Sunday, June 28, 2015

SUDDENLY I FEEL LIKE REJOICING

First, let's start with one basic premise. We're not a "Christian Nation". Period. Never have been, never will be.

And in fact, for those who point to the faith of our founding fathers .. and I don't even like alliteration ... the stronger you claim it to have been, the stronger a case you're making for our not being a "Christian Nation". And from what I understand, some of them were deists, anyway ... people who believed in God only because knowledge ... like of the universe ... sort of mandated a creational being who started this all. That's a long way from knowing God, and in fact I don't suppose that approach would be insulting to a Muslim, come to think of it.

But on the evidential side, how many times is Jesus mentioned in the Constitution or the Bill of Rights? None, last time I counted. And there's not even a reference to God, other than a veiled reference in passing to "our creator", which I don't suppose would offend anybody.

Further, let's say we started an organization. In fact, let's make it a city. We bought up the land, had the streets laid down, put in all the utilities, picked out a name, and then set about doing all the legal junk. Articles of incorporation, etc etc, all the stuff we have to do.

Somewhere down the list after we'd incorporated the water department, arranged for police and fire protection, built us a city hall, and done the 1,001 other things we had to do, we'd set up come city ordinances. Let's say the first ordinance we established was that the city could not, under any circumstances, enact any ordinance or laws which mandated anything about what folks had to believe to live in this new city.

Hands off faith. No touch religion. Stay clear of spiritual stuff.

Would you call that a "Christian City"?

No, and I wouldn't, either.

In fact, if it was known that I was a strong Christian, it would be screamingly obvious that I'd gone out of my way to ensure that this was INTENTIONALLY NOT a "Christian City".

And that is how the USA was set up.

Secondly, the Constitution and Bill of Rights does not define "marriage". It just doesn't. Oh, we sure wish it did, it'd make things a lot easier now, but there's simply no definition there.

Now, it's admittedly hard to imagine that the founding fathers envisioned a time when immorality would be so common, and homosexuality so accepted, that the issue of "same sex marriage" would ever come up, But it has, and the founders didn't put anything into those documents to rule it out.

If the standard is to allow for equal treatment for all citizens, under the Constitution, it's hard to imagine the SCOTUS ruling any way other than they way they did. In retirement, taxes, estate law, all that stuff, the advantage is to the married folks. And I don't think SCOTUS has the luxury of letting our traditions trump the written Constitution, any more than we Christians can let traditions overrule God's Word.

We're just going to have to stand on God's Word in our lives, individually as well as corporately in our churches, and refuse to do what God has bidden us not to do.

Will this be part of a "slippery slope" down which we slide toward more and more violations and/or confrontations with our faith? I'm not a prophet, but I'd be surprised if that didn't happen. And as good citizens, if we love our country, we ought to oppose such things. But reading the Bible, I certainly don't see where society will become better and better if man is just given his desires.

Quite the opposite.

Perhaps it is that the church in the USA "has it too easy". I mean, in a society that's really friendly toward the religious in its midst, it's awfully easy to slip into a routine religion in which church membership becomes less and less meaningful. And since membership in a Baptist Church in Jefferson County, Alabama, means there's a 67.18% chance you will not be in church next Sunday, I'd say that's pretty much where we've gotten.

Want to know where I've personally found people who are rock-solid in their faith, active in their assembly, and glad to tell anybody? How about downtown Brooklyn, New York. Where people come to faith from poverty, crime, drugs and the like. Or maybe Pskov, Russia. Bauska, Latvia, too. Places where the government used to be at war with the church.

They have a faith, there, that I wish we had, here.

If these really are the latter days, then it seems to me that God would be cleaning up the Bride of Christ for the Marriage of the Lamb.

I think that's it.

Perhaps the very thing we dread is the thing most needed by the church, today.

Suddenly I feel like rejoicing.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

WELCOME TO AILEY BAPTIST CHURCH. INDEED.

This won't be a long post or anything, but I did want to get a particular idea down before I forgot it.

That's Ailey Baptist Church, over there. It's in Ailey, Georgia, which is located about 12 miles West of Vidalia, where they grow them famous onions. We went to Ailey last Saturday to visit CB & Karen Scott, and since CB is the pastor of Ailey Baptist, we went there Sunday morning.

It is also next door to where CB and his family live, so it was convenient. We stayed in a motel over in Vidalia, but our visit certainly centered around the Scotts'.

When CB became their preacher a few months ago, their attendance was extremely low, and they hadn't had a Sunday School in years. Note: they now have one for the children. But the reception by the church, of the Scotts, was first rate. And they have grown substantially, and currently have 35 or 40 at worship on Sunday morning.

When we walked in on Sunday morning, the pianist was playing some good old up-tempo hymns, and the atmosphere was reminiscent of the many times we visited Westmont, when CB pastored there. And I absolutely loved it.

The musicians, aside from the pianist, are two gents from Ailey who used to be professional Nashville musicians, and I loved every minute of the music. And the guitar player also led worship and was wonderfully cheerful and happy.

Apparently, they haven't got the memo about "Stand & Greet Time", as they have one. And they also have their own song for the occasion. "Welcome to Ailey Baptist Church". Everybody stood and sang ... and the singing reminded me a bit of Red Hills, where 20 people will raise the roof. It was great fun and we all clapped and I have the feeling that if all "Stand and Greet Times" were like that, visitors would be more ... instead of less ... likely to return.

We talked to lots of the folks, before and after the service. And it was great fun. If I lived in the area, I'd join that church in a New York Minute.

All of which brought a new conclusion to my mind. I have sort of figured, previously, that the "average" SBC church was, with its 80+/- members, old and stodgy and dull. And last Sunday was none of those things.

It was wonderful. Suddenly I am missing hymns.......  

Friday, June 19, 2015

EYE HAS NOT SEEN, EAR HAS NOT HEARD....

This isn't about anything deeply Spiritual, but I had to laugh when it happened earlier today. Then, as the day progressed, it sparked some ideas that I thought I'd share.

That's our car, over to the right. I had it washed once ... a couple months ago ... and since it'd gotten a bit spotted from rain and all, I figured maybe washing it twice in 7 months wouldn't be too much.

Besides, I had this certificate from a local car wash place, for a free birthday wash. I won't say I'm lazy or anything, but my birthday is May 12.

NOTE: That silver/gold color is pretty good at hiding dirt, if you're contemplating buying a car any time soon.

Anyway, I went by the "drive-thru-tunnel" car wash here in Pelham and noted the entrance was barricaded. So I pulled around the side, through a supermarket parking lot, to leave when I noticed a couple workers walking out of the carwash. I asked them if they'd be closed all day and they said most likely. And then one of them handed me a card good for a free deluxe wash, "for your trouble".

I thought that was nice, and then I went to fill up the car at one of our local gas stations. When I pulled in, I saw a sign that said "Free Express Car Wash with 8 Gallon Fill-up". So I filled it up and went in and got a ticket with a code on it, and drove through the car wash.

My car is now clean.

Not only that, but I also still have the birthday certificate for a free car wash in my glove compartment .... along with the card the man gave me for a deluxe car wash, next time my car gets dirty. At this rate, I'm set for 4, maybe 5 years.

What tickled my writing gene was the fact that I went out with a car wash and came back with two  car washes. Plus a clean car.

Isn't that how God works? We come to Him for salvation from sin, and He pours out more on us than we would ever have guessed.

Stuff we haven't seen, heard, or imagined.

Just like me and the Blue Rain Express Car Wash.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

BECAUSE WE OWE HIM OBEDIENCE

I'e heard that all my Christian life. We ought to be obedient to Jesus. We owe Him that, for all He did for us, And it sounds sort of reasonable, too, like inviting a neighbor to a cookout Saturday because He came over and jumped off our dead battery Wednesday evening.

Sort of even the score.

Only trouble is, I've come to disagree with that whole idea. First of all, we could never "even the score". That would be impossible for us to do. But I guess it really started with John Piper's statement .. and I DO like John Piper ... that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him". That sounds more like a wonderful relationship, a resting in Him as in none other ... than slavish obedience to rules and teaching and commandments penned all those years ago.

It finally hit me that maybe I should look at why He came down here to literally straighten us out, when I'm sure Heaven was as beautiful to Him as it will be to us,

Jesus, Himself, offered two explanations why, of which I am aware.

Incidentally, the picture over there is what anthropologists calculate Jesus' face really looked like which is quite different from the WASP-ish blue-eyed blonde we see in too many representations today. And it works wonderfully well in my heart, too. Amazingly well.

His reasons for coming:

Matthew and Luke report that He came to seek and save that which was lost. A-K-A you & me. If you're Christian, then  mission accomplished!!

Then  John, in his 10th Chapter, reports that Jesus came to provide us abundant life! Now, that verse always gave me pause, since everybody who hears it is already alive. So I figured He must mean something beyond have blood pressure and a pulse. So I looked up the word in some books that could tell me what it really means. And here's what I found:

God breathed life into Adam's nostrils. Life (chay ... living, alive...).

which is quite different from:

Jesus came that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Life (zoe .. of the absolute fulness of life, both essential and ethical, which belongs to God, and through Him both to the hypostatic "logos" and to the Christ in whom the "logos" put on human nature")

What strike me about that is He used a word that describes a wonderful terrific life, and then said that we could have that more abundantly! 

Think about the times you buy a gift for someone. Don't you want them to want what you got them? Isn't it a huge disappointment when they show disinterest in it, or demonstrate no appreciation?

If we desire that of our gifts, and from the folks we give them to, how much more do I imagine Jesus wants us to want abundant life!

So preachers who offer to send us on a journey of guilt, in which we try to "live up to" what Jesus described for us, know this: I've gotten off that bus!

Rather, I've joined the happy band that wants to live that abundant life Jesus came here, and subsequently died, to provide for us. I firmly believe that living that sort of life, happily, enthusiastically, is just the sort of thing Jesus wants shown to the world, and is what will attract more lost folks to Christianity than the normal guilt trip of fire & brimstone.

Ignore the commandments? Goodness no .. why would I want to do that? Look at them as the simple steps to an abundant life. Hey .. would Jesus make provision for abundance of life, without telling us how to obtain it?

Why would I want to do things which God has said aren't part of the "more abundant" life? Between Jesus' commands and His teachings .. both of which He said those who loved Him would observe ... we have the road map to a wonderful life.

And even that, more abundantly.

Friday, June 12, 2015

SHAMGAR. I Always Have To Explain

Shamgar played an important part in my Spiritual life. It was actually what "kick-started" my real pursuit of Jesus ... actually the entirety of the Trinity ... and contributed mightily to whatever I am today. From a Spiritual perspective.

And to the extent that my Spiritual life has contributed to who and what I am, today, to my entire life.

"Shamgar" refers to a course of training I participated in, from December 1969 to May 1970. The real "meat" of it came in four retreats, held at the Southern Indiana Methodist Campgrounds, just outside Mitchell, Indiana, on the last weekend of February, March, April and May, 1970.

The course was obviously named after the Biblical character Shamgar, who appears only twice in Scripture.

Judges 3:31: "After Ehud came Shamgar son of Anath, who struck down six hundred Philistines with an oxgoad. He too saved Israel."

and....

Judges 5:6: “In the days of Shamgar son of Anath, in the days of Jael, the highways were abandoned; travelers took to winding paths."

The real focus in the training was 3:31. All we know Biblically about Shamgar was that he killed 600 Philistines with an oxgoad ... basically a stick with a point on the end ... and played a notable part in the delivery of Israel. Putting that into a modern context, Shamgar's aim was to arm Christian businessmen ... from all walks of life ... to advance the Kingdom causes with whatever we had in our hands. A cocktail napkin, a microphone, a blackboard, or whatever. To move us beyond the point where we needed a Bible, a tract, or some other aid. To be able to share Jesus without external help.

The first thing Shamgar did for me was to cement the certainty of my own salvation. When you learn, the plan of salvation, by heart, you can objectively discern that you have, indeed, conformed to the Biblical definition of a Christian. Sort of divorce your salvation from the subjectivity of emotions and attach it to the objectivity of your actions and your beliefs.

For me, that was huge.

After the 3rd weekend retreat, we were encouraged to share the "plan of salvation" we'd memorized with 4 Christian friends .. one a week .. before our final session. We hadn't learned yet how to handle someone who wanted to be saved, hence the  instructions to share with Believers.

I was talking a few days later with a Christian insurance client of mine, a Charles Chips distributor, and I told him I'd like to share something with him; he said "Why not come to my Sunday School class and share with them?" I said OK, and got a sheet of poster board and a marker to draw out the plan that we'd normally share on a sheet of paper. He picked me up Sunday morning and when he got on the Interstate, I asked where he want to church. He said "Oh ... this isn't at my church .. I teach Sunday School at the Plainfield Boys' Prison".

Gulp.

Well, I went ahead and made the presentation. But when I got to the end, I didn't know how to proceed. We hadn't learned that, yet. I looked at Red and he said "Go ahead, you're doing fine". So I cobbled up something from what I'd read in "The Cross and the Switchblade" and when I was done, 6 teens had knelt at their desks and asked Jesus to save them. I was so intimidated I did not appreciate the moment, but the guys sure did at the next retreat......  

Shamgar also caused something else unexpected in my life. Shortly after the final weekend retreat, ... about 30 days .. Peg and I went on a Witnessing Crusade to Haiti. One of the places we visited, on a Sunday morning, was a brush arbor church .. called a Tonel .. atop a plateau at Massabeuil, Haiti. WE hiked about 4 miles from the road, up about 1500', to the church. When we got there, worship was going on and we loved hearing them sing in Creole ... sort of a "Pigeon-French". What was unexpected was that the leader of our group, Dave Graffenberger .. also the head of the OMS mission in Haiti ... asked me to deliver the morning message. I told him I wasn't a preacher .. we had one of those in our group ... but I had just learned a nice story-telling way to explain the plan of salvation.

He said "Great ... that'll be perfect ... something simple..." and said he'd interpret for me. My oh my ... culture shock level professional. But I did it. There was some response, but it was in Creole, so I didn't know what was going on.

That led to one of the first miracles in my life, that I actually witnessed myself. When we got back to the bus, I took off my (wet) shoes & socks, and had a blood blister about the size of a thumbprint on each big toe. As I was rubbing them, Lawrence Sackman, who was the one minister on the trip with us, said to me: "Those are beautiful to Jesus." Suddenly feeling somewhat ashamed, I put my shoes and socks back on.

The next morning, they were gone. Completely.

Anyway, to the picture above. Back in 1997, at the dawn of the internet, I found Doug Snider, of Shamgar ministries, and sent him a letter. I thanked him for what he'd meant in my journey with Jesus, and the papers above were what he sent back to me, in return. They consist of, left to right, 4 pages of a commitment form that we'd all filled out in our final session, and given to him. It highlighted some things we'd generally need to do in order to focus as best we could on serving the Lord in our everyday lives.

There's also a very kind letter he wrote me. He explained he'd been cleaning out some old files and found them and thought I'd like to have them. We'd been the 5th session ever, of Shamgar, and in 1997, it was still going strong, And, indeed, it still is, a terrific testimony to Doug and God's faithfulness, even after Doug's death about a year after he sent me the stuff.

Fair warning: take steps to become more dangerous to the devil, and there's no telling how far God will take you. But what a ride it'll be!!

There's an old mantra to the effect that I'm not all I could be, but thank God I'm not what I used to be. Sometimes it's good to look back at some written evidence of just what God can do in one's life.

Thanks again, Doug.


Tuesday, June 02, 2015

A Tough Decision Just Got Easy

I originally got involved in SBC affairs, beyond the local church, via the blogs in 2005. As someone upon whom God visited the dreaded scourge .. at least among Baptists & Presbyterians ... of unknown tongues. That came about as a result of reading The Alabama Baptist, and the "Blogging Trustee" ... Wade Burleson. He's pastor of Emmannuel Baptist Church in Enid, OK, and was also a member of the Board of Trustees of the International Mission Board.

The article was written as a result of Wade's openly disagreeing with the IMB decision to disqualify from eligibility to serve as missionaries, anyone who spoke in what the Bible describes as unknown tongues. Also those who were baptized in churches ... I'm not sure the IMB thought of them in that terminology ... which didn't hold certain theological views. 

One of the things that convinced me I had something to say was a response to a letter I immediately wrote to the Editor of The Alabama Baptist in response to their article. I won't delve into what I said, but a local pastor here in our county looked me up in the phone book and called me. He said his wife had spontaneously spoken in an unknown tongue while giving birth to a child. She'd felt marginalized by the IMB action, and her husband said she was very much reassured by my letter. That she wasn't alone in her experiences. 

Knowing this stuff was going to come up at the Convention in Greensboro, in 2006, I asked around if guys like me ought to go. Everyone encouraged me to do just that. They said we need more ordinary laymen to attend; that it wasn't some sort of elite gathering of Southern Baptist Pros. So we went.

I got involved in lots of stuff since then. Spoke to several different issues. Who knows ... maybe even made some sort of difference, somewhere. And I enjoyed being there, immensely.

A little background: I traveled extensively from 1975 to 1984. Was in 100 airports during that time, on business travel. And I enjoyed it at that time. 

Fast forward 30 years. My years of business travel, plus the habit of going away for a week with Peggy every year to celebrate our anniversary and her birthday ... exactly one week apart ... and my travel card has been pretty well been punched. 

I now view travel as a treatment, rather than a treat.

Plus, a fair case of arthritis, coupled with 2 knee replacements, has made trudging through airports even less attractive than it ever was. Which wasn't much. So I committed to Peg ... who really doesn't care for all the folderol. of the SBC Convention anyway ... that we were not going to go to Columbus. 

That was a couple weeks ago, or thereabouts. 

THEN: Lo and behold, the IMB reversed their decision of 2005, barring Missionary candidates with certain experiences from participating in the Wonderful World of World Missions. SBC-style, anyway. In one fell swoop, the reason I got involved in SBC Conventions went away.

After I decided not to go. 

You can also factor in that 10 years have passed, energy has diminished, and the aforementioned knee replacements and arthritis have come on the scene. I've concluded, in the face of all that, I need to focus my energies right here where God put me. 

Thanks, God. For the change in the rules, and also taking away the original reason I started going. Make no mistake about it: I enjoy, immensely, being at the SBC Convention. But I abhor the process of going to those meetings.

So I'm not.  

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

CALVINISM: A BIG ISSUE, OR NOT?

I'm a Calvinist being held prisoner in an SBC church. But I don't mind in the least.

That's particularly startling in light of the fact that God visited the Dreaded Scourge of the Unknown Tongue on me, about 20 years ago. And I still don't mind.

The reason I don't mind is that I know what I believe. Sadly, that cannot be truthfully said of most SBC church members. After approaching six years of asking, I still have yet to encounter someone who knows why one must be baptized to join a Baptist church. And to reiterate what I've said before, I've asked members, deacons (assembled in a meeting), Sunday School teachers (ditto), and even, at one point, a seminary professor.

Nobody has yet known.

The charge is made that Calvinists aren't mission-minded. To those making that charge, I point out that the last Presbyterian Church of which we were members, from the day it was formed, designated that 1/3 of its budget would be spent on missions. And that was decided when the church was organized, even before the missions recipients had been decided.

I haven't found any SBC churches like that.

It's also been said that Calvinists aren't evangelical. To those folks I tell that we moved to Birmingham in 1975, and since that time I've been asked the "Key Question" ... if you were to die tonight, do you know where you'd spend eternity?" many, many times. But never once was it asked by an SBC church member. It was always by a Presbyterian. If that's not being evangelical, then Baptists are even less so.

The arguers against the 5 points of T.U.L.I.P. focus on man and his ability, and sometimes on God's love. But rarely on man's frailty and sinfulness, or God's justice and sovereignty. And His infinite nature that defies our finite attempts to truly comprehend the infinite.

A couple of things strike me as odd, about the controversies. One is that some churches have called pastors who were "secretly Calvinist" and then suffered when the new pastor tried to "convert" the church. I certainly wouldn't defend a pastor doing that, but I have to ask the quality of the Pastor Search Committee who cannot discern something like that, long before the call.

Another thing is that I never hear Calvinists excoriating Baptists who take the conventional Baptist view of soteriology, but I certainly see Baptists saying untoward things about Calvinism and Calvinists.

That screams at me.

It also seems to be Baptists who raise the issue as an issue. I never see Calvinists saying the SBC isn't reformed enough.  

I'm all for the SBC and the Baptist Faith & Message. Particularly the 1963 version. I've taught it numerous times, and will continue to do so if anyone's interested (there's been little interest in some years now).

The BF&M and the Westminster Confession both base their tenets on scripture, and cite the verses for their stance on every point. It reminds me of the old quotation "A man's position on most issues depends largely on which set of proven facts he chooses to ignore".

You could apply the same thought to one's position as to soteriology, but I don't choose to ignore any scripture.

If you want to explain stuff like the following, you're going to have to explain away something:

Romans 9:18: So then, He shows mercy to those He wants to, and He hardens those He wants to harden.

And......

1 John 2:2: He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

I cannot see how those mesh, but I believe it was Charles Spurgeon who said it was only the sinful mind of man who tried to make God's sovereign election and man's freedom to choose into two separate doctrines. News flash: I agree with Spurgeon. 

If the doctrines emphasized by John Calvin weren't scripture, they'd have died out long ago. If they are, then they won't.

Good enough for me.  

Labels: