebrate the Lord's Supper with us, she was unable to do so.

Since she was unable to be with us, we took the Lord's Supper to her. The three deacons and I hopped into a car and drove down the road just a minute until we arrived at her place. I had called to make sure it would be all right to come. When we arrived, we talked for a few minutes about how she was doing physically, and how things were at home. She expressed a strong desire to be in church with us, but she just cannot right now. After a few minutes, we served her the Lord's Supper, with me reading from I Corinthians 11:23-26.

This seemed like such a simple thing that all churches should do. It certainly does not have to be the pastor and deacons who serve the Lord's Supper to the home-bound. Maybe next time others within the church will do it. It's not as if visiting those at home is some sort of sacrifice. In fact, it was a blessing to us.

This is an example of a little bit of effort that results in a great deal of edification. Everyone involved in this was edified. I know I was.

We were also being obedient to James 1:27, which is a very challenging and straightforward verse.

Let's serve one another.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Blog of Edification?

It is healthy to frequently ask ourselves why we do what we do. The blog-world is no different.

My hope is that this blog will be edifying to those who read it. Like the silly icon the the left, my desire is that the discussions of this blog will build up and encourage all those who read it regardless of background.

As for the specific nature of the edification, we can look to Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church for that. In 14:26, Paul makes a very important statement concerning the gathering of the church. Paul writes, "Let all things be done for edification." The specific nature of the edification is clearly being built up in Jesus Christ. A primary goal, then, of the church gathering is to build each member up in faith in Christ.

I realize that this blog is not a church. It would be absurd to claim that it is. However, as Christians we can certainly learn from what Paul has written to the Corinthians. We ought to be building up our brothers and sisters in Christ in all we do.

Another key verse related to blogging comes from I Corinthians 10:23. Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify." The context of this passage is a discussion of Christian liberty. How does this impact blogging? I am free to write about a whole host of things on this blog, but will those things build up those who read Hammer and Nail? Will what I write have a positive or negative impact on the Christian walk of a brother or sister who may read this? Also, if an unbeliever reads this, will it cause him to be more interested or less interested in the things of God.

So as far as blogging goes, how can we be certain that our blogs will edify? What rule can we live by? What filter can we use to see if our posts pass the test?

Let me suggest Ephesians 4:29 as a verse by which we ought to test not only our speech but also our writing. This verse says, "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers." Whenever we are about to speak or write, we should simply ask ourselves whether or not what we are about to say or write will build up another individual.

This all sounds so simple. However, if you look around what we might call the "Christian blog world," you will see much that does not edify. In fact, some of it is downright mean.

We, myself included, will do well to try to edify one another at all times, whether in speech or in type. If we strive to express ourselves according to Ephesians 4:29, we should do well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Update on Bobby -- Good News

Click here to read the latest on how well our son Bobby is doing. When you get to his site, read the "Journal" section.

Praise the Lord for His great mercies!

Change in Blog Emphasis

This blog came into being about a year and a half ago while my son was undergoing chemotherapy treatments for Lymphoma, and we had no idea what we were supposed to do next with our lives.

God has shown us much since that time. First, He has healed Bobby of cancer. For this we give the Lord much praise! Second, God has told us to remain in the Savannah, GA area instead of returning overseas. While this was somewhat difficult to accept at first, we certainly believe it is for the best since it is what God wants. Third, God has given me the wonderful opportunity to serve as pastor of Chevis Oaks Baptist Church just outside Savannah. Our family is thrilled to be able to invest our lives in the Chevis Oaks family.

As for Hammer and Nail, I'm going to somewhat change the emphasis of this blog. Up to this point, the subject matter has kind of been all over the place. My goal is narrow the parameters of what I will be discussing. Although I will still write about issues such as homeschooling, family, history, politics, etc., my primary focus will be more upon pastoral ministry as it relates to the church. This will range from theological discussions and biblical interpretation to preaching and pastoral care.

My hope is that this blog can benefit the readers in the area of discipleship as a whole. I realize that the best form of discipleship is when followers of Jesus share their lives together. This is obviously difficult to do in the world of the internet. However, I believe that through discussions of this sort we can all (including myself) encourage one another to grow closer to Christ. As Ephesians 4:15 says, "but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ." This is an excellent goal for us all.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Freemasonry and Christianity Do Not Mix

I recently obtained a copy of a Freemason's bible (I apologize for the poor quality of the photos, but I was reduced to taking them by my phone camera).

My curiosity was piqued because the reality is that there are many Southern Baptists who are also Freemasons. I wondered how this could be since I have heard that Masonic beliefs contradict with Christianity (read more on this by clicking here).

This bible begins with twenty pictures of King Solomon's temple and discussion of why this is important. This is followed by the image that you see below. This image shows the structure of Freemasonry. It is composed of names such as "White shrine," "Eastern star," "Sublime prince of the royal secret," "Most excellent master," and "Pontiff." There are also all sorts of different knights, princes, and chiefs mentioned.

The most troubling part of this bible comes just after the title page. The troubling section is entitled The Words of a Great Masonic Divine.

After a few paragraphs of positive comments about the bible, this section goes on to say (emphasis mine), "And yet, like everything else in Masonry, the Bible, so rich in symbolism, is itself a symbol -- that is, a part taken from the whole. It is a sovereign symbol of the Book of Faith, the Will of God as man has learned it in the midst of the years -- that perpetual revelation of himself which God is making mankind in every land and every age. Thus, by the very honor which Masonry pays to the Bible, it teaches us to revere every book of faith in which men find help for today and hope for the morrow. Joining hands with the man of Islam as he takes oath on the Koran, and with the Hindu as he makes covenant with God upon the book that he loves best."

The Great Masonic Divine continues, "For Masonry knows, what so many forget, that religions are many, but Religion is one -- perhaps we may say one thing, but that one thing includes everything -- the life of God in the soul of man, and the duty and hope of man which proceed from His essential character. Therefore, it invites to its altar men of all faiths, knowing that, if they use different names for 'the Nameless One of a hundred names,' they are yet praying to the one God and Father of all; knowing, also, that while they read different volumes, they are in fact reading the same vast Book of the Faith of Man as revealed in the struggle and sorrow of the race in its quest of God. So that, great and noble as the Bible is, Masonry sees it as a symbol of that eternal Book of the Will of God."

These direct quotes from this Freemasonry bible leave no doubt that Freemasonry and Christianity do not mix. Why is this? The above wording shows that Freemasonry is a pluralistic religion. Pluralism states that all religions are valid and lead to God in different ways. This is clearly what the above quotes indicate.

Christianity, on the other hand, is an exclusivistic religion. This means that the bible makes very clear claims that Jesus Christ alone is the sole means of salvation. No other religions are valid or lead to God (see here and here). No other religious books are the Word of God.

Since pluralism and exclusivism oppose one another, it is impossible for Freemasonry and Christianity to be reconciled. This has significant implications for churches. There are many folks who want to be both Christians and Masons. However, they can't have it both ways. No one can follow the teachings of both Jesus Christ and Freemasonry.

As oil and water do not mix, neither do Freemasonry and Christianity.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

How Sinful is Man? Who Cares?

I care (see here, here, here, here, and here for this series).

I know many of you do, too.

When we understand the sinfulness of man from a biblical perspective, we are forced to either accept or reject the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What concerns me is that many churches in the USA and around the world no longer stress sin at all. When this happens, the need for the gospel simply ceases. Why would we need a Savior if we do not need saving? Instead of Savior and Lord, Jesus is morphed into some sort of best buddy and good example for us to follow. He certainly is our example, but He is so much more.

When sin ceases to be taught, the doctrine of Hell is also tossed out the window. After all, if sin is no big deal, then God certainly wouldn't send anyone to eternal torment. God, instead, is portrayed by many as simply a God of love. Wrath is never mentioned.

Sin must be preached, taught, and discussed in the church. Not only is it biblical to do so, but it also directly affects salvation. If there is no sin, there is no salvation. If there is no sin, there is no need for the cross. If there is no sin, then Christ's sacrifice is greatly diminished.

We must continue to proclaim the corruption of mankind and the glorious atonement of Jesus Christ!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

How Sinful is Man? James 2:10

James 2:10, "For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it." ESV (To read all of James chapter 2, click here.)

"For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." KJV

"For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all." NASB

"For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." NKJV

This is both a stunning and frightening verse. We are told quite simply, yet profoundly, that if we have broken God's law even once, then we are just as guilty as if we had broken all of it.

If we look at just the 10 commandments, James 2:10 tells us that we have worshiped other gods, made false gods, taken the Lord's name in vain, abused the Sabbath, dishonored our parents, murdered, committed adultery, stolen, lied, and coveted.

Although the implications of this verse are scary, we can also benefit a great deal from it. The reason is that this verse places all people on the same level before God. No one is better than anyone else. We are all guilty of breaking all of God's law. We have all grossly sinned. We all deserve physical and spiritual death.

If we grasp the depth of these truths, there is then only one logical conclusion: we both deserve to die and are going to die unless someone else saves us. This then ought to cause us to run to the beauty of the gospel message.

Additionally, this verse magnifies the holiness of God. God, who is without sin and perfectly pure, does not simply count individual sins against us. Rather, because He is perfectly holy, He must require absolute obedience from His subjects. If we sin just once, that means that we have eternally blasphemed against God. This is why if we sin once, it is as if we have transgressed the entire law.

When we ponder God's complete perfection and our corruption, it shows us just how amazing and horrific Jesus' sacrifice on the cross really was. God did not in any way forget about any of our sin. Instead, He placed the punishment for all of our lawbreaking upon the head of Christ on the cross. What a great sacrifice!

The forgiveness of our absolute corruption magnifies the wondrous glory of God.

In light of James 2:10, we must cry out, "Hallelujah!" What else can we say?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Flooding in India Continues...

The annual monsoon rains continue to bring record flooding to India. The worst of the damage has occurred in the Indian state of Bihar, which is located a short distance from where we lived. Considering the poor infrastructure of much of India, I have no idea how the government is getting food and water to the stranded people.

Click here, here, and here to see and read more about this.

"Respectable Sins"

Jerry Bridges is fast becoming my favorite author.

I recently read The Great Exchange. It is the best book I've read in quite a while.

Since that was so good, I decided to read another of Bridges' books, entitled Respectable Sins.

Respectable Sins is a challenging book to read because Bridges deals with many of the subtle sins that Christians, myself included, try to rationalize away and "sweep under the rug." For example, Bridges has chapters devoted to ungodliness, anxiety and frustration, discontentment, unthankfulness, pride, anger, etc.

I appreciate Jerry Bridges because he writes as if he is sitting down talking with the reader. Also, he is very transparent, admitting to many of these subtle sins he discusses. One very helpful aspect to the book is that he offers specific bible verses that he uses to assist him when dealing with temptation to sin in these areas.

This is basically a book about sanctification. If you have been a Christian for a while, you probably no longer commit what we often consider to be the "big sins." However, we all still struggle with sins that we (not God) somehow consider to not be quite so bad. God doesn't want these in our lives. Before we can deal with these, we must admit that they exist. That's where this book is helpful. In a straightforward but loving manner, Bridges takes on these various sins and points out how they manifest themselves in our lives.

I highly recommend this book to all Christians. If we want to grow in Christ, we must learn to mortify all sin in our lives, even those sins that society and, dare I say it, the church, have deemed respectable.