Monday, June 30, 2008

"what do you mean by that?"

i hesitate to post the following because this blog has never been about pushing a political agenda.
that is not what this post is about either. it is about the mis-use of the label "christian".

jesus was not a "white middle class republican", so i do not think that "good christians" can only vote republican, or even that a candidate's religious beliefs should be the litmus test for their ability to lead. while i would hope that all politicians would accept the gospel and live lives of obedience to christ, i do not withhold my vote for them solely on the basis of their faith (or lack of).

because much is being made about senator barack obama's faith, and with his current campaign openly seeking to reach the "evangelical vote", information about his beliefs and his commentary on them is easily available... one could almost say it is constantly presenting itself.

i can honestly say that if (when?) similar contradictions between professed faith and actual beliefs present themselves about john mccain, i will address it with the same scrutiny. again, this post is *not* about why someone should or should not vote for obama, but rather it is about why we must be clear that christianity has specific beliefs that cannot be compromised and maintain the name "christian".

that being said.... consider the following from a 2004 chicago -sun times interview with senator barack obama.
i will present them without commentary. simply read his own words (the whole interview is linked for context) and see if his description of being a christian leaves wondering what he means by "christian".

"I am a Christian..."So, I have a deep faith," Obama continues.
"I'm rooted in the Christian tradition. I believe that there are
many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there
is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.
...[t]hat there are values that transcend race or
culture, that move us forward, and there's an obligation for
all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility
to make those values lived."

"The difficult thing about any religion, including Christianity,
is that at some level there is a call to evangelize and proselytize.
There's the belief, certainly in some quarters, that if people
haven't embraced Jesus Christ as their personal savior,
they're going to hell."

Obama doesn't believe he, or anyone else, will go to hell.
But he's not sure if he'll be going to heaven, either.

"I don't presume to have knowledge of
what happens after I die," he says. "When I tuck in my
daughters at night, and I feel like I've been a good father
to them, and I see in them that I am transferring values
that I got from my mother and that they're kind people
and that they're honest people, and they're curious people,
that's a little piece of heaven."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

the blame game

i ran across this guest post by over at the desiring god blog. honestly, i saw myself in many of the "excuses". i pass it on for purposes of encouragement and improvement.
i will reprint the full article here, but highly encourage visiting desiring god's website and blog for a wealth of articles, sermons, books, and other resources... many can be downloaded for free.

12 Sins We Blame On Others
The following is a guest post [at desiring god's blog]by Ben Reaoch,
pastor of Three Rivers Grace Church in downtown Pittsburgh, PA

It started in the Garden. Adam said to God,

The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. (Genesis 3:12)

The first man, caught in the first sin, turns to blame his wife. And he extends the blame to God as well! He implies that he would have remained innocent if God hadn’t put Eve in the garden with him.

The blame-shifting in the Garden continues today. Our proud hearts send us desperately looking for someone else to point to every time we’re confronted with our own sin. There must be someone else—our spouse, sibling, parent, boss, co-worker, pastor, friend, or God, himself.

We are so desperate to justify ourselves that we become irrational. Here are 12 examples.

1) Anger
I wouldn’t lose my temper if my co-workers were easier to get along with,
or if my kids behaved better, or if my spouse were more considerate.

2) Impatience
I would be a very patient person if it weren’t for traffic jams and long lines
in the grocery store. If I didn’t have so many things to do, and if the people
around me weren’t so slow, I would never become impatient!

3) Lust
I would have a pure mind if there weren’t so many sensual images in our culture.

4) Anxiety
I wouldn’t worry about the future if my life were just a little more secure—
if I had more money, and no health problems.

5) Spiritual Apathy
My spiritual life would be so much more vibrant and I would struggle with
sin less if my small group were more encouraging, or if Sunday school were
more engaging, or if the music in the worship service were more lively, or
if the sermons were better.

6) Insubordination
If my parents/bosses/elders were godly leaders, then I would joyfully follow them.

7) A Critical Spirit
It’s not my fault that the people around me are ignorant and inexperienced.

8) Bitterness
If you knew what that person did to me, you would understand my bitterness.
How could I forgive something like that?

9) Gluttony
My wife/husband/roommate/friend is a wonderful cook! The things they
make are impossible to resist.

10) Gossip
It’s the people around me who start the conversations. There’s no way to
avoid hearing what others happen to say. And when others ask me questions,
I can’t avoid sharing what I know.

11) Self-Pity
I’ll never be happy, because my marriage/family/job/ministry is so difficult.

12) Selfishness
I would be more generous if we had more money.

Making excuses like this is arrogant and foolish.
It’s a proud way of trying to justify our actions and
pacify our guilty consciences. And it keeps us from
humbling ourselves before God to repent of our sins
and seek his forgiveness.

Consider James 1:13-15, which leaves us with no way
of escaping our own sin and guilt. We cannot blame God,
for he “cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”

Instead, we have to accept the humbling truth that “each
person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
This will end the blame game, and it will send us pleading for Christ’s
mercy and grace.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

obama reads my blog

hope and change: the lowercase for vice president!!

it would seem senator barack obama reads my blog!
from worldnet daily:

Some have been taking issue with largely unnoticed
comments made last year by Sen. Barack Obama
declaring the U.S. is "no longer a Christian
nation" but is also a nation of others, including Muslims and
"Whatever we once were, we're no longer a Christian
nation. At least not just. We are also a Jewish nation,
a Muslim nation, and a Buddhist nation, and a Hindu
nation, and a nation of nonbelievers," Obama said
during a June 2007 speech available on YouTube

see! i told you .. just go back and read yesterdays post! i said these words
"this notion of america being a christian has got to go. that label is not true."

so.. you heard it here first... "barack obama reads the lowercase and agrees with stephen cavness."

obviously i am joking. (among other reasons...his remarks were made last year) the senator's purpose for his remarks is not in the pursuit of religious truth, but rather political gain. (just as any politician of any
party is prone to do)
he goes on to say:

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped
being used to bring us together and started being used
to drive us apart. It got hijacked. Part of it's because of
the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, who've been
all too eager to exploit what divides us," he said

now, many people who are lumped into the "christian right" i have little in common with, so my purpose is not to defend that label. my point is to show yet another example of tolerance being redefined as "do not say anyone is wrong, much less live as if your moral claims are absolutes".

i am all for being "together" with my fellow americans. we can and should be cordial and friendly with those with different beliefs. we can disagree without hating those we disagree with. but let us move past this silly notion that tolerating something or someone means we must validate those beliefs- and that anything less is "intolerable".

Monday, June 23, 2008

american religion:"3,000 miles wide and...three inches deep"

a new survey was just released further exposing the astonishing (and tragic) state of this one nation "under god".

the pew forum on religion and public life has released part II of its study of america's religious beliefs and practices. (i referenced findings from part I here).

among the findings [quoted from this associated press article] of 35,000 u.s. adults:

America remains a nation of believers, but a new survey
finds most Americans don't feel their religion is the only
way to eternal life — even if their faith tradition teaches

In all, 70 percent of Americans with a religious affiliation
shared that view, and 68 percent said there is more than
one true way to interpret the teachings of their own religion.

Nearly across the board, the majority of religious Americans
believe many religions can lead to eternal life:
mainline Protestants (83 percent), members of historic black
Protestant churches (59 percent), Roman Catholics
(79 percent), Jews (82 percent) and Muslims (56 percent).

By similar margins, people in those faith groups believe in multiple
interpretations of their own traditions' teachings. Yet 44 percent
of the religiously affiliated also said their religion should preserve
its traditional beliefs and practices.

d. michael lindsay sums up these findings quite well by saying:
"The survey shows religion in America is, indeed, 3,000 miles
wide and only three inches deep"

the report has generated among some the notion that the findings may be a
positive indication of a healthy growing "tolerance" in america - a view held
by c. welton gaddy, president of the interfaith alliance who was quoted in the associated press article as saying:

"It shows increased religious security. People are
comfortable with other traditions even if they're
different... It indicates a level of humility about
religion that would be of great benefit to everyone."

i guess i fail to see how being comfortable with other religions is somehow at odds with my caring more about the state and eternal destiny of their soul.

roger s. oldham, vice president for convention relations of the southern baptist convention (and my friend and former pastor) expresses a similar exasperation of the misuse of the idea of "tolerance".

"If by tolerance we mean we're willing to engage or embrace
a multitude of ways to salvation, that's no longer evangelical
belief," he said. "The word 'evangelical' has been stretched so
broadly, it's almost an elastic term."

our culture seems to celebrate being "open" to the possibility that religions other than one's own are just as valid and that more than one claim to religious truth need not be in opposition.
that is utter nonsense. i have written about this before here, here, and here, so for now i will not rehash this absurd redefining of the word "tolerance".

the issue here is the notion of being able to apply one's own meaning to words and labels.
it is not by saying "i am a christian" -whatever that means to the individual that one goes to heaven. it is by faith in alone in christ alone that we are saved. if what we mean when we say "christian" is not what the bible means when it teaches of being a follower of christ, then we are not, in the true and historic sense of the word a christian. but our culture has given us the bravado to redefine and determine meanings of words-to be as inclusive as possible. accept everyone into everything, reject no one from anything (except those who reject your beliefs).

what these reports are making more and more clear is not "new" news. the bible tells us that there will be people who expect that they have found the way to god, but because they did not repent of their sins and believe in the lord jesus christ (and him alone) that they will spend an eternity in hell. (yes.. i said the hell word.. it is real.. it exists. we ought not be ashamed to believe in that which jesus spoke very frequently of).

this notion of america being a "christian nation" has got to go. that label is not true. when overwhelming numbers of people who claim to be christian deny the basic and non-negotiable aspects of christianity we should stop using that label as a badge of honor and instead be broken over it.

the next time we are at a ballgame or gathering where "god bless america" is sung... instead of taking pride in being a "christian nation", perhaps we should be terrified that our nation is rapidly becoming one of the most spiritually lost and confused nations in the world... more corinth than paradise. and rather than sing/pray "god bless america" maybe we should fall to our knees and pray "god, have mercy on and save america".

Friday, June 20, 2008

christians who deny the deity of christ?

over the past 15 months i have preached through the gospel of john, 1, 2, and 3 john. john had a lot to say about the deity of christ and who he was. he also had a lot to say about avoiding false teachers and teachings.

with that in mind, take a look at some quotes from the cooperative baptist fellowship general assembly in memphis, tn. this past week. (read the whole story here from baptist press)

"Now we are reevaluating and we're approaching
everything with a humbler perspective and seeing
God's hand working in Christ, but not necessarily
as the incarnate God in our midst," Killinger said.
"Now, that may be hard for you to hear depending
on where you are coming from, but we can talk
more about it."

"Doctrine isn't the driving force to many people today"
except "to the fundamentalists who insist on it," Killinger said.
"But doctrine is a thing of the past now religiously".

There's an altered view of Scripture and of the role of Christ,"
he said of Christianity in today's world. "Christ is still Savior
to most of us, but maybe in a slightly different way than before."

"I'm just suggesting that I think we need to be a little less
certain about what Jesus meant, what He was about, what
His life and work were about. I think we're reevaluating all that.
"For example, Jesus did not conceive of Himself as the Savior
of the world and may not have viewed Himself a sacrifice at
all until the crucifixion, Killinger said

Killinger said he benefits from the mystical experience of
reading John's Gospel privately but cannot advocate John's
high view of Christ in serious preaching or scholarship.
"There are moments when I can do that privately and
mystically myself," Killinger said of benefiting from John.
"But at the same time, in terms of the cultural development
of Christianity, I have to look at what the scholars are saying
about the first three Gospels."

The pastors also said they did not disbelieve in an afterlife
but were not overly concerned about it, Killinger said. When
asked whether they thought people of other world religions
are going to hell, the pastors replied that they did not think
in terms of heaven and hell, he said.

During the same workshop June 19, Killinger said the Old
Testament book of Daniel "fibbed a lot." Even though Daniel
claims to be written earlier, it was actually written in the
second century B.C., he said, and pretends to prophesy
about events that occurred previously.

"The scholars almost all admit Daniel fibbed a lot because,
as a book, it was actually written in one time and set back
in time to make it look as if the prophecies it made came true,"
Killinger said. "That would validate other prophecies it
was going to include, you see. So that's cheating a bit."

i am not sure what "scholars" this man is speaking of, but i know that it is not "almost all".

i have said it before and i say it again, we must be *clear* about who god is, who jesus is, and what the gospel is. there are many false teachers and teachings out in teh world that are disguised as "christian". let us not be led astray, and seek to keep others from being led astray as we seek the truth in the bible that does not "fib".

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

free book wednesday

i am a firm believer in and promoter of the reading of good books. if i could enact one major change in today's church, it would be that church members would embrace reading good books that are healthy for the soul-books that inform, teach, answer, and compel us onward in growth.

unfortunately, a lot of people who hear that react as if i had recommended a strict diet of prunes and castor oil. i understand that not everyone is an avid reader or even enjoys reading in their spare time. i am not suggesting that everyone build a personal library of hundreds of books. but surely the care and nurture of our souls and coming to a better understanding of our faith is something that we can apply the same amount of time and energy that we devote to televison, internet, or other recreational time consumption. even the slowest reader can read an above average length book in one month if they just read ten pages a day.

[over on the side bar is a link to view books from my own library. feel free to browse the titles and authors and ask for suggestions. some books i have read because i disagree with the author or viewpoint, so because a book is in my library does not necessairily mean i would recommend it.]

so in the spirit of reading, i will be giving away books from time to time starting today with this one:

"Five Who Changed the World is a compelling book by
Daniel Akin that walks believers through five key texts
of Scripture, illustrating the truths contained therein by
sharing the biographies of five missionaries who changed
the world through their dedication to the Great Commission.
You will meet and learn from the lives of William Carey,
Adoniram Judson, Lottie Moon, Bill Wallace, and Jim Elliot."
-from the southeastern seminary president's page

reading about church history is one of the best ways to develop an understanding and appreciation for the church and the truths that it stands for as well as the importance of its mission.

the first person to respond to this post will get a free copy of this book. the only cost is promising you'll read the whole thing!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"conventional" thoughts

monday through wednesday of this past week my wife christi and i were in indianapolis for the annual meeting of the southern baptist convention.

i have been a southern baptist my whole life, my great-grandfather and grandfather were southern baptist ministers, as is my father. but as a 4th generation baptist minister, this was the first convention i have attended.

over 7,000 messengers attended the convention from all over the country. it was a sight to see... but made me wonder what an overwhelming sight the convention must have been in the past, when their have been upwards of 30 and 40,000.
from an informal "visual" survey, i would say that at least 60% of those attending were over 50 years old. that should say something about the state of involvement (attitude of apathy?) of the younger sbc generation.

my resolution on the public disassociation with fred phelps and westboro baptist church (full text here) did not make it through the committee and onto the floor, but some of the westboro folks showed up at the convention.

[of all of the sad things about these people who have been deceived and are so filled with hate, one of the worst is the children in these photos... being raised to believe this venom... lord please open their hearts... (2 thes. 3:5) ]

my wife and i were able to meet up with my dad, her aunt and uncle, and several friends and also made some new acquaintances. dr. tom nettles, who has been a great professor, mentor, and friend for several years now, graciously gave us tickets to the southern seminary luncheon and asked us to be guests at his table. we were glad to accept and while at the table we were able to meet and converse with, among others, tom ascol and his wife donna, and bill and karen ascol. it was a wonderful lunch filled with both serious discussion and laughter (some of which was due to my knocking my water over.)

dr. ascol's efforts to have an sbc resolution calling for repentance for the failure to maintain integrity in church membership finally came to fruition as an estimated 2/3 of the messengers voted to accept this much needed resolution. i encourage everyone to read the resolution in full and spread the word to your local church and pastor.
read the full resolution here.

other resolutions were made and passed. those can be found here.

there were 23 motions made, which can be found here, some of which were passed on to committee, some of which were not.

i did not agree with everything said, done, or decisions to affirm or decline (like the decline of my own resolution!)- but what i did come away with was a desire to see more southern baptists, especially those under 50 yrs. old involved in the process.

next year's convention will be in louisville, ky. i encourage anyone who is a member of a southern baptist church ask to be a messenger to the convention for your church or at least to make sure that your church sends its full number of messengers. it would be wonderful to have 40,000 in louisville in 2009 as southern baptists seek to spread the gospel to the ends of the earth.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

lost in translations...

another common question i receive is..

How Should I Choose a Bible Translation?

  • Should be based on the best available and most reliable
    Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
  • Based on the latest (most accurate) knowledge of
    language and culture.
  • Maintains a healthy balance of accuracy and
  • Remains dignified. (no irreverence in the way
    content is treated or delivered)
  • Avoids bias

***types of approaches to translations:

Formal Equivalency - a word for word translation (New King James, New American Standard, English Standard Version)

Dynamic Equivalency - a thought-by-thought translation (New International Version, New Living Translation)

Paraphrase – A translation based on a “how I would say it” approach not usually dependent on original languages. (The Message and the like)

as for me, i most often use the nasb or esv for bible study because i want to know word for word what was said. sometimes meaning can become less clear when translated thought by thought. this does not mean that dynamic equivalency is bad or useless. i will often read parts of the old testament (leviticus through deuteronomy and sometimes the psalms) from the new living translation.

regardless of which translation you use (assuming it is a valid translation-one of the ones mentioned above or based on similar criteria) the point is spending time reading, meditating and applying the scriptures. only then will we be "...transformed by the renewing of our minds"