Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me -- Part 3

This is the third installment in this little series about my neurosurgeon friend recommending to me a book by Richard Dawkins (Part 1, Part 2). I am going to get ahead of myself just a bit with this particular post. There are other specific things that I will address most likely sometime next week concerning those who are trending toward atheism.

One of the chief reasons that I cannot buy into the concept of atheism is because of what I have been associated with for my entire life. I have been an eyewitness to the transforming power of the grace of God and the Gospel. My father-in-law started the church that I now pastor 43 years ago and over that course of time I have only been absent from it for 3 years when I was a kid because of a job transfer that my dad took in Niceville, Florida. Another three year absence occurred from 1989-1992 when I went to Texas Bible College in Houston, Texas. Other than these two times, I have been actively involved in our church.

So when Richard Dawkins gets on his podium to lecture about the fact that there is no God, I don’t get angry with him, I feel more of a profound sadness than any other emotion. It is simply for the fact that he has never been exposed to a side of “religion” that I grew up with.

This brings me to a short point today. If there is no God then how do you explain to me, logically, clearly, and rationally the power of transformation that I have witnessed in a whole lot of lives over the forty year history of our church? I have seen some of the dregs of society come into our church and God totally change them. I have witnessed marriages that were in shambles and family situations that were in total chaos come in and God step in and turn it around. We have former alcoholics, dopers, meth heads, down-and-outers, and up-and-outers experience God’s grace. They all walked away from lifestyles that were highly sinful and detrimental with hardly a backward look. I also have to tell you that there have been others who came in and did not make and slipped back out into horrific and painful situations. But I await Dawkins’ and anyone else’s explanation as to how these sorts of things take place.

One of my favorite stories to tell is how that my father-in-law went into a bar one Saturday and pulled someone out of the muck. Robert Redden was an alcoholic and a troubled man. For several Saturdays in a row, my father-in-law went by to try to get Robert to come to church on Sunday but he would never be there. One Saturday, he asked Pat (Robert’s wife) where he was and she told him the bar that he was at. So my father-in-law drove down to the bar and went in and sat down next to Robert while he was tanking up. Robert was stunned that a pastor would walk into a place like that and next thing you know, Robert is crying and pouring his heart out to my father-in-law. The next day Robert was in church with his wife and kids. God has worked incredibly through their lives over the years. Keep in mind, that there are many others in our congregation that the same thing has taken place in their lives.

We have had the gamut of people to come through over the years. Some of these folks were so scary that when I was praying for them, I had one hand on their head and the other on my billfold in my back pocket just in case they were pick-pocket artists! I have had people tell me, “You’re the last ditch effort for our marriage!” as if I were the one who could fix the problem. It is those moments that the sensible thing to do is let God begin to do His work in their lives. . . the God that Richard Dawkins says does not exist! Mr. Dawkins and my neurosurgeon friend are too late. . . I’ve already seen too much!

As earlier promised, I am going to pick back up with the academic side of the argument next week, but as a concluding point, I am attaching a video of the Atlanta West Pentecostal Church choir who won the Verizon Wireless “How Sweet the Sound” national choir competition. For them it was more than just a competition. . . It was God working through them because I have no doubt that there are some testimonies behind the faces that are in the choir. At the end, you will find yourself exposed to a small taste of what goes on in a lot of Pentecostal churches every Sunday night across the country. . .

God Bless and thanks for reading. . . .

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me -- Part 2

Picking up from yesterday’s post about Richard Dawkins’ book The Greatest Show on the Earth, I have had several e-mails asking me if I would recommend someone to read this book. I have two answers to that.

First, I would suggest that anyone who is not very well founded in Scripture or if they are questioning the authority of Scripture not to read it. What Dawkins is doing is preying on those who are on the fringe of the Church. Having done a bit of investigation on Dawkins, it is very important for us to note that he has a very strong influence among a younger set, generally college-aged crowd. YouTube has some various lectures that he has given and one that I watched was at Oklahoma University. Another lecture that I watched as given in Washington, D.C. to a large and somewhat rowdy group of old fat guys (like me) who fancied themselves as intellectuals.

Paul (1 Timothy 4:1) mentions a seducing spirit and it is my thoughts that this is what this book is based on. Dawkins is an outright atheist, but his tone in this book is not necessarily one of antagonism but more so the serpent trick that Eve encountered in Genesis 3. The serpent inserted doubt by asking a question, “Has God said?” and the question plagued her mind until she fell. Dawkins works the questions that attempts to do nothing more than create doubt. There are times that Dawkins is very antagonistic, in fact one of his earlier books The God Delusion takes that approach.

Secondly, I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to get down to the nitty gritty of apologetics. The reality of the fact is that you don’t need a lot of theology to discount Dawkins arguments. If you are a logical and critical thinker, you won’t even get through the preface before all sorts of questions begin to arise concerning Dawkins ideas about evolution and atheism. Frankly I enjoyed the challenge that Dawkins presented because it pushed me in a direction of study that I rarely go, the zone of apologetics. The majority of people to whom I preach, teach, and write to are either believers or they are leaning in that direction. Dawkins is an outright atheist but what was very scary to me was that some of the ideas that he was touting were embraced by some of the popular authors of our times, not just popular secular authors, but popular “Christian” authors. It is apparent that the fox is guarding the henhouse. 2010 needs to be a year of increased discernment. Discernment is very closely attached to loving God with your mind!

Dawkins begins his book by creating a scenario about Rome not existing and how that a teacher cannot even explore the intricacies of Roman society because he is too busy having to defend its existence. He moves from this concept and makes the comparison with evolution and how that teachers cannot even explore evolution because they are having to defend it against the creationists or intelligent design proponents.

Dawkins also threw in a blurb about atheism in his opening salvo. The first thing that struck me was what Paul wrote to the church at Rome.

Romans 3:3 KJV For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?

Romans 3:3 NASB What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?

It does not matter what men think about God, He is still there! It does not matter if it is a 7th grade science teacher, a full-blown atheist like Dawkins or my friend, the neurosurgeon, the thoughts and intents of their heart has zero effect on whether or not God exists or does not exist. The sad thing is that they will face God when their lives are finished and have to give an explanation for how they spent their personal talents and gifting.

Another thing that struck me was a rising question that came to mind, “Do you know everything?” For an atheist to say there is no God, he has to know everything. It is very obvious to me that they do not know everything because we are still waiting on a number of cures for various diseases in the medical field. They do not know a solution for the economic problems that the world is currently embroiled in. They do not have answers to the plaguing problems of world peace. These three areas are just the tip of the iceberg for what they do not know. So if they cannot give answers to those social questions of the day then how in the world can they give a valid answer to a spiritual question?

Yet another question that came to mind was one of ethics and behavior. All men come with an innate and I believe God-given process of conscience which causes them to observe some form of moral law. Man basically knows that murder is wrong. He is also aware of various other degrees of behavior that is either right or wrong. From where did this come from if there is no God? The question of conscience has to be answered.

I shall continue this. . . .

Thanks for reading. . . . .


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Neurosurgeon, Richard Dawkins, and Me

A little over a month ago, my dad ended up needing a five vessel bypass via open heart surgery. Throughout the process, I spent a lot of time at the hospital that I have worked in off and on since 1985. I occasionally still work in the Radiology department and in some of the intensive care units but have not been full-time since January 2006. I discovered once again some of the advantages of being an insider when a family member is in need of health care although that may change after Obama has committed his “bailout.” My dad is now doing well and overall did remarkable throughout the affair.

On one of the days that I was spending with him, I left the hospital for a bit and returned after lunch. As I was getting into the elevator, I ran into a physician that I have known since the summer of ’92 or so. He is a kind-hearted soul and has always been very genial and I have never personally observed him demonstrate the messiah complex that most neurosurgeons seem to get equipped with when they are in medical school. Now before you send me a derogatory e-mail for being judgmental at least give me the consideration of allowing you to know that my point of reference is not just the two hospitals here in Dothan but St. Luke’s Episcopal/Texas Heart Institute and M. D. Anderson in Houston both of which were crawling with neurosurgeon’s. Generally neurosurgeon’s egos need a lot of room as in wide doors and tall ceilings to accommodate their antics. I would be wrong if I did not also add that I have noted some preachers who came into my airspace a time or two that would rival any neurosurgeons ego hands down. Funny what perceived self-importance does to us.

Anyway, he struck up a conversation with me and wanted to know what was going on with my dad. He then spied a book I was holding and asked me what it was. Just so happens that I had been in a used bookstore and ran across a copy of Richard Dortch’s two books, Integrity and Secrets of the Heart. I had picked them up and re-read the account of Jim Bakker’s fall from grace with the PTL scam back in the late ‘80’s and it is still a little mind-boggling to read of the amounts of money that flows among the televangelists and how largely these folks were living. Dr. Becker had never heard of Dortch, which not many people outside of the religious world have, so I was not necessarily surprised. Then he asked me what PTL was and I told him it was “Praise the Lord” or “People That Love” whatever they chose to call it on that particular day during the broadcast.

With this he asked me, “Philip, do you read very much?” to which I replied, “Ahh, I usually read a couple of books a year.” Probably a huge understatement but one needs to be modest so I happened to be in the manner mode that day and flew under the radar with that answer. It was then that he told me that he had a book recommendation by one Richard Dawkins entitled The Greatest Show on the Earth. I have to confess that I had never even heard of Richard Dawkins but I told him that I would indeed see about it. So I wrote the author’s name down and determined that I would see about it because I am always in the hunt for new author’s and books. The reality of the fact is that I was in for an awakening.

Two days later after my dad had sufficiently recovered from his heart cath, I took off to Barnes and Noble for a little while to get out of the hospital. When I got there I was in for a big surprise! I hunted down Dawkins book and found out that he is one of the rising proponents of evolution and a big chief among what is being referred to as the New Atheists. He is somewhat of a free-thinker although very articulate in being able to explain some of his points.

As I read through The Greatest Show on the Earth, I remembered something about kind-hearted, soft-spoken, old fellow that I had forgotten—he is an atheist. Not a rabble-rousing, saber-rattling, street-marching type but one who on numerous occasions has documented in his progress notes that he would tell families that he was an atheist and if that was problematic for them, he would get another neurosurgeon for them to see. As a sidebar, I have sometimes asked good Christian folks if they would rather have an incompetent Christian surgeon or a vile-sinner but extremely competent surgeon. Just in case you are wondering about me, give me the vile-sinner but competent guy every day over the incompetent brother. Just because someone is saved doesn’t necessarily make them competent (insert your own smiley here).

As I read through Dawkins’ book, it came back to me that when I told the neurosurgeon about the Dortch/Bakker/PTL connection that he was attempting to subvert my thinking by recommending The Greatest Show etc. Indeed the book was provoking but the problem (or advantage) is that I have not been one of those “Christians” who just checked their brains in at the backdoor when I showed up to hear someone preach/teach or for that matter lecture in a college classroom. Everything goes through a filter and over the next few posts, I shall try to accommodate you with some of the things that come out of that very, very beneficial foray into Richard Dawkins’ world. For you see Mars Hill (Acts 17:16-34) is still alive and well at this juncture in history and whether or not you are facing the philosophers on Mars Hill or the modern day Nimrods who are building their towers of Babel, there are solid answers for the loose threads they are attempting to unravel on the fringes.

Harry Blamire wrote The Christian Mind in 1963 and some of his words were very blunt but bracing as Os Guinness quotes in Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (subtitled: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What To Do About It): “We speak of ‘the modern mind’ and of ‘the scientific mind,’ using that word mind of a collectively accepted set of notions and attitudes. On the pattern of such usage I have posited a Christian Mind, chiefly for the purpose of showing it does not exist.” Blamire continued “There is no longer a Christian Mind. . . The Christian Mind has succumbed to the secular drift with a degree of weakness unmatched in Christian History.”

I would be foolish to propose a cold, clinical intellectual approach to theology because this can be deadening to one’s spiritual life. On the other hand, if somebody (or” somebodies”) does not get a grip on their Bibles and begin to love God with their mind (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27; Acts 17:11; Romans 7:25; etc.) many are going to be swept away by the prevailing and shifting winds of doctrine flowing in our times. This shores up my encouragement for expository preaching which I did a series sometime back on the Barnabas Blog.

Since I have become acutely aware of the competition I have with twitter and Facebook, I am attempting valiantly not to be as verbose so I will pick up the Dawkins exercise in tomorrow’s post.

Thanks for reading. . . .


Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Voices of Vanity Fair -- Part 2 -- The Voice of the Consumer

Continuing with a blog that I wrote back in August concerning the voices of Vanity Fair (Part 1), I trust you will find some food for thought with this thought. Long before Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress Paul wrote a letter to the Galatians addressing some of the voices of Vanity Fair.

Galatians 1:6-7 KJV I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: [7] Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ.

He was alarmed that there were those who would work to create great upheaval in the soul. It was of such a nature that it could be described as a hellish agitation attempting to perplex the soul. It was with the subtle suggestions of doubt or half-truth created by asking questions that would subvert the simple. The Greek indicates that the words “trouble” and “pervert” the Gospel implies a shaking back and forth with the intent of stirring up spiritual distress.

They would work to twist or turn around the message of truth. Our generation is no different from the one Paul was confronting. He was preaching the thought that everything has to flow through the filter of Scripture and the direction of the Spirit. Discernment must be one of the prevailing traits in our relationship with God. The reality is that Paul understood the fragile nature of faith and that listening to the wrong voices can turn us away from the faith. A certain amount of vigilance is required in our spiritual life. This thought opens up a question, “What voices are you allowing to influence you?”

There is a pattern in the book of Galatians. . .

• It starts with a troubling and a perversion of the Gospel (1:6-9).
• Then it progresses to a bewitching that will lead one toward disobedience (3:1-3).
• Then it moves even further in that it changes the appetite for godly things into the things of the world (4:9).
• Its deadly conclusion leads to a disabled runner who cannot complete his race (5:7-8).

Everything about Vanity Fair was designed with the spiritual shopper in mind. You can still have a bit of religion and a lot of the trinkets of Vanity. Everything about the American culture encourages us to seek after a wide variety of things. Take note of the choices, it is from bottled water (strawberry, raspberry, or lemon), to burgers (Whoppers, Big Macs, Swiss and Mushroom, or even Chicken), to computers (Dell’s, Macs, or simple PC’s), or to cell phones (Blackberries, I-Phones, Voyagers). It becomes almost endless as the sellers attempt to coerce people to spend their money on their newest invention.

With a deadly accuracy these voices of Vanity Fair wants us to make the same application in our service to serving God. The consumer has a mentality that makes him in charge instead of God being in charge. But in the process, God ends up being bought out and He disappears from the scene.

The reality is that the Gospel is a call to the denial of self. The Gospel is not a call to self-fulfillment but it is a call to sacrifice. I might add that there are hard demands to following this Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

Luke 9:22-27 KJV Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day. [23] And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. [24] For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it. [25] For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away? [26] For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels. [27] But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.

Living for God is not about us. Being a saint of God is not about us. In fact, it’s not even about our self-esteem. Being a saint of God is being sick of sin and having a sense of desperation for redemption. It is about seeing the Lord as the crucified Savior and His offer as being priceless and saving us from sin, death, and hell.

The popularity of cross-bearing is as popular now as it was back then, not very! However, we have no choice in the matter as to how that we come to him. Don’t listen to the voices of Vanity Fair that says that you can have it your way! When it comes to the kingdom of God, a consumer mentality is deadly. You cannot shop for choices in your relationship with God. What was required of the primitive, first church is the same requirements that fit in today’s society.

The consumer mentality causes people to “shop” their doctrine, “shop” their church, “shop” their pastors and elders, and “shop” spirituality. Instead of what is good for the soul, the choices are made on what is good for their schedule, their family, or their location. The consumer mentality fills churches while it empties the soul.

Someone recently sent me a link from Facebook for an online sermon in one of the most popular churches in my hometown. I watched with a progressive sense of horror and astonishment as a sermon from Mark 5 was preached by the pastor and before it was over, the demoniac from Gadara had been labeled as mentally ill and not demon possessed. The place was packed and the crowd appeared to be hanging on every word and I could only wonder how many people on that day had been misled, most if not all. How many people in that room on that particular day really were being oppressed by a very real devil (of which he has almost disappeared from American pulpits and church life) and it was being billed as mental illness? Can a host of pills fix a spiritual problem? That question is rhetorical in nature and needs no answer but just in case, let me say that there are no pharmaceutical answers for spiritual dilemmas. I was incredibly sad as the sermon came to a close on that day because I realized that many in that crowd were simply there because of programs, social contacts, and nice facilities rather than a true love for Christ and His Word.

The sad fact is that spiritual consumerism wipes out biblical discernment and true discipleship but it fills up buildings and makes budgets blossom. For a moment transition to the material side of being a consumer and its effects and note what happens. Professor Barry Schwartz of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania wrote concerning the American “happiness quotient” being in a consistent decline for more than a generation: “In the last 30 years—a time of great prosperity—the proportion of the population describing itself as ‘very happy’ has declined. It has decreased because of an abundance of choices and a consumer attitude that pervades our lives.” Having more “choices” probably is not going to make anyone more spiritual. The cost of discipleship is the only thing that brings about lasting spiritual transformation.

Resist the flow of that voice of Vanity Fair that calls you to a life of ease and comfort and invest yourself to the hilt in the Kingdom. . . it is the only thing that really matters (Matthew 6:33).

Monday, November 02, 2009

Book Recommendation--Timothy Keller. . . Counterfeit Gods

One of the noticeable differences in my reading habits over the last three or four years has been the content of religious materials that I now read. Years ago, I spent a lot of time reading Max Lucado, Max Lucado, and Max Lucado. Max was good for my inspirational quirks years ago but after the 45th book has dropped out of the chute and landed on the bookshelf, I discovered that Max was apparently saying the same things but under a different cover. I gained a bit of inspiration but little education. All-in-all, it was good because his writings caused me to reach for things on the next shelf.

Higher up on the proverbial shelf is a writer that I have grown to enjoy reading simply because of the “thinkabilty” factor involved. That writer is Timothy Keller and his newest book fills the bill. He has written a new book entitled “Counterfeit Gods—The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters.”

The introduction kicks off with a provocative thought concerning the Idol Factory which is the heart of a man. He takes a quote from a very liberal thinker Friedrich Nietzsche, There are more idols in the world than there are realities. Keller then recounts multiple documented suicides of Fortune 500 bankers and investment managers who could not handle the collapses of Freddie Mac, Bear Stearns, and other financial firms. At the heart of their demise was the idea that money had become their sole savior and sustenance for life. However, inanimate things can never fill the void of the spiritual yaw in a man’s soul. The only thing that will ultimately fulfill and provide a sense of contentment in a man is a transforming and redemptive relationship with God.

Keller writes, “If we look to some created thing to give us the meaning, hope, and happiness that only God himself can give, it will eventually fail to deliver and break our hearts.” This single sentence explains the maddening pursuit of the very fragile American dream. The American dream is no longer what it was 30 years ago (or even five years ago for that matter) simply because the system has now been broken by the insatiable demands of greed, self-proclaimed “rights” and the refusal to embrace delayed gratification. Bigger is not necessarily better but bigger does warrant and feed an out of control idol factory.

Later in the chapter, Keller explains, “Sometimes God seems to be killing us when he is actually saving us. Here he was turning Abraham into a great man—but on the outside it looked like God was being cruel. To follow God in such circumstances seems to some to be “blind faith,” but actually it is vigorous, grateful faith. The Bible is filled with stories of figures such as Joseph, Moses, and David in which God seemed to have abandoned them, but later it is revealed that he was dealing with destructive idols in their lives and that could have only come to pass through their experience with difficulty.”

The Chapter titles are:

Introduction: The Idol Factory
1-All You’ve Ever Wanted
2-Love Is Not All You Need
3-Money Changes Everything
4-The Seduction of Success
5-The Power and the Glory
6-The Hidden Idols in Our Lives
7-The End of Counterfeit Gods
Epilogue: Finding and Replacing Your Idols

There is a very detailed “Notes” section along with a “Bibliography” that runs for 30 pages which is loaded with some very good fodder. Worthy of your time and be sure that you read with a red pen in one hand and an open notebook available. . . that is how good this book is.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

The Persecuted Church

For the most part, I feel that many in the American church are very unaware of the international persecution that some in the global church have to endure. Recently while working on a set of sermon notes, I paged through Foxe’s Book of Martyrs and once again felt the deep-seated conviction that most of the American church probably would not be able to endure physical challenges to their faith. In fact, I even questioned whether or not I would stand in the face of persecution and even martyrdom for what I believed to be true. Perhaps many are choking on God’s blessings at the expense of our soul. Blessings and prosperity have a way of dulling one’s spiritual senses. Why do we really need God when we have a surplus of wealth and health? Why should we depend on God when we have become self-made men by following the advice of the best life now routine?

I have been accused by some of my “preaching buddies” of always reading heavy or even dark books and they are probably right! Of course Scripture has been the main fair of my efforts because I want the Book to master me and it will not happen unless I spend time with it. But in addition to Scripture I have been fortunate enough to have for years devoted much reading to Tozer, Ravenhill, Chambers (among others), and a host of the Puritans. The Puritans have had to endure an incredible amount of undue criticism by those of more carnal “spiritual” appetites because they confront the way that men live. Spend a little time with Boston, Brooks, Watson (my personal favorite), Edwards, and such like and you will suddenly find much encouragement in the areas of personal holiness, dedication to prayer and the Scriptures. All of these working in tandem have had the ability to create a formidable team of voices that continue to remain productive. Piper’s Don’t Waste Your Life (which has a free download) was another clarion call to me to simply do that not waste my life.

This matter of the persecuted church has again taken front and center in my life due to a book that was recently recommended to me to read. It is written by Randy Alcorn and is entitled Safely Home and recounts the persecution of the Christians in China. It was so troubling to me when I read in the opening chapter of the account of the saints on their way to church in the middle of the night and having to ride bicycles at that.

They meet at night in “house-churches” so that they will not be caught by the government officials. They were ever so careful with their Bibles and wrapped them in a waterproof covering. When they got to their place of worship, the prayer was reverent, the singing was heart-felt, and the response to the Word was majestic. What troubled me so much was that this coming up Sunday, there will be people (saints?) who will lay out of church for every conceivable and weak reason. They have not had any real interaction with the Word or with God all week long. They have Bibles that are not valued, prayer is basically non-existent, and their experience with worship borders on an emotional attachment to entertainment.

Just a few questions for you:

How many Bibles do you have and how long has it been since you treasured them in such a way as those in the persecuted church?

What was your reaction to the call for prayer on an “off-night” at the Church? Was it one of expectation or were you upset that your schedule was going to be disrupted?

Take a look at the last ten years of your tax returns and see how much money you have given to spread the Gospel and support the church? Now compare that amount with how much you spent on other things? (Going to an Alabama or Auburn football game is going to cost right at $400 +/- for the trip. Going on a weekend shopping spree in Atlanta or Birmingham has the potential to cost even more.) For you Dothan folks who are reading this blog, 65 foreign missionaries are depending on your commitment to God to keep them in the fray all over the world. . . we cannot let them or God down. . . we must stay on the firing line!

4. How much time have you spent this week with God-saturated people compared to those who were dead spiritually? Analyze the voices you listened to this week. Was it the frivolity of Facebook, the incessant voices of talk radio (political and/or sports focused), or was your MP3 player loaded to the gills with good spiritual voices?

When you have to answer those sorts of questions, it immediately sheds a lot of light on how much devotion you have to God. If faith has any value whatsoever, there will be an equal amount dedication that will be manifested in “works.” If you don’t believe me, go and read the Acts of the Apostles and then Romans 6-8 and then James 2:14-26.

I trust that you are feeling some heat right now as you read this, because I have felt high heat. . . as in the gentle but very convicting voice of the Spirit with every page I have turned in Safely Home. Almost fearfully, I did not want to even consider the thought that I could not endure the challenges of persecution faced by these Chinese Christians. Would I have been one of those who gave up because of the threat of personal pain? Is there even enough devotion and commitment in my heart to withstand such pressure? Or do I only live in the blessing trap that when God is filling His role as Santa Claus I can serve Him and when He does not live up to my expectations I am ready to give up? What an indictment against me. . . perhaps that same indictment is against you also. . .

C. S. Lewis
You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you.

The book is dedicated to Graham Staines and his two sons, Philip (age ten) and Timothy (age six) who at half-past midnight on January 23, 1999 were burned to death by a mob in India for their beliefs. The reports are that Graham, in the midst of the fire, huddled his two young sons up close to him, as they were burning to death.

I can only pray that God brings this blog to your mind next Sunday night when you leave church and pile into Appleby’s or Ruby Tuesday’s or Burger King or wherever and bite into the chicken fingers or the burger. . . .

I trust that you will read this in the spirit in which I have written it. . . suffice it to say that although fictional Safely Home has moved me toward a deeper commitment to God. . . for that I am thankful!

God Bless,

Monday, October 05, 2009

Don't Silence the Alarms. . .

My thoughts in the last couple of weeks has increasingly been turned back toward the world of medicine of which I have somewhat lost touch with in the last 4 years. In January 2006, I had the great opportunity to leave the field of medicine and devote myself to the role of being a full-time pastor. What turned my thoughts back to that venue was my oldest son having graduated from the RN program that my wife and I both graduated from 24 years ago has gone to work in one of Intensive Care Units at Flowers Hospital in Dothan. His orientation process has caused me to think of several instances over the years that taught not only valuable lessons about medicine but about life in general.

While I have been able to be involved in a host of good things there are also some instances that horrific outcomes took place. As I look back in retrospect I realize now that they could have been prevented. One such experience happened early on when one of my co-workers was admitting a fresh open-heart from the OR. The common practice is that within the first 30 minutes of admitting a post-op heart is for a naso-gastric tube to be inserted. This involves taking a tube made of firm plastic and placing it in one of the nostrils and advancing it through the nares into the esophagus and down into the stomach. It is then hooked up to an intermittent suction device that gently keeps the stomach empty of air and fluid preventing vomiting that may lead to aspirate pneumonia which is never good. During this time the patient is unconscious and on a ventilator because of the effects of the anesthesia used during the procedure.

Leading up to the point of NG tube insertion that patient had done well. They had been attached all the appropriate monitors, the Swan-Ganz catheter had been successfully placed by the CV surgeon, and all seemed well. However, the person taking care of the patient had grown tired of hearing the alarms on the cardiac monitor and had overrode the cardiac monitor completely silencing the monitors. On a side note, the vast majority of cardiac monitors that are made today can only be silenced for a two-minute maximum before they reset and start again. This has helped to prevent bad patient outcomes.

One of the potential complications with the insertion of an NG tube is that a vaso-vagal response can occur. This means that a patient will have a sudden drop in heart rate and blood pressure and often leads to the patient “passing out” (in laymen’s terms) if they are conscious. They become cold, clammy, and at best their pulse is weak and thready. If the patient is already in a state of compromised health, this vaso-vagal response can even lead to their heart going into a fatal rhythm. This is what happened to this patient but the difficulty in all of this was the alarms had been silenced and the person inserting the NG tube was not aware that the heart rate had dropped from the 90’s down into the 30’s. It then deteriorated into an ominous ventricular fibrillation. This means the heart of the patient was turned into a mass of writhing worms (as I had one physician characterize this condition to me many years ago). The heart in this condition cannot generate a blood pressure and therefore it is in full-blown cardiac arrest. How long the patient was in this condition is unknown and I doubt it was more than a minute but it was long enough for the patient to go from normal to Code Blue.

It ended up that the patient had their chest opened at bedside which is always incredibly chaotic. They were “shocked” directly to the heart with some special paddles and a host of cardiac drugs were given in an effort to save the patient. To our great disappointment the patient ended up expiring after we worked well over an hour in our efforts to resuscitate the patient.

In the post-code debriefing that generally occurs with all Code Blue situations in all hospitals across the nation, it was determined that the silencing of the alarms were very costly to our efforts to save this patient. We were already behind the trying to climb out of a deep hole before we got started. As it turned out from that point on there was a zero-tolerance policy concerning the silencing of the alarms no matter how annoying they were to the intensive care staff. Alarms can save the lives of patients but they only work when they are not silenced.

There are a lot of alarms that we can choose to silence in our lives simply because we find they are annoying and perhaps even a bit confining to us. There are alarms in your relationship with God that are silenced when you neglect prayer. Far too often, our prayer is spent in hurried trips across the parking lot to school or work, prayer is sometimes confined to our drive to and from different places that our attendance is required, and you can get the picture. The alarms of the soul are neglected when we do not get down on our knees (or some posture of prayer) and stop the world for a bit so that we interact with God! People who have spiritual problems and are always full of doubt and fear are those who are not praying.

We silence soul alarms when there is no interaction with the Word. It has to go beyond simply a “verse for the day” mentality. I am currently working through a series on the Old Testament Tabernacle and through the Sermon on the Mount. I just thought I was spiritual until the pattern of the Tabernacle began to play itself out. I also discovered that a depth of character could be born out of Matthew 5-7. A superficial approach to Scripture will lead to a very shallow spiritual life and I am pleading with you to get involved with your Bible (whether you are a minister or not!). The more I read the Book, the more I grasp that the path to Heaven follows a very narrow path.

We silence the soul alarms when we have a lackadaisical attitude toward public corporate worship. It is important for you to get out of bed on Sunday morning and go to church. It is important that you put Sunday night on hold and go to worship. It is important for you to go to a mid-week Bible study and prayer meeting and I do mean Bible study and prayer. As in Bible study that requires note-taking, systematic teaching, and provoking Scripture that forces you to think. I also am an ardent supporter of corporate prayer—as in the get-down-on-your-knees sort of thing either in the pew or at the altar and as in out-loud-everyone-around-being-heard kind of prayer. This kind of worship will cause your spiritual life to grow as never before.

We have alarms in our marriages that are silenced when we refuse to listen, to care, and will not compromise our plans for our spouses. Alarms in our families occur when we neglect them for the so-called purpose of making a living. There are some who get so busy making and living that they kill the very life most important to them—the life that resides with them under the same roof. Our children desperately need for us to be parents. Being a parent will require you to set boundaries, to discipline, to encourage, and to just be there. Don’t fall into the trap of “quality” time versus “quantity” of time spent with your children. In the case of raising kids, quantity always equals quality.

One final plea is reserved for pastors and ministers, don’t silence the alarms of true ministry. Just in case you may not have read it in a while, you will find a very detailed job description in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus. You will also find in 2 Peter 2 and in Jude what happens to those who neglected to do their job and silenced the alarms.

Keep the alarms on!

(Please note: The details of the patient account above were changed and actually represents a variation of details and conditions which I have been exposed to in multiple patient experiences over a 25 year time frame and numerous facilities I have been associated with. While fictional the account resembles what occurs in hospitals around the world on a daily basis.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Voices of Vanity Fair -- Part 1

I have over the years gotten much inspiration and a lot of devotional mileage out of the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Back at the first of the year (2009), I was rummaging around through the massive amounts of cassette tapes of sermons that I have and ran across a sermon preached by Pastor John Harrell in Bridge City, Texas. Sometime in the late ‘80’s or early ‘90’s he preached a two-part sermon series on Vanity Fair and although I only had the second part, it proved to be much for mental and spiritual rumination for me over the last eight months. In fact much of my encouragement to dig into Pilgrim’s Progress from a devotional standpoint came from my friendship with Brother Harrell. He is a masterful preacher that week –in and week-out does much from the pulpit in Bridge City.

From that old classic Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan there is a scene that serves well as a leaping off point for this blog. Christian and Faithful are on their way to the Celestial City and having come out of the wilderness find a city set up directly beside the road they are traveling. Bunyan is playing off of the pattern of the Lord coming out of the wilderness and then having to face the temptation of the devil. Christian and Faithful (and you and I) are no different in that we will have to face temptations along the way in our spiritual walk with the Lord.

Vanity is the city and Vanity Fair is the place of commerce in this vile place. It is created by the construction of the devil as he attempts to get every saint along the way to trade spiritual things for the superficial. Vanity has been around for a long time in fact its origin is from Babylon. It is populated with cheats, fools, knaves, rogues, and apes that spend their time fooling about with games, thieving, murders, adulteries, and false swearers. These types are the salesmen of the things that are being sold. In reality the merchandise there is nothing more than idols of distraction for the travelers.

It is a carnival that lasts year round and its devious salesmen are masters at their trade. According to Bunyan, they are selling merchandise to entrap even the heartiest of souls. The wares they offer are houses, land, trades, honors, titles, countries, kingdoms, lusts, pleasures, and sinful delights of all kinds. In addition to that other things for sale are husbands, wives, children, masters, servants, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, and even a mix of precious stones. There is something for every man because the trade of Vanity Fair is a serious affair. In fact it is as serious as heaven and hell and the currency of trade there is not money but rather the souls of men. The whole goal of Vanity Fair is to get men to turn away from the path of salvation and throw away their hope.

Immediately striking about this place is the voices that call out and attempt to get Christian and Faithful to turn from the path and sell out their soul. However, it was not very long before the hawkers of Vanity Fair realized that these two men were not going to be dissuaded. “Sir’s, if you aren’t interested in buying what we have, what do you want to buy?” Christian speaks quickly and surely, “We buy Truth.” That is the only real commodity in the realm of the Kingdom of God.

When the citizens of Vanity heard this they immediately began to persecute them for three reasons. First, for the way they dressed. They were dressed simply and modestly compared to the citizens of Vanity who were dressed provocatively and immodestly. In fact their clothing was in such contrast that the citizens of Vanity called them fools. Secondly they were persecuted for the way they talked. Their speech was clean and godly compared to the coarse, vile words that poured out of the heart of Vanity’s barbarians. Thirdly, Christian and Faithful did not even want to look at the merchandise that was for sale in Vanity.

There is much more to the scene at Vanity Fair but I will let you read the outcome and find out some of the unsavory characters there. Men like Judge Lord Hategood, Lord Carnal Delight, Mr. Blindman, Mr. Live-Loose, and many others. It’s worth your time!

This blog will be continued in several parts. I have just read an article from one of the “wizards” of blogdom and have discovered several things about my blog. . . My posts are too long. . . My content is too deep. . . My posts are not consistent (I agree). . . and a few other things that caught my attention. . . So I am going to shorten it, shallow it, and shore it up. . . and do a few other things. . .
Thanks for stopping by. . . . .

Monday, August 17, 2009

When Bathrooms Are No Longer the Priority. . .

Teresa said, “Philip, let’s go do the Parade of Homes!”

Philip said, “Teresa, I don’t want to do the Parade of Homes!

Teresa said, “Philip, we are going to do the Parade of Homes!

Philip said, “Teresa, we are not going to do the Parade of Homes!

Then we got in the car and went to the Parade of Homes! I have found that doing such things as this creates for a mostly blissful state of marriage.

Little did I know what was in store for me on that day several weeks ago. I have not gone to the Parade of Homes in over ten years because. . . well, just because. One of the reasons that I don’t go is because it has a tendency to skew my priorities and it gives me the “Greedy Galloping Gimme’s.” This is one of the good lessons the Berenstain Bears taught me years ago when I was reading to my kids. The Parade of Homes, in times past, has created an uncomfortable discontentment with where I currently live which is not a good thing (not that there is anything wrong with where I currently live). Furthermore it has encouraged a ‘keeping up with the Jones’ mentality, which is not good either.

For the uninitiated, the Parade of Homes is when the Dothan area homebuilders leave about 200 home newly built homes open for two consecutive weekends so they can be viewed by potential buyers. They are usually in top-notch neighborhoods and are tricked out with all the modern conveniences that incite an insatiable sense of materialism in most of the folks who walk through them. When you add to it immaculate lawns and manicured flower beds, it can get the best of even the most sensible buyers.

Since I had not been in more than 10 years it did not take long for me to see the new trendy architectural shift that has occurred. After about the third house, when we walked in the door, I took off in great haste for the coolest room in the house. Teresa, wanting to almost act as if she wasn’t with me, half-whispers and half-shouts, “Where are you going?” to which I yell over my shoulder “To the bathroom!!!!”

Amazing changes have happened in American bathrooms these days! First, they are huge. As in giant-sized 10 feet wide and in some of the houses as much as 25 feet long. They have jet Jacuzzis with a separate adjoining shower, nifty Delta faucets that are a dulled gold or bronze, sinks that look like large sea-shells or fancy cabinets, commodes that have all sorts of various designs, and the accompanying glass and mirrors are incredible. My only complaint about these new bathrooms is the windows that are not opaque. It appears to me that even in our “liberated” age that such an invention could lead to some downright embarrassing moments, especially if the neighbor in the back yard is mowing his grass or BBQ’ing with the buddies. Imagine looking up and seeing a group of local rednecks huddled around a grill sipping their favorite beverages and instead of their focus being on the grill and their drinks, they are peering across the backyard at the sight framed in one of these large bay window things. I doubt that would make you want to say, “Howdy neighbor!”

Toward the end of the day, a creeping madness had started raging in my heart. I knew that I was half-mad when at the next the last stop, I screeched up to the curb, slammed the brakes and with the car half-stopped and Teresa attempting to get over the whiplash from the sudden stop, I leaped out and cleared the manicured lawn in a full scale sprint. Flying up the steps, hustling across the long porch, and muttering under my breath, “Jet Jaccuzzi! Delta faucet!” I was in a nearly catatonic state. Teresa told me later that she was a little concerned about the glazed look I had in my eyes. I informed her that she should not worry about it because it was a near morbid state of materialism-itis. This is generally an inflammation of a greedy heart that usually passes with strong doses of Scripture, a reorientation of priorities, and hanging out with missionaries. I was almost at a point of critical mass when two missionaries dragged me back from the abyss.

It was fortuitous that on that weekend that our church had been blessed with two missionary families. The Mike Patterson family (Romania, Muldova, & my brother-in-law) and the Robert Rodenbush family (Regional Field Supervisor-Eastern Europe) had come to the wedding of my niece. So for two hours after my near fatal onset of madness, I had the Patterson’s and Rodenbush’s unfiltered. I am unsure of how we got around to the point of the conversation now, but eventually Sister Rodenbush began to tell us of standing in a bread line in with a missionary in that area of the world. She also shared that the apartment of these missionaries somewhere between 600-800 square feet. They chose one of the smallest they could find because they wanted to be frugal and spend their money in other areas to further the Gospel. When she said 600-800 square feet, I was smitten in my heart because just earlier in the day, I had stood in bathrooms that were at least 200 square feet, maybe more and I had wanted it! I had been almost willing to sell my birthright for a mess of pottage!

Her story continued and I was told of a kitchen sink that had those outside variety spigots like you find in our gardens here. The kitchen sink was mounted on a 2X4 frame that was without cabinet doors and only had cloth coverings. My brother-in-law told me later that this missionary had worked diligently and faithfully and over the years (more than 30) had seen three of the churches he served totally collapse and he had to start over from scratch. I had the occasion to spend two hours or so with this man and his wife about two years ago at a conference in Bucharest, Romania. Even before knowing of their sacrifice I felt an incredible spirit in them. It is of such a nature that it almost reaches out and grabs you (in a good way).

At the end of that day, I was thankful that God had providentially put these folks in my path because their lives (not just their stories) had helped to re-fire my priorities. Please don’t choke on the good life that American churchianity is offering these days there is much more to the picture than what most realize. Unless you make a concerted effort in your spiritual life, you will live a pale, lifeless, and cross-less life that will make no contribution and sadly in the end you will say, “I have wasted it!”

Last night when I got in late from church, I asked Teresa, “Where is our money going?” When she told me, my conscience was at rest because bathrooms are no longer the priority. . . The Gospel is!

To accent this blog, I encourage you to watch the following video. . . and then do something!

Go, Send, or Disobey. . . John Piper

Friday, July 31, 2009

Atlanta West Pentecostal Church--Doctrinal Conference--General Session 3--David Bernard

NOTE: I realize I am out of order with this post. . . I will post the second general session later today.

Pastor David Bernard
began his third session with “Baptism of Water and Spirit.” What follows are my scribbles from this session.

-He pointed out that in the OT there is much typology particularly in the Tabernacle that is an expression of NT salvation. He noted that sometimes we have been accused of beating only one drum—Acts 2:38. If this is the only thing that we can identify as a point of NT salvation, then the burden is on us to find out exactly what the Scriptures are stating.

-However, the whole of Scripture emphasizes the New Birth (John 3:3-5; Acts 2:38) and every man who has an experience with God must come under the auspices of what Scripture has to say. Acts 2:38 is addressed to “every one of you.” This is all inclusive to every man, to every nation, to every race, to every tribe, and to every tongue. This is the job of the church, to evangelize the world.

-Every man at some point will have the drawing of God on his life although he may not recognize exactly who the voice belongs to.

• Romans 1 mentions the witness of nature.
• Romans 2 determines the witness of the conscience.

-Both are calling for a response from man. He must respond appropriately to the call of God and if he does not, he will be lost.

-In Acts 2:14, Peter standing with the Apostles spoke the message of the church concerning salvation. As they all stood with them, they were endorsing this message. Acts 2 presents the Gospel because it goes through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38 is the response of the people to the message they had heard.

-What is the action of response?

1. Repent.
2. Be Baptized in Jesus Name.
3. Receive the gift of the Holy Ghost (Spirit).

-Peter was speaking to a group who knew exactly what water baptism was all about. They had heard the message of John the Baptist who had baptized by immersion unto repentance. Comparatively speaking the group at the jail in Acts 16 did not even really know God.

-Paul and Silas spoke to them at the basic level. Believe on Jesus! Turn your attention away from all the pagan gods (Zeus, Diana, etc.) that you may have embraced up until now and believe on Jesus. If Paul would have recommended that they go down to the river and be “dunked” in the water, these people would have not understood what he was trying to accomplish. However, as he instructed them to believe on Jesus, it was not long until they were ready to be baptized.

-Our salvation is by grace through faith. . . we are stirred by the grace of God and then our faith has to encourage obedience. Obedience as a response to faith leads to repentance, then baptism, and receiving the Holy Ghost.

-There are nine historical examples of baptism in the book of Acts. Other times it is inferred. It is also presented as essential to salvation. Consider again Acts 16 where they baptized in the middle of the night. There was no delay to this. In Acts 8, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized in the desert.

-Five of the nine historical examples involve directly the converts being baptized in Jesus name: Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:47-48; Acts 19:4 (note re-baptism in this instance); and 22:16.

-In our western culture, we divorce faith and obedience. This causes a huge disconnect because some believe that baptism is a “work.” How can baptism be a “work” when it is in response to a command given by God? Being baptized by immersion in the proper formula is an expression of obedience on the part of the seeker.

-Brother Bernard told of a woman who came to their church in the initial stages of its inception 16 years ago. She saw a small ad in the paper concerning “miracles” in association with the church. Her whole reason for coming was because she had a son who was involved with drugs and in desperate need of God. However, she was a member of a large church that did not believe in the speaking in tongues. But her desperation caused her to come to church that Sunday afternoon and she ended up receiving the Holy Ghost. There was such a dramatic change in her life that her husband noticed as did the employees who worked for her (she was an executive with a large company in Austin). When she told her husband what had happened, he then admitted that he had grown up in an Assembly of God church and as a kid had received the baptism of the Spirit. Not too long thereafter, Brother Bernard baptized this lady and then the domino effect began to work and many members of her family came in. She and her husband are now in leading the singles ministry at New Life UPC in Austin. This is an amazing testimony of what happens when desperate people are willing to be obedient to the Scriptures. God is faithful to transform their lives.

Five Examples of People/Groups receiving the Holy Ghost in Acts:

1. Acts 2—The Jews. Much time was spent on this last PM and Brother Bernard chose not to spend much time with this again.

2. Acts 10—Cornelius and the Gentiles. The Jews believed that people had to embrace God through Judaism. They would be required to fulfill the aspects of the Law, circumcision, sacrifices, etc. before experiencing the New Birth. They were inferring that entrance into the church meant embracing the Old Covenant. When the Gentiles received the Holy Ghost, this shattered their paradigm. Cornelius had an open heart, an obedient walk and God sent Peter with instructions. (Note Acts 11:16 when Peter defends the work of the Holy Ghost.) To believe on Jesus as did Cornelius and his household, they expected to be baptized and to receive the Spirit.

3. Acts 19:6—A strong precedent in that this was not a large group (as the Jews in Acts 2) or another nationality (Gentiles). There was no “big” reason for them to speak with tongues. They were simply a local church (disciples of John) who wanted to be obedient.

4. Acts 8—They received the Holy Ghost but in this case the Bible does not state clearly they spoke with tongues. However there is a betraying factor in the passage with the appearance of a shady magician named Simon who wanted to buy the ability to lay hands on people. Why would he want to buy something that was merely an expression of joy? This is not what he wanted. He wanted the ability to lay hands on people and then they would begin to speak with tongues!

5. Acts 9—Saul’s conversion. Again no specific reference to speaking with tongues. However when we look to 1 Corinthians 14:18 it becomes obvious that Paul spoke with tongues frequently.

Some have sent me e-mails requesting how to get the materials from this conference.
The address:

Atlanta West Pentecostal Church
c/o Jonathon Copeland
2960 Skyview Dr.
Lithia Springs, GA 30122
770-944-3522 (ext. 129) or

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Atlanta West Pentecostal Church--Doctrinal Conference--General Session 1--David Bernard

Several weeks ago at our Alabama District Family Camp, Pastor Darrell Johns of Atlanta West Pentecostal Church, mentioned to me a doctrinal conference that would be hosted at church he pastors the last weekend in June. Immediately when he invited, I felt like it would be beneficial for me. My only regret is that more of our Dothan folks could not make it. As it stands Brother Patterson along with Charlie and Patty Joyner made the trek with me.

On arrival we received a 1st class notebook of some 30 pages or so of very good notes that are going to be very useful in the future. The notes alone are worth the price of registration. From reading Brother Johns’ welcome in the notebook, this whole endeavor was apparently created by Jonathon and Missy Copeland who attend AWPC. Again, my hat is off to them for such an outstanding effort that is going to serve many very well.

After a brief time of good-spirited music, Brother Johns introduced Pastor David Bernard of New Life United Pentecostal Church. Brother Johns mentioned how their friendship went back to the early ‘80’s when he was on staff at the United Pentecostal Church in Jackson, Mississippi and Brother Bernard was on staff at Jackson College of Ministries. During that time, Brother Bernard wrote his first book on personal holiness which was the beginning of a very prolific writing career that now boasts of some 30 books or so, along with many articles and booklets. Brother Johns also mentioned how extremely disciplined that Brother Bernard was with his time. More and more I am coming to think that talent is not so much the key as is just raw discipline and a matching work ethic.

Brother Bernard opened up the General Session I by taking his text from Acts 2:42:

Acts 2:42 KJV And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

His assignment was “The Apostolic Faith.” What follows are my scribblings during this session:

-Doctrine is of crucial importance in our times. Doctrine can only come from the Word of God. This is where our authority comes from. The Word has to be our only authority.

-We cannot err from the Scriptures, they are timeless and without error. Creeds, councils, etc. hold no equivalent to the Scriptures.

-I have a personal responsibility to fulfill what the Bible commands. It cannot be a matter of preference but it solely rests on a matter of obedience.

-Apostolic (defined)—Like the apostles. Following their practices, teachings, and methods.

-The Gospels tells us who Jesus is. Acts gives the birth of the Church in a story form but it is more than just history. It serves as the game plan or blue print of an Apostolic church whether 1st century or 21st century.

-The Epistles are doctrinal in content yet practical for living for God.

-If you accept the Bible then one will have to take the Apostle’s doctrine as the supreme example.

-Jude 3 mandates that we contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints. Faith is not a maturing thing. Faith defined for the 1st century will have the same definition for the our times. The “faith” is a once for all men. The creeds from the 4th century and the councils from the 7th century does not clarify or perfect what the Bible specifically states.

-What is the “faith”? The “faith” is what the Apostles taught. They followed through with Matthew 28:19-20 and made converts.

-No man has the right to create his own personal theology. From church history it is clear that Luther stood and fought against 1000 years of tradition and declared that our faith must come from Scripture alone (sola Scriptura).

-Throughout church history we find that there were those who spoke with tongues. However it was not until the early 1900’s that Pentecostalism arose as a whole. Charles Parham in Topeka, Kansas challenged his students to find out what the initial sign of being Spirit-filled was. When they returned, from the Scriptures their answer was that they spoke with tongues when they initially received the Spirit.

-The Pentecostal movement did not start with emotionalism, creeds, etc. it started with a look at the Scriptures.

-William Seymour, who had some association with Parham, continued this trend on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, California and experienced a vibrant revival also.

-One of the precedents that one finds in the Scriptures is the Apostles baptizing by immersion in the Name of Jesus (Acts 2, 8, 10, 19, & 22).

-Made reference to History of Christian Doctrine—Volume 2 where that it is documented that Luther actually defended those who baptized in this manner. (I got lost in this section trying to take notes and now my notes are so scrambled, I don’t know what Brother Bernard said nor what I wrote, but suffice it to say, he said something and I wrote something. We will cipher it out when I get the CDs!!!) Ulrich Zwingli, a contemporary of Luther, also knew of Jesus Name Baptism. John Calvin, the successor of Zwingli, fought it (he also fought and had Michael Servetus killed.) Karl Barth comes along and declares that in the interest of the ecumenical spirit that we should ignore this model of baptism and stay with tradition.

-What we do is always a matter of obedience. . . !!!!

-Brother Bernard concluded with a summation of “The Five Elements of The Apostolic Church.”

1. The Apostolic Experience—Acts 2:1-4—The Wind. It blows where it listeth. . . Jesus stated this to Nicodemus. The Cloven Tongues of Fire—It touched each of them. This is symbolic that this Holy Spirit experience was for each individual and not corporately for the Apostolic Church. Filled—They spoke with tongues. This was not gibberish because the multitude recognized languages. This continues today (Acts 10:46; 2:16; 2:33; 2:38; Titus 2:11).

2. The Apostolic Message—Acts 2:16—Peter is reaching back to Joel 2:28 and affirming this is a work of God.

3. Apostolic Fellowship/Unity—Acts 2:42, 44-45—Fellowship and unity promoted giving so that they were able to get involved in evangelism.

4. Apostolic Prayer/Praise—Acts 2:47—We are to love the Lord with everything (Deuteronomy 6:5). We are to have passion in our prayer and also in our praise.

5. Apostolic Miracles, Signs, and Wonders—Acts 2:43—Miracles can take place in this kind of setting. Go back to the apostles in all of these things and it will breathe life back into the Apostolic church.

I will try to continue to blog as time permits. . . . I have placed some pics on Flickr also. . .

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Culture in Limbo

On Tuesday morning I was out and about doing some errands that I had put off for longer than I should have. One of the things that I had sorely neglected was changing the oil in my little ’05 Honda Civic. In fact I am not even inclined to tell you how long it has been since my last oil change. So as I sat and waited in the large comfortable waiting area at one of our local Firestone stores, I was confronted by American culture. Head-on, in-your-face, unapologetic American culture. . . at least that is the impression I am getting from a lot of voices these days.

It was delivered to me in crisp-clear, digital, flat-screen TV. I had a comfortable chair in a comfortable room and yet my heart was very uncomfortable. I encourage you not to think of yourself as strange and “old-fashioned” if your heart is uncomfortable with a lot of what is going on in our society these days. There are a lot of unspiritual voices who think they are providing good spiritual advice to our world when it is nothing more than a lowering of the bar of what is really right.

So dealing with this uncomfortable feeling in my heart, I chose to over-ride it for two reasons. First, I did not want to go outside and wait. Secondly I thought that I would do what most Americans do, just sit and watch, don’t change the channel, don’t think, don’t do anything, just let Hollywood unscrew the cap on my head and pour the drivel right in on my brain. What is also interesting or alarming was that no one else in the room even remotely appeared to be uncomfortable with the plot that will describe for you. That just tells me how desensitized our culture has gotten to sin.

I also need to tell you that this was between 9:25—10:00 AM, not PM as in nighttime but broad daylight, apparently this was daytime television at its finest being broadcast in HD. It was on the FX Network and I have no idea what the name of the show (or movie) was. The plot which took about two minutes to figure out was very ignorant. Compare that to Alexander Dumas’ The Count of Monte Christo and it is going to take you at least a couple of chapters to even begin to figure out what is in store for you in this great piece of literature (but that is for another day).

This young man was apparently involved in an extortion scheme that involved blackmail. He carefully had entered a plush 5-star hotel and through nefarious means breaks into one of the rooms on the umpteenth floor. He bursts into the room with a digital camera and begins yelling and snapping off pictures at a couple in a bed in the back of the suite. Just so happens that the couple is two men in an apparent homosexual tryst and while one might argue that nothing explicit was shown enough of the situation was shown to lead the thoughts into knowing exactly what was occurring.

This fellow doing the detective work continues to take pictures while one of the men is begging him to stop that it was all a mistake and so on and so forth. Suddenly the intruder makes a deal with the man about getting his girlfriend back to which he agrees to help if he will just delete the pictures and not tell anyone about the compromising place he has been found in. The rest of the time was given to this young man’s sexual pursuit of a quite immodestly dressed (and acting) young woman to which he accomplishes before the “show” was over.

I can already hear the shots being fired around the world about how I should have gotten up and said something or at least asked for the channel to be changed. Which I have done before, one time was in a packed out restaurant and suffice it to say I did not win friends and influence diners on that day. In fact quite a howl was raised by those at nearby tables. The reason that I asked for the channel to be changed is that I did not want my kids exposed to some soul-killing content.

However on this day, I over-rode that quiet, convicting voice of the Spirit within and found myself in the plight of a sinner simply because I chose to expose myself to something that America feeds on every day. For you see, I don’t have a television, never have had one and probably don’t foresee getting one anytime in the near or distant future. Furthermore, I grew up without one because my parents did not own one either (thanks Mom and Dad!!!). How deprived I have been not being exposed to that kind of fare! Or have I really been deprived? I shall do some writing on that at a later time.

One of the great challenges facing pastors in our times is contending with the voices of the world that feed people this kind of content every day. A pastor, if he is lucky, has the ability to preach to people about 30 minutes on Sunday morning, 50-60 minutes on Sunday night, and 60-75 minutes on Wednesday evenings which totals around 2 ½ hours a week out of a total of 168 hours. What is very sad is that I know men who can sit and watch a 3 hour ballgame but when a sermon starts hitting the 30 minute mark, they feel violated. It is all a matter of what you are feeding your soul!

Sadly spiritual life during the week is sorely neglected by the majority and only a very few spend time alone with the Bible and with the God of the Bible in a place of prayer. If you are going to make it through this world successfully, you must prayerfully ransack the Bible, it cannot be hit and miss! I have one more shot at 1st John which will be next Wednesday night and a lengthy series will be concluded. I have spent close to 60 sessions with our church and it has been soul impacting for me as I hope it has been for them. But in totaling the hours that I had a Word document open, I have spent 188 hours and 51 minutes working through this book. This total doesn’t include other time spent reading commentaries and scribbling notes on legal pads or times that I found myself either convicted and driven to prayer or exulting in the grace of God which also put me on my knees. I might add that 1st John 2:15-17 was clanging in my soul Tuesday morning when I took a little bit of American “life” in.

Many can help their pastors by getting rid of their TV and getting all the soul-numbing images and thoughts out of their minds so the Word can literally be grafted to the soul as a skin-graft would. Our hearts are worldly because of what we put into them. The bigger question for me is how can we “dine” on the same fare the world does and still be called saints? How can we watch shows that exalt sin, glorifies the creature more than the Creator, and drags our soul through violence, sex, and vulgarity and it not affect the spiritual life of a man? If I put the Philippians 4:8 test on this “show” how will it fare?

From the book by John Piper (which you can download free at the link), Don’t Waste Your Life, chapter 7:

Television is one of the greatest life-wasters of the modern age. And, of course, the Internet is running to catch up, and may have caught up. You can be more selective on the Internet, but you can also select worse things with only the Judge of the universe watching. TV still reigns as the great life-waster. The main problem with TV is not how much smut is available, though that is a problem. Just the ads are enough to sow fertile seeds of greed and lust, no matter what program you're watching. The greater problem is banality. A mind fed daily on TV diminishes. Your mind was made to know and love God. Its facility for this great calling is ruined by excessive TV. The content is so trivial and so shallow that the capacity of the mind to think worthy thoughts withers, and the capacity of the heart to feel deep emotions shrivels. Neil Postman shows why.

What is happening in America is that television is transforming all serious public business into junk. . . . Television disdains exposition, which is serious, sequential, rational, and complex. It offers instead a mode of discourse in which everything is accessible, simplistic, concrete, and above all, entertaining. As a result, America is the world's first culture in jeopardy of amusing itself to death. (Neil Postman, "Amusing Ourselves to Death," (Spring 1985): 15, 18. See his book by the same title, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Viking, 1985).

Sobering thoughts for those who are alarmed about the spiritual state of our nation and its churches and there are more than just a few “redneck” preachers who are concerned about it.

So for those who will not hear my heart cry. . . .Go ahead. . . sit back. . . watch. . . waste your time. . . waste your mind. . . waste your life. . . waste your soul. . . but while you sit back and watch in the so-called stream of “entertainment” there are a few militants out there who are going to rage against the system and plead with you and beg you not to waste your soul on the ignorant, baneful, and trivial. . . I am going to be one of the few! By the way, I need some help. . .

Monday, July 06, 2009

Book Recommendation -- Horse Soldiers -- Doug Stanton

If you enjoy summer reading, you are in for some good recommendations here in the next several days. Stories about the war on terror are beginning to surface by various soldiers who have been actively involved in the battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new book that has just come out is entitled Horse Soldiers by Doug Stanton. It is a very, very interesting book about the role the Special Forces played in the very early days of the American attack on the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Special Forces faced overwhelming odds in getting their high-tech equipment up and down the sides of the mountains on horseback. The word pictures that Stanton uses to describe the 6-foot, two-hundred pound plus warriors riding horses that were meant for 130 pounders, is almost hilarious. You will almost picture an adult trying to ride a three-year olds’ tricycle, knees to chin sort of thing. His account of the SF having to ride their horses on rain-soaked trails that had cavernous drop-offs of thousands of feet will make you consider the dangers they endured that were not combat related.

Finally, the description of the use of GPS to work with the jet bombers and missiles was quite intriguing. For those involved in ministry, you are going to find a number of illustrations to pull from these books and actively use them in sermons.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Powerful Pull of Perfection

If you have never known it, I pray that you will at some point find it or rather that it will find you. You must understand that the desire for perfection also has some ominous undercurrents because the demands it has are only embraced by a hearty few. It has collapsed many who could not withstand the gnawing, relentless passion that hunger for perfection created. But that noble few who believed it, sought it, pursued it, and disciplined themselves to it, perfection crowned them in the end.

Perfection presses and pushes to such an extent that it can cause great calamities of defeat and disappointment. But it is in those precious moments of calamity and disappointment that the great souls are born. It is bewildering and mysterious, to say the least, of how calamity and disappointment can crown the man who pursues perfection with all of his heart. The difference is that the great souls just keep on stretching toward that shining. They do so in spite of those who believe the worst of you and can never see you embracing the best.

Raymond Damadian is a name that few recognize and yet his story and his achievements changed the world. In the early 1970’s politicians started looking toward a problem that faced not just the American nation but the world at large. It was an ominous challenge called cancer. The money started flowing in the direction of companies involved in research that was searching for a cure. But Raymond Damadian was a man who had no funding, no support, but had an indomitable will to do something worthy of his calling in the field of medicine.

He gave himself to the task of finding a way to detect cancer in its earliest stages. He believed that one could see into the human body in a cross-sectional way (as one would slice a deli ham) with very fine detail. He believed that all of the internal organs could be seen in such a way. His real clincher was that it could be done without the use of x-rays. People laughed him out of town. It can’t be done, they said. Others mocked saying “You are a dreamer.” But he worked on deep into the long nights and would be back up again early in the mornings. Working on a shoe-string budget, he pushed himself and his students relentlessly to come up with a system that could do this.

He tinkered with magnetic fields because in his mind he thought that if a strong enough magnetic field was created it would make all the atoms in the body to line up like toy soldiers. He believed the atoms would respond and align themselves with the positive on one end and the negative on the other end. Through many flops and failures over time this is exactly what he did. He built a machine that created a magnetic force that would create data that could be fed into a computer to form an exact replica of what was inside the human body. The computer would take the data and form images that highly skilled radiologists could interpret and diagnose disease processes within the human body.

Because he was working basically as a solo inventor, he did not nearly have the resources that the huge corporations had in their coffers. Because he lacked financial backing, he had to resort to some unorthodox means to make money. So he ended up taking his invention to county and state fairs and would charge people to see the machine that would change the whole world of medicine. While you probably do not know Raymond Damadian, you do know about his machine called Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI. The MRI is one of the savviest tools that a physician has at his hands to make a diagnosis.

This is a great example of the pursuit of perfection. It is a pressing on despite the challenges, the hindrances, the ridicule, the weariness, and the set-backs. You do not become perfect simply because you want it but rather because you pursue it and never back away from the heights of the mountains that other think are un-scalable.

It takes remarkable courage to trudge on where no other person has ever been before. While most people applaud Dr. Damadian now, he had very, very few who were cheering him on during the times when he needed it the most. That is where the hunger for perfection or excellence keys into the equation. Every person that I have ever met who hungered for perfection or had a desire for excellence also had an accompanying passion for what they were doing. That passion fueled their dreams but it also drove them when they were weary and discouraged along the way. They simply trudged on regardless of what their critics told them or what their own mind told them. This is the reach for perfection. . . .

Matthew 5:48 KJV Be ye therefore perfect. . . .

A Prayer Pouring Out of Psalm 119

--> I am presently preaching through the stanzas of Psalm 119 and it has been a spiritually enriching exercise.   Toda...