Archive | September, 2012

Victorious Christian Sobbing

My wife stood last week in the entryway of my kid’s school sobbing. Not a little quiet cry but really letting all the emotions come to the surface. A lady had asked how she was doing and she let it all out. Six or seven godly women gathered around her praying. They laid hands on my bride, praying passionately, many of the women started to cry as well.

I would usually be embarrassed by this situation. We’re supposed to have it all together. We’re Christian leaders so we need to lead the way in the Victorious Christian Life. What will people think if they see my wife sobbing in public? As I stood there, however, I thought to myself, “This is the Victorious Christian Life…this is Victorious Christian Sobbing.

Early in our marriage my wife had chronic pain lasting several years. For the last few years she has been pain free. A huge blessing. The pain started to return about a month ago and we’ve been working with doctors and physical therapists to get it back under control. As she stood there sobbing she was letting the women know she needed God’s strength to carry her through every moment. It was clear to me these other godly women were moved realizing they desired my wife’s healing but also desired the same thing from God. As I stood there praying along I kept thinking, “This is good. This is not normal…it’s a little embarrassing…but this is good.”

I’ve been mentored in this area recently by a godly man. When I first met this man I was excited because of his reputation. I knew he had mentored others but I didn’t know if we’d click. It’s pretty easy for guys to have relationships where you hang out with other guys going fishing, working on backyard projects, watching sports, doing all sorts of activities together. It’s hard, however, for men to have relationships where you “go deep” in the things of God. A friendship where your walk with Jesus is truly better after spending time together. These deep spiritual mentoring relationships can be hard to find. I’ve been blessed, however, to find this friendship in John Calvin.

As I stood there watching my wife sobbing I kept thinking about the last time Johnny C (yes, we’re that tight) and I sat down together. It was in the 702-715 page range of his magisterial 1600 page Institutes of the Christian Religion (2 Volume version edited by John T. McNeil). Calvin brought up the subject of the Theology of the Cross. The cliff-notes version of the Theology of the Cross could be worded like this: If we aren’t familiar with continual pain we won’t continually understand, appreciate, or benefit from the cross. We need to frequently enter into pain to continually enter into Christ. Calvin, as usual, unpacks these ideas. Whether or not you agree with Calvin on issues of salvation, I ask you to set them aside for a bit and listen to this man who is obviously well acquainted with the Bible, Jesus and grief:

Calvin opens the conversation by saying:

We are to take up our cross, as followers of Christ. But it behooves the godly mind to climb still higher, to the height which Christ calls his disciples: that each must bear his own cross [Matt. 16:24]. For whomever the Lord has adopted and deemed worthy of his fellowship ought to prepare themselves for a hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil. It is the Heavenly Father’s will thus to exercise them so as to put his own children to a definite test. Beginning with Christ, his first-born, he follows this plan with all his children.

Most churches don’t lead with this reality. Who would want to follow Jesus if they are guaranteed a “hard, toilsome, and unquiet life, crammed with very many and various kinds of evil?” Yes, I’m even a little uneasy about his statement. I feel like we’re at the Credo House having a Luther Latte and Calvin leans forward saying, “Now Tim, I know this sucks on the surface. Who wants to experience this type of life? But, I don’t think you’ll fully trust in God’s power if He doesn’t let you first experience the need for His power.” I exhale slowly and reply, “Ok, I’m listening.” He continues:
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Some Random Thoughts on Christian Ministry and Ministers

(Lisa Robinson)

These are some pretty random thoughts that have swirling around in my head for awhile so I wanted to just splash them out in writing. Tim Challies posted this article a while back on his blog that served as the catalyst. The article concerns the workforce but I think it’s premise is very transferable to Christian ministry. Basically, it highlights that productivity is best accomplished when we quietly do what we do and let the work speak for itself. When we’re secure and confident in what we do, there is no need to make a lot of noise about what we do.

Noise. This has been an increasing observation and concern regarding churches. When I say noise I mean advertising about what you do. Now it’s reasonable that in the 21st century technology age that you’ll want to do a certain amount of advertising. But sometimes the way churches and ministries are advertised make it seem that you will miss out on God if you don’t participate. Here’s where I think the principles of that article resonate. Churches should concentrate on being faithful and committed to the gospel rather than marketing and how to get more people in the door. I think this cartoon from the Naked Pastor  speaks volumes.

The same can be said of ministers, i.e., pastors and preachers. There is little that turns me off more than when I hear a pastor or church leader brag about what they are accomplishing or how great they are (usually embedded in language of how much the Lord is using me). I am convinced by scripture that it is Christ’s church. Those who get the opportunity to shepherd should be grateful and caring not noisy. Let the Lord use you to impact others and let them tell you how much they’ve been impacted. It doesn’t really mean much if the pastor or preacher talks about how much what they’re doing will change somebody’s life if it isn’t actually happening. I can’t help but wonder if it’s due to illusions that one has arrived. Paul Tripp posted an excellent article about delusions of grandeur. Continue Reading →

Preaching Morality vs. Preaching Christ

I want you to do something strange. Something we usually don’t do in 21st century American Christianity. Are you ready for it? Here it goes, try to remember all the details of the last sermon you heard! I know, Sunday is over, it’s time for the real world. But give yourself a few moments to get back to your last sermon.

Do you remember how the pastor got started? If you’re the pastor, do you remember how you got started? (I’ve been there too if you’re struggling) Many times an introduction will include a personal story, a connection to the topic, a “hook” to get everyone to realize this sermon is worth listening to and it’s for me.

Most preachers will then enter into the body of their sermon. This can be an exposition of a passage of Scripture, or an exposition of a certain biblical topic. Most sermons in the “body” section will usually have a few main points. Can you remember all of them? Can you remember at least one of the points? The last sermon I heard was focused on finances, certainly a topic discussed frequently by Jesus. Have you recalled the last sermon? It’s cheating if you say, “The sermon was on the book of Mark.” Come on, you gotta try harder.

I’m going somewhere with this, hang with me, your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. I know, a big promise, let’s see if I deliver.

Now, how did the sermon end? In preaching lingo this is referred to as “bringing it home” and/or “landing the plane”. Many times this will be a time when people are most challenged to live out the main points of the sermon. The pastor may provide a creative way for you to remember and live out the sermon. In many churches, also, the glorious Gospel will be proclaimed. People will be told of their need for Jesus and be given an opportunity to put their trust in Jesus as their Savior. Do you remember how the last sermon ended?

Ok, here is how your memory of the last sermon could make a drastic impact on your life and the life of your church for generations. One more question, take a step back from the trees and look at the forest. Was the main focus of the sermon morality or the person of Jesus? Think it through, was the pastor focusing on: getting you out of debt; making you more generous, improving your marriage; reducing your anxiety; increasing your joy; getting you to be more involved? Or was the sermon about Jesus?

Here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Morality:

I’ve been in debt and it stinks. So many of us are in debt, listen to these statistics about debt. Here is what we have learned about the stress debt places on our lives. Do you want that stress? Let’s look what the Bible says about debt. God doesn’t like debt so we need to get out of it. Let me help you with some time-tested principles. Here are 3 main points about getting out of debt. Dave Ramsey has some great ways to help us get out of debt. Let’s pray for Jesus to help us get out of debt. If you don’t know Jesus as your Savior, please trust Him today.

In contrast, here’s a getting-out-of-debt sermon outline Preaching Christ:
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Top Books on Arminianism/Molinism

A while back, my Calvinist friend Michael Patton here at Parchment and Pen told me that he generally preferred the company of Arminians over Calvinists.  A well-known evangelical Christian statesman (who will go unnamed) related his negative experiences with what he called “the Reformed Mafia.”  Trevin Wax recently echoed this concern in a blog post as a plea to some of his fellow Calvinists.[1] That, I regret to say, has been my experience in the Calvinist-Arminian debate. So I hope that, in my posting this list, grace from my Reformed brothers and sisters will abound!

Michael Patton asked if I would be willing to mention my top picks for Arminian books.[2]  Since Jacob Arminius was as good an Arminian as any, we should at least mention his works in passing: Work of Jacob Arminius.  (We could also mention the writings of John Wesley here.  However, my list will focus on more accessible, popular-level expositions of Arminianism. In addition, since Arminius was influenced by Molinism, I’ll include Molinist-related works as well.  (Note: I’m not including open theism, which I find philosophically and biblically problematic.)[3]

1. Arminian and (Gentle, But Frank) Anti-Calvinist Theology 

Roger Olson, Arminian Theology: Myths and Realities. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006.  Olson here evenhandedly explores genuine points of overlap between Arminians and Calvinists, and there’s more than many in either camp may realize!  For example, consider this Calvinist-sounding description: “…the Free Will of man towards the True Good …is imprisoned, destroyed, and lost; and its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine Grace.”  These are the words of Jacob Arminius. And similar are the words of Arminian hymnwriter Charles Wesley:  “Long my imprisoned spirit lay / Fastbound in sin and nature’s night. / Thine eye diffused a quick’ning ray. / I woke, the dungeon flamed with light. / My chains fell off; my heart was free. / I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.”  Continue Reading →

Theology Unplugged: Does God Need a PR Agent?

Join Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley as they consider if God needs a PR agent.

Apologists: PR Agents for God?

I was watching a movie tonight called Random Hearts. Older movie. Bad reviews. But as with all movies with bad reviews, I don’t go in expecting much. It was a more touching story than I thought it would be. It had elements of dealing with death, betrayal, and obsession. But what intrigued me most (I suppose this it is because it is political season) was the element of having to save face in potentially embarrassing situations. There was a woman who was running for public office. Her husband had died in a plane wreck. After the plane wreck, she discovered that her spouse was on the plane with another woman. He was having an affair. The husband of this other woman (Harrison Ford) likewise found about about his wife’s betrayal after she was dead. The two surviving widowed spouses began to fall in love. But there was a problem. The woman running for office did not want the public to know either of her husband’s affair or of her subsequent relationship with this man. It was embarrassing. It could hurt her career. It could make her lose the election. However (never fear), she had her public relations experts. They, for me, provided the unintentional comic relief. They were continually trying to figure out how to “handle” the ever-escalating situation. What were they to tell the public? What should they hold back? How could they spin and reinterpret things in such a way that the situation did not leave mud on their faces? And, do you know what? Most of these types of individuals are masters at it. After all, it is their job. They are the public relations (PR) experts who can twist potential embarrassments into good.

I wonder. . . In Christian apologetics (the theological name for “defending the faith”), do we often think that we are God’s PR experts who come and put out the fires that he has created? Does God sometimes embarrass us to the point where we search for ways to “spin” Scripture in order to find possible loopholes to the end that all of us can save face? Continue Reading →

Should I Pray for God to Raise Someone from the Dead?

The other day I was asked by someone if I would try to raise a cat from the dead. After being asked, the look on my face told the story of my faith. If I could translate my face into words, it would be, “What in the heck? Are you serious?” My faith does not include such acts. I have experienced a lot of death in my life. Too much death. Too many dead bodies of friends and family have I looked upon in the last few years. But I have never once tried to raise someone from the dead. Is this evidence of a weak faith? Should I? Should I be attempting such things? Should I express my faith with this kind of assurance?

In a moment of intense transparency, a young missionary friend of Tim Kimberley (executive director of the Credo House) told Tim a story just a few days ago. The story was about the death of an neighbor’s infant child. I am going to post this story and change the names. Please read it carefully. We pick up after they heard about the death.

My wife went over to the neighbor’s house to pay her respects.  She came back weeping.  Just seeing the baby lying there dead, seeing the mother sitting there alive yet devoid of any real life, any real hope, that is enough to make anyone weep, especially those of us who have the life of another and the hope of heaven. Next it was my turn.  I went over to the house and saw the people gathered.  It’s very reminiscent of what I’ve thought it would have looked like in Jesus’ day.  Some people were surrounding the baby and others were attending to the physical needs of those gathered by cooking food.  I shook hands with the men and then went in to see the dead baby and her mother.  My heart broke.  No, it shattered.  Then, I prayed.  In fact, I started praying once I heard the baby had died and kept praying up to that point. Continue Reading →

Can Satan be Saved?

There are some moments, beyond explanation, that just stick in your brain. I remember, 14 years ago, sitting in my college student union as a new Christian. One day a girl, whose name I have long forgotten, sat down with a group of us friends. Our conversation meandered around many topics until she mentioned something so unique it lodged deep into my memory.

She told us a portion of her morning had been spent praying for Satan to become a believer. The world would be a better place, she surmised, if the Devil would trust Jesus as his savior. I didn’t have any slick biblical or theological response. I remember thinking, “Hmm, that’s an interesting thought. It doesn’t sound ‘right’ but yeah, I guess it would be good if Satan became a believer in Jesus.” The moment came and went. I didn’t think about her prayers for Satan very much until recently.

As Executive Director of the Credo House I get some great opportunities to speak at various churches. Recently, I was at a church in Oklahoma City teaching through the first five sessions of our Discipleship Program. On this particular week I was teaching through our session on the importance of the Trinity.

After discussing topics such as Tritheism, Modalism, Subordinationalism, Arius and the Council of Nicea, I wanted to make sure everyone was tracking with me so I asked if there were any questions. Unrelated to the topics we were discussing a lady asked, “So, it seems like you don’t think I should pray for Satan to be saved. Is that correct?”

Why she asked that question at that time in our teaching is still beyond me. What are the odds, I thought, having bumped into two people who pray for the salvation of Satan. Are there only 2 Christians on the planet who spend time praying for his salvation? By some astronomical bit of luck I have conversations with both of them? Maybe this is common for Christians? Is this one of those hidden beliefs people don’t talk about but still practice? Can Satan be Saved?

2 Major Reasons Against Satan’s Salvation

I think there are predominately two major reasons why we should not pray for the salvation of Satan. Are there only two reasons? Probably not, but for the sake of this post I think two reasons should pretty much end the discussion.

1. Only Humans Have a Savior

It’s easy for us to forget the vast difference between humans and angels. Yes, we have a bunch of similarities. We are both conscious intellectual beings created by God. We both have the capacity for good and for evil. It seems we are both immortal. Both of us have a beginning, neither of us have an ending. Individuals from both humans and angels will spend eternity in either heaven or in hell. Those are some of our similarities. Now for some differences.

The greatest difference comes from the simple fact we are completely different created beings. Dolphins and humans share similarities but at the end of the day we are completely different types of creatures. Similarly, angels and humans are different creatures. Some other differences…While all humans can trace their lineage back to Adam and Eve, this is not true for angels. Angels do not have grandparents, great-grandparents, etc… It appears all angels were individually created by God around the same time.

Here is where my first point against Satan’s salvation comes into play. All of reality contains one Savior. Let me say that again, in all of the universe there is one and only one who can say, “I am the Savior.” That is the God-man Jesus. As God, Jesus is able to fix what needs to be fixed. As a Man, Jesus is able to pay what needs to be paid. Jesus, in His grace, became a man instead of an angel. His incarnation was to free humans, not angels. Hebrews 2:16 says, “For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.” God accepted the payment of Jesus on behalf of humans…not angels. As Adam represented all humans in sin, so Jesus is the new Adam representing humans.
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