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Archive for December, 2009

More books claiming to contain the secret for helping churches grow and influence their communities are written annually than any pastor has time to scan, much less peruse. I sometimes wonder if we pastors and other church leaders too often look to the latest writing of a church-growth guru than we seek to understand what the Bible itself says about the church.

In the short epistle to Titus, the apostle Paul delineates how the church can successfully fulfill its divine role. He points not to programs and activities but to people and beliefs. He realizes that leaders must be faithful, doctrine must be pure, and living must be godly before methods and projects can be effective.
Paul writes to Titus that it is vital that churches have pastors who meet godly criteria (1:5-9). They must exhibit blamelessness in their family relationships by being morally pure men who lead their homes in a faithful manner. They must demonstrate blamelessness in their relationships toward others by not being self-willed, quick-tempered, given to alcoholic beverages, violent, or greedy for money. Instead, they must be hospitable, promoters of good causes and good people, sober-minded, just, holy, and self-controlled. They must illustrate blamelessness in doctrine by being devoted to God’s Word.

Believers must also recognize the characteristics of false leaders and expose them for what they are (1:10-16). Those who claim to come in the name of Christ and yet are insubordinate, subversive, greedy, disreputable, unsound, defiled, and hypocritical reveal that they are not true men of God.

Christians comprising the local church must behave properly as the people of God in their relationships with each other (2:1-10). Regardless of age, gender, or social status, they must lead godly lives, motivated to do so because of God’s grace, the Lord’s soon return, and his sacrificial death (2:11-15).

They are also to fulfill their role in society as good citizens (3:1-8). They must willingly submit to the laws of the state, unless those laws contradict the laws of God. Christians must treat their fellow citizens with courtesy, honesty, and respect, realizing that at one time they themselves were without Christ, living contrary to God’s will. When believers reflect upon the grace of God in their salvation, they are able to give evidence of that grace in their relationships with their fellow citizens.

The church must be careful, however, to present one voice to the listening world (3:9-11). Those within the church who are guilty of spreading false doctrine and divisive talk must be totally avoided. They are not to be debated; they are to be rejected.

Finally, godly leaders are to recognize some significant principles about their roles within the church (3:12-15). They must realize they are replaceable, must give needed support to faithful ministries, must provide proper leadership by their encouragement and example, and must demonstrate appropriate affection to other believers.

If we endeavor to fulfill God’s role for us as a church, we will follow the lessons learned from Paul’s letter to Titus. These instructions are not to be shunned because they were delivered to another culture during another era. They transcend the centuries of time, the boundaries of geography, the impressions of culture, and the superficiality of yet another method.

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While the technology consulting giant Accenture has ended its sponsorship of Tiger Woods and other companies are reassessing their relationship with the world’s best golfer, Swiss watchmaker Tag Heuer announced today that it is sticking with Woods despite his adulterous relationships. Spokeswoman Mariam Sylla provided the unsurprising politically-correct response. “We respect his performance in the sport,” she said, but his private life is “not our business.”

To acknowledge that Woods is a great golfer is akin to observing that the sun is very hot. His play is sensational and his personal story has been carefully constructed. He has allowed neither politics nor racial extremists such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton distract him from his widely appealing and carefully crafted public image. And it is that public image which reveals the silliness of Ms. Sylla’s declaration. Part of Woods’ appeal is the fact that his private image was assumed to be as clean as his public image. And, to be sure, if Woods’ public image continues to suffer as a result of his “private” sins, we will not be surprised to see Tag Heuer bail on the über-successful athlete.

The truth is that a person’s private life does matter, protestations from the pseudo-sophisticates notwithstanding. It just so happens that western culture has come to view one’s sex life as a non-issue. Note Hollywood’s defense of child-rapist Roman Polanski. Pseudo-sophisticates claim to be above such “nonsense,” except, I suspect, when one of them finds his or her own spouse sexually unfaithful.

What has made Tiger Woods an incredibly wealthy man is the assumed clean private life implied by his clean public life. His golfing ability alone has made him a lot of money, but his image coupled with his athletic prowess is what has made him so insanely marketable.

The reality, though, is that Woods’ multiple adulterous escapades are not his ultimate problem. They merely provide an external manifestation of a sinful heart.

And lest we stand in judgment as Woods’ moral superiors, the fact is that many of us have not committed the sins that he committed simply because we have not had the opportunity to do so. We are innately no better morally. “None is righteous,” the apostle Paul contends, “no, not one” (Romans 3:10 [ESV]). Left to ourselves, no sin is beyond our capacity to commit. That is why Jesus came, to save us from God’s just condemnation by voluntarily bearing divine judgment we deserve and accounting us righteous, a grace undeserved. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 [ESV]). May Tiger Woods come to know the same Savior.

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Many professing Christian theologians have jettisoned belief in practically all the “hard-to-believe” sections of the Bible. Gone is the belief that God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in sixth twenty-four-hour days. Gone is the belief that Moses, by the power of God, parted the waters of the Red Sea. Gone are Elijah’s chariots of fire and Jesus’ miracles.

For many theologians, the Bible’s declaration that Adam and Eve were real, literal people is too much to swallow. Tremper Longman, a professor of religious studies at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California, and a noted evangelical, claims that a person would have to be guilty of a “highly literalistic reading” of the first two chapters of Genesis in order to believe in a literal Adam. Unfortunately, Dr. Longman’s reasoning for rejecting a literal Adam is used by many to reject all of the supernatural events recorded in Scripture.

Take, for instance, the virgin birth of Christ. One has to admit that such an event is not just a little out of the ordinary, and yet Matthew was very explicit in detailing what occurred: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’” (Matthew 1:18–21, ESV). Matthew intended his hearers to comprehend that no human father was involved with the conception of Jesus. Is this, too, only a “myth”?

John Shelby Spong, a retired Episcopalian bishop, revealed his contempt for those who believe in the virgin birth of Christ: “When one Episcopal bishop told me that he accepted the virgin birth story literally because ‘if God wanted to be born of a virgin, he could have arranged that,’ or when another said, ‘If God created ex nihilo, the virgin birth would be a snap,’ I thought to myself, ‘How will the church survive in this world with that lack of scholarship among its leaders?’ In those statements the bishops were asserting their belief in a God who was in fact a manipulative male person, who would set aside the processes of the world to produce a miracle in order to bring his divine presence into a human enterprise called life, from which this God was clearly separated. They also revealed no knowledge whatsoever of the biblical studies that have, for at least a century, thrown new light on the interpretation of these birth narratives.” Spong believes that the Virgin Birth is merely a myth to reveal God’s concern for the universe.

Must we believe in the Virgin Birth to be truly Christian? Many would doubtlessly argue that not believing is regrettable but does not mean one is not a Christian. Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary provides a needed correction to such an opinion: “This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.”

Baptist theologian Millard Erickson gives us this to think about: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.” I wonder–could not the same be said about creation?

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President Barack Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize today in Oslo, saying that he accepted it with “deep gratitude and great humility.” The president acknowledged the controversy over his being awarded the prize in the first place, a proper response considering that nominations had to be in before he had served as the nation’s chief executive for one month.

Acknowledging that he accepted the award with “great humility,” however, fails to resonate with me. Saying it doesn’t make it so. An exhibition of humility would have been to decline the prestigious award when first notified. Americans of all political persuasions believe that the award is premature at best. Humility would have said, “While I appreciate the honor which the committee has sought to bestow upon me, I cannot accept it because I simply have not earned it. May it go to someone who has invested years, if not decades, to the pursuit of peace.”

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In the United States, scientists are widely esteemed as the determiners of truth. Having a persona of pure objectivity, their determinations, many citizens think, has to be the truth. Many Americans look to scientists as gods, as the ones on high whose revelations will lead us into the Promised Land.

But what happens when scientists lie? Could it be possible that scientists are actually humans and that far too many of them operate on behalf of an agenda that will benefit their receiving government grants or tenured faculty positions?

Emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit in England revealed that scientists who had been at the forefront in pushing for climate change laws and treaties had been altering some of the data to support their beliefs. They alleged that global warming was taking place and had doubtlessly received a good deal of money in government grants for their research, but their exposed emails revealed data had been modified and schemes concocted to influence lawmakers and the public.

The Wall Street Journal reported, “Yet even a partial review of the emails is highly illuminating. In them, scientists appear to urge each other to present a ‘unified’ view on the theory of man-made climate change while discussing the importance of the ‘common cause’; to advise each other on how to smooth over data so as not to compromise the favored hypothesis; to discuss ways to keep opposing views out of leading journals; and to give tips on how to ‘hide the decline’ of temperature in certain inconvenient data.”

Unfortunately, much of the same takes place when the Scriptures contradict closely-held assumptions. Ministers and theologians have sought to modify the sacred text in order to support their agenda. When the data contradict your belief, however, honesty requires a change in belief. When the Scriptures contradict your belief system, honesty requires a change in your doctrine.

Honesty, however, seems to be in short supply. Perhaps a federal bailout in honesty is needed.

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Christian Audio is offering a free download of an abridged version of The Brothers Karamazov during December. Just be sure to type DEC2009 as the coupon code. By the way, abridged is still over nineteen hours of listening pleasure and is well done, according to the reviews. Enjoy! Mine is downloading even as I speak, er, type.

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