Friday, October 2, 2009

Not the Jesus of Pop Culture

John MacArthur shares from his new book, The Jesus You Can’t Ignore.
The Great Shepherd Himself was never far from open controversy with the most conspicuously religious inhabitants in all of Israel. Almost every chapter of the Gospels makes some reference to His running battle with the chief hypocrites of His day, and He made no effort whatsoever to be winsome in His encounters with them. He did not invite them to dialogue or engage in a friendly exchange of ideas.
Jesus’ public ministry was barely underway when He invaded what they thought was their turf—the temple grounds in Jerusalem—and went on a righteous rampage against their mercenary control of Israel’s worship. He did the same things again during the final week before His crucifixion, immediately after His triumphal entry into the city.
One of His last major public discourses was the solemn pronunciation of seven woes against the scribes and Pharisees. These were formal curses against them. That sermon was the farthest thing from a friendly dialogue. But it is a perfect summary of Jesus’ dealings with the Pharisees. It is blistering denunciation—a candid diatribe about the seriousness of their error. There is no conversatsion, no collegiality, no dialogue, and no cooperation. Only confrontation, condemnation, and (as Matthew 23 records) curses against them.

God Himself is Judge

Psalms 50 | A Psalm of Asaph. The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people: “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me. I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
But to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips? For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you. If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers. “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”

HT: Symphony of Scripture

Meet "Ardi"

Evolutionists aren’t yet sure if they should call it a human ancestor, but one thing they do know is that “Ardi” does away with the idea of a “missing link.” That belief was quite clear as evolutionist scientists went to the media yesterday with their conclusions, and America’s evening TV newscasts and the world’s major morning newspapers lapped it up.
Although first discovered in the early 1990s, the bones of Ardipithecus ramidus are only now being nominated for evolutionists’ fossil hall of fame—via a slew of papers in a special issue of the journal Science. In it, Ardi’s researchers describe the bones and make the case that Ardi is even more important in the history of human evolution than Lucy.
But despite claims of its evolutionary significance, one of the scientists who studied Ardi noted, “It’s not a chimp. It’s not a human.” That is, instead of looking like the hypothesized “missing link” (with both chimpanzee and human features), Ardi’s anatomy—as reconstructed by the scientists—shows it to have been distinct from other apes as well as from humans. The researchers have consequently shunned the notion of a missing link: “It shows that the last common ancestor [between humans and] chimps didn’t look like a chimp, or a human, or some funny thing in between,” explained Penn State University paleontologist Alan Walker (who was not part of the study).
We continue to research Ardi in preparation for a more extensive comment in this week’s edition of News to Note, our popular weekly news feature. Please return tomorrow to read the item!

HT: Answers in Genesis

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Marks of a Spiritual Leader

Some more good quotes from John Piper's article on spiritual leadership:

  • "If you want to be a great leader of people you have to get away from people to be with God."
  • "Spiritual leaders have a holy discontentment with the status quo."
  • "Leaders must be able to digest depression because they will eat plenty of it."
  • On tactfulness: "There is a big difference between saying, 'Your foot is too big for this shoe" and 'This shoe is too small for your foot.'"
HT: Justin Taylor

Thursday, September 10, 2009

What Religion Faces the Most Discrimination?

Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals.

The poll also finds that two-thirds of non-Muslims (65%) say that Islam and their own faith are either very different or somewhat different, while just 17% take the view that Islam and their own religion are somewhat or very similar. But Islam is not the only religion that Americans see as mostly different from their own. When asked about faiths other than their own, six-in-ten adults say Buddhism is mostly different, with similar numbers saying the same about Mormonism (59%) and Hinduism (57%).

By a smaller margin, Americans are also inclined to view Judaism and Catholicism as somewhat or very different from their own faith (47% different vs. 35% similar for Judaism, 49% different vs. 43% similar for Catholicism). Only when asked about Protestantism do perceived similarities outweigh perceived differences, with 44% of non-Protestants in the survey saying Protestantism and their own faith are similar and 38% saying they are different

To continue reading click here.

Rebuilding Some Basics of Bethlehem: Christian Hedonism

September 9, 2009
By John Piper

One of the marks of our church is the aroma of Christian Hedonism. This is the biblical truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. The basis for this is deep, and the implications are as high as infinity and as long as eternity (both directions).

One place to see the basis is Philippians 1:20-21, where Paul says his “eager expectation and hope [is] that . . . Christ will . . . be honored in my body . . . by death. For to me . . . to die is gain.” His passion is that Christ be magnified in his death. Paul’s explanation is that for him “death is gain.” The reason death is gain is that to die is “to depart and be with Christ” (verse 23).

Therefore, Paul believed that Christ is magnified by his being so satisfied in Christ that leaving everything else behind in death is not loss but gain. So he says in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”

So I conclude: Christ is most magnified in us when we are most satisfied in him—especially in suffering and death. Hence the banner of Christian Hedonism flies over our church: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

The implications of this are pervasive. One of the biggest implications is that we should, therefore, pursue our joy in God. Should! Not may. The main business of our hearts is maximizing our satisfaction in God. Not our satisfaction in his gifts, no matter how good, but in him. Here are eight biblical reasons to pursue your greatest and longest satisfaction in God.

1) We are commanded to pursue satisfaction.

Psalm 100:2: “Serve the Lord with gladness!” Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Psalm 37:4: “Delight yourself in the Lord.”

2) We are threatened if we don’t pursue satisfaction in God.

Deuteronomy 28:47-48: “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart . . . therefore you shall serve your enemies.”

3) The nature of faith teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Hebrews 11:6: “Without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.”

4) The nature of evil teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Jeremiah 2:12-13: “Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

5) The nature of conversion teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”

6) The call for self-denial teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Mark 8:34-36: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

7) The demand to love people teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Hebrews 12:2: “For the joy that was set before him [Jesus] endured the cross.” Acts 20:35: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

8) The demand to glorify God teaches the pursuit of satisfaction in God.

Philippians 1:20-21: “It is my eager expectation and hope that . . . Christ will be [glorified] in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain (final and total satisfaction in him).”

Therefore, I invite you to join George Mueller, the great prayer warrior and lover of orphans, in saying, “I saw more clearly than ever, that the first great and primary business to which I ought to attend every day was, to have my soul happy in the Lord.” In this way, we will be able to suffer the loss of all things in the sacrifices of love, and “count it all joy.”

Chandler: Two Questions for Sanctification

From Leadership 's interview with Matt Chandler:

Sanctification here at The Village begins by answering two questions. What stirs your affections for Jesus Christ? And what robs you of those affections? Many of the things that stifle growth are morally neutral. They're not bad things. Facebook is not bad. Television and movies are not bad. I enjoy TV, but it doesn't take long for me to begin to find humorous on TV what the Lord finds heartbreaking.

The same goes for following sports. It's not wrong, but if I start watching sports, I begin to care too much. I get stupid. If 19-year-old boys are ruining your day because of what they do with a ball, that's a problem. These things rob my affections for Christ. I want to fill my life with things that stir my affections for him. . . .

We want our people to think beyond simply what's right and wrong. We want them to fill their lives with things that stir their affections for Jesus Christ and, as best as they can, to walk away from things that rob those affections—even when they're not immoral.

You can read the whole thing here.HT: Mike Miesen

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Spiritual Disciplines

God wants His children to live a disciplined life. Paul tells Timothy in 1 Tim. 4:8 "for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. There is something that should be said about striving to live a disciplined life, one must set his or her mind on it; it is not just going to happen. May God grant you the desire to live a life pleasing and honoring to Him in the area of spiritual and physical discipline.

Right now, I am enjoying reading Don Whitey's 2 books on the spiritual disciplines. I highly recommend them. Click here to purchase them and the view the other books that he has written.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Can Satan Hear our Thoughts?

Can Satan hear what we say and know our thoughts? Should we avoid praying out loud because Satan might hear us?

There is nothing in the Bible to indicate that Satan is omniscient. There are no verses that say he knows everything or that he can read our thoughts. But he is very adept at predicting human behavior because he’s seen it operate for so long. He can anticipate what you might do in a given situation without knowing your thoughts because of his knowledge of humankind and because he has a supernatural mind.

But in terms of being omniscient and being able to read your thoughts (as God can), the Bible does not support that idea at all. It never tells us that angels are omniscient. And if a holy angel isn’t omniscient, neither is a fallen one. So, Satan can’t read our thoughts, even if he’s great at predicting human behavior because he’s seen so much of it.

I was speaking at a conference in Iowa about this problem. People were asking questions like “How do you deal with demons?” and “Do we need exorcism to get rid of demons?” Well, there are a lot of people today who say you do. I once read a book about deliverance in which the author described a doctor who was supposedly delivered from the demon of post-nasal drip. And in this approach, whenever you think you have a demon, there’s a certain magical formula you say or you run around or “plead the blood”—whatever that phrase means, since it’s not from the Scripture. The blood has already been pled in your behalf at the time of your salvation and that takes care of it.

There are people who advocate little formulas and séance-type practices with a Christian connotation, claiming that they can cast out demons and so forth. But when you get into the Bible, you find that dealing with the devil is really as simple as going to Ephesians 6 and putting on the armor of God. You see, in Ephesians 6, it says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers,” right? We’re wrestling against demons and against Satan.

But what do we do about it? The best place to find out is to read right in that same chapter, isn’t it? Notice that it does not say, “Go get your demons exorcised with a Christian exorcism.” Nor does it say, “Go get somebody to cast your demon out.” It says, “Put on the whole armor of God,” and what that whole armor really consists of is righteousness. The heart of it is “the breastplate of righteousness.” The key then is to live a righteous, Spirit-filled life and to trust in the sovereign power of God.

So, there is nothing in the Bible that says Satan can read our thoughts. Certainly demons can hear what we say. They can understand what we say. And as I said before, they are very good at predicting the common responses of man because they’ve been at it for such a long time.

But don’t worry about that! A lady once said to me, “We whisper,” because she was afraid of demons hearing her prayers. My response was, “Well, that’s foolish!” You can go boldly before the throne of grace. In the Old Testament, it doesn’t say, “And David whispered to the Lord;” it says, “And David said unto the Lord”—and out it came. You never hear any time in the apostle Paul’s instruction to us about prayer when he says, “Don’t talk out loud.” When he wanted to pray, he just flat out prayed and it didn’t bother him whether Satan heard it because he was living in such a way that Satan couldn’t do anything about it anyway. That’s the issue.

John MacArthur

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Interview: Dr. Francis Collins - Is there an Inherent Conflict between Science and Religious Belief?

Is there an inherent conflict between science and religious belief? Some scientists, including famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, argue that an understanding of the natural world logically leads to atheism. But for Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project and an evangelical Christian, scientific knowledge complements rather than contradicts belief in God. In his 2006 bestselling book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, Collins argues that advances in science present "an opportunity for worship," rather than a catalyst for doubt. Recently, the Pew Forum interviewed Dr. Collins about his views on science and religion.

You write in your book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, that God can be worshipped in a cathedral or in a laboratory. Elaborate a little bit, if you will, on that statement.

If you see God as the creator of the universe -- in all of its amazing complexity, diversity and awesome beauty -- then science, which is, of course, a means of exploring nature, also becomes a means of exploring God's creative abilities. And so, for me, as a scientist who is also a religious believer, research activities that look like science can also be thought of as opportunities to worship.

We have all of these famous stories in our history that pit science against faith -- Galileo's trial before the Inquisition1, the Anglican Church's strong public condemnation of Charles Darwin and the debates that followed the publication of his On the Origin of Species, the Scopes trial2. And they have created this impression that there is an inherent conflict between religion and science. Do you believe there is such an inherent conflict? And if there isn't, why is this impression false?

I don't believe there is an inherent conflict, but I believe that humans, in our imperfect nature, sometimes imagine conflicts where there are none. We see something that threatens our own personal view, and we figure that there must be some reason why that alternative view has to be wrong, or even why it has to be evil.

First of all, let's look carefully at the history of conflicts between science and the church and be sure that those are adequately represented. The story of Galileo is an interesting one. But I think it might be fair to say that Galileo's greatest mistake was being a bit arrogant in the way he presented his own views and insulting the pope who, prior to that, had been fairly sympathetic with Galileo's conclusions. Basically the pope couldn't let Galileo get away with this kind of insult.

Similarly, I think when On the Origin of Species was published, while there were objections coming from the church, there was also a large segment of the church, including some conservative theologians like Presbyterian Minister Benjamin Warfield, who embraced this new view of how living things were related to each other as a wonderful insight into the method by which God must have carried out creation.

Perhaps today's conflict, which seems particularly intense, is so difficult to understand because, after all, evolution has been very much on the scene for 150 years, and the science that supports Darwin's theory has gotten stronger and stronger over those decades. That evidence is particularly strong today given the ability to study DNA and to see the way in which it undergirds Darwin's theory in a marvelously digital fashion. And yet, we have seen an increasing polarization between the scientific and spiritual worldviews, much of it, I think, driven by those who are threatened by the alternatives and who are unwilling to consider the possibility that there might be harmony here.

Let's talk a little more about the current controversy over evolution. Some Christians will say: "Look, you can't pick and choose the parts of the Holy Scripture that you want to take literally. And so, if you're going to call into question the literalness of some parts, you inherently call into question the literal truth of it all." So how do you, as a scientist and a Christian, respond to that line of reasoning?

It's a good question. And certainly, as a believer, I would be the last one to argue that we can basically dilute and water down the Bible any old way we want to, to make ourselves feel better. That's certainly not a good approach to faith, lest one end up with something that doesn't resemble the great truths of the faith at all. But let's admit that down through the centuries, serious believers -- long before there was any On the Origin of Species to threaten their perspective -- had a great deal of difficulty understanding what some parts of the Old Testament, particularly Genesis, were really all about. The whole area of hermeneutics -- the effort to try to read Scripture in a way that represents, as best one can, what the real meaning was intended to be -- requires more sophistication than simply saying the most literal interpretation of every verse has to be correct.

One can look at Genesis 1-2, for instance, and see that there is not just one but two stories of the creation of humanity, and those stories do not quite agree with each other. That alone ought to be reason enough to argue that the literal interpretation of every verse, in isolation from the rest of the Bible, can't really be correct. Otherwise, the Bible is contradicting itself.

I take great comfort looking back through time, particularly at the writings of Augustine3, who was obsessed by trying to understand Genesis and wrote no less than five books about it. Augustine ultimately concluded that no human being really was going to be able to interpret the meaning of the creation story. Certainly Augustine would have argued that the current ultra-literal interpretations that lead to young earth creationism are not required by the text, and would have warned that such a rigid interpretation, regardless of what other evidence comes to the scene, could potentially be quite dangerous to the faith, in that it would make believers out to be narrow-minded and potentially subject to ridicule. And in a certain way, that warning has come true with the battles we're having right now.

If Augustine, who was one of the most thoughtful, original thinkers about biblical interpretation that we've ever had, was unable to figure out what Genesis meant 1,600 years ago, why should we today insist that we know what it means, particularly when the interpretation chosen contradicts a wide variety of data that God has given us the chance to discover through science.

So what you're saying is that when people use religion or religious texts to explain natural phenomena, especially gaps in our understanding of the natural world, they're asking for trouble?

Absolutely. We have to recognize that our understanding of nature is something that grows decade by decade, century by century. But we're still a long way from understanding the details of much of the universe around us. To focus on a particular area of nature where our understanding remains incomplete and say, well, God must have done something miraculous in that spot, is actually, I think, to make God much too small. If God had a plan for creating a universe that was capable of resulting in creatures with intelligence, free will, the knowledge of right and wrong and the hunger to find God Almighty, I think it would be unfortunate for us to imagine that we can precisely figure out, with our tiny amount of information right now, exactly how God did it.

Despite the evidence presented and accepted by the vast majority of the scientific community that evolution through natural selection is the mechanism by which life developed on earth, an August 2006 poll4 by the Pew Research Center found that only about a quarter of the American public actually accepts evolution through natural selection. Why have scientists not been able to convince the vast majority of the American people on this particular issue?

I think there are at least three problems that have led to the pickle we're in. One is that, by its very nature, evolution is counterintuitive. The idea that a process over hundreds of millions of years could give rise to something as complicated as the vertebrate eye, for example, is not something that seems natural, normal or believable to one who has not worked through the details. That is because our minds are very poor at contemplating something that happened so slowly over such a long period of time. And so, the alternative arguments for supernatural design appeal to a lot of people. That's one problem that has nothing to do with religion; it has to do with the nature of evolution as having occurred in a timeframe that is just not familiar to the human mind and therefore is difficult to accept.

Secondly, we have made, I'm afraid, fairly lousy efforts over the last 150 years in our educational system to convey these concepts in school settings effectively to a large number of people in this country. And so, many people have never really seen the evidence to support evolution. So when you put that together with the natural incredulity one has upon hearing this kind of explanation of the diversity of living things, it's no wonder that those folks don't immediately rush to embrace Darwin.

And the third problem, of course, is that in some faith traditions, evolution seems to be a threat to the idea that God did it. I don't actually see it as a threat at all; I see this as answering the question of how God did it. But certainly, some conservative Christian churches have had trouble embracing that conclusion, as it does seem to contradict a number of their views about how humanity came to be. Thus, people who have natural skepticism about the overall process, who have not had a decent science education to teach them why evolution actually makes sense and who have heard in Sunday school or from the pulpit that this theory is actually a threat to their faith, have a very hard time accepting, even after 150 years, that evolution is true.

How can scientists -- especially scientists who are religious believers, like yourself -- do a better job of reaching out to these people and convincing them that these findings are not a threat to their faith?

That's a very difficult challenge. And I don't think we should underestimate just how threatening it is to someone who has been raised in a creationist environment to give that up. They have heard many times since they first came to church as a child that the creationist view is part and parcel of belief in God. And, they've been told, if you even for a moment begin to allow the possibility that evolution is true, you are on a certain path toward loss of your faith and probably worse, eternal damnation. So we have to recognize that in that circumstance, a simple logical argument and presentation of the data is not going to be sufficient in one sitting to change somebody's mind. And in fact, there will be strong resistance to even looking closely at that information because of the fear of what it might lead to.

I also think that those of us who are interested in seeking harmony here have to make it clear that the current crowd of seemingly angry atheists, who are using science as part of their argument that faith is irrelevant, do not speak for us. Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens do not necessarily represent the consensus of science; 40% of scientists are believers in a personal God5. A lot more are rather uncomfortable about the topic but certainly would not align themselves with a strong atheistic perspective. To the extent that it can be made clear that the assault on faith, which has been pretty shrill in the last couple of years, is coming from a fringe -- a minority -- and is not representative of what most scientists believe, that would help defuse the incendiary rhetoric and perhaps allow a real conversation about creation.

What about people like Richard Dawkins, who is a scientist like yourself, and the arguments that they have made -- not just that they can't find any proof for the existence of God but, quite to the contrary, that they think they find proof for God's non-existence. Have they come up with anything in your view that supports those arguments?

I think strong atheism, of the kind that says, "I know there is no God," suffers from two major logical flaws. And the awareness of those flaws might be reassuring to believers who are somehow afraid that these guys may actually have a point.

The first of those is the idea that anyone could use science at all as a conversation-stopper, as an argument-ender in terms of the question of God. If God has any meaning at all, God is at least in part outside of nature (unless you're a pantheist). Science is limited in that its tools are only appropriate for the exploration of nature. Science can therefore certainly never discount the possibility of something outside of nature. To do so is a category error, basically using the wrong tools to ask the question.

Secondly, I think the logical error that atheists of the strong variety commit is what English writer G.K. Chesterton calls the most daring dogma of the universal negative. I often use a visual analogy to explain this. Suppose you were asked to draw a circle that contains all the information, all the knowledge that exists or ever will exist, inside or outside the universe -- all knowledge. Well, that would be a pretty enormous circle. Now, suppose on that same scale, you were asked to draw what you know at the present time. Even the most assertive person will draw a rather tiny circle. Now, suppose that the knowledge that demonstrates that God exists is outside your little circle today. That seems pretty plausible, doesn't it, considering the relative scale? How then -- given that argument -- would it be reasonable for any person to say, "I know there is no God"? That is clearly going outside of the evidence.

Do you foresee this conflict fading any time soon, or do you think that it will continue at least for the foreseeable future to be a real conflict?

Well, it won't fade quickly. But I'm an optimist. Just as very few people now insist that the sun has to go around the earth in order to fulfill their expectations of what the Bible says, I would like to believe that in a few more decades, this battle will be seen as just as unnecessary and just as readily resolved in favor of saying that evolution is true and God is true. That's basically what I've tried to argue in my book -- that this whole battle has been created by a good deal of misunderstanding and unfortunately has been whipped up by those who occupy extreme positions. Many people are puzzled about this tumult and wish to understand how we might find a happy harmony between these worldviews.

I have a dream -- and this is something that some of us are actually trying to put together -- to bring together leading scientists with open minds, leading theologians with open minds and leading pastors who have a significant influence on their flocks. The goal would be to step back from the current unproductive battle and develop a new theology, a celebration of what God has created and how God did it. I think that's possible. But even such an outcome will not be easily received by those who have dug themselves into hardened positions that do not allow much in the way of dialogue.

We've spent a lot of time talking about evolution because that does seem to be a focal point -- at least in terms of conflicts between some people of faith and science. Do you see any other areas where such a conflict may be coming?

I think evolution is probably the most significant potential area of conflict. But I do think some of the things that are happening in neuroscience may have a parallel. I think, actually, the parallel extends pretty nicely to a response though. Some have argued that spirituality is simply a function of neurotransmitters, and this can now be demonstrated by imaging experiments on the brain. But the fact that the brain has the functional capability to support a spiritual experience, which seems to be the case, does not seem to me in any way to negate the meaning of that spiritual experience.

Again, if spirituality was part of God's plan for us, these remarkable creatures created in God's image -- and by that I mean creatures of mind, I don't think God has a physical body -- then wouldn't God need to have made a plan to have those experiences of spirituality supported anatomically in some way, so that they could be a real possibility for those who were seeking God?

It seems to me that once again, science is doing what science does really well, which is telling us something about how and very little about why. How spiritual experiences are mediated by the various neurons and neurotransmitters is a scientific question. But why they happen in the first place? That's a pretty tough one for science.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Joel Osteen - Your Best Life...Later

Your Best Life . . . Later
By Daryl Wingerd

In his best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, TV preacher and mega-church pastor, Joel Osteen, writes: "God wants this to be the best time of your life" (p. 5). According to Osteen, God wants everybody to have financial success, physical health, and social comfort, in this life. Hence, the title of his book, Your Best Life Now.

When would you like your treasure—now or later?
As an example of the earthly focus of Osteen's book, consider his instruction regarding the pursuit of money: "God wants to increase you financially" (p. 5). "Even if you come from an extremely successful family, God still wants you to go further" (p. 9). "Think big. Think increase. Think abundance. Think more than enough" (p. 11).

God certainly does often bless His people financially. But the Bible never allows for Christians to set their hearts on money—to "develop an image" of abundance, as Osteen puts it (p. 5). Jesus told us not to focus our hearts on money (Matt. 6:19), but rather to "store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . . . for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (v. 20 NASB). Lasting treasure will be yours later if you don't make temporary treasure your focus now (cf. Matt. 16:24; 1 John 2:15).

Paul reaffirmed Jesus' teaching when he wrote to the Colossians, saying, "Set your mind on the things above, not on things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). And Christians are warned in Hebrews 13:5, "Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have." This warning is affirmed when Paul tells us that "the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil" (1 Tim. 6:10). There is simply no way to align what Joel Osteen says about seeking after money with the plain and consistent teaching of the Bible (cf. Mark 10:25; Luke 12:15; 1 Tim. 6:8-10; 1 John 2:15-16; etc.).

Isn't everybody supposed to be healthy?
Joel Osteen claims that God wants everyone to have physical health in this life. In his view, it is a lack of faith or personal resolve that causes many to remain physically limited or chronically ill. He actually says, "If you're serious about being well, if you really want to be made physically and emotionally whole, you must get up and get moving with your life. No more lying around feeling sorry for yourself" (p. 149). Such a statement is insulting to those with serious illnesses or physical limitations. And it leads me once again to compare Osteen's teaching with Scripture.

If God wanted every Christian to be perfectly healthy, why was the Apostle Paul denied physical healing (2 Cor. 12:7-9)? Did he lack faith or personal resolve? Why did Paul leave Trophimus in the city of Miletus, sick (2 Tim. 4:20)? Was Trophimus "lying around feeling sorry for himself"? And if physical health and wholeness always depended on faith or personal resolve, why did Jesus often single people out of a crowd and heal them even though they never asked for healing or gave any expression of faith (e.g. Mark 3:1-5; Luke 13:10-13; John 5:2-9; 9:1-7)? The man in John 9, for example, had been blind his entire life. Why? Was it because he had sinned or because he lacked faith? No, but rather because God had ordained his blindness and subsequent healing as a means of bringing glory to Himself (John 9:1-3). The fact is, God makes some mute, some deaf, and some blind (cf. Ex. 4:11), just as He makes others whole and healthy in this life. God can, and often does heal physically, but physical healing is not something that we control by our will, nor is it the ultimate good. "For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself" (Phil. 3:20-21).

Shouldn't your life be easier?
Joel Osteen says that in this life, Christians can expect favorable treatment from the people of the world. On page 38 he says: "God wants to make your life easier. . . . He wants you to receive preferential treatment." Really? Should we expect our lives as Christians to be easier? What about Paul's sobering words to Timothy: "Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted" (2 Tim. 3:12)? And didn't Jesus promise that the Christian life would be narrow and difficult? (cf. Matt. 7:14 NKJV)? In Acts 14:22 the disciples said to one another, "We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God" (NKJV).

I need to clarify what I am not saying. I am not saying that the normal Christian life is necessarily one of constant persecution, deprivation, or physical pain. But the consistent teaching of the New Testament is that the Christian is to look for his best life later, not now. He may enjoy God's temporal blessing, but he should never learn to depend on temporal blessings for happiness. Life itself is a great blessing from God. But every life, and especially the Christian life, comes with difficulty. Instead of craving wealth, comfort, and easy living, believers should expect, accept, and even rejoice in hardships and trials when they come (cf. James 1:2-3). The presence of poverty, pain, or persecution does not indicate that a person is not exercising enough faith or that he is not being blessed by God. In fact, God's greatest blessings often come in ways that cause us to love this life less, and to hope increasingly in that which is promised later.

Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
(Rom. 8:24-25)

Is the Providence of God Biblical?

The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

“God’s works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q.11). If Creation was a unique exercise of divine energy causing the world to be, providence is a continued exercise of that same energy whereby the Creator, according to his own will, (a) keeps all creatures in being, (b) involves himself in all events, and (c) directs all things to their appointed end. The model is of purposive personal management with total “hands-on” control: God is completely in charge of his world. His hand may be hidden, but his rule is absolute.

Some have restricted God’s providence to foreknowledge without control, or upholding without intervention, or general oversight without concern for details, but the testimony to providence as formulated above is overwhelming.

The Bible clearly teaches God’s providential control (1) over the universe at large, Ps. 103:19; Dan. 4:35; Eph. 1:11; (2) over the physical world, Job 37; Pss. 104:14; 135:6; Matt. 5:45; (3) over the brute creation, Ps. 104:21, 28; Matt. 6:26; 10:29; (4) over the affairs of nations, Job 12:23; Pss. 22:28; 66:7; Acts 17:26; (5) over man’s birth and lot in life, 1 Sam. 16:1; Ps. 139:16; Isa. 45:5; Gal. 1:15-16; (6) over the outward successes and failures of men’s lives, Ps. 75:6, 7; Luke 1:52; (7) over things seemingly accidental or insignificant, Prov. 16:33; Matt. 10:30; (8) in the protection of the righteous, Pss. 4:8; 5:12; 63:8; 121:3; Rom. 8:28; (9) in supplying the wants of God’s people, Gen. 22:8, 14; Deut. 8:3; Phil. 4:19; (10) in giving answers to prayer, 1 Sam. 1:19; Isa. 20:5, 6; 2 Chron. 33:13; Ps. 65:2; Matt. 7:7; Luke 18:7, 8; and (11) in the exposure and punishment of the wicked, Pss. 7:12-13; 11:6. (L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 4th ed.)

Clear thinking about God’s involvement in the world-process and in the acts of rational creatures requires complementary sets of statements, thus: a person takes action, or an event is triggered by natural causes, or Satan shows his hand—yet God overrules. This is the message of the book of Esther, where God’s name nowhere appears. Again: things that are done contravene God’s will of command—yet they fulfill his will of events (Eph. 1:11). Again: humans mean what they do for evil—yet God who overrules uses their actions for good (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23). Again: humans, under God’s overruling, sin—yet God is not the author of sin (James 1:13-17); rather, he is its judge.

The nature of God’s “concurrent” or “confluent” involvement in all that occurs in his world, as—without violating the nature of things, the ongoing causal processes, or human free agency—he makes his will of events come to pass, is mystery to us, but the consistent biblical teaching about God’s involvement is as stated above.

Of the evils that infect God’s world (moral and spiritual perversity, waste of good, and the physical disorders and disruptions of a spoiled cosmos), it can summarily be said: God permits evil (Acts 14:16); he punishes evil with evil (Ps. 81:11-12; Rom. 1:26-32); he brings good out of evil (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 4:27-28; 13:27; 1 Cor. 2:7-8); he uses evil to test and discipline those he loves (Matt. 4:1-11; Heb. 12:4-14); and one day he will redeem his people from the power and presence of evil altogether (Rev. 21:27; 22:14-15).

The doctrine of providence teaches Christians that they are never in the grip of blind forces (fortune, chance, luck, fate); all that happens to them is divinely planned, and each event comes as a new summons to trust, obey, and rejoice, knowing that all is for one’s spiritual and eternal good (Rom. 8:28).

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Funny: God all Knowing

Video: The Church of Oprah Exposed in Her Own Words

State of Seminary Education

"Virtually 4 out of 10 students enrolled in the nation's 165 seminaries are in just 20 schools -- and all but 2 of the twenty are classified as evangelical. This is an amazing imbalance, but it is essentially tied to the dramatic decline of Protestant liberalism."
-Al Mohler

Beth Moore ALERT! Should your Church Trust Beth?

I have received an e-mail complaint about my commentary on Beth Moore's teachings. The writer told me that Beth is a godly woman who has been called by God to her ministry and, by my criticizing Beth's teachings, I was slandering her. I was also told that I should stick to fighting the enemies of the church. Now, there are some issues about this complaint I want to address so as to clarify my purpose in exposing false teachings and false teachers.

First, in order to slander someone a falsehood must be told. Since everything I wrote in the commentary is true, I cannot be charged with slander. If anything I write on this blog is found to be in error, I welcome correction because I certainly don't claim to be flawless. You can write me at the e-mail address on my profile or you can post a comment on the site by selecting "comments" at the bottom of the article.

Click here to read more.

Do you Suffer from Nomophobia? Are you Sure?

The 21st century has produced a new illness, “no mobile phobia” (Nomophobia) -- the fear of being out of mobile phone contact. Researchers in the U.K. report that 13 million Brits suffer from this stressful condition brought on by the fear that their phone will lose its charge, be misplaced or simply lose tower contact making them unreachable. Here we are again, suffering from yet another technological marvel designed to save time and improve our effectiveness. Don't get me wrong; I'm grateful for new technologies. It is good to be reachable in an emergency, but I'm also concerned about technology's potential for dehumanizing us. The spiritual consequences of 24/7 cell phone use, it seems to me, are severe.

Hotel Goes Ecumenical with a Menu of Spiritual Fare

At one hotel in Nashville, Tenn., when you feel like a bit of religious reading, you'll have more than a Gideon Bible to choose from. The Hotel Preston has begun offering a “spiritual menu” to its guests, including the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita and additional versions of the Bible. “We also heard many travelers say, `Look, I know that a Gideon Bible is available ... but have you considered including a book of Scientology or have you considered including the Book of Mormon?” said Howard Jacobs, chief operating officer of Provenance Hotels.

New Study Shows Trends in Tithing and Donating

Based on our annual tracking survey of people’s religious behavior and beliefs, this week’s Barna Update examples how many people donated money to churches and other non-profit organizations in 2007, how much they donated, and what proportion of the public tithes. To read about current trends in donating and tithing, click here.

Get the Inside Scoop on the New ESV Study Bible

Be among the first to visit the new ESV Study Bible website—just launched today—and learn about the ESV Study Bible’s features, contributors, pre-order discounts, and more:

Heresy: What's Old is New

In this month's Christian Leader Magazine, a publication of the US Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, is an article called "The new old spirituality" which correctly states that many people are searching for truth in new and unconventional ways, but unfortunately the article portrays these 'new old' ways in a positive light by saying...

"Returning to ancient spiritual practices can help a new generation re-imagine the power of the gospel..."

These are the 'new old' ways mentioned in the article:

The Prayer Labyrinth
The Prayer Path
Lectio Divina
The Jesus Prayer (mantra)
Stations of the Cross
Ignatian Examen
Spiritual Direction
Contemplative spiritual disciplines
The Desert Fathers

Click here to read the rest of this article by Roll Over Menno called "The 'new old spirituality' of the US Mennonite Brethren."

The Bell Tolles for the Church of Oprah

In the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Emperor's New Clothes," some swindlers convince the Emperor and his ministers to see a suit of clothes that is actually non-existent. These swindlers convince the Emperor and his ministers by telling them that only "intelligent," well-informed citizens can see the suit. Publicity about the Emperor's "new" suit went out unto all the kingdom as people were told what they were supposed to see. The people realized that if they were to be perceived as "smart" and not seem "stupid" they would see this suit of clothes.
And, of course, no one wanted to be perceived as stupid.

Soon it was publicized throughout the kingdom that the Emperor would be showing off his "new" suit of clothes in a public procession several days hence. When the day came, the naked Emperor walked among his people and received unanimous acclaim for his new suit of clothes. The people saw what they had been told to see. "Isn't it absolutely wonderful," all the people proclaimed. "The emperor is all dressed up in his new suit of clothes."

Everyone was so taken by the Emperor's "new" suit of clothes, that they barely heard the little boy who hadn't been told what he was supposed to see. "But the emperor isn't wearing any clothes," said the lad. "The emperor is naked."

Several people heard the boy and realized that what he was saying was true. Suddenly everyone's eyes were opened and they realized they had been tricked into seeing something that wasn't even there. The Emperor wasn't wearing a new suit of clothes. He was as naked as the day that he was born. Swindlers had deceived the Emperor, his ministers, and almost the whole kingdom with their clever scheme.

And so it is with the "New" Age/"New" Spirituality and Oprah Winfrey. Widely regarded as the "Queen" of the airwaves, Oprah has been deceived into seeing a "New" Age/"New" Spirituality "suit of clothes" that simply isn't there. The Queen's advisors - Eric Butterworth, Maya Angelou, Marianne Williamson, Gary Zukav, Neale Donald Walsch, Esther Hicks, Eckhart Tolle, and countless others -- have all been similarly deceived into seeing this "new" way of looking at themselves and the world. Deceived and deceiving, they in turn convinced the Queen that she and everyone in her kingdom just needed to "shift" past their "egos" and "awaken" to the fact that they were already clothed in "Christ" - that they were already wearing this "new" suit from the New Age/New Spirituality wardrobe. All they had to do was accept and affirm the "God" and "Christ" within. Click here to read this entire article along with the three previous sections.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Bible is America's Favorite Book

The Bible is America's Favorite Book Followed by Gone with the Wind

When it comes to reading, we know what genre Americans are reading, but what is Americans' favorite book? Across all demographic groups the number one book is The Bible. Behind The Bible, the Civil War is still being fought as Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind comes in second. Fantasy and a bit of fear round out the top five favorite books of all time: in at number 3 is J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings series and number 4 is that other fantasy series, J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books. In fifth is one of the masters of scary books - Stephen King and The Stand.

These are the results of a nationwide Harris Poll of 2,513 U.S. adults surveyed online by Harris Interactive between March 11 and 18, 2008.
Read the entire poll results.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Is There Still Strength In the Church?

This is a question that I have been thinking about lately. Many, many of America's church are declining, plat-toed or closing it doors, why exactly?

This is probably fresh in my mind because of the sermon I preached yesterday in Acts 16:5. Great formula! Our Bible churches need to be full of strong believers and because of that our churches can multiply. O yes the church will grow in God's time, but could it be that the reason why churches do not grow is that the people either are not saved or not strong in the Lord?

The message in Acts 16:5 doesn't sound seeker sensitive to me. We need more of our churches that are strong in the Lord and not seeking sin. Come on how does a church or a believer for that matter expect to be strong in the Lord and be full of sin?

This is what I see as a SBC pastor. Our churches are to sin infested to do much growing! Much sin is found in the church. What shall we do? Cry out to the Lord daily in repentance (which is a sign of a believer by the way) when a church has that type of attitude it can grow if God wills it to happen.

Your life is not your own if you are in Christ it belongs to Him. Each day you get up you choose to either be a slave to sin or a slave to Christ.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

2008 Christianity Today Book Awards Announced

For two decades, the annual Christianity Today Book Awards have recognized outstanding volumes that shed light on people, events, and ideas that shape evangelical life, thought, and mission. This year, 49 publishers nominated 359 titles published in 2007. Christianity Today editors selected the top books in each category, and then panels of judges—one panel per category—voted. In the end, we chose 10 winners and also recognized 11 awards of merit.

The 2008 CT Book Awards

THERE IS A GOD: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind
Antony Flew with Roy Abraham Varghese (HarperOne)

Biblical Studies
THE JESUS LEGEND: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition
Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd (Baker Academic)

Christianity and Culture
FAITH IN THE HALLS OF POWER: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite
D. Michael Lindsay (Oxford)

Christian Living
CARING FOR MOTHER: A Daughter’s Long Goodbye
Virginia Stem Owens (Westminster John Knox)

The Church/Pastoral Leadership
THE CALL TO JOY AND PAIN: Embracing Suffering in Your Ministry
Ajith Fernando (Crossway)

Lisa Samson (Thomas Nelson)

Charles Taylor (Belknap)

Missions/Global Affairs
DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS: Pillars of World Christianity
Lamin O. Sanneh (Oxford)

THE JESUS WAY: A Conversation on the Ways That Jesus Is the Way
Eugene H. Peterson (Eerdmans)

RESOUNDING TRUTH: Christian Wisdom in the World of Music
Jeremy S. Begbie (Baker Academic)

Contemplative Spirituality; What is it - And are you a Part of it

definition: contemplative spirituality: a belief system that uses ancient mystical practices to induce altered states of consciousness (the silence) and is rooted in mysticism and the occult but often wrapped in Christian terminology; the premise of contemplative spirituality is pantheistic (God is all) and panentheistic (God is in all).

spiritual formation: a movement that has provided a platform and a channel through which contemplative prayer is entering the church. Find spiritual formation being used, and in nearly every case you will find contemplative spirituality. In fact, contemplative spirituality is the heartbeat of the spiritual formation movement.

How Widespread Has Spiritual Formation Become?

I encourage you to do your own research on the ministries listed from the link below.

Read this list of ministries that are promoting it. Please pray for the leaders of these groups that their eyes may be opened.

No more Mr. Nice Christian

Where did this idea originate -- that Christianity is about being “nice.” It is an odd outcome and irrational progression from Jesus, whose very arrival on earth threatened to overturn everything -- the Roman Empire, the Jewish religious powers and most significantly, the lives of every human on earth. We're coming up on the Easter season, and Jesus died on a cross. The Christian story has a resurrection, but it also has a lot of messiness in it. If you want to tell the Christian story, it's not just a feel-good story. It's a story that has substantial pain and suffering and sorrow in it, just like our lives do. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not just about comforting the afflicted it is also about afflicting the comfortable. Being Christian is not just about being nice.

Click here to read more.

Huckabee May be New Face of Religious Right

With the race for the Republican presidential nomination behind him, now-former candidate Mike Huckabee has many possibilities ahead: from potential vice president to GOP adviser to another run for the presidency. But, observers say, one thing seems to be certain: Huckabee is now the new face of the evangelical movement, gentler than Pat Robertson, who transformed his failed presidential race into a movement of the religious right. “I think he reflects in many ways what I would call the new evangelical center,” said author Ron Sider, the president of Evangelicals for Social Action. “He simply is not the old religious right.”

Click here to read full story.

Film Explores Bumper-Sticker Theology

Nestled in a tiny office space above a video-rental store, filmmakers Dan Merchant and Jeff Martin are preparing to launch their first movie together. The two members of Lightning Strikes Entertainment have spent about three years investigating a nationwide disconnect between Christians and their fellow Americans for their documentary, “Lord, Save Us From Your Followers.” The movie explores what Merchant calls America's “bumper-sticker culture” -- people tell others what they think but aren't willing to consider conflicting views. “Clearly we've decided to have the national debate ... on our cars,” Merchant said. “We won't talk to each other about these issues, but we'll stick the `God said Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve' or `Who would Jesus bomb?' on our cars.”

Click here to view the trailer.

Click here to read full story.

Millard Erickson Draws Parallels Between Theology and the Disciplines of History, Physics and Economics

History, physics and economics allow people to clearly examine theological truths, just as reading glasses enable one to explore Scripture said Millard Erickson during the annual Gheens Lectures at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, March 4-6.

Erickson, distinguished professor of theology at Western Seminary, is perhaps best known for his systematic theology, "Christian Theology." The professor used the example of glasses allowing one to read Scripture to illustrate the role history, physics and economics play in theological understanding. Read entire story.

Americans Identify Their Most Important Relationships

What is the single most important relationship in your life today? And what social group or network of people is most significant to you? We posed these questions to a national sample of adults and discovered that people’s family and faith are important connections. As usual, some subgroups of the population differed substantially from the norm – and some of those differences reveal some of the deepest challenges facing the Church. How would you have answered these questions? How would your friends have answered? Take a look at the national results and the analysis and consider what it means for America, for your church, and for you.

Click here for full report.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Video: John Piper Lashes Out Against the Health and Wealth Prosperity Gospel

I praise God for men like John Piper that are willing to speak about this travesty of lies. The prosperity gospel is no gospel at all it is not even biblical. With so many Pastor's being concerned with making people feel welcome in their churches they forget they are there to arm the sheep with information to pick out the wolves. In most American churches the wolves run free in the name of "getting along", "not being devisive", "evangelicalism", and being "seeker sensitive". As Pastor's we need to be honest with our congregations and name the names of those that will mislead them - especially those that write worthless dribble for sale at your average Christian bookstore. Take a stand for the glory of the Lord in the face of the world.

Praise God that He is Sovereign

At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.

The assertion of God’s absolute sovereignty in creation, providence, and grace is basic to biblical belief and biblical praise. The vision of God on the throne—that is, ruling—recurs (1 Kings 22:19; Isa. 6:1; Ezek. 1:26; Dan. 7:9; Rev. 4:2; cf. Pss. 11:4; 45:6; 47:8-9; Heb. 12:2; Rev. 3:21); and we are constantly told in explicit terms that the Lord (Yahweh) reigns as king, exercising dominion over great and tiny things alike (Exod. 15:18; Pss. 47; 93; 96:10; 97; 99:1-5; 146:10; Prov. 16:33; 21:1; Isa. 24:23; 52:7; Dan. 4:34-35; 5:21-28; 6:26; Matt. 10:29-31). God’s dominion is total: he wills as he chooses and carries out all that he wills, and none can stay his hand or thwart his plans.

That God’s rational creatures, angelic and human, have free agency (power of personal decision as to what they shall do) is clear in Scripture throughout; we would not be moral beings, answerable to God the judge, were it not so, nor would it then be possible to distinguish, as Scripture does, between the bad purposes of human agents and the good purposes of God, who sovereignly overrules human action as a planned means to his own goals (Gen. 50:20; Acts 2:23; 13:26-39). Yet the fact of free agency confronts us with mystery, inasmuch as God’s control over our free, self-determined activities is as complete as it is over anything else, and how this can be we do not know. Regularly, however, God exercises his sovereignty by letting things take their course, rather than by miraculous intrusions of a disruptive sort.

In Psalm 93 the fact of God’s sovereign rule is said to
(a) guarantee the stability of the world against all the forces of chaos (v. 1b-4),
(b) confirm the trustworthiness of all God’s utterances and directives (v. 5a), and
(c) call for the homage of holiness on the part of his people (v. 5b). The whole psalm expresses joy, hope, and confidence in God, and no wonder. We shall do well to take its teaching to heart.

The Dark Night of the Soul

The dark night of the soul. This phenomenon describes a malady that the greatest of Christians have suffered from time to time. It was the malady that provoked David to soak his pillow with tears. It was the malady that earned for Jeremiah the sobriquet, “The Weeping Prophet.” It was the malady that so afflicted Martin Luther that his melancholy threatened to destroy him. This is no ordinary fit of depression, but it is a depression that is linked to a crisis of faith, a crisis that comes when one senses the absence of God or gives rise to a feeling of abandonment by Him.

Spiritual depression is real and can be acute. We ask how a person of faith could experience such spiritual lows, but whatever provokes it does not take away from its reality. Our faith is not a constant action. It is mobile. It vacillates. We move from faith to faith, and in between we may have periods of doubt when we cry, “Lord, I believe, help Thou my unbelief.”

We may also think that the dark night of the soul is something completely incompatible with the fruit of the Spirit, not only that of faith but also that of joy. Once the Holy Spirit has flooded our hearts with a joy unspeakable, how can there be room in that chamber for such darkness? It is important for us to make a distinction between the spiritual fruit of joy and the cultural concept of happiness. A Christian can have joy in his heart while there is still spiritual depression in his head. The joy that we have sustains us through these dark nights and is not quenched by spiritual depression. The joy of the Christian is one that survives all downturns in life.

In writing to the Corinthians in his second letter, Paul commends to his readers the importance of preaching and of communicating the Gospel to people. But in the midst of that, he reminds the church that the treasure we have from God is a treasure that is contained not in vessels of gold and silver but in what the apostle calls “jars of clay.” For this reason he says, “that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” Immediately after this reminder, the apostle adds, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor. 4:7–10).

This passage indicates the limits of depression that we experience. The depression may be profound, but it is not permanent, nor is it fatal. Notice that the apostle Paul describes our condition in a variety of ways. He says that we are “afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.” These are powerful images that describe the conflict that Christians must endure, but in every place that he describes this phenomenon, he describes at the same time its limits. Afflicted, but not crushed. Perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken. Struck down, but not destroyed.

So we have this pressure to bear, but the pressure, though it is severe, does not crush us. We may be confused and perplexed, but that low point to which perplexity brings us does not result in complete and total despair. Even in persecution, as serious as it may be, we are still not forsaken, and we may be overwhelmed and struck down as Jeremiah spoke of, yet we have room for joy. We think of the prophet Habakkuk, who in his misery remained confident that despite the setbacks he endured, God would give him feet like hind’s feet, feet that would enable him to walk in high places.

Elsewhere, the apostle Paul in writing to the Philippians gives them the admonition to be “anxious for nothing,” telling them that the cure for anxiety is found on one’s knees, that it is the peace of God that calms our spirit and dissipates anxiety. Again, we can be anxious and nervous and worried without finally submitting to ultimate despair. This coexistence of faith and spiritual depression is paralleled in other biblical statements of emotive conditions. We are told that it is perfectly legitimate for believers to suffer grief. Our Lord Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. Though grief may reach to the roots of our souls, it must not result in bitterness. Grief is a legitimate emotion, at times even a virtue, but there must be no place in the soul for bitterness. In like manner, we see that it is a good thing to go to the house of mourning, but even in mourning, that low feeling must not give way to hatred. The presence of faith gives no guarantee of the absence of spiritual depression; however, the dark night of the soul always gives way to the brightness of the noonday light of the presence of God.

By R.C. Sproul

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Transcendence, Is God Flesh or Spirit?

This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?”

“God is spirit,” said Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:24). Though fully personal, God does not live in and through a body as we do, and so is not anchored in a spatio-temporal frame. From this fact, plus the further fact that he is self-existent and not marked as we are by the personal disintegration (lack of concentration and control) that sin has produced in us, several things follow.

First, God is limited neither by space (he is everywhere in his fullness continually) nor by time (there is no “present moment” into which he is locked as we are). Theologians refer to God’s freedom from limits and bounds as his infinity, his immensity, and his transcendence (1 Kings 8:27; Isa. 40:12-26; 66:1). As he upholds everything in being, so he has everything everywhere always before his mind, in its own relation to his all-inclusive plan and purpose for every item and every person in his world (Dan. 4:34-35; Eph. 1:11).

Second, God is immutable. This means that he is totally consistent: because he is necessarily perfect, he cannot change either for the better or for the worse; and because he is not in time he is not subject to change as creatures are (2 Pet. 3:8). Far from being detached and immobile, he is always active in his world, constantly making new things spring forth (Isa. 42:9; 2 Cor. 5:17; Rev. 21:5); but in all this he expresses his perfect character with perfect consistency. It is precisely the immutability of his character that guarantees his adherence to the words he has spoken and the plans he has made (Num. 23:19; Ps. 33:11; Mal. 3:6; James 1:16-18); and it is this immutability that explains why, when people change their attitude to him, he changes his attitude to them (Gen. 6:5-7; Exod. 32:9-14; 1 Sam. 15:11; Jon. 3:10). The idea that the changelessness of God involves unresponsive indifference to what goes on in his world is the precise opposite of the truth.

Third, God’s feelings are not beyond his control, as ours often are. Theologians express this by saying that God is impassible. They mean not that he is impassive and unfeeling but that what he feels, like what he does, is a matter of his own deliberate, voluntary choice and is included in the unity of his infinite being. God is never our victim in the sense that we make him suffer where he had not first chosen to suffer. Scriptures expressing the reality of God’s emotions (joy, sorrow, anger, delight, love, hate, etc.) abound, however, and it is a great mistake to forget that God feels—though in a way of necessity that transcends a finite being’s experience of emotion.
Fourth, all God’s thoughts and actions involve the whole of him. This is his integration, sometimes called his simplicity. It stands in stark contrast to the complexity and lack of integration of our own personal existence, in which, as a result of sin, we are scarcely ever, perhaps never, able to concentrate the whole of our being and all our powers on anything. One aspect of the marvel of God, however, is that he simultaneously gives total and undivided attention not just to one thing at a time but to everything and everyone everywhere in his world past, present, and future (cf. Matt. 10:29-30).

Fifth, the God who is spirit must be worshiped in spirit and in truth, as Jesus said (John 4:24). “In spirit” means “from a heart renewed by the Holy Spirit.” No rituals, body movements, or devotional formalities constitute worship without involvement of the heart, which the Holy Spirit alone can induce. “In truth” means “on the basis of God’s revelation of reality, which culminates in the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ.” First and foremost, this is the revelation of what we are as lost sinners and of what God is to us as Creator-Redeemer through Jesus’ mediatorial ministry.
No one place on earth is now prescribed as the only center for worship. God’s symbolic dwelling in earthly Jerusalem was replaced when the time came (John 4:23) by his dwelling in heavenly Jerusalem, whence Jesus now ministers (Heb. 12:22-24). In the Spirit, “the Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth,” wherever they may be (Ps. 145:18; cf. Heb. 4:14-16). This worldwide availability of God is part of the good news of the gospel; it is a precious benefit, and should not simply be taken for granted.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Study: U.S. Religious Landscape Who's Growing and Who's Not

Study shows most detailed estimates to date of the size and demographic characteristics of religious groups in the U.S. and finds that religious affiliation is both very diverse and extremely fluid.

The first report of the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey finds that:

o More than a quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood in favor of another religion – or no religion at all. If change in affiliation from one type of Protestantism to another is included, roughly 44% of American adults have either switched religious affiliation, moved from being unaffiliated with any religion to being affiliated with a particular faith, or dropped any connection to a specific religious tradition altogether.

o The number of adults who say they are not affiliated with any particular faith today (16.1%) is more than double the number who say they were not affiliated with a particular religion as children. Men are significantly more likely than women to claim no religious affiliation. Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with a particular religion. At the same time, the majority of people who were not affiliated with any particular religion as a child now say that they are associated with a religious group.

o The U.S. is on the verge of becoming a minority Protestant country. The number of Americans who are affiliated with Protestant denominations now stands at barely over 51%; as recently as the mid-1980s, in contrast, surveys found that approximately two-thirds of the population was Protestant.

o The Catholic share of the U.S. adult population has held fairly steady in recent decades. What this apparent stability obscures, however, is the large number of people who have left the Catholic Church. Approximately one-third of the survey respondents who were raised Catholic no longer describe themselves as Catholic; this means roughly 10% of all Americans are former Catholics. These losses, however, have been offset partly by the number of people joining the Catholic Church but mostly by the disproportionately high number of Catholics among immigrants to the U.S. The result is that the total percentage of the population that identifies as Catholic (roughly one-in-four) has remained fairly stable.

o Latinos currently account for nearly one-in-three adult Catholics in the U.S. and may account for an even larger share of U.S. Catholics in the future. Although Latinos represent just one-in-eight U.S. Catholics age 70 and older (12%), they account for nearly half of all Catholics ages 18-29 (45%). Immigrants also are disproportionately represented among several world religions in the U.S., including Islam and Hinduism.

o The Midwest most closely resembles the religious makeup of the overall adult population of the U.S. The South, by a wide margin, has the heaviest concentration of members of evangelical Protestant churches. The Northeast has the greatest concentration of Catholics, and the West has the largest proportion of unaffiliated people, including the largest proportion of atheists and agnostics.

o Among people who are married, nearly four-in-ten (37%) are married to a spouse with a different religious affiliation. This figure includes Protestants who are married to another Protestant from a different denominational family, such as a Baptist who is married to a Methodist.

o Hindus and Mormons are the most likely to be married (78% and 71%, respectively) and to be married to someone of the same religion (90% and 83%, respectively). Mormons and Muslims are the groups with the largest families; more than one-in-five Mormon and 15% of Muslim adults in the U.S. have three or more children living at home.

o Nearly half of Hindus in the U.S., one-third of Jews and a quarter of Buddhists have obtained post-graduate education, compared with only about one-in-ten of the adult population overall. Hindus and Jews are also much more likely than other groups to report high income levels.

o In sharp contrast to Islam and Hinduism, Buddhism in the United States is primarily made up of native-born adherents, whites and converts. Only one-in-three American Buddhists describe their race as Asian, and three-in-four Buddhists say they are converts to Buddhism.

To read more click here.

Signs of the Apocolypse: Youth Pastor Praised for Admitting to Murder

A 29-year-old youth pastor who confessed to killing a man nearly 14 years ago is receiving an outpouring of praise for taking responsibility for his actions. Calvin Wayne Inman, who was 16 when he stabbed a convenience store clerk during a robbery, resigned from his youth position in December but is still receiving lots of support from church members:

“He’s a hero, really,” said Kelley Graham, 24. “I don’t know how many people would do what he did. The Bible says you just need to confess to God. Calvin took an extra step.”

Cheryl Ellis, a member of the church’s youth staff, has gone as far as to say that Inman is already paying his debt to society by teaching young people the right thing to do, and argues that putting him in prison would rob “the next generation of a mentor.” While Inman’s effort to take responsibility is admirable, it does not change the gravity of the crime he committed, nor the fact that sin has consequences. So why would anyone think a repentant spirit should earn him a “Get out of jail free” card?

HT: Kristin Chapman

Jehovah's Witnesses Among Fastest-Growing U.S. Faiths

Jehovah's Witnesses, with just more than 1 million members, were the fastest growing church body in North America in 2006, according to an annual compilation of church membership figures. Although the Jehovah's Witnesses ranked 24th of the 25 largest U.S. churches, they had the highest growth rate, at 2.25 percent, according to the 2008 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The badly divided Episcopal Church, meanwhile, reported the largest decrease, with a 4.15 percent drop in membership. The Roman Catholic Church, with more than 67 million members, remains the largest U.S. church body, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16 million) and the United Methodist Church (7.9 million).

Wiley Drake Calls Out the Heavenly Hit Men?

Church-state watchdog Barry Lynn is accusing conservative California pastor Wiley Drake of urging his followers "to pray for the deaths of staff members at (Lynn's) Americans United for Separation of Church and State."

Last August, Americans United filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service about Drake’s use of church letterhead and a church-based radio program to endorse presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. Federal tax law forbids tax-exempt groups from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.

In a Feb. 5 letter, the IRS notified Drake that his First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park is being investigated.

In response, Drake issued a Feb. 14 e-mail appeal to followers to engage in “imprecatory prayers” (curses) against Americans United and three of its staff members.

“Trying to turn God into some sort of heavenly hit man is repugnant,” Lynn concluded. “There is more than a whiff of the Taliban in this action”

The Ark of the Covenant has Been FOUND?!?!?

When last we saw the lost Ark of the Covenant in action, it had been dug up by Indiana Jones in Egypt and ark-napped by Nazis, whom the Ark proceeded to incinerate amidst a tempest of terrifying apparitions. But according to Tudor Parfitt, a real life scholar-adventurer, Raiders of the Lost Ark had it wrong, and the Ark is actually nowhere near Egypt. In fact, Parfitt claims he has traced it (or a replacement container for the original Ark), to a dusty bottom shelf in a museum in Harare, Zimbabwe.

To read more click here.

An Amazing Christian School Sets the Tone!

Inside a building that looks like a roller rink because it used to be one, students at the Logos School in the small northern Idaho town of Moscow are being initiated into an inheritance that the school describes as "classical and Christ-centered." Unsurprisingly, students learn the Bible and take classes in Christian doctrine.

To these subjects, however, Logos adds liberal arts and classical studies. Second-graders chant Latin paradigms and learn important names and dates from classical and American history. Middle school students study formal logic and engage in debates. Older students read Homer and Virgil, Chaucer and Spenser, Shakespeare and Dante. Every high school student takes two years of rhetoric, using Aristotle as a text, and the hardy have the chance to learn Greek.

To read more click here.

Among Evangelicals, Divorce Doesn’t Carry the Stigma it Once Did

W hen Pentecostal power couple Randy and Paula White announced they were headed to divorce court, the most remarkable part of the reaction was that there wasn’t much reaction at all.

For increasing numbers of clergy, a divorce no longer generates the kind of career-killing hue and cry of decades ago, in part because plenty of people in the pews have experienced divorce themselves.

To read more click here.