Category Archives: Experiential / Application

A Prayer for Pulpits

I’d like to call all believers to pray for a simple request – that the Word of God be preached clearly and precisely in our churches.

Pray that those men whom the Lord has entrusted with the privilege, duty and honor of preaching the Word of God on a weekly basis, will actually do just that.

Pray that the lure of personal story and staged humor will be replaced with a desire for pure milk and solid meat.

Pray that proof texting to prove a predetermined point will be substituted with carefully derived truth.

Pray that sermons will come from dedicated effort in exegetical study done to the glory of God and not from psycho-pop drivel and mystic self-help manuals.

Pray that pulpit words will be fueled by the Holy Spirit and derived from what God has said and not from what they wish God would say.

Pray for the dismantling of tradition-blinders when it becomes an affront to hard and simple biblical truths.

Pray for the heralding of Christ as a real savior who really does rescue sinners from hell without fail.

Pray that pastors are not afraid to say the H-word.  Pray for their courage. Pray for their humility. Pray for wisdom. Pray for your hearing.

May your weekly church gathering be filled with the power of the Trinity through the purposed preaching of the Scriptures.  Amen.

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Pressing On

I haven’t written on this page in quite some time. For a little bit over a year now I have been readjusting my entire life’s routine around the infiltration of chronic illness. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, my wife has an autoimmune disease (polymyositis) that has sent familial shockwaves throughout our household.  The task of coping has been sketchy as schedules and everyday habits have had to change and uncertainty stares at us like a puzzled thief waiting for the next opportunity.

However, as only God can do, beyond the stressful change has come goodness. Through her misery as I watch my wife struggle, I see my own limitations and flaws and absolute need for His grace and divine strength. Sometimes I feel like I’m being beaten with a disappointment stick. Sometimes I can’t believe that yet one more thing has gone wrong. Sometimes I can’t believe that my life is what it is when this is not what I had planned. Not even close. Sometimes I want out.

But it is here in the recess between my own wisdom and the One who made me, where humility is bred.  He alone knows what is best and without the challenges set before me, I will always come back to a wrong position.  The pride of life is a vicious weed and we can’t always trust our feelings.  As Luther wrote, “Feelings come and feelings go, but feelings are deceiving… my warrant is the Word of God, naught else is worth believing.”

So, I will pray and I will believe, but not because I always believe and not because I always obey or rest in His understanding.  I will live by faith because there is no other option.  Faith is a gift that overrides our sinful desires to ignore it.  He intercedes for me and He sustains me in spite of my empty tank for as the Word of God reveals, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself” and in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.  In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words;  and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” ( 2 Timothy 2:13; Romans 8:24-27) Amen.

The Goodness of Victory

The Who Dat buzz is still humming, albeit a bit softer now. Mardi Gras has ended and the French Quarter vibe is a little slower, but we can rest assured that even though the celebrating is diminished, it is not over.

Several of us in our fellowship along with thousands of other eager fans attended the historic Saints Superbowl Victory parade in the city to relish in a long-awaited and significant triumph. Marching bands, brightly lit floats and wall to wall black and gold shirts filled the sidewalks and curbs and barricades held in the masses of onlookers as the team’s players and coaches rolled out from the Dome to the Convention Center. We finally did it.

In the chill of a uniquely-frigid February evening the city forgot her woes and the sounds of jubilation rang out from every street.  It was a bit surreal, not only because of the incredible ending to a miraculous Saints football season, but because of a special unity weaving throughout every social class. It’s as if each person has grabbed on to the hope found in victory and the struggle it takes to achieve it.  Even non-football fanatics, like me, are showing up and buying hats and shirts and stickers to join in the first-of-a-lifetime fun; chanting and singing and sitting on our car horns.

Interestingly, concurrent with the feasting and celebrating has been the criticism – criticism of making a big deal out of ‘just a game’ and criticism by believers of making an idol of sports. To the former point, those who claim that our merrymaking is overboard are simply speaking from a foreign hill. They are making observations from a remote tower looking down on something they just don’t understand. The Saints incredible season is a live and direct Rocky and Rudy storyline being acted out before our eyes except that these main characters are not acting. This is not a production based on a true story. This IS the true story – one of sacrifice, regional pride, love for the underdogs, hope amidst trial and devastation, courage, dedication and support. Every final victory you have ever been excited about in any and every story, play or film grew and blossomed for us right before our eyes. This is about a life-long dream finally appearing; why wouldn’t we be feasting?

To the latter point of idolatry, one must back up a few feet.  Sure the country is obsessed about many things including sports and sure many in the midst of this Saints ‘madness’ are overly-consumed by professional and collegiate athletics all year long, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any and everyone who loves competition and victory is making it their god.  It is the same fallacious argument as saying that if one drinks wine then they are a drunkard. Christ Himself had to deal with the same false accusations when they labeled him a winebibber and a glutton. (Matthew 11:19)

I pray that we recognize that God’s goodness extends to many things both earthly and eternal. Our NFL success is not salvation, but we must be careful not to miss the opportunity to praise Him in all things and that includes great victories.

Purifying Grace

I got sideswiped. I was hit by a collision so violent that it weakened the walls of my lower intestines, but it wasn’t an impact by a drunken driver or a distracted teenager trying to find their last text message while taking a left turn. Instead, it was the unpredictable juggernaut called life.

It’s the ninth month of adjusting our family to life with chronic illness and the Lord has once again shown us lessons only learned while on the grill. Heat alone refines.

The news of my wife’s chronic auto-immune disease and skin cancer troubles felt like tires bending and my fender buckling, but I couldn’t quite identify the noise. A sudden sense of tremendous weight grinds into every pore of your skeleton. It’s a pressure melded with fearful gravity and so much heaviness that its true impact takes weeks and months to set in, and yet on the other side of the blistering flames, vise grips and frightful walls we find greater compassion. Genuine empathy is an acquired virtue and its classes are held in the pit.

When true saving faith meets adversity it produces persevering joy just as God said it would in James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

It isn’t that the trials themselves are joyful; they are always loaded with confusion and pain. What we must see is that the end result is our purification and the difficulties and overwhelming circumstances are the means that God has sovereignly orchestrated for the development of Christ-likeness in us. You won’t become like Christ while riding a comfort wave on a golden surfboard. Anyone who tells you that God doesn’t want His servants to suffer has a misplaced gospel and a closed bible. You only grow in your faith when you actually have to use it for as Scripture plainly teaches us we shall enter the kingdom through many tribulations. (Acts 14:22)

Suffering exposes our weaknesses and dispels the myth of self-reliance. We need our church family and local Body to bear our burdens with us. (Gal. 6:2) We need more times of communal weeping.  In our moments of great despondence the light of faithful friends carrying the Savior’s voice becomes a tender balm to a weary soul.

Have you spoken the wonderful Words of Life to your brothers and sisters lately? Who around you needs you right now? Let us not forget our own family of God and remember that it is not a part-time commitment. We are familial forever.

A Moment of Thankful Reflection

We are thankful for our friends and family who endure our weaknesses daily as we learn to imitate Christ.
We are thankful for our spiritual family who must do the same as we sojourn in the bond of peace towards the new city of unending joy.
We are thankful for the government’s role in our community keeping us safe and secure and we are even thankful for its inefficiencies, for it gives us an opportunity to remember our own personal responsibilities. Our hope is not in princes.

We are thankful for the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers that have come to labor along side of us during a trying season of life.
We are thankful for the yearly cyclone reminders of who controls all things.
We are thankful for all who have donated goods and services to us and for those who have given to us monetarily.
We are thankful for community organizations that are not ashamed to serve openly under the banner of the living God.

We are thankful for the church.
We are thankful for food and shelter no matter how meager it may be for against the world’s standards the United States is still extremely rich.
We are thankful for having clothes to wear and clean water.  We are thankful for liberty and the means to operate freely despite her receding glow.

We are thankful for your prayers. We are thankful for the Trinity’s unstoppable work in our lives. Thank you Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. May we press on till the final coming.

Experience and emotion do not real doctrine make

Experientialism is a mighty juggernaut plowing through contemporary religion. Its attractive helmet hits headlong into foundational truth where God’s revelation trumps perceived notions of His actions through and around the church.  These two candidates stand in great opposition to one another for those seeking a guidepost in determining their way, for not all things experienced are all things true.  We are warned about false teachers and false teachings (2Peter 2:1) and we are told to test the spirits (1John 4:1) and exercise discernment for false prophets and wolves live and breathe among us. Unfortunately, few actually heed this caution.

Felt-needs and personal preferences are main highways where experience travels at high speeds regardless of what the Word of God might have to say.  One can hear the cries of exasperation, “Surely what I feel can’t be wrong! What do you mean it doesn’t matter what I saw?!”  Sensory theology trumps real doctrine as “what I feel” has become “what I know”, never mind that it goes against Scripture. We would do well to remember the warnings found in the book of Colossians – “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” And “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen…” (Col.2:8,18) Many professed believers love to talk on and on about their spiritual experiences through dreams and visions but these claims must always pass the scrutiny of Scripture, not merely experience.

Those who have much invested in their experiential theology are usually not open to being challenged.  To question their experience is, in their minds, to question their spirituality.  If one were to dismantle an experience that they’ve put so much hope and joy into, it is tantamount to calling them an unbeliever. At least that’s mostly how they react.

However, Scripture alone should be our ultimate authority in determining truth and truth should help us organize our practice and become a filter through which we view what has happened.  To do otherwise is to lean into the mystic camp and build bonfires around Gnostic ceremonies.

May we flee what is of self and cling to what is truly of Him.

Obligation or Grace ?

crime stoppersI was raised in a Roman Catholic family, brought up on a system of morals and law.  Jesus, it was said, died for the sins of the world and if I were to believe that truth and be a ‘good’ person by being faithful to the Church and to God’s law, I should see heaven or at least make it to Purgatory.  Yet, somewhere in my mid-teens I saw a problem with a benevolent and loving God who seemed powerless to help those around me who needed Him the most.  During that adolescent time my sister was diagnosed with an incurable neuromuscular disease called Friedreich’s Ataxia – a degenerative disorder that eventually leads to premature death.  So as I wrestled with the implications of her permanent disability and my theology, I began to ask what seemed to me to be the obvious, “If God is all-powerful and all-loving, then why this?

Answers came from various areas and channels of philosophical persuasion, but no one gave me a Scriptural answer.  I received the padded answers that are more connected with making God out to be not-so-bad rather than the revealed answers of the Bible.  I’m sure you have heard them before – “God has a plan.”, “There are some mysteries we just don’t understand.”, “She can be healed if she just has enough faith.” and “This is the devil’s work not God’s.” All of these responses are commonly given to struggling sojourners and unbelieving denizens in a hopeful attempt to appease their grief and heartache, yet they are misguided replies.

The truth is that this world is under the curse of sin and death and with that comes diseases, disasters and heinous crime.(Gen. 2:17; Rom. 1:17ff) The better question to ask is whether or not God is obligated to do something about it. Is He obligated to cure all diseases? Is He obligated to prevent every murder and rape and theft? Is God obligated to stop every war?  Certainly, He is all-powerful so why doesn’t He? If we answer that He is obligated, then God has failed and if we answer that He doesn’t intervene because of our lack of faith or works, then we are more powerful than God for we can thwart His will.

crutch walkerHowever, the biblical answer is that God is not obligated to show mercy towards sinners; that is why we call it mercy. (Exodus 33:19;Rom. 9:15) Obligated mercy is duty, not grace and since everyone is guilty before God for every person falls short of the required obedience to the Law (Rom. 3:23; James 2;10), He owes us nothing. (Dan. 4:35) In His benevolent grace and chosen mercy, He does aid humanity for He restrains judgment upon mankind in His supreme patience so that all who will hear can hear the Word of Reconciliation in the preaching of the gospel.  As a result, this world is not as wicked as it could be through divine intervention. It is the purpose and joy of the church to bring the good news of His mercy found in Christ to a condemned race for  “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Hyper-charismatapagania

HinnThere is much controversy in the church today about the gifts of the Spirit.  Interestingly, those who advocate that the mode and operation of spiritual gifts has not changed since Pentecost primarily focus on the gift of tongues as their anointing litmus test. Yet, the apostle Paul says that tongues were low on the gifting totem pole (1 cor. 12:28-31; 14:5) and specifically that this supernatural ability was given temporarily to the church as a judgment sign to unbelievers (1 cor. 14;20-22) that the Lord had condemned and cut off Israel, just as He had promised in the days of Ephraim and Isaiah.

Another belief that is carried into this century regarding spiritual gifts is the idea that there exists special prophetic ministries touring the planet offering to heal people of various diseases and to deliver them from whatever demon is either assaulting or possessing them.  Now, let me be clear on this point. I do believe that God can and still does heal us of our sicknesses and diseases today. What I contend, however, is that He doesn’t do it in the same manner as some advocate. God, if He so wills, can and has cured folks of their diseases and ailments.  What I deny is that there are those living today who possess anything that resembles the power of the Spirit that we see in the New Testament to heal sickness.  That was a special gifting given to the primitive church as a sign of the inauguration of the Kingdom of Christ on earth.

Benny Hinn is an extremely well-known proponent of what I call “hyper-charismatapagania” – the imitation of the work of the Spirit in paganistic forms. Here is a quote from a recent interview that was posted at FoxNews.com.

“I’m not one that can discern every little problem with people.  So if someone comes up and says that I have cancer and the cancer is gone …often I’ve said, “Go back to your doctor and make sure that you are truly cured” (on healings in his ministry, transcribed from the video interview)

copelands“They question me on why I don’t verify (these miracles),” Hinn says. “I answer, ‘God never called me to verify. I’m not a doctor.’” None of his comments even come close to echoing biblical fidelity. Hinn never preaches the gospel nor does he speak as a man of God.  Instead, he preaches materialism wrapped in a slice of culture-Christ.

Below, you will find an interesting video that shows what is put forth as the anointing of the Holy Spirit and the power of God among His people – bodies shaking, uncontrollable laughter, people falling backwards to the floor and continuous ramblings in jib-jab speech patterns.

There are no examples in Scripture that match such spectacles as true manifestations of God in the Body of Christ.  Instead, these happenings have much more in common with ungodly spirits and trances.  Examine it for yourself.

Food and Vice

cornucopiaAs Americans, we have abundant food resources that reflect the bounty of the Lord’s provision. Daily, we consume a wide variety of foods from whole wheat crackers and hickory grilled fish to bottled spring water and freshly squeezed juice.  Our shelves and stores and warehouses and restaurants all testify to sufficient supply.

Beyond mere provision, flavors, too, are a gift from God. After the Fall in Eden, He was under no obligation whatsoever to make our foods taste good; and yet, they do.

While we eat and drink to rejuvenate ourselves through divinely designed functions created to sustain us, the lure of a satisfied palate can become the doorway to overindulgence. That doorway can become a road to idolatry as the temptation of flavor and ‘food comfort’ supersedes self-control.  Instead of fresh grilled fish we dream about fast food tacos. Rather than spring water we consume gallons of soft drinks and corn syrup enriched liquids that stress our systems. Not only do our choices tend to lean towards unhealthy foods, but our ability to step away from the table wavers as well.  Food is our fuel and temptation.

After the completion of Christ’s atoning work at Calvary, all Old Testament dietary laws and restrictions were lifted. (Colossians 2:16ff)  The cornucopia has been laid before us through the sacrifice of Christ and we should be joyful with each bite we take. “..Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with gratitude; for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

As the holiday season quickly approaches, let us be reminded about the joy of food and her lure.  While we can experience great culinary heights in the consumption of wonderful foods we must remember moderation. Food brings us together as a people and a Body, but self-control is living in the Spirit. Overindulgence is sin.

The celebratory goodness in feast and festival is of God, but the glutton should put a knife to his neck. (Proverbs 23:2)

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part III

carrying a heavy load

Last time  we saw that God’s love of mankind found in the provision of the gospel of Christ stands in contrast to His hatred of sinners and sin alike. (Psalms 5, 11; Proverbs 6) The Lord rescues sinners from eternal condemnation, not miscellaneous sins.  God, as the righteous judge of all things, sentences the workers of iniquity to the fiery pit as their just reward. (Romans 2:1-6)  Over time, most evangelicals have lost any real understanding of exactly what they are supposed to be saved from. With the advent of self-help psychology and rampant feel-good theology finding its way into once biblically-based teaching, there has been an overemphasis of good news. The problem, however, is that without the wrath of God as the backdrop of Calvary, Christ becomes merely a murdered man instead of the Savior having suffered for all the sins of His people.  This truth relates to our final cliché in this series – “The Lord will not give you more than you can handle.”

There is no doubt that from a purely experiential vantage point this is a false claim. How many times have you been completely overwhelmed by life? How often have you had to seek counsel and aid and advice and resources from others just to get by?  Is it not true that while we may experience a certain degree of independence, we are still hopelessly interdependent; relying upon others in times of great need? Surely, Katrina taught us that.

So where did this saying come from? I’m fairly confident that its origin is another Scriptural misquote. This time, it is a butchering of 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 –“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

The apostle Paul’s admonishment to flee idolatry is predicated on the promise that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle; instead, He will always provide us with a way of escape so as not to fall into sin. This passage says nothing about God not allowing us to endure a trial or suffering beyond what we can endure for if this were the case who would ever have suffered martyrdom? Also, we are well-covered in one-another verses in the New Testament as God has prepared that our new family in Christ would comfort us and help provide for our needs.(Romans 12:10-16)  If we were supposed to be somehow protected from being overburdened then why would we need each other at all?

On the contrary, the power of Christ is seen clearly in our weakness.  Paul instructs us that it is good to be content with insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for in our frailty God is mighty. (2 Corinthians 12:5:10)

May we all learn to live lowly and rejoice in our infirmities for it is in our darkest hour that God’s grace in Christ is the most lovely jewel in our lives.