Saturday Sampler: April 15 — April 21

Critter Sampler 02

Personally, I enjoy reading the Old Testament prophets, though I must admit that I didn’t really understand them until recent years. Ryan Higginbottom sees that many Christians often neglect these books of the Bible. Write for Knowable Word, he outlines What We Miss When We Skip the Prophets in an effort to keep us from a lopsided intake of Scripture. He even coaches us on ways to approach these books.

In The Chains of “Cool”, appearing in Growing 4 Life, Leslie A has no difficulty speaking the truth boldly! Toward the end, you’ll possibly feel a bit breathless, but only because you’ll know she’s right in standing against evangelical compromise.

Reflecting on a recent diagnosis, Doug Wilson muses on The Obedience of Cancer in Blog & Mablog by directs attention back to God’s sovereignty. He exhibits true faith in his trial — faith that convicts me of sin concerning my own reactions to adversity. Please do pray for Doug and his family as they walk through this time of trusting God’s wisdom.

Standing firm for the Lord means we must Buck the current. Elizabeth Prata draws from her personal experiences of living on a boat to demonstrate this spiritual principle in her blog, The End Time.

Responding to a comment he overheard in a restaurant, Scott Slayton of One Degree to Another informs us Why You Should Study Theology. Now, before you decide that this article is probably full of mothballs, why don’t you give it a try? It might surprise you!

Diana Severance, in her essay for Biblical Woman, asks us to seriously consider The Cost of Saying “I Am A Christian” in a culture that hates the Gospel. We might not think we’ll ever endure physical torture for the Lord. Perhaps we should think a little harder, and then remember His grace that carries believers through even the most extreme persecution.

Drawing from this week’s airline tragedy, Stephen McAlpine shares a powerful illustration of our urgent need to constantly keep the Gospel in view. Paying Attention Is On The Nose is important reading for those of us who feel so familiar with the Gospel that we fumble to apply it properly during times of crisis.

If women shouldn’t preach or teach in mixed company, what can we do to serve the Lord and our churches? Michelle Lesley offers great insight in Unforbidden Fruit: 3 Ways Women MUST Lead and Teach The Church on Discipleship for Christian Women.

I’m generally not a fan of The Christian Post (it’s hardly a bastion of discernment), but John MacArthur: Evangelical Christians Today ‘Tolerate False Gospel,’ Avoid Sanctification for ‘Relevance’ by Leah MarieAnn Klett epitomizes so much of why 21st Century evangelicals miss the boat that I believe you need to read it.

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How To Combat Spiritual Erosion In 21st Century Churches

ancient-church-01Between November 1, 2016 and October 31, 2017, I devoted almost every Tuesday to blogging about the Protestant Reformation. Since October 31, I’ve said little about the matter, largely because the 500th anniversary had passed and everyone has moved on to other topics.

Admittedly, in a culture that finds history boring, trying to write a weekly column about 16th Century church history left me frustrated and exhausted. The release from the year-long project emancipated me to write whatever I felt like writing on Tuesdays, and I thoroughly enjoyed my sudden freedom from researching the various aspects of the period and its implications. Also, it was nice attracting more readers on Tuesdays.

But I wonder, now that October 31, 2017 has passed and we’ve found new bandwagons to jump on, if anyone really gained an appreciation for the Reformation. Have we learned to value the Scriptures that plunged so many Reformers into martyrdom? Have we understood why we must reject the teachings of Roman Catholicism in favor of returning to the Word of God? In short, have all the celebrations in 2017 meant much to evangelicals?

This morning I picked up the September/October 2017 issue of Modern Reformation magazine, which prompted my thinking about the Protestant Reformation. While I have no desire to revert to weekly blog posts about the Reformation, I realized that I shouldn’t abandon the topic either. Many of the problems in 21st evangelicalism, I believe, stem from ignorance of and indifference to the Reformation.

Specifically, present-day evangelicals tend to downplay the importance of doctrine, claiming that doctrine destroys unity. Well, it does — Martin Luther would be the first to tell you that! However, do Christians cherish unity over and above God’s Word? Luther didn’t. He entered the Diet of Worms fully expecting to face execution because he couldn’t bend Scripture to accommodate Rome’s extrabiblical teachings. He, along with other Reformers throughout Europe and England, demonstrated that doctrine mustn’t ever be jettisoned simply to keep the peace.

I’m under no illusions that any of the Reformers were perfect. Luther, in later years, developed ghastly anti-semeticism that, 400 years afterwards, Adolph Hitler further distorted and exploited. Obviously,  we can’t place even the most heroic Reformers on pedestals. Only Christ deserves such adulation!

But I strongly believe that we need to both understand and emulate their devotion to Biblical doctrine, even if our devotion divides us from professing Christians who mix God’s Word with human religion. We look back to the Protestant Reformation, not as history geeks, but as its progeny. Its great lessons promise protection against the false teaching that could once again remove the Gospel from the visible church.

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Hoaxes Surrounding Christ’s Resurrection

He Is Risen

Being a known practical joker, I always enjoyed April Fool’s Day. I played some pretty good pranks over the years, having learned from a mother who took far too much pleasure in waking us up every April 1st with the proclamation of some fictitious catastrophe. (You’d think we would have caught on after a few years, right?)

Yesterday, however, I had no desire to play any April Fool’s jokes,  nor did anyone attempt to play one on me. The excitement of Easter, coupled with the first Sunday in months that weather allowed us to attend church, captivated my attention. I felt like worshiping the risen Savior, not like playing jokes on anyone.

Yet I thought a lot about hoaxes in relation to Christ’s resurrection throughout the day yesterday. Over the past two millennia, for instance, those who reject Christianity have often claimed that the resurrection was the most colossal hoax in history. According to Luke’s gospel, the disciples didn’t even believe the women who first discovered the empty tomb.

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened. ~~Luke 24:1-12 (ESV)

Notice verse 11. I can just picture the apostles rolling their eyes and muttering snide comments about women overreacting. Who were these dizzy dames trying to fool?

Obviously, Peter ended up verifying that the Lord had indeed risen from the dead, and he led the others in preaching the resurrection to the known world. Ten of those original apostles died gruesome deaths because they refused to recant their confidence that Jesus physically rose from the dead, and the apostle John suffered intense persecution. People simply don’t put their lives on the line like that for the sake of a hoax.

But a hoax indeed was perpetrated when Jesus rose from the dead. The Jewish authorities knew very well what had really taken place, but instead of repenting and trusting Christ as the Lord and Savior, they conspired to counter the truth with a mammoth hoax intended to keep the Jewish people from believing the Gospel.

11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sufficient sum of money to the soldiers 13 and said, “Tell people, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So they took the money and did as they were directed. And this story has been spread among the Jews to this day. ~~Matthew 28:11-15 (ESV)

How preposterous to think that Roman guards, who would be executed for failure to guard that tomb, would actually permit that cowardly bunch of disciples to fake a resurrection that they didn’t even believe would happen! Could there possibly be a more ridiculous hoax?

Sadly, to this day many people, including highly educated people, fall for that absurd little fabrication instead of believing the overwhelming evidence that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. The theory that the disciples stole His body is probably the greatest hoax of all time!

Rather than spending yesterday playing April Fool’s jokes, I celebrated the glorious truth that Christ the Lord is indeed risen. And I enjoyed this April 1st more than any April 1st I can remember.

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Alleluia — The Only Reasonable Thing To Say!

I doubt anyone is surprised that I’ve selected the most popular Easter hymn to feature this week. I’m quite sure other bloggers who post Sunday hymns will also post this one. I’m equally quite sure that you sang it in church this morning.

But please don’t let the familiarity of this hymn dull you to its glorious message. God means for us to see Christ’s resurrection as a joyous promise that, at His return, He will raise our bodies to live eternally with Him. For this reason, Alleluia can be our only response, and we can’t possibly say it enough!

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Saturday Sampler: March 25 — March 31

Starburst SamplerPremiere blogger Tim Challies explores the question, What Counts as a “Gospel Issue?” As much as I love animals, I thoroughly agree with his commonsense answer.

Funerals are difficult, but the Lord often uses them to teach us more about Himself. In Two Lessons from Two Radically Different Funerals, Jordan Standridge of The Cripplegate reflects on two funerals he recently attended.  He includes some sobering thoughts that, in my opinion, relate to the inadequacies of the social gospel.

Liam Goligher of Reformation 21 calls a spade a spade in his article, De-Conversion. Having watched a dear friend’s very public departure from the faith. I appreciate Goligher for his Biblical insights into this horrifying process. He adds advice for those who struggle with temptation to walk away from the truth.

You might want to read The Blessing of a Good Example by David Qaoud in Gospel Relevance as an encouragement to live in accordance with your Christian profession.

Anticipating tomorrow’s celebration of Christ’s resurrection, Greg Norwine contributes The Resurrection Creates Immovable, Unstoppable Christians to Unlocking the Bible. He approaches the subject from an angle I’ve never considered, making his teaching absolutely fascinating to read.

The Essential Importance of the Cross also looks forward to Resurrection Sunday. Leslie A writes this essay for Growing 4 Life in order to show how correct teaching about the cross helps us discern the many false teachings that swirl around us today. I appreciate Leslie for reinforcing the truth that Biblical discernment depends on understanding doctrine.

I admit my inept study of eschatology, though I think I’m improving. So Elizabeth Prata’s Why eschatology matters (and hopefully making a comeback) in The End Time encourages me to keep at it. I may never be dogmatic on every point, but I trust God’s Word to give me the amount of clarity I need.

Although I haven’t fully vetted Lori  Alexander’s blog, The Transformed Wife, her post Should We Rebuke the Devil? definitely deals with spiritual warfare from a Biblical standpoint. Praise the Lord for her contribution to this important discussion.

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The Back Story To Good Friday

At The CrossPeople naturally recoil at any mention of God’s wrath or His judgment. None of us particularly relishes the thought of His righteous anger, and we certainly balk at the suggestion that we personally deserve eternal punishment for our sins. I know I’d prefer to focus on His love.

But in order to really understand the wonder of God’s grace in Christ’s atoning death on the cross, we first must come to terms with the horrifying reality that, as sinners, we deserve eternal damnation. The apostle Paul, as a matter of fact, spent the first two-and-a-half chapters of Romans demonstrating the universal corruption of the human race. He makes it abundantly clear that not one of us can justify ourselves before God.

From there, however, Paul introduces the glorious good news that Christ Jesus took God’s wrath on Himself, actually bearing the punishment that rightfully belongs to you and me.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. ~~Romans 3:9-26 (ESV)

Verse 25 states that God put His Son forward as a propitiation. Because we rarely use the word “propitiation” in our highly secularized culture, we miss the connection between God’s wrath and Christ’s work on the cross. So let’s define this almost forgotten word.

A propitiation is, simply put, an atoning sacrifice. It carries the connotation of appeasing an offended party. This sacrifice absorbs the punishment that otherwise would fall on the person who caused the offense. For example, the slaughtered animals used in Old Testament offerings propitiated for the sins of the Jews. These Old Testament sacrifices, we now understand, looked forward to the Lamb of God, Who would bear the wrath that actually belongs to us.

Today, Good Friday, we remember Jesus dying on the cross as our substitute. But do we fully understand that the Father’s wrath was poured out on Him at that moment? I believe that’s difficult for us to accept.

Aside from occasional moments of clarity when the horror of our sin absolutely won’t escape our notice, we really don’t see ourselves as deserving of God’s righteous indignation. Sure, we acknowledge that we’ve sinned, but we struggle to realize just how odious our sin is to a holy God. Our inability to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of our sinfulness makes it equally hard to comprehend the overwhelming enormity of God’s wrath toward our sin.

As a result, we can miss the profound beauty of Jesus’  death as our propitiation.

Thankfully, our dullness to the depth of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf in no way minimizes its effect. Praise God, He has taken the wrath that our sin incurred precisely so that no one who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will ever have to experience the full impact of God’s wrath. How glorious that our loving Heavenly Father, desiring to shield us from His justified anger, mercifully provided His own propitiation! What a wonderful God we serve!

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The Tragedy Of The Entertaining Church

Powerful Word“Show people that Christians are just like  everyone else.”

“If we have non-threatening activities like movie nights, people will get comfortable enough with us that they’ll want to come to church.”

“Unless we have games and refreshments, kids won’t come to youth group.”

I heard all these comments, and more, from a church I used to attend, usually in connection with evangelism and church growth strategies.  We want to attract people to the Lord, not scare them away from Him, the leadership of the church reasoned. For a while, they even made sense. Why not make visitors comfortable before hitting them with the Bible?

Sometimes the promoters of such ideas supported them with 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Never mind that this passage, in context, refers to restricting one’s Christian liberties to avoid offending people with anything but the Gospel. But in his next epistle to that same church, Paul made it clear that presenting the Gospel would, in fact, offend those who would not receive salvation.

15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. ~~2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV)

Churches, including youth groups, act deceptively when they advertise themselves as being cool, hip and in touch with the world, only to slip Jesus in there when they can do it inconspicuously. They know that a blatant bait-and-switch will expose them, so they have to continue making Scripture palatable. Sermons include stand-up comedy, movie clips and props rather than verse-by-verse exposition of the text, knowing that the folks they attract through entertainment require continuing entertainment in order to keep them coming.

Contrast that mindset with Paul’s command to Timothy.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. ~~2 Timothy 4:1-5 (ESV)

God’s church can, and should, be overflowing with joy. Fellowship halls should ring with laughter, and youth groups should include extra activities outside of Bible Study hours. As someone known for practical jokes, I’m hardly adverse to having fun at appropriate moments.

But when we use fun as an evangelism tool, and especially when we blur the lines between Christians and the world, we tend to obscure the Gospel. After all, the call to repentance can’t be slipped in between funny stories or during a game of Pictionary if we expect non-Christians to take their sin seriously.

Churches must preach the Word, even if so doing makes people uncomfortable. In fact, we want people to feel uncomfortable about their sin in hopes that they will then desire the Savior. Preaching a compromised gospel that elevates human comfort over the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ may fill churches, but it won’t save souls.

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